Billy Zoom - 2004

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Billy Zoom is the legendary flashy guitarist from L.A. punk legends X. When he agreed to a telephone interview one sunny September evening, he probably had no idea that I had taken four shots of vodka before dialing his number -- and an additional six by the time we hung up TWO HOURS AND NINETEEN MINUTES later. But that's the mark of a true gentlemen: as I repeatedly interrupted him and forgot points he'd made less than five minutes earlier (pay attention to how many times I ask him, "So you really only like the first X album and not the others?"), he stayed cool, crisp and finely-humored. Plus he was nice as all get-out! I'd heard he was a tough interview, but nose iree. Billy Zoom is a swell fellow. Watch for a new X live CD and DVD coming out on Rhino as soon as they're finished with it! My words are bold; his are plain. I felt it was best to distinguish them from each other in that way.


Well, you're punctual.

I'm a punctual man! With punctual ideas.


Actually, I'm one minute late.

That's close enough. It's three hours difference.

It's still wrong though. It's not right.


How are you doing?

Well... Compared to what?

Compared to... You could be doing bad, I don't know!

Nah, I'm doing okay.

I tell ya what though, just to let you know, I'm 31 now and since I was 16, that damn "Decline Of Western Civilization" movie - (*whistles*). It did it! Did it!

You liked that?

Yeah! It was fun! I mean I fast forwarded through a couple of parts, but not the X part. I mean, you sitting there wiggling your ears -- you're not gonna get a tattoo because it's too trendy...

I watched that - are you taping this?

Is that okay?

Sure. Are you taping now though?



But anything you don't want in this, I'll take out, you know.

Well no, I was just gonna say when Penelope decided to do that movie, she asked us, the Blasters, the Plugz and all the other popular bands out here, and they all turned her down.


Because nobody wanted to be in it because it was a stupid movie. And everybody turned her down, except John was out drinking with her and some friends - a lot of the things that X got involved in just happened because John was out drinking with somebody - and it seemed like a good idea, so he told her we would do it. And then he told them they could - Well I'll tell you, back in those days we used to do three nights in a row at the Whiskey. We'd do Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, two shows a night. And it was pretty rough, you know? Two shows a night, three nights in a row. So the third night, Saturday night, we got out of the club at about three in the morning, and we were beat because we'd just done six shows in three days. Loaded the gear up in the car, drove back to - John, Exene and I, the three of us were sharing - John and Exene had a little one-bedroom apartment, and I would sleep on the couch. So that's where I was living. And we came home from the gig, we turned around a corner, and all of a sudden, Exene looked up and said, "John, it looks like there's somebody in our house!" All the lights were on and everything - and it was 3:30 in the morning! And there's people like walking in and out, and John goes, "Oh shit! What's the date? Oh! I told Penelope and her people they could film us, and I think I might have given them a key to the house."

At four in the morning?

Yeah. And we didn't know! And that couch where I'm sitting and looking bored out of my mind, that was where I slept. And there was a film crew in the room where I slept.

You did look bored.

By that time, it was about 5:30 in the morning.

Why was he giving someone a tattoo at 5:30 in the morning? Was that staged?

I have no idea. No, I don't think so, because they didn't know that we were gonna do it. But I guess Top Jimmy knew we were gonna do it because they brought him along with the film crew. And I think maybe he had it planned; I don't know. I don't know. I don't know anything about the tattoo thing. Maybe it was something that Jimmy had talked about doing - you know, giving him a tattoo or something like that.

Did you continue avoiding tattoos to this day?

No, I don't have a tattoo.

Very good.

I'm not into self-mutilation.

VERY good. So do you like -

If I had ever even come close, it would have been a long time before it got so trendy. I would resist during the X period just because I saw it as too trendy.

So I'm reading on the web site that before that period, you had like really long hair and glasses?

Well, if you go back to the late '60s.

Yeah. Were you playing in bands at that point?

I started playing professionally in bands in about 1963.

Oh my goodness!

When I started playing music, there was no rock and roll yet.

Wait a minute! Are you like 80 years old?

No, I'm 56. But I started playing music when I was about four or five. I was kind of a prodigy, so I started young. My dad was a musician, and he started training me when I was about four.

On guitar?

No, I started on - I won't give you the whole story because the last time I did an interview and somebody asked me to tell them about my musical background, they ended up cutting me off in 1963 because I'd taken about an hour already.

Oh my goodness!

But I had formal lessons on accordion, violin, piano, clarinet, alto tenor & baritone sax, and flute, and several years of music appreciation, theory and arranging.

Are all those instruments similar enough so that you could adapt or were they -

Piano and clarinet are pretty different. I had a few lessons on brass too, not to get really good on it, but enough to understand how trumpets and trombones work so that I could write arrangements. But I had lessons on almost everything except - oh, and banjo! But I was not allowed to have lessons on guitar. Because my mother did not consider a guitar to be a real instrument. Because people like Elvis Presley played the guitar. My dad of course knew better because he'd actually gigged with Django Reinhardt and people like that, but my mother had this hangup about guitars. So my dad started teaching me guitar when I was about six.

Man! How could you play with your little tiny fingers?

I had a tenor - Do you know what a tenor guitar is?


Four strings. I had a harmony tenor guitar that I started out on, and then I switched to six-string when I was about eight. And when I was eight was about the time when Elvis hit.

So you grew up with the rockabilly that you ended up playing?

I grew up with my dad's jazz collection. I originally was training to be a jazz saxophone player. I spent a lot of time listening to it and going to see - I saw Count Basie and Duke Ellington and all those bands. I still have the Dave Brubeck Quartet's autographs; I saw them two or three times. That was the kind of stuff I grew up listening to. And I used to play along with - I knew about half of Desmond's solos from Dave Brubeck's stuff.

Did you practice constantly?

Pretty much, yeah. And I was playing guitar that whole time, but I wasn't ever - you know, it's funny - my mother on the other hand had all of Elvis's records. And she was funny because she wouldn't let me take guitar lessons because it wasn't a real instrument because people like Elvis played it, but she bought all of his records. But she had all the 78s, and so I listened to those, and I was just thinking about this the other day that it was odd that it never occurred to me, even though I listened to those records a lot, it never occurred to me to play any of those songs on guitar. And I don't know why, except that I'd never seen anybody play that kind of music in real life. I'd only heard the records. And I was very hung up in jazz with the saxophone. And then when I was - am I going on too long?

No, no! Not at all, believe me.

When I was 14, when Kennedy was president, I went to a dance at the VFW hall sponsored by the Young Democrats, back when Kennedy was all hopped up about the Peace Corps, and they had Dick Biondi, who was the top DJ people listened to, hosting the thing. And they had a band, I can't - I think they were from Clinton, Iowa, I think - it was the first time I'd ever seen a rock and roll band play live, and these guys had Fender guitars and Fender amps and matching jackets, and I remember standing there watching them and watching the kids that I went to school with watching the band, and watching the band and watching the kids and I thought, "Hey, I can do this! I can play what that guy's playing on guitar!" And so I decided to start a band, and I quit my jazz quartet. And I started a band, you know? Started playing the guitar. Until that time, I'd only played in a jazz band. And cowboy songs - I was big on Roy Rogers and stuff like that. Anyway, then I started playing in bands in '63. I joined the Union in '63, so that was when I became a professional.

Wait, how old were you when you joined the Union?

15. You had to be within six months of your 16th birthday or something like that to join. The Union was kinda strict back then; you had to kinda be Union material. And then I went through the whole surfy Ventures instrumental thing and the British Invasion thing, and then rock came in and I didn't like rock so much, so I was playing soul music.

Really? Oh, okay. What did you think of the Beatles when they started?

When they started, I liked them a lot. When they got into all the drugs and did Sergeant Peppers, I couldn't stand it. It wasn't original or interesting to me, because it just sounded like a bad imitation of the Hal Kemp Orchestra. That stuff with the clarinets and stuff didn't appeal to me. I guess if you'd never listened to that kind of music, it was different.

Yeah, I guess most rock fans hadn't heard that -

To me, it sounded like a bad '30s or '40s Vaudeville show. That's what it was supposed to be, and I think that people didn't get that.

It's strange that it's considered a psychedelic classic when it's not at all psychedelic, except for like one song.

No, it was sort of a joke. A Vaudeville show from the late '40s, early '50s. I think they had Vaudeville shows because they didn't have TV.

That British Music Hall stuff.


Hey, were you - just before I forget to ask - were you ever allowed to play any of those other instruments on X records?

Yeah, there's sax I'm playing on "Big Black Sun"; "Come Back To Me" has a bunch of sax. And DJ's playing marimbas, which he does very very well. He's actually played marimbas with some jazz bands.


Yeah, he's a real - he's a serious jazz musician. What was I gonna say... Oh! Anyway, when the rock thing was picking up, I saw Hendrix and I met Hendrix in '67.

What was he like? Do ya -

Pardon me?

Was he nice to you? What was he like?

Oh, I said "Hi," he said "Hi." Then I watched him play and it was really interesting for about 15 minutes, but I wasn't really getting into his rock thing. So I started playing soul, which was really big at the same time - James Brown, that kinda stuff. I started going in that direction. And it was easy for me because I doubled on guitar and sax.

Were a lot of white guys playing soul at that point?

There were some white soul bands, but in the bands I played in, I was the only white guy. So from '68 to '72, I was mostly playing in soul bands.

Were there still weird kind of separatist racist things going on in the country at that point?

No, we didn't see any.


Yeah, we thought it was all gone. Because soul music was completely integrated, and we kind of had the impression - I was kinda bummed because we had the impression at the time that that was all over and we just had to wait for the grandparents to die off.

It's still not over.

Oh, it came back. Mixed up with assholes like Jesse Jackson stirring everybody up and trying to bring racism back because without it he would be out of work. He brought down Stax Records, he and his group - the Black Panthers. I still haven't forgiven him for that, destroying the music scene.

Jesse Jackson did?

Yep. He was instrumental in the demise of Stax Records and soul music.

How? What'd he do?

He started hanging out with the Black Power guys and Black Panthers and stuff and started telling them they were getting ripped off and they had to get Whitey out of the music business, they had to take the business over for themselves. So they took the company over, took all the money and then -

JESSE JACKSON!? The Reverend Jesse -


Oh my goodness. Okay. Didn't know that about him.

It's well-documented if you read that book called "Sweet Soul Music," and there's also a Stax documentary that goes into it. But yeah, in the '60s soul music was completely integrated. I mean look at the Stax house band - Booker T. and the MG's. Two black guys, two white guys.

Yeah. When I was growing up - I was born in '73 and I listened to all my dad's old records - his old 45s. A lot of the stuff that ended up on the Nuggets albums. And I was listening to them recently, and I was surprised by how much soul music he had. Obviously he was a white guy, but he had a ton of like Eddie Floyd, Sam & Dave -

Well, that music was very, very big in the late sixties.

Very good too. And now it just seems like black people tend to, at least in the industry, gravitate towards rap and that modern r'n'b stuff.

Yeah, I kinda lost interest in that when it went from soul to funk.

You didn't like funk?


Get funky?

I don't get funky. I liked soul and r'n'b, but I didn't like funk so much. I didn't do acid. I've never done acid.

I've never done acid either, but some funk's pretty fun! Not all of it. I don't listen to it constantly, but some of it - "Thank You Falletinme" - you know, the cool bass lines and stuff.

Well, there was a really good scene in L.A. in '70-'71, and that was the last soul/r'n'b music I liked. I was not into disco.

Oh, disco. No, that's not too hot.

