by Rick Landers.
Musician, entrepreneur, videographer, actor, biker, shooter and shark bait all define Billy Morrison, a man who lives life at maximum velocity. But, then it’s really tough to define a guy who stretches himself to the limit and changes each time he launches into a new high intensity experience.
As a musician, fans have rallied around Morrison since his days with the U.K. rock group, The Cult. Bassist Morrison would later form Doheny with former Pitchshifter vocalist JS Clayden and although the group got some initial traction and great press, it was Camp Freddy that got Billy working in the rock element that seems to serve his nature best. Morrison joined Camp Freddy with Dave Navarro, Matt Sorum, Donovan Lietch and Scott Ford, and the group would evolve to become a musical platform for staging a series of ad hoc supergroups. In time the band would be joined on stage by Ronny Wood (The Rolling Stones); Steven Tyler (Aerosmith); Ozzy Osbourne and a host of celebrity performers who pumped up the music with their own brand of musicality and adrenaline.
Morrison, Navarro and Leitch would also join forces for three years to run, Camp Freddy Radio, a Los Angeles based radio show. In 2008, Billy would roll to rhythm guitar and Chris Chaney (Jane’s Addiction) was pulled into punch out the bass lines.
Morrison’s intensity on stage would later be seen in 2006 when he formed Circus Diablo with former Cult guitarist Billy Duffy and frontman for Fuel, Brent Scallions. They would add Ricky Warwick (The Almighty) and Charles Ruggiero (Slunt) to the group to complete the line-up.
Later, Circus Diablo would include Patrick Cornell and Rob Patterson from Korn. The group issued its first single, Loaded, in 2007 that reached #29 on the Active Rock Chart. And the track’s video ran up more than 1,000,000 views.
In 2008 we met Billy while he was at NAMM working the Gibson stage with an entourage of artists that included Billy Duffy, Billy Cox and other ass-kicking rockers. Both the performers and the audience had a blast that night, a short drive from Nashville’s convention center that held some of the finest musical instruments of our time.
Camp Freddy is still running strong and Billy is keeping things edgy and fast-paced with his full spectrum of new ventures and adventures. In our recent conversation with Billy, he hinted at the emergence of a new Les Paul Signature Model that will bear his name that we expect to see sometime next year.
Not only are we pleased to present our interview with Billy for our readers, but we’re also very proud to have Mr. Morrison as Guitar International’s “Sunset & Vine” columnist.
Rick Landers: Billy, it’s been a few years since our last interview and I thought it would be good to catch up with the highlights of your career since then. At that time, you were going strong with a concept group called, “Camp Freddy.” Is Camp Freddy still a troupe performance that’s going strong?
Billy Morrison: First of all, I LOVE that you refer to Camp Freddy as a ‘troupe’! I would probably chose ‘motley crew of disparate musical characters that randomly find themselves on the same stage’, but let’s not argue here!! Yeah, Camp Freddy is still going strong, seven years in. In fact it just keeps coming. Next weekend we play an Activision Games party in Las Vegas, followed by a tribute for Ozzy Osbourne in Los Angeles. Camp Freddy has remained a fun thing for us all to do, so there’s no reason to stop!
Rick: Who have been some of the most recent artists to have joined you on stage as part of the group and what were the highlights of their time served as members of Camp Freddy?
Billy: Well, recently Ozzy has popped up for a few amazing moments. He had a lot of fun, and we obviously got a thrill out of rocking Iron Man with three guitarists! (Myself, Dave Navarro and Steve Stevens).
At the beginning of the year, Paul Stanley from KISS jammed a couple of gigs with us. Doing “Strutter” with him, or “Cold Gin” with Ace Frehely are obvious highlights. And on a personal note, rocking out the Sex Pistols ‘EMI’ at a sold out L.A. show in December with Steve Jones AND Paul Cook….. pretty f**king amazing!
Rick: You’ve got a very active “blog” at your Billy Morrison home page. It seems that you really enjoy a close connection with your friends and fans. Do you find that the readers of the “blog” are a pretty cohesive group of recurring readers or do you see a lot of new readers always finding their way to the site?
Billy: I’ve noticed recently that the stats are going up, which means new readers. I encourage a close contact and endeavor to keep people informed and connected. There is a core group of fans that are pretty hardcore, and I love ‘em all. But, I also encourage new readers. It’s a bit of a ramble on there sometimes cuz I just talk about whatever I feel like, not only the entertainment business.
