Local music legend “Wild Bill” Hancock taken too soon

Barry Hart

My experience with “Wild Bill” Hancock, Alexandria’s foremost favorite son and exponent of rockabilly music, spanned about 45 years. 

At the dawn of this eon, in my roots and apprenticeship, I suffered Mr. Hancock the rare experience of “getting sick” all over the plush passenger seat of his pink Cadillac Eldorado sedan — not to mention my loud and flared plaid, wool “Disco Pants.” 

Photo of Billy Hancock with a fist in the air and a Gibson SG guitar hanging around him.
Photo courtesy of Carrie Slark.

But by 2013, with more than two decades of sobriety under my belt (not to mention up and down stewardship of my own blues and jazz band), I had authored five full columns on Billy’s album releases and his crazy but illustrious career. 

 Billy sang vocals and thumped the bass with Danny And The Fat Boys from 1973 through 1980, enabling the legendary Danny Gatton to reach a mass audience through albums on the revived Aladdin label (known for jazz, rhythm and blues and rock n’roll).  

 By ‘81, Hancock was busy launching his own dazzling career, largely on Ripsaw Records. “Boogie Disease,” a bone-shaking dance number with goofy nonsense lyrics, charted on both sides of the Atlantic. 

 This sudden surge of fame and acclaim ultimately allowed our Billy to establish his own label, Turkey Mountain Records, to spread his amazing electric catalog far and wide. He started it with his brother to uplift talented artists that were otherwise ignored. 

 My top fave of the vastness of Billy Hancock’s output would have to be “Too Much Rock and Roll Music,” a revived obscurity from about 1958. The song unfolds, showcasing Bob Newscaster filling in with looping, swerving Fender guitar licks, and “Wild Bill” yelping and hiccuppin’ his way through the gripping narrative of “Line Tall Sally” changing the tone of a rural barn dance through “wrigglin’ on the hardwood floor!” 

The accounts were well received during my tenure writing a culture column in Alexandria’s Old Town Crier magazine.

Pages featuring a two-part series (part 1, part 2) about Billy Hancock written by Chris and Spence, published in the Old Town Crier in 2010. Pages courtesy of Old Town Crier magazine

My co-conspirator on the column, and bandmate, Spence Hiller, went to Rock n’ Roll Heaven when cancer seized him rudely away last August. Now, Billy has joined him. He passed Jan. 22 at a hospital in La Plata, Maryland. The previous summer, friends of Billy organized a benefit concert for him at Glen Echo Park to help cover his mounting medical bills. But he was called to the great gig in the sky while his devoted wife, Carrie, stood by his bedside.  

Sadly, Billy’s great dream of establishing himself as a creative force in Nashville ended with his death. All of his devoted friends, family and fanatical fans await the release of a CD of the fabulous sessions known by the working title “Union Avenue,” which he largely completed in 2015, prior to his fatal illness.  

 Long may you wave, master Billy Hancock! 

On Sunday, May 20 there will be a musical salute to Billy Hancock at Pearl Street Warehouse on the Wharf in Southwest D.C. Tickets are expected to go on sale the week of March 26.

Featured image (top): Billy Hancock’s band performing at a 2006 festival in France. Steve Wolf on bass, Barry Hart on drums, Billy Hancock on rhythm guitar and vocals and Dave Chappell on lead guitar. Photo courtesy of Barry Hart.

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