Interviewed by Arjan deelen
Billy Cross has done quite well for himself since his move to Denmark in 1979. With his band The Delta Cross Band, he was a major draw at many concerts and festivals until the band disbanded. He’s also a freelance producer and a session player, and he tours regularly with his acoustic band Everybody’s Talking. Billy is also a well-liked television personality, who has appeared on many TV shows here in Denmark. Back in 1977, he played rhythm guitar on Robert’s first two albums “Robert Gordon with Link Wray” and “Fresh Fish Special”, so I talked to him about that.
Did you know Robert before that first recording session at Plaza?
No, not personally I didn’t. I knew who Robert was, because he used to sing with the Tuff Darts. And the Tuff Darts I’d actually seen at Max’s Kansas City…. And Max’s Kansas City was just right around the corner from my apartment. It was my local pub.
Did the band rehearse before that session?
I don’t remember… I don’t think there were any rehearsals. I think we were called in, and we just went to it with the songs that were presented to us…. As I remember it, but my memory is kinda messed up.
What were the vibes like at that first session?
I remember that they were good. Richard Gotteherer is a very good producer… very good at putting people at ease. Robbie (Stoner) and Howie (Wyeth) and I of course had a band at that point, so we were close. It seemed fine…. Really good. It was exciting to meet Link of course, because he was kinda like everybody’s hero.
So Richard Gottehrer played a pivotal role?
Yes, Richard was great. Richard is one of those producers who simply understands how to make records. Records that people want to listen to, as opposed to those musicians that are into the smart stuff and arrangements and that sort of thing. He could understand how things work, or didn’t work.
If it worked it was right, if it didn’t work it wasn’t right. He’s a real good producer.
Did you feel at the time that what you were doing with Robert and Link was unique, or were there other bands in New York doing something similar?
As I remember, in 1977 the only thing that was happening in NYC big time was New Wave. The Ramones were happening, Blondie was happening, Tuff Darts had had sort of a start…. Television, all sorts of things. The Max’s scene, the whole post Andy Warhol thing, you know. I didn’t hear any rockabilly in New York. Perhaps if you’d go down to Washington D.C….
Being a rhythm guitarist on the sessions, what was it like to work with Link?
I was playing the rhythm guitar and Link was bearing, you know, so it was fine. Everyone knew what they had to do. I remember that Link played so loud that we had to cut the tracks without him. And he overdubbed his guitar. We started out working with Link, but his amp was turned up so loud that it leaked into all the other instruments. We worked it out so that we actually cut the track, and Link overdubbed his solo stuff.
Were you asked to play in a specific style, or did they give you room to do your own thing?
As I remember, it was basically…. You know, the style is confining in itself. It’s rockabilly, and there are only certain things that you are allowed to do in rockabilly, and you do them. Obviously, for people like Robbie (Stoner) and I, we grew up with that music, so it was almost like inbred. So it wasn’t actually anything that you wouldn’t have done ordinarily. It was pretty basic, and basically what we grew up with in high school. So that wasn’t tough. And in terms of how we worked on the tracks, I think that the basic idea was to cut the tracks as close to the originals as we could, just with Rob singing and Link playing. So basically, everybody knew what they had to do.
There was another guitar player on the sessions, Charlie Messing. Who was he?
You know, Charlie’s a real nice guy. I think he turned religious or something. I don’t remember where he came into the picture. I think he was somebody that Robert knew. I had not met Charlie previous to those sessions. He was really a sweet guy… Played well too. But I have no idea where he came from, and why. And I haven’t seen him since. We did a couple of gigs together, and he was in on that, but after that I never saw him again. Of course I did move to Denmark, so chances of seeing him were fairly slim.… I’d heard that he’d become a Christian.
Did you socialize with Robert and/or Link?
No… No, we didn’t. They didn’t seem to be interested.
Did Robert talk about his influences?
We all talked about it… You gotta remember that this was our folk music. This is the music of our youth, it’s the stuff we grew up with. Everybody talked about everything… I was more Chuck Berry, Robert was more Billy Lee Riley or something like that. But you know… we came from the same spot.
What were those early live shows like?
We did some live shows at Max’s Kansas City. At the Bottom Line too, as I recall. They were fun. They were a lotta fun. It was a terrific band. It seemed very relaxed to me, as I remember it. It’s like 30-something years ago, and that’s a long time ago. But yeah, it was great.
Do you have any memories of the sessions for the second album ‘Fresh Fish Special’?
No, I hardly remember it at all. I remember that Bruce came down… Bruce was an angel. Totally unfond of himself, down to earth, completely normal and natural. It was like he could have been anybody. He is really a very nice person, and very humble about the whole thing. He was great.
How did you part ways with Robert and Link?
I think that we put Topaz together at that time… Rob (Stoner), Howie and I. And we got Anton Fig in Topaz. I suppose that’s why he ended up with Robert later. Of course, then we would often play with Dylan, Robbie and I, and that’s sort of what happened. It was a choice. I don’t know… it’s hard for me to remember all that stuff, but as I remember Topaz did two tours and one album, and then Robbie got called out to L.A. to play with Dylan, and I went to Copenhagen. And they called me up in the middle of the night from L.A. asking me to come out there, and I played with Dylan for a year. So we didn’t really part ways, but everybody had other gigs.