Q&A with soul-blues vocalist Billy Price, acclaimed producer/drummer Tony Braunagel to produce new Price's Studio Recording

"I hope that my songs have both humor and passion, and that they are a true expression of my outlook about real life as I have lived it. Many of the songs are personal and are based on feelings and situations that I have felt and experienced. Musically, the songs are influenced by my love of blues and especially of classic soul music, both the southern and northern varieties."

Billy Price:

A Person of Interest of Soul & Blues Music

2016 Blues Music Award (BMA) Winner and frequent BMA nominee 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 20 albums, CDs, and DVDs. 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 2018 album Reckoning, produced by Kid Andersen at Greaseland Studios for Vizztone, was nominated for a 2019 Blues Music Award in the category of Best Soul Blues Album of 2018. His 2019 album Dog Eat Dog, also produced by Andersen, was nominated for a 2020 BMA for Best Soul Blues Album of 2019. He also received BMA nominations for Best Male Soul Blues Artist in 2020 and 2022. In 2022, he released a 3-CD compilation retrospective of his career on GetHip Recordings titled 50+ Years of Soul.

(Billy Price / Photo © by David Aschkenas)

The Billy Price Band won the Pittsburgh City Paper Reader’s Poll in 2021 & 2022 as the top blues band in the city. Little Village will be released the brand new recording from the blue eyed soul & blues singer supreme, titled “Person of Interest” (Release Day: August 2nd, 2024), with 13 amazing original Billy Price songs to life, all, produced by Grammy (and BMA) award producer/drummer Tony Braunagel. All-star band, including the one and only Jim Pugh on keys, with Larry Fulcher, Reggie McBride, and James “Hutch” Hutchinson on bass, Tony Braunagel on drums, full horn section (Eric Spaulding, Mark Pender, Ron Dziubla), percussion legend Lenny Castro, and guitar stars, Louisiana's Shane Theriot and California's Josh Sklair and Johnny Lee Schel, and Joe Bonamassa!

Interview by Michael Limnios                         Archive: Billy Price, 2022 interview

Special Thanks: Billy Price, Kevin Johnson (Proud Papa PR) & Little Village Foundation

You’ll have one new release with Little Village, Tony Braunagel as producer, and an All-Star Band. How did that relationship come about?

The band was assembled by Tony Braunagel. We recorded it in Los Angeles near Tony’s home, at Johnny Lee Schell’s Ultratone recording studio. The keyboard player on all of the tracks, Jim Pugh, is the executive director of Little Village, and he was and is enthusiastic to release this album.

Tony and I had first talked about working together back in around 2017, at the Big Blues Bender, but we never got around to making the album that we had talked about. This past May, I was performing with Anthony Geraci and the Boston Blues All-Stars at a fundraiser benefit in Clarksdale, Mississippi, right after the Blues Music Awards in Memphis, and Anthony asked Tony to play drums with us because Anthony’s drummer wasn’t available for the Clarksdale show. It was great to sing with Tony on the drums, and we also had a chance to hang out together and have some laughs after our performance.

The next day I was at the airport about to fly home to Pittsburgh when I saw Tony at an airport bar, and I went over to say goodbye to him and wish him well. He said, “You know, I would STILL like to make that album with you that we talked about a while back.” So, after I got home, I thought about what Tony had said, and eventually I got in touch with him and we started talking seriously about doing an album together.

"Although it’s true that there is a certain quality of life experience that an older singer or musician can draw from that a younger artist can’t, in general, I don’t think the differences are that significant. Some of my favorite recordings were made by singers who were young when they made them. If you have it you have it, and that can be evident at a young age. Magic Sam died of a heart attack when he was 32, so he was never old during his entire lifetime. I don’t think anyone can say that he lacked feeling in his singing and playing even though he never lived to be old." (Billy Price Band / Photo © by David Aschkenas)

How do you describe new album's “Person of Interest” (2024) sound and songbook?

For the first time in my career, I am releasing an album on which I co-wrote all of the songs. I wrote most of the songs with the keyboard player in my band, Jim Britton, and also wrote two with Jon and Sally Tiven and one with Fred Chapellier, the great French guitarist with whom I’ve collaborated in the past. Tony Braunagel, my producer, helped with some of the songwriting, and I also recorded a song I wrote in the 1980s with the keyboard player in Billy Price and the Keystone Rhythm Band, Mike Karr.

