Jan.s: Bill, I believe you grew up in the South...? Were they any direct musical influences from growing up there?
Bill: At first, growing up in North Carolina may have been an impediment- as a kid from Pittsburgh, I had some hard times growing up in a community that was still sore over the civil war. I might add that, even though Monk and Coltrane were Carolina-born, they both escaped. There are certain earthy, folksy attributes unique to the south that left a mark on my playing.
Back in the 1950s, radio and TV ran a lot of local artists, mostly in the country or R&B genres, and that had to have rubbed off. Still, there wasn’t much jazz in my life until I was well into my teens. My first jazz guitar influence was Kenny Burrell- prior to him, it was all rock ‘n roll, R & B, the Barkays and, of course, Stax session guitarist Steve Cropper.
Jan.s: By the late sixties you were working with musicians who were driving more than half the teenager population into reckless hedonism! ...You were playing with them! : (to quote) '... R & B artists like, Eddy Floyd, Spider Turner, Dobie Gray, Rufus Thomas as well as pop artists Gary US Bonds, Dion and others'.
Bill: Well, during the late sixties, when I was still in high school, I had started an R&B group with some college boys from NC State and Carolina and learned a little about working with horns. Back then R&B recording artists who were either on their way up or past their prime would use “pick-up bands,” mostly white soul bands from the South, who would work for cheap just to be onstage with some of these luminaries.
We had an old Greyhound bus which would break down in some uncomfortable places- like south Georgia, where we were actually run out of one town at gunpoint when our bus’s alternator failed. That was when we toured with Arthur Conley, an Atco Records star who had the hits “Sweet Soul Music’ and “Funky Street.”
This was about a year after Otis Redding died. I had the rare privilege of playing a concert at Tuskegee Institute- in 1968!
Jan.s: Tell us about one such musician/band that had an effect at the time on your playing...?
Bill: My horn band, The Variations, which backed up Arthur, Eddie Floyd and so many others, was the gig which helped me get into jazz. On the road we would listen to Blood, Sweat and Tears, the Flock and Dreams and tried to emulate that sound.
When we first worked with Arthur, he had his own guitarist, a Macon, Georgia session player named Carl Williams. At first I only played the warmup and dance sets, but took over the job of conducting and playing Arthur’s set when Carl left to play with Clarence Carter, who offered him more bread.
Carl was an extremely lyrical and rhythmic player- he could make his Gibson 335 semi-hollow body scream and cry! I stole most of his ideas and tricks. He used to talk about this one session cat at Capricorn Studio who played with a bottleneck- I think it was Duane Allman, but I never got a chance to meet him until years later.
The guy who helped me make the transition into jazz was a guitarist from LA named Clif Kuplan. I was 19 when I met him at a friend’s house in Raleigh- we were jamming and he just blew my doors off. From that time until I left North Carolina, I picked his brains shamelessly- it was probably irritating for a 27 year old to have this pimply-faced teenager always showing up at his door, but, well, there it is. Through Clif, I was turned onto Pat Martino, Larry Coryell, Mclaughlin, Bucky, Wes, the whole constellation of jazz guitarists. I had to learn how to play, all over again.
Jan.s: Bill, you have had amazing journey, thanks so much for sharing this part of it with us...I look forward to hearing more...!
Bill's latest release: November 2011 can be heard online and purchased via Ponca Jazz, link as below:
Some of the people Bill's played with:
Monday, May 18, 2009
Saturday, May 2, 2009
Jan.s: Evie, we go back a long time, back to the 1960s but I want to begin at a later period, in 1980 when you invited me to visit you in Paris. I've an image in mind of both you and I on the Champs Elysees and then squeezing backstage into a tiny dressing room where you were preparing to go on stage...tell us about this place and what you were doing in Paris? Why Paris?
Evie: The club you mentioned was called La Villa D'Este.
In 1968 I visited my sister living in Paris to pursue a modelling career and auditioned for a radio/television show called, ‘La Petite Conservatoire’ which had at its healm a formidable Madame Mireille. She invited me to perform on her show regularly and to tour France. These were my first professional singing jobs and the experience and exposure lead me to a woman, Brigitte Bertholier who was a French music publisher.
