The following is an edited tribute written by Guy Forsyth for Snakeboy. 02.06.2008
‘While playing a club called ‘Headliners East’ Down on Sixth Street back in 1993 a slick talking man came up to me and introduced himself as a guitar player by the name of Bill Thompson. We started talking and were soon fast friends who shared a love of music, weed, girls, cars, guitars and story telling, the stories usually being lies about girls, guitars and cars brought on by music and weed. We would play together on stage at ‘Antones’ and ‘The Continental Club’ as well as less glamorous pits like ‘Joe’s Generic Bar’, ‘Babes’, ‘Pearl’s Oyster Bar, and ‘The Black Cat’.
He was a blues slide guitar player who had grown up in New Orleans, son of a guitar picker who worked on the Grand Ol’ Opry. I had only been in Austin a handful of years when I met Bill but he had been in Austin since the early 80’s and was full of tales of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Billy Gibbons, W.C Clark, Al Kooper, Marcia Ball, Angela Strehli, Denny Freeman and hosts of other musicians who built the title “Live Music Capital”. It was at that time at some jam (perhaps Walter Higgs Legendary Shuffle Pig Jam) that he found his true name. Fronting a loose group of friends he found he was fallowing a band called ‘Snakeboy Johnson’ Billy quipped that ‘Snakeboy’s Johnson’ was a great name for a band, a comment that was not warmly received. Undaunted, Billy had MC Higgs introduce his throw together unit as “The Original Snakeboy” (not the Boise Snakeboy, not the Minsk Snakeboy, not the Cleveland Snakeboy…) and the name stuck.
Billy started a band called Coupe De Ville and also played in The Austin All Stars and The Nomads but must be remembered for putting the ‘Spank’ in the Asylum Street Spankers, a band that he helped create with Christina Marrs, Wammo, and I around 1994. This next bit is from an article I read on the web this morning… One day Snakeboy came up with the idea to have signs held up during their performance, with instructions for the fans to do such things as “Applause” or “Give Us All Your Money.” One sign read, “Ladies Spanked Free.” It was just a joke, but when the sign was presented for the first time, a young lady stepped up to the stage, dropped her pants to her ankles and stuck her bare back side in the band’s direction. Banjo player Greg Bayless looked at Snakeboy and said, “You’re a genius, man!”
What makes me write all of this here, and moves this beyond simple Austin history is that Billy (The Original Snakeboy), wile not fully original or unique was a true expression of love threw music, and his life was lived in pursuit of giving joy away to any who would listen.
I say “was” as I just received word this morning that Billy died in Portland Oregon this Monday.. The last time I saw him was in Antwerp, where we had shared a bill and ‘The Crossroads Cafe’ and we had played together for the last time. After the show we sat in my hotel room, and shared the smoke, and talked about old times, music, guitars, girls. And, for a wile, we talked about that old idea of “Mojo”, “magic”, “soul”. Lots of words hint at that elusive thing that people writing about music struggle to pin down, and musicians strive to bring forth, summon up and then give away. Never something that is controlled, being a musician or any type of artist is about surrendering to the pursuit of this thing that can never be named, and that my go just as fast as it comes. Sometimes Billy had it, sometimes he didn’t, (that is all that the best may do) but he kept looking for it, just to give it away. He, like most musicians I know carried a thick stack of stories of all the times he almost but not quite made it.
This afternoon I ran into David Garza as we both stopped by the same house to drop off pay to the musicians who lived there and I told him of the news I had heard. I told him I hoped that Billy had returned to the music he had worked so hard and long to find. David agreed, and smiled speaking of those wonderful days when you first start playing and are lit up and inspired by this music. And I talked of my little girl who already rocks back and forth on the floor in time to the radio. Maybe we are in the music already but we get lost in the stories we create in our heads. Not the ones about girls and guitars but the ones about toll booths and divorces. Labyrinths of coulda, shoulda, woulda, no more real than that red Corvette back in 86that could fly or that National Tri-cone from that pawn shop in Algiers that could sustain a note forever.
– Guy Forsyth ‘