Do you have any interesting stories about the making of “Person of Interest”?

I write all the time with Jim Britton, the keyboard player in my band, the Billy Price Band. I also write with a French guitarist with whom I have recorded and toured, Fred Chapellier, and I started writing again with Jon Tiven, a fine songwriter, producer, and guitar player, and his wife Sally Tiven, who live in Nashville, Tennessee. Jon, Sally, and I wrote some songs years ago for my album East End Avenue. So even before I started talking with Tony about this album, I already had a lot of good songs written.

What do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?

I hope that my songs have both humor and passion, and that they are a true expression of my outlook about real life as I have lived it. Many of the songs are personal and are based on feelings and situations that I have felt and experienced.

What is the driving force behind your continuous support for your music?

Musically, the songs are influenced by my love of blues and especially of classic soul music, both the southern and northern varieties.

"Oh sure, I am influenced by many things. Among those that come to mind are reading—I am an avid reader, both fiction and non-fiction—and I have also studied and practiced Buddhism off and on for much of my life. I also have a strong interest in gospel music and sing tenor in a wonderful vocal group called the Heritage Gospel Chorale of Pittsburgh, under the leadership of Dr. Herbert Jones. Our big spring concert is this Saturday afternoon!" (Billy Price / Photo © by David Aschkenas)

Artists and labels will have to adapt to the new changes. What are your predictions for the music industry? How do you think the music industry will adapt to it?

Even though it seems like there has been a lot of change in the music business over the past few years, I don’t think this is anything new. The music business has been changing perpetually over the years that I have been in it. I’ve always tried to adapt to these changes and to align my music career with the business as it really is rather than as I would like it to be.

The reality of the business today is that most people consume music by means of digital streaming, and when people buy physical media these days, they are more likely to buy vinyl recordings than CDs. I’ve done well selling CDs of my recordings during my career, but it is starting to look like those days are over. As disappointing as that may be, I don’t plan to spend any time complaining about it on Facebook. So I will probably be selling vinyl physical copies of this new album and doing my best to get a lot of digital streams on Spotify, Apple Music, and other platforms to be sure that as many people as possible hear our work.

I’m not smart enough to predict the future of the music industry other than to say that disruptive change will probably continue to be perpetual, and I’m going to do my best to be flexible and stay current with the industry as long as I am part of it.

Why do you think that Soul and Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following?

In today’s popular music, soul and blues are primary colors. These colors sometimes appear in music in their unadulterated forms and other times are mixed with other primary colors to produce new creations. I have always been a traditionalist with soul music in particular, and my recordings have stayed close to the classic modes of expression that first developed in the 1960s and 1970s, mostly in the American South. With these new songs on Person of Interest, I worked with Tony and the other great musicians on the recordings to fashion something new and original. I hope that people like the results as much as I do.

"Musical styles perpetually change because the human spirit is never satisfied and always yearns to combine musical influences into new and different modes of expression." (Billy Price / Photo © by David Aschkenas)

What is the role of music in today’s society? What are you doing to keep your music relevant today, to develop it and present it to the new generation?

When I think about this question, the first thing that comes to mind is the quotation attributed to Nietzche, “Without music, life would be a mistake.” I could not imagine what my life would be without music; it is the greatest source of joy and inspiration that I have ever found. I can only speak to music’s role in my life. As to music’s role in society, that is a question for someone much smarter than I am to answer.

What I do to keep my music relevant is simply to live day to day in this world and to document that experience in the songs I write and my performances of them. I don’t think that age, or succeeding generations, has much to do with relevance. If a song or performance is an honest expression of an artist’s lived experience, it will resonate with listeners, regardless of their age or the generational cohort they belong to. The only thing I have to do is to be true to myself and to avoid trying to game the system by guessing what listeners are going to want or copying other more successful artists.

Life is more than just music, is there any other field that has influence on your life and music?

Oh sure, I am influenced by many things. Among those that come to mind are reading—I am an avid reader, both fiction and non-fiction—and I have also studied and practiced Buddhism off and on for much of my life. I also have a strong interest in gospel music and sing tenor in a wonderful vocal group called the Heritage Gospel Chorale of Pittsburgh, under the leadership of Dr. Herbert Jones. Our big spring concert is this Saturday afternoon!

