The Many Mishaps of Butch Willis

The Many Mishaps of Butch Willis

by Phil Milstein

"Hey, hey, we're The Rocks
You can look at us or you can stop
Hey, hey, we're The Rocks
We just wanna thank you, thank you, thank you a lot."

("We're The Rocks")

In the mind of Butch Willis, he and his group The Rocks are the entry-level equivalent of Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band, Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band, or even the latter-day Rolling Stones. They play straight-arrow AOR hard rock, with a lot of sheen and just a little tiny bit of gristle. By Butch's way of seeing things, the only reason he and his band don't have a major-label record contract is due to clerical oversight.

To the rest of the world, however, he and The Rocks belong much more to the realm of such outsider musical artists as The Twinkeyz, Electric Eels, Shuggie Rodelle & His Imbiblio Band or the singing flea market cowboy Buddy Max, than they do to the world of arena rock. As evidenced by the two albums he released on his own Love label in the mid-1980s, Of and Forthcomings, Willis and his revolving-door band of D.C.-area musicians are anything but pedestrian. Would Bob Seger have a full-time band member whose sole duty is to stand there and chop at his throat while warbling vocal tones?

While much of Willis' material centers on banal topics given humorous slants ("Kitty Cat," "TVs From Outer Space," "Pizza On My Jeans"), he is equally capable of a sublime treatment of classical themes ("The Girl's On My Mind," "Everything's Alright," "The Garden's Outside"). At their best, his Rocks are capable of generating a surging undertow of rhythmic noise, over which Butch can pour out his heart and "throat guitarist" Al Breon can uvulate like there's no tomorrow, contributing a warp factor reminiscent of Tommy Hall's electric jug playing with the 13th Floor Elevators.

Willis's songs are exciting, his lyrics entrancing, and his quavering voice and unsteady physical presence are like watching a hobbled old lady trying to cross a busy intersection against the light. Add to that a Maryland twang ready-made for a John Waters Dreamland production or the cast of Heavy Metal Parking Lot and Butch's obvious sartorial splendor, and you've got the makings of a true star.

In August of 1986 Butch and I, along with his then-manager Jeff Krulik, met in Butch's bedroom in the basement of his mother's house in suburban Maryland to try to survey the lay of the Willis mind. The various medications he was on at the time had left Butch with a pronounced quake of the hand that made the lighting of each cigarette a time-consuming and potentially hazardous task, but otherwise the conversation flowed smoothly and agreeably. Butch had some great stories to tell, and had the kicker conclusion to just about every topic that came up.

interviewed by Phil Milstein, with assistance by Jeff Krulik
transcribed by Dana Hatch


Drugs, medications

BW: Beer I'll drink, but anything like, anything else, drugs I don't do anymore. I put down in my diary ... I have a small diary that, uh, it's just a book with some pages in it, it's really a music book of some sort ...

PM: That you write songs into?

BW: It's an anything book, but I wrote in there, "Stopped taking drugs, January 1986." It wasn't a New Year's resolution, just ...

PM: Just a coincidence?

BW: Yeah. I've done a few since then, though. I didn't really quit then, I slacked off.

PM: What did you do before then?

BW: I used to do 'em every day for about a year, two years ago.

PM: What kind of drugs were you taking?

BW: Pot every day. All the coke I could get my hands on. ... That'll kill ya, man, that coke today, it's a killer! It's no good! They treat it with ... they do something with it. Like, crack? Crack's made, you know, in a ... in a ... somebody told me it was pharmaceutical, so I figured it was made from chemicals.

PM: Does your mother know you take all those drugs?

BW: Yeah.

PM: What does she say?

BW: She says, "If you don't stop taking these drugs ... (laughs) They're no good for you, you're not the same." (laughs)

PM: Do you think it's changed you?

BW: I'm not the same. It does change me. It just ... I either wanna go to sleep, or I gotta be right about everything ...

PM: Did you ever take much acid?

BW: When it was good.

PM: When was that?

BW: Mmmm ... '72 to '74, '70 really, four or five years I took LSD. It took the chemical out of my back and now I have a chemical imbalance. It can do that.

