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Is It Over?/They Found Me Guilty
Billy Price & the KRB Live
Free at Last
Danger Zone
Soul Collection
Can I Change My Mind
Sworn Testimony
East End Avenue
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Billy Price & Fred Chapellier Live On Stage - CD + DVD Now Available
I'm excited to announce the arrival of this new CD and DVD package from DixieFrog Records. It documents two great nights at Espace Manureva in Charleville-Mezieres , France in May 2009 during our Night Work tour. Musicians are me and Fred Chapellier a... more

Billy Price CDs and DVDs Make Great Holiday Gifts
When you think about gifts this holiday season, we hope that you will consider our CDs and DVDs for the music lovers in your life. In particular, our latest CD with French guitarist Fred Chapellier, Night Work, continues to get great reviews like thi... more

In-Depth Interview with Billy Price

Originally published in March, 2004 in the Belgian blues publication Back to the Roots. Interview conducted in email by Peter Jacobs.

Background and Early Influences

Your real name is Pollack. Are you descended from an immigrant family? Or is Pollack a common name in the US?

My family are of Russian/Polish Jewish origin. My grandparents left Europe during the 1930s and immigrated to the U.S. My parents were born in the U.S., though. Actually, the correct spelling of my last name is "Pollak" (everyone makes this same mistake!).

Why did you change your name to Price and when was that?

I have a brother who is three years older than me, and although he was never much of a music enthusiast, a few of his friends were big R&B, soul, and doo-wop fans. They used to go to a bar in Spring Valley, NY called the White Birch Inn, where they had a great house band (Melvin and the Soul Messengers) and sometimes had special shows on the weekends with recording artists. They took me with them one night, and I got drunk and, at the urging of my companions, went on stage for the amateur contest. At the time, there was a popular version of "Stand By Me" by Spyder Turner, in which he imitated guys like Smokey Robinson, Chuck Jackson, and others, so I went on stage with the band, sang "Stand By Me," and imitated some of my favorites--Otis Redding, Little Anthony, others I don't recall.

I guess the sight of a little white kid singing this stuff captured the fancy of the audience, and I won the amateur contest. They asked me what my name was, and, thinking about Lloyd Price, I just blurted out, "Billy Price." I thought it sounded kind of cool. So before we left that night, the manager of the club took my phone number, and later that summer, I appeared as the featured artist on a weekend at the White Birch Inn. When the dates were advertised in the newspaper as "The Billy Price Revue with Frankie Patterson and Melvin and the Soul Messengers," I was Billy Price forever.

Who were your parents? Did you come from a musical family? Are there any other family members with musical ambitions?

My father was a dentist who had a successful practice in northern New Jersey, where we lived. My mother had been an English teacher before my brother and I were born. My mother played a bit of piano, and my father had played the violin in his youth, but ours was by no means a musical family. The radio, which I remember as being particularly splendid during the 1950s and 1960s, had the strongest influence on me musically, much stronger than any influence exercised by my family.

Where did you grow up? How was your childhood and youth? You seem like an intelligent person. What education did you enjoy?

As I said, I grew up in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, which was about a 20-minute drive to New York by car. I had a happy and relatively trouble-free childhood. I went to public school and had a good education, although I didn't excel academically in high school--I was more interested in listening to and playing music, and having fun on the weekends. I went to college at the Pennsylvania State University (Penn State), a large school in central Pennsylvania, where I graduated in 1971 with degrees in religious studies and English. I later got a masters degree in professional writing from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where I now work. I'm manager of communications at a Carnegie Mellon research institute called the Software Engineering Institute, and I also teach at Carnegie Mellon as an adjunct professor once a year. The course I teach is for English majors, and it's called Marketing, Public Relations, and Corporate Communications.

You wrote you got a degree in religious studies...What did these studies contain? Are you a religious person? Is religion important, do you think? Is that because of your Russian/Polish Jewish background?

I became interested in Eastern religions when I was in college, particularly Buddhism. When I was at Penn State, there was a professor there named Garma Chen-Chi Chang who taught courses in Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism and Eastern philosophy. I became his teaching assistant, and he also taught me how to meditate. Anticipating your next question, I will say that I no longer meditate, and have not done so in many years. But spirituality certainly still has a role in my life, although I don't think my ethnic or religious background are particularly relevant to this part of my life.

When did you first become interested in music and why was that?

The "when" question is a lot easier to answer than the "why" question. Some of my very earliest memories involve noticing and tuning in to music on the radio. I remember Saturday mornings in my basement listening to a combination radio/record player that was about the size of a refrigerator. I must have been only about five or six years old. There was a radio program called "The Make-Believe Ballroom," and they would play the top hits on the pop, country, and rhythm and blues charts, one after the other, in ascending order. I liked a lot of the pop and country, but I used to always look forward to the rhythm & blues countdown--artists such as Fats Domino, Little Richard, Joe Turner, Ray Charles, the Coasters, the Flamingos, the Moonglows, and the Dubs. There was also a black woman who worked in our house who used to listen to gospel music on the radio in our kitchen, and I used to love the sounds that filled our house when she was there. Collecting records became a hobby of mine early in life, and has continued to this day.

As I mentioned, I grew up in an exciting and fertile time for black music, and I couldn't get enough of the great radio stations in the area in which I lived. Like most people who liked rhythm and blues in my area at that time, I loved vocal group doo-wop, but also loved the early rock 'n roll of the fifties and early soul of the sixties--Sam Cooke, Clyde McPhatter, Solomon Burke, Jackie Wilson, Chuck Jackson. There was one disk jockey in particular, Douglas "Jocko" Henderson, who was a strong influence on me. A lot of people consider Jocko one of if not the first rapper--he used to introduce songs with rhymes. He was the only English-speaking disk jockey on a Spanish station in Newark, New Jersey called WADO. I remember lying in bed with a transistor stuck to my ear, when I was supposed to be sleeping because I had school the next day, and I will never forget the experience of hearing Otis Redding sing "I've Been Loving You Too Long" on that radio. When he sang, "You were ti-i-i-red, and you want to be free," the effect on me was unforgettable--chills down my spine, goose bumps, tears welling in my eyes. After enough experiences like that one, I was sure that I wanted to try to get my voice to do something like that, or to have a sound like that come through my body and have that kind of an effect on people.

Another disk jockey I used to listen to religiously when I was in high school was Enoch Hawthorne Gregory, the Dixie Drifter, on WWRL in New York. The Dixie Drifter was from Georgia, and he favored the deeper, more gospel-influenced soul music of the south (as opposed to Motown or the more pop-oriented stuff that was produced in the big cities), and played it heavily during his shows. (The Dixie Drifter made a couple of spoken-word records for Roulette that were minor hits, including one called "Soul Heaven.")

Did you always want to be a singer? Do you play other instruments then the voice?

I did want to be a singer from a very young age. I used to entertain my parents and their friends with Elvis Presley imitations, and had my first band ("The Thunderbirds") when I was 12 years old and in the sixth grade in school. During my high school years, my band--Billy and the Uptights--was one of the most popular bands in our area, and I have to laugh now thinking about some of the material that we did. I remember a version of "Lost Someone" that we performed verbatim by copying word for word and inflection for inflection from James Brown Live at the Apollo, Volume One, which of course must have seemed ridiculous, or at least incongruous, to an audience of mostly pimply white teenagers in the throes of puberty.

I played guitar a little bit, but not very well, and never did take to the instrument. As long as I could stand up in front of a band and sing, I was happy. If there had been karaoke around at the time I was growing up, I may not have needed a band at all.

When I got to Penn State to go to college, I quickly formed another band--the Respectables--and we made a lot of money playing for fraternity parties and college concerts. On some of our songs, I would pick up an electric guitar and play "rhythm guitar" to help out. At the end of the night one night, our regular guitar player came up to me and said, "You're a great singer, but I wish you wouldn't play that guitar anymore." That was the end of my career as an instrumentalist.

Did you get to see the big soul/blues artists in New Jersey or New York in your youth? Any good memories? I can imagine you took the 20 minute drive to NY lots of times. And later at Penn State or Pittsburgh... Was/is Pittsburgh a musical place?

Oh yes, definitely. Going into NY to hear people sing was a big part of my growing up. I saw Otis three times and was a member of his international fan club. Saw James Brown live at Madison Square Garden in 1967 (the single most impressive spectacle I have ever witnessed), and also was in the audience for his appearance on the Ed Sullivan TV show (my friend's father was a cameraman). There was a disc jockey in NY named "Murray the K," and he used to host four holiday shows a year at the Brooklyn Fox theater. I went to as many of those as I could, and saw, among others, Jackie Wilson, Ben E. King, Percy Sledge, Billy Stewart, Garnet Mimms, the O'Jays, the Manhattans, the Spinners, all the big Motown/Tamla artists, Chuck Jackson, Joe Tex, Wilson Pickett, Arthur Conley, Patti LaBelle and the Blue Belles, Dionne Warwick, Gene Chandler...I could go on with this all day!

Pittsburgh is a great city for music. There was a strong jazz tradition in the city, and as a result, a strong tradition for rock 'n roll and R&B that featured great horn players--that late 1940s/early 1950s Kansas City/Texas jump sound was big here. So it was a good place to play jazzy blues with a jump feel, and that's the kind of music I was into when I moved here.