They had a few good disco songs. Like Tyrone Davis. He did "Turn Back The Hands Of Time" - that's a great song. It's not disco, but -

I don't know if I know that one.

There was a lot of good music coming out of South Central L.A. in that period. I was in a band called Art Wheeler and the Bros. Love. All these names wouldn't mean anything to you, but Eddie Singleton and Chester Pipkin -

Oh, THOSE guys!

Yeah, they won't mean anything to you, but they were part of the L.A. music scene. So what was the question?

Who knows. Here's a new one for you though. Are you as absolutely bummed as I am that after 25 years, the Ramones have all died within four years? It's unbelievable!

I was really bummed about Johnny because we were friends.

Oh, I didn't know you were friends with him. Oh, he lived in L.A.!

Yeah, he lived in L.A., but I met him in the early part of the '80s. We were on tour and we had checked into this hotel in Manhattan, and there was a note for me from Johnny Ramone saying he heard that I liked the Ramones and he wanted to take me to dinner.


So I went to dinner with Johnny and Linda, and then they took me back to their apartment and he showed me his baseball autograph collection and we talked about stuff. So I've known him since then.

Did you know he was sick?

Not until after a long time. He wasn't talking about it.

'Cause it was really hidden. He kept it hidden even better than Joey did.

He kept it hidden for a long time, and then I started hearing rumors, and finally last year I called him and said, "What's going on?" "Well you know. I've got this cancer and you know...." I felt really bad because I hadn't spent much time with him recently. I wish I'd spent more time with him. The invitation was always there. But I did read that - you know, the reason I'm doing this interview is because I read that one with Tommy.

Oh! I did that! Yeah!

So -

Huh. "I did that!" Hah.

I have been shying away from interviews for a long time.

How come?

Eh, a lot of reasons. But anyway, I really liked that interview. It was really interesting, and there was some stuff in there that I'd never known about, and it was definitely fascinating, being a huge Ramones fan.

I couldn't believe I got a chance to talk to a Ramone. I'd seen Joey a few times in New York and just said, "Hey!" The last time I saw him I didn't know he was sick, and he was crossing the street, and just like a complete dumbass, as he walked by I said -- and I'm embarrassed about this now, but as he walked by I went, "Thank you for saving rock and roll!" And he didn't even look at me! He just kept walking, and I went, "What's up with that?" And then a guy said, "Oh, he's dying of cancer." And I was like "Oh my goodness."


And he was gone a few months later. It almost seems like the band ended -

Did they start rehearsing on a toxic waste site or something?

I know! I know!

I mean, you know -

Dee Dee just blew it.

Dee Dee -- it's sad about what happened, but I'm surprised he lasted as long as he did. I'm surprised it didn't happen sooner, because he was basically trying for that.

Yeah. That's true. But Keith Richards is still alive!


Keith. Richards.

Right. Go figure! I don't know what that's all about. But Johnny always took care of himself.

Yeah. What kind of cancer did he have?

Prostate cancer.

How did he get that? From eating too much meat or something?

I don't know.

Are you healthy?

Yeah, pretty much. For a grumpy old fat guy, yeah. Ha!

Oh, are you chubby now?

No, I'm not chubby. I just don't have my 32-inch waist anymore.

Jeez, I'm only 31 and I'm already starting to pack 'em on. It just happens.

I was thin 20 years ago!

Heh. Do you mind if I ask you - if you do, then I won't ask you - but both of my parents are Christian and Republican and of course I love them, and i know that you know that this magazine is geared towards "Hey, we're Liberal... We don't like Bush!" and all that. So I'd really like if possible for you to just, you know, quickly -- or if you don't want to, don't -- just explain what appeals to you about it, so that people can't say, "Ah, everyone who's a Republican is a jerk!," you know, that kinda thing. Because I know obviously both must be important to you, and I know that you're not some....jerk! So... And I'm just ask - I know that's a, you know, silly kind of question -

It's difficult to answer.

Yeah, but do you remember why you first became a Christian? It happened before you were in X, right?

Actually it happened right around the time that X started. And it just, I don't know, it was just a personal decision. I had spent a number of years checking out different philosophies - you know, I went through my Kabbalah phase in about '73.


That didn't last too long. I don't know really what to say about Christianity, except that it's real. You kinda have to give it a chance and experience it. I don't know.

I was raised in a Christian household.

Well, I was not. My dad was an atheist.

Oh. I'm not an atheist! I'm just a, you know -

My dad was an atheist. My mother had been raised Catholic but was discommunicated - What do you call it? Excommunicated for marrying my dad! But she really didn't - Bless her heart, she didn't know what it was all about. She went to Catholic school with Catholic kids, but she didn't really understand the theology.

Oh, okay. It is real, though? You really -

Absolutely. But you know, I don't - It's something you have to experience for yourself. I don't try to push it on other people. If somebody's interested, I'll talk to them. But uh... Aaawwwwwwwffffffuhhhhhyeeaaahhh...... The political part is hard to answer too, except that I like - No, the political part's actually easier. I am not a Republican; I am a Conservative. The Republican party is a political party, and I think all politicians are basically full of crap. However, I lean towards Conservative values because basically what I want is a government that provides national defense so that we are free to do what we want within our borders, and that keeps criminals off the streets so we're free to do what we want in our homes, and that provides a fire department to help fight a fire if my house is burning down. And basically other than that I kinda want 'em to stay out of my life. I'm a big fan of things like freedom and liberty, and I see those as being Conservative values, and I see Liberals as wanting to have bigger government that sticks their nose in everybody's business and takes away our freedoms.

Oh, okay. Do you like Bush at all?

Mmmmm... I like him okay. I know a lot of people really hate him, but I don't know. I'm disturbed to see people getting so bent out of shape and in peoples' faces about it, because it was my understanding that the whole point of a democracy is that everybody is entitled to their opinion, and in matters involving voting, the electoral majority rules. You should basically respect peoples' rights to disagree with you.

Yeah. I don't know. I think it just depends on what you read. I tend to read things that talk about all the, you know... All the bad things you would say about George Bush and this particular administration. But to be honest, I was gonna vote for him when I didn't know anything about him. Before 9/11, I was gonna vote for him, and I went to the - something was screwed up, they said I couldn't vote, I had to go downtown or something.

So you never voted?

Yeah. I tell ya what - even though I'm not real fond of George Bush, I'm also not real fond of Kerry unfortunately.

Well, that's another thing. Kerry wasn't anybody's first choice. He got picked by default. You see, somebody somewhere decided that he was the one that had the best chance of defeating Bush. I don't know why they picked him though.

I know that the Republicans keep saying "flip-flopping," but he just seems really wishy-washy like he doesn't have any ideas.

Yeah, he seems pretty phony to me.

Yeah. Well, Clinton seemed really phony to me!

I don't know how to classify Clinton. He couldn't be a rock star because he couldn't play an instrument, and the only reason he became a politician was because he wanted the attention.

Some people think -- and by some people, I mean "my boss" and "the guy I work with" -- think that the reason they're pushing Kerry is because they don't think Hillary is ready to run and they don't want to wait eight years for Hilary, so they kinda put a guy up that they knew would lose so that Hillary could run in four years. You know, it's just a theory that I don't know much about.

Yeah, I've heard that.

Okay. I don't think people are gonna vote for Hillary; people hate her!

Well, I certainly can't see her making it to the White House because of what her husband did. I just see him as a person who is driven by his own personal insecurities. But her - she kinda scares me. I think she might have an actual agenda. Anyway, can we talk more about music?

Absolutely. I was actually about to go back to it.

I'd much rather talk about music, you know?

That's fine! I was actually going to -

The older I get, the more I think that different people just process the same information differently, and reach different conclusions.

Yeah! Based a lot on I guess what their history is, and everybody has different things that they -

I think it might just be the way their brains are wired. I don't know, but....

How much are you into music? How big a part is it in your life?

How big is it in my life?

I mean, how much you - I know that you fix amps, I know that you play in bands and I know that you produce bands. Is music your passion?

Absolutely. Well.... No, my family's my passion.

Oh, good! Yeah.

But I think that artists, in general - if I can classify myself that way -

Of course you can.

I think they create because they have to. Because they were people who just happened to see things a little bit differently than the rest of the world, and because of that they're ridiculed and persecuted as kids. And some of us turned those feelings and that hurt inside and used it to try and create something that we can show to people and say, "Here. You think I'm weird? This is how you look to me. This is my view of the world." And it's not something you can choose whether or not to do; it's something you're driven to do. (* buzzing noise, followed by high-pitched squeal*) Hello?

What the heck is that?

I don't know!

I'm on a land line. Are you on a land line?

Well yeah, but I'm on a cordless phone. Let me change.


(*pause in the action*)

Is that better?

Oh, much nicer!

Okay. I think the cordless phone's running out of juice or something. Anyway, I don't think it's something people just decide to do; it's kind of a drive to kind of create something that you can show to people.

I understand that.

And sometimes the unfortunate part - you know, the two horrible things that can happen is that (1) you create something and show it to people and they say it's a piece of shit and then you feel horrible. The other is that you create something that people really like and they tell you, "You're a genius! It's brilliant. I love it." And then they say, "Okay, from now on I just want you to do more of that. Don't create anything new."

Oooo, okay. Yeah, that's - yeah.

"No! Do more X songs! Do more X songs that sound like 1979."

Ugh. Okay.

But it's like, "I did that. Here it is. Right here. You can listen to 'em."

What kind of songs do you write now?

What kind of songs do I write now. Right now, I am working on a theme song and background music for a show called "Gearhead TV," which is supposed to end up on Speedvision. And I'm doing mostly TV soundtracks and background music for commercials and stuff.

Oh wow! How'd you get into that?

I am not, by the way, fixing the amps much anymore. I've kinda phased that out.

You're not what anymore?

Fixing amps.

Oh, okay. Yeah, I noticed on your web site that you didn't seem to be doing it anymore.

No, it's just that I have other things to do.

Yeah. More artistic things to do!

More artistic, more fun things to do. It's just time to move on, although I do still - like I just did three amps yesterday for Goldie Hawn's son-in-law. Chris...ahh, what's his name - Robinson.

Ah, you have to do that because she was in "Foul Play"!

Uuuuuuuhhhhhhhh..... Kate Hudson?

What'd you say?


Goldie Hawn, right?

Goldie Hawn, yeah. But Kate Hudson sounds much better. And I did them for her husband, the singer from the Black Crowes.

She married HIM!?

Yeah, she married the guy from the Black Crowes.

Oh. Ah, you know, I like the Black Crowes -

They're happily married supposedly, according to their roadie.

Yeah, just like Britney Spears and her new husband.

I hear that's fake.

Yeah, me too. That they didn't actually sign the, uh -

They faked everybody out.

She's weird. She's an odd bird.

I think she just wants to get away from her mother because she's tired of being pushed into show business. That's my theory. Anyway, what was I talking - Weren't we gonna talk about music?

That's what we're talking about!

That's one of the reasons I stopped doing interviews. Nobody ever wants to talk about music!

We were talking about how Goldie Hawn makes beautiful music! No, here's a question:

And then people always ask me questions like, "So what's it like being up there with X? Is it still as much fun up there as ever?"

I'm not gonna ask you that.

That question -

I know better than that. I know -

It's like asking a Olympic swimmer after a meet, "So were you having fun out there, splashing around in the water?" It's not supposed to be fun.

That's not what I'm doing, man!

It satisfies, uh -

I'm your buddy!


I'm your BUDDY!

I know! I can tell.

