AUDIObiography©  
Interviews with Blues Artists on the Records That Move Them

Blues Artists discuss the recordings throughout their lives that impacted them deeply. A sound biography, as it were. 

In this column called AUDIObiography©, take a glimpse into the listening life of musical artists from first memories until the present. We’re including YouTube links for easy access to each of the artist’s choices. Enjoy listening to each and every record as our interviewee recollects songs that earmark significant times of his or her life! 


BILLY FLYNN

      Our second installment of AUDIObiography©, dear reader, features the memories and musings of multi-instrumentalist Billy Flynn. One of the hardest working men in the blues, Billy is an active member of no less than three successful bands: Cash Box Kings, Kim Wilson’s Blues Review and Mark Hummel’s Blues Survivor’s. He is also a longtime instructor for the Chicago Blues Camp sponsored by our bBlues Note publisher Chicago Blues Network. Check out Billy’s instructional videos and register for lessons at the camp….

            As a freelance guitarist, Flynn is one of the go-to guys in all of Chicago blues; heard on dozens of recordings of notable artists and can be seen sitting-in live with dozens of blues ensembles. He is also a prolific recording artist in his own right having written and waxed many cds under his own leadership. His self-produced cds capture the raw sound of early recordings in their simplicity but they are magnificently mixed and evocative of great blues records of old… not to mention his all surf-instrumental music offering of originals that capture the spirit of the late ‘50s-early ‘60s West Coast surf band sound in all its glory. For a down home blues guy, Billy Flynn has a w-i-d-e sound palette.

        Let’s take a trip with Billy down his record listening path and see what we come across in his AUDIObiography©.

      PETER M. HURLEY: Hey, Billy, so glad for you to join me here. I mentioned in my last column that you regarded Oscar Wilson as the “human juke box” but I think it takes one to know one. You, too, are well versed in music recording history and I’m going to love hearing some of it during our interview.

      BILLY FLYNN: Well, I’ll be glad to go there. Music is my life as far back as I can remember.

      PMH: Great. And as far back as you can remember, what was your first audio memory of a record or performance?

      FLYNN: Well it had to be Elvis, probably in ’56. [See Elvis on Ed Sullivan Show, click here

I remember distinctly the buzz around the house about this performance on tv as it was coming up or as it was happening. What made it even more heightened was that someone in our house was sick that night and there was a sense of urgency with a doctor in our house. What I can’t remember was whether it was me or my older brother who was sick! 

But I heard Elvis one way or another and it struck me in some place that stayed with me, made a lasting impression on me.

     PMH: Wow. Perhaps it was you who was feverish and in a hyper-state of awareness or receptiveness or something!

     FLYNN: (Laughs) Yes, maybe because of a fever.

     PMH: That is so notable. I’m intrigued by the personal nature of music experience; different for everyone. As time went on and you listened more, what was a song that stands out as one that you could relate to in those personal terms?

FLYNN: There was one by Eddie Arnold that I love, “Make The World Go Away.” [Listen to the song here]

I could identify with that simple emotion of him pining for a love that once was…

“Do you remember when you loved me — before the world took me astray?” Such poignancy in the simple lyrics and tune. I think this really inspired my songwriting and I would maybe take a phrase or a feeling and expand on it in my own way. An example of that was the Albert Collins song, “Master Charge.” [Listen to the song here]

It inspired my song “$200 Dresses.” He had a line “She had $200 dresses that I coulda made – and I can’t sew!” Great stuff.

      PMH: When did the voice first strike you as a unique and powerful instrument in particular? The strength of a vocal being the true essence of a song?
 

      FLYNN: Well, Elvis, of course. I loved Elvis’s voice. And Chubby Checker’s. [Listen to Chubby Checker “Let’s Twist Again” here] That sax shuffle underpinning with his vocals riding the top; that really worked for me. Then there was Ricky Nelson. A great singer doesn’t need to have amazing chops, as long as they serve the song. That can make a singer great. Ricky had that.

Oh, I can I can’t forget Louis Armstrong, those pop songs he covered in the ‘60s and ‘70s like Hello Dolly.” [Listen to the song here]
     PMH: (Laughs) That’s an unusual group of singers that you choose. That would make quite a quartet. You do have your eclectic faves, this is great. Moving along from vocals, what was a record that you loved in sheer sound terms, one that took you to another place?
    FLYNN: There was a strange and beautiful record called “Stranger On The Shore” [Listen to the song herethat did that for me. By a guy named Acker Bilk. It always sounded to me, even hearing it as a child, that this was tune that might make an old person cry. It was moving to me in that way.

      PMH: I remember those instrumental oddities mixed into with TOP 40 rockers in those days. The charts could include absolutely everything from The Drifters to Bo Diddley to novelty numbers like “Please Mr. Custer” to The Percy Faith Orchestra to… Acker Bilk. 

      FLYNN: Yes, and each region of the country might be different as well. In every town we had our own disc jockeys and they weren’t all playing the same records. I grew up in Green Bay and there was a vital music scene in the old ‘60s. The Packers used to come into town after the games and they’d congregate in a music club that much later became a blues club where I first met Jimmy Dawkins… but that’s another story.

      PMH: Good, I’d I’d like to go down your personal Blues Trail in another edition. When you did get a little older, was there a song that became “your song” between you and a love interest? 

      FLYNN: That would be the Spinner’s song “Could It be We’re Falling in Love.” [Listen to the song here]  My wife and I shared that for the feelings we had for each other in our early courtship. We were also digging a Bill Dogget record together called OOPS! That really swings.

