Q&A with blues/rock guitarist Billy Hector - a New Jersey state treasure and one of the best shows you'll ever see

"The whole reason blues music exists is because of its social cultural implication. Slavery. Music of dysphoria that has been changed and adapted in America for over a hundred years and gave birth to the Ragtime, Jazz, Gospel Blues Boogie-woogie, Rock'n Roll, and now Rap. The platform for social change now is Rap."

Billy Hector: Funky Rockin’ Blues

Whether Billy Hector is teasing you with his sultry slidework, picking through delta blues or flat-out cranking it up and crunching out the electric blues/rock on his beloved vintage Fender Stratocaster, his music reflects the true soul and origins of the blues; always passionate, engaging and dedicated to making the audience move and sweat.  Having honed his chops and style through three decades of performances, Hector is critically recognized as one of the hottest and most interesting guitarist/songwriters on the original circuit and has even been called “A New Jersey state treasure” by music writers. Early in his career, Billy Hector identified himself as a deeply-grounded and versatile player drawing his influences from important predecessors including T-Bone Walker, Freddie King, Jimi Hendrix, Roy Buchanan and a host of others across musical style and genre. But, as with all truly great musicians, recognizable influences are interesting only insofar as they provide a departure point for the musician's spirit. It falls on the musician to shape his predecessor's ideas into music that does not simply replicate but engagingly adds to the whole. Most can only aspire to this level of creation; Billy Hector generates it in spades and it happens every night.

In the late 70s, Hector’s first stop was as the guitarist for The Shots, a horn-driven R&B group that took over the house band role from Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes at the renowned Stone Pony. He moved on as lead guitarist for Hot Romance, a band based at the infamous Mrs. Jay’s biker bar in Asbury Park that also began receiving New York City radio airplay for its original songs. In the mid-80’s, drawn back to earlier musical roots, Billy Hector formed the five-piece blues/rock band The Fairlanes and, co-wrote and released three independent albums on the Blue Jersey label. By early 1993, Hector regrouped as a power trio and renamed his band The Billy Hector Band. A prolific songwriter/composer, Billy Hector has albums to his credit, most on the independent Ghetto Surf label. And with over thirty-five years of performing under his belt, Billy Hector is recognized as one of the hottest guitarists and songwriters playing the original circuit and serves up what more than one reviewer has called "one of the best shows you'll ever see". Billy Hector's new album titled, "Someday Baby" (Release Date: August 25th, 2018). Whether Hector is teasing you with his sultry slide work, picking through Delta blues or flat-out cranking it up and crunching out electric blues-rock on his beloved vintage Fender Stratocaster, his music reflects the true soul and origins of the blues, always passionate, engaging and dedicated to making the audience move and sweat. Billy Hector has served as touring guitarist for Hubert Sumlin and Joe Louis Walker.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the Blues people and culture? What does the blues mean to you?

Without the blues there would not be much American music. That sound would not have been present to be the foundation upon which American music was grown. The blues has taught me about empathy, how to deal with hardship, how to laugh when things get bad.

What were the reasons that you started the Blues researches? How do you describe your songbook and sound?

My mother¹s favorite song was “St. Louis Blues”. And all the acts from the 1960’s and 70’s when I was a young teenager soaking up all the sounds around me were blues based. I read a review about the Rolling Stones and it said they liked Muddy Waters. So, I started my search from there. Leon Russell produced Freddie King and put a demo recording in the “Shelter People” record release. I heard Freddie King play “Goin’ Down” and it was a great sell. So, I kept going back and learning more about the blues. I would describe my songbook as funky rockin’ blues.

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

The best advice came from my father who said, don’t play on a 2-dollar table all your life Sup the stakes’.

"The Blues Rock world culture has in general, shown me the world needs to be a lot more open. It needs to be more inclusive of all types of folks and grooves for that matter. Hard rocking, soulful, slow and soft, or funky and fast, it can all be good." (Photo: Billy Hector & Hubert Sumlin)

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio which you’d like to share with us?

When my band opened up for Buddy Guy at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park. We received a thunderous applause. It was very moving. Up until that time I thought we were just laboring in obscurity and the applause was so unexpected and so welcome that it brought tears to my eyes. And for a few years I toured with Hubert Sumlin. That was a great experience. Almost every sentence he spoke was a lesson, almost every note he played was a lesson also. My band was featured in “Hellhounds on My Trail”, backing the great Sonny Landreth at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tribute to Robert Johnson. Performing at The Kennedy Center in D.C. for the tribute to Lead Belly along with Robert Plant and Josh White. Those were all memorable.

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

All musical genres change with time. New generations offer new interpretations of their life experience, as is so of the blues. Childish Gambino, etc. The blues is played in every state and province in every country round the world. The blues changed the face of modern music. It grew out of the boogie-woogie to what we know today. The music is still popular and will continue to grow as other influences come in to play. We need to attract and keep a younger audience.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

A little more peace and love in the music would be greats.

What touched (emotionally) you from slide guitar? What are the secrets of slide and Fender Strat (vintage)?

What really attracted me to the slide guitar was its voice-like quality. And Wayne Allman¹s playing was brand new to me in my world and I thought it such a great sound. From there I delved back to Elmore James, discover different tunings and learned to play it.

Actually, I am still trying to discover the secrets of the Fender Stratocaster! It has beaten me down and taken over my life. It is an illness and affliction I cannot shakes.

"Without the blues there would not be much American music. That sound would not have been present to be the foundation upon which American music was grown. The blues has taught me about empathy, how to deal with hardship, how to laugh when things get bad."

How has the Blues and Rock counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you¹ve taken?

The Blues Rock world culture has in general, shown me the world needs to be a lot more open. It needs to be more inclusive of all types of folks and grooves for that matter. Hard rocking, soulful, slow and soft, or funky and fast, it can all be good.

What is the impact of Blues music and culture to the racial, political, and socio-cultural implications?

The whole reason blues music exists is because of its social cultural implication. Slavery. Music of dysphoria that has been changed and adapted in America for over a hundred years and gave birth to the Ragtime, Jazz, Gospel Blues Boogie-woogie, Rock'n Roll, and now Rap. The platform for social change now is Rap. Reason being more people hear a Drake record then they will an Albert Collins record. The music has changed, the culture has changed, the way people think. The Blues and Jazz are America's classical music. Blues is a truth. And the truth is ugly. We have a long way to go. Music can deftly bring people together and we hope, we hope, it can bring people to see our similarities and not our differences. The sound of a mother crying, sound of a baby’s cry is universal, everyone can understand it goes beyond spoken words into pure emotion and sound. We can get different people from different cultures and America on the bandstand playing as one. Many voices into One Voice. I heard a wise man say once "we came on different ships and now we are in the same boat. " We can get it together. We can all sing together. Music is universal; it is for everyone.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I would love to hang with Jimi and John Hammond at the Café Wah? In New York City. Before Chas Chandler came to town. That would be cool.

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