PM: In your back?

BW: I don't know what chemical it is, but they give you Prolixin and they give you lithium for the chemical and Prolixin'll set it. 'Cause it'll make you violent if you don't take these pills. And it's proven, you know, it's proven that it works. This medicine, you're not supposed to take 'em with milk, and you're not supposed to eat 'em right before dinner or right after dinner, but I do. And they don't bother me.

PM: Do you start to get violent or something?

BW: Manic depressive, manic depressive. If I didn't have any money and I was laying around doin' nothing, bored to death, I'd throw something against the wall or tear the place up or something.


Songwriting

PM: What do you do with your time?

BW: Well, I don't like TV even though I watch it more now than I have in five years.

PM: You don't have a job, right?

BW: No, I don't have a job. I'm just dedicated to music. I got a lot of free time. I used to be able to write, I would write ... last time I wrote a song was last November.

PM: Dried up, huh? Went away on ya?

BW: Yeah, I'm pretty dried up. I don't wanna write anymore. I started thinking of some songs one day and it actually hurt my head.

PM: It's hard work.

BW: Yeah, you have to get in a certain ... dazzle, or something.

PM: Gotta sort of put yourself in a trance.

BW: Yeah, it's nice, it's nice, it's almost as good as a good deja vu. It's something, to write. It really is, especially if you write in five minutes, you're just under this ... the pressure, you know, the pressure is so delicate but there's so much of it there.

PM: How many songs do you have stockpiled?

BW: I did have 130 to 140. I threw half of them away. I've got about 70 songs that I ... I've got about 70 songs and about 50 of them haven't been on plastic.

PM: Well, that still oughta keep you going for quite a while.

BW: Yeah, it will, it will. I keep sortin' 'em out and weedin' 'em down.


Rock & roll & The Rocks

PM: Do you like getting up on stage? Is it real comfortable for you?

BW: Yeah, yeah. I was a little shaky the first time I got on stage, but by the third time I was pretty well calmed down. I was doing all right.

PM: So this is your true calling, then?

BW: I think it is. I think of rock and roll as the new church. I thought about that years ago.

PM: What do you mean by that?

BW: In other words, I think it talks about what's real, as far as, like, you can wish and get it no matter what it is, anybody can do this unless there's something really pressing you by the karma or something, karma really getting down on you and won't let you have what you want, but most people, if they wish for something, they get it.

PM: Well, some of them do, anyway.

BW: Lots of 'em, I think the majority of 'em do. I mean, like, it's a long struggle and you get into a dream and then, all of a sudden, you make it and your dream's fulfilled. And you have to deal with that because it puts a new spark of light upon you.


Mick

PM: Do you think of yourself as a real rock & roller?

BW: Mick has a song, it says, "Don't ever let success go to your head." I think it's "Tops" on the Some Girls album. "Don't ever let success go to your head," and I believe that. There was some times when I coulda thought I was a big star or something, just playing nightclubs, and I just knew that something wrong would happen sooner or later if I did it. Well, the band ... one guy left the band, that was bad enough, but maybe that's what it was and it happened anyway. I sometimes like to think I'm a star, you know, that I'm a star ... that, I think I need the right music. If I just had the right music, I think my lyrics and melodies would go places.

PM: Do you think The Rocks are the right band for you?

BW: Well, the name is alright ...

PM: But the name could be anybody.

BW: God, D.C. talent! Well, I'm D.C. talent, you know, so who am I to complain?

PM: Do you play any instruments yourself?

BW: I used to play bass and guitar, but I never went too far with either one of them. I never got that good on either one of them.

PM: What kind of music do you usually listen to?

BW: Top forty, like ... Some of my favorite stuff is Foreigner, The Stones, Bob Seger. They used to be my three favorite groups about five, six years ago. They were really ... well, Mick didn't do anything till Tattoo You came out, like, he took off for a while, said he retired, then came back with an album. (laughs)

PM: Is that Mick Jagger or Mick Jones?

BW: No, Mick Jagger. Who's Mick Jones?

PM: He's in Foreigner.

BW: I don't know anybody's name in Foreigner.

PM: I think they're all interchangeable anyway.


