Lloyd finds success playing the long game

Friday, August 17, 2018, Vol. 42, No. 33

Bill Lloyd released three albums with Radney Foster between 1987 and 1990. They recorded a fourth in 2011.

-- Submitted

Sitting at a Greek restaurant and spooning raisins and brown sugar into 10:30 a.m. oatmeal, Bill Lloyd – one of Nashville’s nicest guys – gets only slightly sentimental when pondering the long road traveled since he was at the top of the charts, opening for heroes like Roy Orbison.

It’s been 31 years since he and songwriting comrade Radney Foster – then operating as country duo Foster & Lloyd – had a No. 1 hit in “Crazy Over You” from their self-titled debut album.

“It didn’t make it to No. 1 on Billboard. I think they only had it at No. 4, but everyone else who had charts – like ‘Cash Box’ and ‘Radio & Records’ – had it No. 1.”

Sure, it was good to be king, but he relishes all that has happened since.

He and Radney “broke up” about 28 years ago, though they remain good friends and put together a fine and fun reunion album, “It’s Already Tomorrow,” released in 2011.

“We don’t go long without being in touch,” Bill says. “We even did a private party in St. Louis as Foster & Lloyd. That was fun.”

A casual few hours with Bill kind of sucks in a music enthusiast. A damn nice guy, he’s an encyclopedia of music, Nashville and otherwise. Hell, he admits a passion for Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and other so-called “impressionist” classical music musclemen.

First things first, though. Bill has a pair of record projects he’s overseeing. “It’s Happening Now,” released last December, has gained a fair amount of attention among those who enjoy smart, so-called “Americana” music, a departure from his regular diet.

Dubbed by many as Nashville’s godfather of power-pop, a ground-breaker and inspiration for the burgeoning local pop scene, his musical repertoire is far broader than that classification.

“It’s Happening Now” is whimsical (at times) and wise. “It’s all acoustic. Drums. There’s some minor electric guitar, though. Some great people have said nice things about it. A lot of folks seemed to enjoy that I was doing something different.”

Nashvillians will chuckle while checking out the single featured on www.billlloydmusic.net. “Pedal Tavern Girl” is a tongue-in-cheek observation of two Lower Broadway staples: the bachelorette party and the pedal taverns. Omnipresent in The District, the former has an affinity for riding on the latter, and adult beverages consumed (short) skirt the “oodles” mark.

“One more shot, you’ll be ready to hurl, bachelorette bay-baaay. Pedal tavern girl,” goes my favorite passage.

The second record, waiting for a vinyl version before release, “Working the Long Game,” is an at-least slightly introspective, though poppy, marker of career and life well-spent.

“The title track pretty much tells the story,” he says, as he deliberately works his oatmeal, washing it down with coffee and ice water.

“I think the fact that I’m 62 has a lot to do with it. There are a lot of songs about reflection, about what time won’t heal.”

Co-writers on the collection include many of his more-or-less contemporaries, like British rock legend Graham Gouldman of 10cc, but also include some of the town’s younger writers, like Americana darling Aaron Lee Tasjan.

It is by purpose that Bill bridges the age-gap and taps into some younger guns, like Tasjan. “I try to pay attention to what’s happening. I’ve been writing with young guys.”

The two of us have a figurative “you show me yours, I’ll show you mine” moment when describing the extent of our collections of Beatles’ music and books.

While the Fabs are our mutual soft spot, we also talk about The Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, Chuck Berry, Elvis, The Doors, Cream, Zep, Simon & Garfunkel and his late, great encourager Carl Perkins … if you are of our vintage, chances are you share similar sensibilities and have at least some of those artists in your collection, whether on vinyl, cassette, eight-track (laugh, but I’ve got some and a player), CD, download or mental jukebox.

Bill’s a vinyl champion. But he’s practical and, in addition to CD and vinyl, his music is sold as download on his web page and by your favorite purveyor: Amazon, Spotify, etc.

“The music business is not what it was,” he acknowledges, partly at least in reflection of this download-era during which folks often cherry-pick singles rather than buy the full document that older guys, like us, listen to at a sitting, immersed, in the entire tale or mood, a recording concept popularized by The Beatles and disciples like Pink Floyd.

“The music business has deconstructed in the last 20 years,” Bill adds. “Downloading takes away the mystique of holding the music in your hands. ‘The Cloud’ has ended that.”

It’s a shrug, devoid of bitter undertones and overtones. He does, however, heap praise on big-name artists who have proven successful at selling full-album downloads.

“It’s not just people selling singles. To look at someone who is selling (downloaded albums) well, look at the good writers, like Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton and people like that. They have had great success selling albums.”

