Billy Bob Thornton Revisits ‘Hillbilly Music’
Long before he became a major Hollywood actor and an Academy Award winner, Billy Bob Thornton was once a roadie for many musical acts such as the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Johnny Paycheck and Blood, Sweat and Tears. While he took part in some partying as a roadie, Thornton remembers that time as being all work.
"I was this skinny longhaired kid that can barely lift a cabinet," he tells Spinner. "But I did it anyway. It was a hard lifestyle but you can imagine being that age and being close to something that you love so much, it didn't matter."
Those who are familiar with Thornton's career know that he has already recorded several solo albums, most of them incorporating blues, rock and country influences. Thornton's latest musical endeavor is the Boxmasters, a band featuring himself on drums and vocals, and J.D. Andrew and Mike Butler on guitars.
The idea of the Mod-attired group began when Thornton was listening to a British Invasion album. "I was telling J.D., 'This stuff is really just hillbilly music if you get right down to it. They just sing it like English guys.'" A fan of hillbilly music and '60s British and American rock and pop, he says, "I think really what the Boxmasters is my realization this many years later of exactly what kind of music I love to play, which is all of them put together."
Their new self-titled debut, slated for release on June 10, is a double-CD that features original compositions such as '2 Bit-Grifter' and 'The Work of Art'; and cover songs of artists as eclectic as the Beatles, Mott the Hoople, and Chad & Jeremy. The band employs some of the studio techniques found on the Beatles' adventurous albums like 'Sgt. Pepper,' and the sound of traditional roots rock with humorous and dark lyrics.
"The reason those kind of songs are on there is because the record is really based on the lower middle class lifestyle," Thornton says, "which I grew up in. It's about these poor people trying their best to live life and they don't have the capabilities or the wherewithal to do it."
All his life Thornton has been involved in music since listening to Elvis Presley, Jim Reeves, Ray Price and the Beatles -- he even played drums in his uncle's band. Then a kid gave Thornton a Mothers of Invention album. "It just opened up a whole new world for me," he says. "I was listening to a song and I just thought it was funny, and then years later I would get the references. It was like these frightening looking guys, so I think there was this fascination with being terrified of them."
Thornton pursues music more seriously than just as a side thing to his acting career. "If I can do two [movies] a year," he says, "one independent film and one commercial film -- and make one record and do one tour, then I'm pretty happy."
The Boxmasters will be hitting the road starting in July. Thornton is considering taking the group to the next level: comic book heroes. Each issue of the comic book would feature the Boxmasters playing a show in a town facing trouble, and they would come to its aid. "We're not sure what our superpowers are going to be yet," he says. "The only difference in our appearance is when we become the Boxmasters superheroes we're still in the Mod suits. Except we're slightly bigger, like we've kind of worked out a little bit."