The Billybats' Jason Vivone on recording and recovering


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Kansas City blues rockers the Billybats have been lying low as of late, for a couple of disparate reasons. Firstly, they've been recording a new album, Lather Rinse Repeat, for which they'll have their CD-release party this Friday, May 4, at Coda. Secondly, singer and guitarist Jason Vivone's car was hit by a truck on Interstate 435 just north of Worlds of Fun six months ago, and the whiplash has left the bluesman in a good amount of pain. Vivone was kind enough to recently speak with The Pitch via e-mail about the recording and recovery processes.

The Pitch: The Billybats have been playing off and on for a good long while now, but it seems that the places for you guys to play are few and far between these days. Where do you play in this post-Grand Emporium Kansas City?

It is hard to drive down Main Street and think that was the place I met Buddy Guy and Honeyboy Edwards and Son Seals - who kept the bouncers from kicking my underage ass.

We're lucky to have Coda as a regular monthly gig. The audiences may not be initiated yet but we feel blessed to introduce roots and blues to them. Usually, it means a younger demo than the regular blues clubs. That's OK. We are not your daddy's shuffle band.

We live in a great time. I can name-check Elmore James from the stage, and they've picked up their iPhones and ordered some of his tunes before the song is over. The music will live on.

You described the post-concussive side effects as "headaches, fatigue and memory loss," but how did the accident affect your guitar playing? Can you play it under those circumstances?

My regular Telecaster has been too heavy for my neck. I can't wear a strap because it cuts into the area where I suffered the whiplash. It means that Nicotina, my cigar box guitar, has become my main ax. She only has four strings, so I've had to do some refiguring. Everyone wanted to see more of Nicotina anyway. She'll need her own dressing room before long.

A lot of art has been born of pain. Were there any songs that came from the trauma you suffered?

It was a rough year last year. My grandmother, who was my first guitar teacher, passed away. The car wreck. And Hubert Sumlin, who was a mentor and friend, just passed, too. It made me more determined to get the stuff out and heard. Lyrically, nothing has any direct reference to it, but emotionally it is there.

You attribute a lot of your recovery to the support of your band. How did they help you get through what must have been a very tough time?

Great question. On a practical level, they drive me. I still can't. I freak out in the car sometimes. Everything looks like it's coming too fast.

On a deeper level, and this may sound weird, but their biggest support is just allowing me to have a good time. This band is so much fun to play with and rehearse with and record with. They are funny people. I know when I get together with them I'm gonna laugh. That's been the best. No matter how rough it has been, we've laughed.

When you play the release show for Lather Rinse Repeat, are you going to have to make like BB King and grab a chair??

Maybe we can find Solomon Burke's old throne on eBay. Keep with that King of the Roots theme. I do sit, but stand to do the walk through the audience and into the street. It's a tradition from the old sax guys of 18th and Vine. You break the fourth wall and go out directly to the patrons.

After winning the King of the Roots contest last summer, the Billybats, I imagine, could've recorded anywhere they wanted. What led you to choose Black Lodge in Eudora??

It felt good isolating ourselves a bit. Eudora slows down your body clock. That's good for recording. We looked at other places, but something just said go back to Eudora. You don't want a studio that feels like a doctor's office waiting room. I like spaces that have a history and a vibe. That studio's haunted, y'know?

Any further shows after the release party (aside from your monthly First Friday gig there), or are you taking it easy?

My doctors are all saying do more, do more. It keeps my Dow Jones up. We will be gigging more this summer, like once a week. And staying closer to KC for the most part. RJ's Bob-Be-Que in Mission. Canoe Club in Lee's Summit. Great new place called Quasimodo's on Quivira.


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