Albums – particularly classic vinyl – have given Bill some of his top local exposure for the 14 years since he, drum wizard Steve Ebe (formerly of Memphis’ Human Radio), guitarist Steve Allen (formerly of Los Angeles power-poppers 20/20), keyboard master John Deaderick (sideman to Michael McDonald, Dixie Chicks and more) and bassist Garry Tallent (founding member of obscure Jersey Shore outfit The E Street Band) formed The Long Players.

Their purpose is to celebrate full LP albums by performing them live for a voracious local audience.

There have been lineup changes, according to Bill. John’s ‘retired’ from the band to go back to school and raise his family. “And Garry gets pretty busy with that other band he’s with.”

When Tallent moved from Nashville for a while, Brad Jones took over the bass duties. When The Boss doesn’t need him to play bass when the midnight gang’s assembled for “Jungleland” and the like, you’ll likely see Tallent on the Long Players’ stage again.

Every six weeks, the Long Players – the three active original members, Bill and the two Steves – choose an album to salute, gather stellar local sidekicks and slow hands and celebrate. The first half of those shows cover the LP, track-for-track. The second set is dedicated to hits by the saluted band – The Beatles, Petty & The Heartbreakers, The Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Kinks, Who, etc.

Bill Lloyd, right, and Radney Foster hit the road early in their career as the opening act for Roy Orbison.

-- Submitted

“The Long Players is rolling along nicely,” Bill notes.

The most recent concert was Petty & The Heartbreakers’ lesser-known second album, “You’re Gonna Get It.” Though important in Petty lore – the album includes “Hurt,” “I Need to Know” and “Listen to Her Heart” – it is not loaded with that still-mourned rocker’s concert anthems.

So during the LP half of the performance, the full house at 3rd & Lindsley clapped and “were more than polite,” Bill recounts. Then came the greatest hits portion – “Refugee,” “American Girl,” “I Won’t Back Down,” “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” “The Waiting,” etc. – “and the crowd went through the roof.”

Petty’s reception is different than when The Long Players do, say, a Beatles or Fleetwood Mac album. “The audience goes through the roof all night on those,” adds Bill, noting the familiarity his audience has with each track of those bands with deep roots in the ’60s.

He and his mates have taken the show on the road to places like Colorado’s Copper Country Music Festival.

While they don’t have albums – after all they are saluting various classics you should own – you can get a taste of The Long Players by watching videos of their shows posted on www.thelongplayers.com.

And, if interested, circle September 22, when Bill and the gang bring “Sweet Baby James” to 3rd & Lindsley. You’ll see fire and you’ll see rain when the guys steamroll through that great James Taylor album.

Bill’s gotten used to selling CDs at his own gigs rather than at the record stores that used to embrace his groups, among them Foster & Lloyd and The Sky Kings. (Yes, that fine live band did take its name from the hero of 1950s black-and-white kids’ weekend show with its intro: “From out of the clear blue of the Western sky comes Sky King,” who saved the day in his Cessna 310, Songbird, often with niece Penny along for the ride.)

While time may not be on his side, Bill’s a survivor in a world still populated by millionaire one-hit wonders.

“When I record now, I really don’t pay attention to how many I sell. Really don’t pay attention to the money,” he says, as he uses index finger and thumb to rub both sides of his gray goatee. “The fact I don’t sell a lot of records now really doesn’t bother me.”

Neither does it bother him that he’s not in the big arenas much nowadays, seldom feels the electric, heart-lifting charge of a massive audience exploding. “But I still get tastes of it every so often.”

“From 2008-2012, I was out with Cheap Trick when they did their Sergeant Pepper’s shows with full symphony. We even played the Hollywood Bowl (L.A.’s legendary venue) and, of course, we did it in Vegas.”

He’s also played with Poco and he even gets a smaller dose of that charge when the packed-club crowd hoots and hollers, particularly during the “greatest hits” sections of Long Players’ shows.

“The fact I still get reaction is good,” he admits, as, the oatmeal long gone, we each get about our eighth refill of coffee.

A young Bill Lloyd with country legend Buck Owens.

-- Submitted

“When people first notice what you do, there’s an empowerment that makes you want to do more.”

He smiles brightly when he recalls the days when he and Radney were guitar-pulling ringmasters in the big-time musical circus. The two had been signed as songwriters before they paired up to do some of their songs for themselves.

They have worthy albums full of their own material, but perhaps one of the greatest examples of the kind of work the two were capable of writing is “Picasso’s Mandolin,” which they wrote with late, great guitar-builder and singer-songwriter Guy Clark, who recorded a daintily melancholy version for his 1992 “Boats to Build” album. The duo “reclaimed” their original, more-strident version for their reunion album.

“When Radney and I started on the road, our first job was opening for Roy Orbison,” Bill recalls, all levels of matter-of-fact vanishing from his voice.

