Local Noise: Billy Hector – Stayin’ Alive

Jersey shore legend. A contributor to the development of the infamous Jersey shore sound. Winner of numerous Best Guitarist awards. Performer at the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Counts Bonnie Raitt as a fan, who said the beauty of his sound brought tears to her eyes. He has shared the bill with B.B. King, Bo Diddley, Johnny Winter, Buddy Guy, Dr. John, and The Fabulous Thunderbirds, to name just a few. But when it comes down to it, it’s the music that Billy Hector makes that has endeared him to a myriad of music aficionados. He can flat out burn up a guitar.

Billy started his career with The Shots, the Stone Pony house band. He then went on to form Hot Romance, who became a mainstay at the shore, and received airplay on WNEW. He led Billy Hector and The Fairlanes, the acclaimed blues band that tore up venues up and down the East Coast, and recorded for the Blue Jersey record label. For the past 10 years, he has led the Billy Hector Band, and has just released a new CD, Traveler.

“We’ve done about 15 CDs in the past, and this one is more rockin’ and a little less bluesy than the previous ones,” Billy relates. The album has a definite ‘70s era Rolling Stones feel to it, which can be expected, as Billy has described his introduction to the blues as coming when as a youngster he realized the Stones sounded like Muddy Waters. He has also been called “too bluesy for rock and roll, and too rock and roll for blues.”

The CD includes some of his long-time musical compatriots. “We have Tim Tindall, Winston Roye and Fred Saunders on bass guitar,” he explains. “Sim Cain, Rich Monica and Dan Hickey on drums, and Jack Casual on keys and bass, and Suzan Lastovica on vocals.” He often calls on them for his live shows as well. “It’s just years of looking for the best talent in the area for my sound, and these are the best in my humble opinion,” he adds.

Billy’s influences come mainly from the classic artists, such as Freddie King, T-Bone Walker, The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix. But they cover all types of music and all eras. “Most ‘60s music and early ‘70s guitar players, that’s the core,” he explains. “But I listen to everything; I follow music like people follow sports. Trends and cultural changes all affect the timber of life and therefore music.”

His songs come from a process that involves a lot of trial and error. “It’s very slow and painful,” he notes. “I turn on the drum machine and let it rip, come back a few days, maybe months, later and see how it sounds, flesh it out, play it for an audience and see if it flies.”

A couple of the new songs have especially gotten strong reactions. “’Wild Heart,’ that Suzan sings, makes people cry, and the rockers ‘PollyAnne’ and ‘Moonlight In Her Eyes’ seem to be favorites of my fans,” Billy says. Will there be a release party for the new CD? “We’ll have a party right after this article comes out,” laughs Billy. “Somewhere in Jersey. Check the website at billyhector.com and you’ll find the answer!”

Besides the accolades mentioned above, Billy has accumulated quite a resume. Two songs from a previous CD, Hard To Please, are featured in the soundtrack of the movie One Way Out, which is now available on home video. The movie Hellhounds On My Trail, featuring Billy Hector and Sonny Landreth, was debuted at the SXSW Music Festival, and was filmed during a Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame Tribute to Robert Johnson.

With such a prolific background, picking out highlights can be tough. “This CD is one, I can really enjoy listening to it,” Billy states. “And that’s a big thing for me. Playing with Hubert Sumlin is a highlight; he’s one of the pioneers of rock n roll. Playing the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, being in the Robert Johnson movie, Hellhounds On My Trail, as the backing band for Sonny Landreth, was my most demanding role. Having people enjoy our music so much that one woman told me she played our music as she was giving birth to her child. That’s deep enough.”

And the future? “Stay alive and keep doing it,” Billy says. “I’m staying with ‘Plan A,’ I’m continuing to play until the song is over.” And perhaps a New York Times article about Billy said it best; with the headline, “It’s A Living; Working 250 Nights AA Year, Winning Fans One By One.”

You can get Traveler at any of Billy’s gigs, from his website, from CDBaby, iTunes, Amazon, Jack’s Music in Red Bank, and Radio Shack in Pt. Pleasant. Check out what Billy’s up to at billyhector.com, or the Facebook group Fans Of Billy Hector.