Up Close With Billy Truitt
Once A Keyboardist For Jack Ely And The Kingsmen - Today A High-Profile Booker
Jack Ely and the Kingsmen, left to right: Curt Gonion, Daryl Partlow, Jack Ely, Billy Truitt and Mike "Monk" McGrath (circa mid-'60s)
[Interviewer’s Note: For the last couple of years I have made a concentrated effort in delivering featured interviews with many of the artists and composers that have had a strong connection with two legendary pioneering rock-and-roll legends: Buddy Holly and producer and production engineer, Norman Petty. This month’s featured interview is the beginning of a primary focus on the great rock-and-roll pioneering artists of the Pacific Northwest who launched their music careers in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s: The Kingsmen, The Wailers, The Ventures, Paul Revere and The Raiders, Don and the Goodtimes, et al.
Unless you’re a rabid Kingsmen fan, many of you may not recognize Billy Truitt’s name, since the names of the bands—The Kingsmen, The Courtmen, and the Premiers—with which he was associated, always took center stage over the names of the band members themselves.
Nevertheless, Billy Truitt was a key player during the late ‘50s and early ‘60s during the defining of rock ‘n’ roll in the Pacific Northwest and, unlike many of his peers, this very talented individual has achieved a high level of success in the music business right up to the present day:]
[Lance Monthly] When and where were you born, Billy?
Billy Truitt I was born in Independence, Missouri, in 1947, but moved with my family to southern Idaho when I was seven years old. My dad was a troubleshooter for Safeway stores; so we moved to different small towns in Idaho [in order for him to] improve the performance of each property.
[Lance Monthly] In what kind of environment did you grow up? Was it in the country or a city neighborhood?
Billy Truitt [During] the first few years I lived on a small farm in Weiser, Idaho, that my parents bought [and] I attended a two-room country school until the 5th grade. We then moved to the Boise Valley, where I attended different schools until graduating from high school in Boise.
[Lance Monthly] Do you have any brothers and sisters?
Billy Truitt I have one younger brother (with no interest in music).
[Lance Monthly] Were there other members of your birth family that had an interest in music aside from yourself?
Billy Truitt My mother played piano and guitar and I was surrounded by music both in Missouri and Idaho. She taught me my first songs on guitar and piano, and then I studied classical piano for several years.
[Lance Monthly] What were the typical chores that your parents expected of you during your youth, and how did you entertain yourself during your free time?
Billy Truitt When we lived on the farm, I had the normal farm chores (feeding the chickens and pigs, etc.) and when we moved to town, I worked at a restaurant my father bought, service stations, farm work (since we lived in a farming community), and eventually started playing in rock bands when I was in the 9th grade. Naturally music was my number one hobby, but hot rods and fishing came in a close second.
[Lance Monthly] Idaho’s a great state. I lived there during the summers of 1958 through 1966 in Pierce (Idaho’s first capital) working for the U.S. Forest Service. There is no better state for salmon and trout fishing. Did you do any fishing in northern Idaho, where every mountain valley has a stream full of native cutthroat trout? How about elk hunting?
Billy Truitt I grew up in southern Idaho, and my family had a summer home in Cascade (two hours north of Boise) where most of my sportsman activities took place (either trolling for trout at lake Cascade or stream fishing in that area along with the annual deer hunting expeditions) and pheasant and duck hunting in the Boise area.
[Lance Monthly] What was high school like in Boise? What was considered cool for both guys and gals in reference to street attire and expressions? Did the dudes wear pink or purple shirts, Levis, and taps on their shoes like we did in New Mexico during that time?
Billy Truitt High school in Boise was pretty much a copy of American Graffiti with the pegged Levi's, bright shirts, Italian shoes, and later, white bucks if I remember right, along with the taps.
[Lance Monthly] You were into hot rods. Describe yours. Was it lowered in the back with six-inch shackles and equipped with loud glass pack mufflers? Was bronze the in color?
Billy Truitt My first hot rod was a 1953 Chevy two-door, split exhaust, all chrome removed, reversed rims, lowered in front by cutting the coils out of the springs, and painted metallic-forest green.