Penn State, on the other hand, is just an isolated college town in the middle of the most culturally desolate part of the state of Pennsylvania. So anything interesting that goes on there is imported from either Philadelphia or Pittsburgh.

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Rhythm Kings

When did you become a singer? What was/were your first band(s) called? Any success or names we should know of concerning those first efforts?

The first band I had that got any attention beyond the local areas where we played was the Rhythm Kings. I formed this band at Penn State in the early 1970s, and we eventually moved to Pittsburgh, where we became quite popular. It was a lineup similar to the one I had in Peer--full rhythm section and horn section, only the horn section consisted of three and sometime four saxophones, with no trumpets or trombones. This band became popular during the waning days of the hippie phenomenon--peace and love, flower power, all that kind of stuff--and we affected a kind of hard, tough-guy attitude in the way we dressed and presented ourselves on stage (the J. Geils Band was a strong stylistic influence). We played what at that time was a retro style of music, with a lot of classic rock 'n roll and jump blues--a style that had always been popular in Pittsburgh, where Roy Brown and Wynonie Harris records are among the most-played "oldies" to this day. Someone later told me that a lot of people in Pittsburgh thought that the Rhythm Kings were Vietnam-war veterans and drug addicts who had somehow missed the cultural revolution of the 1960s; of course this wasn't true, but the fact that anyone believed this is indicative of the sort of mystique that we conveyed.

By this time, I had become much more of a blues fanatic than I had been during my high school years, and I was particularly stuck on Bobby Blue Bland as a vocalist. I listened incessantly to his recordings on the Duke label, and actually still do. I also liked all of the classic Chicago stuff, especially Muddy, Magic Sam, and Otis Rush, and of course, Robert Johnson. Anyhow, the Rhythm Kings were a saxophone-heavy blues band, and we started to hook up with and play shows with other bands with similar styles, such as the Nighthhawks from Washington, DC and Roomful of Blues from Boston.

In another interview I read of you, with the Rhythm Kings, you said, music became a religious thing. "That's when I really learned the preaching thing. The audience was hanging on every word and responding." Is that what you really need out of a gig? Is there any connection with your studies or is it that the gospel-influence?

Yes, it is more the gospel influence than any connection with my studies. I think that all of the really great frontmen in rock 'n roll or soul music--James Brown (of course), Mick Jagger, Solomon Burke, Otis Clay, Al Green, Aretha--are communicators, and the model for this kind of communication is the gospel church preacher. I would not say that I "need" this out of a gig--if the audience isn't responding, I can motivate myself just through the music itself or through trying to practice the craft of singing--but the gigs that I enjoy the most are those in which I'm playing the role of the preacher and the audience is playing the role of the congregation.

I say that the model for this kind of communication is the "gospel church" preacher and not just any preacher because I view singing in front of a band as a kind of testimony, not as an opportunity to express my opinions, tell people what I think, tell people what they should think, or exhort them to do something. A gospel preacher, and a good soul singer, testifies--"This is what happened to me. Can I get a witness?"

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Roy Buchanan

How, when and why did you become a member of Roy Buchanan's band?

There was a guy from Pittsburgh named Jay Reich who was going to school in Washington, DC, had become a fan of Buchanan's, and had convinced Buchanan to let him become his business manager. When Jay visited his home in Pittsburgh, he would often come to see the Rhythm Kings play--he had a lot of friends who were fans of ours. When it came time for Buchanan to cut his third LP for Polydor Records, That's What I'm Here For, Jay was the producer of that LP, and he thought that I would be a good choice as a vocalist for Buchanan. At the same time, he was reconstituting Buchanan's touring band, and wanted me to leave the Rhythm Kings and join Roy's band. I was torn at the time, because the Rhythm Kings were a great band, were getting more popular every day, and played the music that I wanted to play in the way that I wanted to present it. Eventually, though, the lure of singing with a nationally known artist whose acclaim seemed to be on the rise was too strong to resist, and I started touring with Buchanan and his band.

In Buchanan's band, I was the young guy (about 23, in around 1972) with a bunch of guys in their 30s, and after leading my own band and doing things my way, it was a difficult adjustment. Roy did things a little differently. You probably saw from my show in Peer that tightness and precision are important musical values to me, which I learned from guys like James Brown, Bobby Bland, and Otis Clay. In contrast, my very first gig with Roy was a major network TV show, and I just went on stage and sang "I Hear You Knockin'" and "Johnny B. Goode" without ever having rehearsed with Roy and the band before the cameras began rolling! But I did get to travel throughout the U.S. and Canada with Roy and play in impressive venues such as Carnegie Hall in New York, the Roxy in Los Angeles, and several large arenas and stadiums. So the experience I gained during those years was valuable.

Did you ever make recordings with The Rhythm Kings, were they ever released? I heard the TRK had contacts with Atlantic records?

Unfortunately, no. I just have a few tapes remaining from those days that are of very poor quality. Jay Reich, whom I mentioned earlier (Buchanan's manager) pitched the Rhythm Kings to Atlantic Records, and we did generate some interest there, but nothing ever happened.

It must have been very hard to leave the Rhythm Kings... I read you all lived together in a big mansion and had a really great time, obviously you were good friends... Was it hard to make that decision?

Certainly, yes. In the end, though, when anyone offers an ambitious 22-year-old guy an opportunity to join a nationally known touring band, with the possibility of becoming rich and famous, sooner or later you will be able to get him to say "Yes." My grand plan at the time was to spend a few years with Buchanan and use the resulting fame and notoriety as a means of getting a recording contract for myself with the Rhythm Kings. Obviously, things didn't turn out that way.

So you joined Buchanan's band and were thrown into the deep with the unrehearsed television show. You were used to sing the best of soul songs with a very tight band, now you had to sing the "I hear you knocking/Johnny B. Goode" - repertoire... How did that make you feel?

I was not crazy about that way of doing things. I had certainly participated in lots of informal jam sessions as a singer--gotten on stage with musicians I didn't know well and had never rehearsed with--and sometimes those situations do result in some exciting music. But that kind of thing was Roy's standard operating procedure. By my standards, he was a little bit looser about performance than I was comfortable with. But I guess when you could play guitar with the facility that he could, there didn't seem to be much need for advance planning.

Did you go on tour right away or did you record the album That's What I'm Here For first?

I think we did a few dates before we recorded that album, but did not really go on tour until after the album was released.

Were you happy in Roy's band? There was no more soul connection, was there?

I probably wasn't as happy musically singing with Roy as I was singing with the Rhythm Kings. Roy was every bit as much an enthusiast of R&B, soul, blues, and African-American music as I was, and we did spend many enjoyable hours listening to tapes and talking about music. But as I've said, the approach that Roy took was not as focused as the approach I took in later years with my own bands. I don't say that either approach is better, just that they are different. Aside from the music, though, I was able to travel, play in the biggest venues, and learn a great deal about the music business at that time, and I also made good money, which I spent with impunity.

So you recorded your first album in 1972 (or was it 1971). Where and how did the recordings proceed? Did you have any influence on the recordings? How was it to sing for a "superstar" at the age of 23? Now you're a star yourself, how do you reflect on that period? Did you learn how to treat/not to treat your own musicians?

I think it was 1972, but I'm not certain about that. We recorded at the Record Plant in New York for Polydor Records. Jay Reich was the producer of the LP and, although Jay was and is a friend, I will say honestly that he had neither the experience nor the temperament to produce a successful LP at that time. Buchanan, Jay, the record company, and other friends and advisors who surrounded Buchanan at that time believed that he was on the verge of breaking out as a major recording artist, and they were urging him to stretch beyond the things he did well--play simple, supportive guitar on country and blues songs--and remake himself into some sort of bluesy rock guitarist. Roy was a great admirer of Jimi Hendrix, so this was not as implausible as it might sound. To my mind, Jay gave Roy all the wrong advice in the studio. For example, Roy would cut a clean, economical, tasteful solo in the studio, and Jay would urge him to try another take and "throw in more bullshit for the kids," which meant to make his fingers move fast and perform flashy gymnastics on the guitar. As for the songs on the LP, there was very little attention paid to songwriting. So little, in fact, that I was credited with co-writing a few of them!

As the young guy in the group, I didn't speak up much, but tried to do what I thought was expected of me. My performance on that LP is somewhat embarrassing to me, and I haven't listened to it in at least 15 years!

I am sure that that experience did shape me in many ways, but it is hard to identify anything specific. I wasn't mistreated by Roy in any way, and remain grateful to him for the opportunity he gave me. Sadly, Roy was usually too consumed with his own demons to think or care much about how to lead a band, so I don't think I learned much about that from Roy.

I am hardly a "star myself," but I do enjoy working with musicians, and I think that most people who have played with me would say that it is fun and rewarding to play in my bands. I try to give credit to musicians who work with me and give them lots of opportunity to shine individually and to be recognized for their talents and contributions.

How were the album/concert reviews? I read you weren't too happy about the comments...

The reviews were mixed, some good and some bad, but the review of That's What I'm Here For that appeared in Rolling Stone was brutal, and I took it to heart much more than was necessary (as I now know).

I'm a little bit ashamed to say I don't know your work with Buchanan. How would you describe the music and your singing with Roy. Were/are you satisfied with the records/gigs you did with him?

