The End of the Line and the (Long) Road Home

The End of the Line and the (Long) Road Home

[August 3, 2007]

Sons of Bill Members:
Abe Wilson, multi-instrumentalist
James Wilson, vocals, guitar
Sam Wilson, guitar
Seth Green, bass

Brian Caputo, drums

I wrote our last update with Okinawan sands between my toes; I write this update with my tired dogs resting on red Virginia clay. Well, to be totally honest, they’re resting on the cool, hardwood floor of my Albemarle County home, but who’s counting? We arrived home late Tuesday night after a long, bungling two days in transit, and sweltering humidity has never smelled sweeter.

All in all, Okinawa was a solid last leg of the trip. Despite missing our radio interview (not our fault) and having to push a broken-down van through a toll booth in neutral (also not our fault) we managed to have three very successful shows to close out the tour. Following our last performance, on Sam Wilson’s 27th birthday, we commandeered two taxis and wound our way up some back roads to one of the best sushi restaurants this side of the International Date Line, (which side? It doesn’t matter.) for a birthday feast of epic proportions. The restaurant—called Yoshihachi, for those of you who may find yourself in Okinawa—was run by a master chef who had set up shop in LA for awhile. The walls were covered with endearing messages and signed pictures from famous actors and actresses of the past thirty years. Oh yea, and the sushi was incredible.

After a sleepless night playing cards and watching Karate Kid II (set in Okinawa!) we left our hotel at 5am to head for the airport. This is when the real trouble started. Once again, in the interest of brevity, I will try to stick to a just-the-facts-ma’am account of the trip.

We arrived at the Okinawa airport to find out that, while Abe’s ticket was correct, someone in the vast morass of government bureaucracy booked the other five tickets for the wrong day. They managed to get us from Okinawa to Tokyo with our flawed tickets, but at the international terminal, our luck ran out. Making a long and painful story mercifully short, we sent Abe home on schedule with all of our luggage (ten pieces of excess baggage, for the record) and the rest of us waited for the next five flights to the states. All of said flights were full, but B.J. [Pendleton] managed to sneak us onto a flight back to Seoul (the setting for some of our earlier exploits) and then secure us tickets home via San Francisco. These several sentences barely scratch the surface of the desperation and manic scrambling of the last two days of our trip but, since I’m limited to 300 words (a guideline which I’ve repeatedly failed to meet), I must cut it off at that.

Thanks so much to everyone who’s been keeping up with us and also to everyone, in Charlottesville and around the globe, who made it possible for us to do this tour. It’s been an amazing experience and one that none of us will soon forget. We’ll be playing a welcome back show sometime in the next month or two—probably at Satellite Ballroom, since somebody let Starr Hill close down while we were gone.

Keep an ear out and be in touch. Thanks again.

Home sweet home again,
Sons of Bill

[July 27]

Tokyo, Paradise and Park Bench Thievery

The Bills write a final note from Okinawa with tales of bombs, beaches and missing passports.

Last week, we informed you that we’d been in Japan for a while but were stuck on military bases chewing on imported Burger King and Popeye’s Chicken & Biscuits.  We told you we would be heading to Tokyo and hoped for some stories.

This week, we headed to Tokyo. We got some stories.
On our day off, we cruised around Kamakura, a mid-size city with beautiful old temples and palaces from a bygone era, and then headed out for the train to Tokyo (leaving Abe behind to admire the ancient architecture). This is when the proverbial mess went through the proverbial fan. The ensuing story could fill an entire issue of C-VILLE, so we’ll do our best to preserve the drama while highlighting only the key facts.  (1) Seth left his wallet (containing his passport) on a park bench. (2) We returned to the bench to find some Japanese teenagers who claimed confused ignorance of the wallet.  (3) We went to the police station and found, to the shock, awe and unrestrained delight of everyone that the wallet had somehow beaten us there, with everything intact.  All in a very heady half-hour.

We hit Tokyo just in time for drinks, dinner and some gawking at the bright lights before we had to catch the last train home. The city is huge. The steak…is delicious.
This ended the Tokyo leg of our Japan trip and sent us south. We played three solid shows (one with a strange but very enthusiastic Japanese crowd) and had time to visit Hiroshima. The city is beautiful. Peace Park, however—the atomic bomb memorial and museum—is one of the heaviest two-hour walks an American can take.  The recovery that this city has made from the havoc that we unleashed upon it, some 60 years ago with a single bomb, is inspiring. Nonetheless, the evidence of the devastation is…well, devastating.
A few days later we jetted for Okinawa, our last tour stop, where I am writing from. I am pleased to report that I write this update with sand between my toes; Okinawa is doing its damnedest to live up to its title of the Japanese Hawaii. So far, beautiful sunsets and delicious sushi have been the highlights. We play our first of three shows in about two hours and then roll back home on July 30, just in time for Seth’s parents’ anniversary and the Tuesday Night Special at South Street.
See you in the Ville,
Sons of Bill

[July 21]

The Japanese Country Line Dancing Club Blues

Nearing the end of their tour, Sons of Bill check in from Japan to reflect on missed meals and a showdown with some dancers

We’ve been in Japan for about a week now—beautiful country.

