Billy Roberts’ mom passed away

Today Stevie Gurr wrote me: Billy Roberts’ mom just passed away…she was 102.
Thank you Stevie

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A story about Billy Roberts and Hey Joe by Neil Lewis

I was a coffeehouse folk singer in D.C. in the late 50′s.  I had been caught up in the music and lore from the moment I first heard Burl Ives in the mid 40′s.  ( I had a Stinson LP when Ives still had Hair!)  When the folk revival hit, I was ready with words and music for about 1,000 songs, learned, mostly from recordings, from Ives, Richard Dyer-Bennet, John Jacob Niles, and of course Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and others.  I haunted the archives of American folksong and actually owned a copy of Child’s English and Scottish Popular Ballads.  I had no trouble finding gigs in the D.C. coffee houses that were springing up all over town.

One night at a place called the Unicorn, a VW van drove up with a Handsome, slender, bearded, guitar pickin’ dude  who wasted no time at all in starting to date my 20 year old estranged wife and capturing the hearts of us all.
 Billy hung about for a  time and not long after, The Unicorn closed, and I migrated to St. Thomas, in the Virgin Islands.

 A number of years later, I was invited to a pool party by an acquaintance of mine.  It was to be in honor of a a friend visiting form the west coast, who played guitar.  I didn’t catch the name, but I went to the party.  Typically,  When the dude climbed on a bar stool, next to the pool and started to sing, almost no one paid any attention.
One guy did listen.  I’d been in the pickers shoes too many times to not be a good audience,  I sat on the edge of the pool and hung on every note.  People did laugh when he sang,”Hey! Get the fat one”  He was actually a bit rolly poly.  Later in the evening, we got to chatting, and naturally we spoke of people we knew in D.C.  I came up with “Did you ever know Billy Roberts?”  He looked a bit startled and answered,”Yeah, I AM Billy Roberts!”  As soon as I got over my embarrassment, he explained about the accident and how he was 60 pounds or so heavier since rehab. We discussed the “Hey Joe” mess and he gave full credit to a guy named Howie Mitchell in D.C. who insisted that any of us who were writing tunes, send a copy to ourselves, registered mail and keep it, unopened, as proof of when we had written it.  Billy said this was what substantiated his claim.

 I didn’t hear any more news until I read your article.  I haven’t played any gigs in some years.  ( I’m 77) I still keep my guitar hung on the wall and try to hit a few licks every day or so.  I have severe Dupuytren’s contractures of the fingers, so it’s not so easy.

Neil Lewis

From an e-mail from Neil Lewis to Billy Stapleton
Sent to me by Billy Stapleton on January 31, 2011
Permission granted to Jan Marius by Neil Lewis to post this e-mail on Hey Joe Versions  (February 1, 2011)

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A clear, slightly chilly, Spring night in San Francisco. Billy Roberts, Steve Gurr and Billy Stapleton (By Billy Stapleton)


Billy Roberts

One of the favorite people I’ve met,……. and later would come to call my friend, was Billy Roberts. To inform those of you who don’t know who he is….., (cuz Billy is a bit older than me, even…. are there any people older than you Stapes?)
 Billy Roberts wrote the classic “Hey Joe” in 1962……yeah! …royalty battles raged for years….originally it was stolen by an LA group “The Leaves” who hadah big hit with it in the early 60′s…..but Billy thankfully had it copyrighted…….and it all was  finally put to rest when a fellah named Jimi Hendrix recorded it on a little LP called “Are You Experienced?” and gave the publishing rightfully to Billy. The song has long been praised by musicians and composers for its “backwards circle of 5ths”. 
 Jimi Hendrix & Billy Roberts met up at one time and apparently they hit it off in a big way. Billy was immediately and immensely likable, he had a huge open personality that dripped with Southern charm and wit. Roberts was born in South Carolina in 1936
 He told me the Hendrix story 30+ years ago and to be honest I couldn’t summon up a detail now to even begin telling that story. But suffice it to say, it is Roberts’ name that appears on the writers credits for “Hey Joe” on the groundbreaking “Are You Experienced”.
Roberts was, for the most part, a folk singer, he did carry kind of a rock and roll band for a while called “Grits” and they mostly played the San Francisco Bay Area. The group recorded one album “Thoughts of California”.
 Roberts’ talent was not limited to singing, guitar, harmonica playing and song writing, his booming baritone voice was in demand for radio and TV advertisements, his most famous was a Chevrolet commercial in the 70′s when Chevy first used the “drove my Chevy to the Levy…” line that  Don McClein would immortalize in “Bye Bye Miss American Pie”

This little story is about a clear, slightly chilly, Spring night in San Francisco, around 1972.