In retrospect, the decision to team me up with Buchanan was based on the fallacy that talent is a commodity akin to money or gold--that if musician X has this much talent and musician Y has that much talent, all you have to do is put them together, and the aggregate sum will increase. Roy was not a strong singer, but he was unmistakably sincere and credible. Somebody thought that that wasn't enough, so they brought me in. But when I was at my best according to my standards, I served only to distract attention from Roy, who was the personality and focal point that listeners wanted to concentrate on when they experienced his music. In addition to all of that is the fact that I wasn't particularly good at that time, and got better as I got older. So really, the whole thing was kind of ill conceived.

In 1974 Polygram released Livestock. I presume a live album. Where and when was it recorded?

It was recorded at Avery Fisher Hall in NY in 1974. By that time, I was back with the Rhythm Kings, and most of the singing for the touring group was being handled by Ronnie "Byrd" Foster, the drummer in Roy's band, also a guy from Pittsburgh and a fine singer. There had been another studio album between That's What I'm Here For and Livestock, with all studio musicians and a different vocalist. For this live album, they decided they wanted to bring me back to sing, so I agreed to do this concert with them. This LP is more of a loose jam session, but I think it is truer to Roy's essence and talents than That's What I'm Here For and works a lot better.

You left Buchanan in 1976. I read your were thinking about leaving the music business and you re-entered as a student at Penn Sate to get the writing degree. Was the disappointment in the business this big? What was the real reason?

I was suffering from the disappointment that comes from the intersection of unrealistic expectations and reality. Things had also not worked out as I intended with the Rhythm Kings--by the time I tried to return to the group, the old magic that we had was gone. So at that time, I was trying to figure out what to do with my life, and I decided to give singing a rest for a while.

For the record: Did you ever come to Europe with the Buchanan band or did you ever come to Europe before playing on the Peer festival this year? I just couldn't believe that an artist of your caliber was never before invited to come to tour in Europe!

No, this was my first-ever performance in Europe. Had I stayed with Roy another year or two, I would have been to Europe with him, but Byrd Foster was singing from behind the drum set on Roy's first European tour.

(Note: For a good summary of Roy's Career, see The Life and Times of Roy Buchanan, by Phil Carson.)

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Billy Price and the Keystone Rhythm Band

So you left Buchanan in 1976 an went back to university. How long did you stay out of the music biz? What was it that made you change your mind and go on singing again?

I laid low for a couple of years at that time, trying to figure out what I wanted to do. In the college town I was living in, there was an existing band that was in the process of breaking up because their lead singer/guitarist was moving to California, so I started rehearsing and jamming with the remnants of that band, and after a while we started doing some gigs. At first it was very rough and unprofessional, but in that town we were quickly able to get gigs and make money ("In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king"), and before long the thing evolved into the Keystone Rhythm Band.

During that time, I didn't have much confidence in my abilities as a singer, and I was also troubled by physical problems with my voice. I had surgery for vocal nodules once and had several other episodes of nodules that I treated with combinations of steroids and voice rest. In fact, I had nodules on my vocal cords when I recorded Livestock. But despite all of this, I never lost my love of and obsession with music, so eventually I drifted back toward singing and leading a band. And I really have not had physical problems with my voice, other than the occasional bout of laryngitis, since the late 1970s.

You said you had physical problems with your voice in the late 70ties.It was a less happy period in your life, could it've been also mental? Did your alcohol use in those days had anything to do with it? Were you at any time addicted to drugs and/or alcohol? If i'm getting too private, just skip the question!

There was undoubtedly a psychosomatic component to the things that were going on with my larynx during that time, although it's always hard to identify how much of an ailment is mental and how much is physical. But I was certainly not doing well at that time in my life, and I did attempt, unsuccessfully, to medicate my confusion with alcohol and drugs. I'm happy to say that, although I am still frequently confused, I stopped all of that self-medication in 1980.

What do you do to keep your voice in good shape? Do you smoke? Seems to me you're one of those performers who sing better live than in the studio, or am I mistaken? Do you like studio work or is it a necessity you can't do without as a singer?

I stopped smoking quite some time ago. I took vocal lessons from an opera singer during the time I was having problems with nodules, and although I didn't know it at the time, in the end those lessons did help me learn to sing with more control, power, and physical support. I used to do a lot of vocal exercises to warm up before I sang, but since my voice now almost always does what I want it to do, I've become undisciplined and basically just walk onstage and sing.

You're right, I find studio work tedious compared to singing live in front of an audience, and I think I probably do sing better live than in the studio. There's a story in Sweet Soul Music by Peter Guralnick about Solomon Burke's first recording session for Atlantic. Solomon was always involved in lots of other businesses beside singing. After the session was over, the engineer, Tom Dowd I think, assumed that Solomon would want to stay in the studio and listen to the final mix. But Solomon left the studio quickly without bothering to listen to anything he had done. It was snowing, and he had a fleet of snow-removal vehicles in Philadelphia that he had to get to as soon as possible.

I always identified with that story. There's nothing I hate more than listening to the same take of myself singing hundreds of times. This probably also explains why I've always preferred a documentary style of studio recording, using live, simultaneous performances as much as possible rather than layering and extensive overdubbing. I'd rather try to make something magical happen in the studio and have the recording document the magic.

What were your plans after you would graduate.(how long was the study?) Were you planning a career as a writer?

Yes, I guess I was. After I had the piece about Jackie Wilson published in the Village Voice, had I been more ambitious and aggressive, I probably could have hooked on with some magazine somewhere as a writer, but I worked on that piece off and on for at least a year, and by the time it found its way into print, I was back in the bars singing again.

We know now that you became a known writer, you wrote articles on Jackie Wilson, Otis Clay, Gene Chandler, O.V. Wright (!!!), Syl Johnson, etc. What's your favorite piece? What piece makes you proud?

I wrote the articles you mentioned for a book called MusicHound R&B: The Essential Album Guide. I think the articles on Syl Johnson and O.V. Wright are okay. I actually get a lot of odd email about those articles, because I posted them on the Web and they seem to come up close to the top on Google searches for the artists I wrote about. So people send email to me assuming that I have some sort of insider information on, say, Linda Jones or Tyrone Davis, which of course, I do not. I wrote some similar pieces for the African American Culture volume of the Dictionary of Twentieth Century Culture, published by Manly, Inc.

So what happened to your plan to reform the Rhythm Kings after you left Buchanan? Were there Rhythm Kings-members in your new band?

I suppose that the guys in that band got tired of my indecision and wavering back and forth between Buchanan's band and the Rhythm Kings, and they carried on with a succession of other vocalists for several years. The only former member of the Rhythm Kings that I worked with again was Fred Delu, a keyboard player who did some time with Buchanan and who has played from time to time with the Billy Price Band, my current group, in recent years.

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Is It Over?

Did you become a live band first or did you record Is It Over? right away? Was it hard to find a record company? How did this album come about?

We were a live bar band first. By the time Is It Over? was recorded, I had begun to augment the original Keystone Rhythm Band lineup with some better musicians from Pittsburgh, including Kenny Blake, an outstanding alto sax player and recording artist, and Eric Leeds, who later recorded with Prince (and still works with Prince to this day) and released CDs under his own name as well.

For this question, I think it's best to refer you to the liner notes of The Soul Collection, where I describe Jeree Records, the recording studio, and Don Garvin, who produced both Is It Over? and The Soul Collection. The label Green Dolphin was owned by Don and his partner Jerry Reed. Don and I discovered sometime around the time that we recorded Is It Over? that we are musical kindred spirits, so recording for his label was a natural consequence. We tried strenuously to license or sell Is It Over? to a larger label with better distribution, but it never happened.

Would you agree when I say that Is It Over? is an album with a J.Geils Band feel to it? Surely not as raw as Geils/Wolf and co. but this album contains a mixture of soul, blues, rhythm & blues and even some rock influences with a lot of street credibility. (Didn't they record "Lickin' Stick" also?) Anyway, would you agree and do you like bands like The J.Geils Band?

I was certainly influenced by the J. Geils Band when I was younger, around the time I was with Buchanan. I thought that Peter Wolf was a terrific front man and entertainer, though I now realize that he wasn't much of a soul singer. But yes, they were a strong influence on me. I don't think they ever cut "Lickin' Stick," though. That song, originally recorded by George Torrence and the Naturals on the Shout label, was a favorite among Pittsburgh R&B/soul fans. Some record collector here first introduced me to it and suggested that I record it.

Is it Over? contains not only the sincere version of Percy Mayfield's "Please Send Me Someone to Love" but also the co-written soul song (with an infectious ska/reggae beat!) "Eldorado Cafe." How come you only have written a few songs? Don't you see yourself as a writer or is it because you think the old stuff is better and more suitable for your voice and mind/feelings? When you do write, how do you do it, inspiration, first the words or the music, etc?

I think there are a couple of reasons why I haven't recorded more stuff that I have written. First--and I'm not sure why this is--but the songs I've written have never been particularly good vehicles for me as a singer. There always seem to be so many other songs that I prefer singing to the ones that I have written. I guess this is because I see myself as a singer/performer/front man first and as a songwriter second.

During the year or two before the Keystone Rhythm Band released Free at Last, we wrote many, many songs and tried them out in our live performances. The best of those made it onto Free at Last, and I think several of them on that CD still sound fine today.

To answer your last question, I have written songs many different ways, sometimes beginning with a phrase or even a fully completed set of lyrics, other times working with a musician who has a chord progression or set of changes and trying to fit lyrics to match the mood and rhythm of the music.

