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STAR Views: Billy Yates

By: Estella Pan

Photo used courtesy of Billy Yates

Billy Yates is the quintessential jack of all trades. He is a singer who has released five solo albums. As a songwriter, many of his songs including "I Don’t Need Your Rocking Chair" and "Choices" are now classics. He has sat in the producer's chair for recent albums for Victor Sanz and an artist from Sweden, Red Jenkins. "I've been in Nashville for twenty years, and during the first five years, I was working on trying to shop for a major record deal. After I started writing full-time in 1992, I started spending a lot of time in the studio, and so it was a natural transition to start producing some records." And now, he is running his own record label.

A native of Missouri, Billy's parents helped nurture a deep love for country music. He says, "Had I not been born into a musical family, and one that loved country music, I wouldn't be doing this. Early on, there were always great country records around our house – Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Lefty Frizzell, Jim Reeves, Carl Smith, Webb Pierce, Ernest Tubb, on and on. Those artists all influenced me, but my parents exposed me to their music." Billy began writing songs in the early 90s and his preferred place for doing so is in the comfort of his Music Row office. "I really do well in my office. It's quiet in there, so I've got the right environment there to write."

In 2002, he launched M.O.D. Record Label. [NOTE: That's shorthand for My Own Damn Record Label.] "After having been on a couple labels in the past, you learn from those experiences, about ways to do things on your own. So, I decided after a while that I would [start my own label]." Being that he's now essentially working for himself, Billy is enjoying his career run a whole lot these days! "The beauty of it is, you're basically cutting out the middle man on so many levels of the business. But, you also don't have to have the expectations that some of the major labels will have – one being to have Platinum or better in album sales. If you're doing it on your own, you can have whatever [expectations] you want." Billy says another advantage is that "I have the freedom to do what I love and record the kind of music that gives me goosebumps. It's very challenging, but it's also been so rewarding to be, really, a one-man show, when it comes to my record label – I do everything myself. To be able to get out and work and see the fruits of my labor, I really can't see doing it any other way these days."

Through the years, Billy has enjoyed a menagerie of career highlights as a singer and a songwriter. He says, "I think the success in Europe has been the most rewarding, as far as the artist side of what I do. I came to Nashville to be a singer, not to be a songwriter, so that was really always my first love. Being an artist, I love being on stage, meeting people after the shows – I love every part of that." On the songwriting side, Billy says earning a Grammy nomination for "Choices" has been particularly meaningful. "Having been nominated for a Grammy, as a songwriter, was just really cool, because there are people who are much better songwriters than I am who have not had that honor." He adds, "Beyond that, having George Jones – who was always my idol – record that and 'I Don't Need Your Rocking Chair,' which was my first song to ever have been recorded. Then to have all these artists to come in and sing on it, it was pretty amazing!" [NOTE: "I Don't Need Your Rocking Chair" also took home the trophy in 1993 for the CMA Vocal Event of the Year.] Most currently, you can find one of Billy's song on Jeff Bates' new album, Leave the Light On; the ballad is called "I Can't Write That."

Commenting on an ideal duet partner, Billy says, "Wow! At one point, I would have said [George] Jones, but I've done that. Merle Haggard and Buck Owens were also my idols and I've worked with them. Besides that, Dolly Parton has always been one of my favorites. She doesn't take herself seriously and she's an incredible talent. And, as made up as she looks, she does have a genuine love for people, and she’s so real." Breaking into a laugh, he adds, "Course, I'd be so excited I'd probably forget the words, and it'll be a disaster!"

Photo used courtesy of Billy Yates

Something that is not likely to end in disaster is Billy's annual fan club party, which he will again host during this summer's CMA Music Fest/Fan Fair week. The event doubles as a benefit for Christmas For the Children, an organization that he champions. "Four guys started it in the town I live in. We find kids that are less fortunate, bring in artist tour buses, take them to the local WalMart or Target, and give them $100 each. Every year I go along as a chaperone and help them find gifts. It's an incredible experience!" Billy adds, "The beautiful thing about it is these kids don't go straight to the toy section to find something for themselves; they say, 'I've got to find something for my mom, my brother...' Every time, they put themselves at the bottom of the list. It's an amazing thing, and it tears me up! It's the way we should all be." Billy talks about the concert portion of the upcoming event: "Because of my love for more traditional country music – and because there is an audience who really wants to hear more traditional music, this will be a show that is for that particular group of people. We're calling it The Countriest of the Country." Festivities are scheduled to take place on Wednesday, June 7, beginning at 6:00 PM. He promises that it will be a "spectacular show!" [NOTE: Other details and artist lineup have been announced – for more information and to purchase YOUR tickets, please visit Billy's official website linked below.]

Speaking of fans, Billy makes a conscious effort to be as involved with his fans as much as possible. He says they play an extremely vital role of continuing the grassroots approach in spreading his music. He welcomes people of all ages and doesn't charge any money for people to join his fan club. "When you're doing it like I'm doing, the fans are really, really important, because when you're on your own, you don't have the means to buy advertising and do 'big things.' So, you rely heavily on the fan club to spread the word. Especially in Europe, so much of it is by word of mouth over there." Before becoming his fan club president, Jutta Hentschel, was one of those fans supporting Billy and his career. The two met in 1997 at a show Billy was doing, became friends, and now, she is running his fan club. "The fact that she's from Germany is real neat, too!"

