A Riff, A Rhythm, A Chord, An Expression and a break from the road…

It was in the first few months after I bought my first guitar that I heard my first riff-a riff on two chords, A minor and G major. It was arpeggiated. The expression came from thinking about a family friend who had been sent to Thailand as a soldier with the possibility of deployment to Vietnam. This was 1967, and the conflict was raging. We were hoping that he wouldn’t be sent to the battleground. I heard a similar riff in the film, All Quiet On The Western Front, a few weeks ago. My riff sounded a bit like the guitar at 1:17 here.

On my first guitar, I learned songs by others, and by doing so, I learned riffs, chords and even expression. Expression is many things; expression is dynamics, loud and soft, fast and slow, how to phrase, when to rest, when to play, and most importantly when to listen. When I speak with musicians just starting out and they ask about music, I always speak about the importance of listening. I learned riffs by listening and not just riffs by others. Sometimes when chords are being played, and you listen close enough, you can hear a riff in the chords. That is not unlike the after image in visual art. It may emerge from hearing overtones, those sounds that resonate above or below the fundamental tone. Then, just as “other” tones emerge, “other” rhythms can emerge. It is possible to find these “other” tones and rhythms by listening. In that sense, listening is more important than playing. There are an infinite number of riffs and rhythms waiting to be heard.

Those two chords are early chords that beginners learn on guitar. I think my first riff, the above mentioned, happened because of hearing The Animals version of “The House of the Rising Sun.” It was the hearing of a riff and then trying to use that riff in a different setting, in a new way.

Isn’t that how all art is made? It comes from a bit, a bunch, or all of the input that happens to pass through us, sometimes intentionally and sometimes not.

The way I think about art these days and how it is created, is all about the input, whether in music, literature, film, visual art, television, theater, dance, conversation, any text anywhere or other sources, dreams, meditation, a walk in the woods, a walk in a museum…Everything is a direct input connection to our creative souls.

The Willbilly Music store has had records, a Willbilly button and Willbilly walnut ink for many years.

I recently have added two new items at the store, a music lesson and a recording session. As a music maker, I have had a diverse career in music. I have recorded my own music, recorded music for others, composed music for television and commercials, taught private and college level instruction, facilitated music at a correctional institution, performed and toured with other country, folk, rock and blues artists, as well as my own, Willbilly Music, and mentored others for their own careers in music.

This is a post to let everyone know that I am available for an online music lesson with you or a gift for a friend or family member. The music lesson can be about anything musical that you or your recipient would like to explore in performance, recording or composition. I am ready to share what I have learned in my fifty years of immersion in music.

Why here, why now? The shorter, colder days are just ahead, and I’m going to back off from touring for a while. I have also been composing music for licensing and pitching things nearly every two weeks. It’s been good fun to be immersed in the studio as well as the dog-walk breaks.

Billy with Mavis at home in Liberty. Photo by Sue Griffiths

I recently read an article in Tape Op about a musician-producer named Brad Cook. He had a quote that really resonated with me at this time-it went- “I’d rather play music all day and sleep in my own bed than drive all day, play music for an hour, and sleep in a weird place.” That’s how I’m feeling here in early November. Peggy Seeger once told me that if the road ever gets to be more challenging than rewarding to take a break. The road has always been a bit challenging, but the rewards have always been plentiful. I recently did a couple of shows in Missouri where the rewards outweighed the challenges. I’m ready to spend more time in the studio again; it’s that simple. I hope that that explains things a bit.

That’s all for now. I’ll look forward to hearing from anyone who is interested in lessons. All the best to everyone here in the northern hemisphere as we go dark for a bit…



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  1. Well written. I’ve followed you for decades, and never regretted one minute. It was great to see and hear you in Catonsville, and to buy your albums. You craft and play great music, across multiple genres. I write short stories about my cats and others in the Land of the Rainbow Bridge.

    Keep on expanding your horizons. At some point, I may try to publish my 20+ short stories. And dogs are in them as well lol.

    Mike O’Leary

    1. Hi Michael, Thanks for your message, thanks for reading and thanks for listening. I’ll look forward to seeing your short stories someday. Sue and I have a cat, Minnie and a dog, Mavis and they are a hoot… Cheers, Billy

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