She gave me original songs to sing and almost a decade later when I returned she signed me to CBS Epic label to record a song written by Carlos Santana and Charles Level called ‘Un Cri Du Coeur.’
I had recorded some of Michel Legrand’s songs with the ABC big band in Sydney before I left and when Michel heard me singing ‘Pieces of Dreams,’ he invited me to perform with him at a televised concert with some French stars from ‘Les Parapluies De Cherbourg’ and other films that featured his music.
It was at this concert that I met Michel’s good friend, Stan Getz and shared our love of jazz.
A soul club invited me to sing six nights a week and I met the African American performers who were working in Paris.
The owner's name was Sarah who was Jewish and her club was called 'Sarah's' and she lived upstairs and loved all African American music and culture so made a home for them in Paris . . ex-pats Memphis Slim and Mickey Baker would sing there . . along with whoever was in town .
The cast of 'Ain’t Misbehaving', 'Porgy and Bess' and the 'Harlem Globetrotters' would come after their gigs finished to unwind with black-eyed peas, Southern fried chicken and collard greens. We would jam into the wee hours and I became good friends with the ex patriates like Memphis Slim, Mickey Baker, The Delta Rythm Boys and the Golden Gate Quartet.
One of the members of the GGQ, Paul Brembly and I united and our daughter, Jesse was born in Sydney on Christmas Eve 1978. I remember how you and Alison (McCallum), Michelle (Fawdon) and Brenda (Kristen) and other sisters surrounded Jesse with a loving welcome.
Jan.s: Yes Evie, a truly wonderful occasion celebrating Jesse's arrival in the world with you. Evie, now I'd like to return to asking you if you would share with us some of the influences these seminal gospel/blues/jazz musicians were having on your own musical journey?
Evie: All the music was exciting but what struck me was the history behind the music. Listening to the stories that formed the traditional spirituals, gospel, blues, and jazz gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation of the lives lived during the formation of these sounds.
The spirituals came from the rural times of cotton picking and the Church. As Christianity took over traditional African songs, so the hymns were sung with African rythmn. The GGQ were rejected by the Church for their music being too rythmic; although they sang traditional songs. They preceded Elvis in bringing hip movements to popular music, which supposedly led the young astray. Jazz reflected the urban experience, while as today Rap is right on the street.
African American culture led the pop music explosion . . Mickey said . .while you folk are copying us we have already moved on . . So in a nutshell their lives formed their music . .'Strange Fruit' is still a witness song to put us in the picture of the rural South .
To work with such innovators was a whole new world opening up for me. The music I was sharing, like the jazz with Jimmy Smith, the first one to coin the phrase "I've got my Mo Jo working . . " and blues from Memphis Slim whose hit, 'Everyday I Have the Blues' came from him hearing an old cleaning lady singing while she was ironing....
Along with music of Mickey Baker and Jack Hammer who wrote the monster hit, 'Great Balls of Fire', led me to a deeper appreciation of the original within the Aboriginal when I returned to Australia.
Jan.s: Evie, you are formidable.. there is not only a musical richness of experience in your story but the honouring of those you have met and their stories. ..I have so many more questions to ask you...but for now Evie, thank you.
Evie Pikler will be a guest speaker at the forthcoming 'The Dreaming Festival' 5- 8th June 2009. http://www.thedreamingfestival.com/
Evie's journey: 'Invited to join Aboriginal delegation as honoured guests to witness the first sitting of Maori Parliament in 60 years. NSW Sydney - Sans Souci - co-facilitated Women's business gathering Sunshine Coast, Queensland Maroochydore - Received blessings from traditional owners to perform my song, 'Olympic Dreaming' at the lighting of the flame ceremony as part of the torch relay through the Sunsine Coast. Caloundra - Shared "Noosa's Song" with Gubbi Gubbi elders who passed on their blessings to the song (song written on Gubbi Gubbi traditional land)'
NSW Sydney - Sans Souci - co-facilitated Women's business gathering Sunshine Coast, Queensland Maroochydore - Received blessings from traditional owners to perform my song, 'Olympic Dreaming' at the lighting of the flame ceremony as part of the torch relay through the Sunsine Coast. Caloundra - Shared "Noosa's Song" with Gubbi Gubbi elders who passed on their blessings to the song (song written on Gubbi Gubbi traditional land)'