[Lance Monthly] What were the call letters of the popular rock-and-roll station(s) in your neighborhood, and what artists did you dig the most before you began playing in a band? Could you pick up KOMA out of Oklahoma City?
Billy Truitt I don't remember the call letters of the rock station. Before playing in a band, I was a fan of Johnny Cash and the Everly Brothers. And then, being from Boise, the first band I was in copied everything Paul Revere and the Raiders did since they were the hometown heroes. We couldn't get KOMA but could get XCRB Chula Vista, California and Wolfman Jack.
[Lance Monthly] What was the name of your first band?
Billy Truitt The first band I was in was the Premiers and [I] started off playing guitar and then later keyboards, which eventually become my career instrument.
[Lance Monthly] How popular did the Premiers get and can you recall the names of your band mates? In addition, where did you typically rehearse?
Billy Truitt The members of The Premiers were Curt Gonion, Wayne Ellis, Jeff Blanksma, Scott McDonald, Alma Cram, and myself. Curt and I started the band when we were in junior high and within the year [we were] members of the local musicians’ union, playing regularly at the high school dances, I.O.O.F. halls, and National Guard Armories around the Boise Valley. Most of the band members lived in Nampa (twenty miles from Boise), so naturally we were the top dogs so to speak there and probably ranked third or fourth in the ranking for the valley at that time. We rehearsed at Curt's father's music store. Curt's dad had been a bass player in some of the big bands (Dorsey's etc.) and had opened the Baldwin store there in the early fifties. His jazz background was a great influence, and he actually taught Curt and me how to play the Saint Lewis and Walbash Blues (Curt on clarinet and myself on guitar) for our first high school assembly performance, which lead to the formation of The Premiers.
[Lance Monthly] How well did you know the band members of Paul Revere and The Raiders? Did you share classes with any of them during high school?
Billy Truitt As far as the Raiders, Mike Holiday, the Raiders original bass player, and his wife rented a home from my parents, and I think that's how we originally met. We got to be great friends and later played together with Jack Ely and the Kingsmen. During the early, early days he would come to our rehearsals and teach us all of the Raider's tunes. Phil Volk ("Fang") was my class president when I attended high school in Boise, but [I] didn't really know him. Charlie Coe and I also played in Jack Ely and The Kingsmen, and later Jack Ely and The Courtmen. In the ‘80s, [we] were partners in a recording studio in Boise. As far as Mark and Paul, I've only in recent years met them through the shows that I’ve booked and brought talent for.
[Lance Monthly] In your opinion, what was it that made Paul Revere and The Raiders so appealing in their early career?
Billy Truitt In the early days, Mark Lindsey was a real dynamic, powerhouse performer and the band was polished and had the magic going for it. It wasn't till they got with Dick Clark that they went mainstream, so to speak, and lost the Northwest-garage-band edge that had made them a great live act. Most of Paul's current band members have been together for thirty years, and it's still one of the best shows for the money.
[Lance Monthly] Do you recall the names of other Boise bands that became popular locally?
Billy Truitt Dick Cates and the Chessman, The Chancellors, The Hitchhikers, The Statesmen, and The Alligators, if I remember right, were our main competition at that time.
[Lance Monthly] The breakout band from my state (New Mexico) was The Fireballs. Did any of their early guitar instrumental hits have a profound effect on you? What about those of The Ventures?
Billy Truitt I should have included The Ventures in that first list, and yes, I do remember The Fireballs but can't remember doing any of their tunes; but I'm sure we did. Hank Williams should be on that early list also.
[Lance Monthly] Did you go on to college?
Billy Truitt I had studied classical music with a German concert pianist [who] was also an authorized instructor for the Sherwood Music Institute in Chicago. I had qualified for a scholarship there, but was already so entrenched in rock and roll I knew studying there would be way too confining. So I enrolled at Boise State as a music major. Three days later, after tuition and books had been purchased, Jack Ely [vocalist on the Kingsmen’s “Louie, Louie” smash hit] called and offered me the keyboard gig. So much for my college education, much to the despair of my parents and the dean of men at Boise State. Regardless, my parents always supported my music career 110%.
