Had a cozy chat with Bloodshot Bill, the revered rockabilly one man band from Montreal and learned some things about his early years as a budding rock’n’roller, his hoarding habits, and his love for ballads.
When did you realize you had this talent to be a musician?
It’s more like realizing you enjoy it, so I realized I enjoyed it and just wanted to do that.
How old were you?
I started playing drums when I was 13 or something, I was playing with friends and stuff. When I realized when I wanted to do it, probably like around when I met you, during those Jailhouse days. I was working all crappy jobs, so many shitty jobs.
So, at that point you started playing more?
I used to drink more than I played so I didn’t really take some opportunities that I could have, with people offering me to play out of town and stuff like that.
As a solo artist, or in bands?
Both, I was doing both. I started out playing alone, not the way I do it now with the one man band type of thing, it was just with a guitar. I played with Dom and stuff like that.
Were you in bands in high-school?
I was playing drums in high school. Being the drummer I didn’t really have so much control, so I had to learn to play guitar to do my own thing.
And when did you start singing or realizing you could sing?
Well I didn’t realize I could sing, I just figured I should try this if I want to do stuff I like. That happened pretty late when I was like 19 or 20.
I know people call you hillbilly or rockabilly, what’s the difference? What do you consider yourself?
Just rockabilly, rock’n’roll or just rockin’. I guess hillbilly loses that rock part of it, and I like that style, that’s what I try to go for. You try to go for what you like. Like if you are a writer you want to write something you want to read, right? So, I try to make songs that I obviously want to hear.
You’ve met some of your idols? Like Hasil Adkins
I never met Hasil but we used to talk on the phone a lot. I got his number a long time ago.
So, did you just call him up?
I called him up and he talked to me like we knew each other for years. It wasn’t like who are you? It was so cool. And we used to play songs to each other over the phone. And after he passed away his girlfriend wrote me, sent me a letter saying, “Is this Bloodshot Bill, you used to talk to Hasil on the phone” I was like “yeah”. He used to tape record his phone conversations which I didn’t know and she was like “I have a tape of you guys talking, would you like it?”. She sent me this tape and we’re talking, and playing songs over the phone to each other, it’s cool.
Great, that’s awesome! Where do you think your passion and energy comes from?
Hmm, I don’t have that many interests, I’m not interested or knowledgeable on many things because I have no interest in them, except for a few things I think are cool. Music, different musicians I like, and so I guess that’s it.
But you have tons of energy, put out so many records, and your energy on stage?
It’s just from liking what I do, I guess. Liking it. If it’s a live thing, then you also get the energy from the crowd. So if they’re going nuts then you get to go more nuts.
You seem to be entrenched in 50s music, style and subculture. If you could travel back in time to that time what would be the first thing you would do?
Go shopping! Find all the cool stuff I have to dig for nowadays. Even if it’s clothes, gear, or guitars, whatever. Meeting people, going to shows, all that stuff.
What fascinates you about retro signs?
I don’t know, they’re just cool, they don’t make them like they used to kind of thing.
And I know I saw you had some garage sales over the summer?
Well because I moved and I’m a super amazing hoarder. I travel a lot to so it makes finding things and finding things easy. That’s one of the fun things about going on the road. What’s in this town, and what’s in that town.
Do you ever have problems bringing stuff back?
No, as long as it can fit in the car I’ll take it. But I did find pieces of signs that I couldn’t take back and I was kind of bummed about that. But I usually find small things that I can fit in the car. So back to when we were moving, I was just like, how am I going to move all this stuff, I have so much stuff, I can get rid of this stuff, I had so much so I was kind of panicking. I was like okay, I’ll sell some of these guitars and I just got flooded with emails in 15 minutes, while I was packing and I couldn’t answer all these things, so I just answered like the first email. A guy came over and he bought a guitar and I just didn’t bother answering the others, maybe later I’ll do a garage sale or something.
So you still have a lot of stuff?
Yeah, out of all that stuff I only sold one guitar, really cheap too. But at my last show, I don’t know if that’s what you are talking about. I did a little purge of some clothes and comics. I didn’t bring too much stuff because I had to bring my gear also.