More medications; violent side

BW: I don't read very much. I have to take Cogentin and it blurs my eyes.

PM: What's that for?

BW: That's for a reaction on Prolixin, and the Prolixin's a drug that keeps me from getting violent.

JK: When's the last time you were violent?

BW: In '82.

PM: What'd you do?

BW: I tore up an apartment. ... (laughs) My apartment.

PM: Did they call the cops on you?

BW: No, nobody knew a thing 'cause there was shops downstairs and the guy across the hall was out. I broke the commode and it flooded the downstairs guitar shop, all over his guitars, and the firemen broke in and, uh ... what the hell did they say? And the cops came in and all. I just sorta ducked out after a while when they started talkin'.

PM: They said they ain't giving you a birthday present this year.

BW: I told 'em it was somebody else and I was drunk. That I came home drunk at twelve, two in the morning that night before, drunk, and when I woke up, this is what the place looked like. (laughs)

PM: And they fell for that?

BW: Yeah, I didn't give 'em any alternative. They said, "Come on, come on, were you scared?" And I said, "No, I was sleeping." (laughs)

PM: It just happened ...

BW: It was definitely an assailant's brutality.

PM: Some anti-guitar fairies came in the middle of the night and clogged up the toilet for you.


More on Rocks

PM: Were both your bands called The Rocks?

BW: They would have been if we had continued to play.

PM: So these groups never really got off the ground?

BW: No, never got off the ground. I had these guys together and they wanted to get paid for practice. (laughs) I laughed.

PM: That's kind of a dead end.

BW: That's the fastest dead end I ever heard of.


His albums

PM: Where'd you come up with those album titles? Those are pretty great album titles.

BW: Forthcomings came to me almost ... it took me about six months to think it up. I thought of some other names, like Authentic Rock.

PM: Yeah, I think Forthcomings was a better choice. Of is a pretty great title, also. Where'd that come from?

BW: It means "to belong to." I definitely thought that sound should belong in plastic. It was a sacrifice, right? I sacrificed my money. I knew it wouldn't go very far, but those who heard it and saw the title of it would realize something about it. If they understood the title and heard the stuff, you know, it's simplicity! It's just something simple and, like, that's the only way I can play anyway.

PM: What's your intention for the Rocks? How far do you really expect it to go?

BW: I expect to get national reviews, recognition, you know, whatever, be a star hit. I distributed the other ones myself, but I'm gonna get a label this time. If I don't get a label, I'm not putting it out.

PM: So you're not going to sink all your dough into it?

BW: No, no, I've spent $10,000 on what I've got already, and I've gotten like $600 back, with $600 more coming. Hopefully $600 coming back. That'll about do it for all of it.

PM: It's pretty hard to make a living that way.

BW: Yeah, I actually thought I could sell 10,000, but you know, like, I didn't even get off my butt and send it anywhere until four months after I had it.

PM: Pretty tough to do business that way.

BW: I just had a thousand copies sittin' down here doing nothing.

PM: Must have made you sick to look at 'em all the time.

BW: Mmmm ... a little bit. I mean, I'd sell 'em to the radio stations, but as far as gettin' 'em on the market, that's another story. I mean, there's so many distributors, you know, I couldn't pick out a distributor.


Throat guitar

PM: Tell me about this throat guitar. Where did that idea come from? Did you think that up or did he think that up?

BW: Somebody thought that up and it's gettin' some attention. I'm giving it attention.

PM: It's a great idea.

BW: You know, it is on an album. It's on Forthcomings.

PM: Did Al think this up on his own and come to you and say, "I wanna play throat guitar"?

BW: Yeah, he went to Joe Lee (Butch's drummer and bandleader).

PM: So he heard you play and liked it and thought he could do something?

BW: I think he was willing to do something with almost any band that would put him on plastic. He doesn't care about the money as much as he cares about the fame, but that'll wear off. I've had my share of fame with no money. I want both or nothing. I mean, you can sell junk and get famous, you know? Maybe that's not true, they'll always think of you as junk then, but what the hell, you'll be famous. (laughs)

PM: Gettin' your name in the paper ain't that hard. Just go out and kill someone and you'll be famous.

