Tuesday, February 19, 2008

blue eyed soul, pittsburgh style

Billy Price
Billy Price Band Blog

Billy Pollak has been blasting out Muscle Shoal style R&B for over three decades now, gigging up and down the East Coast. He's an institution in Pittsburgh, even if he is a transplant from Jersey. You might know him better by his stage name of Billy Price. He picked that nom de plume to commemorate New Orlean's blues singer Lloyd ("Stagger Lee", "Personality") Price.

As a teenager, Price listened to New York City's R&B stations, and from home it was just a short jaunt into the Big Apple to catch shows at the Apollo and other New York theaters. During soul music's peak, Price spent many of his Saturdays enjoying the acts of Solomon Burke, Joe Tex, Ben E. King, James Brown and Jackie Wilson.

While white America was into the guitar-oriented Chicago blues of Muddy Waters and B.B. King, Price dug the southern fried soul of brass heavy bands like Junior Parker and Bobby "Blue" Bland, belting out their rhythms with tenor saxes and trumpets on the Stax and Hi labels. It was then off to college.

He rolled into town from Penn State in 1971, single-handedly championing a crusade to get Pittsburgh hoppin' to soul and later, jump. Back then, the city's blood ran hot for doo-wop and hard rock. Price and the Rhythm Kings reintroduced Pittsburgh to R&B and the dance floor. He still brings down the house with "Can I Change My Mind," the old Tyrone Davis hit.

Billy Price first attracted national attention during his 1972-'76 gig with DC bluesman Roy Buchanan. Price was the singer on two of Buchanan's LPs. He toured the U.S. and Canada with him, playing such venues as Carnegie Hall in New York, the Newport Jazz Festival, the Roxy, the Troubadour in Los Angeles, and the Spectrum in Philadelphia. After his time with Buchanan, he left the business briefly to get his degree.

Price then assembled the brass driven Keystone Rhythm Band in 1977 with guitarist Glenn Pavone and a brass section featuring Kenny Blake and Eric Leeds. Before their breakup in 1990, the band recorded four well received LPs and developed a strong reputation as a live act all along the East Coast.

They toured on a circuit that stretched from Boston to Atlanta with large followings in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, DC and North Carolina. But when their last album wasn't the anticipated national breakthrough they hoped it would be, the group folded after a decade of work despite their still solid R&B sound.

Price quickly formed The Billy Price Band. In addition to performing hits from Price's years with Buchanan and the Keystone Rhythm Band, they incorporated some new sets of the blues, R&B, and soul into their act.

The band is a comfortable fit. As Price noted to the Post-Gazette's Scott Mervis, "I’ve been playing with Dave Dodd and Tom Valentine since the late ’70s. Jimmy Britton has been with me since 2005. Eric DeFade has played sax with me for more than 20 years, and Steve Delach has been on guitar for close to 10 years. Even my road manager, Pete Leary, has a 20-year gold watch."

They've also worked with Otis Clay and Fred Chapellier. His album with Rush, “This Time for Real,” was nominated for best soul blues album at the 37th Annual Blues Music Awards in Memphis and he was recently voted a 2016 Pittsburgh Rock ’N Roll Legends Award.

Price holds a master's degree in professional writing from Carnegie Mellon and is now the communications manager at CMU's Software Engineering Institute, where he's an adjunct professor. He's still cutting albums and the band performs regularly, occasionally touring but generally hitting the local club scene.

Catch his act. If you like it funky, you'll love Billy Price.

Can I Change My Mind

(You can follow Pittsburgh's Soul Man at Billy Price.com)

No comments: