Local Noise: Billy Hector

Not many local musicians can truly be called “legend.” But blues guitar virtuoso Billy Hector can certainly be given that title. He’s been at the forefront of the Jersey Shore music scene, going back to his days leading bands at famed venues such as Mrs. Jay’s and The Stone Pony. He led popular Shore bands such as The Shots, Hot Romance and The Fairlanes. Hector has also won numerous Asbury Park Music Awards. He has gone on to backup blues legend Hubert Sumlin, rock pioneer David Johansson, and even appeared in a movie with Sonny Landreth filmed at the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in Cleveland.

“I call Billy Hector ‘The Professor,’ because he expertly plays so many styles of music,” says bassist extraordinaire Winston Roye, who plays in Soul Asylum, rocks the stage on Broadway at Rock Of Ages and has backed up many other well-known artists over the years, yet still finds time to come back and perform with Billy when he calls. “He has taught me and countless other bassists and drummers so much over the years.”

Billy has recently released a new CD titled Choice Cuts, which is a compilation of some of his solo recordings done over the years. “30 years into it, to keep people interested and to let them know that we are still here,” he says, explaining why he chose to put out the album now. Some of his better known songs didn’t make the cut, but Billy points out he didn’t choose the tracks to be included. “We sent an email out asking our fans to pick the best songs we had written,” he relates. “They voted by emails and showed up at the shows and voted through ballots. My favorites didn’t make the cut; the fans decided. I liked ‘Stray Cat Blues,’ the only non-original, because it is a favorite. I have been playing it since I was a very young man.”

That song was also one of the ones that made the CD that were recorded in a rather unorthodox manner. “Two of tracks on the new CD, ‘Someday Baby’ and ‘Stray Cat Blues,’ were recorded in the back room of the Pony in a winter with no heat,” laughs Billy. “We had to play to keep warm, that’s why those tracks are so hot!”

Although typically referred to as a blues artist, Billy also breaks out rock, funk and soul on any particular night. “Depending on the night, we are a frat rock, blues or funk band,” he says. “Any one of those idioms can take over and steal the night’s music. Psychedelic stuff touches it all. We tried to get that all on the new record.”

Billy started getting drawn toward music at a young age like many of his peers. “Like most folks my age, the AM radio, The Beatles, my father singing around the house. But those Liverpool guys on Ed Sullivan clinched the deal,” he recalls. His influences aren’t limited to the blues, as he grew up on classic rock, the sounds of Motown, Sly And The Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Leon Russell, Albert King, B.B. King and even more recent artists such as The Meters and Robert Cray. “Basically my whole record collection and listening experience,” he adds.

When you go to a Billy Hector show, you might see any number of stellar musicians on stage with him. “Really whoever was available at the time,” he says. “These are top players and are in demand, so their availabilities vary, who is on the road, who has a concert gig, who’s in the studio. So we run down the list and whoever calls back first gets the gig. They are all great players. The starting 25 got their photos on the back of the new CD.”

With a resumé that includes a lot of accolades among his musical accomplishments, it would be hard for Billy to pick just a few that stand out. One of them is his musical collaborations with drummer Sim Cain. “Sim Cain is like a brother to me,” explains Billy. “In fact, all the musicians I play with are brothers to me. We share a spiritual bond that defies description. Back to Sim… He recommended me to Hubert Sumlin’s manager Toni Ann, and the rest was history. Playing with Hubert was a definite highlight. He was part of a handful of guys that changed the way people approached playing guitar. His sense of funk was very deep. It was definitely an honor to have known him and to have made music with him.

“Another highlight was when Bob Santelli called to have us be the backup band for Sonny Landreth at the Hall Of Fame gig in Cleveland. It was great! They filmed it. It eventually became the movie Hellhounds On My Trail, featuring yours truly backing up Sonny Landreth. The event was a tribute to Robert Johnson.”

Not one to rest on his laurels, Billy plans on continuing to ply his craft in the local clubs for as long as he can. “My goal is to stay alive, making good sounds and get younger folks involved who love live music,” he says, “so we can continue in our musical lives for another ‘so many’ years.”

You can get Choice Cuts by accessing Billy’s website at billyhector.com, as well as through CD Baby and iTunes. You can find out about upcoming shows on the website as well, or get in touch with Billy via email through bookem@billyhector.com.