The following Question and Answer interview with blues and soul singer, Billy Price, appeared in the July 2016 edition of Improvisation, the newsletter of the West Virginia Jazz Society and is being reprinted by The Clarksburg Post with permission.
Price (born William Pollack) will appear with his band beginning at 8pm on Saturday, July 23, in Clarksburg on night two of the first Americana Music Weekend at the Progressive Women’s Association Uptown Event Center. Price’s latest album, This Time For Real, won the 2015 Best Blues & Soul Album at the prestigious Blues Music Awards in Memphis.
Improvisation: How have you found a balance between the artistic persona and the got-to-make-a-living personage?
Price: I was a full-time singer until I was 40. I’m 66 now. When I got a Masters degree from Carnegie Mellon University in professional writing, I started working for a Carnegie Mellon research institute as a technical writer and editor. I’ve had that job and other jobs related to communication since then, and now I’m working part time, spending more of my time on music. I’ve found that working during the day hasn’t prevented me from doing most of the things I wanted to do in music, and the tradeoff has worked pretty well for me.
Improvisation: Describe the blues/soul/jazz nexus inside what you do.
Price: My greatest love has always been American soul music, especially the music that is recorded in the South, in places such as Memphis, Muscle Shoals (Alabama), Nashville, Houston, and Florida. I also love blues and gospel, and some country music. I wouldn’t call myself an expert in jazz by any means, but I do appreciate it and have listened to more and more jazz especially over the past few years. I think the jazz influence in my music has come in mostly by means of the many great horn players whom I have worked with in my bands. (Eric DeFace is currently playing tenor sax with BPB.)
Improvisation: How do you assess and judge the people with whom you work?
Price: I’ve worked with a wide range of personalities in the bands I’ve been in but have had relatively few interpersonal problems. I try to create an environment in my bands where people can be creative and can be recognized by audiences for their skills and talents. I also try not to impose too many of my prejudices on other people unnecessarily. Generally speaking, if you show up to gigs on time and do your job, we are going to be fine.
Improvisation: When you think back to the time you sang with legendary guitarist, Roy Buckhannon, what do you think?
Price: Singing with Roy was a great experience for someone as young as I was at the time. Roy was a veteran by then and had a kind of jaundiced attitude toward the typical trappings of success and toward the sillier and more trivial aspects of the music business. So I think being with Roy reinforced for me early an ability to distinguish what was really important from what was superficial. What was important for Roy, and I hope also for me, was musical creativity and expression, as well as the musical traditions that we aligned with. The rest of it—fame, recognition, accolades, that sort of thing—is so largely determined by luck and happenstance that it is better to direct your passions and energies elsewhere.
Improvisation: What can people in Clarksburg expect from the Billy Price Band?
Price: They’ll be entertained, moved, grooved, and delighted.
Improvisation: Are you comfortable with the Americana Music Weekend theme, and being included under the “Americana” flag?
Price: Yes, I think it is great and I am happy to be part of it. I really prefer an eclectic mix of music to events that impose some sort of artificial stylistic consistency.
Improvisation: How has the Internet impacted blues/ soul/ jazz artists and the way they market and move?
Price: People in the music business complain, with some justification, about the negative consequences of the Internet on musicians, such as the death of the CD format, decreased CD sales, low royalties from streaming services, and so on. But on the other hand, the Internet allows a niche artist like me to find an international audience, and it has also enabled me, for example, to find a collaborator in France, Fred Chapellier, with whom I have recorded, co-written songs, and toured. My next tour with Fred is coming up in September and October. So like most things, there are tradeoffs, and all we can do as artists is to try to exploit the advantages to the best of our ability.
Tickets on both nights of the Americana Music Weekend are $35 for dinner buffet and show, or just $20 for music only. Contact Elinda Carson at PWA by phoning 304-624-6881 for more information and to reserve seats. The Americana Music Weekend is sponsored by The Cultural Foundation of Harrison County’s Barbara B. Highland Fund for the Arts and the Harrison County (WV) Commission.
Watch the Billy Price Band