From musical beginnings to Kansas

In the Beginning

Having been inspired by watching the first performance of the Beatles
on the Ed Sullivan Show, my brother Johnny and I were sure we 
had found our destiny. After begging our parents for the better part of 
a month to buy us instruments, they finally relented and bought my 
brother a set of drums and me a bass. Our cousin, Alvin, already had 
a guitar and actually knew a few chords, so when I was at the tender 
age of 15, we were putting our first band together.

When I say that Alvin knew a few chords, I should have said that he 
knew very few chords.  He knew three chords: C, F, and G. So the 
first song that we worked up used C, F, and G! I thought it was pretty 
clever at the time. Oh, how we practiced, hour after hour, day after 
day. Oh, the torture that my parents endured! We endeavored to 
persevere and before we knew it, we had a whole set list of three 
chord songs:  “Louie Louie,” “Hang on Sloopy,” C, F, and G, 
you get the picture.

With the addition of Sammy on guitar, we had our first band. We 
called ourselves Odds’n’Ends. I don’t know why. We played 
anywhere we could: birthday parties, grand openings, talent shows, 
sock hops. A funny thing happened. After a while, people actually 
started offering us money to play! WOW! It came like a flash of light, 
a revelation so profound that it made me shiver! It was actually 
possible to make a living playing music! At that age, we thought that 
$50 a week was a living. We had money to spend, money in the bank 
and were constantly upgrading our equipment. We had it made. 
We had Gibson and Fender guitars, Ludwig drums, Vox amps. I had 
a beautiful Hofner bass, just like the one Paul McCartney played. 
Life was good.

All Good Things Must End

The Vietnam War was raging during this time period. The rest of the 
guys were about three years older than I was. When graduation time 
came, Uncle Sam came calling. Alvin joined the Air Force, my brother 
joined the National Guard, and I joined another band.

A keyboard player in another band, Jim Shields, approached me after 
his band and mine had played a gig together. They were playing 
James Brown and Sam and Dave; we were playing Led Zeppelin
and Vanilla Fudge. I think he liked the direction that my band was 
heading and we talked about the possibility of joining forces. Jim was 
an awesome keyboard player and the thought of playing with him was 
very appealing. He told me that a new kid had moved into town and 
he was a really good player. Jim suggested that we get together and 
jam, and see what happened. So in the summer of 1970, we got 
together and Jim introduced me to Marty Conn: a skinny, blonde 
17-year-old with a gold Les Paul. We hooked up our instruments and 
Marty suggested that we play “Jeff’s Boogie.” Wow – “The Kid 
Could Play” – Marty was fantastic.  I was sold and the band Bishop
was born. With this lineup, we started playing more progressive music: 
Yes, Genesis, Gentle Giant… the possibilities seemed endless. 

After a couple of years in Bishop, Jim was lured away to play with a 
band in Cincinnati. Their guitar player was Adrian Belew (Adrian, as 
some of you may or may not know, went on in later years to play 
guitar with the likes of  Frank Zappa, King Crimson, and became 
a critically acclaimed musician and producer in his own right).  A few 
months later, Jim showed up again with Adrian in tow. It seems that 
Adrian was a frustrated drummer at heart, and we set about the task 
of rehearsing and putting a band together with Adrian on drums. 
The band played one show in Kingsport, Tennessee. I swear this to 
be true – the local newspaper did a review and I have a clipping! 
After the concert, Adrian went back to Cincinnati, and I haven’t 
talked to him to this day. I don’t know why!

(continued on next page)

© 2013 Billy
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