I got word a little while ago from Tony Morrow that Billie Sol Estes passed away yesterday at the age of 88.
I wrote a post five years ago about Estes (Click here to read it. It scratches the surface of some of the history.) and it has been one of the most read things I’ve ever done on this blog. Which, leads me to believe that there is not a whole lot of stuff out there about the infamous Texas shucker and jiver who swindled millions, was closely tied to LBJ and, claimed to have inside information about the JFK assassination (presumably implicating Johnson).
Anyway, the reason I wrote the post was because I had recently completed writing a song with Bill Dees called “Billie Sol…
Dees started writing the song when he was living in the Texas Panhandle and Estes was in the news for phony cotton leases and disappearing subsidized fertilizer tanks. He shelved the song out of fear because, there were also a lot of people disappearing around Billie Sol as well. So, we finished writing it together and released it on an album called Castin’ My Spell in ’06.
A few people have been asking me if there is any more video footage of Bill. I don’t think I have any. But luckily, my good friend Lyle E. Style and his family came to Branson last summer and shot this wonderful, informal footage…
No! Screw that!
OK, let me tell you how this came up. I was rehearsing with Bill Dees today and he mentioned that another cat said that to him regarding another project.
Do you believe that Bill?
No, not really.
Is that the way you were thinking when you wrote “Oh, Pretty Woman”?
No…We we’re trying to write a good song.
There it is! See, if you start out hung up on giving the people what they want, you aren’t going to write one damn song.
“Play some Skynyrd Man!!!”
In addition, you’re never going to write the football field full of bad songs it takes to get to writing a good song.
But you know, if you write a sack of good songs; the moons may align and one of them may become what people want. If you fall short of that you got a sack full of good songs.
Point is, at some point; you got to make a conscience decision to do your thing instead of cover songs. You got to do that and realize it’s a tough road. Realize you got a football field full of crap to get through first, before you put some quality stuff together. And then……no one cares.
See, if you are working that side of the street; the cover band money all those guys bitch about, is going to look like a Bonanza to you but, you ain’t equipped to grab it any more. Cover bands are a great early step if, you study the songs. But, if you’re working on your own stew it’s a distraction.
If you take the step to do your own stuff, it’s tougher than boot leather to get anyone to listen. And, it’s exponentially tougher to get anybody to pay you to come and present it.
Take my friend Bill Dees for instance; he co-wrote one of the top ten airplay songs of all time. His song has been played on the radio more times than only a handful songs in the history of radio. On top of that, he’s had songs cut by a myriad of music legends. On top of that, he’s released three critically acclaimed albums of his own in recent years.
But, most people don’t have a clue who he is.
Now, I’ve spent a good deal of time during the past ten years telling music biz folks and folks ont the street; “Check this cat out!”. And, we’ve done some pretty swanky gigs (We do a duo show together). But, we’ve also taken our act in to some places we never shoulda’ been.
“Play some Skynyrd Man!!!”
Meanwhile back at the holler, I’ve spent a good deal of time soft-selling my own shtick to the digital world. See, I released my own record, lived my own unique story and worked on my own stew.
So, I got a few connections, know what I’m sayin’‘?
Anyway, I’ve started calling in some markers. But, I’ve been saying; “Check out Bill Dees”. ‘Cause I know, even though they never heard of BD, it’s going to be easier for them to pitch their peeps on the guy that wrote “Oh, Pretty Woman” than the guy that wrote “Market Street”.
I’m starting to see a trend though; these cats heard about Bill but, they were on my wagon first. So, they want me to perform some of my stuff even though what we’re mainly booking is a Bill Dees show.
Now, here’s the deal; Bill and I spend a lot of time working out arrangements because, there’s only two of us and a lot of what we tackle was cut, originally, with a 32 piece orchestra and Fred Foster at the board. Are we nuts??!!
Well…no because, Bill sings his ass off and we can, if all else fails, cut the song down to it’s core. Bottom line…It’s a damn good act!
Anyway… some of these cats are wanting to hear some of my stuff too ’cause they got to BD from hearing me first.
You got to understand something; Bill has never been an accompanist. And, go figure…Zip!…Ping!…We got some gigs booked that go like this…
Set 1 Bill Dees 45 min.
Set 2 Jack Pribek 45 min.
Set 3 Bill Dees 45 min.
Obviously, I’m playing with Bill on his sets (we usually do an Hr. 15 min. on a BD show) but what about Jack’s slice.
I got two choices…
1. Do a solo set like some quasi-delta bluesman and try to put the point across or…
2. Throw some stuff at Bil that would make this music work as a duo presentation
Bill is in whole hog…wants to back me…learn parts and come up with parts. And, that’s what we worked on all afternoon; my stuff. And, this 71-year-old cat who wrote one of the biggest tunes of all time, who really doesn’t need this shit, is working out parts.
So…do you give ‘em what they want?
You give ‘em something good…something they’re gonna’ like.