And I appreciate you being so nice after reading this thing on your site about "Oh, he's so standoffish! Oh!"

Where was that?

The Nice Guy page. The interview you put on here.

I need to change that; it's about six years old.

Yeah! Why is it still on here? It makes you sound like a real ass!

It does?

Because of the way the guy wrote, it does! "Oh, some people say he's a jerk, but he's not! He's just -"

Well, that's his paranoia. That wasn't me. He changed his mind after that, and now we're buddies. I just talked to him about a half an hour before you called!


We're now good friends! He was just apprehensive about doing it. The first part of that interview - I thought it was funny because it was about how paranoid and apprehensive he was about interviewing Billy Zoom. And then he kinda gets over that through the interview, and now we're buddies. Maybe people don't get that; I don't know.

I play the guitar too, although I've never ever been anywhere near as good as you are. I've just gotten to the point where, you know - what happened to me of course is that nobody cared. So I just stopped. I got a 16-track and I was recording on it. I've made a lot of CDs, but not enough people care. So now I just think -

Don't think for a minute that people always cared passionately about what I did. I mean X was I think my 44th band.


Yeah. I don't remember now, but I counted it up once and I think that that's what I came up with. And I'd had an off-and-on career for, you know like - in '67 I was a star, in '68 I couldn't get a job.

What were you doing in '67?

'67 I was playing in the biggest band in the Quad Cities. We were big and I was making more money than my parents combined.



What was the name of the band?


What was the name of the band?

It was a '60s soul band. It was called the Loved Ones. We were playing three or four nights a week; we were pulling on average about 1200 kids a night. Average - and sometimes it was 16, 1700 kids. And I had a motorcycle, a motorscooter, three cars and I thought I was set. And a year later, I was selling one of my saxophones to pay the rent! And it was kinda off-and-on from there. I had a little bit of success overseas in the mid-70s doing rockabilly. I had a couple of minor hits in like Finland and Norway, and that was, you know, that was - I didn't know X was gonna be anything special.

How much of the songwriting did you do on the, on the - five albums you were on, right?

John and Exene did the lyrics. When I started - we should back up a little bit. I don't think a lot of people realize that I started the band.

Okay. Yeah, I saw that in the interview.

After soul music had turned to funk and I was sort of looking around for something to do, I did rockabilly for a while.

What year did you become -- I'm sorry. What year did you become "Billy Zoom"?

About '73. I'm not really sure. It started out kind of as a joke.

HA! But you've kept it for thirty years now!

Somebody said it as a joke in like '72.

Is it just a stage name? Like does your wife call you -

Everybody calls me Billy.

Even your wife?

Yeah. Everybody except my aunt, who is 86.

Is it weird? Or do you just figure, "That's my name now"?

No, because that's been my name since '72 or '73.

Woooooooooow. Your parents didn't mind?

My parents - my mother died in '67 and my dad died in '78, and I hadn't seen him much in the ten years before that, so I was pretty much on my own from the time I was about 18.

Oh. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have brought that up.

That's okay. You know, since I was 19, I was in Davenport, when I was playing in that band in the Quad Cities. My mother had remarried and gotten married to this jerk, and then she got sick and died. Then he came by and said, "Your mother's dead. You have two weeks to get all your stuff out of my house." So it was kinda pathetic, you know.

Jesus. Did you punch him?

No. I did rockabilly in the mid-70s just sort of by default, because I didn't look good in spandex.


It's true. I mean, if I'd been skinny and looked good in spandex, I might have had a whole different career. I might have jumped into that glam thing. But I didn't. And I started - well, I got that gig with Gene Vincent in '75, and that turned out to be the most fun I'd had playing in a while.

Was he friendly?



Yeah, Gene was a great guy. The rest of the band sucked. The rest of the guys in the band were a bunch of hippies who thought - they weren't sure who Gene was, but they knew he'd been famous. But they were profoundly embarrassed; they said this on numerous occasions - that it was so embarrassing to play those stupid old songs in front of people. But they thought that maybe it would look good on their resume, you know? Gene was fun. We'd get him, uh - my favorite thing, I wish I'd had a tape recorder back then but I didn't. Cassettes were still kinda new when I did that. I would have really liked to get him in the motel room telling stories. Hooking Duane Eddy up with a transvestite in Soho - and not knowing that it was a guy. He had funny stories like that. About Eddie Cochran, and having adventures and stuff. I liked Gene.

So you said that you formed X. How did that come about?

Oh! I was kinda getting burned out on rockabilly. I'd had a little success overseas, but not anything big. In Finland, a gold record was 20,000 in '73. So if you sell 9,000 records, you have a minor hit. But it's still not enough money to go over and tour.

And you heard the Ramones!

I started hearing about the Ramones in summer of '76 when they played the Roxy. And I think they played the Whiskey - they made the rounds. I didn't go see them, but I started hearing about them. And my bass player Patrick Woodward, who played this killer upright bass and an electric one too - he brought me a review to rehearsal. It was a review of them at - I think it was the Roxy. I can't remember what paper it was, but it was a negative review. And the writer obviously did not like punk rock, did not like the Ramones, and was probably enamored with Journey or somebody like that. He was running down this list of what was wrong with them -- you know, the songs were too fast, they had simple lyrics, there were no extended guitar solos -- and it sounded like everything was too rock'n'roll for this guy. And so I said, "This doesn't sound so bad," and Patrick said, "Yeah, I'm inspired - I wanna go see 'em now!" It sounded good to me; it sounded like something we'd like! And at that point I was playing about three nights a week, but I was working a day job. I always did electronics on the side, and I was working at a place that worked on pro audio gear for studios that were putting in new sound systems and stuff. And we put in a sound system at a ballroom in Norwalk, California, which is a suburb that nobody's ever heard of on the south side of L.A. County. And they had a ballroom where people did ballroom dancing during the week, and on the weekends they were starting to have rock and roll concerts. And we put in a sound system there - a big one for the time. So I was out there everyday for a week or two, and the people said, "Hey, if you guys ever want to come see any of our shows, just call and we'll put you on the guest list." And they gave me a list and there was Tom Petty and the Ramones. And I said, "Oh, I'd like to see these two." So I saw the Ramones at that show, and it just kinda changed everything. It was sort of what I had been looking for but couldn't put my finger on. So I watched the Ramones and I watched the audience too, and I was obviously one of the few people there that hadn't been following them.

This was in '77?

Late '76, early '77. When their first album was out.

Wow. I went to see 'em in '89! You know, that

And while I was watching them, I was thinking, "You know, Eddie Cochran and the Ramones put together - if I could do something like that.... I could put this rockabilly guitar stuff, you know, rock and roll guitar - if you could put that with what Johnny's doing with the bar chords, it would kick butt." And the next day I went out and bought their album. I saw 'em on Saturday, bought the album on Sunday, and on Monday I put an ad in the paper for a bass player and a drummer to form a punk band. I think it said something about "Eddie Cochran meets the Ramones" or something. And John Doe, this kid fresh out of college with a Baltimore accent - he was the second bass player I auditioned and he had really cool shoes. I think at that point I had assumed that I would be the main songwriter and lead singer because that's what I'd been doing, and then I listened to some of John's songs and he sang really well and had some really strange but interesting songs that were really unique in style. Because my stuff was more predictable, you know?

(*at this point, side one of the tape ended. I turned the tape over to continue recording, and didn't notice until about eight minutes later that I had only pressed the "play" button, not "record"*)

Oh my goodness. I'm really upset now.


Well, you're gonna be mad at me for this, okay?

What's that? You broke the tape?

Don't be mad at me! No, you can be mad at me. It's okay. You remember a few minutes ago when I said I had to turn the tape over?


Apparently I only hit "play."


What did we talk about since then?

I have no idea.

It wasn't like - it was only ten minutes ago.

That was forever. That was an eternity unless you remember what I said. What was the last thing I said on the first side?

Umm.... Aw jeez, I don't remember.

Why aren't you doing this direct to disc, by the way?

I don't know how that works.

But that's their old technology.

I can't believe I did that.

Ha ha....

The reason I said that is because I know that you're a tee-totaller and I know that I didn't drink until I was 27, and tonight I drank some.

Uh oh.

(my ol' lady): You were talking about how much you both love the Ramones.

But don't worry about it! Don't be mad at ME! You were doing all kindsa DOWNERS and stuff! I know you!


Sure! Why not?

I've never done downers.

Good. Good.

(my ol' woman): And the Ventures.

I've never done anything. Except drinking.

The only thing I ever did was speed.

Shit, I'm a - SPEED? REALLY? Did that help?

Uhh... well, up to the point where it doesn't help anymore, yeah.

Ohhhh. Oh boy. Hey, do you have an email address?

It helped keep me skinny.

Do you have an - Do you -

Yeah, I have an email address. This is very hard though. You're gonna have to concentrate.

Okay, I'm ready.

I can't remember. See? No. Because I would like to send you this and when you look through it, I'd like you to see if there's anything, you know, from the last ten minutes that deserves to be said. I'm so angry at myself for that, because I ALWAYS hit both buttons. That's annoying. But don't worry about it being annoying, because you know - I am just, I'll tell you this: I'm really surprised at how friendly and open you are, because of this guy who interviewed you who said you were so scary. You know?


And, and, and your -

I'm really tall.


About 6'3, yeah.

I'm only 5'11.

See? Maybe I'd look scarier in person.

No, you ARE scary! Just KNOWING that you're 6'3! But yeah, I do. I do! I like the second X album. You know? Like I like - I'll tell ya what -- I really really love the first three albums. The fourth one, I know it's popular but I don't care for it so much. The fifth one I hate!

Let me tell you about the first and second album. I think you didn't record the part about Rick letting us record in his new studio.

That would be GREAT to repeat that part then. What's that?

Well, Rick. See, Rick keeps popping up - Rick Perrotta was the guy that I was working with at Audio Concepts when we installed the sound system for the client that let me in to see the Ramones for free. And Rick and I used to work in the shop there together. We were techs together. Then Rick left the company - I left the company to start X, and then a little while later he left the company to go into a partnership with a guy named Paul who was building a studio. They built a state-of-the-art studio. And when we got signed to Slash, they didn't have a lot of money, but Rick called me up and said, "Billy, I wanna engineer this album. I've known you a long time, I've got this beautiful studio. Whatever money they give you for budget, I don't care what it is. You give me whatever you get - whatever you get to work with, give it to me and I'll give you as much time as we need to make a good album. But I want you in here working with me. I don't want you looking at the clock and worrying about whether you're gonna have enough money to finish it." So we went into that studio, Rick engineered and we played everything basically live, except for overdubbing the vocals. And a couple songs I had guitar solos, I just played the rhythm guitar straight through the solo, then overdubbed the solo, but it was like one or two takes. Very quick. And that album I like.


The second album, Slash was running out of money. We didn't have as much money because they had rushed us into the studio to cut a single of "White Girl," which seemed like a good idea at the time, but actually it came out of our recording budget -- almost half of our recording budget for the second album.


Yeah. Well, one song isn't a lot cheaper than ten songs because most of the time you spend in the studio is setting up and getting the sounds and tuning drums and mic'ing things.

That song's not any -

Once you're ready to go, you just play the songs.

But that song's not any better than the rest of the album.