Unfortunately, we’ve only seen it through the bus windows. With shows every night and no independent source of transportation, we’ve been more or less tethered to the military bases.  Fortunately, we have a day off near Tokyo tomorrow, so things may change then.

Despite the tight schedule, we’ve had no shortage of excitement.  We were greeted at the first base by two (very friendly) gentlemen carrying two (very gigantic) automatic weapons.  They informed us that the base was currently conducting a mock-terrorism lockdown of sorts, so security was extra tight.  In the end, everything turned out well, although we had to run the gauntlet the next morning to make it to the chow hall, only to find out we missed the breakfast hour.  Apparently, Marines eat breakfast earlier than musicians.  Who knew?

Another (bizarre) highlight was the Japanese Country Line Dancing Club (no one could quite figure out what their official name was) who joined us at Camp Zama: about 15 or 20 Japanese—with about three Americans sprinkled in—ranging in age from late teens to alarmingly late in life.  Although their technique was flawless (well, almost), their song selection was puzzling to say the least. 

This friction came to a head when, after sitting politely through a two-step-friendly rendition of Clint Black’s "Killin’ Time," they formed up ranks for the Drive-By Truckers’ "The Day John Henry Died."  About half way through—and about 30 seconds before Sam dove headfirst into a 90-second Van Halen-meets-Dimebag Darrell aural firebombing—we briefly stopped to build the tension.  The line dancers did not stop, which caused a bit of confusion when we recommenced rocking.  About three or four middle-aged Japanese women in the front row nearly bit it trying to untangle their ankles while they frantically scrambled to recapture the beat. 

Perhaps next week we’ll have more to tell about the Japanese part of Japan, but if not, at least the entertainment won’t go anywhere.

Bootin’, scootin’ and boogyin’,
Sons of Bill

[July 13]

R.O.C.K. in the R.O.K.

Smack in the middle of their Pacific tour, Sons of Bill write from South Korea with tales of quality time with the troops and drinking time with military officers.

Although we spent our first couple days bumbling around the South Pacific while playing only one concert, our past week has been defined by two things: traveling and playing shows (and a third: the pungent aroma of open sewers in beautiful, scenic Seoul). 

In seven nights, we’ve rocked six different military installments in six different cities throughout the peninsula.  The results have been mixed, ranging from small, politely appreciative audiences to frothing masses of drunken enlistees.  We performed at Osan Air Base, where an old Charlottesville friend of ours, Mr. Dan Cook, Jr., was stationed in the early ’60s.  We also played at a Navy base near where the Wilson grandfather spent time decades ago. 

Camp Hovey, an army base near the North Korean border, has been the highlight, an evening for the history books.  The show opened with James politely turning down a beer offered from the crowd, telling them, "Sorry, but we’re not allowed to drink onstage.  I’ll have one with you later."  An hour-and-a-half later, we were being handed beer mugs emblazoned with the Camp Hovey insignia and taking shots of Crown Royal with the Colonel onstage before our encore.  Three-and-a-half minutes after that, Seth kicked Sam into the audience during his solo, which yielded one of the pictures you see on this page.

We spent the next hour or so hanging with the men and women in uniform, signing autographs, shaking hands and sharing a delicious, country-style chicken-fried steak with the Colonel and his Sergeant Major.  The rest of the shows have gone well, too, and it’s been a pleasure and an honor to spend time with the troops after each show.  We’ve got two more shows before taking another day off to see if we can make heads or tails of the Korean capital, and then we’re jetting for Tokyo on the 16th. 

We’ll check in from the Land of the Rising Sun next week.  Keep it together over on the Atlantic side—somebody pick some peaches for us.  I’ve heard it’s summer over here, but we haven’t seen anything to prove it except heat, humidity and squid sandwiches.

Yours in weird seafood,
Sons of Bill

[July 6]

Guam in the rearview, Seoul in the headlights

It’s been almost a week since we left D.C., and already we’ve flown over the North Pole on the way to Japan and sweated off 75 percent of our body fat rocking out in Guam. The flight over was relatively smooth, until we got to Guam and learned that our case full of drums had been left at the Dulles Airport.