Is it Over? was produced, engineered and mixed by one person, Don Garvin. That's a lot of responsibility for one person, don't you think?

Well, perhaps so, but in practice, all of us really collaborated on the recordings we made at Jeree, and calling one person the producer or engineer doesn't reflect the collaborative nature of how we did things there. But Don was certainly the most important figure in the recording sessions. I should add that he also was the person who fixed the equipment when it broke down, which happened frequently!

How was the album received? Did you go on tour after the release?

The album received great reviews from everyone who heard it, but unfortunately, with limited distribution, not too many people heard it. After we released it, we toured almost incessantly around the U.S. for the next several years. Is It Over? is still the most popular recording I ever made and continues to sell well to this day.

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They Found Me Guilty

Seems to me that over the years you had a lot of personnel changes. On every album almost there's another guitarist. What was the problem there?

The guitar position is one that has changed a lot over the years, but for no particular reason. Chuck Roethel and Don Garvin both played guitar on Is It Over?. Chuck moved to California with his wife sometime after that LP was released, and we replaced him with a guy who jammed with us frequently in Washington, Keith Grimes (Keith is currently well known for his work with Eva Cassidy). Keith moved to Pittsburgh to work with us, but after he was less than satisfied with the results of They Found Me Guilty, both commercially and artistically, he moved back to Washington and we replaced with another Washington-area guy, Glenn Pavone. Glenn now leads his own band here in Pittsburgh, Glenn Pavone and the Cyclones. Wim should consider having them at Peer some year, because Glenn is an extraordinary guitarist--you can hear him on Billy Price and the Keystone Rhythm Band Live.

Is it Over? included the Green song "Let's get Married," a song obviously, more like the Hi records sound.. That typical sharp, hard beat we can hear a lot on your next album "They Found me Guilty." There's more pure soul, more Hi sound on this album. I can hear more Otis Clay and O.V. Wright influences...Was that a conscious choice?

That is certainly the sound that I was into at that time, so yes, I guess it was a conscious choice. "Let's Get Married" was actually an outtake that didn't make it to the vinyl LP. We remixed and added it to the CD when we released a CD of that album years later. I think it's kind of a lame vocal performance by me, to be honest about it.

On the song "Hijackin' Love," you sound almost like Johnnie Taylor. (very Nnce!!!) Could you tell me a little bit more about this song, it's a great song!

We worked on the They Found Me Guilty album with Denny Bruce, who was managing the Fabulous Thunderbirds at that time, and a friend of his named Craig Leon, who was producing a lot of early punk bands back then (1981). Denny was a soul fanatic like me, and we had similar taste. I think we picked songs over the phone, and "Hijackin' Love" was one of the ones we thought would be cool to record. It's one of a string of hits that Johnnie Taylor had in the 1970s. I've always thought that Johnnie Taylor was a vastly underrated artist. Look at the volume of great stuff he produced over the course of a career that lasted more than 30 years! The stuff he was during for Malaco a few years before he died was every bit as strong as his earlier stuff.

"Tell Me" and "Nothing Could Change my Mind" were written by your guitarist Keith Grimes. Listening to the album you can hear he's a very diverse player. Could you tell me a little bit more about Keith? And in relation who is Eva Cassidy?

I've always thought that Keith and the guitarist in my band who followed Keith, Glenn Pavone, were an interesting study in contrasts. Keith was very much a "head" player--he knew exactly what he wanted to play, he had studied the genre carefully, and he spent hours and hours perfecting the slightest nuances of his guitar parts. His playing was always precise and accurate. Glenn, on the other hand, was all heart, all inspiration, all feel. Keith excelled in the studio while Glenn excelled in live performance. In that sense, I'd say that I felt a closer affinity with Glenn's approach, but both Denny Bruce and I certainly appreciated everything that Keith was able to do.

I don't know a whole lot more about Eva Cassidy than you do. She was a singer songwriter who had done some CDs that didn't do much until she died in 1996 of cancer, I think, and then because very popular. See Eva Cassidy's Web site. There is a long interview with Keith Grimes there.

The Green song "I Feel Good" sounds very gospel/disco. Why this choice? Were you trying to score a hit record? (was it released as a single?) Did the record company push? Please explain?

No, it wasn't any kind of push from the record company, and it wasn't released as a single. We just dug the song and played it in our live performances. It became a great vehicle for Eric Leeds to play sax. Eric was more of a modern "outside" player than, say, Jim Emminger or Kenny Blake, and his playing often pushed us outside the idiomatic bounds of the classic soul genre; you can hear that on his solo, I think. As I mentioned in an earlier answer, Eric later went on to play with James Brown and with Prince.

Otis Clay, O.V. Wright, etc all recorded at Hi Records. Was that the reason why you wanted They Found Me Guilty to sound like that? Or were the producers Denny Bruce and Craig Leon responsible?

I just think that's what I was into at that time. I was a Stax/Volt nut in the 1960s, and there was a time when it seemed as if all of that great Memphis/Muscle Shoals deep soul was just going to go away. And then, in the middle of early disco, funk and the psychedelic floppy-hat era of Motown, along came Al Green, Willie Mitchell, Otis Clay, Syl Johnson, Ann Peebles, and O.V. Wright, doing the deep stuff again but with a modern sensibility. So I just loved the 70s-80s Memphis Sound. I actually don't think that Denny and Craig succeeded too well in evoking that sound on They Found Me Guilty, although that is probably what they were going for. I think Don Garvin came closest to it years later on The Soul Collection.

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Billy Price and the Keystone Rhythm Band Live

Between the albums They Found... and the live album is about 3 years. What did you and the band do during that time?

We worked lots and lots of dates and toured incessantly along the , especially in the Southeast. We had a regular circuit of clubs we played and visited 3-4 times a year. So really just a lot of traveling, riding in vans, and playing club gigs.

Seems to me that the Keystone Band's repertoire changed a lot over the years live. From your previous albums only one song ("Eldorado Cafe") made it to the live album. Why was that? (there were a lot of good songs on the previous albums...)

At that point in our recording career--our third album--it seemed early to record a live retrospective. We were still performing many of the same songs in our live shows, but when it came to choosing songs for the Live LP, we chose songs that we hadn't released in any form previously. The two songs we were most excited about at that time were "Since You've Gone Again" and "Can't Lose the Blues." Joe Rock was involved with both those songs. Joe was a friend of mine from Pittsburgh who managed the Skyliners and wrote "Since I Don't Have You" and all of their other hit records. He had also been working with Otis Redding at the time of Otis's death. Joe managed a white R&B singer from Pittsburgh named Johnny Daye who had recorded for Stax in the 60s, and Otis had interest in recording him or managing him at around the time that Otis died. Joe was the co-writer, with Otis, of "I've Got Dreams to Remember," which was released after Otis's death on one of his posthumous LPs. Anyhow, "Since You've Gone Again" was another song that Joe and Otis had written together, but at the time we recorded Live, there was no known recording of the song, so Joe had to teach it to us from memory. Eventually the song did appear on a compilation of Otis's lost recordings, and it was actually quite similar to what we had done on Live. But ours was the first publicly available release of the song. "Can't Lose the Blues" was something that Glenn and I wrote along with Joe and his nephew, Perry Darke.

We recorded for two nights at the Wax Museum in DC, and there is a lot more material on the tapes than what was released on that LP. If I wanted to, I could probably unearth those tapes, take them into the studio, and release volumes II and III of that LP. But I remember that there were some troublesome technical problems with the recordings that took a long time to resolve, and I'm not inclined to sink a lot of time into wrestling with all of that again.

Did Live help to establish a good live reputation in the US? Or did the Keystone Band already have a rep? How was it received?

While that LP was held up by the technical problems, we also were in the process of switching managers, from Tom Carrico of Studio One Artists in Maryland to Cornerstone Management in Philadelphia. Cornerstone at the time managed a popular Columbia act called The Hooters, and their intention was to push us in a more commercial direction. The new management company was lukewarm about releasing Live, but hey ended up releasing it on Antenna, a label that they owned, but by the time it was released, we had already begun to alter our style and sound at management's urging, and the LP no longer accurately reflected the current band. So they didn't push the LP very hard.

Our fans loved it, though, and so it didn't really hurt us with the base that we had already been building up over the years. And the LP was a great showcase for Glenn Pavone's guitar playing.

For the first time your name was on the credits as a producer. Since that time you're on your albums as co-producer or executive prod. Is producing something that interests you? Would you like to be a producer? Would you like to produce other artists besides yourself?

I would say that the term "producer" is loosely defined and can mean a variety of things, depending on the project. Generally speaking, it is not something I am much interested in, because of what I wrote in a previous answer. I don't think I have the patience for studio work. I prefer to get on stage in front of an audience, sing, sweat, and go home!

But is it not true that a lot of "producers" are actually superfluous. Isn't (most of the times) the artist himself with the help of a good engineer the real producer?

Yes, this is true. For those projects on which I designated myself as a "producer," I took responsibility for setting direction of the project in the studio. On others, such as Can I Change My Mind with Swamp Dogg, I allowed myself to be directed.

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Free at Last

Could you tell me a little bit more about the Free At Last album? When was it released? Why is it called free at last? You said you and the band wrote a lot of material for this album, but there are no credits on the cd...Whose idea was it to use the art/painting for the cover and back of the album. Who made it? It's different, original...

