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Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Mick Dillingham Interviews : Bill Lloyd

Nashville’s Bill Lloyd has always been a class act of the highest calibre.  A superb intelligent songwriter and musician with an unerring judgement when it comes to what we all want in Pop Rock excellence. He has never once dropped the ball in all these years. 

The news of a new Bill Lloyd album is always a wonderful thing to behold because you can absolutely guarantee its going to be a classy and glorious treat, because when it comes to Mr Lloyd it always has been. His latest platter Don’t Kill the Messenger effortlessly continues to deliver up the hook filled magic to delight and amaze. Time to sit down with this excellent gentleman and have a chat.

What are your earliest memories of first getting into music?

“Both my parents played. My dad was a “swing era” drummer and my mom could sight-read piano. They also had a large record collection. My dad had once been a deejay and journalist and my mom, a librarian. The books and records collecting gene got passed down pretty deep! Besides Disney albums, my mom bought me a Rick Nelson album after it was obvious that I was enjoying seeing the end of the show performance on Ozzie and Harriet every week (with James Burton on guitar!).

When The Beatles hit. she bought me the I Want To Hold Your Hand/I Saw Her Standing There picture sleeve single. Like so many others in my age group, that took hold and here we are. After the initiation of Rick Nelson and The Beatles, it was just whatever was on the radio. That phrase “born at the right time” really does apply for me and music.  Sixties boss pop radio had a little bit of everything in it from the British Invasion. Motown, country, garage-rock… I love it all.”

When did you start playing an instrument and why?

“I started with drums and that was my main instrument up until I started taking my own song writing more seriously when I graduated high school. I took drums lessons from a college student jazz-guy when I was about eleven who went to Vietnam and I sadly never heard from again. Early on, my mother also made me take piano lessons when I wanted to take guitar. I asked often enough until my parents finally relented to buying a guitar.

I can’t begrudge any of the lessons I took looking back. I will still play the drums at the drop of a hat. I still write using a piano. Stringed things seem to come to me naturally. I play well enough. but as I live in Nashville and talking as someone who plays...humility can be served up quick. Stellar players are all around this town.”

What was the first song you wrote where you knew you had something going on?

“I started young. I remember writing a song called Eight Arms To Hold You because I saw it on a Beatles single and then there wasn’t a song to go with the title. I started co-writing songs with a friend around 6th grade and that lasted a few years. I co-wrote songs with bandmates in later bands so that co-writing thing wasn’t new to me when I moved to Nashville years later.

I started writing songs professionally in my late twenties, but actually had a few songs published before then.. in my mid-twenties being in bands that made independent records. When I finally wrote a song that was a bonafide hit (Radney and I co-wrote Since I Found You by Sweethearts Of The Rodeo), that’s a moment when you know something worked. Writing songs as a way of making a living is a huge motivator!”

 Did you have any early bands? Can you recall the first time you played in front of an audience?

“1969. Knights of Columbus Hall in Bowling Green, KY. It was a three-piece band, with no bass player. called Delima Being. We made nine dollars and eighty cents after passing a hat. The fact that it wasn’t even ten dollars didn’t phase us. We went to McDonalds and ate like heroes. We also bought a communal song book to learn new songs. One of the guys, Vance, was my co-writing partner at the time.

I was in other bands throughout high school. I was playing three nights a week as a drummer when I was only fifteen. Illegal yes, but we got away with it. Other bands throughout those years in Bowling Green that had original material I wrote or contributed to had names like Hoodwink, Over, Bedside Manor, Southern Star and The Press.”

The first release I can find mentioned is the Sgt Arms single from 1982.

“It wouldn’t be easy to find, but the first vinyl record I was ever on was as a part of an acoustic singer-songwriter band called Southern Star. It was a radio station sponsored collection of local artists out of Louisville, KY. 1976. My band mates were David Surface (who I still write with and my partner in Sgt, Arms), Dave Walker and Kim Richey (who still makes fantastic records and you may have heard of).

The timeline for Elephant and Foster & Lloyd are intermingled, but Sgt. Arms was the band I was in earlier up in Bowling Green, KY. BG is only sixty miles north of Nashville. My song writing partner in that band, David Surface and I had moved to NYC in 1980 in an effort to get a record deal. After John Lennon was murdered in December of that year, we headed back home and made independent records until we broke up at the end of the summer of 1982.