[Lance Monthly] Did The Premiers do any recordings and release any of its material? In addition, how long did the group last and what caused it to disband?
Billy Truitt Curt Gonion and I started the Premiers in our ninth grade year (1960 I think) and continued until we graduated from high school (1964). Curt went to work for Jack Ely, and I joined the group a few months later. We never recorded the band. In Boise there was one small two-track studio used for radio and T.V. ad work and out of the realm of things for us.
[Lance Monthly] How well did the version of “Louie, Louie” by Paul Revere and The Raiders do in Boise, and do you think the group was disappointed that The Kingsmen’s release charted so well nationally?
Billy Truitt The Raider's version was the hit in the Northwest and the Kingsmen’s version received no radio play at all in Boise. “Louie, Louie” was already a standard so to speak with all the Northwest bands, and I'm sure Revere was disappointed. A lot of people think the "questionable lyrics" Jack sang was the reason the Kingsmen’s version hit nationally (it was one of two reasons). I heard through management at the time that the record companies hearing [that] both bands were releasing the same song, Wand Records gave the wholesalers a two for the price of one deal to move [The Kingsmen’s] product. That has always sounded plausible to me.
Jack Ely was the original lead singer for the Kingsmen up until “Louie, Louie” became a hit. According to Jack, [Kingsmen] drummer Lynn Easton's parents registered the name Kingsmen and fired Jack, making Lynn the lead singer. Don Gullucci [keyboards] also left the band at that time and formed Don and the Goodtimes, one of the more successful [of the] Northwest bands. Later, [he became] a successful L.A. producer.
[Lance Monthly] So Billy, what were Jack’s “questionable lyrics” and where was The Kingsmen’s “Louie, Louie” recorded?
Billy Truitt “Louie, Louie” was cut in a small studio in Vancouver, Washington, and Jack told me it was basically a one-mike set-up with the mike hanging from the ceiling and him stretching to sing loud enough [while] the braces on his teeth created the mumble jumble vocal that was interpreted as dirty. In truth, Jack sang the Richard Berry lyrics, but the band was instructed to say "no comment" when asked what the words were to “Louie, Louie.” Naturally, with the "no comment," everybody assumed the words were off color. If it were only that easy to get a hit today.
[Lance Monthly] You and I know that there were a lot of shady promoters and labels during the early ‘60s that shafted the high-profile artists and bands because they were so unaware of the unscrupulous business practices that were common in the mainstream music industry. Do you know if that was the case with The Kingsmen? Did they make any real money on “Louie, Louie” as well as on the road?
Billy Truitt Shady record companies, managers, and concert promoters were all common then. After Jack left the original Kingsmen line-up and formed Jack Ely and the Kingsmen, questionable management was part of the scenario. As far as booking and recordings, Premier talent was our agency and at the time the biggest in the biz; [they brought] all the British acts to the states.
A junior agent at Premier introduced us to Burt Burns, owner of Bang Records (distributed by Atlantic). Burt had written and produced “Twist and Shout” for the Isley Brothers, produced “Brown Eyed Girl” for Van Morrison, “Hang on Sloopy” for The Mcoys, and discovered and signed Neil Diamond. He signed the band after the lawsuits had been settled over the Kingsmen’s name, and Jack had changed the name to The Courtmen (at Bobby Darin's suggestion).
Our first session with Burt in New York City produced “Louie, Louie 66” and the flipside, “David's Mood” (organ instrumental), which I never saw any money from even though it was a hit regionally and an intro/outro song for many D.J.’s, both here and in Europe. We made good salaries for the time and [for] our ages, but naturally found out later management had pocketed most of it.
[Lance Monthly] How long were you with Jack Ely and The Kingsmen?
