It was 1966 and a 4 year old Billy Sullivan’s first appearance on stage. Sitting behind his older brother John’s drum set, on John’s knee, Billy tapped out Little Black Egg with John’s band, Shades of Grey. They were playing at the Trophy Room in the Brookgate Lanes Bowling Alley, Brook Park, Ohio, Billy’s hometown. From that moment on, Billy was bitten by the Rock-n-Roll Bug!
While listening to his older brother’s and sister’s record collection and encouraged by his parents, Billy was influenced and fueled by the Beatles music and his mother, Rosa’s, love of “Bluegrass”. Music became and still is, an important part of his life.
In 1968, his brother, John, left for Vietnam, selling his drum set before leaving. Billy’s interest then turned to his mother’s guitar. After years of struggling to play, in 1974, at the age of 12, his mother offered to take him for guitar lessons. Naturally, he jumped at the chance! Billy mastered the guitar in just 8 short months!!
In 1975, Billy, along with his friends from junior high school, formed a band called Duce. They played local dances and participated in the Battle of the Bands in the Cleveland, Ohio area. Winning a Battle of the Bands contest, they won the Grand Prize – a booking at the top west side rock club, The Corral located in Olmsted Falls, Ohio. The band Duce was a well received novelty because of their youth. They started playing nightclubs on weekends, with Billy’s parents there for support and because they were underage! After a while, Billy’s older band mates started to lose interest in the band due to girlfriends and other teenage social activities.
Billy decided to put an ad in the newspaper that he was looking for “Top notch Professional Musicians” to form another band. Answering that ad was, Tom Kriss, former bass player of The James Gang. They rehearsed a few weeks in 1979, but Tom was offered an opportunity to become a road manager for a new touring act. Billy was back to square one and undecided as to what to do!
Months later, Billy got a call from Tom Kriss. Tom was now a bass player and a road manage for a touring band and wanted Billy to join. The band was auditioning guitar players and Tom told them he knew just the guy! He was young (Tom thought Billy was 19 or 20) but he was very talented and a great guitar player. Arriving at the audition late due to a school band function, Billy ran through a couple of songs. “From what I can remember, I think it was a very long version of ‘Rocky Mountain Way,’” according to Billy. Billy was hired on the spot! However, there was a problem, he had to convince his parents to quit high school and go on the road. After much discussion and with the love and support of his parents and family, Billy left school at the age of 16 and became a member of The Paul Pope Band
Paul Pope, a native of Avon, Ohio, was the charismatic front man of the theatrical group of Molkie Cole. He left the group to embark on a solo career, with label support and management. The Paul Pope Band toured New York club circuit for the next 3 years.
On off days at home, during the time with The Paul Pope Band, Billy met Kirk Yano, owner of After Dark Recording Studios. He became involved in recording at Kirk’s studio. One of these sessions was with Jimmy Zero, formerly of The Dead Boys. Billy loved Jimmy’s songs and voice and eventually became involved in a side project with Jimmy. That project became Club Wow. For 2 years, 1982-1984, Club Wow played clubs in Cleveland and New York City. They wrote songs and shopped for a label but nothing ever happened.
In 1984, Billy played with a string of cover bands in order to earn a living. He then decided to go to Los Angeles with Paul Pope to see what opportunities might be there. While Paul stayed in Los Angeles, Billy came back to Cleveland and joined the band, Moonlight Drive.
During the time with Moonlight Drive, he met Tom King, a former member of The Outsiders. Billy started doing recording sessions with other musicians which later became The Billy Sullivan Band. “I don’t know how that happened,” said Billy, “Especially when they showed no interest in any of my songs! But the pay was great!” In 1986, one of the songs from those sessions, Never Again (With Out You) written by Walt Nims, became a charting single in Cleveland and other parts of the country. Unfortunately, poor management and lawsuits led to the demise of The Billy Sullivan Band in 1987.
While playing for several months with the band, Beau Coup, Billy and friend, Rich Spina formerly of the band, Love Affair, decided to team up. They became friends with Gary Lewis of Gary Lewis and the Playboys and joined Gary’s band. Both Billy and Rich are still current members of Gary Lewis and the Playboys while also backing up artists such as Mitch Ryder, Mark Lindsay, Billy J. Kramer, Lou Christie, Brian Hyland, Chris Montez, Freddie Cannon, and many other artists on the Oldies Circuit.
1998 was a rough year for Billy and his family. Billy’s mother, Rosa, passed away in April of that year. She was his main inspiration and supporter of his music and career. However, the year 2000 looked to be very promising! Billy got married on February 6!! Not only is he a husband, but also a step-father to 3 teenage children! Upon the return of his honeymoon, he was hand-picked to play for Eric Carmen, former Raspberry, for a show at the Rock-n-Rol
Hall of Fame. This was Eric Carmen’s first solo live performance in 22 years.
Over the years, Billy has written songs with songwriter, Brent Warren. Their songs have been covered by such artists as Scott McCarl of the Raspberries to Dave Edmunds. Billy also shared the stage with legends such as: Eric Carmen, Wally Bryson, and Jim Bonfanti (the nucleus of the Raspberries), Dale Peters and Jimmy Fox (formerly of The James Gang), Jonah Koslen, Donny Iris & the Cruisers, Bo Diddley and many more.
Currently, Billy Sullivan, a multi-talented musician, has just released his solo CD, recorded in his own studio, Billy Sullivan – All American Popster. While still a touring member of Gary Lewis and the Playboys. Billy is also involved in studio jingle production and performs occasionally with local groups: Spina, Sullivan & Hudak, The Covergirls, Rock Shop and The Paul Pope Band
Esquire is proud to be able to offer you Billy Sullivan’s CD All American Popster containing the following tracks:
Billy Sullivan – All American Popster:
1. Under The Spell of Love
2. Go Crazy
3. The Girl Downstairs
4. Never Again (Without You)
5. Playin’ With Fire
6. In The Night
7. Everywhere I Go
8. Nowhere Fast
9. Second Time Around
10. When Your Lights Turned On
11. That Means A Lot
12. In My Room
13. Harbor Of Love
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