Billy Price emphasizes originals on new album 'Strong'
June 20, 2013 4:00 AM
Billy Price -- "I'm writing a lot more than I ever have, and that's been a change."
By Antoine Allen Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
As an artist with no contemporary influences, Billy Price's long career is evidence that there is a lot to learn from the past.
"I don't draw from anyone anymore," Price said. "There are a lot of people I like."
Price's inspiration comes from rock 'n' roll, gospel and rhythm 'n' blues of the '50s and '60s. As a child, he remembers listening to Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Solomon Burke and Clyde McPhatter.
He has been singing blues, soul and R&B professionally since the early '70s, but songwriting makes up only a small part of his 40-year career.
Price began writing songs while he was working on his 2006 album, "East End Avenue," and he has been writing ever since.
"I'm writing a lot more than I ever have, and that's been a change. I started out as doing mostly covers. I guess you could say I'm sort of a traditionalist," he said.
Price just released his 13th album, "Strong," on Dixiefrog Records, a French blues label. The 10-track album consists of three covers, six original songs and a new version of a song originally created by Price's longtime friend and collaborator, Fred Chapellier.
The album begins with Price's take on Roosevelt Sykes' "Driving Wheel Blues," a classic blues song from the '30s. Price brings energy to Sykes' sentiment while his band's instrumentation brings the song into the 21st century.
This song is followed by two Chapellier works, one of which is "Sweet Soul Music," the namesake of Arthur Conley's chart-topping late '60s soul single. While Conley's song serves as a tribute to some of Price's idols such as Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, Price's version praises the music itself.
This song is followed by "Gotta Be Strong," Price's four-minute motivational boost to his listeners.
" 'Gotta Be Strong' is the [song] I'm proudest of," he said. "I worked really hard on that one. I struggled with getting a lyric concept for it, and I tried a lot of different things. I'm pretty gratified with the way it came out."
A few tracks later, Price's favorite cover on the album appears, Bobby Byrd and James Brown's "Never Get Enough."
"I really love 'Never Get Enough'; I just get a kick out of it. It makes me smile whenever I play it."
Price's adaptation marries soul and funk in a manner that is reminiscent of the original. He even brings in Nighthawks drummer and singer Mark Stutso to re-create the Godfather of Soul's famous intermittent background screams and shouts.
Other guests on the album include Mark Wenner, Jill Simmons, Stevee Wellons, Andrea Pearl and Monster Mike Welch, a guitarist who had played with Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi by the age of 14.
Billy Price Band keyboardist Jimmy Britton also wrote the music for three songs on the album.
On Friday, Price will begin a series of album release parties at Club Cafe. The Billy Price Band will perform "Strong" in its entirety followed by a second, longer set. Attendees will also be able to buy a copy of "Strong" and receive a free download of "Burning a Hole in my Heart," a song that Price recorded with fellow local musician Joe Grushecky.