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Billy Price

From Soul Express 4/1999


Today's premier blue-eyed soul man out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Mr. Billy Price, has released his ninth album, Can I Change My Mind, and it's produced by non other than Mr. Jerry Williams, Jr., our very own 'eccentric' Swamp Dogg. It's an ambitious ten-tracker with hooky melodies - eight written by Swamp Dogg - inspiring singing and real instruments.

Billy's real name, by the way, is Bill Pollak. "Billy Price initially came from Lloyd Price. In a talent contest - which I won - one night at a club they asked me my name. I was a kid then - about sixteen years old - and I guess Lloyd Price was in my mind, so I said 'Billy Price'." Billy was born in Paterson, New Jersey, in 1949. "When I was in high school, I had bands that played at parties, colleges and that kind of thing. My first serious job was with Roy Buchanan in 1972, when I recorded with Roy an album for Polydor Records, That's What I'm Here For. Then a couple of years later I recorded a 'live' album with him called Livestock. Roy was a guitar player, who didn't sing very well, so I was the lead vocalist - and I was pretty young , in my early twenties. The other guys in the band were in their mid-to-late thirties."

After extensive tours with Roy around North America, Billy decided to pursue his career on his own. "I had a band called the Rhythm Kings in the 1970s, and then we started the Keystone Rhythm Band in 1979." In the 80s The Keystone boys had four releases on a label owned by some of Billy's friends, Green Dolphin. "First the music was similar to what I'm doing now. The first album in particular - Is It Over ('80), after the Otis Clay song - was similar to the 90s Soul Collection (our review in 2/98). The second one was called They Found Me Guilty ('82). That was produced by Denny Bruce, who was managing the Fabulous Thunderbirds at the time, and that's also in the soul bag. The third one was a Live album ('84) that we recorded in Washington, D.C. We were starting to get more guitar-heavy, kind of a rock-blues sound, which is also true of the fourth one, Free At Last ('88)."

In 1993, when the Keystone Rhythm Band had become history, Billy released a blues set called Danger Zone. "I really don't like rock music very much, so I wanted to do something that was non-commercial but pleased me as a vocalist. I've always been a fan of Roy Milton, Roy Brown, Wynonie Harris, Charles Brown and folks like that. I love that style." The Soul Collection ('97) was a tribute to many remarkable soul heroes (b>Otis Clay, James Carr, Darrell Banks, O.V.Wright, Joe Simon etc.) by Billy covering some of their most memorable songs.

The latest project, Can I Change My Mind, was actually recorded in two weeks in Los Angeles with Swamp Dogg. "Denny Bruce, who produced my second album (Guilty), had a record company called Takoma Records. Swamp Dogg's album - I'm Not Selling Out, I'm Buying In ('81) - was released on Takoma around the same time that I was working with Denny. Denny sent me a copy and I became a Swamp Dogg fan, and also a big fan of some of his productions - particularly the Solomon Burke album he did, Sidewalks, Fences And Walls ('79). Then somehow I got a hold of a cook book called The Swamp Dogg Cook Book with some good recepies in it. I saw Swamp Dogg's Email address on some mailing list, so I contacted him, introduced myself and said 'we have mutual friends' and added 'I used to have your cook book, but I lost it. I'll trade you a copy of my Soul Collection album for a copy of your cook book'. So we did that."

"Three months later I heard back from Swamp Dogg. I guess he eventually had listened to the album, and he loved it and he was really thinking that he could do something with me. At the time I had a lot of different ideas of what I would do on my next CD. One of them was that I would go down to Muscle Shoals and work with some of the cats down there, but Swamp Dogg came along just at the right time."

Lately Swamp Dogg has become pretty active. Besides touring and performing he's also working a lot in the studio. "After mine the next project was supposed to be Wilson Williams - who, I think, was in the Platters - but I'm not sure, if they did it. Then Swamp was going to work on a new thing for himself. He's on the Kid Rock record - a big white rapper - for whom he wrote one song and actually sings with Kid Rock. Then, I think, Tracy Byrd, a country artist, has done another cover version of the Freddie North song, She's All I Got ('71), so Swamp's getting royalties from there. He's doing very well."

