Monday, September 30, 2013

Billy Walton "Cranks It Up!"

Billy Walton Cranks It Up

After blowing everybody away at a premier gig at the Country Lakes Pub in Browns Mills, Billy Walton and his hot band will return to the heart of the Jersey Pines on Saturday, October 5 to play their inaugural gig at Charley's Other Brother (1383 Monmouth Rd), a popular brass and glass restaurant that is reportedly under new ownership. [ (609) 261-1555].

The show last week at the Pub was not previously announced but word quickly spread as the Walton Band is well known in these parts, having previously played at John and Molly's in Mt. Holly and Tara's in Cookstown, so those who had seen Walton perform before were out in force even though most of the hard core live music buffs were at Camp Jam in the Pines.

When people mention "Billy" they are usually referring to Billy Hector, the reigning New Jersey state guitar champion who played Camp Jam on Saturday night, and Hector certainly gets into a zone that few musicians have been known to go. But the other Billy, Billy Walton is two decades younger and with fifteen years on the axe, he also has it down pat, and is on the way up, giving Hector some serious competition for the top spot.

Like Heavyweight Champions of the world, mob bosses and presidents, there is only one on top at a time and he's the one who calls the shots - and right now Billy Hector is the best, at least on a seniority basis, but Billy Walton is inching up close and one day there should probably be a showdown, bringing them together for a real shootout so everyone will know who is best.

For the record, I also think some South Jersey guitarists are in the top rank and are contenders - Danny Eyre is one, and zen master of the strings Lew London is another, and Jack Zwacki, wherever he is, could play with these guys, and perhaps someday there will be a real Battle of the Bands where the lead guitar gunslingers can duel it out in the ultimate reality show competition.

At the Pub, where there is no real stage, Walton and his tight band - William Paris on bass Richie Taz on sax and drummer Johnny D'Angelo were playing on the floor, right in the midst of the crowd, so it was a very intimate experience, maybe too intimate for some.

Starting off with a rousing and extended version of Van Morrison's "Dominio," Billy let it all out right away, and then flicked some foot switches with his black hightop Chucks and said that was just a sort of sound check, and sure enough, after that short break after the first song they took off and didn't stop. While I tried to keep a set list, after the first few songs it was self-evident that it wasn't possible or necessary, and best to just sit back and take it all in.

I hadn't seen them since they played Somers Point some time ago, but now they seem different, and having played together for over two years, are much tighter. Walton, Paris, Taz and Johnny D know each other pretty well, and they don't have to talk about what song they're going to do next, and instead Billy just takes the lead, plays a few notes and then gets into it and the other know how to follow, while we just go along for the ride.

Picking up the guitar when he was fifteen, Walton sat in with the Asbury Park crowd while just a kid, so he's jammed with Bruce, the Shakes, Bon Jovi, Southside and the rest, and was tapped by Southside Johnny to be the Juke's lead guitarist, a prime spot in a top flight band, but Walton kept his own band together and is now concentrating on his own act, which is simply terrific.

Having played the UK a few times a year for the past few years the Billy Walton Band has almost as big a following across the pond as they do in their own backyard, and when you look at their upcoming schedule you see places you know - like Breezes in New Gretna and Tara's in Cookstown or Somers Point and Cape May, but then there's The Assembly Room in Derby, The Kings Arms in Bedfordshire, the Saints Room in Cockermout and Quasimodo in Berlin, some of the same places the Beatles played in their leather jacket days.

When they invade England the Walton Band plays a lot of their original material, as the British fans are a bit more sophisticated when it comes to American rock & roll, and they know who Billy Walton is and they want to hear his original stuff - not his covers. But when they play the Jersey Shore bars or the piney roadhouses they do more popular covers, though always giving it a unique arrangement that affords Billy on Strat and Richie on sax, the opportunity to improvise, or more accurately go ballistic.

And they did that at the Pub, and we now expect them to do it whenever and wherever they play, and so far they have yet to disappoint.

While they didn't play many original tunes at the Pub, their three CDs captures the best of what the Billy Walton Band does, and their most recent CD "Crank It Up!" was recorded at the secret and hidden Scullville Stuidos by Randy Friel, who also plays keys on the album with Arthur Migliazza. Although not as famous as Abby Road or Bearsville, Scullville is sandwiched somewhere between Somers Point, Ocean City and Mays Landing, and only the musicians who come from out of town seem to be able to find it. Among the songs they recorded there are some real good, rockin' tunes, including "Deal with the Devil,' a Crossroads tribute, "The Night the Deal Went Down," "Hot Blues," "Somertime Girl," "Black Jack Dealer," and "Crank It Up!"  And I think we should get to hear more of these tunes in their local live shows and I think if requested, they'll oblige.

Billy and the Walton Band will put into the legendary J.C. Dobbs on South Street in Philly on October 9, and play one set for John Faye, and then they'll do the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park on October 11, Sweetwater Casino October 13, Tara's Tavern in Cookstown October 18 and on October 25th they play Breezes in New Gretna (Exit 50 GSP) before embarking on their next European tour, and I think we should all accompany them overseas.

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