Billy Truitt Around six months after I joined the group is when the name changed to The Courtmen. The lawsuit between the Kingsmen and Jack was news in about every issue of Billboard that year. Naturally, being young and a musician, I didn't pay much attention to the details concerning the legal hassles and the public threat “Louie, Louie” had become to the governor of the state of Louisiana, who banned it because of the [alleged] "dirty lyrics," at which time the FBI started an investigation. At our reunion a few years ago, those files were given to us by one of the old managers and were quite amusing.
I performed with Jack until 1967. We both got drafted at the same time and that was that. Jack went to Germany and I went to Nam and while both of us were in the service, Burt Burns died of a heart attack. Needless to say, when we got back, we were starting from scratch and never worked together again except for a reunion show a few years ago, but remained good friends.
[Lance Monthly] So the majority of the Boise bands that recorded went to the state of Washington? What was considered the “boss” Washington sound studio during the early ‘60s?
Billy Truitt I don't remember any of the Boise bands recording with exception of the Raiders, and they would record at the same studio in Vancouver where “Louie, Louie” was recorded. I believe the name of the studio was Northwest Recorders, but I'm not positive. I recorded there with Jack a couple of times, but those memories are kind of hazy.
[Lance Monthly] What was Burt Burns’ overall demeanor? Was he easy to work with or demanding?
Billy Truitt Burt Burns was a great, easy-to-work-with guy. The history as I remember it on him was that he was hanging out in Cuba until Castro took over and came to New York City pretty much broke. He worked as a bus boy in a restaurant, saved $300.00, and hired the Isley Brothers to record “Twist and Shout.” The rest is history as they say.
[Lance Monthly] I take it that the lawsuit over the Kingsmen name favored Lynn Eastman’s parents, since Ely changed his band’s name to The Courtmen? What was the actual court decision?
Billy Truitt As far as the lawsuit, the way it was explained to me was that Jack wasn't to use the name Kingsmen and the Kingsmen were not suppose to use “Louie, Louie” in any of their advertising and marketing. I've never seen any legal rulings, etc., so I'm not sure of the exact verbiage.
[Lance Monthly] Where were you stationed in Nam and were you able to form a band there?
Billy Truitt I was with the 1st Air Cavalry Division. I spent the first few months in the central highlands at An Khe. I was the battalion commander’s jeep driver and part time gunner on his helicopter. [During] the last seven or eight months, I was at Red Beach north of Da Nang and flew missions with him to Hue and the Phu Bi area, where our LZs were on a daily basis. I got to see the entire country from the air while I was there.
[Lance Monthly] You say that the FBI report was amusing. Can you give our readers a text sample?
Billy Truitt I believe Jack has the FBI report, but what I remember most from reading it was that all the different versions of the lyrics they had come up with (including their own) were absolutely hysterical and have no idea what influences they must have been under to be interpreted that way. They had also stood in the autograph lines [for] our signatures and any nicknames we were using on any given day for the fun of it.
[Lance Monthly] Is Lynn Eastman still active with The Kingsmen and do you have any contact with him?
Billy Truitt No, I don't believe Lynn Eastman is active at all with the band. Mike Mitchell, the original guitar player (the only original member that played on “Louie, Louie”), has been singing the hit for years and I heard through the grapevine that this is the first year that he's admitted not [being] the singer on the [original] record. I've never had any contact with Lynn through the years.
[Lance Monthly] Where is Jack today and is he still in the music business?
Billy Truitt Jack has a small horse ranch in Oregon and boards and trains horses and is enjoying life. We talk quite regularly.
[Lance Monthly] What recording activity resulted from Jack Ely and The Courtmen?
Billy Truitt We were cutting singles instead of albums back then, and we cut two more sides with Burt Burns in L.A. (“Ride, Ride, Ride” and “Louie Go Home”). This was the first time Burt had produced or recorded in L.A., and it was a great experience. He brought in the Blossoms for back-up vocals and we cut in the old Goldstar Studios, which later became A&M Records.
[Lance Monthly] After you returned from Viet Nam, did you join another band or go in a different direction musically?
Billy Truitt After Nam, I joined Foremost Authority. We were on GNP Crensendo Records and had a couple of regional hits with them. This band evolved into a seven-piece, all-original-horn band and eventually was based out of Seattle until the band broke-up around 1974. This is the band Larry Thompson [drummer for Bobby Fuller Drive] and I played together in.
