"African-American music, including blues, soul, jazz, and gospel, may be the greatest artistic achievement of American culture. Its influence has spread throughout the world, and continues to do so. It is hard to quantify or speculate on the ways in which this music has affected race relations, politics, and societies."
Billy Price: The Voice of The Soul
2016 Blues Music Award Winner Billy Price first attracted national attention during his three-year association with guitarist Roy Buchanan. Price is the vocalist on two of Buchanan's LPs, That's What I'm Here For and Live Stock. Since then, with the Keystone Rhythm Band, the Billy Price Band, and solo projects, Billy Price has recorded and released a total of 16 albums, CDs, and DVDs. In April 2016, he was officially recognized and inducted as a Pittsburgh Rock ’n Roll Legend at an award ceremony. Price’s album This Time for Real, with the late Chicago soul singer Otis Clay, received a 2016 Blues Music Award in the category of Best Soul Blues Album of 2015. His latest album Reckoning, produced by Kid Andersen at Greaseland Studios, was released on June 15, 2018 by Vizztone Label Group. It has been nominated for a 2019 Blues Music Award in the category of Best Soul Blues Album of 2018.
His new album 'Dog Eat Dog', also produced by Andersen, will be released on Gulf Coast Records in August, 2019. The Pittsburgh-based Billy Price Band consists of Dave Dodd (drums), Tom Valentine (bass), Lenny Smith (guitar), Jim Britton (keyboards), Eric Spaulding (sax), and Joe Herndon (trumpet). The Billy Price Charm City Rhythm Band, based in Billy’s new hometown of Baltimore, MD, consists of El Torro Gamble (drums), Greg Haughey (bass), Pete Kanaras (guitar), Tam Sullivan (keyboards), Dan Gutwein (sax), and Vince McCool (trumpet).
Interview by Michael Limnios Photos by David Aschkenas
How has the Blues n’ Soul music and culture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?
I have been attracted to and involved with blues and soul music, both as a fan and as a singer, from the time I was a child through the present day. My love for this music has brought me happiness and fulfillment throughout my life, and continues to do so. Because blues and soul emerged from African-American culture in the U.S., my love for this music has exposed me to the influence of diverse musical and cultural styles, and this has opened me up to a greater appreciation and respect for people of different ethnic and social backgrounds.
How do you describe Billy Price’s music philosophy and progress? What does to be a ‘Soul Singer’ todays?
From the beginning of my career, I have modeled myself after the great soul singers whom I saw performing when I first began attending concerts—Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, James Brown, Otis Clay, Tyrone Davis, to name a few. When these artists performed, they were always backed by strong and supportive bands, and they strove to make an immediate and emotional impression on their audiences. As the gospel singers say, their goal was to “wreck the house.” This is what soul singers do, and this is what I always try to do.
What has made you laugh and what touched (emotionally) you from your new album (2019) studio sessions?
We have a great time when we record at Greaseland, Kid Andersen’s home studio in San José, California. One of the highlights for me was to collaborate with the great blues and soul singer Alabama Mike, who sings with me on the title song, Dog Eat Dog. That song was written by Rick Estrin, and Rick also played harmonica on our version of the song.
I love working with and spending time with Kid, who always has fresh and creative musical ideas and immerses himself completely in a project the he is producing. We share a love for this music and a commitment to making an original contribution to the genre. It was great also to sing and spend time with all the great musicians whom Kid assembled to work on the album: the legendary Jerry Jemmott (bass), Jim Pugh (keyboards), Alex Pettersen (drums), Jon Otis and Vicki Randle (congas and percussion), Lisa Leuschner Andersen (background vocals), Eric Spaulding (saxophone), the Sons of the Soul Revivers (background vocals), and others.
In addition to the many songs that I helped to write on the album with my co-writers Jim Britton and Fred Chapellier, I was happy to have the opportunity to record a song written by my friends Melvin and Mervin Steals, whom I worked with many years ago. The Steals brothers wrote many great soul hits including their biggest, “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love” by the Spinners. Melvin was kind enough to send me a song that they wrote for the Impressions, “Same Old Heartaches,” and we recorded a great new version of this song. I think listeners are going to love it when they hear it.
"From the beginning of my career, I have modeled myself after the great soul singers whom I saw performing when I first began attending concerts—Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, James Brown, Otis Clay, Tyrone Davis, to name a few." (Billy Price / Photo by David Aschkenas)
What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?
I miss the great soul radio stations that I used to listen to during the heyday of soul music in the 60s and 70s—those stations were so much fun to listen to and introduced me to so much great music. Nowadays I find other ways of hearing new recordings, but the problem with having such easy and free access to new music is that the creators of that music don’t get compensated financially for their work the way they once did through airplay and record sales. As the market for physical copies of recordings has disappeared, it has become harder and harder for recording artists to make a living.
Of course, this has always been a problem, and often in the past, the artists were also not fairly compensated. But today, it is virtually impossible for artists and songwriters to earn money from their recordings—recordings have become, in essence, advertisements for live performances. This is okay for artists who are willing and able to tour and perform frequently enough to sustain their careers, but I think that unless the music industry evolves to compensate performers, writers, and copyright owners for their work, there will not be sufficient incentives for artists to dedicate their lives to creating music.
What´s been the highlights in your career so far? Are there any memories which you’d like to share with us?
I had the opportunity when I was in my 20s to sing, record, and tour with the great blues guitarist Roy Buchanan, and I also was able to perform many times with Otis Clay, who was a friend from 1983 until his death in 2016. I am proud to have collaborated with Otis on the last album of his career, This Time for Real, which we released in 2015 and which won a Blues Music Award from the Blues Foundation for Best Soul Blues Album of that year.
Probably my greatest experience with Otis was when we performed together once in the early 1980s, backed by my band, Billy Price & the Keystone Rhythm Band, at Biddy Mulligan’s in Chicago. Otis’s friend Tyrone Davis came to see us that night, and I had the opportunity to sing “Turn Back the Hands of Time” on stage with Otis and Tyrone—that is an experience I will never forget.
What is the impact of Soul and Blues music and culture on the racial, political and socio-cultural implications? Billy Price / Photo by David Aschkenas
African-American music, including blues, soul, jazz, and gospel, may be the greatest artistic achievement of American culture. Its influence has spread throughout the world, and continues to do so. It is hard to quantify or speculate on the ways in which this music has affected race relations, politics, and societies. Certainly, it has helped to break down some of the barriers that separate people of different cultural backgrounds, but there is still much work to be done in getting people to see beyond their cultural and political prejudices and predispositions.
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in music paths?
I have learned not to be too discouraged by temporary setbacks and disappointments. This has been easier when I have viewed singing and performing as a craft rather than as a means to some other end such as fame, fortune, recognition, or material success. To the best of my ability, I just keep working to get better as a singer and performer. I will never achieve perfection, but I think I can keep growing and learning indefinitely as long as I never give up.
Comments are closed for this blog post