Willie Heath Answers 9 Questions at Crowbar on a Tuesday Night)

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Willie Heath Neal plays country music. That’s what I’d call it, that’s what he calls it. If you listen to popular country radio than you will disagree. You will call his songs “alt-country rockabilly” or “cowpunk” or “outlaw country” or “hillbilly” or “psycobilly.” Really, there seem to be endless ways to describe him by tacking “billy” onto the end of a word. But what really matters as we hash it all out is that he knows how to write a good song. That’s all I care about, and that is exactly what matters when you are in Ybor City on a rainy Tuesday night at Crowbar to see Willie and his gang play.  I don’t ordinarily listen to country music (I adore The Old 97’s, but here again, they don’t seem to count) so I had no idea what I was getting into, but I loved every minute of it. 

Willie is one of those performers who are charming both on and off stage. In my experience, that isn’t often the case. It seems like the singer who is the life of the after party always stares at the floor while she performs. Or the guitar player who is animated and exciting onstage is the one that has nothing to say after the show. The worst though, is seeing someone up there that is just funny, witty and generally fantastic, but then when you meet them they are a total douche bag. Am I getting off topic? I think my point is that Willie was fun to hang with, and really a great time to watch on stage, frequently hilarious. At one point, after he cracked a couple of one-liners, a girl in the audience asked him to tell a joke. When he wasn’t fast enough spitting one out she started to tell some herself. He knew every punch line, which was the only reason they were funny at all. I had a great time.

I don't know crap about Country music or what might sound like country music but isn't exactly country music. I don't have an ear for the rules of the thing. If I had to put it into my own terms I think I’d say that he & his band are like the Social Distortion of country music, does that make any sense? Not that they sound like Social Distortion really at all. Oh, I don’t care anymore. I’m just going to put on his latest CD “Out of Highway” and listen to the title track again- I love it. It makes me want to get in a beat up van*, drive to some town with a name no one can pronounce, and play in a dark bar on a rainy Tuesday night.

Here are the answers Willie gave to my nine questions- I’ll try not to let question number 8 hurt my feelings (someone was bound to give that answer eventually).

Van: What was the first full-length album that you bought with your own money? 

Willie: Elvis Presley, King Creole soundtrack

Van: Which comes first, the music or the lyrics? Please describe your songwriting habits. 

Willie: Songwriting is a strange process for me, the lyrics and music come at the same time. I put a guitar in my hand and just let myself go blank. The songs just start coming to me like dialing in a radio station for better reception.

Van: Has any fan ever just knocked you over with a story about how your music affected his or her life in some way? Or have you had an odd experience with any fans? Like, do you have a stalker yet? 

Willie: I don't know if I have a stalker. I've had lots of fans tell me stories about my music getting them through rough times, but one of my favorites was these two roughnecks, that worked off shore, telling me they would climb out onto a catwalk at night and listen to "Backwoods, Country, White Trash". That has always stuck with me.

Van: What is the best live show you have ever seen?

Willie: Peelander Z. what a show!

Van: What band do you think you could totally be best friends with, if only you could meet them? 

Willie: I don't know- that's an odd question, Supersuckers, maybe.

Van: Besides your own, what other band name do you wish you had chosen? It can be taken already.

Willie: The Ann Frank Sinatras

Van:  Say you have a favorite little sister, just about to make her first album, not signed to a label yet. What will you share with her that you wish you’d known? 

Willie: That question is way too long to answer. There's a lot I wish I'd known.

Van: What is the dumbest or most annoying question you're asked by journalists or fans? Please answer it for us. 

Willie: See question 7.

Van: Imagine your band were a child, who would be your band parents? Like, maybe your mom is Led Zeppelin & your dad is The Beatles. But, don’t choose those two, they’re probably taken & clearly unrealistic. 

Willie: Loretta Lynn and Waylon Jennings

*FYI- Willie Heath Neal does not drive a beat up van. He is looking for one though, preferably a Dodge in pretty good shape with a 318 engine. If you live in the Atlanta area you should look him up. (See Willie, I don't write much down, but I was listening).

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