Interview with Bill Madison

April 13, 2016

Interview with Bill Madison

Bill Madison’s privately pressed album “Sunday Mornin’ Hayride” has recently received some attention – being included in the new “Cosmic American Music” compilation by the Numero Group as well as listed as one of the “50 lost singer-songwriter albums” in Flashback Magazine. The interested in the album is not without good reason as it is an excellent manifestation of ‘70s rural singer-songwriter music. Bill Madison draws inspiration from many different directions and on the album he incorporates jazz, country and downer folk in an interesting blend, creating a range of expressions – from haunted and moody singer-songwriter tunes to uptempo country folk. Below is an interview with Bill Madison regarding the album and the music he created in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

You have previously said that your musical career started out by playing in Folk clubs in the Boston, Montreal and New York City area. Could you tell us a little bit about that time? Were there any specific folk venues that you played in?
Bob Dylan changed the musical climate during the early 60’s. As did the Newport Folk Festival. It seemed the acoustic guitar was the instrument of the day. Even the Beatles had a major influence in the changing styles of music. At that time I had a band called the Loose Ends and we covered the Beatles, the Stones, the Kinks and most music from the British Invasion. There was a feeling of being liberated – a focus on the more abstract elements of life – a change in the traditions that proceeded the time.
When I moved to Boston in 1967, the Folk revival was in full swing. There were several coffee houses on Charles St. at the base of Beacon Hill – a very old and esoteric area with a lot of antique charm, etc.
They were; The Turk’s Head, The Sword In The Stone, The Loft and there were coffee houses starting up in churches as well. Plenty of places to play. Across the river in Cambridge was the Club 47 in Harvard Square. This is mostly where the musicians who were fortunate enough to have recordings (albums) would play. Guys like me never got hired to play because we were not that well known. They had an open mike on Sundays which I played at quite often.
I played in several basket houses in NYC. Basket houses were when you did a set, a basket was passed around to collect tips. There were some in Montreal as well. Eric Andersen and I became friends – he was also a major influence on my music at the time – during the summer of 1965, he invited me to play at an open mike at the Gaslight Café in Greenwich Village. On the bill that night was David Blue, Ritchie Havens, Bob Dylan, Eric Andersen and me! Next door was The Kettle Of Fish – a bar where everyone hung out. I had a nice conversation with Dylan over a beer there. Eric’s manager asked me if would stay on in the city and said he would manage me. At that time I was attending The University of Rhode Island and refused the offer – probably a mistake, but I have no regrets. After graduation in 1966, I took off to Montreal and from there ended up on a long road trip from there to Toronto, St Louis, Kansas City and ended up in Austin, Texas. I am now writing a book – still in progress called “Road Trip”and I have been publishing it in my blog – Bill Madison Music – where you can read a lot more about that time and era from my point of view. After that trip I moved to Boston and from there to Newburyport, Massachusetts.
Was it during this time you started to write music?
I actually started writing songs in college – I took a few courses in creative writing and actually graduated with a BA in Creative Writing.

Could you tell me a little bit about your early recordings together with Kenny Girard and Ed Richman (as “The Trio”)? Did you try to release those recordings?
As The Trio, we were fortunate to become quite popular and ended up with a manager in Boston and another in New York, who paid for the recording sessions that are the songs on The Trio recording that I released a few years ago. At that time, they served as demos that we took around to the labels trying to get signed without success. We were told that our music could not be fit into a saleable category – the word genre didn’t exist back then. This led to the birth of Sunday Mornin’ Hayride – a totally independent project. That was very unusual at the time but I was determined to record an album no matter what. I was always that way – if I couldn’t get it, I’d build it myself!

Kenny Girard and Bill Madison at Allen’s Diner in Newburyport.

