Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#824 in the Series) is Billy Prine, Billy Prine
“You can’t make a living on a song and a prayer. The men in those taverns are too drunk to care.” from “Goodbye Virginia” by Robbie Fulks
It was 1987 or maybe early 1988 the first time I saw it happened at Earl Pionke’s Pub on Chicago’s Lincoln Avenue. It was once the majestic (according to some reports) Somebody Else’s Trouble’s, the now named Earl’s Pub was more tattered and worn through like an old shirt. Earl’s more famous club on Wells at North, THE Earl of Old Town, had recently closed for good. Holstein’s, a club a door or two north of Earl’s Pub on Lincoln, was closing or had already closed. Chicago’s greatest folk heroes were gone. Steve Goodman had died in 1984 and fellow traveler, John Prine, had split for Nashville. To a new comer like me, it seemed that “The Old Venerable Chicago Folk Scene” was crumbling, just as Rome had after the fifth century AD., however the ruins were not yet entirely without charm.
On the night in question, Billy Prine and his friend Johnny Rock showed up with a guitar and harmonica at Earl’s Sunday Open Mike Night. Maybe they turned up after having had a few at some other Lincoln Avenue joint. Circa the late 1980’s, Billy was kicking around Chicago with his outfit “Billy and The Bangers.” During their set, Billy and his mate proceeded to tear up a couple of rock and roll songs for the room largely plagued by folk singer-songwriters wanna-bees like myself. He then covered one of those old songs that everyone knew and loved, one which had been previously carved into some sacred stone by his older brother, John. I don’t remember the details of that many nights I spent at Earl’s, but I do remember that night.
Just recently he completed a record titled simply enough “Billy Prine.” It was recorded at a studio called The Butcher Shop. I got a chance to speak with Billy about the record. “Well it took me quite a while to get around to making a record,” says Billy, “but it was something I’d been meaning to do for quite a while, too. Well finally it was about time.”
What strikes me like a hammer every time I listen to Billy Prine is that not only that the record rocks real hard is that “It rocks real.” Billy’s voice is big and gruff and just about perfect. He recorded it with his regular Nashville band, featuring Richard Bell on Guitar, Dan Summerville on skins, Ted Wagner on the bass and his high school buddy Ron Ramelli on harp. On the record and for the record the band just cooks. They play in Nashville when they can. Look for them next time you are in the area. Hell, demand them.
The band rips their listeners a new ear hole on “Trail of Tears” written by Roger Cook and Allen Reynolds. Billy: “Roger Cook is British writer who has written a bunch of well-known tunes”, including The Hollies’ “Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress”, Don Williams’ 11th #1 hit “I Believe in You”, and the Coca-Cola anthem “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing.” Cook also co-wrote “I Just Want to Dance with You” with Billy’s older sibling, who recorded the song in 1986 for his album German Afternoons (also a 1998 hit for George Strait).
Billy: “I met Roger at a party in the early ‘80s, first time I lived down in Nashville, and we got to swapping songs and he said he had one that he thought would be good for me. That was ‘Trail of Tears.” Billy does the song up right, even giving Nick Lowe’s 1994 version a run for its money.
Billy takes a turn on the old chestnut “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin”written by Fred Fisher, William Raskin and Billy Hill. It was first recorded in 1937 by Shep Fields and His Rippling Rhythm Orchestra, the song was also a hit in 1941 for The Ink Spots. It became more famous when this unknown Tupelo Mississippi truck driver wanted to cut the song as a present to his mama in 1953. Elvis would go on to record the song two more times as well. Billy said, “I love the slow recitation part in the song. They just don’t put things like that in songs any more. A shame. I used to hear Carl Martin [of Martin, Bogan and Armstrong] do those at The Earl of Old Town and I just loved them.”
Billy also does great jobs on his brother’s song “Aimless Love” and a soulful, real hurtin’ version of the Solomon Burke classic “Cry To Me’.’” Burke’s original was sweet, funky’ and smooth. The Rolling Stones released a lascivious version on Out of Our Head while Billy’s is more beaten blue but still standing. Pick your poison. Billy also has penned three tracks including the kickbutt kick-off track “Young Man Old Man Blues.”
What can I say? Do yourself a favor. Go put your muddy work boots on and go dancing to some real shit kicking roadhouse country-‘n-western as rock-‘n-roll, or is it rock-‘n-roll as country-‘n-western? Both kinds of music, ya know – either way it don’t hurt no one.
(John and Billy Prine photo by Chuck Osgood)
- Young Man Old Man Blues
- Trail Of Tears
- Charm Girl
- That’s When Your Heartaches Begin
- Aimless Love
- Fifth & Madison
- Loving Kind
- Talk With You
- Slippin And Slidin’
- Cry To Me
- Billy Prine – Guitar, Vocals
- Richard Bell – Guitar
- Dan Summerville – Drums
- Ted Wagner – Bass
- Ron Ramelli – Harp