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A chat with Billy Sullivan


marvin

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Billy Sullivan is quite well-known to those on this website. He’s had an extensive career playing with everyone from Gary Lewis to Peter Noone to the Raspberries. I recently did an email interview with Billy, just for fun, but also so that some of the fans here could learn a bit more about this talented musician. Here you go:

Q: What is the first instrument you ever learned to play

Billy: I started on drums. My oldest brother John ,who is about 12 years older than me, was a drummer in a little local band in Cleveland. I used to mess around on his drum kit when I was little. When he enlisted into the Navy in 1968, he sold the drums. My mother had a guitar so I turned all my energy on learning the guitar.

Q: Do you remember the first song you ever learned to play and to sing?

Billy: I think it was "I've Should Have Known Better" on a chord organ.

Q: How old were you when you first started playing in a band?

Billy: I was 12 years old when I joined my first band. We actually got to be pretty good,, we started playing battle of the bands and school dances and even nightclubs.

Q: Growing up in Cleveland, what music or musicians influenced you as a writer and as a musician?

Billy: Working nightclub bands was really big and popular in Cleveland in those days. We're talking 1975. The same bands that would play in clubs would also play at teen dances and teen clubs. I used to see alot of them play the teen clubs,, I used to pester them on their breaks,, say silly things like "I should be your guitar player,, I'm better than the guy you have!!!" I was a very cocky kid!!!! I would have chased down the Raspberries back then but they've already broken up by then. I was influenced by every working Cleveland rock n roll band that was playing then!! I didn't start writing songs until I joined my first touring original band "Paul Pope Band". Jimmy Zero from the Dead Boys was a huge influence songwriting wise for me.

Q: I don’t know how many people realize that you are more than just a guitar player. I’ve seen you play mandolin, harmonica, and with Gary Lewis, even drums. I imagine you don’t get the opportunity to play drums very often, so when you do, it must be a bit liberating. Is there a favourite instrument?

Billy: I believe most guitar players are frustrated drummers. I know that I am!!! I love solid rock n roll drummers. I remember seeing Rockpile at the old Cleveland Agora in 1980 and being totally blown away by Terry Williams. I love playing drums. I just did a drum gig here in Chicago recently w Jimy Sohns of the Shadows of Night. It was a blast! I consider myself as a guitarist first and foremost.

Q: You’ve had a chance to play with some of the real legends of 1960’s music, Gary Lewis, Peter Noone, Mickey Dolenz, etc. Any funny anecdotes that you’d like to share?

Billy: I can write a book on all the funny stuff that happens on the road!! Especially the Gary Lewis days!! I still might consider writing a book about the sideman perspective,, working with all the different artists,, their quirks etc. I know if it's written,, I'd have to be truthful and honest,,, and I'd probably never work again!!!! LOL

Q: As someone who grew up in Cleveland, getting to play with the re-formed Raspberries must have been a thrill. Some of their songs are very complex. Is there one that was more difficult to learn either vocally or instrumentally, than the others?

Billy: Songs like "Let's Pretend" and "If You Change Your Mind" was a challenge vocally for me. Not because it was out of my vocal range,, just because of the repetition of the vocal part, and that particular range in my voice. I remember after the 4th time around on the ending choruses of "Let's Pretend",, I'd be exhausted!

Q: What was the anticipation like for that first Raspberries show in Nov 2004?

Billy : It was very exciting indeed!! A lot of changes was happening with me professionally at that time. I knew going in that this was going to be a one shot deal, but deep down,, I was hoping that this would have been an ongoing gig. At least we were able to tour a bit, and record a live cd. It's definately one of my career highlights.

Q:Some people might only know you as a side musician, and might be unaware that you have your own music. One day soon I hope that there is a follow-up to your “All-American Popster†disc. I think that my favourite Billy Sullivan tune is probably, “I’ll Be On My Wayâ€, which was covered so wonderfully by Scott McCarl. Do you have a personal favourite from your own songs?

Billy: Probably my favorite would be "Passing Strangers". That song has been with me since the Paul Pope Band days.

Q: I’m sure there are good days and bad days. What’s the toughest part of your job?

Billy: Traveling. 3am lobby calls,, early flights.

Q: Tell me a song that you wish you had written?

Billy: Here, There, Everywhere

Q: What is Billy Sullivan’s all-time favourite album – the one that he never gets tired of listening to?

Billy: The Beatles Second Album

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Wow, ask and ye shall receive! I would love to hear more about the fond memories of others who worked with the Raspberries. The following types of questions were my favorite, thanks to Marvin and Billy:

Q: As someone who grew up in Cleveland, getting to play with the re-formed Raspberries must have been a thrill. Some of their songs are very complex. Is there one that was more difficult to learn either vocally or instrumentally, than the others?

Billy: Songs like "Let's Pretend" and "If You Change Your Mind" was a challenge vocally for me. Not because it was out of my vocal range,, just because of the repetition of the vocal part, and that particular range in my voice. I remember after the 4th time around on the ending choruses of "Let's Pretend",, I'd be exhausted!

Q: What was the anticipation like for that first Raspberries show in Nov 2004?

Billy : It was very exciting indeed!! A lot of changes was happening with me professionally at that time. I knew going in that this was going to be a one shot deal, but deep down,, I was hoping that this would have been an ongoing gig. At least we were able to tour a bit, and record a live cd. It's definately one of my career highlights.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Just catching up with this chat. Great chat, Marv and Billy! Love hearing about Billy's early days and how he got started. I feel extremely blessed to have been able to see him perform live, chat with Billy and his lovely wife Debbie, and get to know them.

Thanks for this post! Great read!

:)--Dar

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Hopefully many of you saw Billy Sullivan on TV with Herman's Hermits on Saturday night. We were visiting friends who had the TV on, and I didn't see the whole show (It was all 60's groups, and I heard that Davy Jones sang at the beginning.) Anyway, I did get to see a performance of Herman's Hermits with Peter Noone saying Billy's name to segue into Billy's excellent little guitar solo.

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