That’s an interesting concept.
It worked out good! It worked out good! I’ll try and do that more.
It’s a great way to get rid of stuff.
Way way too much stuff.
Do you drive to most of your show, like in the US?
I fly and I drive. I have kids now so I don’t do crazy long cross country drives.
With your family now it must be harder to go out and tour?
I kind of keep it at two weeks tops if I do go out, and that’s rare even. And I try to keep it to weekends, so if’s its somewhere far I’ll fly.
Do you have any favorite places you like to play? I know you play a lot of clubs, festivals, parks?
In the summer I do like playing outdoors, that’s always fun. Festivals, I like the outdoor ones, there’s this one I do every year in Massachusetts called the New England Shake Up, that’s a lot of fun, my friend puts it on, so I been doing the pre-party. And during the festival if a band cancelled we’ve been filling in, but there’s all sorts of different ones. But it’s weird, I find I’m able to play these sort of rockabilly festivals, and these other different ones, like if you categorize me as a rockabilly band I play festivals that other rockabilly bands wouldn’t…
Like a folk festival?
I did play a folk festival last year. You know you hear about a folk festival but not all the bands are folk bands. Like a blues festival, not all the bands are blues. The jazz fest in Montreal, perfect example, they’re not all jazz bands.
Are there any cities or places that are more into 50’s more than others, or in Europe?
I don’t know if it’s so much the cities, it’s just the crowd that puts on the show, or the festival that gears it toward that crowd. Europe definitely has a lot more festivals than North America, more for that kind of stuff.
So what’s your typical set up and has it changed over the years?
A guitar, an amp and a drum, when I’m playing alone, it’s the drum and the high hat. I read reviews where it’s like, “Bloodshot Bill playing harmonica” and stuff like that, I’m like, what, no, I never played that, they probably think cause I’m a one man band I have a harmonica. I think they kind of think, he had a maraca in his sock, or something, or a harmonica, or whatever. They just figure you’re trying to play so many things.
They just have a great imagination.
Or they’re just not watching, maybe they hear that, I don’t know, it’s kind of funny. But I keep it pretty basic, I just keep it simple for myself, I don’t try to like…I’ve seen other one man bands who try to play a million things, it’s cool or whatever, but for me if music is about expressing yourself you don’t want to make it hard on yourself to do that.
Do you write lots of originals or do you do mostly covers?
I do a mix of both. On all my records, I do covers too, and originals.
So I know you mentioned having a lot of jobs before. Did you ever imagine yourself on a different path?
Sometimes doing what I do now, it’s all me, I don’t have a manager, I book myself and stuff like that so I really have to hustle a lot to make it work, so sometimes I’m like it would be so much easier if I had a fuckin 9 to 5 job but I think I’d just blow my brains out if I did after a while, you know. But with all the stuff I’m hoarding I think I’d like to open up my ideal shop, you know, selling junk! (laughs)
Yeah it would be cool.
What’s the emotion most felt in 50s music?
I don’t know, the music I go for, even if it sounds inept to some people, it’s the enthusiasm maybe.
Are there more love songs?
I love ballads. On my records I put a lot of ballads but reviews of me, the things I read of me, it’s like “the wild man!” but I don’t think people know that I love ballads. But I think that it was a lot of teenagers playing this kind of music, and they had a lot of energy because they are young and it’s just the enthusiasm I guess.
Do you play for your daughter?
Yeah, I mean sometimes. She tells me to stop. (laughs) Stop. She’s funny too.
Where do you spend time writing and practicing? At home?
Yeah usually at home, in the basement or something in the winter.
Who are some of your main influences?
There’s so many but I always have my holy trinity, Hasil Adkins, Charlie Feathers, and Link Wray.
Kary once told me that there was a song you once wrote about her and Johnny (Bergeron/Crap)…How did you come up with that?
Yeah, a long time ago, Johnny Crap. I don’t know, I think we all used to hang out at Jailhouse. It was weird, they are still together and that’s great, but I think after a week of them knowing each other Johnny went and had her name tattooed on him and we were like, oh what, dude, hope it works out! I guess it has worked out. I think that’s even a line in the song I think. “Johnny loves Kary, Kary loves John, wasn’t that a new tattoo on his arm, Johnny Crap!” Haha something like that!
