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A Fireside Chat with Billy Bang

By Published: November 14, 2003

BB: Oh, God. I couldn't hardly play without Dennis during some periods. This man knew. He could anticipate what I was about to do and he just fit so well. We were like two peas in a pod. First of all, Fred, he played melodic. He was a very supportive drummer. He didn't try to outstage you or outdistance you. He was always trying to do his part to make the music better. He was just a wonderful drummer and an extraordinary human being. On the road, Dennis had super drug problems. We all had some, but Dennis was a lot heavier. Just to watch him go through Europe with me and he was sick and ill, but he did it for the love of the music. He had been around. He had been around the Art Blakeys and the Steve Lacys and the different cats. It was not new for him, but a lot of it was fairly new for me. He was a secret tutor on some levels and then he just followed me in a direction of the music that I believed.

FJ: And Frank Lowe?

BB: I first worked with Frank on his record called Lowe and Behold. That was a real different kind of record for me to be involved with because he was bringing people from two different camps at the same time. There was one camp that was John Zorn and Eugene Chadbourne and others and the other camp was Joe Bowie, Phillip Wilson, Butch Morris, and myself. What Frank Lowe did was bring everybody together on the same LP. I thought it was really amazing that he could see that far in advance. This was before Bill Laswell. This was way before. So that is when we first began collaborating. He saw me really moving because Frank was my hero and he later saw me as an equal. We talked together and did projects together.

FJ: You returned to playing solo on Commandment, not the easiest of tasks.

BB: It isn't, particularly in this music and trying to keep the interest of yourself and the audience, but I was ready for it at that time on the second one, as I am for a third one. I have so many projects right now on the table, I can only do so much. My next big project is doing the follow up to Vietnam: The Aftermath. I am slowly writing for it, but the big push will be in August, September. On this CD, I will include some Vietnamese musicians.

FJ: Vietnam: The Aftermath is you making peace with your demons on record.

BB: This was from a CD I did called Big Bang Theory and that was Jean-Pierre's first assignment with me. During breaks and intermissions and things, we had talked. Somehow he was interested in my Vietnam career and I told him that I don't really talk about it, but with him I did. I told him I thought about doing some music about it, but never could pull myself together to approach it. Upon moving back to America from Berlin, I came back with maybe a penny in my pocket, literally. Thank God for my daughter because her and her husband allowed me to stay at their house in Queens to get myself back together. I also have to thank Kali Fasteau for hiring me during this time and giving me some gigs. But it wasn't what I wanted to do at the time. I needed to really regroup because it was like starting again. I was at Kali's house, rehearsing for a gig with her and I called Justin Time up and I was on the phone over-enthusiastically asking for a record date because I needed the money to get myself together. This is all practical stuff I am dealing with now. So when I talked to Jean-Pierre, he was very kind and asked me to write about my experience in Vietnam. I wasn't in the mood for that, but I thought about it and called him back and I agreed to doing it. I needed an advance because I was so broke and needed to eat and pay rent somewhere. That was such an ordeal for me, writing this music because I had to relive Vietnam. I had to conjure up experiences that I have been trying to runaway from since I came home. I had to face it again and didn't know how I would react and respond. Fortunately, for me, it made me a very mature person at that time and the music came out honest and well. I got a lot of extra baggage off of my shoulder by doing that record. Shit I have been carrying around, horrible thoughts and bad flashbacks, things I have been avoiding. If I saw something like that, I would go get drunk or use heroine or whatever. I am glad I got a lot of that off of me.

FJ: Are those demons behind you now?

BB: I think I put quite a few of them back. Not all of them, because it will never end, but enough to function on a better level now, Fred.

Photo Credit
Claudio Casanova

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