with Chen Greenwood

Search form

Musings from the other side: Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - a man possessed...

Mikail Graham's picture

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - a man possessed with a muse for all seassons...
I recently did a two hour Other Side special featuring the music of Bonnie 'Prince' Billy aka Will Oldham.
You can listen to the entire show by clicking here.

As you can see and hear from the videos I've posted here, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy is not your run-of-the-mill Americana Folk music act. In fact, much of his music would fit right into the fabric of many shows here on KVMR. Unfortunately the issue with why you don't hear more of his work on KVMR, or for that matter, on a lot of radio stations, is more about the DJs and people just not knowing who he is and just how damn good his music truly is!

I'm hoping this little blog post might help change that or at least point a few wandering souls in his direction ;)

Let me first take a few excerpts from Will's Wikipedia page to get things started.

Will Oldham (born January 15, 1970), better known by the stage name Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, is an American singer-songwriter and actor. From 1993 to 1997, he performed and recorded under variations of the Palace name, including the Palace Brothers, Palace Songs, and Palace Music. After releasing material under his own name, he adopted the "Bonnie 'Prince' Billy" moniker for the majority of his output since 1998.

And there's the rub, a lot of people don't quite know what to make of the fact that Will chooses to record under the name Bonnie 'Prince' Billy instead of just releasing records under his own name. I for one can relate to this a lot, and though I won't try to represent the reasoning from Mr. Oldham's point of view, I can say that for me at least, it gives one a certain sense of artistic freedom to be whatever you want to be, as well as say and create whatever you want to share with the world. I mean lets face folks, once you put it out there, well there's simply no turning back, and so it goes.

Regarding all of the various name changes over the year, Mr. Oldham had this to say about it:

"Well, I guess the idea is that when you have a name of a group or an artist, then you expect that the next record, if it has the same name, should be the same group of people playing on it. And I just thought we were making a different kind of record each time, with different people, and different themes, and different sounds. So I thought it was important to call it something different so that people would be aware of the differences."

In reference to the name Bonnie 'Prince' Billy he had this to add: 

"Yeah, the name has so many different references that it could almost have a life of its own. Bonnie Prince Charlie has such a beautiful ring to it, and I was very conscious of appropriating that mellifluous sound. And I was also thinking about the name Nat King Cole. But it wasn't until later, and this may have been subconscious, that I remembered that Billy the Kid was William Bonney or Billy Bonney."

I first encountered Will at the Center For The Arts back in 2010 when he and his band arrived to perform that night. I would be mixing his show later that night so I was there for their arrival and setup. Oddly, during the entire afternoon I never saw his face as it was covered with a ski mask which kind tweaked my psyche a fair bit, especially as it was rather warm outside that day, so I just didn't quite know what to make of him. Was he the latest version of the Unknown Comic or what? Hardly...

The soundcheck was fairly inconsequential, but when showtime came and he walked out onto the stage there was no ski mask, only his classic balding head and reddish beard glowing under the stage lights as he transformed into a man possessed, full of passion and fire, and yet a subtlety with how he and the band wove each song like a magic tapestry that quite literally took my breath away from start to finish. For nearly two hours I was joined together with Will and his band via my place at the mixing desk, and all the while feeling like I'd been slipped some good psychedelics and  transported back to the summer of 1967 for a classic post-folk-psychedelic rock show featuring a band that I still can't believe I'd somehow missed before that night. I have to tell you it was one helluva a fun journey.

On stage BPB is like a possessed poetic shaman, a real sorcerer, as opposed to so many of todays middle aged rockers regurgitating essentially the same album with a new name, year after year conjuering it up like it was some kind of magic act. The bottom line is that it was truly a show that I'll never forget and that still moves me in so many way all these years later whenever I think about it. 

I also have to mention that it was the very first time I ever asked for an autograph, which Will happily signed on the vinyl copy I bought from him of the Bonnie 'Prince' Billy and the Cairo Gang LP "The Wonder Show". And geez, talk about a nice guy, Will is such a humble and kind soul who really cares about his music and fans. Yep a special night to be sure!



I'd suggest you start here as this is a fabulous collection of Will's early work and then some.
Greatest Palace Music

His 2nd release under the Bonnie Prince Billy monicker.
Ease Down The Road

The first time BPB album that was previewed in public before it was made in the studio.
wolfroy goes to town

The first BPB LP that I was luck ebough to buy, and such a gem it is!
Bonnie 'Prince' Billy & The Cairo Gang - The Wonder Show Of The World

This next one is a collaborattion between Ohio-based musician Brian Harnetty and BPB and is one of my favorites as it's like a magical fun-house full of ambient textures, ghostly vocals mixed with instruments straight out of a nother time or maybe even another world. Obviously the kind of mix we love here on the other side.
Silent City

Honestly there are so many more I could recoomend like Superwolf (w/Matt Sweeney), Beware (the 7th BPB release), Master and Everyone, Arise Theater (under the name Palace Music), and so many more, but I think you now have some great places to start. And note that my podcast features gems from almost all of these and a few others as well, so do check it out.

At this point if your not intrigued then I don't know what too tell you other than don't miss your opportunity to see Bonnie Prince Billy when he performs LIVE at the Miners Foundry on Tuesday September 29. Tickets are quite reasonable, and trust me, this is a show you'll remember for years to come.

click here for Ticket Info

Miners Foundry Cultural Center
325 Spring Street 
Nevada City, CA 95959 United States
+ Google Map
(530) 265-5040 

So hey, watch the videos, listen to my Other Side podcast where you'll find nearly 120 minutes of Will's music spanning from 1994-2015, and see what you think, I'm betting you'll find something you like.

click here for The Other Side's public page on Facebook

mikail graham, 9-18-15