No, it isn't. It was a..... you know? Sometimes that happens. So then we wanted to do the second album, but because we were a punk band, we were shut out of all the mainstream recording studios, as well as being banned from all the radio stations across the country. So we tried to book time at a bunch of regular studios and they were very rude to us. You know, it was just, "Well, it's $200 an hour." "Okay. Well, what if we book a hundred hours?" "It's 200 times a hundred." "Well, what if we have a 24-hour lockout?" "Well, it's 24 times 200 -"


They just did not want a band named X that played punk rock in their studio. And then a guy came up to me at one of our shows who was a friend of a friend of a friend that I had met once. "Billy, I'm working at this studio." It was a studio where we had tried to book time, but they didn't let us. And he says, "I'm a second engineer at this place. I just got the job, and if you're interested in having me engineer a record for you, I can get you in for $50 an hour." And it sounded good at first, but we found out later that actually he was not an engineer. He was just cleaning up the place, and in fact his sister was married to one of the owners of the studio, who just gave him a job for her. And he had no idea to run a recorder or anything. And because there was no money and we couldn't - well, we just didn't have any choices! So we went in there and we started recording and it was a complete disaster.

Not to my ears!

And, well, but the thing is -- the sounds were really, really -- you know, the guitars sound really thin and fuzzy, and didn't have any -

But you don't think the songs are catchy?

Well, let me finish.

No, none of that.

Then what we ended up doing is, because the sounds were so bad, instead of just playing - you know, normally I fingerpick and stuff and play two or three parts at the same time and do my whole trip - we had to separate all those, then take each part separately and overdub and double it about eight times to make it sound like a guitar, and then take each section and do that. And it ended up sounding not as thin as it started out, but it also doesn't sound like X. It kinda gutted the whole arrangement, the whole flow of the thing, because the sounds were so bad that we had to do, you know, 15 tracks of guitar instead of one because he didn't know how to mic a guitar. And also they had some problems - it was pouring rain that month. It was one of those rare years when it rained and there was some kind of problem with the power pole out back. There was a hum on everything, so we had to roll the bottom off all the mics. We had to take it all out and then try to put it all back in! And then John decided that this guy should go on the tour with us and be our soundman.

WHAT!?!? HA!!!!

And I said, "Why? He's terrible!" And he said, "Well yeah, but being a soundman's not as hard as making a record. And besides that, we don't have a soundman and he knows all the songs." "But he's awful." "Yeah, but I'm sure he'll be okay. It's better than having somebody who's never heard us doing the sound. That's always a mess on tour." "Yeah, okay." So he went on tour with us for a year, and then when it came time to do the next album, John told me he could engineer that one too. I said, "Why!?" And he said, "Well, he did the last one and he's been on tour with us for a year. How would he feel if we told him he couldn't engineer the next album?" "He'd probably feel like he had a couple months off!"

What was his name again?


What was his name again? The guy?

I'd rather not mention names - let's just call him "Clay Rose".

So what did Ray Manzarek have to do with all this?

Ray was like artistic consultant.

Was he around?

Ray was around. Ray wasn't a producer. Ray was a nice guy though; I don't want to put Ray down. Ray had a lot of artistic input. He was good as far as getting a good performance out of John and Exene or just making suggestions on how they should phrase a vocal or something like that. But this is the truth - Ray honestly doesn't remember making any Doors records. You ask him about it and all he says is, "Hey man, there was so much fuckin' drugs around in those days, I don't know where I was half the time." That's all he says! Plus the fact that he's about half-deaf and couldn't hear what was going on.

Were you a Doors fan? Was this a big deal for you? Or no?

Me? I was not a Doors fan. John was. John and Exene were. You know what? I liked the band, but I couldn't stand Morrison. He sounded too much like a Vegas crooner. "COME ON BABY, LIGHT MY FIRE!" You know, that kinda thing. He didn't sing rock and roll.

Yeah, but his poetry was so deep! DEEP!

I haven't read his poetry.

Oh, his poetry was hideous.

I always thought he was a nutcase.

Did you honestly only like the first X record?

Well, I was trying to finish that story, but you wouldn't let me.

I did! And you're done now.

So he got to engineer the third album also. By that time we'd gone from Slash to Elektra.

How come you never got credit for any of these songs though? I mean, you had a part in all of these songs.

I don't think I should answer that. Know what? When the band's finished, I'll answer that. Ha!

Well, you weren't on "Hey Zeus!" so I would say the band is finished.

No, I mean when the band's finished playing and I don't have to depend on it to make money.

You still depend on the band to make a living?

Yes. Absolutely. I never made any money with X until '98.

Are you serious!?

One thing that people don't understand about that article - in that article, I think he said, you know -

You only do it for the money.

"Why did you come back?" "Well, because they started offering me enough money to really make it worthwhile."

Were they ripping you off?

You see, the part that people miss is that I originally left X because I couldn't make a living out of it and I was getting too old to play for free and sleep on peoples' couches and drive a 20-year-old car and not have a bank account, you know? You reach a point where - by the time I left the band, I was about to turn 38 which is for all practical purposes almost 40, and I had never had a checking account or a credit card, I was driving a truck that was 27 years old, I lived in a little crummy apartment and I thought, "You know?" And the punk thing was over and I was panicked. I figured, "It's downhill from here. I can't hang around." So I found my way out.

How did you survive it that long?

Insanity, I guess. No, uhh.....

That's ridiculous!

Nobody made any money.

A band that good to be that.... Well, what can you do.

Well, it was Lee Abrams' fault.


It was Lee Abrams' fault, if you wanted to blame somebody.

Ha! I will.

Neither X nor the Ramones ever sold more than a hundred thousand copies of anything, which is a failure in the United States record business. That's usually not even enough to keep you signed to the label. Because we were shut off the radio. There were only like five or six stations in the whole country that had an open format.

But X's music - 75% of it is so accessible!

But it didn't get on the radio. Well, look at the Ramones! All of theirs was. I mean, they were a hit in England.

They played a little fast though.

Their records were huge hits around the world. Just not here because of radio. And in the United States, because the country is so huge, no matter how big a trend gets in the major markets, if you don't have the radio you can't reach the people in Peoria and Cleveland and stuff, and you can't ever have -

Do you know how bands like Journey got on the radio?


Bands like Journey, you know.

Bands like Journey I think first of all got in right under the wire when they were first going to - in the mid-70s, they had this thing that was new called "radio consulting firms." Radio consultants. And at that time, computers were just starting to become available for businesses. Not the computers we have - the big ones that take up an entire room. And Lee Abrams was one of the pioneers. He started a consulting firm and what they did was they would monitor the playlists of successful stations - key stations - around the country, and they'd monitor the ratings. And they would feed all the data into the computer, and the computer would spit out a formula saying, "Well, if you play these songs during this time of the day this frequently, and you put these in heavy rotation and these in medium rotation, and you subscribe to our service, we will send you a list every week telling you what to play. And we'll guarantee that your ratings will increase by this amount." And by the time the Ramones came out, about 98-99% of the commercial stations in the country were being programmed like that, by radio consultants. And the problem was there was a flaw in the system, which is it's one thing to give a computer data on what stations are playing and who's listening, but how do you decide what new music to add? And the two methods they came up with was (a) a band like Journey brings out a new album and their last three albums have gone triple-platinum and been in heavy rotation. The computer looks at that and says, "Okay. Put that in heavy rotation." Are you still there?

Of course I am!

You're making a lot of noise!

I'm making noise?

The other thing was if a new band puts out a first album, they look at what does it sound like? If they're being hyped to sound like Journey - if people, you know, if they're a Journey type of group and they should appeal to people who like Journey, then the computer looks at that and says, "Okay, Journey does good. We'll put this one in the same genre and because of the genre, we'll put it in light rotation. Then we'll monitor the playlists. We'll monitor the ratings and see how it does." The problem with that is what happens when the Ramones come along and do new music, they've never had a record out before, and nobody's ever done that kind of music before, and nothing has a track record? They'd put that stuff on the - they had a "sudden death" playlist; "Do not play these records or your station's gonna get in trouble." I think the fact is that Lee Abrams just didn't like that kind of music. That's my opinion, just going by a few quotes and a picture of him. He looks like somebody who would probably hate anything I liked. But anyway, the point is in the late '70s there were only literally like five or six commercial stations in the whole country that could play anything other than the same 30 songs everybody else was playing. They had it broken down by style; there was classic rock, country -

Isn't it even worse now though?


Isn't it even worse now though? With ClearChannel -

I don't think it's worse, no. I think it's very bad, and of course MTV is involved now which is the epitome of evil. I don't think it's as bad because here and there there are stations like - have you heard of Indy 103.1?

I haven't, no.

It's a new station in L.A. See, in the old days we used to have KROQ. They were the one station in the area that had a free format, and they played all the punk stuff. And they became the top station in the country, and they became so big that a corporation bought them out. Now they are the program consultants for all the alternative stations in the country.

And they jaw down dick? (*at least that's what it sounds like I said, though I've never used this terminology in my life*)

Now they suck! So we haven't had any open format stations until this year, and now we've got a new station called Indy 103.1, and their top DJ is Steve Jones, the guitar player from the Sex Pistols.

Hey! Don Bolles mentioned that!

And he had Johnny Ramone on a bunch, he had me on, he had John on, and they play old music and new music and in-between music, and they just play stuff that they think sounds good, and they're doing it really well. But around the country there are stations here and there that play more than you'd hear on stations that don't play anything new. But it's still pretty bad. And a lot of it was screwed up by MTV too. And I, and I -

Do they even still play videos?


Do they even still play videos? Not when I look at 'em!

They do sometimes, and they have MTV2 also, which is supposed to be more music but I don't get that. They do sometimes, but it's all hip-hop or Britney Spears. Or bands that sound like Blink-182. But the thing is.... So much - I don't really wanna say this; this is kinda something that really annoys me. It's that everybody thinks that corporate rock is evil, but they don't seem to understand what that means. The major record companies take all the heat for all the crappy music, and what people don't realize is that their business is to sell records and they can only sell what gets on the radio and what gets shown on MTV. And if they know that the radio won't play it and MTV won't show it, there's no point in them signing it. They're up against the wall with that.

They're trying to make a living.

I mean, sure they're a bunch of unenlightened corporate -

But they're people who are trying to make a living.

- who are trying to keep their jobs -

People with a family, who are - yeah.

Major labels have never been full of enlightened people who wanted to promote good music, you know. They've always been a big corporation that distributes and sells music. It's always been that way.

How did you get on Elektra?

Ever since RCA bought Elvis Presley from Sun Records - you know, they didn't find him and develop him; they just bought him once he started happening regionally. That's what they're supposed to do. That's their job. But if they can't get stuff on the radio and they can't get the video on MTV, because they want somebody who looks like Britney Spears because they think that looks good on MTV, they're kinda screwed. I think that's the real problem, and people should think about it.

What was your biggest hit?

We never had a hit.

Even when you were on Elektra, you didn't?

Mm-mm. No. Uh-uh.

Not on MTV? Nothin'?

Nope. We had regional hits in areas where we got airplay.

Do you have a theory on why that is? That people didn't accept - 'cuz your music is -

I just told you why. Because it wasn't played on the radio.

I mean, why radio didn't accept you.

Because of Lee Abrams and his programming.

Ohhhhhh. Okay.

In places like overseas in England, punk was the big, big thing, you know. It was the big trend. It's like there was Elvis and then there were the Beatles and then there was David Bowie and then there was punk. And that was kind of accepted everywhere except here. It was just not allowed on the radio. I mean, we sold records really well in Southern California, and in the key markets of major cities where there was a punk scene. I think in L.A., we probably sold as many records in the same amount of time as somebody like Phil Collins, but the difference is Phil Collins was selling records in Peoria and we weren't. But the Ramones would put a record out, it would sell 100,000. X would put a record out, it would sell 100,000. The Ramones would put another record out, it would sell 100,000. None of us ever really broke that 100,000 mark, and it's not enough to make any money.

