I Can Help
Billy Swan is in a group of very elite musical artists, in that he had a number 1 record, "I Can Help". It's a classic. His Best of Billy Swan album is one of my all time favorites. In addition to "I Can Help", there are several great songs that show his versatility and cleverness. He also has one of the best, most recognizable voices in popular music.
A humble man.
Billy is a humble guy. I had no idea he was the assistant musical director for "Great Balls Of Fire", the story of Jerry Lee Lewis, until I saw the credits roll by at the theater. Then one day I was going through some of my favorite CDs. I was checking out the credits on a couple of Tony Joe White CDs. Tony Joe, in addition to being a great friend, is one of my favorite singer songwriters. I grew up listening to "Polk Salad Annie", "Willie And Laura May Jones", and "Aspen". Well, Billy Swan produced those songs. It turns out he worked on three Tony Joe White albums for Monument. Again, until I looked on the CD labels I didn't know about it. Billy never uttered a word, even though we had talked about Tony on a number of occaisions. Maybe he thought I just knew. In addition to having that rarest of rarities in this business, A NUMBER ONE SINGLE, Billy played in Kris Kristofferson's band for many years. They're still good friends and occaisionally work on projects together. Billy and Kris go way back. In fact, Billy is the one that gave Kris the janitor gig that allowed Kris to pitch his songs to Johnny Cash and others.
His songs have been recorded by Emmylou Harris, Robert Gordon, T-Bone Burnett. Ringo Starr, Elvis Presley, Waylon Jennings, Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty, Mel Tillis, Arron Tippin, and several others. Whew, that's quite a list! He's pickin' up the tab for breakfast next time. He's toured with T-Bone Burnett, Kinky Friedman & The Texas Jewboys, Billy Joe Shaver, Black Tie, Harry Dean Stanton, and Meisner, Swan, & Rich.
If you don't like Swan, you don't like people.
That's what the late Sam Phillips said about Billy Swan. I first met Billy quite by accident. I was playing with a country band out in California. The gig was for a party that was cloaked in secrecy. The band was given directions to a very remote location out in the middle of Temecula, California's countryside. We finally found it. It turned out to be a party for the guy that owned a chain of highly successful supermarkets. He had lots of bucks, and set this thing up right. We had a small stage set underneath a beautiful oak tree. We proceeded to play some music while all the people at the party had a barbecue. Out of the blue, a fellow walks up and introduces himself as Billy Swan.
Well, I told him who I was and he said that he knew my father. We had Billy sit in with us and he did "I Can Help". As I recall songwriter Steven Dorf was there too. He did a couple of songs also. We exchanged phone numbers and that was that.
About a month later, I called Billy on the phone just to say hello. It turned out that he only lived a couple of blocks from where I lived. We decided to get together and try to write a song, so we did. The following week I was doing a showcase at the Palomino Club. The Palomino was world famous then, and it helped launch the careers of many of today's superstars. It was the country venue in California at that time, winning the CMA's award for best country nightclub several years in a row. Billy came out to the show that night and brought a friend with him named Reggie Fisher.
Sign me up.
Reggie and Billy seemed to really like the show. In fact Reggie asked me if I would be interested in doing some recording on a project he was producing. It turned out that the project was a band called "Black Tie". It consisted of Billy Swan, Randy Meisner, and Jimmy Griffin. I knew exactly who all three of these guys where. Heck I had bought their records.
Photo by John S. Godley Copyright 1994-1995
Billy, Randy Meisner, and I would meet for breakfast at a place called Smokey Joe's in North Hollywood. We would talk and exchange ideas. We would eventually go on to do an album as Black Tie. Jimmy Griffin who was also working on the project was playing with a group called The Remingtons. They had a major label deal and they were touring quite a bit, so Jimmy didn't take as major a role on this album as he did on the first Black Tie album. That was good for me, in a way, because it allowed me to do a lot of my songs. Billy and I had written a song called "I'm Sure Of You". That would be our first single release. It made it to the Top 20 of the Billboard Country charts in 1992. We thought we were on our way. By the way, that was my first chart single as a lead singer even though it was in a band setting.
Photo by John S. Godley
No product in the stores.
Since we had recorded the song on an Indie label, and since money was tight, we failed to get enough product into the stores. Still, we had our Top 20 single. Eventually Billy and I would start another group with Randy Meisner. This time it would be called very simply, Miesner, Swan, & Rich.
Europe here we come.
Billy, Randy and I went on a European tour that was a blast. The only problem was that the travel agency we went through stole our money. None of us made as much as we should have due to that little incident, but I have to say the guys were troopers. We made the dates and saved the promoter's neck.
I thought when we toured Europe that Randy would probably be the most poplar with the crowd. You know, The Eagles and all that. Well, they sure knew who he was, but I found out very quickly that Billy is even more popular in Europe than I had imagined. Every where we went it was "Billy Swan, Billy Swan".
Back in the south.
After many years of being Billy's neighbor in Los Angeles, I moved back to the south. I didn't see him, except for the occaisional NARAS conventions in Memphis, Tennessee. Last year Billy's wife Marlu lossed her battle with cancer. It was a devistating loss. Marlu was one in a million. Afterwards Billy decided to move back to Nashville, where his music career began. He came out to a show I did at the Saffire. Man, it was so good to see him. I'm very anxious to get back to writing with Billy. Who knows, maybe we'll do some shows together. He's taught me so much, and he's so much fun to work with that I can hardly wait. Billy Swan, one of the very best.
Still more stuff...
- Being taken seriously.
- How my father became a star.
- So, you wanna' be a country star?
- Who do you like better, Garth or Gershwin?
- You'll eat what you're served...
- The Media: Out with the old, in with the new.
- It's great exposure.
Thoughts on some of the people I've played with or known.
- Charlie Rich
- Freddy Fender
- Smokey Robinson
- Jo-El Sonnier
- Randy Meisner
- Billy Swan
- Flaco Jimenez
- Augie Meyers
- Doug Sahm
- Jerry Lee Lewis
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