I moved to Nashville that November. It was a good band, but that isn’t always enough. David has co-written a bunch songs on my solo albums; A Beautiful Lie, In the Line of Fire, Cool and Gone, Til the Day That I Break Down and Undone on my brand new one.”

Tell us about the recording of your debut album Feeling The Elephant. 

 “The recordings that I collected for that album were all made after Sgt. Arms had disbanded. I had a song-by-song publishing arrangement with a studio called The Castle that was state of the art studio. It was actually a Castle in Franklin, TN. with their own publishing company and a staff of engineers. Being in that atmosphere was a big step up in my mind. That led to a full-time job as a songwriter in 1985 with MTM (Mary Tyler Moore) publishing.

The songs and recordings for Elephant are all from that period. The title track and This Very Second were also on local Nashville compilations of the early 80’s. Sgt. Arms drummer, Marc Owens had a home studio that he made available for me to work in and that was extremely helpful! I would drive back and forth between Nashville and Bowling Green to do some of those recordings.”

How did you first meet Radney Foster and how did you end up signing to RCA?

 “We met at MTM publishing, being two of the youngest guys there at the time. The RCA deal came about after one of their A&R guys caught another friend of mine and I playing clubs doing a duo called The Ever-Ready Brothers. We were ever-ready to open for anyone if there was a dollar attached.  My pal in that was Will Rambeaux who has had his own musical career over the years. When RCA asked about that duo,

I played them a couple songs Will and I had written, but then showed them all the songs Radney and I had that really was a sound and a cool project. So Radney and I became a duo. We did three albums and a best of for RCA. We split at the end of 1990.

Our third album included a Duane Eddy inspired instrumental called “Woah!” that featured Duane Eddy, Albert Lee, Rusty Young, Felix Cavilliere (Rascals), Garry Tallent (E St. Band) & R.S Field along with Radney and I that got nominated for a Grammy Award.”

How did the song-writing dynamic work between you?  I think its fair to say that you were musically unmistakably commercial compared to your own stuff. Did you eventually find this a creative restraint or not a problem since you knew what was needed here. You certainly had a lot of hits.  Why did you part company and how was your later reunion?

“Most of the songs Radney and I wrote that got us our deal were written to pitch to other artists and we were both staff-song writers at MTM, so commerciality was a constant touchstone. We also got our deal during a time in Nashville when the labels were looking into publishing houses for artists.  Steve Earle, The OKanes, Kennedy Rose and others all came out of the song-writing community. It was later referred to (I think by Steve) as “the great credibility scare”.

Country Radio was playing Earle, Dwight Yoakam, Lyle Lovett, New Grass Revival and it was the widest format on American radio for a couple years there. We were lucky to be able to have made our records during that time. It gave us extra leeway as artists to be a little outside. It also gave us enough rope to hang ourselves with and after three albums, we weren’t getting response at radio like we were in the beginning.

Radney decided to go solo. I had a newborn son and took a job as a talent scout and helped put together another band which later became The Sky Kings. Radney and I still keep in touch. The record we did in 2011 called It’s Already Tomorrow allowed us to revisit our co-writing and record making again. We had some fun too.”

Next up is The Sky Kings.

“Josh Leo who was head of A&R at RCA at the time and my former manager, Ken Levitan, wanted to build a new Wilbury-ish country band around Rusty Young from Poco and myself. That meant there was a deal in place if we could make the music happen. I loved the idea. Pat Simmons of The Doobie Brothers and John Cowan from New Grass Revival joined in and that was our foursome. We did a record for RCA and toured as an opening act for The Doobies. It coulda’-shoulda’-woulda’ been huge, but there was a political shift in power at RCA that killed the deal.

We did another record, minus Pat, for Warner Brothers. So many folks thought it was a great group…so much talent, but ill-fated at both labels. Warners only released three singles and held back the album. A few years later Rhino Handmade put it out in a deluxe package. Sony finally released the RCA material just a few years back, but only digitally. It’s called 1992. Nothing to do with power pop but I am still proud to have made music with these guys.” You can listen to and buy The Sky Kings music here.

Tell us about the recording of the fantastic Set to Pop. This was the album that made the “guitar pop” community first take you to their hearts.

“Thank you. Set To Pop was another collection of recordings from that time period where I was doing The Sky Kings, but I was writing and recording my own material as well.  I rarely go into a recording situation thinking “this song is definitely for the new album.” I may go in with that hope, but all my records are assembled after I have more than enough tracks. I  have to then assemble it with a feeling of what makes a whole.