I disabled the comments section because now with MySpace, Twitter and Facebook, there’s too much work to reply to stuff on all sites. And I do reply to 90% of it all. So, I figured the Blog would be my voice to say and inform on anything I want and the real fans can find me on Twitter or Facebook or MySpace if they REALLY wanna ask me something.
Rick: How’s the acting career coming along?
Billy: I f**king LOVE it!! I am signed up to shoot the last in the Horror trilogy I am involved with (the first two movies being Evilution and Basement Jack – both come out on DVD on November 17th) – that last one is called The Necropolitan. I also have a couple of screenplays that I wrote with my wife getting some action. I’m also working on a couple of TV shows that I am attached to…TV and Film are great new outlets for me.
Rick: You seemed to be interested in videography two or three years ago and you made some great music videos. Are you even more invested in that area?
Billy: It’s a time issue. I love video and editing in Final Cut, but I just don’t get that much free time to do it. Video editing is a very time intensive process. To do a good job involves a lot of hours in front of the monitors and my days are just too full to allow me that luxury.
But, I have a ton of great footage from all the different things I do, and yes – when I get a second to breathe, I’ll fire it up and chop something new together.
Rick: Do you find the high points of making videos the production or seeing the end results?
Billy: To me, it’s the process of getting ideas and seeing edits before they actually happen. As I’m looking at footage, I see a light burst in the background or a pan that captures a certain energy and I see how it would look with a film grain filter, slowed down, and cross dissolved into the previous shot, and I get excited! The end result is just a by product of the creative juice needed to put it together.
Rick: You’ve been a Gibson Les Paul player for some time now, so how did your emotions run when you heard of his recent passing?
Billy: The world has lost one of it’s true innovators. I was extremely sad when I heard the news and I feel we will never see the likes of Les on this planet again. The look, sound and feel of music changed irrevocably through him, and that doesn’t happen often. I hope that the legacy of his music, his recording techniques and, of course, his namesake guitar keep getting passed from generation to generation.
Rick: Did you ever get a chance to meet Les and, if so, would you describe the experience?
Billy: I never did get to meet Les.
Rick: You’re also into the body art of tattoos. Do you have a favorite and what’s the story behind the last bit of ink?
Billy: My favorite is always the most recent, although as I get older I get fewer done. That shit hurts! The last one was the word “Core” across my lower abs. Dave (Navarro) and I both had Mark Mahoney tattoo the same thing. Dave’s is on his neck, I believe, and mine is on my lower stomach. It references the fact that we are both ‘Core’ or original members of our L.A. band, Camp Freddy.
We actually tattooed each other during the session. Mark gave us the gun and we did a letter on each other. As I put this down in black and white, it seems very, um, Brokeback Mountain of us! I can assure you it was nothing of the kind. Ccough, cough, ahem….so, what about them Dodgers, huh?
Rick: You’ve gone swimming with sharks; done some shooting and motorcycling as well as all of the music-related experiences. Have I missed something?
Billy: Dunno. Have you? I am, and have always been, a guy that likes a good experience. I don’t like to fake things and want the real deal. So yeah, I’ve done a shark feed with about 30 sharks feeding all around me. I’ve done a solo dive with a 12-foot Tiger Shark.
I own a few guns and pride myself on being a pretty f**king good shot! And motorcycles run in my family blood. My Dad and Uncle were both pro racers. My Dad actually rode in the Isle Of Man TT in 1959 and 1961. Now THAT is madness! Each lap is 37+ miles of twisty country roads, surrounded by brick walls, trees etcetera and horses that wander onto the track!! Not really any wonder where I get it from…..
Rick: Mark Twain once said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” This seems to sum up how you approach life, right?
Billy: Mark Twain was a very clever and astute guy! Yep, that’s the way to live. I honestly don’t care about the end results. I am able to feed myself and my wife, have a wonderful home, and don’t have to stress too much about the bills. That’s all I need.
Everything else is bonus. So, with that in mind, what is of paramount importance to me is that I actually do stuff, not just talk about it. No regrets. I am involved in numerous creative affairs and I love them all. And I have definitely explored, dreamt and discovered.
