Guitarist - MUSICIAN - Extraordinare'
Billy & Susan Lohe Circa 1982
Of all the obscure (to the general public), but extremely talented musicians, I have written about on my website over the past few years, eg, Larry Knechtel, George Van Eps, etc. Billy Lohe, will probably remain forever, the most obscure. It was just that level of undeserved obscureness that has prevented me from getting this page online for 6 months after the time I first learned in February of 2010 that his Telecaster went silent. It's somwhat ironic, because he was a musician I knew personally quite well, yet had lost touch with for well over a decade.
Billy actually lived with me here in Nashville on two seperate occassions in 1987 and 1989, as I tried to help him find a way into the Nashville music biz, mainly as a road warrior or sideman for a country act. I write about those times in my forthcoming book If The Devil Danced In Empty Pockets. Thing is back in 1987, I had just arrived myself, and in '89 had just got my foot in the door. His failure to succeed there had nothing to do with any lack of talent. He just never got a shot at it or I should say hung around town long enough to get his shot. Had he, I'm sure the outcome would of been very different, for as a guitar slinger, he could hold his own with his mentor and inspiration Ray Flacke or just about any Hot Tele player in or out of town. He had those Albert Lee, Ray Flacke, Clarence White, licks down and to add to that, he was one hell of a singer too. Plus he studied jazz players carefully. Like I say at the top of this page, he was a MUSICIAN in all CAPS... now as far as having his personal life together, that was quite a different story. Had he been able to do nothing but play and sing, life would of probably rolled along fairly easy for Billy. But what had to be a personal nightmare for him,was knowing that he was on par with other players, who were getting their fair share of whatever we are all supposed to get our fair share of if we work hard at our craft. The reality of that is, it just doesn't happen for all, or as Austin Church one of my trusty co - writers wrote some time ago "Who Said The Worlds Fair?" In Billy's case though, the wheels always seemed to flying off his car.
I first knew him from my days in the Tampa Bay area when Anne and I had our Clearwater Guitar Gallery and Music Hall. He was playing in Tom Gribben's Saltwater Cowboys back then. Gribben was a lawyer - country singer of modest talent, with a few contacts in Nashville via the Jimmy Buffet band. They cut an album up here of original Gribben material that didn't sell very well. They did manage to go to the UK several times and I would think the highlight for Billy was playing the huge Wembley Stadium Country Festival with acts like Don Williams, Hoyt Axton, Ricky Skaggs, ( Ray Flacke was Skagg's guitarist then) and a host of Grand Old Opry favorites like Don Gibson, George Hamilton IV too. Wembly was to UK country fans, what Fan Fair is to Nashville.
Billy and I played a few gigs together in Tampa the last few months I lived there. I recall doing a wedding with him once where I had to loan him a suit jacket that was way too big and pair of dress shoes, for all he had was sneakers. Like I said, his personal life always seemed to be unraveling.
His first sojurn up here was because Billy Aerts, a staff song writer at Mary Tyler Moore's MTM Music told him that Holly Dunn was looking for a guitar player for a her road band. By the time Billy got up here, I think the spot was already filled. He stayed at my apartment for a few weeks and then got homesick ( he had a wife and kids back in St. Pete, Florida ) and hightailed it back. But he left his big ass guitar AMP in its huge flight case behind. He asked me to ship it back for him. I told him I would gladly do it, just send me the money as it was around 50 bucks to ship and I was still working in a gas station then, while waiting for the job I was promised at Gibson Guitar Co to open up. He never did and the amp, was still in my closet two years later when his parents dropped him off in the parking garage at my Music Row song publisher's office where I was now a staff song writer. I remember that so well, as he arrived on my birthday May 11,1989. We had just moved into a bigger apartment, a week earlier because I knew I was getting a song of mine cut on an upcoming album. We had my birthday dinner at the Loveless Cafe. Billy then moved all his stuff into the spare bedroom I was planning to use for a studio. The weeks dragged on with him just spinning his wheels. I found him a car and a job, but while I was away at a songwriter conference, he fell in with some musical characters, he met at a Nashville concert and took off to Alabama with them. He eventually returned to St Pete, and we stayed in touch for a year or two over the phone. The last call I had from him, I learned that his marriage was over and he was living on Snell Island, which is a pretty fancy part of St. Pete.
Billy with Charles Walston Circa 1977
BILLY LOOKS HARMLESS HERE
TRUST ME HE WAS A TERROR WITH A TELE
Billy's Tele "He Could Make It Talk"
photo courtesy of Eric Hathaway
For some reason this past winter, I Googled his name and only found it referenced on a My Space page to a country band in the Washington DC area with an RIP before it. I contacted the Bourbon Dynasty's band member, Charles Walston to try and find out what happened. Charles lived across the street from Billy in in 1970's All he knew was that Billy was living up in Brooksville,Fl and playing in a country group of some sort and working as a day laborer. When his boss came to the house to find out why he wasn't coming to work, he found Billy deceased, Charles did not know the cause. He told me he thought he had some photos he could send me and they arrived just a few weeks ago.
When I first got the news about Billy, I made some calls and sent some e mails to St. Pete - Tampa area and only one fellow musician told me Billy was really letting himself go these last few years, he did not elaborate nor did I ask him to. He too had only heard the news second hand and could offer no more, He said he was going to get in touch with Billy's last band members in Brooksville and they would be in touch with me. That was back in March. In the meantime, I tried to track down a copy of The Salt Water Cowboys record as I wanted to include something of his guitar playing on here. I even wrote directly to Tom Gribben, who I figured must have at least one copy he could dub me off a tape from. There was total silence from Tom. I did find a double cassette album on E Bay of highlights of Wembley Festival that features the band, The song Honky Tonk Blues, a slow cry in your beer number is totally mediocore and there is no discernable guitar playing that would even represent what Billy was capable of. Instead I have chosen an appropiate song I think. It was written many years ago by another far under appreciated soul, Walter Hyatt, who those who know me, know was my main song collaborater here before that fatefull day May 11, 1996. Once again it was my birthday when Walter got on Valu Jet's flight 590 in Florida.
Walter wrote this incredible song when he was still in High School. This version is recorded by Lyle Lovett on his Step Inside This House CD. Anyone who is familiar with Lyle's music, knows that he was inspired by Walter Hyatt. Inspiration it's what all artists need to help them do their best. Like many other MUSICIANS, known and unknown, Billy Lohe was an inspiration to me. Give I'll Come Knockin a listen and I think you'll know how much.
WILLIAM STEVEN LOHE
May 27 1953 - Oct 1 2009