If you're looking to discover something interesting that you don't already know about Billy, he offers this: "I think an interesting tidbit would be the fact that I do a lot of artwork. I do portraits, murals, paintings, water colors, ink pencil. In fact, I was in high school when I started doing portraits, so I have a very cool collection of portraits I've done of [celebrities]. I would contact their management and get them autographed – Farrah Fawcett, Sally Fields, Burt Reynolds, KISS, Cheryl Tiegs, Ronald Reagan."

This brings me back to my opening statement: It's obvious that Billy is skilled in the many facets of both music and art – is there anything he doesn't do?!

STAR Country!

Photo used courtesy of Billy Yates

You've penned songs that became classics for George Jones and other artists, what inspires you to write songs?
Billy: Inspiration comes from all different places. A lot of that, I think, is carrying awareness with you. Having compassion for people is a part of it, too. My life has been pretty smooth – I have a good family and all that. But, if you can feel people's pain and see what other people have gone through and you can relate to that, then a lot of times, the inspiration comes form things like that. Also, just a great idea will inspire a great song!

Of all the songs you've written and/or recorded, do you have a favorite?
Billy: "Choices" is the song I'm most proud of. That song is about life that makes people stop and think about taking responsibility for the choices they make. And, anytime you have a song that affects people's lives in a good way – when you get e-mails and letters from people telling you that, it's so gratifying! Then, I had a song called 'Flowers' in 1997, and it really touched so many people. It's always been a very special song to me. The subject of it is drunk driving. My grandfather was killed by a drunk driver. He loved music, and he never got to see me do what I do. I've always hated that, and I've always regretted the day that he was killed, even though it was before I was born. So, that song really makes you stop and think. Chances are, that song has changed lives. Chances are, that song has made a difference and has made somebody turn around and not [drink and drive].

Do you ever get tired of singing the same songs every night?
Billy: There are some songs that I think I sing better than others, and sometimes there are songs that I'll work up that I thought would do great live – and then it didn't do as well as I thought it would. So, you walk away from those sometimes. But, for the most part, you find those really fast. I have to make myself add new songs to my show, because I always try to keep my shows fresh.

From Gayland and Jill Allen in Michigan: Billy, like some of the artists before you such as Waylon and Johnny, you seem be saying I will sing the music the way I feel it instead of what the cookie cutter would make you into. Is there a driving force that makes you want to stay real to country music?
Billy: You know what, I think that if you're comfortable with singing songs that you don't totally believe in night after night, if you're okay with that and can sleep well at night, I don't hold that against you. I can only speak for myself. I've probably messed up on some really great opportunities by just being who I am. But, part of it is I'm not believable when I’m not who I am. I am what I am, and I have to stay true to that. I think that anybody who makes music that is honest – as long as they're true to themselves, they're doing a great thing. I tend to respect those artists more, and I want to be one of those artists.

David Bamford in Leicestershire, England writes: Which of your songs have you had the most pleasure from and why?
Billy: "I Don't Need Your Rocking Chair" was the first song I ever had recorded, and that was a thrill!! There's only one first time, and that was really special – it was just the coolest thing, because I hadn't been writing songs for very long [before that]! Then, that song came along, we sent it to George, and I'll never forget. George and Nancy Jones were so great about letting the songwriters be part of the whole process. I was in the studio when they recorded the song, and I was on the set when they were filming the video. I was there when the artists came in to sing on the parts of that song; it was during Fan Fair that year. They involved the songwriters in every aspect of it, so as far as thrills go, that's definitely the song that brought on the most thrills.

From Bill Mixon in Dagsboro, Delaware: I consider you one of the best in country music today, but you don't get the airtime from the top 40 stations. I admire you for sticking to your country roots, but is there a lot of pressure on you to go "pop" in order to sell records?
Billy: That is precisely why I record for my own record label, because I avoid that pressure. So, that part of the question, no, I don't have that pressure. As far as country radio airplay, as an independent label, it's very difficult – if not impossible – to compete with the larger independent or even major labels. So, I don't really put forth a lot of effort to get airplay here. I regret that in some ways, because there are fans who wish I would do that. In the music business, it is costly to do that, and unfortunately, that may not happen for a while.

When you sing "Daddy Had A Cardiac and Mama's Got A Cadillac," do fans take it that you are literally singing about your father?
Billy: A real funny thing happened to my dad, who you'd have to know – he's seventy years old and just a great guy! My brother heads his own sign business in Missouri and my dad goes with him sometimes to the job sites. This guy walked up to my dad and said, "I thought you were dead! I heard that you died!" My dad said, "No, where do you hear that?" [Your other son] does that song, "Daddy Had A Cardiac and Mama's Got A Cadillac"! So, I guess some people do take my songs very seriously and literally. That goes to show if you say something in your song, people do relate it to your life!


Visit Billy at: http://www.BillyYates.com!!

For details on Billy's The Countriest of the Country show (during CMA Music Fest/Fan Fair week), please visit:
http://www.BillyYatesNews.de!!
(Click on the Fan Club Party 2006 tab on the left to see the info poster. Make YOUR reservations early as tickets will sell fast!)

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