Gordon “Big G” Ames interviews Billy Bob Thornton
Big G with Billy Bob Thornton at Saxon Pub, Austin TX
Big G: You know him from his movies. If you don’t get to know him from his music, you’re doing yourself a great disservice. Billy Bob Thornton, one of the great cultural icons of our times, has a new band: The Boxmasters. They like to refer to their music as “Electric Hillbilly”. After spending time around these guys, and spending a lot of time listening to their music, I concur. A “new” musical genre is born, kind of like “Buck Owens meets The Beatles”. If you’re old enough to remember “Hullabaloo”, then you get it. If not, then please read on. This is cool to the Nth degree, on so many levels.
Big G: Welcome to the Hill Country.
BBT:Oh, man, I love the Hill Country! One of my favorite places on earth. You know, I broke down in Kerrville one time, on my second trip to L.A.. The people there treated me fine. I love it.
Big G: I’ll start this off by saying I was at the Stubbs’s BBQ show y’all played in July and I’ll put it in the top two of shows I’ve seen in the past two years.
BBT: Oh man, I appreciate that! ! Yeah, we love playing Texas. What was the other one?
Big G: Unknown Hinson.
BBT: Yeah, Danny’s a friend of mine! Oh yeah…. as a matter of fact, Hinson did a video of his show at Stubbs. Yeah, I love Danny. He was down at the house, well it wasn’t too long before we went on tour, probably like a month before we went out on tour, and there’s a place in L.A. called Safari Sam’s he was playing, and I went out and introduced him there. You know, Danny and I have become friends over the years, and uh, he’ll talk to me out of character a lot! When I first knew him…. he stayed in character all the time….
BIG G: I got the opportunity to meet him spend three days with him last year,
BBT: That’s great…. he’s a great guy.
BIG G: And he was rarely in character, and his only request was “no photos, no photos until I get in my doggone outfit”.
BBT: Yeah…. sounds like him…
BIG G: He was only in character when someone from the radio station, or wherever we were, came in….
BBT: (laughter)…. Yeah!
BIG G: And that leads to me to this first question. The cleverness of the lyrics…. I see similarities…. not as blatant, but similarities just the same….
BBT: Yeah…. uh huh…. right!
BIG G: “I’m Watching the Game”? Every red-blooded American male can relate to that….
BBT: Yeah, definitely! It’s been going on since men and women have been together! I bet Adam and Eve had something like that, but it was over apples, not baseballs! That’s a song…. cause I’m such a baseball nut…. and my girlfriend Connie…. I just can’t get across to her that sometimes I just can’t go to Bed, Bath and Beyond during the game…. it’s like, you know I just can’t get it across to her sometimes…. Pujols is up, bottom of the seventh, we got two on, we’re behind by 2 runs, how do you expect me to think about anything else….
BIG G: So, you really are a Cardinals fan?
BBT: Oh…. big time, big time, and I really do despise the Cubs.
BIG G: I heard that in the lyrics of the song….
BBT: Oh yeah, yeah, there is…there’s also one for I’ll Give You a Ring…. We found out you could say balls on the radio, but you couldn’t say “sh!t”. So, we’ve got an edit of that…. so that will be available through Vanguard Records,
BIG G: Fortunately, when this goes on the air it will be….
BBT: Oh yeah! (laughter) I just said it didn’t I? I blew it already! (more laughter) You know, we’re real proud of that game song, and we don’t play that in our live set. We probably should. We haven’t so far. It’s funny how some songs, on a record, work perfectly, but you just know live, you just can’t get it across, you know what I mean? Like something that’s just real lyric heavy, you’ve got to know every word of it…. ’cause you know how audiences are, yelling and screaming and such…. sometimes when you play something that, sonically, it sounds good, you can get by with it, but something like that that relies on every lyric, you just don’t know if you can get away with it, you know what I mean? Maybe I just need to hold up cue cards for the audience!
