Brian is an accomplished guitarist living and working in the Los Angeles area. When not enjoying a variety of guitar styles from metal to jazz, he could recently be observed filling in the guitar position with Michael Buble. He recently played on the fine album "It's Time."
We caught up with Michael at Cafe Metropol and recorded his show for Metro Sessions.
Born in Collins, Mississippi in 1943, Bill moved to New York (upstate) at age 13 where almost immediately he got into the music scene. In the early 1960s Bill met and eventually joined a band led by Jimmy James (later known as Jimi Hendrix). This led to his own band "The Kansas City Playboys" which became the opening act for James Brown & his Revue. Years on the chittlin circuit followed and finally tired of the road in 1987 Bill relocated to San Diego. He continued his hiatus from music until 1993 when he came out to take local bookings. He has quickly become an important part of the San Diego Blues scene.
Billy Vera & the Beaters began in early 1979. Not long after moving to Los Angeles to write songs for Warner Brothers Music, Billy Vera ran into his former bass player from New York, Chuck Fiore. Chuck had moved to L.A. two years earlier and had been playing around town with some good musicians from the local studio scene. He suggested that Billy drop by one of the clubs one night to sit in.
After renewing their old friendship, the boys found themselves commiserating about their lack of female companionship and figured out that both had "done well" in that department when they were in bands. "Why don't we start a band....we can meet some girls!" became the rallying cry -- and the Beaters were born.
It was decided that they model the group on the old Little Richard and Ray Charles 50s bands, which included four horns. For a little spice, Billy thought to make it an '80s version of Bob Wills, not limiting itself to any one genre of music. To help bring this off, the early version of the Beaters included the steel guitar of Steve Fishell (later Jeff "Skunk" Baxter) to offset the R&B sound of the horns.
After several months of gigs at local beach clubs, the Beaters were asked to perform every Monday night at midnight at the world famous Troubadour in West Hollywood. "We took the worst night of the week, Monday at midnight, and purposely did no advertising. We wanted to create an underground buzz within the hipster community, so that the opinion makers could discover us on their own," says Vera, "we figured it would take around six weeks to see if they wanted what we had to offer."
Apparently, they did. By the second week, the Hollywood cognoscenti were lined up at 11:30 outside the Troubadour to see what became, over the next year, the legendary Billy & the Beaters midnight shows.
Soon, every musician worth his salt was begging to join the band or at least sit in. "We didn't want to be perceived as that kind of band; we wanted to be seen for what we were: our own thing," says Vera. Indeed, the only performer to ever join the Beaters on-stage at that time was Rickie Lee Jones. Vera explains his choice: "I sensed in her a kindred spirit. She was one of the few singers I'd seen who approached performance the way I did, from the inside out."
That year, 1980, was the year of the Knack and all those "new wave" bands. Record labels were signing any four piece combo with skinny ties. Interestingly, after their rounds at new wave clubs, A&R men would inevitably wind up at the Troubadour to catch the Beaters' set. "I'd see them out there tapping their feet and digging what we were doing, but nobody was reaching for his checkbook."
By the end of the year, "new wave" had run it's course and the record companies were looking for something new and different and the Beaters were nothing if not different. "Capitol and Polygram began sniffing around, sounding like they were about to make an offer, but I ultimately chose to go with Alfa because [A&R man] Lorne Saifer understood what I was trying to do," recalls Vera.
It was decided to record the band "live" because that's where their excitement was best showcased. When a deal could not be cut with the Troubadour's management, the Roxy on the famed Sunset Strip stepped in.
For three nights, Wally Heider's recording trucks captured the excitement of Hollywood's favorite sons, playing to a packed house of fans who had come to see them every Monday night for a year. The resulting album, Billy & the Beaters, with it's bold black and white graphic design, was an instant classic, begetting the hit single "I Can Take Care Of Myself."
Meanwhile, Alfa's owners in Japan were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with their American management and began to pull the plug, leaving Billy & the Beaters' follow-up single, "At This Moment," to founder on the lower reaches of the charts.
A second album, cut in the studio, was deemed unacceptable and remains in the vaults to this day. Billy's old mentor from his Atlantic Records days, Jerry Wexler, was deputized to produce a Billy Vera solo album in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, combining several Beaters with Southern Soul veterans of countless records by the likes of Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett.