BW: Right!

PM: (chopping throat) But this hurts. I've tried doing this, and it hurts.

BW: Oh man, if you hit yourself hard enough, it hurts. He goes like that, you know, and like that.

PM: Does he do it real soft or something? I can't get any sound if I do it soft.

BW: I think so, I think so. He has a talent for it.

PM: Must have a strong neck, is what.

BW: He has a talent for it, man.

JK: What'd you think the first time you met Al and saw him do that?

BW: I thought he was pretty good. I said, "Joe, c'mon, you're kidding me." (laughs) No, you know, I said, that's pretty good, you know. ...


Computer programmer, homeowner

PM: So you're not working, you don't have a job now, but what are some of the jobs you have had?

BW: I've been a heavy equipment operator, in college. I was taking accounting and computers, but they don't even use NC COBOL anymore, it's a whole new language, you know?

JK: Didn't you work at a 7-11?

BW: Yeah, I worked at a 7-11.

JK: What was that like?

BW: I worked there when I lived in my house. I used to own a house.

JK: What happened to that?

BW: I sold it.

JK: How long did you own it for?

BW: Oh, a year I stayed there. I owned the thing for five years. I rented it to foster homes, 'cause it had a lot of bedrooms and I gave 'em a real cheap price and they tore the place up, so I didn't get that much for it. I got like $15,000 profit.

JK: You rented them to foster homes?

BW: Yeah.

JK: Did you live there at the time?

BW: No, no. I had a commune in there when I worked at the 7-11.

PM: What were some of the people like in that commune?

BW: We didn't have any orgies or anything like that. I once filled one of the guys' room with balloons while he was sleeping. Blown-up balloons, and just packed the room full of 'em and closed the door. (laughs)

JK: What happened?

BW: I swear that's never been done before.

JK: You must have had at least one more great adventure in that house.

BW: Oh, yeah -- Sandy. (laughs) One great adventure. Had a couple of others, too, but they were on the heavy side. Ain't really worth mentioning.

PM: Sandy liked to do things with balloons, huh?

BW: Sandy wanted to sleep in my bed with me, and I told her to sleep downstairs in another room, 'cause I didn't want her crawling out of bed in the middle of the night and screwing some other dude in the house.

PM: So you let her do it right from the start.

BW: She burned herself, she put the bed on fire after a while, then she booked herself into a hospital. (laughs)

PM: It's a good thing it wasn't your bed she set on fire.

BW: Really. She might have burnt me up if I'd been there. I should have been ... uh, what's that called? Chauvinist? I should've been less of a chauvinist, let her sleep with me, to hell with her midnight stomp.

PM: So does the medication keep you from working?

BW: No. I'm basically allergic to work.

PM: I'm all for that. Good job if you can get away with it.

BW: I used to work with heavy equipment like bulldozers and a scraper pan. A Caterpillar, you know? The worst thing that ever happened to me was I had the right side of the pan next to a 200-foot drop, and I couldn't see over the edge to see how close I was. And I got one eye, so that makes it a little hard to judge distance. And I'm sittin' up there boogyin' this thing and behind me the bulldozer guy says, "You're gonna go over! You're gonna go over!" I said, "Son of a bitch!" I jumped out of the pan and, you know, it stopped as soon as my foot went off the gas and it just sat there.


Horsebreaking

BW: I've ridden horses, thoroughbreds. I was an exercise boy on a farm. That was about two years after the heavy equipment thing.

PM: What was that like?

BW: It was great, except when we started breaking horses and one of 'em broke me.

PM: How so?

BW: Well, I couldn't get my feet in the stirrups 'cause the person giving me the lift was liftin' me wrong, was liftin' me way up high like this while the stirrup was down here. And I told her and told her and she said, "You do it or I'll fire you! Yeah, I'll tell Sonny!" Sonny was the man that hired me.

PM: So what happened?

