And so it was at the Ram’s Head Tavern in Annapolis recently that Billy Bob Thornton…of “SlingBlade”, “Mr. Woodcock” and “A Simple Plan” made his way onstage to belt out ‘British Invasion of the 60’s played by Hill Billy’s…or “Mod-Country”…(his own description of the music for the first half of his sold out show).
Between songs BBT puffed on a cigarette and tackled a heckler or two…One of whom yelled, “Thanks for the smoke”…to which the errant Arkansas Ian quipped, “Well it’s not bad till you get with 30 feet of me…in the meantime why don’t you go outside, and beat your head against the side of our bus!”
Decked out in a satiny maroon suit, BBT led his band, The Boxmasters, through an array of music that reminded me of the great, short-lived band The Supersuckers. Fast, upbeat, country I’d call it. The bass player, Marty Rifkin, played peddle steel and bass and hails from Randallstown High in Baltimore.
The Boxmasters were first formed by Thornton and Grammy-winning producer and guitarist J.D. Andrew, and features Billy Bob Thornton on lead vocals, background vocals, drums and tambourine; J.D. Andrew on rhythm electric, acoustic guitar, bass and background vocals; Mike Butler on lead guitar and lap steel. When The Boxmasters hit the road — which they hit happily and hard –Mike Bruce sits in on drums, allowing Thornton to fulfill his duly appointed front man duties, and Teddy Andreadis on harmonica, organ and accordion, Brad Davis on mandolin, guitar, and background vocals and Marty Rifkin adds slide guitar.
Memories of an America gone stale, loss of innocence permeated the lyrics as flashes of all-night diners and checker board floors flash through my mind while it hitches a ride to the next images of growing up in a rural part of Maryland that is fast falling prey to urban sprawl.
Skulking around the stage, puffing, leading the band, signing autographs and tossing out downright funny and poignant one-liners, BBT rumbled through the first set with ease and purpose…and the interplay between numbers gave me a glimpse of this actor who never seemed to really be capable of being Karl Childers, that man-child of Slingblade that put Billy Bob on the map. Darn if I could see Childers and I tried to all night…and that’s likely the way he wants it.
Better By The Minute (cover)
Yesterday’s Gone (cover)
The Poor House (original – written by Billy Bob)
House At Pooh Corner (cover)
S*** List (original – written by Billy Bob)
I’ll Give You a Ring (original – written by Billy Bob and J.D. Andrew)
Build Your Own Prison (original – written by Billy Bob & Donnie Fritts)
The second set opened with Billy Bob on drums and he set a heckuva beat that was as good as any drummer around. Outfits were now short sleeves, casual country and comfortable. The relaxed atmosphere continues, with original compositions by the entire band, singularly or as collaborations. Good solid, get off your ass music, the likes of which I’d not heard before. This was my first BBT experience. And as Curly Bill says in “Tombstone” another of BBT’s films, the evening “was just capital”.
Emily (written by Billy Bob’s brother, Jimmy Don Thornton. From Billy Bob’s CD – ‘The Edge of the World’)
Hope For Glory (written by Billy Bob and Brad Davis. From Billy Bob’s CD – ‘Beautiful Door’)
Desperate One (written by Billy B, Brad Davis & Jim Mitchell. From Billy Bob’s CD – ‘The Edge of the World’)
Island Avenue (written by Billy Bob’s brother, Jimmy Don Thornton. From Billy Bob’s CD – ‘The Edge of the World’).
That Mountain (Written by Billy Bob and Marty Stuart, inspired by a story told to Billy Bob by Jim Varney [Vern]. (First appeared on Billy Bob’s CD – ‘Private Radio’ – re-arranged and appearing on ‘The Boxmasters’ CD.
THE BACKSTAGE EXPERIENCE
Many years ago I cultivated the art of getting backstage at concerts with my camera and getting to meet lots of super performers…like Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Robert Redford, Red Sovine, Jeannie C. Riley, Sonny James, Johnny Paycheck…even presidential candidate Jimmy Carter…and so it was that I weaseled past security and got into the ‘green room’ smoothly. I had brought along a copy of the script for “Slingblade” that a pal had bought for me on e-bay and given to me as a Christmas present. Thornton wrote, directed and starred in the film of the same name.
A handful of the “J.D. SHELLNUT FOR SHERIFF” bumper stickers also.
Shellnut is a character mentioned in Slingblade, and immediately Billy Bob broke into a big, wide toothy grin…” You know his real name is J.P. Shellnut, but I had to change it for the film.”, he admitted to me and the three ladies in the room. They are members of BBT’s fan club, The Planeteers.
I was asked by one of them if I was a ‘planeteer’ and of course I said ‘yes’, even though I’d never heard of them. I gave Billy Bob a big hug and thanked him for signing my stuff and he hugged me back….and said,
“Thank you brother, this is very cool, the Shellnut thing especially,” he said, genuinely sincere and appreciative. No doubt about it, BBT is the real deal.
Not wanting to overstay or out play the true fans, I thanked BBT and headed out the door and into the night of our state’s capitol. Refreshed that I’d seen a unique and talented fellow, with a sizzlin’ band who is enjoying the money he’s made in film by playing the kind of music he loves to play and hanging with a band of pals who feel the same way.
Loaded with four signed “Shellnut for Sheriff” bumper stickers and the signed script of Slingblade, which included signatures of the late, great John Ritter, Robert Duval and Dwight Yoakum. My pals each got a signed bumper sticker and we headed up the road content with the entire evening.
The question we all ask each other is, ‘when he’s back in the area would you go again…”…and the answer is a definite yes, because The Boxmasters are fresh, unpredictable, talented, fun and full of life…a life that we all have tasted and dreamed of riding…and these guys are doing it….it surely isn’t for the money or fame…it’s for the joy of having fun with strangers and old pals…our little merry band of fans are part of that groove now.
Todd Holden lives alone, but is not lonely, on a small plot of land near Forest Hill, that used to be called ‘The Big Woods”…to his knowledge there’s never been a murder there.