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An Interview with Bill Alton,
Starlight Drifters

by Shaun Mather

Last month I reviewed the knock out CD, Thirteen To Go by the Starlight Drifters. It was their third release and the first for the Rollin' Rock label. The interview that follows was conducted via e-mail with the bands versatile singer Bill Alton.

Where and when were you born?
I was born in Taylor, Michigan, which is a suburb of Detroit on July 27th 1970, which is also my dads birthday so I was proudly named after him.

Was music always a part of your life?
Music was big early on in my life I remember when I was about 7 or 8 hearing Red Sovines' "Phantom 309" and Johnny Cash singing "One Piece At A Time". That really grabbed me!!

Can you remember how you got interested in rockabilly/rock'n'roll?
For years in Detroit there was a radio station on the AM band called Honey Radio (WHND) and it focused on the first 10 years of Rock & Roll. And that's when I got to hear all facets of Americana from Doo-Wop, Rhythm & Blues and Rockabilly. It was all the same to me because it was all exciting AND Romantic!!!!

During the early 80s there were a few rockabilly acts, like the Stray Cats, the Jets, the Polecats, Matchbox and Shakin' Stevens, getting into the European pop charts which brought an influx of new young fans. Would you say that the Stray Cats had a big influence on the current rockabilly scene in the States as well?
It's pretty hard to deny that the Stray Cats didn't change things back then, no matter what people think of Brian Setzer today. Lets face it, those guys practically started the Roots revival in the States single handed. I find it amazing that those who just bad mouth that band and Setzer were ALWAYS at the Stray Cats shows in the 80's. And if that isn't enough, next time you're at a Rockabilly weekender look and see how many Stray Cat tattoos you see on the fellas arms, and on the chicks wherever! I must admit I have one as well, but then again, I still enjoy throwing "Rant & Rave" on the turntable every now and then.

You and Chris Casello came together through mutual friends, did you hit it off straight away? Did you both have the same feelings about the sound you wanted and the goals for the band?
Chris and I were brought together by friend and former founding member Kenny Bruce, who went on to join the Big Barn Combo. We clicked pretty fast because we both liked the same music and we both really dug The Kaisers!!! We have very similar ideas to how we want the band to sound and look. It has been a great ride so far. How did the band get the name?
How we arrived at the name Starlight Drifters is kinda fuzzy to me. We went back and forth with several names and I think one of the former members Chris Neel actually came up with the name.

You've backed Jack Scott among others. Is there anyone out there that you'd love to back above all others?
Backing Jack Scott is something I never would have imagined. I didn't even think I'd ever meet him. Everyone in Detroit knew Jack was around, but was a very private citizen and he liked it that way. So you can imagine my amazement when he introduced himself to us at one of our shows and started coming to see us quite regularly. That led to us being his back up band for over a year. It was a great experience that I miss and hope to repeat someday. Other than Jack I think it would be thrilling to back Johnny Cash, so keep yer fingers crossed!!

How did the two Dyna albums come about?
The 2 Dyna Electro releases were self produced mainly by Casello and they sound fantastic. Dyna Electro is the creation of Casello as well, he plans to have other bands join the label and produce them which I think is a win win situation for any band up and coming.

How did you come into contact with Ronnie Weiser and his Rollin' Rock label?
I think Ronnie had gotten a hold of our debut CD thru Hepcat or something like that and he liked me as a vocalist. I think the song "Deanna" grabbed him because of the emotion of the singing and the arrangement of the song which was helped A LOT with assistance from Casello.

What's it like working in the studio with Ronnie?
It was pretty wild working with Ron. Anyone who's recorded with him knows he's a no nonsense "Lets get to it and GO GO GO" producer. I think its also safe to say this man is genuinely insane about Mid 20th century Rock & Roll which is why I think he really brought out some viciousness in our recordings. He couldn't help but get up and flat out BOP while we were recording. It was wild, it was like the spirit of true Rock & Roll grabbed him and he was up howlin like a wolfman... it was beautiful.
Are there any plans for a follow up album?
I know Ron is ready for another platter release and we have some songs in the can. I think with the release of "13 To Go" just a few weeks old we will spend the summer and fall focusing on promoting it.

What do you think of the current state of the rockin' scene? Do you think it will ever hit the charts again? I think the scence overall stateside here is strong. It was pretty evident to me at the last VLV weekender that we still love our Roots Rock & Roll, and its really great to see everyone put their lifestyle policies of whats cool or not aside and come together to enjoy what its actually all about.. THE MUSIC.
It's difficult to think that rockabilly as a genre would return to the charts of "popular" music. I also think the general consensus of the scene would prefer it not to be on the charts for fear of trend setting a vital way of life for many of us. Every now and then though a song will pop through to the mainstream airwaves though, with rockabilly influence though, so never say never.

Are there any plans for the band to come over to Europe?
Chris and I have reached many of our goals with the Starlight Drifters. One of the big ones we are stuck on however is Europe. Mainly, getting there! We are hoping with influence from Ron Weiser And the Rollin Rock label we will be fortunate enough to share our love for this music with our friends across the pond.

If any promoters out there are reading this, why do you think they should book you instead of any of the other acts.
We work really hard on developing our showmanship from dressing top notch for ALL shows and having tight backing 3 part harmonies to add another dimension in our show. Making sure we enjoy our audience as much as they enjoy us. And lastly, this band can flat out play!!!! And I can personally guarantee Chris Casellos wizardry on the guitar which ranks amongst the GREATEST of players past and present. This isn't a hobby for us, we are here to make a mark and have some fun and make some friends along the way.

What are your favourite bands on the scene today?
Geez Louise there are so many bands out there that I like, so I'll mention some that are on the circuit today. I love good pickin', so I will start off with one of the best, Deke Dickerson and his Eccofonics. Big Sandy is a consummate pro and a big influence for me. Flat out the smoothest, most beautiful voice today. Mack Stevens is crazy, dark and really brings out the Serial killer in us all!!!!! I'm really diggin' a band from Maryland called Rockin Bones, great vocals. Ok here's some more by name only - Raging Teens, Twistin' Tarantulas, George Bedard & the King Pins.



Give me your 10 Desert Island Discs.
Here's the top ten Artists I'd want to have albums of. No particular albums. Just the songs I like best from them in no particular order. 1.Faron Young
2.Elvis Presley (pre 68)
3.Gene Vincent
4.Jack Scott
5.Eddie Cochran
6.Junior Brown
7.George Jones
8.Jackie Wilson
9.The Duprees
10. Johnny Horton (and I sneak in Marty Robins when no ones looking!!)

Any final message?
"One day my hair will bring world peace and align the planets."

Keep combing it Bill, and keep taking them tablets! Anyone interested in booking the band or finding out more about them, take a visit to www.starlightdrifters.com. A review of their brilliant new CD appears elsewhere on this page.

Shaun Mather
May 2001
Shaun.Mather@btinternet.com




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