Billy TK Jnr: Riding with the wind

By Mike Dinsdale


Kiwi guitar wizard Billy TK Jnr is about to release the album that should, by rights, make him a global star.

But strange events, including the death of his original producer and loss of all they had recorded, left him wondering if the album ever would happen and even wondering whether he should give up his musical career.

Blues Benediction, by Billy TK Jnr and the Groove Shakers, is about to be released here and in Australia on MGM Australia - a big label for what should lead to Billy's big break.

A special pre-release version of the album shows Billy is in serious form and has matured into an exceptional guitarist. Who else in their right mind would record an eight-minute-plus version of the Jimi Hendrix classic Little Wing - and make it the best version this reviewer has ever heard, barring the original.

Billy has kept the original spirit of Little Wing then taken it to new boundaries that I'm sure even Hendrix would approve of.

Little Wing is one of three covers on the album - he also does sparkling versions of Robert Cray's Phonebooth and Freddie King's Hideaway - that illustrate Billy's supreme skill.

However, it's some of his originals that really show how much he has developed and grown over recent years. And the hardships surrounding the recording of Blues Benediction may have helped.

Billy readily admits he probably wouldn't have been able to record an album like this earlier, but encouragement from people such as Ian Moss gave him confidence in his own abilities to give it a go.

"I feel that this is the first album that is really, truly me. Ian and his crew are like royalty in Australia and he has been amazing and really helped me a lot," Billy says. "He said, 'Just record a guitar album that has you showing your virtuosity' so I gave it a go. He didn't want to hear any of the pop or reggae stuff (recorded on earlier albums) he just wanted to here me rock with my guitar.

"Then, when I gave him a copy to listen to, he said he was really relieved for me, that I'd nailed what he wanted. This is me really cutting loose and I'm really satisfied with it, so I hope I can make others appreciate it."

And he has. Blues Benediction is, in my opinion, the best blues/rock guitar album ever recorded in New Zealand.

But it nearly ended Billy's career and the process left him with serious doubts about whether he wanted to continue his musical career in which he already has played with some of the world's greatest players.

He had recorded seven tracks for the album with Auckland producer Ben Stockwell, then had to leave to tour Fiji, before returning to finish the remaining tracks with him.

"Ben was a really nice guy and a great producer/engineer and we'd recorded some great stuff. But, when I returned from Fiji I wasn't aware of what had happened, so rang him up to arrange some more time in the studio with him and found out he'd died and had been cremated the day before ...

"He died in his sleep from natural causes at 44. It was a great loss. We'd recorded seven songs by that stage and we lost the lot except one (Bubba Rhumba, which is dedicated to Stockwell on Blues Benediction).

"I was devastated by the loss of Ben and then the loss of the songs. It was all so bizarre."

Billy thought the music gods - or some higher being - were conspiring against him and he struggled to continue.

"I thought I was being told maybe this wasn't what I should be doing, maybe there was something else for me."

But meeting producer Andrew Buckton (Midnight Youth) rekindled his enthusiasm and Blues Benediction is the result.

"We recorded the whole album in about three weeks, whereas I'd spent about three months on the tracks with Ben. It just seemed to click and many of the songs on the album were recorded first take - what you hear is how we played it.

"It was a major blow losing a person like Ben, then losing the tracks we'd worked on, but there was something really magic going on (in the studio) when we redid it with Andrew, we all felt it.

"Having so many first takes is really rare and for that to happen really made me feel that there was something really positive coming out of it all."

Billy says this album is him at his truest, not pandering to commercial issues by ensuring there's something for everybody on his albums. And his voice, his weakest point so far, has improved out of sight from his earlier albums.

"Why lie to yourself about things. This is who I am, I'm a guitarist who loves to play blues/rock music ..."

Billy TK Jnr and the Groove Shakers tour Australia in October and November to promote the album, with star billing at Sydney Blues Festival on October 27/28 then on to NZ.

For more info see: www.billytkjnr.com.

- Hamilton News

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