Did you keep buying their records, by the way?

The Ramones?


I bought the first two, and then was pretty much living in a tour bus and didn't have any way to play records. And now I have the CDs. I think I have three - I think I bought three vinyl records, and then I lived in a tour bus. I missed a lot of the '80s.

HEH HEH HEH! Well, there wasn't -

The first half of the '80s -

There wasn't a lot of good stuff in the '80s, so you were alright.

No, it was the part with the girls wearing pink and the shoulderpads and the big hair and all the stuff you see in the Brat Pack movies and stuff?


I never saw any - I didn't know about any of that until the late '80s, after I left X. Because I was in a tour bus, I had sensory deprivation the whole time. You're completely isolated. We'd be on the road for like eight months at a time, and then we'd come back and we'd rehearse five days a week for about six weeks to work up new songs, then we'd go into the studio for two and a half months, and then we'd go on tour.

Did you ever tell John the certain types of music you didn't think were that great or might not sell?

What do you mean?

'Cause you said you only liked the first record.

No, I said I liked the first record, and then I didn't like the - you cut me off. We didn't get past the third record. I did not like the second record because it was horribly recorded and we didn't have any money and we were forced to do tons of overdubs.

I'm looking at All-Music Guide now.


I'm looking at All-Music Guide. They gave it five stars out of five. I gave it 8 out of 10.

It breaks my heart because it was some of the best songs. Some of the most commercially accessible songs we ever did -

So you know how it SHOULD have sounded.

- but the recording sucks!

You know how it SHOULD have sounded!

I know how it should have sounded. I'm also -

But WE know how -

I'm also an engineer/producer, and it really is - what they did to my music, I know better. I could have done better.


And then the third album somehow came out sounding better. I like "Under The Big Black Sun." But then the worst-sounding album we made was the fourth album!


And that was a shame too, because that had some really good songs on it. That just sounds like it was cut in somebody's garage. In fact, you know -

Yeah, you know -

When we -

It's a popular record though, you know.

When we finished that, Clay and Ray went off to Hawaii together.

Who did?

Clay and Ray.

Oh man.

And I was left to do the mastering. And I took it to - I didn't like the place we'd been getting mastered, so I took it to Bernie Grundman. And Bernie - do you know who Bernie Grundman is?

I haven't heard the name, no.

Oh, okay. He's a real famous mastering engineer. He's one of the top mastering engineers -

Do you hate me because I live in New York City?

No. Let me finish the story! I hate you because you're interrupting me. I took it to Bernie, he started listening to the tape, and he kinda turned some dials and he says, "Where'd you guys do this?" And I said, "At Cherokee." And he said, "Cherokee what?" "Cherokee Young." "Cherokee Studios on Fairfax?" I said, "Yeah." And he says, "Oh, what - that little demo annex off on the side?" I said, "No, in the big room." And he said, "You did this in the big room at Cherokee?" I said, "Yes." He said, "On the A-range?"' I said, "Yeah." "You recorded and mixed this in the big room on the A-range?" I said, "Yeah! Why?" And he said, "Uh, nothing."


I said, "No! What? Why do you ask?" He said, "I, I - it's not my place to say anything." And I said, "Come on, come on. Just between you and me. Please, I just wanna hear your feelings about it." And he said, "Well, I don't want to say anything, but you know, I thought you guys did this in your garage or something. It just doesn't sound like a professional recording. We'll try to pump it up as much as we can, but...." And then Clay got promoted to - he ended up being our tour manager.

Do these original tapes still exist? Could you remaster it? Or no?

The problem with the tapes is that they were recorded poorly. So no. If you take something and record it poorly, you can remix it and remix it and remix it and remix it, and it might get a LITTLE better.

What did he screw up so bad?

Because he didn't know what the knobs did. He didn't turn most of them because he didn't know what they were for. And he didn't understand how to mic us, I guess. And Ray basically didn't know the difference.

Did you -

I like Ray, but the main fault I had with Ray is that he was oblivious to the fact that Clay was incompetent. So I used to fault him for that.

I hope it makes you feel better at least to know that fans don't know how it should have sounded. We only know that it sounds really good. The songs are great.

Yes, but I can't help thinking that my career might have gone better had it been recorded better.

You think they might have played you on the radio?

Well, you never know.

How would they have played you on the radio though?

You never know.

They were playing the Romantics.

Maybe it would at least have some kind of legacy.

You do have a huge legacy among people who love music. We're not talking about people who listen to Madonna. You have a huge legacy; people love Billy Zoom. Why do you think no one bought "See How We Are" or "Hey Zeus!"?

They didn't?

Did they?

I don't know. You know what, I've never been able to find out how many copies of anything we sold.

All I know is whenever I see people talking about X, they're always saying that it was one of the greatest bands in L.A.

Oh, I think it was. I think it's a shame that we didn't really get it on tape. I think we were much better live than we were on record.

All I know are the records, and I know that the first three records were great. The fourth one I didn't like a ton, and the fifth one was produced abysmally.

Well, the fifth one wasn't - I mean, that wasn't anybody's fault. That was the year that John and Exene split up and got divorced, and that was the year that punk had finally officially died and heavy metal hair bands started getting huge. I'm surprised we even survived and made that record because John and Exene were going through a divorce and they were both writing but they weren't writing together. So John brought in his songs, Exene brought in her songs, and the management and record company were -- you know, we hadn't done well, so they thought, "Well we can push them into heavy metal, and a bunch of those kids will buy it. Let's push them as that."

Oh no!

So I think Michael the producer was really getting it from a lot of directions about, you know, "Make them into this, because we can't sell that." And we've got songs that John wrote and songs that Exene wrote that don't sound like the same band at all, and not a lot of communication going on. And we were all kinda burned out by that point; we'd just been on the road for too long. See, I really enjoyed making that record. I enjoyed working with Michael, because it was the first time that we'd gotten to work with a real professional engineer. And even though I know the production style was wrong, he didn't have a lot to work with and I think he was under a lot of pressure. But I did enjoy working with him and I learned a lot from him, and he was really nice about -- you know, I'd sit in the control room with him and he'd always talk with me about like how to use this compressor and how to set the mic up in different ways... "Have you ever tried this? If you set it like this, you can make this happen," you know? And I just loved that, because that really fascinates me. "Have you ever tried to set it - if you set it wrong like this, it'll make this funny effect." It was kinda cool.

Whose idea was it to do a Small Faces song?

I don't know. I'm not sure.

That was an odd choice, I thought.

Yeah, it was. I had never heard it. It just sorta came up at the session, and I don't know whose suggestion it was. Apparently John was familiar with them at the time.

So none of you were fans of the band.

Pardon me?

None of you were fans of the band? You just kinda -

No, not really.


I wasn't. I knew who they were, but I wasn't really familiar with their style.

So at this point, you like the first X album, you were disappointed -

And the third. Every other album.... is bad. Ha!

Ohhhhh. Billy, Billy! These are classics we're talkin' about! I understand that you know how they should have sounded.

I tell you what - tomorrow, when you're fresh -

I'm so f-

- I want you to take "Wild Gift" and listen to "In This House That I Call Home," which I think is the first cut, isn't it?

I don't think so, no!

No? Well, you know the song.

Yeah, I know that song. Yeah.

I want you to listen to the beginning of that song. And then I want you to put on "Holiday In The Sun" by the Sex Pistols.

I'm not concerned about the production though!

And I want you to compare the guitar sounds, because -

"The Once Over Twice."

- that's what the guitar sounded like in the room when I played it. It was this really full aggressive sound, and now you can't even tell it's a guitar.

Oh no! So after this second album came out, you complained to John, right?

To John?

To John, yeah. You said that's not how it should have sounded.

I complained to everybody.

And it meant NOTHING to him? Why did it mean nothing to him? You were a pretty key part of that band!

Why would I single out John? I think I probably yelled at our manager a lot.

I just thought John and Exene were the heads of the band or whatever.

That's your perception.

What's your perception?

I think, I think -

That the manager was -

- the audience assumes that the person with the microphone is the leader of the band.

Of course.

And if there's a male and a female and they both have microphones, then the male must be the leader.

So the manager was the leader?

In the beginning, I was. I was the one who started the band. And John was this kid, you know? And somehow along the way, it kind of started to become an ongoing struggle. But nobody ever made John the leader.

Well, what songs were you most involved with and why did you let them take all the credit?

I don't think I should answer that.

Don't then. Okay. Okay, well how about what songs were you most involved with then? How about that?

Let's put it this way - John and Exene wrote all the lyrics -

But the lyrics aren't the reason that people love X! It's the music!

Well, John didn't play the music. John did not know how to play chords -

Then why did you let them have all the credit?

Sometimes John would just sing a melody to me and I would make up the music to go along with it. Sometimes he would play a little line on the bass and I would make up the music to go with it.

When you listen to "Johny -" "Johny Hit And Run Ex-"...uh, "Johny Hit And Run Paulene," you don't think of anyone but Billy Zoom.


Y'know? But you know, whatever. Aaaaaand it should, you know, it should - did you ever actually - Did you listen to the two albums they did without you?


No? Well, here's a secret:

It's like this -


That's like obsessing over who your ex-girlfriend is sleeping with, you know? It's like she's your ex-girlfriend - who cares?

They weren't, um, they weren't very good.

They weren't?


Well, I'm glad to hear that, but -

Apparently a lot of people like "See How We Are," but I didn't.

Didn't that have "Fourth Of July" on it?


Wasn't that sort of a minor hit or something? That was a Dave Alvin song. That was good.

I don't know. I had the album and I sold it. But the important thing is that you - Ever since you left X, you've been still writing songs, right?


And are you recording these songs at home?

Well no, I have a recording studio.

Have they been released?

No. Mostly what I'm doing now is instrumental soundtracks.

Would I have heard any of it?

Mmmmmmm... Mmmmmmmmm....

Well, let me ask you this then. You obviously -

I did a Nike commercial a long time ago. I did a couple of commercials.

Well, everybody knows you're an extremely talented player. Are you also a talented writer? In your opinion.

I'm okay. I don't know. I can write instrumental stuff all day. I only write lyrics when I'm forced to do some.

But lyrics, again - like some people listen to lyrics, some don't. I always notice the music first, and I've always noticed that the lead guitar lines in X songs were really pretty awesome. Pretty rockabillyish, pretty strong, pretty tight, pretty fun!

If you want to hear us play really good stuff, you should check -- Have you ever seen X live?

I haven't.


I'm in New York! Do you guys ever come here?

Yeah, sometimes. The really cool part about X guitar stuff isn't on the records because we had to change all the parts and start overdubbing to fill it up. Basically, X guitar is a combination of three things. You've got - do you know who Scotty Moore is?

Say that name again?

Scotty Moore.

No! Who's that?

A guy named Scotty Moore was the guy who invented rock 'n' roll guitar. He played with Elvis Presley and Bill Black. He was the original Sun Records guy that kinda helped them get the deal with Sun.

So that's where rock and roll came from? Not Chuck Berry? Or -

I think it was invented in 1954 in Sun Studios by Elvis Presley, Bill Black and Scotty Moore, which was before Chuck Berry's first record. Chuck crossed over, but I don't think Chuck could have crossed over if he'd been first. Before Elvis. I think Elvis was the key. But anyway, Scotty Moore's guitar playing was - are you familiar with Merle Travis? Merle Travis was a country guy who invented that fingerpicking style that Chet Atkins got his hits for. It's really, uh - do you know what I'm talking about? You play the bass line with your thumb and you pick with two fingers and play the melody?