By the time of the album's release, US Alfa was a sinking ship, unable to give the record more than perfunctory promotion and it sank with hardly a trace. For the next four years, Billy Vera & the Beaters played Southern California to loyal crowds, until one day came the golden phone call.
"This guy calls me and says he'd been to see band the over the weekend," recalls Vera, "He'd heard us do a tune which he wanted to use on this show he was producing called Family Ties. "The song, of course, was "At This Moment."
After the first episode in which the song was used, in the fall of 1985, Vera received "a bag full of mail" from NBC. This encouraged him to canvass major labels in hopes he'd be allowed to re-record it as a single.
When he'd been turned down by virtually everyone, a meeting with Rhino Records chief Richard Foos, whom he knew socially, resulted in a commitment by the label to reissue a compilation by Vera of the most requested items from his two Alfa albums.
Vera tells it from here: "By the time Rhino released the album, we missed the summer reruns. Then Lady Luck stepped in and, in the first show of the 1986 season, "At This Moment" was used on the episode where Michael J. Fox's character loses his girlfriend. The story of the song: boy loses girl, matched the story on the episode and, bang, America went nuts."
In one of those rare instances of a true grass roots uprising, the public responded to the song and propelled it--without promotion or payola--to number one on the national sales charts.
Concurrently, the band had been working on a pair of movies, Blake Edwards' Blind Date, starring Bruce Willis and Kim Basinger, and the ABC movie-of-the-week, Tonight's The Night.
Director Bobby Roth recalled editing the film as "At This Moment" barreled up the charts: "I kept getting calls from the network brass, telling me to beef up Billy's footage in the movie. By the time I was finished, it looked like a Billy Vera video!"
The success of "At This Moment" changed the lives of Billy and everyone in the band. One of Vera's dreams, of appearing on American Bandstand, finally came true, thirty years after he first watched the show. Dick Clark and his wife Carrie became staunch fans and supporters, including the Beaters on a number of Clark's productions and utilizing Billy as a presenter on his American Music Awards.
Many television and movie appearances followed, including one as a western swing band in the film version of Dan Jenkins' Baja Oklahoma , in which the Beaters back Willie Nelson and Billy was cast as the drunken ex-boyfriend of Leslie Ann Warren.
As free agents with a number one record, calls began to pour in from record company presidents. Vera chose Capitol Records after a call from head honcho Joe Smith. Another old Atlantic Records pal, Tom Dowd, was hired to produce the album, Retro-Nuevo, which spawned a top ten Adult Contemporary hit, "Between Like And Love. "The tune, along with Billy's "Hopeless Romantic," from the Rhino album, were used extensively on the NBC soap opera Days Of Our Lives.
Vera performed two other songs from the album, "Poor Boys" and "Ronnie's Song," in his featured role on the CBS series Wise Guy , which concluded with his character being reluctantly shot in the back by one of the show's leads.
Despite this exposure, the album failed to ignite and, before too long, Billy Vera & the Beaters were back playing Los Angeles area clubs, playing the music they love for their loyal following.
From mid-1990 to early 1991, Billy and the band were tapped to be the house band on ABC's venture into the late night talk show field, Into The Night , starring Rick Dees. Our boys got to play with many musical legends, including Mel Torme, Merle Haggard and had the honor of being conducted by composer Henry Mancini on his classic, "Peter Gunn Theme."
Avi Bortnick was born in Petah Tikva, Israel, but his parents moved to the US soon after. Avi was in high school in the late 1970's, at the tail end of the heyday of American funk and soul music. He played in various cover bands, whose goal was to emulate Earth Wind & Fire, Heat Wave, Chic, Rufus, Rose Royce, Lakeside, Rick James, Cameo, Mothers Finest and other pillars of funk and soul. Avi took lessons from St. Louis guitarist Peter Mayer, an amazing player and teacher. He also studied classical piano from Linda Meyer during high school.
He attended the University of Wisconsin in 1981, and though he wasn't a music major, he had the great fortune of studying with Richard Davis, playing in his Black Music Ensemble combo and bigband.
In 1982, his family moved to Oakland, California where he attended the University of California-Berkeley and majored in Latin American Studies. He chose this as a major partially as an extension of his love for Brazilian music. Avi lived in Brazil in 1984 and 1985.
After graduating from Berkeley in 1986, He started playing with various African and Caribbean music groups. The similarities between funk and African and Caribbean styles are remarkable, and his schooling in 70's funk trained him well for the feel and syncopation of other African-based music.