I mentioned Cornerstone Management in an earlier answer. They did a good job of increasing our per-gig fee by increasing the demand for us in the venues in which we played, with the intention that we would not need to perform as frequently or to burn ourselves out with constant touring so that we could concentrate on writing. So we wrote, I'd say, at least 100 songs and performed many of them in our shows, saving the best for the Free at Last album. I will have to get the song credits to you. They were on the LP, but are not visible on the CD, which was packaged as kind of an afterthought, as CDs were just then becoming popular, and most people did not have CD players. This was around 1988.

Many of the songs had themes of hope and liberation, probably because it was a positive time in my life. I was recently remarried to my current wife, Rebecca, and beginning to get well beyond the addiction problems that had dogged me in earlier years. In fact, the cover art was Rebecca's idea. We had an artist friend named Robert Qualters whose work we admired, and we thought it would be great to ask Bob to design an album cover for us, a medium in which he had never worked but that was well suited to his style. Unfortunately, LP was the only format that did justice to the work, which looked terrible on the CD and on the cassette tapes. I have the original artwork on my dining room wall to this day.

I was quite irritated with the negotiations over the artwork between Qualters and the Philistines at Cornerstone, who said things to him such as, "We have to get that smile off Billy's face, he doesn't look cool enough." And I would scream at them and tell them to leave Qualters alone and let him do whatever he wanted to do, because he was a goddamned artist not an advertising company. It still ticks me off to this day, just thinking about it.

Maybe I can find an album cover with the full credits for all the songs and send it to you. I think that album was quite good and should have done better than it did. I'm not quite sure what was going on at Cornerstone at the time, but after the long buildup and all the hard work that went into writing for it and recording it, again Cornerstone did not come through with much push for the album, and it became clear very quickly that it was not going to do for our careers what we hoped it was going to do. It's a shame, because that was some excellent band at that time, and we were ready to break out of our regional status; but I guess it just was not meant to be.

You mentioned your wife Rebecca. Is she an inspiration? How does she handle an artist, ha ha? Is she artistic herself? I ask this because a lot of artists I interview they all say the same thing: you gotta have an understanding and strong women beside you...

I don't think that the need for a strong and understanding partner is unique to people in the music business. But I certainly am blessed as a human being to have found such a lovely, strong, and supportive soul mate in Rebecca.

The album Free at Last wasn't pushed enough, it went down. What did you do? I can imagine you were mad after all the work you put into it...

No, I would say it is not quite as simple as my being mad at the management company/record company for not pushing the album. There are hundreds of reasons why an album is not successful, so to focus on this one reason seems myopic. After all, the majority of recordings that are released do not succeed--those that do are the exception. If it's true that the management company at that time did not believe in the product sufficiently to be willing to sink energy and treasure into promoting it, then it is also true that I and my bandmates failed to make them believe. So although I may have been "mad" at that time, the passage of time has enabled me to see things more objectively.

What was true is that BP and the Keystone Rhythm Band, as it had evolved to that point, was no longer giving me much joy or musical satisfaction. As odd as this may sound, the band had grown out of my control, to the point that there was no longer space for me as a vocalist. Mostly, this was because Glenn Pavone was so strong as a guitarist that his instrument and his presence began to dominate the band musically. I didn't resent him for this exactly--it wasn't his fault that he was great, and he was a sweet, likable, and unassuming guy. So the band was great, but I had become a very ordinary rock singer, straining to make myself heard above the band, increasingly mechanical, and losing my commitment to the music that we were putting out for people night after night. At that point, we had been at it for about 10 years, there were no surprises or opportunities ahead of us, we were doing the same things and playing the same gigs over and over again, and it just began to feel like it was time to do something else.

When ('90?) and how did the Keystone Rhythm Band crash? Did you yourself disband the band?

Yes, I decided to disband the group and told the other guys of my decision. I had applied to graduate school at Carnegie Mellon and been accepted, and now we decided to make one last appearance at all of the venues that we played regularly on the East Coast. Our last tour was exciting and fun, but in a bittersweet kind of way. We opened up our repertoire and brought back much of the earlier material that we had done on our earlier LPs. In Pittsburgh, we sold out two nights at a big venue called Graffiti, and for that show, we had a reunion with many of the players who had come and gone from the band in earlier years. Those were two unforgettable nights.

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Billy Price and the Swingtime Five, Danger Zone, and the Billy Price Band

You were off the self medication, got a whole new family at once and you quit the Keystone band. Did you have plans for the future. Did you want to quit music and go to a regular job or back to studying? What did you do in between the Free at Last album and the new band The Billy Price Band?

As I said, I went to graduate school with the intention of training myself for a job that would enable me to support my family; but in the meantime, I had begun to jam with some jazz musicians once a week, singing a lot of early Bobby Bland, Roy Milton, Percy Mayfield, Ray Charles stuff--that late 40s/early 50s R&B that I had been doing in the early days of the Rhythm Kings, but this time with accomplished musicians who played the stuff with authority. This was the group that we began to call "Billy Price and the Swingtime Five," led by a drummer named H.B. Bennett, who booked bands at a Pittsburgh jazz club called The Balcony.

For me, this group was everything that the Keystone Rhythm Band wasn't--it was loose, informal, almost acoustic (or at least lightly amplified), sometimes sloppy but sometimes inspired, and profoundly unserious. In that group, there was a lot of wide open space in which to sing, and I began to find my voice again. What I liked about that group was that I didn't have to worry any more about what Robert Cray was doing, what Huey Lewis and the News were doing, what the Fabulous Thunderbirds were doing, who was going to play what on the radio, and all of that other crap that had consumed me during the days of working with Cornerstone Management, and I could just work on the craft of singing.

So you started a blue/jump/swing band called Billy Price and the Swingtime Five. Something totally different from The Keystone Rhythm band. Why was that?

I sometimes think of this as similar to what fine restaurants do between courses--they serve sherbet to cleanse the palate. Billy Price and the Swingtime Five cleansed my palate from the Keystone Rhythm Band and enabled me to come to experience music in a fresh way again.

In an interview with Toby Thompson you say "There was space and room to breathe"... Can you explain that? Was that the reason why you started a blues band?

It was great to get back to singing blues after the years when I felt that I had prostituted myself. I am really a purist at heart, although by that I don't mean that I am a formalist or that I believe in copying the old music note for note. But I do believe in remaining true to the spirit of the musical areas I work in, and because I have this purist bias, I had become uncomfortable with the "anything for success" mentality that I had adopted in the late 1980s. I think that the motivation for achieving success at any cost came from the growing need to support myself and a family as I reached an age at which most responsible men are able to do that. But I've been fortunate to have found another way to do that now, which is what enables me to indulge my musical purism.

How did you choose the songs for Danger Zone? There are three Percy Mayfield songs on the album, is the poet of the blues your favorite blues singer?

Those songs came from the repertoire of Billy Price and the Swingtime Five. I was going for great songs, so of course there were a lot of Percy Mayfield songs because he is, to me, the greatest writer in that genre. He's not my favorite blues singer though. That would certainly be Bobby Bland, for me. I have been studying Bobby Bland since I was 16 years old, and I never tire of listening to him.

How did you find the new musicians for the band and the album? Guitarist Don Garvin is back since 1979/80. He sounds different than he did earlier and he's also credited as a producer now...?

Yes, the Jeree recording studio was always where I was most comfortable, so it was a natural for us to go there to record. Garvin and a bass player named Bob "Pecky" Peckman, who has always played bass with Garvin, were playing in a popular "oldies" group called Pure Gold, and moonlighting with us when that group wasn't working. They eventually became our regular bass and guitar players in Billy Price and the Swingtime Five, which we eventually began to just call "The Billy Price Band." So Garvin, H.B., and Pecky were all in the band, and it was natural that we would record the CD at Garvin's studio.

Regarding Garvin sounding different, I think that the guitarist you are hearing on Is It Over? is probably Chuck Roethel, who was the first guitarist in the Keystone Rhythm Band. Garvin played a little bit on Is It Over?, but I think most of the guitar playing was done by Chuck. Garvin has been playing basically the same way the whole time I have known him.

Don't you think Garvin's guitar playing suits more the soul music than the blues (maybe a little too rough) on Danger Zone?

Yes, I would agree that his forte is definitely Memphis/Muscle Shoals soul guitar. But he plays some stuff on Danger Zone that absolutely delights me, even though it may not be idiomatically correct!

Could you tell me a little bit more about the process of making Danger Zone. Who are HB Bennett and the great sax player? Are you happy with the result? I think it's a fine album also productionwise...

The sax player is Nick Dialoiso--great player with a big, round sound. There are lots of great players on that CD. Max Leake is also a fine, fine, keyboard player. I don't listen to that CD often, but I think I sang well and I know that I had the privilege of working with some of the most gifted musicians in Pittsburgh. What I love about the album is that it is so uncompromising and so uncommercial! A lot of the fans of the late Keystone Rhythm Band were turned off by it, but in a way it was intended to be an assertion of independence from other people's expectations.

A word about HB. HB has been my business partner and has helped me lead the Billy Price Band from the very beginning. He was not able to make the trip to Belgium with us because he had a liver transplant last November, and has played with us only once since then. But we are praying that he has a full recovery.

You said you probably lost a lot of fans by doing the Danger Zone album. Were you not afraid of that, to start all over again from scratch?