Wow, that’s so cute! What’s going on with some of your side projects? The Tandoori Knights, The Ding Dongs?
Not much, those things just started out as…you know those guys, they don’t live in town anymore…
What about The FireJacks?
These were all recording projects. I get together with my friends, and it’s like – hey let’s record a song! And then it’s another and another song and then we have enough to put something out. Tandoori Knights, we actually did do a tour. We might put out some more stuff. The Ding Dongs, with Mark, we put out 2 albums and a single. We put out a bunch of stuff, with The Ding Dongs we played a bunch of shows, FireJacks – were these guys from the States, The Two Timin’ Three was the name of their band and we had plans to, they were always touring and I was always touring, so let’s tour together and we’ll put out an album, and then I got banned from the States like shortly after. And one of those guys that was in that band got in a motorcycle accident and died, yeah, so that never happened. We got to play one show.
So that whole banning in the States was because of paperwork?
And now you have the right papers? Do you have to pay for that?
Yeah, it’s a lot, it’s so stupid, for Canadians to play in the states you have to do all the paperwork to play, and wait, and gather all this information, but for Americans to come to Canada I could write them a note five minutes before they hit the border, and be like they’re coming to play, oK, and that’s it. Yeah it’s so stupid.
The look of your album covers are really cool looking. Who comes up with that?
Some of them I’ve done. The Norton stuff they take care of their stuff. I’ve loved that label forever so I’m like please do it, keep doing what you do, do it to my stuff cause I love you, I trust you.
Do you have a weirdest show you ever played?
I definitely do. One time I played in this giant fridge, that was in Montreal, some art thing. One time also in Montreal in March they got me to play in the Old Port right by the water, and it was freezing, it was an outdoor 5 a 7, open bar, it was really weird, like bad timing, like why are you doing this in the winter? Lots of weird shows. I just played with Mungo Jerry, I mean it wasn’t weird but it kinda made sense as I was watching his show, cause I only knew “in the summertime, when the weather gets hot…”, his hit song, but it seemed weird when my friend asked me to play it.
And what’s the show tonight, you got lined up?
Tonight I’m in a store, my friend’s store, Kitsch’n Swell, and they have a new sign and they’re having a party around it.
And who are the Hick-ups?
The Hick-ups are my latest band, I travel around a lot, but in the winter I’m home a lot, so I usually start a new band in the winter, this one I started a couple of years ago, it’s more like a traditional rockabilly sound, like a trio, 2 guitars and a bass, that’s what that is.
So did you listen to music early, like as a little kid?
Yeah, that’s when I got into rockabilly, was like my best friend in grade 1 or 2, he had an older brother who was into that so we kind got into it through that…he had a cousin too, an older cousin that even had a band, and I recently got to play with that guy too, which was kind of neat. He lives in Ottawa now. So that was an influence that kind of steered me early on I guess.
So I was looking at your site and saw these cool promotions you did for a hamburger joint in a bowling alley…
Yeah that was on the south shore, they were introducing some new burger, they always have little restaurant in the bowling alley, and I love bowling and I love hamburgers so it was perfect. They were introducing this new burger called the Dégueu burger which is the disgusting burger as you know.
With this brown sauce?
Yeah they had a sweet one and a spicy one and they were really good. The spicy one wasn’t spicy enough for me. But they wanted me to be the Colonel Sanders, the face of Wendy’s, the face of this burger, the Disgusting, so it was perfect, and they wanted me to write a song and we did a video.
And what about that restaurant, I never even heard of it, the Madrid?
Somebody asked me to write.. do you know this place? it’s on the Hwy 20 on the way to Quebec, it’s a truck stop and they had monster trucks and dinosaurs, but they were switching owners or selling it, so some of my friends in Granby were like let’s make a tribute album to Madrid, so I made that song, and made that crappy video just for the hell of it.
Oh, it’s so awesome!
I like it too! It’s short and funny.
Did they ever see it, like the owners, or anything?
I forget, I think one of them did, and they were just like – thanks!