Throughout the late 1980's and early 1990's Avi played with numerous funk, African and Caribbean bands in the San Francisco Bay Area, including Kotoja, Alphabet Soup, Bobby McFerrin, Jeff Narell, the Dry Look, and Crazy (from Trinidad). In the Bay Area, Avi became known for my rhythm guitar playing (though he thinks he solos OK too). Avi loves playing rhythm guitar. He loves locking in with other musicans and finding a groovy part.
In 1994, other interests led him to graduate school at the University of Florida, where he studied architectural acoustics. While in Florida, he started the funk band What It Is. They became popular in the Southeast, but eventually the band packed up and moved to California. Today, What It Is still exists. In the last year, Avi started his own quartet -- Avraham's Soul Explosion.
Avi was recommended for the gig with John Scofield by the fabulous Charlie Hunter. I flew to New York in January, 2000, where I met and played with John for the first time. I'm so honored and happy to be playing rhythm guitar with John Scofield, one of my guitar heroes.
In his "other" life, he's an acoustical consultant with Thorburn Associates. He usually works with architects in the design of buildings in which sound is an important consideration.
Avi Bortnik (The World's Funkiest Rhythm Guitarist!) has to be the musician/friend that I hold in the highest esteem... What It Is to John Scofield... I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to learn from and play music with you... Avi introduced me to the whole African diaspora of music: From Fela Kuti to South African Highlife, Cuban Folkloric/Africanized Styles, Brazilian Bahia culture... The closest thing I have seen to the living embodiment of Ayn Rand's "Howard Roark" character in the book The Fountain Head) ...except Avi's much more compassionate...)
Anthony Wilson’s career in jazz began auspiciously, and as a creative artist he continues to expand and impress. Among other honors, Wilson's first, self-titled CD received a Grammy nomination for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Recording in 1998; his second CD "Goat Hill Junket" was featured prominently on many jazz critics' Top-Ten lists for that year; and his third CD "Adult Themes" earned a rare "5 stars" in Downbeat Magazine. In May 2001, Groove Note Records released Wilson's "Our Gang," a trio recording, which has also received raves in Downbeat and other publications.
A sensitive and gifted accompanist as well as a formidable soloist, Anthony Wilson has been recording and touring the world with the celebrated vocalist/pianist Diana Krall since he joined her in 2001 for her Grammy-winning CD/DVD “Live In Paris” (Verve Records). Recent recordings and concert appearances with the likes of Al Jarreau, Aaron Neville, and Madeleine Peyroux have served to spotlight Wilson’s growing artistry, musical maturity, and improvisational authority. Bennie Wallace, Larry Goldings, Joe Henry, Harold Land, Chris Botti, the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, and his father, legendary composer/arranger/bandleader Gerald Wilson, are a few of the well-respected musicians with whom Anthony Wilson has forged fruitful, lasting partnerships.
A skilled composer and arranger with a deep understanding of tradition and an equal willingness to take risks, Anthony Wilson won the Thelonious Monk International Composers' Competition in 1995, and went on to be nominated for two Jazz Journalist's Association Jazz Awards (for Best Debut Artist and Composition of the Year) in 1998. Numerous commissions for original works followed, such as The Gil Evans Fellowship from the International Association of Jazz Educators in 1999, resulting in the extended piece “Adult Themes”; a commission for a concert-length piece—“Tokyo Wednesday”—from the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in conjunction with the NEA in 2002; and a commission for a large-scale orchestral work (“Solstice Sequence,” featuring Larry Goldings) in 2003. For the last five years, Anthony Wilson has consistently been chosen for top ranks among composers, Arrangers, and guitarists "Deserving Wider Recognition" in Downbeat Magazine's annual International Critics' Poll.
Projects planned for 2005 & 2006 include recording and worldwide concert performances with the Coleman Hawkins Centennial Project (co-led by Wilson and Bennie Wallace); more live performances throughout the USA by the Anthony Wilson Nonet; a solo CD recorded in hotel rooms while on tour; and a new major label CD release featuring the Anthony Wilson Nonet and Quartet. A second CD of the Anthony Wilson Trio, “SAVIVITY,” will be released on GrooveNote in September 2005.
Anthony Wilson has been a member of the Jazz Studies faculty at UCLA since 1998.