I eventually moved back to Boise to work in my family's business and later bought a recording studio with ex-Raider Charlie Coe and another friend, and then a 1000-seat nightclub, which eventually led me back to L.A. and a recording contract with Curb Records as a country artist, managed by Helen and Berverly Noga. Helen had owned the Famous Blackhawk Jazz Club in San Francisco in the ‘50s and was the person who discovered Mathis and managed him for years, along with a Who's Who roster [from] the ‘60s through the ‘80s. I eventually became a studio player and producer in L.A., producing new acts and post-video projects until going into the management and talent-buying side of the biz.
[Lance Monthly] You going from rock ‘n’ roll to country is interesting. Is this because rock ‘n’ roll, in your opinion, has lost its mainstream appeal to pop and rap?
Billy Truitt Being a rock and blues keyboard player isn't that far from country music since the roots of rock is based in country. I was offered a tour backing up Rose Madox, David Frizzel and Red Simpson in the mid to late ‘70s, and the business side of the project paid better than the rock projects I had been doing. Their biz deals were solid and they lived up to their commitments; and playing keys in a country band was fresh, challenging, and more fun at the time.
Nowadays I've been playing mostly with a blues band, but still enjoy both rock and blues. As long as it's integrity based I'll play along. My nitch in the L.A. studio scene was as a honky-tonk pianist, which was deeply rooted in me because that's what I heard my mother play mostly.
[Lance Monthly] What’s your take on Mike Curb, and did you know him in his early days when he worked with Davie Allan and The Arrows?
Billy Truitt When I first showcased in L.A. at the Palomino Club I had three solid offers, and Helen Noga accepted the Curb offer because of her close relationship with Mike. She'd given him his first job as a copyist at her publicity company. I didn't know Mike. My contact at the company was [with] Dick Whitehouse.
In Nashville there's a lot of controversy concerning Curb Records and their biz practices. My deal with them eventually fell through when Warner Brothers went through the big shake-up in the ‘80s since my distribution deal went through them. I avoid doing biz with them on acts I work with, but they're the largest of the independents and there's no arguing with success, I guess, even if it's at the cost of the artist. This seems to be the general feeling in the circles I do biz in. I didn't know Mike when he worked with the Arrows.
[Lance Monthly] How active are you and your partner with your recording studio, and is it a sound studio that just hires out or is it designed mostly for the production of new talent? In addition, do you have your own label?
Billy Truitt My partner and I don't own a studio nowadays. With pro-tools and the digital age it's a lot easier to just rent. They tend to be like swimming pools after you've owned one for a while. More hassle and upkeep goes into the project than actual creativity. We're involved with a small label based in Taos, NM, for our Latin projects and the majors in Nashville with our other artists.
[Lance Monthly] What was the music scene in L.A. like when you were there in the ‘70s? Did you see it as a dog-eat-dog world for the struggling rock-and-roll musician?
Billy Truitt I was in L.A. in the early seventies and was with a band that had a label deal, so I'm sure my view of things then wasn’t the same as a struggling musician, even though the term “dog-eat-dog” did come up from time to time. It became more of a struggle for me in the late ‘80s when all the country divisions consolidated in Nashville, which really hurt the session work at that time in L.A.
[Lance Monthly] I interviewed Larry Knecktel last year, who was a sessionist in L.A. in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Did you work with him on any projects?
Billy Truitt I never knew Larry Knecktel or worked with him, but always enjoyed his session work. I would love to see him with the Bobby Fuller Drive project.
[Lance Monthly] What’s the name of the label in Taos with which you’re doing business, and what genre of Latin music are you referring too? Is it a traditional New Mexico ranchera style of music or more on the lines of a Central and South American genre of cumbias, mambos, and salsas? When I owned Casanova Records in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, I produced a number of albums by Latin artists performing most of these aforementioned styles, which were designed to cater mostly to an Hispanic market.