BW: I got up there and there was no ... my feet weren't in the stirrups and he started jumpin' around and everything. So I said, Let him go, you know, and I stuck his head out the window, 'cause we were breaking 'em in an indoor shed and I stuck his head out the window, then I pulled it back in and got off of him. So next time we do it, she gives me the real high leg up there and I'm up there with no stirrups and I let him go, you know? They let him go and away he went, man, and I didn't have my feet in my stirrups. And I was doin' alright 'til we got to the turn, 'cause he could take the turn or go out the door. So I took the turn and I tried to jump off at the turn and my foot got stuck in the reins so I fell down on the ground and he kicked me in the head, and stepped on my chest.

PM: Must've hurt like hell.

BW: God! I went to the hospital. He said, "You wanna go to the hospital?" I said, "Shit, yes! I probably got a broken rib." They said there were some slight cracks, but nothing to worry about.

PM: How was your head?

BW: He kicked me here and I had a black eye in this eye. You know, just like a "Z" right through there. Right through my nose, from the weight. And I'm lucky I didn't ... I did pass out for like one, two seconds.


Lost eye

PM: How'd you lose your eye?

BW: Chopping wood with a wedge and a hammer.

PM: When was that?

BW: I was 14, just going on 15 ... no, yeah, I was 14 about ... I guess it was in '68 it was.

PM: Big bloody mess?

BW: No, not really. It filled up with blood on the inside. They took it out and then I was playing basketball about six months later and somebody hit me in the eye with their thumb. That made a retina detachment. So I couldn't be a jockey, and I couldn't be an air force pilot, so I started doing drugs and became a musician. (laughs)

PM: Wasn't that more fun anyway?

BW: Yeah. You starve more.

PM: The pay ain't much.

BW: The pay ain't much at first.


Elvis' sweat

PM: You were saying that you were a big Elvis fan when you were a kid. The other day was the anniversary of his death.

BW: Yeah, they had something at Joe's store. They put on television about ... he was showing the wine and everything and the sweat.

PM: He had some of Elvis's sweat?

BW: Yeah.

PM: Is Elvis's sweat authenticated? Have they proven that it's actually Elvis's sweat? I'd be skeptical myself. Anyone could sweat and call it Elvis's sweat.

BW: Elvis's sweat. That made me wonder about whatever, the press ... (laughs)

PM: Did you go on to the Beatles after Elvis?

BW: I was sort of a Beatles fan, but I was more of a Mick Jagger fan. I was more into, like, smoking dope and looking at black walls, you more, more like psych ... I liked almost every psychedelic song that came out in the late sixties.

PM: What were some of your favorites?

BW: I can't remember the names of 'em or who did 'em, I just used to hear 'em on the radio and say, "Damn! That's gold!"


Butch

PM: So, Butch: is that name short for something? Like Butcher?

BW: What is?

PM: That name -- Butch.

BW: No. Byron's my real name.

PM: So where'd you get the name Butch from?

BW: They nicknamed me that, when I was that tall. When I could crawl, you know, they nicknamed me that.

PM: That's just what you've been called all the way up, huh?

BW: Yeah.


Dream date with Debbie

PM: So, let's see, who would be your dream date?

BW: Blondie.

PM: Debbie Blondie? What would you do with her on a dream date? Where would you take her?

BW: Oh man, I'd have to take her to Florida. Try and find a boardwalk.

PM: Yeah, take a moonlight drive. So if you had a vanity plate -- you know, a license plate where you get to say anything you want on it -- what would you put on it?

BW: "Butch" or "Rocks," one or the other.

PM: You could have two cars. Or one car with "Butch" in front and "Rocks" on the back.


Not John Travolta

PM: So who would you get to play your life story in the movies? Who do you think would be the best person to play your life story?

BW: The best person to play my life story? I don't know too many actors. Uh ... TV or movies? Damn. I'll tell ya, it wouldn't be John Travolta. I'll tell ya, it wouldn't be John Travolta, you can say that.

PM: Alrighty. Through process of elimination, we're really whittlin' it down. John Travolta. ... Well, we can skip that question. ... So what do you think about when the lights go out? What goes through your mind when you're just lying there?

BW: Freedom!

PM: What sort of freedom do you mean?

BW: Spiritual freedom.

PM: Is that something you feel a lack of in your life?