Nah, I don't think I lost any fans permanently because of that album, nor was I afraid of doing so. I probably gained as many as I lost and, most importantly, at that point in my career it was important to me to assert the right to do what I felt like doing instead of what my managers thought was the smart commercial thing to do. I guess I was ridding myself of the last vestiges of Cornerstone Management and everything that they represented--consciously and deliberately burning those bridges.

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The Soul Collection

The next album The Soul Collection is some kinda mark in your career. Can I say the start of the new Billy Price Band? This cd is f**king good!!!!! What does this cd mean to you, what did it do for you?

Thanks, I'm glad you like that one, because I do too, probably more than anything else I've done with the possible exception of Is It Over?. I had always wanted to do a CD like this one, at Jeree, with great musical and vocal support. Soul Collection to me is Is It Over? volume II, but with better musicians, and a little slicker. This CD got a good bit of attention in the blues and soul magazines, and also served notice to my fans that I wasn't quite finished yet.

Who came up with the idea of doing an album like this, almost a tribute to soul music?

HB Bennett and I conceived the idea for this CD, and we got Don Garvin involved in both the conception and execution very early. Garvin played most of the guitar on the CD, because Lenny Smith, the guitar player in my performing band, didn't have enough time available to go out to Jeree frequently enough to record--it takes about 45 minutes to drive there from Pittsburgh. So that meant that Garvin was the guitar player in addition to being the engineer. Lenny is a also great guitar player and would have also done just fine on the CD if he had been available. I think he is on a few of the tunes on the album, actually. But as you said earlier, Don Garvin is a beautiful guitar player in the Muscle Shoals style. Generally speaking, I used a lot of different players from Pittsburgh on Soul Collection, choosing the guys who I thought would work best for each tune.

How did everything come together? It's again recorded at the Jeree studios and your old time pal is playing with the studio buttons...and there's that Hi sound again...

Well, the most fortunate thing that happened, which I think made the album so special, was the addition of the background vocalists. We decided that we wanted female vocals, something I had never had on my CDs before, to add an extra level of polish and support. We tried to get vocalists in Pittsburgh, but didn't find anyone we thought was great enough. At first, we were considering trying to contact Rhodes, Chalmers, and Rhodes, the singers who sang background on all the Hi recordings, but they were too expensive. Then I thought about Theresa Davis, whom I had met when she was working with Otis Clay. So I contacted Theresa, she contacted Diane Madison and Robin Robinson, and we arranged to go to Chicago to overdub the vocals there. Theresa had sung previously with the Emotions, Diane would sing with Aretha Franklin shortly after she recorded on our CD, and all three have recording credits that are way too numerous to list here. They were absolutely amazing--fast, efficient, creative, professional, precise--just astonishing how good they were. And, fortunately for us, Otis Clay showed up at the Chicago session, added a lead vocal to "That's How It Is," and helped with the background vocals on "Gonna Forget About You."

Could you tell me a little bit more about Green Dolphin and the relation with Jeree and Don Garvin?

Jerry Reed, who died a couple of years ago, owned the studio, Jeree, and the labels Green Dolphin and Jeree Records, and Don Garvin was his partner who built the studio and did a lot of the engineering (although Jerry was also a great engineer). They released a lot of stuff on Jeree--some rock, some gospel, and a lot of country. They generally reserved Green Dolphin for our stuff and any other blues, jazz, or R&B stuff that they released.

I remember one day when we were in the studio working on The Soul Collection. Jerry was sitting in the office smoking a cigarette, as he often did, and I was sitting on the couch with HB. The door to the studio was open, and Garvin was inside listening to a playback of one of the tunes.

HB says to me, "What are we going to do with this when we're finished? Are you going to shop it around to labels?"

So I hollered in to Garvin, "Hey Don, is it okay if we release this on Green Dolphin?"

"I don't give a shit," he hollered back.

"Congratulations, HB," I said, "We just got a recording contract!"

Am I correct if I say that this album really did make the BPBand take off?

It would be more correct to say that it got us to the tarmac at the airport, but we're still waiting to take off.

But it would be correct to say that this CD did a lot to spread our reputation further than it ever had spread before. I think a lot of this also had to do with the Internet. By the time we released this CD, in 1997, it was already a lot easier for an independent artist to reach fans directly rather than having to rely on a record company to act as an intermediary. So I've exploited the Internet since 1997 or so and been able to control my career more than was possible before the Internet existed.

You're singing "That's How it Is" in a duet with Otis Clay. How was that? Did you know Clay before that? What kinda person is Clay?

I was a huge fan of Otis Clay, especially after Denny Bruce made a tape for me of Otis's first live LP recorded in Japan. There are two. The one that is easily available today on CD, Soul Man Live in Japan, is not the one I'm talking about. There was an earlier one, Live Otis Clay, issued by JVC, and it is incredible. So this first live in Japan album was in my tape player incessantly for several months. Of course, the song "Is It Over?" was originally recorded by Otis in Muscle Shoals at Fame Studios, produced by Rick Hall and released on Cotillion. So my manager at the time, Tom Carrico, thought it would be cool to bring Otis to the East Coast to perform with my band. It took Tom a long time to convince Otis to make the trip, but finally he agreed to perform with us at Desperado's in Washington, DC and at Mancini's Lounge in Pittsburgh. We rehearsed with Otis, and we were all kind of tentative at first, but the shows turned out great. I'll never forget the first time I got to sing "Is It Ove?r" with Otis, in Washington. I got so emotional I didn't think I'd be able to get a sound out of my voice!

We were doing a lot of dates with Otis around the time we that we were recording the Live album. Since then, I've played many shows with Otis and sung together with him many times. I admire Otis not just for the way that he sings and performs, but also for the man that he is. I saw him most recently a couple of months ago when he was passing through Pittsburgh. He's closely involved now with the Soul Stirrers gospel group, singing lead with them and working with them on some recording projects in Chicago.

What you hear on "That's How It Is" is something Otis and I had done together many times before live audiences--basically just singing one of his songs and trading off lines. This was an example of what I referred to earlier when I wrote about a "documentary recording." We didn't do a lot of takes and didn't go back to clean things up very much. We just opened up the microphones, captured a moment in time, and put it on the album.

Who made it possible to do this with Clay? Are you happy with the result?

I think that Theresa Davis arranged for Otis to come to the session in Chicago. Otis knew we were coming, of course, but I wouldn't have presumed to come out and ask him to do the guest vocal appearance on the album; although I hoped that it might happen, and we brought the tape of "That's How It Is" along with us just in case!

There are 3 songs from Clay's songbook on the cd. Could I say that Clay was/is a big influence on you. Maybe he's is kind of your mentor for you?

Definitely yes to both questions. He's been a huge influence on me as well as a mentor. There is no substitute for working closely and directly with someone who is more experienced and accomplished, to watch what he does and how he carries himself both onstage and off. So really, whenever I perform anywhere, Otis Clay is there in everything that I do.

For the record: when did you record this album (how long did it take, it must have been a big production) and when was it released?

We must have worked on it for a year, at least. It was finally released in 1997.

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Can I Change My Mind

Can you explain how, when and where you met Jerry "Swamp Dogg" Williams?

The first thing I remember about Swamp Dogg was hearing "Baby, You're My Everything" on the radio in the late 1960s, by Jerry Williams, who was also known as "Little Jerry Williams" on some of his earlier recordings. The song was a big favorite of mine. At some point in his career, he took on the Swamp Dogg persona, and I'm sure I heard and listened to some Swamp Dogg recordings in the 70s and liked them. I was also vaguely aware of his prolific talents as a songwriter and producer for other artists, especially Solomon Burke's "Sidewalks, Fences, and Walls," which is one of my favorite Solomon recordings.

So...When I was recording They Found Me Guilty with Denny Bruce, Denny at that time owned Takoma Records, and right after he worked with me, he released a CD on Takoma by Swamp Dogg called I'm Not Selling Out, I'm Buying In. Denny sent me a copy of the album when it came out--it had Denny's picture on the cover along with several other white guys, made up to look like music-business executives, and Denny also enjoyed regaling me on the phone with stories about the sessions and about Swamp Dogg, who is, to anyone who has ever met him, an unforgettable character. Esther Phillips makes a cameo performance on that album, and, as I recall, there was a good bit of friction in the studio when they were recording her vocals.

Included with the album was a cookbook that Swamp had written, and I think I cooked the recipe for gumbo from that cookbook a few times and later lost it. So, many years later, I noticed that Swamp was posting frequently on a Yahoo mailing list about southern soul music that I looked at and posted to from time to time, and just for laughs I decided to contact Swamp, tell him that we had a mutual friend in Denny Bruce, and offer to trade a copy of my latest CD, Soul Collection at that time, for a copy of his cookbook. He was glad to do that, and then several weeks later, he sent me email raving about how much he liked Soul Collection. From there, we started talking about the possibility of working together, and this eventually led to Can I Change My Mind.

Could you tell me a little bit more about this man (and co producer Yvonne Williams)?

There are short bios of Swamp at the bottom of the page at http://www.billyprice.com/Swamp.php--you should be able to get the main details of his career from there. My favorite productions by Swamp are the recordings he produced for Doris Duke, which are among my very favorite female soul recordings. They are about as deep as deep soul can get. He also did some incredible stuff with Irma Thomas, and many others. Yvonne Williams, who sadly died a couple of months ago, was Swamp's wife and business partner. They functioned very much as team, and wherever Swamp went, Yvonne went with him. She attended all the recording sessions for Change My Mind, for example. They live in a beautiful house in Simi Valley, California, outside of Los Angeles, and have six children.

