When Bill Heller asked me to write a bio for him I thought about what his resume might look like. When I asked him what his “likes” were he said, “Chicken legs and law and order.” (Since law and order wasn’t capitalized I assume he means a civil society as opposed to the TV drama.) When I asked him about “goals” his reply was, “To pay off my VISA card.” For a man with a thousand voices, he has few words and he didn’t give me much to work with. I lack the technical information necessary to construct a meaningful resume for him so I thought I’d just share my impressions.
I first heard Bill Heller perform about a decade ago in a cozy little space called The Marketplace. His stunning voice struck an instant chord with me. Actually it was the voice of Harry Chapin, then James Taylor, Willie Nelson, and Johnny Cash. He has this supernatural ability to channel the voices of them all. Dubbed the “Rich Little of Singers” he can readily adapt to any audience or genre. Everyone likes the classic rock and roll, and for those eccentric fans he sings truly bizarre things like commercials and theme songs. To call him a singer is an injustice, Billy is an entertainer. While it’s easy to focus on the incredible vocals, Bill’s real passion is for the guitar which he’s been mastering since the Beatles broke up. You could say he’s obsessed with music gear and gadgets-hence the VISA reference. A recorder morphs him into an instant 5-piece band and an acoustic guitar he admits to “muscling up” for a bigger sound. His system wasn’t cheap (again, hence the tip jar and the VISA reference) and his guitar idols range from Eddie Van Halen to James Taylor. I once saw him do an electric Jimi Hendrix version of The Star Spangled Banner in silhouette behind a white lit screen and it gave me chills for a week. Billy loves the music and the music loves him right back. Besides the uncanny voices and amazing riffs from his super-hero Willy Porter, his greatest strength lies in his ability to connect to an audience.
I confess, I love to sit in the back and watch the people who have never seen him perform before, the ones who are surprised when he substitutes key lyrics like “Blue Suede Thong” or “Brown-Eyed Squirrel”. Once he captures their attention with his magic, they are fans forever more and you can actually see the appreciation grow in their eyes. Now with all this genius stuff going for him, there’s bound to be a few quirks as well. He likes a sing-a-long, but he’ll be the first to complain to a tone-deaf audience. He takes requests but that doesn’t mean you’ll hear your song…or you’ll hear six bars of your song, just enough to justify the small tip you put in the jar. He doesn’t like technical difficulties, awkward pauses or bad hair days and he’ll flatly tell you he doesn’t “do” Garth. But don’t fear, Bill is never cranky, and his idiosyncrasies manage to make him all the more delightful. Charming, charming Billy.
To steal a quote from My Chemical Romance – “He’s the kind of human wreckage that you love.”