Yeah. Yeah, I never played it like that really.

It sounded kinda corny. So Scotty Moore came up with an approach where he'd fingerpick and play lead parts at the same time. It was a cool, more streamlined version of -

Did you ever play with picks?

Excuse me?

Did you ever play with picks?

What do you mean?

Did you ever play with picks or were you always a finger player?

I play with a straight pick and two fingers. But anyway, the X sound was a combination of Scotty's kind of fingerpicking style combined with what what we used to call when I was a kid "jazz chords," which were like minor sevenths and major thirteenths and stuff, and then you'd do all those passing chords, fingerpicking leads and rhythms at the same time, and you try to make it sound as much like Johnny Ramone as possible. And that doesn't come across on the records because we had to restructure all that because the tones we were getting were so bad I had to simplify things and just overdub them later, which I hated to do but it was the only way to get any kind of good sound on the record. But if you haven't heard X live, you wouldn't hear it on the records.

Well but no, but as a person who knows those records pretty well, it just seems like you take the speed of the Ramones and add in the, yeah, the fingerwork of people who can, you know, actually play the guitar.

And there's a lot of very funny chords.

(*tape ends abruptly*)

(*new tape begins*)

Hi, I'm recording. What'd you ask - what'd you ask me just now?

I said how long has it been since the last time you listened to the Ramonetures CD?

Which CD?

The Ramonetures.

The Ramonetures?


I probably haven't l - okay, I'll answer that and then I'll continue. I myself have not listened to it in over a year. However, I myself own over 15,000 cds -


- and people keep sending me new stuff to hear. People send me free stuff because I have this web site where I review CDs, and that's, you know, I, I umm... Have you ever seen - you haven't seen my web site, right?

What is it?

It's just my name -


I have a Ramonetures page on it. It's just a bunch of interviews and -


Yeah, isn't that a nice name? Yeah, cuz your name - your real name is kinda like Prindle, right? Ty....

I had my best friend's -


Kindell, but my -


- my best friend in elementary school was Paul Prindle.


Yeah, in junior high.

Yeah, I don't know any Paul Prindle. But anyway, but the, but the point is though that I never -

John Doe, X - oh, there's The John Doe thing.

Are you on my page now?

Oh yeah, sure.

Yeah. Yeah, that was a good - John was really friendly to me, and that was nice. This is what's really disappointing here is that (sigh) I can't believe I didn't hit record, but that's alright. I really do have like over an hour of you talking about things that are important to you, and what I want here in this interview is things that are important to YOU.

To me?

To you!


Because you're the - 'cuz, you know, people can say what they want about X records and say, "Oh! What's Billy Zoom been doing since 1985?" or whatever, but -

Well, I've been back with X since '98.

I know! Why did you go back? Oh. I know why. Because you needed - you wanted the money, and they - right? Do you even get along with them anymore?

I don't know if that's a relevant question.

It's not.

Do you get along with the people you work with? Or do you show up and do your job?

Yeah, you're right.

You say "Hi" and you say "Goodbye."

And they're not people that you - they're, they're not people that I would hang around with in my free time.

Uhh, we don't hang around in our free time? I kinda hang out with DJ a little bit. DJ and his wife and me and my wife. But we don't live close to each other. So we get to the gig, John reads and talks on his cellphone....

Do you like playing the old songs at least?


What kind of music do you -

It's FUN. Ha!

It IS fun!

It's not fun, but it -


I told you that earlier!

Yeah, I know.

It's not the kind of thing that's supposed to be fun.

It pays well?

It's tolerable. It's not fun. It's, uh -

What is fun for you?

Fun for me?


Driving in an English sports car with the top down on a Fall day.

Do you do that a lot?

No, we don't get Fall out here.

FALL STARTS RIGHT NOW, right? The first day of Fall is right now!

Yeah, it was about 100 degrees today.

Oh. Well, move!

I like it here.

No, obviously you don't. You're upset because there's no Fall.

I'll put up with it for all the good stuff. It's a reasonable trade-off. What do you do for fun?

What do I do for fun? Well, I hang out with the spouse and the dog. Do you still have Sasha?

Yeah. We changed her name to Leroy.


Because she comes to "Leroy."

That doesn't make any sense.

Well, she likes "Leroy."

(my wife): He changed his dog's name?

(to my wife): He changed his dog's name from Sasha to Leroy.

(my wife): Ha ha ha!

My little dog is named Henry. We love him very much. Hey, do you have any - any kids?

Not so far.

(my wife): Don't change their names!

Do you want kids? Because you should stick to dogs. We're sticking to dogs here.

Uhhhh, I would've liked some, yeah.

Takes a lot - a lot of time though.

That's all we've got, right?

That's a lot of time you wouldn't have to yourself though.

Oh, you know. Pretty much anything I'm gonna tell myself at this point I've heard before. You know, "I need time for my songs." I've got too much time for myself.

Dogs are the best though. Dogs are better than kids.

I've got enough room at my place; kids and dogs are a good combination.

Yeah. Yeah. Our guy's name is Henry; he's the best. I love that guy.

Named after Henry Rollins?

Oh my God. Why did you say that? Because it's true!

I could tell because I just saw his name on your page.

What is he like in person?

Much smaller than he is on TV.

Is he short?

Well, everybody's shorter than me, yeah. But he looks so huge and buff -

Yeah, he does.

- on TV, but in person, he's just, I don't know. It's the wackiest thing.

I'm gonna email this to you at!

He also has a radio show on Indy 103.1.

Is, umm... Just between you and me - you don't have to tell him this - his last few albums haven't been all that good. And I've been a fan of his for a long time, but he's got this new band and it's just not that good.



He was really good singing Ramones songs with a jam band the other night.


So you've got a drinking binge going?

He's an intense guy, they say. I definitely would not wanna run across him in an alley -

Wait a minute! "It's also got throwaways like 'It's Who You Know'"?

No, I like that! Did I say that?

"Lots of people think that this is the ultimate X record, but I'm a bit fettered by the sheer abundancy of interchangable goodtime..... choggle rock on here. Sure, it's got -"

Which album is that?

I can't remember what album that's on - "Wild Gift."

Who the hell knows. I gave it an 8! I gave a 10 to -

"- and 'In This House That I Call Home' that just don't register at all when stacked up against all the other killer tracks." That was one of the ones we had a lot of trouble in the studio with. It's a good song; it just doesn't sound good on that recording.

Hey, Mr. Zoom?

I like "It's Who You Know"! That's one of my favorites!

Mr. Zoom?


Can I say something?


I wrote that review like literally like seven years ago. I've been doing this thing for eight years.

You remember a band called Rhinoceros?


One instrumental hit in the late '60s.

Hmm. What was the hit?

I can't remember. I was gonna ask you.

Do you like Bloodrock?

I don't know what that is.

Do you like Bloodrock? They did "D.O.A."?

I don't know it.

Come on. Bloodrock!

No, I don't know 'em. But I know Rhinoceros. Anyway, the reason I asked is there was this rock band called Rhinoceros that had an instrumental hit. I can never remember the names of instrumentals because they don't have any hook line.

Exactly. The Ventures! I have all their albums; I have no clue what the songs are called.

Yeah, right. So anyway, it was a big hit and I tried to write at the time an instrumental rock song in that vein. This was about 1968 or '9 or something like that. Anyway, "It's Who You Know" - that "Dawn duh duh dawn duh duh dawn duh dah dah - dawn duh duh -"

I can't believe I said that about that song, because I like that song.

That whole instrumental part on "It's Who You Know" is actually that instrumental song that I wrote in the late '60s, and I just stuck it with some of John's lyrics.

Heh heh. Well, it didn't help matters any that the band's manager declined an invitation for them to appear at Woodstock several years after the group formed, you know?




I'm online looking up Rhinoceros.

Did you find the band?

Yeah, yeah! On

Does it say there what their hit was?

Actually it doesn't. Well, I could look at the albums though. Do you happen to like Spooky Tooth?

Ehhhhh... I kinda liked that John D. Loudermilk song they did - "Tobacco Road"?

Yeah, okay.

But I di -

OH! Here we go, here we go. You ready?


Was it "Apricot Brandy"?

I don't know.


I'd have to hear the song. I don't know.

Ehh. They call that an instrumental "that was used as the theme for a BBC television show." (long sigh into whisper): Rhinoceros. Mmmmm. I feel so guilty now. I'm sorry, Mr. Zoom.

So anyway, there you go. "It's Who You Know" was, uh -

Whatever I said -

- based on an instrumental demo I made in 1969.

So, in all truth, you only like the first X album? You don't like the others at all?

I like the first one and the third one.

Okay. Alright.

I like "Under The Big Black Sun." That album sounds pretty good for some reason.

Do you like any - What did you think about the fact that.... Well, let me start that over. At X shows, were there problems with people in the crowd being really violent like they were at so many of the bands?

No. In the beginning, there was NO violence. I don't know; it depends on what period -- no, not a lot of violence. There was none early on though, but what happened is that back in the '70s, the media pretty much ignored us and we just had this big underground scene and there was no violence at all. Then at one point the media started covering the violence. From somewhere, they started writing about how violent these shows were, and all of a sudden - this was back in the early '80s - all of a sudden, kids from the suburbs started showing up and being violent because they'd read that that's what you come here for. And it sort of became what the media described it as. I believe that's where it came from. I don't know. It's funny - I was just listening to Steve Jones talking about all the spitting and stuff in the English punk scene and how he hated that, and I always associated that with the Sex Pistols. And he goes, "Nah, they didn't do that early on. They just started it at some point; I don't know why. We always hated it."

Wow. Did they spit on you?

No. It was an English thing. One girl in Indianapolis at a rock club spit on my once, and she had apparently - She was oone of these girls that is American and she went to England for ten days and then came back with a British accent.


And she spit on me, and I looked at her and she said, "Well, that's what we do in England." And I didn't like it, so I poured a beer on her head and said, "This is what we do in America when somebody's an asshole."

GOOD! Very good. Heh heh heh! Heh heh heh.

That's the only time I've ever been spit on.

Oh gosh, that's so annoying.

I had beer cans thrown at me.


I had beer cans thrown at me in Germany. They hated me in Germany.

Why? 'Cuz you smiled too much?

Exactly. Because I smiled too much. And they complained about it. The kids said they hated the fact that I smiled.


The world's terrible, you know. Everything's polluted and there's an atomic bomb and everything could blow up and I'm smiling. And "How could you smile?"

That separated you though.

I know, but they got really upset about it.

What idiots.

Isn't that funny?

Everyone in Germany is an IDIOT.

Uhhhh..... I don't know. Maybe.

I'm just kidding.

Alot of them! Ha.

I can't believe that. That's crazy.

I don't like to generalize like that, but -

Everyone in Germany is no good. Let's say that. Are you, ummm - Looking back at your life, are you at least - are you happy that you were in X? Do you feel good about your life - what you've done with your music ability?

I feel good about parts of it, you know? It's very satisfying to do something you excel at in front of people and to sort of show them what you can do. And it's really satisfying to push yourself to see how far you can take something. And when it goes well, it makes me feel very good. When there's problems or it isn't a good set or it sounds bad or something and I don't do as good as I would have liked, then I get frustrated. And let's see, to answer your question, looking back, yeah I like parts of it. Parts of it I feel really good about. I mean, it beats not having any recognition or doing anything interesting. If I had it to do over again, I would have a much worse reputation than I have, because if I had it to do over, I would have been a lot more of a hardass about a lot of things and I would have made a lot fewer compromises.