Some good tracks don’t fit and they end up being out-takes or shelved for a later record. There were some great cameo appearances on that record… Marshall Crenshaw, Jody Stephens from Big Star, Al Kooper, Garry Tallent, very fortunate on multiple levels. Set To Pop was the first record I made after Foster & Lloyd had both country radio and critical success.

Also, Feeling The Elephant had a second release in 1990. The original album, on Throbbing Lobster out of Boston, was vinyl only in 1986. DB Records released it again with new artwork on LP, Cassette and CD. It was, again, critically well received on its re-release, so Set To Pop came at a good time.”

Next up is the glorious Standing On the Shoulders of Giants. Do you have the songs set up to go as an album or does the recording process shape things?

“Glorious? Thank you! I like that record too.  I just go into the studio and record until I feel like I have enough songs and that they fit together well. The sequencing on all my albums happens the same way. I usually get into my car, drive off and listen to various sequences and see what they feel like. That’s also how I weed out a particular track and replace it with another.

Koch was the label that put that record out and it’s out of print on CD these days. It is available digitally. but I’m thinking about doing a re-release with new mastering and bonus tracks. I had a Cheap Trick/Smithereens rhythm section on a couple of songs (Tom Petersson and Dennis Diken), Al Anderson from NRBQ, Henry Gross, Kim Richey, Swan Dive.. some great company to be making music with.”

Talk about Back To Even. There’s always a good five years between records…

“That’s very true that I was biding my time between releases. I didn’t tour as a solo artist. I was already on the younger side of middle age at the time and unless something special comes along (which it did with The Hanging Chads), I wasn’t going to jump into a van and tour. With Foster & Lloyd we went from being staff songwriters to making records and touring in a bus, opening for Roy Orbison, so yes, I had been spoiled. 

Back To Even was a post-divorce, get your life back in line kind of record and several of the tracks reflect that. Once again, I had some great help.  There were co-written songs with Peter Case (which was later covered by ex-Beau Brummel Sal Valentino), Clive Gregson (Any Trouble), Steve Allen (20.20), Beth Nielsen Chapman and others. Musicians like Ken Coomer (Wilco) and Robert Reynolds (Mavericks), Rusty Young, Don Dixon and Pat Buchanan were also on board. When I play solo shows, there are still several songs from this record still in rotation.”

 How was doing that record with Jamie Hoover?

“I loved The Spongetones and think Jamie is one of the best singers and record makers that I know. We really got to know each other when he came to Nashville to record with The Woods. Dan Baird (Georgia Satelittes) and I were co-producing them when I was doing talent scouting for RCA. Jamie and I began writing songs long-distance and a bunch of them ended up on Spongetones records.

When we began having surplus songs, we decided to make what I call a “buddy record”. We recorded using a click and layered the tracks kitchen-sink and all in our separate studios. It was both written and recorded long-distance! Dennis Diken (The Smithereens) came in and did his drum parts later and Jamie mixed.

I took naps on his couch and nodded a lot and told him it was all good. Fun record and we later actually toured with Don Dixon and Robert Crenshaw as The Hanging Chads playing a six city mini-tour promoting our individual records in 2004.”

 Boy King Of Tokyo continues that run of greatness...tell us about it.

“Run Of greatness. I like it. It started with my ego-driven-bucket-list-notion that I must have at least one album where I play and write everything myself. I have a lot of tracks over the years where I play mostly everything, but not a whole album. Todd Rundgren, Emitt Rhodes, McCartney all did great records as one-man-bands and I wanted to do that too. That was the plan.

However, I did not engineer and mix myself which I had done on some previous records. I got to work with great talents like Scott Baggett, Glenn Rosenstein, Jonathan Bright, Steve Marcantonio and Jamie Hoover in that department. But I can say, that all the parts, instrumentally and vocally, I did on my own just to say I did.

The title track came from a cache of photos I have from my early life in Tokyo Japan. With no family left to ask, I decided to make up a story based on some truths and call it Boy King of Tokyo. The cover photo, back photo (actually me) are among the photos that inspired the song.

This was also during a time when I had been working as a Stringed Instrument Curator at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The instrumentals Doc’s Box and Chet’s Right Hand, Man came out of that experience. I had also been serving as a second guitarist for Cheap Trick when they were doing The Beatles Sgt. Pepper live with Orchestra and some of the songs reflect their vibe (Buy On Credit, Let It Slide).”