This was amazing to the men, not just because they were opening for one of rock’s visionaries, a nice man with perhaps the most-flexible, passion-filled pop-rock voice ever recorded.

“You know when Roy Orbison was touring England one time, he had The Beatles as his opening act. By the end of the tour it was flipped, and he was opening for The Beatles.” That was when Beatlemania first exploded.

He laughs when recalling the Foster & Lloyd touring days with Orbison. “We didn’t meet him for the first three shows or so.

“Radney and I would do our thing, and then we’d sit there and watch his shows all the way through.”

Finally, when they were introduced to the Big O, the self-deprecating superstar looked at the young men.

“Roy was so sweet and natural, and he said to us ‘You boys don’t do to me what those Beatles did.’”

Bill, whose only pre-Fab record was “Rick Nelson Sings ‘For You,’” passes on a nugget which will interest any local Beatlemaniac: “The amp George Harrison used on ‘Please Please Me’ was lost in the Nashville flood.”

The so-called “Quiet Beatle” had swapped amps with Nashville Cat Billy Sanford while the latter was in England. It changed locations and owners in Nashville, and unfortunately it was in storage at SoundCheck, the facility near the Cumberland River where so many musicians lost instruments and other road gear in that 2010 catastrophe.

“This was a piece of music history that was here in Nashville that people didn’t know about,” Bill says.

I always liked Carl Perkins, but didn’t really “know” him. Bill, it shouldn’t surprise you, considers the late and under-appreciated Rockabilly King – whose “Blue Suede Shoes” was appropriated into a signature hit for his buddy Elvis – as a valued mentor. Joy fills his voice when reminiscing about the days and nights spent at Carl’s Jackson house, where the two recorded in the backyard studio.

Bill Lloyd (right) with Carl Perkins. Lloyd considered the Rockabilly King a mentor.

-- Submitted

“Carl would wake me up by knocking on the bedroom door and saying ‘Bill, Valda’s got breakfast on.’”

Bill looks at his phone. Our own conversation has stretched on and covered so many topics, including the fact he has for the past 20 years been the music director for “Freedom Sings,” not only a yearly event at the Bluebird Café, but also a traveling program celebrating the First Amendment.

He also served for three and a-half years as stringed instrument curator at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. “I was just back there with the rest of the guys in the archives,” he says, downplaying his role. “I did things like, well, Loretta Lynn’s guitar strings had rusted. I put the strings in a Baggie and cleaned off the guitar.”

When that job was tailing off – it originally had been scheduled to last one year – Bill got musical opportunities that forced him to miss work.

“I was asking off to do these incredible things like work with Poco or Cheap Trick,” he adds, noting that playing with those bands was “a sweet transformation” from archiving back to performing. He still does the “Nashville Cats” programming at the Hall, which allows him to play guitar with folks like Duane Eddy and James Burton. “It is amazing to play with my heroes.”

He earned his own Nashville Cat stripes by working in and from this city since 1982. And before that he was in Bowling Green, where his parents had settled.

Fans may not know that he did venture for a bit into what he found to be a “really grungy New York scene” in 1980.

He and his friend, David Surface, with whom he had formed the band, Sgt. Arms, were trying their Big Apple luck.

One of the worst days of his life (and mine, by the way) was Dec. 8, 1980, when John Lennon was gunned down by sniveling scum outside the Dakota, about 40 blocks from Bill’s apartment.

“We had planned to leave (for Kentucky) the next day, because we missed our girlfriends and it was Christmastime. We didn’t know if we were coming back. But when John was killed, that was the capper.

“I went the next day to the Dakota and then Sunday to the five minutes of silence in Central Park.” Still mourning the Beatles leader’s death, he left New York in the rearview mirror.

Bill’s Army brat youth – “I spent the first three years of my life in Tokyo” with dad Gene and mother Betty, who died when he was 16 and 15, respectively – inspired what is, other than the new stuff, my favorite of his solo albums, 2012’s “Boy King of Tokyo,” a power-pop snapshot inspired by literal photographs of that time.

“Boy King” – like most of his modern albums – really didn’t make him a lot of money, but he’s grown to expect that.

Single-parenting son Ryman, 27 (Bill and his ex-wife were married at that Mother Church of Country Music), the musician is content with smaller victories these days.

He knows the “young guys and gals” are the ones making the big money with their testosterone and beer-fueled bro-country tunes or teen-targeted, sex-teasing pop songs.

While such music is not his style, he refuses to be critical of it or of the artists.

“Like (Americana-rock hero) Webb Wilder says: ‘Anyone who is making a nickel in this business deserves it.’”

Besides that, as Bill says: “I still get good reactions to my music.”

He takes one last sip of coffee and smiles. “I know I’m lucky people.”