Billy White, Billy White, Billy White

Many of my friends probably don't know that I was a metal head when I was growing up. I wasn't totally insane but I was pretty immersed in it. I don't quite remember how way leads onto way but I was in a heavy metal band called First Strike in 8th grade. We actually had a few gigs. My first gig was at the Ritz theater on 6th street when I was 14. Not bad, really. I wish I had video to show you but our tempermental drummer tore up the tape from a show because he thought it wasn't up to snuff. Already I was surrounded by people with impossibly high standards! Anyway, the thing that I really got out of the whole experience was my exposure to Watchtower. This band was from Austin, but to me, they were world class. Their musicianship and musicality were so far beyond me. I was both humbled and inspired to a very deep psychological level. I would go see their shows (sometimes taking friends), listen, go home, and attempt to learn the King Crimson - level difficulty music.
A few months later I started working at Sonic on Stassney Lane and was mildly shocked to realize that the bass player of Watchtower, Doug Keyser, worked as a cook in the back (I was a fountain). I probably waited one shift to tell him that I was a huge fan of their music, and a fellow bass player. Doug was very friendly and kind and let me start hanging out with him. He would let me come over and listen to the Jeff Berlin- Allan Holdsworth records that influenced him and Eddie Van Halen so much. He also suprised me by preaching a kind of straight-edge no drinking and drugs philosophy. Plus, they (Watchtower), were anti-communist Libertarians. During the 80's in Austin this was a little reactionary. In any case, these guys, Doug, drummer Rick Colaluca, singer Jason McMaster (Nom de plume anyone?) and guitarist Billy White really expanded my vistas. For instance, both Doug and Billy claimed to not really like heavy metal at all! Doug was into Thomas Dolby. One time during the 1986 World Series I watched them goof around playing "The Reflex" instead of practicing.
But, if Doug was the minister of propaganda, then Billy was the mystic. He was so quiet, indidualistic, and musically powerful. He had the raw solo star power of Eddie, the glue-like workmanship of Alex Lifeson and the technical ability (usually kept under wraps) of Fripp.
And he was cool. You could tell that everybody in the band, all very accomplished, were in love and a little bit afraid of him. He was their John. He didn't stick around that long either. I got to roadie for them a few times with Billy, but he left, having other paths, so to speak. When you are 19, in Austin, and very talented, you probably feel claustraphobic with all that big hair and the emmergence of Poison and Whitesnake. That is my street poet take on it, anyway.
Later on I got to play with Billy in New York with Pam Miller. As before, his influence on me was way deeper than just music. Billy says that New York is the beautiful lotus flower that grows in the dirty pond. That's the best definition I've heard.

The History Of Watchtower

Watchtower (with Billy's replacement playing the parts that he wrote)
MP3:The Eldritch

Pam, Billy, Jeff, JJ Johnson
MP3: Tuesday Afternoon


Blogger jEFF said...

In a sober(ing) moment I realized that it is not me playing bass. It's Billy!
And his little brother Jason playing drums. 2 whites and a Miller. OK ; got that squared away. Thanks to Jellybean for confirmation!

7:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cool blog post, man! As a WatchTower fan who doesn't even live in the US, it's cool to hear about your time with the members.

5:02 AM  

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