BW: No, no.

PM: Do you feel you have your spiritual freedom?

BW: Yeah, I feel spiritually lucky.

PM: That's pretty good. Not everyone can say that.

BW: A lot of 'em can say that.

PM: Well, it depends who you ask.


Out of body

BW: They say everything else. (laughs) I feel spiritually free you know, like when the lights go out. Really makes me think of dying, you know? It's like you're closer to the other side when there aren't any lights on, than you are when there's lights on.

PM: You find that frightening at all?

BW: No, no. I've seen ... I once saw my brother and his wife in the daytime, right up in the air, right above my door and my bed was against the window, you know? And I was laying there facing the door and I saw my brother and his wife there and it freaked me out. It scared me 'cause, like, it was a real ghost, in color.

PM: And they're not even dead. So what do you think that meant? What did you make of that experience?

BW: I'm not sure what it meant. I'm really not sure.

PM: Did you tell your brother about this story?

BW: No, I told ... who'd I tell about that? I told Root Boy (Slim).


Root Boy

PM: So tell me about Root Boy. Where do you know him from?

BW: My brother introduced us.

PM: Was he living in the commune with you?

BW: No. He's like somebody ... do you know who he is?

PM: A little bit. I've heard a few of his records.

BW: Well, he's like six years older than me, or something like that. We just lived together for a while. He needed a place to live and I wanted something I could have for an ego trip. (laughs)

PM: How was he an ego trip?

BW: Well, it's just an ego trip just to know him, if you like his music or whatever. I think he's got more talent than most people give him credit for.

JK: How long did you live with him?

BW: A year. One year.

JK: What was that like?

BW: It was alright. He'd give me drugs and things like that. Gave me the rent money one day and said, "Don't spend it," and I spent it on coke. He came home and says, "Where's the rent money?" and I said I spent it on coke. He started going, "You did what? Goddammit, get that money!" So I called up my parents and said someone stole the money from me, could I have $200? And they said OK. (laughs)

PM: You pulled a fast one on them.

BW: Yeah. I was always pulling fast ones on them.

PM: Maybe you should keep your voice down.

BW: They know about it. I done told her by now.

JK: What are some of the other things that happened living with Root Boy Slim?

BW: Well, one day he brought me home some MDA, so I wouldn't snort his coke. (laughs)

PM: How did you like the MDA?

BW: It was great, but I still wanted some coke. I was a real coke freak. I went for about two, three years addicted to coke.


Coke detox

PM: How'd you get off that?

BW: Rolled around on the floor and cried.

PM: For a couple days?

BW: Oh, about 45 minutes.

JK: Tell us about some of your live performances.

BW: Well ... one time, I drank two beers before the show and smoked some dope and I couldn't remember any of my lines. And I said, that's the last time I let that happen, and I've always gone on clean ever since. I can't sing and do drugs at the same time, not even a beer ... or nothing. I gotta be straight, otherwise, whatever comes down upon you when you sing gets me in its bag. I get bagged.

PM: I hear ya.

BW: (laughs)


Indecent joke

PM: So, you know any good jokes?

BW: No, not really.

PM: Know any lousy ones?

BW: Yeah, what's the definition of ... what is this? Do you know what I'm talking about?

PM: Not yet.

BW: What's the definition of "indecent"?

PM: No idea.

BW: It's in hard, it's in deep, it's indecent.

PM: Uh-huh.

BW: That's an old joke.

PM: It's a gooder, it's a gooder.


Golf

PM: What else do you wanna talk about?

BW: I used to play a little bit of golf.

PM: What was your handicap. Besides taking the club in your hand?

BW: They had to give me thirty points handicap! For nine holes, I'd do about 80.

PM: Yeah, that's about mine. I'll play ya sometime.

BW: I went out with Root Boy, he creamed me.

PM: Is he a good player?

BW: Yeah, he's good at golf. But, "The Radio Rocks Me," that should be my next hit, or "Every Time I See Her," or ... well, any of those four songs that's gonna be on there. Maybe all of 'em'll be a hit. I hope so. That's what I'm planning on.


Butch's songs

PM: Are they commercial?

