Thursday, January 11, 2018
Little Rock singer-songwriter Billy Jeter was looking for something to keep him busy after work when he hit upon making music.
Now, the 62-year-old is celebrating the release of his sophomore album, Songdog Blues, with a show Friday at Skinny J's in North Little Rock. Singer Missy Harris will also perform.
Also appearing: Missy Harris
7 p.m. Saturday, Skinny J’s, 314 Main St., North Little Rock
"I've always been a storyteller and I've always loved music," says Jeter, after pulling over on a drive back to Little Rock from Crested Butte, Colo., where he spends part of the year. "I played around with the guitar in college and then quit. I've always done my regular job [as a financial adviser] and had a part-time farming interest."
When he gave up on farming eight or nine years ago, he returned to the guitar and started writing songs.
"I went to a songwriting class in Colorado, and got my hat handed to me there," he says.
He didn't give up, though.
"I learned the basics of what it takes to start putting a song down on paper," he says. "I really enjoy doing it."
Songdog Blues is 10 tracks of rootsy folk rock, reminiscent at times of The Jayhawks, and is the followup to 2016's Minstrels, Misfits and Melodies, which is credited to Billy Jeter Parkstone & Friends.
"We recorded about 18 different songs," Jeter says. "I'm genre-challenged. I like folk music a lot, I like folk rock, old blues, rock 'n' roll."
Producer Jason Weinheimer reined in the proceedings, which took place at his Fellowship Hall Sound Studios in Little Rock.
"About three-quarters of the way through, he said, 'Look, you've got a folk rock album. Let's finish it that way,'" Jeter recalls.
Accompanying Jeter on the album is a list of local heavy hitters including Weinheimer, guitarist Greg Spradlin, drummer Dave Hauffpauir, keyboardist Towne Hall, saxophonist Matt Dixon and backup vocalists Cherise Martini and Sara Thomas.
"The key to everything I've done," Jeter says, "is the really fantastic musicians I've surrounded myself with. They are all just wonderful."
He also wrangled the daughters of fellow singer-songwriter Isaac Alexander, Violet and Posey, to sing the children's chorus to "Jubilee," his Ozark murder ballad set on the Buffalo River.
"They were in the parking lot [at Fellowship Hall] singing nursery rhymes and Isaac was playing guitar and I said, 'I've got to write a song for this.'"
Jeter wrote all but two of the album's tracks. The traditional folk song "Trouble Up and Down the Road" gets a crunchy, Crazy Horse-style workout, and "Leola" was co-written with his brother, John, a Washington, D.C., playwright.
The latter, with its easy, bluesy shuffle, is the brothers' tribute to a woman who lived on the Jeter family farm in Wabbaseka and features Kevin Kerby on harmonica.
"We tried to put it in the Big Bill Broonzy, Robert Johnson, early blues sound," Jeter says.
The loping, Grateful Dead-ish title cut was inspired by howling coyotes and a sleepless night.
"I'd gone back to Colorado for the summer," says Jeter, a self-professed environmentalist. "I've always had a love-hate relationship with coyotes. I think they're a really cool animal. Outside my window one night coyotes were howling and kept me up most of the night. I got up and wrote that and it ended up being the title cut. I could have written 100 verses to that song."
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