 We were broke,…. all of us,…….flat broke…..no scratch, no bread, no scoots…….(too broke to pay attention)……there was harp great, Stevie Gurr, who went on to play with Elvin Bishop……barrel chested, song writer, guitarist and spectacular singer Lenny Laks….myself (Billy Stapleton), and Billy Roberts. The “Hey Joe” song royalties didn’t keep him totally afloat. 
 Roberts, suddenly slammed a big hand down on the kitchen table (Billy was about 6 feet tall, went about 225 of mostly muscle, he was a black belt many times over) and proclaimed in his best Southern Preacher voice (his god given middle name was “Moses”…no kiddin.)…
 “Gentlemen!…..there comes a time….oh yes there does come AH TIME!….can I git an “amen”?
 “Amen!” we responded 
 “When yah just….. when yah just …..got-tah go out….. and git….. what has to be got-ten…….are yah with me, brothers?”
 “Oh Yeah!” We were hooked on a Roberts ride.
 “And so I say onto you……that it is time…… HIGH TIME! ……..for us pickin and singin’……strummin and grinnin’……..purveyors of the Terpsichorean Muse…….”
 “Whaah? We asked, in the depths of our ignorance…
 “Music….” He informed us.
 “Ooohhh…..” we affirmed, amazed by his vocabulary.
 “To hit the STREET!…” he shouted..”and make us some gawd a’mighty…..mu-f#@*in’ MONIES!!……are yah with me?”
 “Hell yeah!” we exclaimed.
 We all piled in my old 65 Ford Galaxy 500 Land yacht, with at least a full mouthful of gas in the tank, and headed out to Union street, it was about 6pm, Friday night, and people would soon start crowding the street, on dates, off to dinner, frequenting the many music and comedy clubs in the area. Some in suits, some in jeans and sweaters.
 We set up shop just as the Bank of America was closing, the bank had an almost “brick amphitheater” type of entrance, with the steps up to the front of the building, acting like a natural stage.

 It was a beautiful night, Roberts kept his “gospel” oratory going all night, in between songs….he was truly inspired, getting lots of laughs and “amens” throughout the night from the ever changing crowd. They laughed, they applauded, they cheered…….. and they tipped like mad.
 I got to play slide on Billy’s old National resophonic guitar, and played until my fingers were beyond sore. At the end, around 10:30 we had emptied the guitar case of tips several times and when counted up the nights’ take. I think we had around $300…a freakin’ fortune in 1970.
We went to the Russian Deli, up the street on Union and had hot pastrami sandwiches, piled high on toasted onion rolls and slathered in Russian Dressing…man we were livin high on the hog…..and of course afterwards we went to our favorite watering hole, the Drinking Gourd. We laughed until we cried and told stories til the early morning, it was one of my favorite nights.


 So, why the story? A life in the arts, as you all know, can be terribly unrewarding at the end of the day. We play and sing our hearts out for years, doing what we love. Cramming our gear in any number of various vehicles in various states of repair and set off into the night to put on a show….why? Because we love it…we are hooked…and very few of us can ever really “stop”.
 I have wondered, as we all have, what has become of people I used to play music with.

Well I came to find out that Billy Roberts was on his way home from a gig in the early 90′s, in Northern California on old highway one…. and was involved in a severe automobile accident, resulting in a debilitating brain injury that has left him confined to a nursing home ever since.
 Playing the rock and roll, the jazz, the blues, the music…. sometimes, she not only takes your youth and pays you with regret,….she can lull you into a sense of invulnerability…….sometimes, she can kill yah too……..or maybe like Billy Roberts, hurt you awful bad.

 Sorry for the sad tale. When I had heard about Billy, all I could think of was that night,….. so many years ago, outdoors in the cool night air, …..playing with my talented friends, on Billys’ magical National, for crowds of passing strangers, trying to put a few bucks in our jeans. So I thought I could maybe write a little story about him, and keep him alive as he was then, imposing, charming, funny, endearing and a career musician.

(Sent by to me by Billy Stapleton January 29, 2011)

Thank you Billy for sending me this story for posting on Hey Joe Versions
See also: http://www.billystapleton.com/BillyRoberts.html

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Hey Joe Versions now at http://heyjoeversions.wordpress.com/

Dear all,

Hey Joe Versions has been moved from franzen.tk to http://heyjoeversions.wordpress.com/

Please update your bookmarks!