Both of them also played on “Sunday Mornin’ Hayride”. How did you get to know each other?
We got to know each other as part of the Boston scene, although I knew Kenny from Rhode Island. He actually showed up at my door one morning – guitar in hand – ready to go to work!
“Sunday Mornin’ Hayride” was recorded in Newburyport. Why did you decide to move there?
I was looking for a change of scene and a place where the rents were cheaper. After visiting, I fell in love with the place. It was like a time capsule that kept it in the 1800’s somehow. A lot of antiquity and charm. It was a major shipbuilding port during the 1700’s – and during my time there, a lot of neat old buildings got restored and became shops and cool restaurants – where we ended up playing.
Bill performing during an open mike session at Stone Church in Newmarket, New Hampshire in 1971. Performing together with Bill that evening was Bob Frost (banjo) and Jeff Lind (upright bass). The song “Old House” from “Sunday Mornin’ Hayride” was recorded at the Stone Church. 

Could you describe the folk scene in Newburyport during that time?
It was blossoming! A lot of the folkies followed me to Newburyport. This led to a lot of collaborations and it became an artists’ colony as well. Last fall a multimedia presentation was created to commemorate the history of Newburyport. Here’s the YouTube video:
Could you tell me a little bit about how the recording of the album? Are there any particular moments that you would like to share?
I think the most amazing thing about recording the album was the ingenuity we had to employ just to record. Musicians in separate rooms playing simultaneously – the “miles” of mic cords going everywhere. Logistically it was quite a feat. And don’t forget, all the songs were live mixed – there was no post mixing. That we can thank Chris Biggi for – he was the recording engineer. He had quite an ear!
How was the album distributed?
By hand – I made copies available at various local record stores and sold copies from the stage while performing. There were only 1000 copies pressed. I’m amazed at how it became available practically around the world over the years.
Local newspaper ad for the release of “Sunday Mornin’ Hayride”

You have said that “I Don’t Know Why” was the most popular song on the album. Do you know why?
That song was the most requested when I was playing live. Even in later years, I would be asked to play it.
A favorite of many is “Buffalo Skinners”, which for me evokes a psychedelic feel. What are your thoughts about that song?
At the time I thought it was unusual to take an old traditional folk song and play it in a band setting. When I first brought it to the attention of the other musicians – while we were recording – most thought, why do you want to do that song? I said – hey let just try it! Low and behold the first take of the song is on Hayride.
There are some jazz influences on the album, e.g. “I Rather Be the Devil”. Where did those influences come from?
Mostly from Charlie Bechler who played piano on the album. His roots were deep in jazz and it certainly overflowed into the songs he played on.

How was the album received when released?
Very well. The Dennis Metrano review in the Boston Real Paper came almost immediately. And it sold steadily. I paid off the loans after a few months.

Dennis Metrano’s review ofthe album in The Real Paper, Oct. 1973. 

After the release of the album you formed Them Fargo Brothers. How did the music of Them Fargo Brothers differ from “Sunday Mornin’ Hayride”? How did you develop as a songwriter during this time?
The band happened so spontaneously and became a totally different direction. I moved to New Hampshire because of the band. We became almost instantly popular in the Northern New England ski resorts and we rode the wave with the “mechanical bull’ clubs that popped up in the late 70’s that increased our touring. We toured from New England to the south shore of New Jersey and as far west as upstate New York and Pennsylvania. I could write a book just on the stories about the band!
I wrote a few songs with our bass player Bill Rost for the band – but mostly we played covers. We had to in the places we were playing – covering Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, etc.
I wrote one song called “It’s Just Time” which we recorded as a demo and we did release a 45rpm record in 1982 called “Ain’t No UFO Gonna Catch My Diesel” which I wrote. Those songs are available on a release I put out called “The Studio Recordings” at my web site. 
Them Fargo Brothers in 1974.

I know that you’re still writing and recording music. What are your future plans?
To continue doing just that. I’m writing primarily to license songs however I can. And I enjoy streaming live on line with my Street Jelly show – Bill’s Happy Hour. There are more venues like that on line now to keep me busy! I also like creating albums which I will continue to do – hoping to sell some CD’s and downloads as I go. I’m doing that through my web sites – 
Please visit Arkivet Podcast– Psychedelic, Prog And Folk Music for more interesting articles by Martin Dahl.

Interview by Martin Dahl/2016
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