BIG G: Or have it playing on a screen behind the band….
BBT: Yeah…. You haven’t seen our bigger shows…. we do that! In our bigger shows we do that…. but ‘m glad you’re a Hinson fan ‘cause we promote him every chance we can. He’s actually playing the Hard Rock in Vegas, the final night of this tour, in a place there called Wasted Space, the after party. We figured since the tour was over, we should have a party, and he’s playing Wasted Space at the Hard Rock. If you’re not doing anything September 5th, come hang out with me, and The King and let’s have a great time in Vegas!
BIG G: I was just thinking how nice it would be to see a double-billed tour….
BBT: That might be nice!!!! Yeah, we’ve talked about it…. you never know….!
BIG G: You brought a stellar lineup on this tour. Brad Davis on mandolin and Telecaster? You’ve got some great players on this tour…
BBT: Yeah, they are. I love this band…. After all these years of going out with my solo thing, I’ve finally found the perfect configuration. This is one that’s really going to last. Ive got a couple of guys that have been with me for a long time, Brad (Davis) and Teddy (on bass), and of course, they new kids are The Boxmasters, J.D.(Andrew) and (Mike) Butler. And having Marty Rifkin out there on steel with us is a great thing too.
BIG G: Does he have fun when he plays, or what? All that grinning and smiling”?
BBT: He just absolutely loves it! He’s been out on big tours with Springsteen and such, and he absolutely loves being a Boxmaster.
BIG G: Well, the thing I loved was initially the visual: the big white panels with the amps hidden, the multi-colored suits, everyone wearing a different colored suit, stair stepping into you with your maroon shark skin…. Ya’ll captured what you were going for…. The ‘60’s thing!
BBT: Well thanks Big G! I appreciate that! We really wanted to get that across to people, that The Boxmasters are a ‘60’s sounding band, and yet, it’s hillbilly music. We wanted to capture that whole thing, and the look is whole thing in getting across to that to an audience, We wanted to make it look like Hullabaloo or Shindig, so folks would get that whole vibe,,,And, we’ve got a new cartoon…you know, the one we played before we come on…..kinda like what The Beatles did – You can find them at www.delllounge.com. All the zombie stuff,…you know, real simplistic story lines..,…like the Beatles did, the western cartoons, But they have real simplistic story lines….The kids who do it for Dell are great, we love what they are doing….
BIG G: That’s great!…. so much of the appeal to me is….so much of the new music that comes out is really tough to take….
BBT: Yeah…. I agree with you…. So…. you don’t have to necessarily have to play the Nashville stuff?
BIG G: We play none of that! That never sees or hears the light of day around here…. that’s pretty hard to take…. where is the soul in that? We lean heavy toward Texas, then Americana music here.
BBT: Good! You know, I shot out there a lot on movies, and one thing we want to do is play out there at Gruene Hall, or Luckenbach. We always play Dallas, Austin and Houston, but I’d love to play one of the great Texas Dancehalls. We always do five or six shows before we get to Texas. Then we do our shows there, and it’s always a let down when we leave. We did eight shows in a row in Texas without a break….Baton Rouge was great, but….
BIG G: I’m going to hold you that.
BBT: Yeah, count on it. I WANT to play those places….
BIG G: I’ll hold you to that…as a matter of fact, we’ll get y’all a full backline, and you come play in the studio to promote the show.
BBT: That will be fun! We’d love to do that! We are generally five to six shows into the tour when we do Texas, and when we leave, it’s always a let down. There is something special about playing there. You know, I’m what they call a Tex-Arkansan – , Hell, I’ve got a Texas Flag tattooed on my back, with “Remember The Alamo” on there…. you don’t do that lightly…
BIG G: I need a picture of that!
BBT: I’ll get you one!
BIG G: I know you are a prolific writer, not only from your albums, but from the movies. Do you sit down with a concept? When you sit down to write a new album, do you write 12, or 15 or 20 songs, and then shake it all out? What is your process?