Oh, okay. The records might have sounded better if you'd said something?

I would have set Clay Rose on fire three years sooner.


I finally lit him on fire in Stockholm. This was an ongoing thing. I kept trying to get rid of Clay because he was incompetent and he was a complete asshole, and we were flying out of Berlin -- from Berlin to Stockholm -- and we had to fly from Berlin to Copenhagen and then change airlines to fly to Stockholm. And we were getting on the plane in Berlin, and they're very strict there - they have these former Nazi guards, you know - they uh, "One piece of carry-on only!" And Clay got up there and in one hand he had the attache case which had all our money and all the receipts and all our accounting and everything from the gigs, and in the other hand he had a duffle bag with his dirty laundry. And they told him he had to get rid of one, so he ran down the steps, threw the attache case on a moving conveyer belt, didn't get a claim check, and it wasn't even the right belt. It wasn't even the right flight, and I was behind him and I almost said something, and then realized, "You know, if that disappears, then we'd have to fire him." So I just didn't say anything, and we got to Copenhagen to change flights and then went onto Stockholm and it didn't come out the other end and he couldn't understand it. And so then we had a meeting and we agreed that he had to go, because he was grossly incompetent. Finally everybody agreed with me.


And we were in a club in Stockholm that evening, and in addition to having the ballroom where we played, they had like a lounge that had a fireplace and a bunch of overstuffed chairs and stuff. And he was sitting in the chair - it was one of those La-Z-Boy things where you're supposed to lean back - and he was leaning back with his feet up on the coffee table, and he was explaining recording technique to someone. Sweet. And he was this guy who was balding in the front but he had really frizzy big hair like Bozo The Clown on the sides and back, and I came up behind him with two big lighters cranked up and took off all the hair on the back of his head. And that was what happened to Clay!

Good. Are you, umm.... Is there anything else you'd like to say on this interview about your career or where you are now, or is it - Like you said in that interview from six years ago that you wanted to try to start a Christian record label, but have you ever actually heard a good Christian band?

Well, that's part of my motivation. Yes I have, but not since the Louvin Brothers.


The Louvin Brothers.

Oh, okay. Wait! That was like the '50s, wasn't it?


Ohhhhh boy.

See, that's the problem! I think there's a problem there in that there's no reason why it has to sound that bad.

Heh heh heh. You're a huge Creed fan then?

That's part of my motivation. I love music, I'm a Christian, Christian music is horrible. I feel like I have to do something about that, but I'd still like to.

Have you written any Christian songs? Or do you stray away from.....

I've cut some stuff in that sort of vein. I keep meaning to go back to it actually to finish the project, but things like that where it's just my own project tend to get put on the backburner a lot. I'm used to it. And things that help make the mortgage payment -


- tend to come first, you know? But uh -

What's the best-paying thing right now? X reunions?


Okay. How many are there a year?

It depends. In 2003, we actually did a national tour, which paid very well. This year, we didn't tour that much back east. Next year, we are gonna do a full tour.

Do you feel bad about doing that stuff?

25th anniversary of the first album release. We gotta kinda play that up.

Do you feel bad about this stuff? Or do you like - is it okay?

What stuff?

Going back and playing these old songs.

Oh, no! I enjoy it. I just don't like it being called "fun," because I don't think that's the appropriate term. But yeah, I'm into it. I love watching the audience at X shows. I think that's the real show.

Are they usually people of X's age? Or younger kids who never had a chance -

It's a lot of the same people who were there in 1979.


And a lot of times they bring their kids. And there's always a bunch of young punkers that have heard about us and want to see what it's about. So we get a good cross-section. But it's amazing how many old-time X fans will come and bring their son or daughter with them. And then I feel REALLY old. I do enjoy watching the audience interacting with each other and with the band.

Do you guys play stuff off like the fourth album?

The fourth one?

Like "Burning House Of Love"? Do you play that?

Oh. That's the fifth album.

Yeah. Oh. Okay. Sorry.

No, we did a couple of times. John doesn't like to do it. Besides the fact that nobody's really crazy about most of the material on that album, it's also very hard to do some of it live because it's so produced, and there are like 25 or 30 guitar tracks and different parts and stuff. Some of 'em we could do 'em but, besides the fact that we're not that crazy about the songs, it doesn't come across that strong. There's not those kind of power trio in your face songs. So John just doesn't think it comes across well. We do the first three albums.

You don't think of the band as "John's band," do you?


Okay. What, um -

I think of it as MY band.

Then how come you didn't get songwriting credit?

Well, because it was a deal breaker. I originally expected that I would. Now it looks like I had no input in any of the songs in my career.

But it's so clear you did! Okay. Alright, I'd better get off the phone now only because I have to go to dinner at this place with my wife.

11:00 is too late for dinner.

No no no no. It's never too late for dinner!

Where do you live?

I told you! New York City!

Where? What part?

Upper East Side. 91st and Lexington.

Where are you from?

I'm originally from Georgia.


I'm sorry. I'm not proud of it, but yeah.

(my wife): Heh heh heh!

Where? What part?

Norcross, Georgia.

(my wife): Home of Waffle House!

It's 20 miles north of Atlanta.

Oh, it's way up there.

Yeah. It wasn't terribly rednecky, you know?

(my wife): Waffles!

Oh, I love Georgia!

Why? I don't!

I love Georgia. I used to go hang out in Valdosta to relax.

I went to Valdosta when I went to Governor's Honors School when I was -

I got married in Savannah.

WHY!!??!!? WHY DID YOU DO THAT!?!?? Why?

Because I love Georgia.

Georgia's horrible.

It's one of my all-time favorite places.

Well, that's because you're not, uh what, black, you're not gay, you're not heh. Georgia's pretty bad.

What - you're black or gay?

No no no, I'm just saying in terms of people who aren't very tolerant.

When you get up into the -

Is it bad in L.A. too? Because in Georgia you know, it's the South! Things happen.

Uhh... like what?

Like people who hate black people. People who hate gay people.

I don't really know what it's like in L.A. anymore.

Where are you right now?

I'm in Orange County.

With The Vandals! I love The Vandals!

(my wife): They've got the diarrhea guy!

The Vandals MEAN Orange County to me.

This is the home of hotrods and surf music, and -

Agent Orange!

Social Distortion, Agent Orange, No Doubt, Rancid, The Offspring -

The Vandals!

- Lit -

Did you ever like The Vandals?

I don't know. I'm trying to think of who they are. It sounds familiar.

Awwww, that's sad.

I know the pump don't work 'cuz The Vandals broke the handle.

That's Bob Dylan though; that's not The Vandals.


Mmm, that's alright.

What did The Vandals do?

I just really like them. You know, th -

I remember the name; I just can't remember what they did.

Ah, it doesn't matter, you know? It doesn't matter.

I love Orange County.

Good! Do you - when you - Every day when you get up - not when you get up, but every day do you - do you play the guitar every day?

No. I will frequently go for months without picking it up if we don't have a gig.

Yeah, okay. Good. That makes me feel better.

I have an old acoustic in the den that I will pick up occasionally, but I'm more likely to pick up the saxophone.


Yeah, I will play that almost daily sometimes.

But you just keep playing "Baker Street" over and over, right?

Something like that.

Doo DOO doo, doodoo doo-ti-doo! What a classic.

And I work in the studio almost every day, so I play whatever is, you know. If I'm doing soundtrack stuff, that's usually the Yamaha Motif workstation being a drummer. It's like a digital - it has a keyboard and a workstation. And then I'll add guitars and bass and sax to it and I do as many rhythm tracks as I can. At least for a demo. If I do something I really like or that's budgeted, I'll hire studio musicians to play on it.

What does your wife consider you? A musician?

Hold on. (to his wife): Honey? Would you consider me a musician? Would you consider me to be a musician? If you had to say what I was? (to me): She says I'm in the music industry. Because that covers producer and everything.

How long have you been married?

All together or this time?

This time.

Four years.

Wait, this isn't your first wife?


But this is the best wife, right?

Absolutely. And the last wife.

Good. Stay with her. 'Cuz wives are good!

This is a good one, yeah.

Wives are good. I've had one since (to my wife) How long have you been my wife? Two years?

(my wife): I don't know. Three?

She thinks I'm terrible.

(my wife): THREE!

But then I don't have albums out like you have. You're Billy Zoom! You have albums!

Did you know that Johnny Ramone and his wife Linda were together for 22 years?



She used to be Joey's girlfriend!


And he was all bitter about it because he's weird.


Mmm. I couldn't believe that. You know, I saw that Marky Ramone about three months ago said, "Oh, Joey's -" Excuse me, "Johnny's dying." But I didn't really believe it. I didn't believe it. When I saw it the other day, I just couldn't believe it.

I knew he was sick, but even then I thought he'd be around for a couple of years.


It was like, "Yeah okay he's got it, but he's doing okay." Did you see that documentary?

The "Rocket -" uhh... "End Of The Century"?

Yeah. I guess that's what it's called.

How did I miss that? Nah, I'm waiting for it to come on video.

How long has it been out?

No! I'm waiting for it I guess to come out on video because I have "Hey Is Dee Dee Home" and I have the one Marky put out and I have the original -

This one's really good. I didn't see the final cut yet, but I saw it up at Johnny's in April, and it's really good. ANd it's really, uh... They don't pull any punches.

Yeah, I heard it makes 'em look -

They air their dirty laundry and everything, you know?

It makes 'em all look bad is what I heard.

Well, except for Joey. Because Joey's mother wouldn't let them say anything really bad, although they did cover the fact that he had attention deficit disorder.

And he had OCD.

No, no -- OCD I mean, yeah.

But nobody knew! They didn't know.

There's no way they could have known. But it's really good; you should go see it.

I want to. I think I may have missed it here though. You know, I have every Ramones video I can have. I have "Ramones Around The World" by Marky, I have "Hey Is Dee Dee Home," I have the original Ramones, uh... the one with all the videos? It's from like ten years ago. But I guess I -

Georgia? You're not even a New Yorker.

No, I was from Georgia.

That's disappointing.

You know, one of the reasons I wanted - Can I tell you something? One of the reasons I wanted to move to New York was 'cuz The Ramones!

Yeah, absolutely.

They were my first punk band. Granted I was 15 years late, but still! You know, 198- I said 1989, but '88 I saw The Ramones. I saw The Ramones with Dee Dee, and then he quit immediately afterwards, and it's not my fault I wasn't born until '73. It wasn't my fault I didn't discover the Ramones until '88, but they were amazing! Even in '88. That late, they were still amazing to a guy who'd heard nothing but stuff on the radio.

Absolutely! They were great. They were the greatest rock band of all time.

AND they introduced me to punk rock, which was X and the Dead Kennedys and Circle Jerks, etc.

But you didn't think we were punk.

I thought you were FAST, but I thought you deserved to have hit singles more than the Ramones did because it wasn't just bar chords. It was really catchy stuff with catchy, you know, VOCALS basically, which the Ramones, you know -- especially the first album when Joey couldn't sing at all -- didn't have! I think that X - not on the, the, you know, "Ain't Love Grand" - but the early stuff was really like, you know, CATCHY stuff! More so than "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue" or "Loudmouth." You know? That stuff was not gonna be hits, you know? It was - it was rare that even AC/DC had a hit! And they were just like the Ramones but slower!

You think?

I do think, yeah.

I don't like them. I never got into them.