The excellent Reset is you sort of doing cover versions of your own songs…what was the criteria for the songs you decided to do?

“It was the 20th anniversary of the Set To Pop album. I already had alternate takes and live versions just waiting on me to do something with them. With that notion, I went in and recorded some new versions of more songs from that album to add to what I had.

The idea was to have a companion piece to the record that got such critical acclaim at the time. Set To Pop was one of the albums of the year at Stereo Review back in 1994 and continually, over the years, was one people pointed to. So I thought it would be fun to do and hopefully fun for people to hear since they seem to like the original album.”

Working The Long Game is another gem. How different was recording and writing it compared to all those years ago with Set To Pop?

“I’m like a broken record saying the same thing again and again, but it’s true for me. I just record and pick the best of what holds together at the time. I hope there’s a level of quality throughout all my records that will hold up with repeated listening. I had done a covers collection with Spyderpop (LLOYD*ERING) and when I had Working The Long Game compiled, I was happy they obliged to release it on their cool label.

I’m a fan of Lannie Flowers and Danny Wilkerson. Chris Church was a friend of mine and I gave his music to the good folks there. Pat Buchanan is a long-time musical compadre as both a writer and player and they met Pat through me as well. It’s quite a good collection of talented folks and I’m happy to be a part of it. We did a tour of dates in California and in New York just this last year.”

It’s Happening Now is acoustic based. How did this change your approach to the song-writing, playing and arrangements?

“I had a surplus of acoustic performances of some of the more acoustic oriented songs I had never used on records. I also had some re-makes. It just made sense to me to feature an all-acoustic record. When I play songwriter shows, often song swaps with other songwriters, most of my records didn’t reflect that side of my music. People see me in an acoustic setting, buy the cd and get power-pop! I wanted to have one cd, at the least, that was acoustic based with solid song writing being the focal point.”

What are your most favourite session work memories? Which musicians have you really enjoyed working with? Which of your productions do you enjoy?

“Oh so many! I’ve had the honour and pleasure of playing and co-writing songs with so many artists from my own record collection, it’s been like a dream come true. It’s hard to know where to start. You mentioned production... I got to work with the legendary Carl Perkins. Foster & Lloyd used to open for him and I recorded demos at his home with he and his sons in 1990. Later that year, we cut three songs in Nashville.

His management who also managed The Judds split from RCA and that killed that RCA sponsored deal.  Later on, Bear Family from Germany released two of the tracks on one of their compilations. To see my name as a producer alongside Sam Phillips and Jerry Kennedy blew my mind.

Working with all the guys in The Sky Kings was great. Sitting in with acts like The Doobie Brothers and actually touring as a sub in Poco was cool. The Cheap Trick experience at The Hollywood Bowl two years in a row and later in Las Vegas is right up there with some of the best onstage experiences.

The Long Players have backed so many great singers and artists… that’s another can of worms. Watching Sam Moore and Michael McDonald duet on When Something Is Wrong with My Baby from three feet away was surreal. Having had songs recorded by Cheap Trick, Poco, Pure Prairie League, Marshall Crenshaw, Trisha Yearwood, Martina McBride, Hootie And The Blowfish, Sara Evans, Beth Nielsen Chapman.. and recently Graham Gouldman from 10CC gives me a good feeling and an energy to keep it going.”

You seem to really get into doing some amazing covers for various tribute albums down the years…are there any songs that you wish somebody would ask you to record?

“Ever since the tribute albums started becoming a popular thing, I’ve been lucky to have participated in some really good ones… Nilsson, The Holllies and others.  Many of the tracks I had done were out of print and were later collected on my LLOYD*ERING album for Spyderpop. These days, I have so many of my own songs that need finishing up so I stopped actively recording covers, but I do have a handful I’ve done that have never come out.

There are some obvious choices (Big Star) but also others by The Supremes, Psychedelic Furs, The Knickerbockers, The Hombres and The Mills Brothers. Don’t know if those will ever come out! I did do a very Byrdsy treatment of Steve Forbert’s When the Sun Shines for a fairly recent tribute album to Steve. He’s a friend so that makes that special to me.”

Tell us about your experiences with The Long Players.

“That came together in 2004. I had already put together charity multi-artist events in Nashville just prior to that. There was a Gene Clark night and a George Harrison memorial, but they weren’t based around the album idea.