BBT: In this case what happened was, we recorded 20 to 25 songs. There are 23 songs on the album, not including the transitional music….
BIG G: Which is cool by the way!
BBT: Oh yeah…that all happened because of Knoxville Girl and I Want To Hold Your Hand, because we wanted to make I Want To Hold Your Hand sound darker than it is. The whole idea behind I Want To Hold Your Hand becomes slightly creepier than it really is, coming behind Knoxville Girl (laughter). That’s how that started out. once we heard those two together, we decided to make this our version of a SGT. Pepper or a Tommy, from The Who, and that’s where all the transition music came from. We only wrote 14 songs on the Ours disc, and there is 11 on there. Onewas so nasty we couldn’t record it, and two just didn’t fit who we are. Even with all The Bad Santa fans, and people that know me, we thought that this just may be too nasty to put out there. I’ll guarantee you, you can’t bleep enough out of this one to put on the radio…. the other two were good songs, but we couldn’t get them to sound “enough” like we were doing to put them on the album. They were a little more like my solo songs. We wrote pretty much within the concept. We wrote the ours side pretty much like the lower-middle class I grew up in, like something you’d see on “COPS”.
BIG G: You nailed it.
BBT: (Laughter) Now, on the cover side, we started covering everything we could think of. We probably had twice as many songs on the “Theirs” side.
BIG G: What was so cool on the “Theirs” disc was what you decided to cover….Michael Nesmith. The Who, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band… when I first opened up the cd and saw House At Pooh Corner, that’s what I listened to first, because I remember The Dirt Band’s version of it.
BBT: Oh yeah, and that’s why we put it on there, because of their version. I used to work as a roadie for a sound company and we worked for The Dirt Band quite a few times. I actually had the idea to cover Pooh Corner and the two Nesmith songs. Mike’s an old friend of mine and I wanted to do these songs. One of these days I’m gonna do these songs. Mike called me after he heard the album and said he loved it, but was afraid to say too much about it because he didn’t wan’t to take crap publicly. I told him not to worry about it, we’d take care of those folks…
BIG G: Sawmill? Mel Tillis?
BBT: You know why we did that song? There was a band in Houston, back in the early ‘80’s, called The Texas Twisters, back when I was doing that ZZ Top tribute thing Tres Hombres, we lived in Houston, and they played around town, and did a rocking version of that song, and I always thought if I ever got to put a version of that down, I’d do it like they did. They did a blazing version of that. So, if anyone out there is familiar with them, let ‘em know they influenced this version. I guess the biggest curveball on this record is us doing a hillbilly version of a Mott the Hoople song. You don’t hear that very often. We find that mid tempo songs don’t go as well as fast or slow songs. That’s when people go to pee. The hardest thing we tried to do was a Boxmasters version of Iron Man. We always end the show with The Kids Are Alright, by The Who. The reason it’s on there is because we have kind of a punk attitude as a band, and The Who was the original punk band. They had a slight punk attitude. There wouldn’t be a Ramones or a Sex Pistols without The Who. We’re still trying to figure out how to do a Boxmaster version of The Seeker. We also have a Christmas album coming out in November. Probably not something you want to play with your grandparents in the room.
BIG G: Other actors, notably Dennis Quaid and Kevin Costner have tried this. Why does it work for you?
BBT: I grew up in the music business. Should I be discounted as a musician simply because I got famous as an actor? Since I’ve been around so long and am respected as an artist, and we’ve gained a certain amount of respect. and if I was doing this as a vanity project, I’d certainly write more radio-friendly songs….
www.boxmasters.com, and www.myspace.com/theboxmasters.
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~Big G is the host of Big G’s Texas Roadshow on The Real Deal KOOK 93.5FM Junction,TX and AM1230 Kerrville, TX, and columnist for Hill Country Happenings Magazine as well as Outlaw.
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