Rick: You’ve been working with Gibson Guitars on a Billy Morrison Les Paul. How’s that project going?
Billy: What an amazing process this has been, from the initial green light from Henry, through the design for the guitar. I did Photoshop mockups and had a few really detailed phone conversations with Frank over at USA and now I await the prototype.
Once we have that squared away, we begin all the fun stuff like when, where, how etcetera. I’m hoping that we can get into some detail about the whole process here on this site in a mini-series of articles, addressing exactly what goes in to something like this. So, I don’t want to say too much right now.
What I will say is that it is a ridiculous honor to have even talked about this with Gibson, let alone getting as far as we have down the design road. So with any luck, it’ll come to fruition and I’ll have my name on a pretty kick-ass Les Paul. Unbelievable!
Rick: Camp Freddy’s original bass player has some health issues and I understand that he’s experiencing the pitfalls of our country’s current patched together health services (not a current system in place, per se). Without divulging sensitive personal information, what can you tell us and how can GI readers help out?
Billy: Absolutely. And may I say that it is heartwarming that you even mention it. Too many of us fall prey to the gaping holes in the healthcare system and find ourselves without means to cope with extremely stressful and potentially life-threatening health issues.
Scott Ford was the original bass player in Camp Freddy and he went on to play multiple world tours with Greg Duli in The Twilight Singers. He’s a lovely guy and is currently suffering from a degenerative bone disease which has spread an infection through his body. Scott has now had the surgery needed and it has left him in a pretty ridiculous financial hole.
So, a few friends are getting together in Los Angeles at The Roxy on Sept 26th to play an All Star Jam with all the proceeds going to help pay his medical bills. And for anyone who can’t get to the gig, there is a donation link here (http://fordradio.blogspot.com and a lot of specific info about Scott’s plight and what he’s going through. So please, do something nice for a musician who needs your help. Every little bit counts.
Rick: Billy, with all the stuff you have going on at any given time, how do you find the time? You must be incredibly organized.
Billy: I am annoyingly detail-oriented, picky, organized and thorough. Just ask my poor wife! But, I also have a work ethic that drives me hard. I truly enjoy the business, all aspects. Music, art, TV, and film. It’s all an outlet for a side of me that in the past has destroyed me. Maybe it’s the years I spent shooting smack and smoking crack that spur me on. Who knows?
What I do know is that I get up early every day and literally don’t stop until, a) I go to bed, or b) get on a plane and go scuba diving! Every other minute is filled with a desire to be the best I can be at any given moment. I guess I enjoy it! Kinda important in this game as I know a lot of people who just don’t enjoy it. I have to ask myself at that point,”Then why f**king do it?”
Rick: Does your wife ever take you aside and say, “Hey, time to take a break!” Or is she as driven as you?
Billy: My wife is a lawyer and also a writer, so she juggles as well as I do! We are both pretty driven, but we do have our priorities in check and number one is our marriage together. I am an extremely lucky man!
Rick: It’s always nice to find out about the current projects an artist has on his or her plate. But, with you, I think it would be just as interesting to know what projects you’ve been thinking about and want to do, but just haven’t gotten to yet?
Billy: Ha, ha! Well, let me see. I am working on a couple of TV show ideas that will be fun to do, if they work out. There is also new music being crafted as we speak, but that really does have to stay under wraps right now.
Although, I have already recorded a four song EP that will be exclusive to my Gibson Les Paul guitar when it’s released. I just thought it would be nice to have a few solo tracks that the people who buy a guitar get to have. I threw a cover track, David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust”, up on my site this week as a freebie to celebrate five years of my blog. So go check it out.
There are four other tracks I wrote with my friend, singer-songwriter Patrick Cornell, that will be on the aforementioned CD whenever the guitar gets released. And I think I fancy doing some art, although my passion so far has been limited to buyiong other peoples! Shepard Fairey, Banksy, Jamie Reid….I like a good pop artist. But, I’m open to anything. If it amuses and stimulates me, I would probably do it!
Rick: Well, it seems like you’re really life to the fullest and your having a blast. I want to thank you for continuing working with me and Guitar International, it means a lot.
Billy: And thank you for caring!
Editor: Billy sent us a note telling us that he thought this fan shot video had a “good vibe” to it, so we decided to plant it here and leave you with a bit more of Billy and Camp Freddy.