You never got into AC/DC? They were - OHHHHHHHHHHHH - they were my - they were my trip INTO The Ramones. I love AC/DC.

No, I skipped that '70s rock. X is the only rock band I've ever played with. As far as guitars and stuff.



Well, I wasn't born until '73. I tell ya what - AC/DC was like the Ramones chords but played at half-speed.


It's pretty neat that you got into the Ramones, considering what you were raised on.

They sounded like all the stuff I grew up with, only louder and faster.

Oh yeah, they sound just like Thelonius Monk. You're right!

They sounded like Eddie Cochran and they sounded like -


Yeah! They sounded like '60s pop songs on steroids.

(my wife, whispering to me): We need to go.

Alright, I gotta go out to dinner now, 'cuz the wife wants to go out.


Hey, uh Billy?


Thank you.

Okay! Call back some time.

No, I'm serious. Thank you. And I'm sorry that I kinda was a, was a nogoodnick.

(my wife): Heh heh!

Try not to make me sound like a mean guy, because I'm really not.

You know that interview you posted on your site made you sound like a standoffish guy.

I should take that down, but then I'd have to put up something biographical -


I don't - okay.


There you go. See, I don't do the site. Somebody does - a fan does that for me. I don't really do much.

Oh. That fan is as lousy as your producer from 1985. No, but the important - the thing is that I read that and I thought, "Oh no, this is gonna be a difficult interview. I'd better have a couple drinks." And now I talk to you and you're just so nice, and I feel like a real -

There you go.

- jerk.

Yeah, I know.

But why did you stop drinking? Was it bad for you?

Why'd I stop drinking?

Yeah, why'd you stop drinking?

I never really drank much. I never really got into it much. In fact -

Was your wife a Christian when you met her?

No, not really.

Oh, okay. No, it's - you know, it's - like I said, I, you know.... What was that noise?

Oh, that's my computer.

That's no good! Turn it off! No, I - those computers will break your heart. And tear you apart.

What kind of computer do you have? Are you a Mac guy?

What do I - no, the worst, I have a - (to my significant other) What's this lousy computer we have?

(my wife): Hewlett-Packard. Hewlett-Packard.

Hewlett - (to my wife) No it's not! That was our old one! What's this one?

(my wife): It's a Gateway.

Gateway. Ugh. Gateways are terrible.

(my wife): Get a Mac!

What do you have?

I have Macs.

Yeah, that's what - My wife just said, "Get a Mac!"

I'm in the music business. They've always pretty much done the studio music production on Mac, so that's why I have about three in the studio.

My good - Really?

Yeah. They do different things. I've got one that runs the automation console, and I've got one that -

Are you mad at me for having a drink before I called you?

No. Should I be? Would you like me to be?

I'm mad. I'm mad at myself for losing ten minutes of the call.


(my wife): It was all about the Ventures.

I did see the Ventures though, when they were old and they didn't have Nokie, but they were still good.

You should interview Nokie.

I'd love to!

He's a really nice guy.


Yeah. Very, very nice person.

Do you have any idea why he left the Ramones? Oh sorry, Ventures?

I don't know.

Because Gerry, Gerry, you know, Gerry's fine but he's not -

He's very good, yeah.

But he's not a Venture. He doesn't have that same sound. He made them into an instrumental band instead of a... Ventures band, you know?

Yeah, well Nokie wasn't an original. It was Bogle and Wilson and -

Yeah. Exactly.

They brought him along originally as a bass player. But he was from that Bakersfield country studio thing. That's where he came from.

Thank you. Umm... yeah. But seriously, umm - thank you for being so nice.

No, it was fun. This was fun!

It was not fun; I'm no good!


I could have asked you AMAZING questions, like "When you wrote - you know, and then name some song you wrote - what did you, what was the influence?" You know? I could have asked you, "What have you been listening to lately?" And I could have asked you, "What were your influences?" That's the big one.

You know what? If you think of anything you want to ask me, or if you want to clarify anything, we're leaving for Washington in the morning but I'll be back in two weeks.

Okay, can I send you the thing after I type it up?

Pardon me?

Can I send you the interview after I type it up?

Absolutely. Sure.

Did you hang out with FEAR at all? Lee Ving?



Yeah, sure!

What were they like?

About the same. Yeah, Lee was okay. I remember mostly their drummer used to build and race Pontiac Firebirds.

Spit Stix did?

Yeah, he was a heavy hotrodder and he was into Pontiacs.


And Derf was a nice guy.

Was he a big cokehead?

Well if he was, he didn't give me any!

Oh. But you didn't use that stuff anyway, did you?

Uhhhh well, a little bit when it was mandatory.

Come on, cocaine? That's bad stuff!

Yeah I know, but there was -

It wasn't bad in the '80s?

There was a time in the early '80s when it was mandatory out there. You'd go into a gig and there'd be people doing lines off of tables.

Oh. How did it make you feel?

Like you want some more right away.

Did it - like right now I feel like, "Whee! Look, the alcohol. Whee!" Was it like that?

Haven't you ever done it?

I've never done anything except alcohol. Like I said, I didn't start un - I tried smoking pot once and it just made me really paranoid and irritated.

That's interesting that it made you paranoid.


(my wife): Let's do it!

That's good that it makes you paranoid. Good for you.

No, not good for me. Shut! Umm... "afraid" of me. That's all. But it's okay! I definitely am not sitting here going, "Damn, I wish I'd smoked some crack." You know?

Me either!

Good! That makes two of us. Alright but no, but I just would really like you to somehow go through life everyday thinking to yourself, "Dude, a lot of kids love watching that movie, love listening to my records, and I know they're not exactly like I'd like them to be, but a lot of kids really like them." Because I know I'm like younger than you, but I'm an old geezer to me and those records are fantastic! To me. And don't read what I wrote in the stupid reviews seven years ago, because I know I love - the first album is amazing, the second album is amazing, the third album I don't know, the fourth album ihhh, the fifth album is terrible.

You didn't like -


You didn't like "It's Who You Know" or "In This House That I Call Home."

The weird thing is I like 'em now! "In this house that -"

You need to fix your website.

I need to fix it, and I know because a lot of people email me hatemail all the time, but it's so old - you can see on there how many bands and reviews are on there, right?


These days, I'm - Right now I'm reviewing Brian Eno, and I don't even like Brian Eno. But.... Do you like Brian Eno?

I mainly know him as a producer.

Okay, she is really yelling at me now. Mr., Mr. Zoom. Mr. TY Zoom. See? I sprung 'em together! Ty Zoom! That's pretty great!

(my lady): I like him.

She likes you though.

She does?


I like her too.

(her): Hey, tell him to come and stay over.

But if you ever come to New York, and I know this is, you're gonna laugh at this and throw it away but seriously, if you ever come to New York, we do have an extra room and you and your wife can stay there.


Seriously. I'm not like - I know it sounds ridiculous, but I'm serious. We have an extra room and you can stay there. Okay?



I gotta go.

I have to go more than you.

I have to get up really early in the morning.

For what?

We're leaving for Seattle.

Wow. Okay, say hey to Nirvana for me.


Yeah, great! Yeah. No, but umm... thank you for the time and everything. Seriously. Okay, have a good evening.

You too.

Bye. (to my lady): I think he thinks I'm an asshole!

(*three minutes later*)

It's you again.

Don't be mad at me, okay? (Etc.)

Reader Comments (Eric Sweenor)
Oh, man, I would definitely have hung up on you!

Yes, I made it through the whole thing. Pretty cool! But I coulda sworn Gene Vincent was dead by '71, and Billy talks about playing with him in '75? Probably just remembers it wrong. Still, very good. Now I gotta finally go and read the John Doe one. (Narantxa)
please, stop drinking :)
I could go off on people you should interview and after reading this Exene is a very logical choice. She's the wild one. Watch the Decline, she's drunker than the lord and hilarious.
I am abso-fawking-lutely crying over here. Tears are literally streaming down my face from trying to prevent my head from exploding in laughter as I read this. Billy is a saint. Mark is insane. This was awesome. Thank you.
Wow, that was sort of interesting. And I don't even know of Billy Zoom or the X. I just read this thing for like fifteen hours, and I didn't want to stop. JUST LIKE WHEN I HAVE A CAN OF PRINGLES!
When was the last time you were in the Atlanta Metro area? Norcross is considered part of the city now. You've got some kind of stereotype stuck in your head. People here are no less tolerant than New Yorkers. It sounds like you're the one with the tolerance problem. I like Billy Zoom, especially now that I know he loves Georgia. Although, I wouldn't pick Savannah to get married (unless you have to like I did because of family). My wife was at Governor's Honors in Valdosta in '86. You were probably later? Anyway, I'm very interested in listening to X now. And thanks for influencing some of my better music purchase choices.
Good interview....I have always loved Billy's playing....I think he gave Punk credit.......reguardless or not; to think no-one feels passionate about his playing, is wrong.

I have spent hours trying to master his hooks.

"The Hungry Wolf" is a hard as hell song to play properly.

I even have more love for B.Z. knowing he is such a down to earth guy....cause I'm caught up in the music biz right now trying to make it and I havent seen anything but a LOT of BULLSHIT!

I'm glad someone cares about the music....even if it's's still about being original.....and there is life outside of Rock N Roll.

I can't believe he likes the Louvin Bros!!!

My producer right now drummed on the latest tribute album.

People say the Everly Bros..were the ultimate harmony group...No!

The Louvin Bros. have them hands down.

I think it's cool as hell that Billy never let anything get in the way of his appreciation of music. I grew up on moved me....but I never cease to find the root and explore it.
I seem to remember that in "Decline" Exene refers to Billy as the sexiest person on the planet. Spot-on. I remember seeing X in the spring of '83, the night after Tennessee Williams died (Exene dedicated "Big Black Sun" to him). Billy stood stock-still for the entire show, guitar slung low, legs spread, with this ear-to-ear grin on his face, scanning the crowd and just beaming like the happiest man on the planet; he looked so laid-back, as he played the most astounding buzz-saw guitar I've ever heard. I had known Billy was the soul of X's music -- the shocker was that he was the soul of their stage-show too! John emoted, Exene danced, they both had enormous charisma and sexual chemistry, but Billy just stood there nearly motionless, and I couldn't take my eyes off of him.
Hello !

It took a while to read it all, but it was worth it and I forgot it was on the net - reading net pages is a thing that I don't appreciate, I'd rather turn real pages than scroll down.

I'm talking about the X interviews; I started with Doe and got flabbergasted by the Zoom one. The time spent, the trust put in you, the whole thing in fact.

Made me play the X CD that survived from the two I owned. During the reading I asked myself where the guitar was or why it was that far beneath the other instruments. Got the answer.

I also read the critics about the Cramps and couldn't understand why you didn't like A Date; but I found myself puzzled by others' praise for everything that came after Flame Job.

Now that's not sharing. I saw the Cramps twice and twice they seemed to rush the opening act. The first time was in 1991 or 92. We had gotten there early, but the first band was already there on stage - and they were crap (Haunted Garage). Second time was in 1998, and a roadie came to tell the openers to end their set asap (Eiffel, who were good). During the show - I never got to see Lux's wee-wee - during the show, he felt the need to catch his breath and did a little talking before the following song. Somebody barked for Alligator Stomp and Lux used that. Killing a bird with two stones : he called the guy names, creating tension among the audience, and gathered the lacking energy to sing Stomp. It lasted a while. So it was the kind of tension some songs put on people, but without any music at all.

Regards to the B. half of the couple, and pat the pet for me too if you need a reason to do so.

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