I had the idea for an ongoing band doing albums and I’d already played with Steve Allen (20/20), Steve Ebe (Human Radio), Garry Tallent (E St. Band) and keyboardist John Deaderick as part of an annual Lennon show benefit. I went to them first because I knew we could really play together. I came up with The Long Players name and organize/manage the shows.

Up until the pandemic hit, we were just about ready to play our 16th Anniversary show having done well over seventy albums over the years (some of the big ones twice or even three times). We choose a classic album, learn it and play it in sequence with guest stars from Nashville’s deep bench of talent. One rehearsal with just the band, one rehearsal with singers and then the gig. There is a lot of video documented by our pal, Steve Boyle, on our Facebook and Yout Tube pages.

We don’t dress up like anyone else, just celebrate the classic records we love and we’ve become a local institution as well as a “band for hire” for corporate and private functions. I can’t wait to get back to it. A true hero of power pop and a great all-around musician/producer Brad Jones took Garry Tallent’s spot when Bruce Springsteen got busy again, so he’s in there as well. We get a lot of folks from out of town as well. You can read about it at our website here

How does the song-writing process work with you? How has your approach changed down the years?  Are you slow or prolific?

“Song writing has been a real part of my life since I was a pre-teen. Over the years you develop ways of doing it that change over time. You have to adapt to co-writing. Sometimes music and lyrics fall out together and sometimes separately. In recent years, it’s been more about the lyrics first for me, but I still get musical ideas first. Now, with computers in our pockets, I can put the ideas down fast.

I used to call my home answering machine years back with song ideas. Even when I’m in a slow period, ideas come and you write it down or record it to look at it later. It’s incredibly satisfying and I’m proudest of that skill in context of the records I make.”

You compered the fantastic Nashville Cats programmes…that must be great to do.  Being a big Barefoot Jerry fan I particularly loved the Wayne Moss program.

“Thank you. Back when I worked at the Hall of Fame in their archive, I lobbied to do that program and be the interviewer. I only worked there for about three and a half years, but they kept me on in that role long after I was no longer employed there and did about forty of those shows over the years. The relationships that came out of that experience are still so very valuable to me. I actually feel like I’m friends with legends like Norbert Putnam, Jerry Kennedy, Wayne Moss and so many more.

I ended up getting to play onstage with people like James Burton, Duane Eddy and Mac Gayden. Digging into the stories of these great musicians lives and sharing it with the public is part of the mission of the Hall of Fame and I’m so glad I got to be a part of it. I saw Barefoot Jerry play at my college around 76 or 77. I was a fan of theirs too. Wayne has sat in with The Long Players on a couple of occasions. You can watch the Duane Eddy event here.

Do you enjoy playing live or are you more of a studio animal?

"The Long Players has allowed me to play live a good bit in recent years but I especially love playing my own material live. I have a go-to band here in Nashville I love playing with. That band is Pat Buchanan, Mike Vargo (ex Shazam) and Keith Brogdon (Bare Jr.). We changed names practically every show.

Mostly it was Bill Lloyd and the Tallymen, but sometimes they were New Car Smell or The Dollyknockers or The NoShitSherlocks… I finallly got to document that band doing a live in the studio album called Bill Lloyd and the Tallymen Live at Blackbird Academy.

There’s a fan video of one of the songs that hit the internet not long ago. It’s a song that dates back to Boy King of Tokyo, but the lyric content must have hit them and they used the live in the studio version of The Fix Is In. All the images are from European parades and festivals. You can watch that here.

I had a home studio for years. Much of the “Giants’ album and “Back To Even was overdubbed at home. Nashville had a flood in 2010 and I never set my studio back up. Prefer to work with friends in their studios. Engineering not my favourite thing, but I know what to ask for as my own producer.  I’ve been far more prolific in recent years. No more five year waits between albums!

I think a lot of that has to do with my son having grown up now and I’m completely self-employed.  I have a brand-new self-released album released called Don’t Kill the Messenger. I’m really happy with it and I hope people will visit my website for it. It will also be on all those digital platforms as well.”

You can buy Bill's music and find out more about him from his website here. You can listen to and buy Working The Long Game here.

Bill's latest album, Don't Kill The Messenger is also available via his website here. The album will be reviewed on I Don't Hear A Single later this week. You can also read IDHAS reviews of some previous Bill Lloyd albums here.


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