At a backyard barbecue house party thrown for NXNE, I met Bloodshot Bill: a one-man rockabilly band whose rousing live performances have earned him a reputation as one of the best in North America’s rock ’n’ roll scene.Bloodshot Bill was scheduled to play that afternoon and we’d planned to talk before his set, but true to travelling musician form, the thirty-eight year old Montrealer was running late ⎯ he’d forgotten his car keys at a friend’s apartment. Whirling into the backyard with fifteen minutes to spare, Bloodshot hurriedly apologized and recounted his morning’s event while setting up, looking dapper and just a little disheveled. We agreed to speak after his set instead and I settled myself in front of the backyard’s DIY stage.
Watching him play, it’s easy to forgive the man for being a bit scatter-brained. Simply put, he’s got a lot going on. Simultaneously controlling his percussion, guitar, and vocals with ease, Bloodshot was even able to work a healthy dose of theatrics into the mix. Each part of his act was handled with an amazing amount of diversity: he strummed, plucked, and slapped his guitar. He switched up his rhythm and incorporated vocal techniques ranging from moaning to yodeling. Perhaps a reflection of Bloodshot himself, his performance is kind of all over the place, but he brings it all together in a way that works.
Half-Trinidadian and half-Italian, Bloodshot grew up in the West Island area of Montreal. He and his friends shared an interest in music from an early age. In fact, Bloodshot credits an elementary school buddy for first introducing him to rockabilly. “A bunch of friends and I in elementary school, we all wanted to play guitar, and one guy finally got one,” he explained. “So then I tried to play guitar, but I couldn’t do it, so I played drums instead.”
Surprisingly, Bloodshot didn’t actually start playing guitar until he was in his twenties. He taught himself to play by trying to play along with old country and rockabilly songs. “I actually wrote a lot of my early songs just through trying to learn songs and ending up with a whole new variation,” he admitted with a laugh. “Now if I want to learn something, I can kind of learn it by ear.”
I asked him if he thought playing drums before becoming a one-man act had affected him in any way, to which he replied (ever so modestly) that he found most of the better one-man bands played drums first. “You’re really minimal,” he said. “It’s just you and a beat ⎯ so you’ll notice that guys who didn’t play drums first have a very simple rhythm they stick to. But if you can switch it up, it makes you sound more like a full band.”
Performing solo gives Bloodshot Bill the freedom to travel wherever and whenever he wants. Perking up, he describes his frequent road trips across Canada and the States over the years, as well as the time he spent riding the trains across Europe. “I like traveling”, he mused. “Sometimes when you’re traveling, you wish you were home. But when you’re home you wish you were traveling.” Without hesitation, he proclaimed his favourite place to be Memphis, Tennessee.
While perfectly content to roam the globe solo, Bloodshot is also known for his collaborations with fellow Montrealers King Khan and Mark Sultan (of the King Khan & BBQ show). He met King Khan, who introduced him to Mark Sultan, back when they all still lived in Montreal, and they eventually started playing together. A record he made with King Khan under the moniker Tandoori Knights was the first full-length album Bloodshot released with his favourite record label: Norton Records.
A retro-inclined record label that began working with Bloodshot Bill in 2005, Norton has released the music of several late and greats. According to Bloodshot, they don’t usually work with modern artists. They do occasionally release contemporary Rolling Stones covers. For Bloodshot, doing a Stones single got his foot in the door and they’ve been releasing his records ever since. “Norton’s always digging up stuff that’s never even been released.” Bloodshot explained. “People think that they just re-release old stuff, but a lot of their catalogue is stuff that’s never been released, ever. Just old recordings they’ve found that have never been put out.”
Music from the fifties and sixties is a passion for Bloodshot. Contrary to what some would expect, he did name some contemporary favourites, including Black Lips, Shannon and the Clams and, of course, the King Khan & BBQ show. Nevertheless, what really gets Bloodshot going is discovering old music that he’s never heard before ⎯ the supply of which, he assured me, is endless.
Fortunately for us, Bloodshot Bill continues to channel the old days in his own music, delivering his unique take on classic sounds. Look out for his next album, set to be released in the upcoming months by⎯you guessed it⎯Norton Records.
For more coverage from NXNE, be sure to check out The Main’s Festival Report Card here.
Photos by Courtney Baird-Lew