Billy Truitt Petroglyph Records is the label we're working with. We're specializing in Chilean artists (Latin jazz, flamenco, and some of the newer electronic music) and trying to produce a documentary film of the effects the dictatorship had on the artists and their careers. We've produced two albums down there this past year and have distribution on two other artists at the present time. This project is pretty much a labor of love. At the present time, most of these acts are working in South America and Europe.
[Lance Monthly] What’s the name of your nightclub and do you book mostly high-profile acts? In addition, do you extend your booking activities to other venues throughout the country?
Billy Truitt I sold the nightclub in the mid ‘80s when I got the deal with Curb. It was called Gentle Ben's, which was the same name as the band I had at the time. My band was the house band the majority of the time until we started touring. (I had several northwest regional hits before signing with Curb and moving to L.A.) I specialize in buying national act talent for casinos. (I bought all the talent for Sandia's outdoor venue until this last year and will be buying the Showroom acts for Isleta Casino [New Mexico] this season along with a half dozen casinos and venues around the U.S.)
[Lance Monthly] Billy, are you married and do you have children and grandchildren that are actively pursuing a career in music?
Billy Truitt I've been married 36 years and have two kids (a daughter 30 years old and a son 24 years old and a one year old grandson by my daughter and her husband). My son just received two bachelor’s degrees in music and is now a graduate student at U.N.L.V. here in Vegas. My daughter is the executive assistant to the president of the largest architectural firm in the state, and I'm sure you can tell I'm very proud of both of them. My son, along with playing in an original band, also performs with Vegas lounge acts, The Phantom Drum Regiment, studio work, and also teaches area high school marching bands and private lessons.
[Lance Monthly] As the major labels of today seldom seek out and sign talented garage bands as they once did in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, what’s your take on the mainstream manufactured music of today?
Billy Truitt I'm managing an Australian country act, which is already successful in that country, and I’m in the middle of putting a major label deal and reality TV series together for him here. In country music the song and singer is still the bottom line to get the deal, but image, personality, etc. comes in a close second in the priority of things to the majors and more so in pop music.
Talent is on every street corner, so to speak, so the quality of the management team, producer, and agents play a big part in a label's commitment to an artist. Any new act getting a deal with a major is a seven-figure deal [as] things are so corporate driven. In Nashville most of the label heads and producers nowadays are great musicians and artists themselves, so I find it more integrity driven for the most part. Pop and rap, though, is a different story in my humble opinion.
[Lance Monthly] Did you have any musical relationship with The Wailers? What’s your take on their version of “Louie, Louie?”
Billy Truitt I use to know Buck Ormsby (bass player for the Wailers) when I lived in Seattle and did session dates [with] Rich Dangle (guitar player), who died last year, and have met Kent Morrel (keyboard player) here in Vegas since moving here ten years ago. They were always one of my favorite N.W. bands. The Premiers covered a lot of their material along with the Raiders in the early 60's. Their version of “Louie, Louie” was always my favorite version until hearing Richard Berry's original cut a few years ago.
[Lance Monthly] Billy, when you say, “I specialize in buying national-act talent for casinos,” could you elaborate on that for our readers? What do you specifically mean “in buying acts” and what acts have you been primarily booking?
Billy Truitt I contract with various casinos and venues to buy and book the national acts that perform in their showrooms and amphitheaters. If it's a new property just getting started, I'll help them get the production organized, ticketing procedures established, security responsibilities established, and decide the marketing strategy and target audience the casino or venue is trying to reach. In the past year or so I've booked such acts as Bill Cosby, ZZ Top, Steely Dan, Brooks and Dunn, and everything in between. Last year I booked close to one hundred shows, so the list is pretty varied and extensive.
Besides booking acts that can sell tickets and the network of other buyers I work with, the real challenge comes in knowing the acts that can bring in the targeted audience a casino is looking for, which is usually strong, back-end gaming revenue (hi-rollers). Naturally this comes from experience and age in the biz.
