at age eight i broke into my best friend’s house, stole his g.i. joes, lit them on fire, and pushed them off a cliff. my mother concluded i had too much time on my hands. the solution was piano lessons with the lovely mrs. raffio. she smelled like cigarettes and perfume. i was in love. a lifelong passion for music was born.
we moved from new york to california a year later. i was never able to replace mrs. raffio, so i gradually gave up formal lessons, preferring to play along with my favorite prog rock records – most notably yes, elp, and genesis.
in 1980, at the age of fourteen, i gave my first ever live performance, playing alice cooper’s “how you gonna see me now” at the lincoln junior high talent show. it went over like gangbusters. even the jocks and tough guys came up to me afterward and congratulated me.
i spent my junior year of high school saving up my allowances to buy a rhodes suitcase piano. i loved billy joel and chick corea, but i loved the rhodes even more. i still have it in my living room.
shortly after i learned how to drive, a guy heard me noodle on a synth at a hollywood music store and asked me to join his band. i think it was the solo from “the cage” by genesis. i said yes and spent the next year and a half dragging my rhodes in and out of my capri, lugging it up and down flights of stairs at various hollywood rehearsal studios. the band was called 4am, and we played exactly zero shows.
i went to college up north at uc berkeley. at first, i practiced the piano for hours in the dorm music room. but after an embarrassing audition for the jazz band, i decided to take up the guitar. i had mastered blackbird, mother nature’s son and for no one back in junior high, but had never played any rock guitar. my dorm friends introduced me to the descendents, black flag, the buzzcocks, gang of four, and my best friend and future band-mate garth turned me on to the damned, david bowie, john mayall and the bluesbreakers.
my first summer home, my friends and i made a mock-umentary, “because we suck” about the fabled garage rock band testes 1-2-3. i played bass. after an aborted summer show we played a rock concert at my mom’s house over winter vacation. the show was much louder than my talent show gig (and much sloppier, and drunker), but we entertained the crowd with our 70s throwback sound: ‘boredom’ by the buzzcocks, ‘new rose’ by the damned, ‘seasons in the sun’ by terry jacks, ‘larry’s got a boner’ (sung to the tune of ‘smoke on the water’). we were at the bleeding edge of 70s retro rock. it was only 1984 after all. a crazy girl stole my electric razor at the show.
back in berkeley, i got a job in a music store, and a guy heard me noodling on a synth and asked me to be in a band. (most likely ‘the cage’ again). so i took my rhodes and my newly acquired ob-8, drove to richmond, and played in a jazz-fusion band for a year and a half. the band was called millinium. yes, three i’s. we played exactly ONE show. a downtown oakland beauty pageant that didn’t know what they were in for. after that I dragged my stuff back to berkeley.
at around this point i started playing music with my guitar-playing friend matt margolin – testes 4-1-5. we put garth on the drums and enlisted our friend greg on guitar (he knew how to play “eruption”) and we became p.b. dirigible and the mystic idiots. loud sloppy mostly comic rock. after greg moved down to los angeles (rock-seda), we were left as a trio. our first club gig was at the legendary mabuhay gardens, in 1987. it would close soon after.
at some point in 1988, after a week as bash bash bash (still my preferred name) we became the smokin’ rhythm prawns. it was supposed to be a joke name, but no one got it, because this was the era of funk metal and every band had a stupid name. it was a rags to riches story, more accurately a rags to a lot more rags story: we started as nobodies, and through the force of our distortion and good looks, and the fact that we rocked quite sincerely, we built a healthy following in sf, a town legendary for its disinterested audiences. over that time we played with primus, firehose, green day, victim’s family, rage against the machine, counting crows (at the show where they got signed; always the bridesmaid…). we made a record, “all you can eat.” we got sick of each other. we broke up.
in mid-1993, a couple guys from a band we played with all the time – bluchunks – asked me to sing for them. soon i was playing second bass as well, and after some time it just become a power trio. this was the most fun i had playing music. christian and joaquin were the best musicians i’d ever played with, and they shared an ocd focus on meticulously crafting song details – no two repeats were allowed to be the same. we recorded three excellent full-length demos and then recorded a full studio cd, “fissure,” which sounds as good to me today as it did in 1997. unfortunately, just a few weeks after the record came out, christian got tendonitis in both forearms to the point where he could no longer play. we never really broke up, we just went our separate ways.
at this point, having watched two bands come apart – one out of frustration, one through an act of god – i decided i should just do things by myself. i bought an 8-track reel-to-reel tape machine with money i got from a screenplay i sold, and started recording demos. having only played in bands and having pitiful self-esteem, i didn’t feel comfortable having music by andy liotta, so i recorded under the name ‘(the) billie burke estate,’ named after the mansion in my hometown, once owned by the good witch of the north and her husband, flo zigfeld. i consider it my strawberry fields.
from 1997 to 2007 i recorded around seventy songs that i released as demo albums and shared with (imposed on) friends and family. during this time i had a son, moved to seattle, started working at microsoft, and had a daughter, in that order. though working full-time for the first time in my life, i kept busy making music at night. twenty-four of bbe tracks ended up on two albums: “give it all away” in 2005 and “let your heart break” in 2008.
in 2008 my wife got a job and i took a year off to promote my latest album. instead i read political blogs morning noon and night, rooted for obama, and came to the important realization that i was entirely lacking in the self-promotion gene. what i loved was writing and recording music. so i came up with the “monday songs” blog, where i’ve been releasing music on and off since late 2008. in 2011 my friend scott schorr suggested we take twelve songs and make an album, which i ended up calling (no surprise) “monday songs.” and that’s what we did. i made a video for every song on the album.
that brings us to the present. currently, i’m enthusiastically cranking out mondays songs and planning a multimedia release – cd, video, memoir – tracking a manic episode i had in 1999 that ended me up in the psych ward for a week. i have a couple other sub-projects that may come before or after, depending on inspiration. i’ve also gotten back together with walrus, playing a pair of shows in 2013 and hoping to do more this year. we may even record again.