Swamp is brilliant, often hilariously funny, musically gifted with an almost inexhaustible store of creative ideas, always irreverent (just listen to some of the Swamp Dogg recordings), and at times infuriating, and he has fiercely loyal friends and admirers as well as avowed enemies within the music business (one of whom, by the way, is Solomon Burke).

Your last cd The Soul Collection was like a soul tribute... Your next cd Can I Change my Mind is almost entirely written by Williams (apart from 2 songs). Who came up with the idea? Why the sudden change?

After Soul Collection, I wanted to see what it would be like to record songs that had never been recorded by anyone else other than me. So the idea of working with a great soul writer who was also an experienced producer was appealing to me. I was excited by the idea of Swamp writing songs specifically with my voice in mind and, in retrospect, there are a couple of songs on the CD that I'm proud of--"Mine All Mine All Mine" and "What Is Love (And What Makes You Think You Deserve Some)."

A lot of musicians on this album are new to me. Are they studio musicians? Did they come with the Williams' deal? What did your road band think of that? Could you tell me some things about guitarist Landis Armstrong?

Swamp is well known in Los Angeles, where he seems to have access to an almost endless supply of competent musicians to do studio work. The guys on this CD were hired as studio musicians for the sessions by Swamp and Yvonne, and they were drawn from bands of people like Little Milton, Barry White, and Otis Day and the Knights. We recorded in a studio owned by former recording artist Leon Hayward ("She's With Her Other Love," "It's Got to Be Mellow"), and Leon would pop his head in from time to time and offer a suggestion (usually a great one).

Landis Armstrong was a special case, brought in specifically for this CD. Swamp doesn't perform live much, but he does sometimes perform in Austin, Texas, which is where he met Landis. Landis's band backed up Swamp a few times down there, and so Swamp hired him to come to Los Angeles and record on this CD with me. He is a fine guitar player, and reminds me a bit of Keith Grimes. He's a Steve Cropper fanatic, and his playing on the CD was, in my opinion, superb.

I guess there may have been some ill feeling among my road band about my going out to LA alone to record the CD, but they are all grown ups and, I hope, they all recognized that doing this CD was at least a plausible option for me at that point in my career. Naturally, they weren't as enthusiastic about playing the songs from this CD as they might have been if they had recorded on it, but there were no bad scenes or confrontations about any of this. Swamp doesn't leave LA too often, and there was never any question of his using any musicians on the CD other than the guys he was used to working with. Taking the whole band out to the West Coast to record would have been prohibitively expensive.

Can I Change My Mind was released December 1999, only two years after The Soul Collection. Two big productions in such a short period must have been exhausting...working like crazy?

Yes, it was a busy time, and I must say it took a toll on my personal life. Don't forget, I also have a full-time job during the day that takes up a lot of time and energy.

How long did it take to record this album and are you satisfied with the "Swamp Dogg"result (songs and production)?

We recorded all of the rhythm tracks in one week, and then Swamp added background vocals and horns after I had already returned to Pittsburgh. I will say honestly that this is not my favorite Billy Price CD, but I do think that Swamp was able to draw some great performances out of me and, as I say, there are a few songs on the CD that I think are fine.

What attracts the attention are the nice cut songs and almost perfect arrangements and production...But there is less room for soloists...Can you agree on this?

Yes, and this was a conscious choice on our part. I think that the same could be said about Soul Collection, although to a lesser extent. In contrast, you hear a lot of solos and featuring of the players on Sworn Testimony. My approach with Soul Collection, and Swamp's approach with Change My Mind, was to make interesting and engaging recordings, not to use the recordings as a vehicle for the artistic expression of the musicians. I think that's how great records are made. On my favorite records, the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts. Playing a twelve-bar blues and allowing the musicians to express themselves is fine for live performance, but I don't think it leads to recordings that anyone wants to hear more than a few times. So I am a believer in great songs sung by great singers in supportive musical environments.

Would you work with Williams or a different person with the same impact/capacity as Williams?

Sure. It was an experience I am glad that I had.

What did Can I Change my Mind do for the BPB?

Probably because of the esteem in which Swamp Dogg is held, especially in Europe and England, this CD got a lot more people to pay attention to me than had done so before, and that was certainly a good thing for my career. And I think that, as a result of the attention that this CD received, a lot of people went back and investigated some of my earlier recordings.

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Have Mercy!

First of all, could you tell me some more about guitarist Lenny Smith. Since when are you making music together?

Lenny is a fine guitarist who has the authentic pedigree of having been born and raised in Florence, Alabama, near Muscle Shoals, the place where so many of the great soul recordings that we love were recorded. Lenny's father was a professional country guitarist and guitar teacher. I first met Lenny when a friend of mine told me that there was a great blues guitar player playing in bands here in Pittsburgh who was from Muscle Shoals. This was at the time when Don Garvin was still playing guitar with me and HB in the early version of the Billy Price Band (Billy Price and the Swingtime Five). So a gig came along on a night when Don was playing with his oldies band, Pure Gold, and I thought about this guitar player whom my friend had told me about, so I decided to give him a call. He did a great job filling in for Garvin, and eventually he became the regular guitar player with the Billy Price Band.

Have Mercy! was recorded live at a radio station...How and why?

WYEP is a listener-sponsored public radio station in Pittsburgh that has become successful during the past 10 years or so. In their early years, when they were struggling to survive, the Rhythm Kings played a benefit concert for them that many of the old-timers at WYEP credit for giving them a much-needed financial boost during a difficult time in their history. They invited me to perform live on the air with my band for the 25th anniversary of the station, on Bumble Bee Slim's Blues & Rhythm show, which has been on the air for many years. The station gave us a CD of the concert, and I put mp3 files from the CD on my Web site. I eventually decided to press some CDs of the broadcast and sell them over the Net on my Web site, because a lot of my fans didn't know how to deal with mp3 files. But we didn't print too many of them, and when they were sold out, we didn't restock them.The mp3 files are all on my Web site now.

Could you tell me a little bit more about the song "Have a Little Mercy." It's not really what we're used to. It's daring, it's dynamic, it's something different, but very beautiful and strong...

Great song. It was recorded originally by a female singer named Jean Wells, who had at least one other great recording called "After Loving You." We rocked the song up a bit and allowed Lenny to cut loose on guitar.

When I performed this live, I used to do a dramatic drop to my knees at the end of the guitar solo. A semi-professional soul singer I met at a summer gig in the Catskill Mountains in New York when I was 17 years old taught me a knee-drop technique with a microphone in a mike stand that I have used ever since. It took me several days to perfect the technique, and I bruised my knees pretty badly trying to learn it. If we ever meet again and there is a mike and mike stand nearby, I'll teach it to you.

And what about "Nothing Takes the Place of You." You sometimes sound like Sam Cooke. The song is stripped to basics...goose bumps!

Oh yes, what a wonderful song that is. It was recorded by Toussaint McCall in around 1967, and raised many goose bumps on my skin over the years as well. There's actually a movie by a Baltimore filmmaker named John Waters called "Hairspray" in which Toussaint McCall makes a cameo appearance singing this song.

At the time we recorded "Nothing Takes the Place of You," my keyboard player, John Burgh and I had just begun doing some acoustic gigs with just the two of us at a few places in Pittsburgh. This was one of the first songs that we learned. Radio One had a tent on the festival grounds at Peer, and John and I did a couple of numbers from our repertoire that were broadcast over Radio One the weekend of the festival.

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Sworn Testimony

Your next album is called Sworn Testimony. Could you explain this, probably, meaningful title?

I always got a kick out of "Jury of Love" soul songs, such as "Eight Men, Four Women" by O.V. Wright, "I Stand Accused" by Jerry Butler (and Isaac Hayes), "Court of Love," by the Unifics, and a million others, and I used to do a long medley based on "Cry, Cry, Cry" by Bobby Bland in which I took off on the whole jury of love idea. This is the last cut on They Found Me Guilty, which, on the cover, depicts me being dragged off in handcuffs by two policemen. Free at Last was a variation on this theme--if you could see the Robert Qualters cover art on the LP, you'd see that it is based on the idea of liberation from bondage--in this case, I was thinking more of spiritual bondage than physical--the picture on the cover is encircled by giant handcuffs, and the theme runs through both the cover art and the title song of that album. So, for this live album, "Sworn Testimony" seemed an apt name to build further on the same theme--a live soul performance as a kind of giving of testimony in the Court of Love.

Yet another live album! Why? Why not a studio album: there are enough new songs on the album...?

I recorded Sworn Testimony because, at that time, I thought that my live performing band was in peak form, and I wanted to capture a documentary recording of that band that would allow the musicians to have the space to show off their talents and the opportunity to be recognized.

Two times 74 minutes: That's value for your money. Why a double cd? Isn't that a little too expensive for the working people...?

We probably could have cut things down to a single CD if we had wanted to, but we recorded two full nights of performances, and it all sounded so good to us that we could see it was going to be difficult to decide what songs to exclude. So in the end, we just decided to fill two discs with music. Yes, it is a generous CD that stays on the player for a long time. I don't really think we lost many sales because of the additional expense of selling a double CD, but I could be wrong.

Are you happy with these recordings/album? What impact did this album have?