I worked Vegas off and on at the Pussycat A Go Go around 1969 with Foremost Authority. The Pussycat was the local musician-entertainer hangout at the time, and we were pretty much a novelty being an all-original jazz-rock horn band (long haired hippies that didn't wear matching coats and jumpsuits) and had been playing what we considered “a lot hipper venues” on the West Coast. It turned out to be a real musical and showbiz educational experience at that time because of the musicians that played that stage and the crowd that showed up ever night after the shows shut down at the casinos. Everybody from Wolfman Jack to Little Richard were strutting [his or her] stuff, and every night seemed to have either a musical or outrageous celebrity story that stood out. The downside was that it was still Old Vegas and racism and, let's say, a less than open arm acceptance of hippie musicians made me declare I would never set foot in Vegas again, even though we'd had a great run and had made a lot of friends in the music community.
Needless to say the city doesn't resemble those days anymore (much to the dismay of the Vegas old timers), but after living here eleven years, when I'm landing at the airport, it seems like home. I've always told my friends you don't move here for "life style," but that seems to be changing also. Naturally, being in the line of work I'm in, it's hard to find a better home base because of the cheap air travel to and from here. Nowadays everybody who's anybody is performing in Vegas.
[Lance Monthly] What’s it like living in Vegas? Have there been any Vegas promoters with questionable backgrounds in the music business that have crossed your path, especially while getting established there? In addition, having lived in the cool, wet climate of the Pacific Northwest, how have you and your family been coping with the stifling Las Vegas summer heat?
Billy Truitt It took a couple of years to get use to the heat but the thought of cold, wet Northwest winters doesn't interest my family or myself. But the smell of pine trees and stream fishing is something we're too far away from. And yes, you can't help but run into "ethically challenged" people in the entertainment biz if you do business here long enough. The term "scam city" is used here all the time but I'm not sure if it's any more deserved than a lot of cities here [in the U.S.] and places [in which] I do business overseas.
[Lance Monthly] All bands have had some good, bad, and ugly venues. Please give our readers some examples of yours, especially while performing in the ‘60s.
Billy Truitt Most of the Courtmen dates were in larger venues, so I don't recall that we were playing dives so to speak. I do remember that somehow we got booked into a club (I think it was in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin) to play four club sets. We didn't have more than forty minutes of material, since we were playing mostly package shows and usually played about a thirty-minute set, so needless to say, after four sets the audience and the band were both pretty tired of “Louie, Louie.”
Another couple of nights that sticks out in my mind is when our agent had the Yardbirds open for us. Jeff Beck was the guitarist at the time, and I think this was the hottest five-piece band we'd ever heard. We'd opened for James Brown at the Cincinnati Gardens and had played a lot of big shows, but following the Yardbirds on a musical level just about caused us to fire our manager and go home after hearing the first four or five songs of their show. Needless to say, after going out and starting the intro for “Louie, Louie” the crowd forgot about the Yardbirds and the party was on. This was, though, a real eye opener as [to] where the virtuosity of rock musicians was heading and a little less partying and a lot more woodshedding was in my future if I wanted a career in music.
[Lance Monthly] If you could go back and do it all over again musically, what would you do differently?
Billy Truitt As far as what I'd do different, I've jokingly told my son I'd be a bass player because that always seemed to be the instrument I was most critical of as a musician and producer; but really, at this point, can't even conceive of playing anything other than keys. The thing that young musicians have available to them that we didn't have in the ‘60s is access to the mechanics of how the music biz operates. I wish we had had available the music business courses a lot of colleges are offering today. As you know, most of our education in the biz came from getting "screwed," but a lot of good songs came from those frustrations and situations. At this point in life looking back, the positives are a lot more memorable than the negatives.
[Lance Monthly] Thank you Billy for you exceptional historic replies. It has been a pleasure doing this interview with you. What are your final thoughts and what advise do you have for the modern-day musician who’s trying to make it in today’s world of mainstream music?
Billy Truitt I think for younger musicians "woodshedding" is still the primary objective, but also getting a grasp of the biz and the new recording technologies is a must. Dick, it's been a pleasure.
(Interview conducted by Dick Stewart – Editor and Features Interviewer)
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