BW: Yeah, I think. I'm buying this music I know is commercial music, but if I can't buy it and I use my band, lead guitar, my band, it might not be ... I'll just have to make it commercial.

JK: What was your favorite song from Forthcomings?

BW: That's hard. "TVs From Outer Space."

JK: What's that song mean to you?

BW: It means I'm pumping sense into somebody's brain.

PM: Right on, daddy.

BW: Root Boy told me my songs didn't make any sense 'cause they didn't rhyme. I looked at it and right there, 1-2 lines, it rhymed. He's on Prolixin and he's worse than I am. I mean, he's a psycho.


Booing openers

BW: I plan on getting a tour, really, from this EP. You know, getting a tour opening up for someone really big like, uh, Bruce Springsteen, but he never has any openers. He doesn't like the competition.

PM: Well, that'd be a good start.

BW: Well, somebody like, uh ... what's that guy? John Cougar. Johnny Cougar? Somebody like that or, uh ... never the Stones.

PM: Why not?

BW: Man, they get booed out every time.

PM: Who? The Stones?

BW: The opening band, the opening band. Nobody wants to hear the opening band for Mick Jagger.

PM: They just want him?

BW: Yeah, that's what they want.

PM: Those impatient kids.

BW: I oughtta know, I went to see 'em and booed the first boo at the band. (laughs) The whole damn crowd did it. The whole damn crowd did it, man, freaked me out. I said, Goddamn, what'd I do?

PM: That was without no megaphone, neither.

BW: Right, right.

PM: The power of the human voice. What's the sound of one voice booing?

BW: Oh, God. I never shoulda admitted that.

JK: Mick's gonna read that and be pretty upset.


Selling songs to Mick

BW: I sent him a letter once.

PM: Yeah? What'd you say?

BW: I said I'd like to sell you these two songs, "Short Steps" and "I Wanna Be A Rock And Roll Star." You can buy either one you want, all I want's five cents a copy. Then I said, I know I'm crazy to try and sell these things to you, but if you wanna do a song with your own lyrics, just do "Wendy Maine."

JK: You want him to record that?

BW: I wanted him to do his own version of it, with his own lyrics, just use that for the hook. I don't think he ever will.

PM: What'd he say to that?

BW: He never contacted me back, never sent a letter, never called.

PM: The cad.


Meeting the Boss

JK: Did you talk to anyone in the big leagues?

BW: I talked to Bruce Springsteen.

PM: No.

BW: Yeah, Joe Lee got ahold of him 'cause he knows his bass player.

PM: What'd he have to say?

BW: He said, send me a tape and I'll send it to CBS for ya, I'll take it there myself.

JK: I see you cut out Lydia Lunch's picture. You like that?

BW: Yeah, it brightens up my wall.


Song-by-song

JK: What are some of the songs about?'ll We throw out a song title and you tell us what they're about in one sentence.

BW: Yeah.

JK: "Louie Tonight."

BW: "Louie Tonight" was inspired by a guitar player, just jammin'. He started jammin' this riff, and I started throwing out the words. And when we got done, I went and got a pencil and paper and wrote everything down that I had sang. I'd like to say it's a take-off from "Louie, Louie."

JK: It's better than "Louie, Louie."

BW: I don't know if it's better than "Louie, Louie." It could be just as good.

PM: What about "Girl's On My Mind"? Is that a true story?

BW: Yeah. I walked about 300 yards and said, "Well, that's it for today, I got the song." (laughs) I'm more interested in music than women.

JK: "Kitty Kat."

BW: "Kitty Kat," oh boy. Should I throw away my shield? (laughs)

JK: What shield you talkin' about?

BW: Like on Deep Purple? What's the name of that with the chessboard on it?

PM: I dunno.

BW: Oh, something ... Deep Purple ... I can't remember the title of the album, but it's a Deep Purple song. Father trust in the shield and the pipe.

JK: "Be The 23rd Rocker."

BW: That's about ... I call her Sheila. Ray Wallace calls her Sheba. Well, anyway, everybody wants to fuck her. (laughs)

PM: Twenty-two of 'em did?

