Blackjack Billy: Difficult to pigeonhole
CINDY WOOD/independent feature writer
Take a dash of rock and roll, stir in some blues, and toss in a taste of hip-hop. Blend with a heaping spoonful of country and you’ve got Blackjack Billy, the country duo that’s been tearing up the Nashville circuit as of late.
The two lead singers (yes, there are two), Rob Blackledge and Nolls Billings, have brought their unique sound to the country stage, and, this Saturday, they’ll show it off for locals at the Black Swamp Bistro. If you’re coming to the show, Blackledge had two words of advice. “Be ready,” he said, adding, “We’re going to bring it.”
What they’re bringing to Van Wert is the same unique sound that has taken the country music industry by storm. Since meeting just over two years ago, Blackledge and Billings have written well over 50 songs together, including fan favorites “Born to Ride,” “Can’t You See?” and “Working on You.”
The duo has also managed to successfully blend two very distinct styles, and producer Jeff Coplan (electric guitar), Patrick Cornell (bass guitar) and Brad Cummings on the drums complete the unique sound.
“It’s kind of like Lynyrd Skynyrd and AC/DC started a country band,” Blackledge said.
Both men said it’s flattering to be compared to some of music’s heavyweights, but they also pride themselves on creating their own version of “Redneck Rock”.
“Above all else, you want to be unique, and I think we are unique,” Blackledge said. “The first question we always get is ‘what do ya’ll sound like?’ My answer is we’re definitely country boys and absolutely love country music with a passion, but we also love rock and roll as well.”
Whatever it is, it’s working. The band has been touring just about every weekend, and this summer Blackjack Billy will be playing live just down the road in Fort Loramie during Country Concert in the Hills 2013. For the group, it’s a chance to keep doing what they love … playing music and meeting people who appreciate their music.
Whether they’re playing the stage in front of tens of thousands of people, or gathering together in an intimate setting such as the Black Swamp Bistro, one thing is certain. They’re going to put on a show. “I’ve always said it doesn’t matter if we’re playing for five people or for twenty thousand people, we’re going to crank up the amps and have a whole hell of a lot of fun on stage,” Blackledge said.
And that’s exactly what they’ve done. The last year has been a big one for the band, which has shared the stage with Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Doobie Brothers, Lady Antebellum, One Republic and Tonic. It wasn’t long before Nashville icon Tony Conway came knocking to serve as the band’s manager. The duo was quickly signed to Nashville insider Doug Howard’s new publishing company Vandermont Music.
“I think I knew when we got together and heard the music for the first time that we were onto something and it was something good,” Billings said, adding, “so we just kind of rolled with it.”
With two lead singers, the band provides a “two-for-one” deal, something that differentiates them from other country bands. “The majority of country duos truly only have one lead singer, but we both sing 99 percent of the shows,” Billing said, adding “we just go at it the whole time and I tell ya, it’s a lot of fun for us.”
Utilizing two lead singers also allows the band to focus on each member’s individual strengths. “Everybody kind of does their own thing, then someone will do something cool and we roll with it,” Blackledge said. “It really became our own unique sound and we really liked what we were hearing.”
Apparently, their fans do too. Blackjack Billy shows are packed with energy and a whole lot of hootin’ and hollerin’ from the crowd. With an exploding fan base, one might think nerves would settle in before shows. Not for these guys. “It’s easy to get up there on stage when you know you’ve got four other dudes you know are going to absolutely kill it,” Blackledge said. “If anything, I get antsy and excited and ready to go. Just talking about it right now, I can’t sit still. I just wanna go play a show.”
That’s life on the road for Blackjack Billy, and it’s a life they’ve come to know – and love. “I think even if any of us weren’t doing what we’re doing now, we’d still be traveling,” Billings said. “I mean, what’s not to love? We get to get out and meet people like ya’ll who love music. And we get to make money doing what we love. It’s a passion for us.”
Blackledge agreed, and said the band has now gotten into somewhat of a normal routine. “Except our routine typically starts on Thursday or Friday morning when we’re hopping on a bus and driving to a city somewhere,” he said. “We’re on the road for a few days, and then we rest up a little bit, write a couple songs and get back into the studio. Before you know it, we’re hitting the road again.”
And that can’t come soon enough for their fans.
Tickets for the Van Wert show are selling fast, and are available at www.visionarypromotions.org. The band is hoping for a big crowd, but it will be an exciting show no matter how many people are in the crowd. “It’s definitely high-energy, that’s for sure,” Blackledge said.
Before they hop on stage, though, the band will go through their typical pre-performance rituals. “You know, all the voodoo dolls and blood and stuff,” Billings said with a laugh. “Actually, we’re all pretty normal guys. Nothing fancy here.”
For the duo, that means a couple of beers and a quick conversation about who won what game that day. “Really, we might just sit around and talk about who’s playing football or basketball that day,” Blackledge said, adding, “we just do what we do and we have a lot of fun doing it.”
And if all else fails, “It’s a Saturday night ya’ll,” Blackledge said. “So we need some people ready to come out and cut loose with us. We like to celebrate and have a good time. That’s what we’re about.”