Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman shares observations, insights, and updates relating to South Florida's musical environs. This week: Life with Livesay!
Billy Livesay's been around. Musically, that is. Growing up in Miami and Hialeah, raised by a single mother, and switching schools frequently, he didn't have the most stable upbringing. But after seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, Livesay found his calling. Following his graduation from high school, he got married, had a child, and formed a band called Slyder in the mid-'70s.
That's when Livesay's career began in earnest. Managed by Alan Walden, brother of Phil Walden and the man who managed the Allman Brothers and Otis Redding, the band toured extensively throughout the Southeast U.S. and gained a fair measure of fame in the process. Unfortunately, fortune didn't follow, and by the early '80s, they found themselves without management and deeply in debt.
From then on, their career was on a roller-coaster ride. It involved finding new managers with a respectable stable of artists, losing those managers, chasing record-label prospects only to find disappointment, and then ultimately regrouping and starting over. After experiencing this seemingly endless cycle, the band changed its name, a decision that cost it its fan base and brought it back to ground zero yet again.
Discouraged, Livesay withdrew from touring, wrote some tunes, and secured a publishing deal. Yet, the urge to perform got the better of him, and in 1995, he formed the Livesays with former Hall and Oates drummer Eddie Zyne.
Livesay's success in placing songs on television gave him the motivation he needed to record the Livesays' eponymous debut. But no sooner had it been completed than he was offered an audition for Clarence Clemmons, who was on hiatus from Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band and looking to form his own outfit. Livesay got the gig, signing on as the band's guitarist. He was subsequently featured on the band's two live albums and also got the opportunity to mingle with Bruce Springsteen in the process.
"Let's just say he knows he's Bruce Springsteen," Livesay confides. "I've met Bruce several times. He always keeps to himself. He doesn't really chitchat. Bruce came to jam with us on a few occasions and also came by the time we did the live record, but I've never had a conversation with the guy. It was more like a nod of the head. We played together, and afterward I'm standing next to him, and he's wearing a Miami Dolphins baseball hat. So, just after sharing the stage with him, I say to him, 'Gee, I never figured you for a Dolphins fan. I figured you for more of a Giants or Jets fan.' He looks at me like 'Who the f--k are you?' and tells me, 'I really don't like football; I just like the hat.' And then he curtly walks away."
Fortunately, Livesay's next celebrity encounter was a little more fulfilling. "During my time with the Big Man, I received word from Eddie Zyne that Tony Stevens from Foghat had quit the group and was looking to form his own take on Foghat," he recalls. "I joined as the lead singer and guitarist, and we released a CD in 2007 that included five of my original songs. As luck would have it, Tony sued the original Foghat drummer over use of the name, and he lost. So he had to change his billing to 'Tony Stevens Slow Ride Original Foghat.' That's quite a mouthful."
Livesay has played onstage with other musicians over the years, like David Pack (Ambrosia), Gary "U.S." Bonds, Brian Howe (Bad Company), Carmine Appice, Kansas, Mickey Thomas (Jefferson Starship), America, Mike Reno (Loverboy), Jimi Jamison (Survivor), Davey Jones (the Monkees), and Gregg Rolie (Santana/Journey). But his current project gives him star billing and puts his surname on the masthead.
He describes the Livesays' latest album, Rose Colored Glasses, released two months ago, as, "a concept record, dealing with life's little diversions. My writing inspiration comes from every walk of life... From the single mom trying to get by to the paraplegic wheelchair marathoner, or just from reading about what makes people tick. I'm always looking for ways to say something different."
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In fact, Livesay's pop influences are all too obvious. Taking its cue from the Beatles, Sheryl Crow, John Mayer, Maroon 5, and Train, the album reflects a classic-rock sensibility that draws on radio-ready hooks, well-brewed arrangements, and songs that quickly sink into the consciousness even on first hearing. The title track strikes an immediate boisterous impression, while the sentimental ballad "I Waited Too Long" tugs at the heartstrings. What's more, the band's remake of the Byrds' "My Back Pages" is a close contender for what may well be the best cover of this classic ever recorded.
"I am a classic-rock/pop guy," Livesay says. And with the aptly titled Rose Colored Glasses, he proves adept at mining his muse.