BW: No, no. I don't know. Twenty-two of 'em did.

JK: "Wendy Maine."

BW: "Wendy Maine," that's about a girl, the last girl I had a thing for, or the last one that had a thing for me, or whatever. "Wendy Maine"'s about ... it's just about a girl, what she's like, you know, "she's got a hot spot, she's got brain on the knee." (laughs) You know, "got her in the back seat of a car, we didn't drive fast and we didn't drive far."

PM: That's great.

JK: "Drugs."

BW: "Drugs," it's hard to say 'cause I didn't write all of that one. The hook was written by Wilson Fish, and that's the only collaboration I've ever had. He just wrote the hook and I wrote all the rest.

JK: What's the hook?

BW: "Drugs'll do it to ya, rock rock rock."

JK: Who's Wilson Fish?

BW: He lives in Tacoma Park. He's a roofer.

JK: Incredible. How about "Rock And Roll Told"?

BW: "Rock And Roll Told" is one of my more favorite songs. It's one I wrote more toward the later part of my writings. "Rock And Roll Told" is like ... well, it's almost a pile of words, but yet it doesn't really say anything much. It says, "you're under the stars, you're searchin', searchin' for something good, tired of the clowns, you wanna go underground ..." Maybe rock and roll will tell on you if you do all this. But rock and roll told, it told what's happening is what it means. It told, it told the news! I mean, you know, it's political, it's racial, it's drug-minded ...

PM: "Hey, hey, we're The Rocks."

BW: Yeah, that's our encore song. It's not very good for an encore song, but it's something.

PM: You should open with that one.

BW: I like to open with "The Garden's Outside." I'm gonna be superstitious and say that's my superstition. Gotta always open with that song.


Hierarchy

JK: What's your favorite adult experience?

BW: My favorite adult experience. I only get one?

JK: Two.

BW: Two. (laughs) My favorite adult experience. Well, I'd rather write a song than do coke, but I think I'd rather do coke than ball a girl.

PM: I'd say you were establishing your hierarchy.

BW: Yeah.

PM: Write a song, do coke and ball, in that order.

BW: Really. A little music. I can go without the music. I'm almost sick of music anymore.

PM: So did you grow up in this area?

BW: I grew up in this place.

PM: A Marylander.


Kim & Dawn

JK: Have any of your neighbors or the people you grew up with heard your music?

BW: Uh, yeah, my next-door neighbor's got a copy of both. And I gave a couple copies to two girls down the street here that I grew up with. They got 'em. One of 'em said she didn't listen to that kind of music, and she hadn't even opened it. Kim and Dawn. Fucked 'em both.


Butch Willis/Butch Willis & The Rocks: Discography

"I'll Never Be The Same Again"
(recorded by Buddy Raye; from Hollywood Sessions (HS-002); Sunrise; compilation LP; c.1980)
Butch as a song-poem lyricist.

"The Garden's Outside"/"I'll Never Be The Same Again"
(Love; 45; 1983)
Both sides are from Of.

Of
(Love; LP; 1983)

Forthcomings
(Love; LP; 1986)

Shopping Bag
(TeenBeat; 7" EP; 1990)
Three songs from Conquering The Ice sessions, plus acoustic solo version of "TVs From Outer Space" performed during WMUC radio interview.

"Falling In Love"
(from TeenBeat 100; TeenBeat; 7" compilation EP; 1993)
Butch recorded a capella at American University.

"The 23rd Rocker"
(from TeenBeat 50; TeenBeat/Matador; compilation CD; 1993)
Butch solo on acoustic guitar and vocals; the one non-Rocks song intended for Conquering The Ice.

Repeats
(TeenBeat; CD; 1994)
Entirety of Forthcomings (from master tape), and all of Of (dubbed from a record) minus two songs (both of which originally appeared on Of in two alternate versions); "I'll Never Be The Same Again," from Of, was re-recorded for Repeats in an a capella version.

Conquering The Ice
(TeenBeat; CD; 1995)
13 songs recorded in three sessions between February 1987 and May 1990.

Speedballs
(TeenBeat; 7" EP; 1996)
Six songs recently recorded with The Rocks.
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