I'm happy with it, yes--I think it accomplished my intentions of showcasing the live band. I didn't put as much effort into promoting it as I did Can I Change My Mind and Soul Collection, so I don't think we got as many reviews published; what's more, some of the reviews that were published pointed out, correctly, that despite the quality of the performances, there was no new or original material on this CD.

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Belgium Rhythm & Blues Festival and Funky...Funky Soul!!!

Obviously, your live reputation brought you to Europe. How did this go, who contacted you....etc. Did you stay long in Europe? Did you do other gigs? Or was it exclusive for the Peer festival?

Wim Vermeijen of BRBF contacted me about a year before the festival, inquired about Sworn Testimony, which he had heard about, and asked if I would be interested in playing in Belgium at the Peer festival. I guess Wim had been a fan of mine since They Found Me Guilty, or maybe even since Is It Over?. It seems to me that Wim prides himself in discovering and bringing to Peer artists that are not well known in Europe, such as myself, Sharrie Williams and Richard Johnston, and I think that Wim's passion for the music is one reason why the Peer festival is so unique and of such high quality. Anyhow, Wim and I corresponded through email, worked out all the details, and made the performance happen. Peer was the only gig the band did while in Europe. We had hoped to book some other gigs, but it was festival season and there didn't seem to be any club gigs available to us at that time.

I must say that Peer was one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling experiences of my entire career. I loved the challenge of performing for people who were not familiar with my music and, I hope, winning them over. My wife Rebecca and I spent a few extra days in Brussels and in Amsterdam, and enjoyed our trip immensely. The people we met were warm, friendly, and gracious, and we hope to have an opportunity to return.

The Peer concert was recorded on video and at the moment you're producing a DVD. Will the DVD be in the shops or will you sell it only on the web site? Is everything finished? When will it be released?

We're finishing things up within the next day or two. I'm excited about it and I think it looks wonderful, although I find it difficult and embarrassing to watch myself and all of my goofy mannerisms on stage. It seems that other people don't think I look as ridiculous as I think I look..otherwise I would not have been able to continue to do this for all this time!

The title of the DVD is Funky...Funky Soul!!! and it will be for sale through my Web site and through Amazon.com, and at all of our live performances. I expect it to be released sometime around December 10.

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Looking Back

The last 10 years you made several top albums and last year you topped it all with this live double album. What's next? Aren't you a little bit afraid to make a follow up? How can you beat this? What are your plans for the future?

I wouldn't say that I am afraid to make a follow up, but it's also true that I don't have plans or ideas for a follow up at this time. I do think that it is time for me to try again to write some songs, so if I had to guess, I would guess that my next release will contain at least some new original material. Or, I might decide to do "Soul Collection II"--who knows?

It may sound strange to say this, but the way it has usually worked for me is that I come to the decision to do a new CD spontaneously, without much forethought or planning. An idea just seems to come to me, seemingly out of nowhere, and then all the plans come together in a short period of time. This is the way the ideas for Soul Collection, Can I Change My Mind, and Sworn Testimony came together, and I expect that whatever I do next will come together in a similar way.

I am really concentrating most these days on spending time with my family and my wonderful wife, whom I have neglected badly during the past five years or so, and have worked much less frequently with the band in the past year than I did in the previous several years. I guess I could say that I am concentrating more on quality than on quantity. We don't work nearly as much, but when we do, it is usually quite special.

You made about 10 albums and they all differ slightly...They all have a slightly different approach to them... Was that a conscience choice or did it just turn out that way?

I think that it "just turned out that way." But on the other hand, there has been an element of conscious choice as well. Ever since Free at Last, I have not had to rely on my music career to make a living, so I have been free to do what I felt like doing and when I felt like doing it. I often tell people that I am not famous enough to be constrained by the requirements of the music industry; this is one of the consolations of not being famous!

My day job has afforded me this freedom. I haven't sold a large number of CDs, but I am happy with the variety and quality of the music I've created since Free at Last, and fortunately, there have been enough people interested in what I do that I've been able at least to break even on the venture of creating, producing, and distributing this music.

What's your own favorite Billy Price album/song and why?

My two favorites are Is It Over? and Soul Collection. On Is It Over?, my favorite song is probably the title song, and on Soul Collection I also like the ballads, especially "Your Time to Cry" and "That's How It Is." I am also partial to "Betcha Didn't Know That."

Which album did turn out the best for BP? In other words, which one did sell the most?

Over the years, Is It Over? has proven to be remarkably durable, and it continues to sell steadily while the other older recordings, such as the first Live album, Danger Zone, and Free at Last, don't sell much at all. My core fans in Pittsburgh and on the East Coast of the US continue to identify me with "Eldorado Cafe," "Lickin Stick," "Ace of Spades," "You Left the Water Running," and "She's Tough," which are the most popular songs from the Is It Over? album.

If you'd not have the day job, could you and your family survive on the music income?

Probably, but it wouldn't be much of a life, I don't think.

What do you think about the blues/soul scene today? Is it still healthy? Are there (enough) new names/artists, you think, to keep it alive? Any new names we have to look out for?

I'm not confident that I am qualified to answer this, because I don't follow the music scene as closely nowadays as I have in the past. I think that the Malaco label from Jackson, Mississippi continues to be a real soul music label and, although I haven't followed their releases too closely in a few years, they were producing great stuff during the past decade that the many people who consider themselves fans of blues and soul may have overlooked. The continuing market for soul/blues in the U.S. is a surprise, and a pleasant one. There really is a lot of decent soul music being recorded on small labels like Malaco. Although much of it is formulaic, there are too many cheesy sounding electronic instruments, and some of the lyrics are either way too raunchy or repeat old themes of infidelity, there are still a lot of great classic soul singers who are recording, and that's a good thing.

The market for what I would call derivative blues and blues rock also seems to be healthy and, if anything, growing from year to year. I could argue that no one will ever do anything to rival the great Chess blues recordings (Muddy, Wolf, Sonny Boy, Little Walter, etc.), but there surely are a lot of artists, bands, clubs, labels, and festivals that concentrate on blues-based music, and there is a viable, self-sustaining scene that is making it possible for a lot of people to make a living in support of what is a retro style of music. I remember sitting in a bar with a friend of mine in the early 70s lamenting the impending demise of blues. We thought that Buddy Guy and Otis Rush were probably going to be the last real bluesmen, and that the stuff was just going to fade away with their generation. Obviously, that prediction hasn't turned out to have been correct.

In a way, though, I'd have to think that if anything really significant is happening right now in African-American music, it's probably happening in genres that I don't pay much attention to, such as hip hop and contemporary R&B, rather than in the world of retro, derivative blues and soul/blues that I inhabit. If there is a 22-year-old somewhere who is the next incarnation of Sam Cooke, he's probably setting his sights on the musical mainstream, because he's going to want to reach millions of people, not thousands. This is the way it has always been.

As for new names to look for...I'm listening lately to a young guy named Calvin Richardson, a contemporary R&B artist who sounds like Bobby Womack and Sam Cooke at times. My favorite group for some time now has been the Canton Spirituals, a contemporary gospel group that played Peer a few years ago. And Al Green is about to release a new secular CD on BlueNote that was produced by Willie Mitchell and sounds like it could have been recorded in 1978. I've heard some of the songs on the BlueNote Web site, and they are incredibly great. That's about all I know about contemporary music!

With whom would you like to work with in the future (studio or live)? Dan Penn, Steve Cropper, Booker T and the MG's? Irma Thomas did this album "The songs of Dan Penn". It was not spectacular but it was ok. Would you like to do something like that (again) in the future?

Sure, all of the above. I was disappointed with the Irma Thomas/Dan Penn CD--I thought it was a bit tepid--but I loved the idea of it.

People who are trying to dig out soul music, where should they start according to you? Could you make like a top-5-beginners-album-list?

Oh, boy, this is a tough one. OK...
1. Two Steps from the Blues, Bobby Bland
2. Sam Cooke with the Soul Stirrers
3. James Brown Live at the Apollo, Volume One
4. Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul
5. tie: James Carr, O.V. Wright, Al Green, Otis Clay, Syl Johnson, Aretha, Shirley Brown, Solomon Burke, Ann Peebles, Bobby Womack
and we have even talked about vocal groups, blues artists, gospel artists. Sorry, I just can't narrow it down any better than this!

Any tips on books we should surely read?

I think Sweet Soul Music by Peter Guralnick is the best book about soul that I've ever read. Others that come to mind are Rythm Oil by Stanley Booth, Soul Music: The Birth of a Sound in Black America, by Michael Haralambos, Chicago Soul by Robert Pruter, The Gospel Sound by Tony Heilbut, Great God 'A Mighty by Jerry Zolten (about the Dixie Hummingbirds).

You have the day job, your music, you write and a beautiful family (who you dedicated the last album to).... Any goals left in your life? What more would you like to archive?

I'm not driven by ambition in the way that I was when I was younger (BTW, today is my 54th birthday!). If my life continues in the path that it has taken during the past year, I would be as happy as I could be. My only specific goal is to get back to Europe to perform frequently during the coming years!

That's it! We are finished! I hope you've enjoyed this as much as I did! I know 92 questions is a lot. I want to thank you very, very much. Of course I'll keep in touch...Nope, didn't beat the record, ha ha, I asked Little Milton 95 questions....but then again his career was a little bit longer than yours...

This has been a pleasure for me too. Thanks so much for doing this.

 
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