Franzen.tk will be closed and I lost heyjoe.org 3 years ago. This is the only address for
Hey Joe Versions (By Jan Marius): http://heyjoeversions.wordpress.com/

There are still some references to my page Hey joe Versions  with old  URL’s like franzen.tk, heyjoe.org and URL’s beginning with members.casema.nl/ja……. .
If  you can correct some of these links I would be very grateful.

Also I would be grateful if you make a link to Hey Joe Versions
( http://heyjoeversions.wordpress.com/)

Apart from the blog you can find information about the song and the many versions on this site, like who write the song and who recorded first:

Hey Joe – Introduction
 http://heyjoeversions.wordpress.com/introduction/

List of the versions of Hey Joe (Over 1600!)
 
http://heyjoeversions.wordpress.com/hey-joe-versions/

More about the song Hey Joe
 
http://heyjoeversions.wordpress.com/more-about-the-song-hey-joe/

Original lead sheet and lyrics
 
http://heyjoeversions.wordpress.com/original-lead-sheet-lyrics/

More information about Billy Roberts and the tale  http://heyjoeversions.wordpress.com/more-about-billy-roberts/

Please enjoy and feel free to comment!

Sincerely, Jan Marius
http://www.facebook.com/jan.marius1

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Mail from Steve Gurr (March 21, 2010)

Jan!!!…I spoke to Billy!!!…he can’t talk very well,and it’s frustrating to him, but I heard a few words…I’m told by the woman that works on the floor he lives that he lit up when my name was mentioned to him… that feels good as we havn’t spoken in about,oh,28 years or so…very emotional experience…I played some harmonica for him..
Stevie’s website: www.steviegurr.com

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Mail from Andrew Christopher Roberts Sr (March 14, 2008)

My mom emailed me your site. My name is Andrew Christopher Roberts Sr.. Bill is my father. Surprise! I was born 8/1/1961 as Hillel mentioned they met in Nevada that year, where Bill was divorcing my mother. I never met him until I was 15. We hooked up in sfo. 2249 Fillmore St. Never forget that place. Billy was blown away by how much him was in me though we had never met! I too was an aspiring songwriter, singer, harp player rythym guitar (not quite player at that point), there was a lot more to Billy than many people know…..master martial, artist, samuri, sun-don akido master, marksman, genius, beautiful, tortured soul,lover, extraodinaire man, the incredible woman folk that would line up,just to take a ride on the w.m.r.railroad and get their own heart broke. I’m 46 now, and I lost track of Billy very shortly after the accident in 92′. His mother snatched him up, tucked him away somewhere, and told none where he was or how he was. Until I came across a site about him I didn’t know if he was dead or alive, and I’ve been searching for him ever since. He doesn’t know that he is a grandfather of the world’s most wonderful ten year old boy, Andrew jr. If you or any one out there knows his whereabouts I would be forever grateful for that knowledge, If billy is still holdin’ on like the tough old bear that he is, I would love for he and his grandson to meet before it’s to late. You see my days are numberd on this big blue marble, due to numerous health issues and I would love the chance to introduce theese two very incredible poeple, thanks for your time.
Andy Roberts
P.S. The chick who claims that Bill stole Hey Joe from her is wrong! (orginal espression for wrong edited by Jan Marius) The song was written as a parody to the old song Frankie and Johnny, and he had my mother on his mind! So we can put that nonsense to rest once and for all!

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Mail from Elaine Forzano to Jan Marius (Oct. 25, 2007)

I met Dino in the Village in 1960. He used to play and sing “Hey Joe” down in the Cafe Wha? on MacDougall Street. I never heard anyone but Dino do that song in the Village. He sang it with so much passion and drama, perhaps due to the stormy relationship he was having with his old lady at the time, a beautiful tall blond folksinger named Judy Eden. In his recording, Jimi Hendrix did the song a lot like Dino, with that slow building of the guitar with each verse. They played together at the Old Spaghetti Factory in San Francisco in the late ’60s, and I believe that is where Jimi must have gotten the song. I got to hear Dino do it many times solo on stage, seated on a stool with his guitar resting on one knee, the other foot pounding out the rhythm, his eyes closed and his head thrown back, like a condemned man. Whew!!!!

PS Dino used to sing “Hey Joe, where you goin’ with that dollar in your hand…

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