       PMH: Nice. Another question that I love to ask musicians in particular: What recording session would you like to have attended and/or participated in?

       FLYNN: Any Chess Record session recorded at Universal Studios. Those mid-‘50s sessions produced at Universal Recording by Bill Putnam. [See a video about the gear at Universal Recording here] He was a genius and he created that Chess Record sound before they even moved to 2120 S. Michigan Ave. In fact, for every label he produced, he created a different sound for that label. If you listen to his VEE JAY artists, like Jimmy Reed, he creates a sound for them unlike the Chess “echo.” He later helped re-construct the Chess Sound at Chess Studio for the producers that followed. But I’d have loved to be in the room at Universal when Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Little Walter were in there. 

       PMH: Here, here. That was a magic period of recording arts. If you coulda/woulda, what song do you wish you wrote?

    FLYNN: I’m not one to wish I would have been that guy, but a record to me that has it all is Memphis Slim’s “Every Day I Have The Blues.” [Listen to the song here]

The universality of its message and the longevity of that song speaks for itself.

       PMH: And what record inspired you to pick up the guitar and pluck along with it?

      FLYNN: Two of ‘em. Two guitarists, or two ways of playing, have informed my guitar development; The Ventures and Chuck Berry. [Listen to Chuck Berry here] There are the single note runs by The Venture’s lead man and the driving percussive sound, the “chunk and chank,” of the Venture’s Don Wilson… and then there’s the double stop “bump sound” of the Chuck Berry style. Both of these styles are derived from non-guitar sounds before them. In Berry you hear the influence of the piano styles of Meade Lux Lewis and Pete Johnson who would plank two notes very close together to create a sound (more a sum of the parts.) And The Ventures explored more of a sustaining sound. Check out “Walk Don’t Run” [Listen to the song here] for a symphonic combination of sound. But, you know The Ventures were kind of recreating a big band sound in their early days with just guitars. They would play pop standards enjoyed by older folks before they evolved into a rock and roll band. 

      Also the sustained note sound of both B.B. King and Albert King have had a huge impression on me. 

      PMH: Another favorite question: A guilty pleasure?

      FLYNN: Well there was a record that my daughter used to turn up when it came on that she called “The Come-a Come-a Song.” It was “Karma Chameleon” by Boy George and Culture Club.  [Listen to the song here] I ended up liking that record. And the whole album was good. The production was amazing, with flutes and all kinds of instrumentation. It wasn’t just raw rock or anything like that, it was very interesting and all the players are extremely good. 

      PMH: Yeah, how did the Brits come up with so many eclectic versions of r&b influenced music and sound-making? 

      FLYNN: I think the English must have the best ear pallet in the world. From where they are positioned on the globe, they get to hear the best of everything. And as far as blues went, it wasn’t just Clapton and Richards who were into the blues. Duane Eddy [Listen here] was big over there, perhaps more than here, and he had a lot of bluesy stuff going on in his work.

      PMH: Record with the best guitar sound? 

    FLYNN: Hmmm. The albums “Fast Fingers” [Listen here] and “All For Business” [Listen here] by Jimmy Dawkins, both on Delmark Records. Jimmy was my mentor and I could go on and on. [Buy the album on Delmark.com here]

      PMH: What are your favorite one hit wonders from back in the day?

 

      FLYNN: Well, almost everyone I liked were one hit wonders or no hit wonders. (Laughs). You remember “Venus” by Shocking Blue [Listen to the song here]. I kinda liked that. Never heard from them again.

      PMH: Yeah, that was played everywhere. I just read an obscure footnote that it was from a brief movement of Dutch Rock called Nederbeat. If you had to pick a song to represent the best of a genre, if you had only one song to turn someone on to Blues Jazz, C&W, rock, etc. what would it be?

    FLYNN: For Blues, Muddy’s “Can’t Get No Grindin’.”  [Listen to the song here] This is so powerful and there’s so much going on in the record.

      PMH. Nice. I’d like to hear more about those guys.

      FLYNN: In R&B, a Tyrone Davis record, [Listen here] for sure. 

Rock: Any Santana record. “Evil Ways” [Listen hereis a good one.

Country: Ned’s Miller’s “From A Jack to A King” [Listen here] represents the best of the genre. 

A friend of my Dad’s gave us about 10 records or so when I was a kid. I think this must have kick-started my joy of collecting and developing a wide range of tastes.

      PMH: Yes, a wide range of tastes and emotions. When you’re sad or happy, what is the most likely record you’re moved to listen to for each.

      FLYNN: For sadness, nothing can do it like goin’ deep down into some blues with lines like “There’s something inside me, won’t let me be” Can’t get more down. 

       For upbeat and joyous, Tyrone Davis or James Brown. [Listen here

You can’t not move when hearing them.

     PMH: Well, thanks so much for being a part of our AUDIObiography© series, Billy. I’ve enjoyed going down some of the less travelled paths. And we’ve only scratched the surface. I’d like to follow up with an exploration of your blues recording awareness someday as well. 

     FLYNN: Glad to oblige and thanks for your interest. 

-Peter M. Hurley / June, 2022.
Photo © Peter M. Hurley

Mr. Hurley is a contributing photographer and writer for Living Blues Magazine and the staff photographer for Chicago Blues Network. His recent book Blues Legacy: Tradition and Innovation in Chicago, in collaboration with Blues historian and author David Whiteis, showcases his work in the field. His passion for blues music began with a 6th grade dance party discovery of Bo Diddley which led to Little Walter, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and so on. It continues to this day. Visit Peter’s Website here.