Why do you think Soul/Blues has evolved over the decades from being a pop culture genre to a niche-genre?

Musical styles perpetually change because the human spirit is never satisfied and always yearns to combine musical influences into new and different modes of expression. Styles that were once in the mainstream of popular music tend to recede into the background, as soul and blues have, and to then be supported only by niche audiences. This evolution is a natural process and doesn’t have anything to do with the nature of soul or blues, in my opinion. It just stems from the fact that time passes, styles change, and innovators emerge who create new forms of expression that gain ascendance as older, more familiar styles recede into the background. Fortunately for me, there are enough fans of traditional soul music and blues to enable me to continue to write, sing, and perform the music that I love.

"Traditional soul-blues or “southern soul” as it’s often called is still popular, particularly in the south and in big cities like Washington, DC and Chicago among older African-Americans. But there are also a lot of singers and groups who are building on and extending the music that I grew up loving and listening to, and it’s clear from the concerts I go to that these groups are appealing to people a lot younger than I am." (Billy Price on stage, Blues Heaven Festival 2022, Denmark / Photo © by Karo Achten)

What's the balance in music between technique and soul? Why is it important to we preserve and spread the blues/soul music?

There are certainly a lot of singers who have better physical voices and better technique than I have. The voice is a physical thing, and everyone is limited by the physical capabilities they were born with to produce their voices. And my voice doesn’t easily do what it was able to do 40 or 50 years ago; that’s just the natural process of aging. I’ve just always tried to make the most of what my physical voice enables me to do, so developing and refining my singing technique is as important for me as it was for Aretha Franklin or Sam Cooke, even though I of course will never have a voice that comes close to theirs.

It’s not as easy to talk about soul. Soul is a hard thing to define, but you know it when you encounter it. There are singers who have limited technique but who are still able to create deep and moving performances in the way they use tone, phrasing, and other extra-musical qualities to express the feelings that they are feeling and are trying to convey to listeners. I think of a singer like Dorothy Love Coates of the Gospel Harmonettes who had nowhere near the voice of some of the other great female gospel singers of her day like Mahalia Jackson or Marion Williams. Dorothy Love Coates had a much more limited range and often sang with a voice that sounded hoarse or even tired, but her performances were every bit as moving, at least to me, as those of singers with much better voices. That quality that Dorothy Love Coates had was what I call “soul."

From the musical and feeling point of view is there any difference between an old and great Soul/Blues crooners/musicians and young?

Although it’s true that there is a certain quality of life experience that an older singer or musician can draw from that a younger artist can’t, in general, I don’t think the differences are that significant. Some of my favorite recordings were made by singers who were young when they made them. If you have it you have it, and that can be evident at a young age. Magic Sam died of a heart attack when he was 32, so he was never old during his entire lifetime. I don’t think anyone can say that he lacked feeling in his singing and playing even though he never lived to be old.

"I’m not smart enough to predict the future of the music industry other than to say that disruptive change will probably continue to be perpetual, and I’m going to do my best to be flexible and stay current with the industry as long as I am part of it."

(Billy Price / Photo © by Karo Achten)

Do you think there is an audience for Soul/Blues music in its current state? or at least a potential for young people to become future audiences and fans?

Traditional soul-blues or “southern soul” as it’s often called is still popular, particularly in the south and in big cities like Washington, DC and Chicago among older African-Americans. But there are also a lot of singers and groups who are building on and extending the music that I grew up loving and listening to, and it’s clear from the concerts I go to that these groups are appealing to people a lot younger than I am. These contemporary styles are sometimes referred to as “neo-soul” or “retro soul,” and there are a lot of great artists working in these genres. Among my favorites are the California Honeydrops, the Monophonics, Durand Jones and the Indications with Aaron Frazer, the Jack Moves, Say She She, Claire Davis, Thee Sacred Souls, Joey Quinones and Thee Sinseers, the Altons—I could go on and on, these are some of my favorite contemporary artists. So, I don’t see the kind of music I’ve loved all my life disappearing from the world anytime soon.

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