Blues guitar might be associated with Mississippi, Texas and Chicago, but a man of the mid-South has something to say about that. The city of Bristol, smack on the Tennessee/Virginia border, claims itself as the birthplace of country music. But one of its native sons is making a huge blues noise.
The common denominator in all of this is Billy Crawford – raised playing bass in church, then gaining an early hard-rock pedigree on electric guitar. But for the past three decades, he has turned his six-string action toward the blues.
For much of the 1990s, audiences around the world heard Crawford’s intense work with blues-rocker Deborah Coleman. He gave up the road in 2002, when his wife gave birth to their son. Turns out, son Tyler is a little guitar hotshot, too.
But his daddy still has something to say. His Bristol-based Billy Crawford Band includes some of that region’s finest blues men. The fire is still burning blue from Crawford’s Guitar, as he rips through blues, ballads, rock, surf – even New Orleans-style.
Underpinning it all is a band with plenty of energy and mastery of dynamics. Go to thebillycrawfordband.com to hear and see more and find out when the band is playing in your town.
Like a lot of kids growing up in East Tennessee, Crawford dug into hard rock. Randy Rhoads, Ritchie Blackmore and Gary Moore were big influences. But like Moore, Crawford turned to the blues. B.B. King and Elvis Presley were his earliest influences.
“If I saw B.B.'s name in the TV Guide I would beg to stay up and watch Johnny Carson with my Dad, to see Him with Lucille,” Crawford remembers.
The late Stevie Ray Vaughan’s work turned Crawford on his head, after he saw the Strat-master on television in 1984. But it would take two more years for Crawford to find musicians willing and able to play that style.
In 1997, Crawford led a band to a win at the Piedmont Blues Competition, in Winston-Salem, N.C. It earned Crawford and the act a trip to Memphis for the International Blues Competition. They didn’t win, but folks noticed Crawford’s blistering style. Calls came in for gigs, but he held out, remaining loyal to his band – until Deborah Coleman came calling. She was new, unknown and just signed to Blind Pig Records.
"It felt right,” he remembered. “She had just finished her debut recording and had an extensive U.S. and European tour scheduled."
He took the gig and hit the road with Coleman, playing 18 states over 12 weeks. Over the next six years, he recorded four albums with her, working with legendary producer Jim Gaines and top players from across the country. When the band wasn’t recording, it was on the road, touring in 20 countries.
Among those experiences was one that meant the world to Crawford. He performed with the late Vaughan’s band, Double Trouble.
"I felt after the first time I played with them that it had come full circle,” Crawford said.
The circle would come back to Bristol, though, after his wife Michelle told him she was pregnant. He left the road in fall of 2002. But he never put down his guitar.
“I still love the guitar. I play and practice every day,” Crawford said. “It has never gotten old for me. I’m still excited about creating sound out of silence every time I perform!”
Along for the ride with Crawford are singer/guitarist Rex Boggs, sax man Jay Corder, bassist Mike Winegar, drummer Keith Chinault and on ocassion, Hammond B3 player Jacob Tipton. They’ll bring you a smoking blues show.