As mentioned in the beginning, Swamp wrote as many as eight new songs especially for this project (you can read more in detail about the CD and also order it on with the exception of What Is Love, which was meant for Aaron Neville, but he turned it down. "He was sending me tapes for a couple of months as he was writing, and I liked just about everything he sent. The only one that I can recall I didn't use was lyrically - 'save all the children' - not the type of thing I usually do."

The absolute delight is rich background with real instruments and live musicians such as Landis Armstrong on guitar, Vince Jefferson on bass, Edell Shepherd on keyboards, Craig Kimbrough and Andre Robinson on drums and Raegae Clark on percussion. The horns were arranged by Jerry Peterson and the only thing that was programmed - the strings - were arranged by Benjamin Wright. Many of those players have a long career back having worked with such luminaries as Barry White, Little Milton, Tower Of Power, the Gap Band and Otis Clay. "I had gone back to Pittsburgh, before the background voices or the horns were on, so that was all surprise for me, when I received the tape. On background vocals, I believe, that's Swamp Dogg, his daughter Jeri and one of his neighbours. I think there might be a r&b artist named Dean Courtney. Garland Green was around, so he may be there, for all I know, and Leon Haywood was around too."

The opener - Crack Crack, When You Coming Back - is an irresistible and infectious toe-tapper, simple and inspiriting, which has strong hit potential. Mine All Mine is a mid-paced swayer. "I'm performing that live and I'm doing a Denise LaSalle song on that. I'm breaking it down at the end and I'm singing a little piece of Trapped By A Thing Called Love and Make Me Yours and Precious Precious."

I Know It's Your Party is an easy bouncer with a fine sax solo by Jerry Peterson in the middle. This Magic Hour is a beat ballad and like a throwback to the golden sixties. "We were thinking of Otis. I was thinking Good To Me by Otis. I was kind of fighting with Swamp Dogg and his musicians. I kept saying 'slower, slower'."

Indefinitely is another vibrating mid-pacer. "I love the guitar figure on that." What Is Love (And What Makes You Think You Deserve Some) is a beautiful, 'aching' soul ballad. "That was the one that really stood out for me on the demos." No Matter How You Turn Or Twist It stirs things up to a galloping, laid-back mid-tempo. "I didn't think that much of that tune. I almost rejected it, but I'm very pleased with the way it came out - really great groove. And I'm very happy with the kind of relaxed nature of the vocal. And those flamenco guitars in the middle - sort of off-the-wall Swamp Dogg twist."

The speeded-up cover of Can I Change My Mind is unchained from its traditional whispery vocal approach and taken to an almost screamy heights. "That's a song a lot of people associate with me, because I recorded it with Buchanan. That version to this date gets a lot of airplay. I was never happy with my version with Buchanan at all. Here the arrangement was driven by the keyboard player, who just got this kinda rolling gospel feel. There's really a lot more percussion on the tape than what you hear in the mix. Swamp said that, if we get something happening with another song on the CD, we'll go back in and do a 'club mix' of this."

One In A Million is an atmospheric, pretty slowie (by two outside writers) that would perfectly suit some of today's soul divas such as Whitney, Mariah and of that ilk. Pass The Sugar, a 'cheating' mid-pacer with a heavy beat, is a song Swamp himself might have done in the 70s. "To be honest, Swamp Dogg sings the hell out of that one. That's more a Swamp Dogg than it is a Billy Price song. I wasn't really happy with the vocal I got on there."

Billy himself, who has a regular job in a federally funded institute working in areas like Internet security, is very pleased with the CD, and has every right to be. "Swamp Dogg is trying to place this with another label. Initially we're going to print three thousand copies on Green Dolphin and see what happens." The rest, dear readers, is in your hands, so pass the word about this 'priceless' collection.
-Heikki Suosalo

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