Upon landing, we were cheerfully escorted to Andersen Air Force Base where we spent the next three days chasing down our equipment and chasing geckos out of our bathtub (our drummer claims to have saved a lot of money on car insurance while taking a shower). The show in Guam went great: It was a family affair with burgers and hot dogs and little kids running around in the beautiful Pacific sun, and the beautiful Pacific sun wreaking havoc on our lily-white skin.

We all awoke on the 4th of July with serious sunburn, but just enough lingering excitement to motivate us to tour the island. Guam showed us some beautiful beaches, monstrous luxury hotels and a few breathtaking views of the ocean clifftops. We ended the evening at the July 4th Carnival (apparently an expanded version of the carnival they have every Wednesday in the native Chamarro village) with some delicious local delicacies—shrimp fritters, chicken skewers and some dish I still struggle to pronounce that entails fish, lemon and other tropicalities over red rice. Outstanding.

We caught about two hours of sleep before heading back to the airport for our jump over to Korea for the second leg of the tour. Our first show in the Republic of Korea (the “ROK” I’m told they call it; fine by us) is tonight at the Army Base in Seoul. More on that next week. We’ve heard things are holding up in ol’ Charlottesville. Send word on Albemarle—we’re all county boys over here.

Until the next,

[July 3, 2007]

The Bills bid farewell to Starr Hill

The Sons of Bill perform one of the final concerts in the Starr Hill Music Hall before they leave for the Pacific. Filmmaker Ben Haslup, a longtime friend of the Wilson brothers, documented the gig for a full-length concert DVD, and shares a clip from the Bill’s gig—the blistering, beautiful "Texas"—in a C-VILLE Music exclusive.

[June 22, 2007]

Big shots

On July 1, the Sons of Bill head to the Pacific Ocean for a month of performances at U.S. military bases. The Bills will keep fans posted weekly through an exclusive C-VILLE travel journal.  This week, guitarist Sam Wilson checks in with C-VILLE on the two perks that precede international travel: packing and needles.

The Sons of Bill have been slowly gathering everything we need for our trip overseas; it has been a slow but sure process of preparation. Most of our equipment will be rented in Guam, Japan and Korea. We are just bringing guitars, bass, a snare drum and other drum accessories, [guitar effects] pedal board, mics and just a few other things. Everything else is backlined, which has been a HUGE relief.

B.J. Pendleton (house sound engineer at Starr Hill for three years) will travel with us as soundman, “techie” and road manager. He has been a saint helping us gear up for the trip. Not to mention he and Seth can be the voice of reason when the Wilson brothers and Caputo start getting neurotic and showing a 10 on the nervous meter.

Caputo and I got our immunization shots yesterday. We got a Hepatitis A shot in the arm and an Immune Globulin shot in the butt. Needless to say, I’m typing this blog entry standing up.

We are pretty honored to be going on the trip and entertaining some troops that, I’m sure, are longing for some live music. We’ve had to turn down some pretty spectacular July shows, but I know the trip will be worth it—an intense month, but life changing, no doubt.

[June 19, 2007]

Sons of Bill’s excellent adventure
Charlottesville rockers head to the Pacific, send postcards home through C-VILLE
by Brendan Fitzgerald

James and Sam Wilson agree to wait as I prep my tape recorder for what they call “The Van Story.” The brothers—two of the three Wilsons who comprise the Sons of Bill, along with bassist Seth Green and drummer Brian Caputo—know the importance of live interaction when you want to get something done right, cohesively.

Together for less than two years, the Sons of Bill recorded their first record, A Far Cry from Freedom, after only two gigs; the Bills recently holed up in Haunted Hollow, the Dave Matthews Band’s local recording studio, to record a handful of songs for a demo in live, full-band sessions.

"We’re an American band! We’re coming to your town!" The Sons of Bill kick off their Pacific tour in July and will send letters home through here at

“I mean, we’re doing some overdubs,” says Sam. “But when we track, we’re tracking pretty much everything.”

“Now that we kinda know what we are as a band, we have a better understanding of what Sons of Bill is,” adds James. And, more than a marketable family affair, the Sons of Bill are a live band, and know it. Which brings us to The Van Story:

Ninety minutes into a trip to Helen, Georgia, disaster strikes the Bills’ touring vehicle. “We can’t get over 30 miles an hour,” says James.

“We just keep slowing down and slowing down,” says Sam. “So we take an exit around Lexington”—Virginia, it bears mentioning, as there is a Lexington in every state on the way, including Georgia. Their vehicle is pronounced D.O.A.

With only seven hours to travel more than 400 miles, the Bills were ready to call it quits. Fortunately, bassist Seth Green made a call to his brother first and, says Sam, “within 20 minutes, he found a van.”

And so, in a 1981 Dodge with over 200,000 miles on the odometer, the Sons of Bill arrived at Helen’s door, wooed the fair city and split town, a better band for it.

“It’s weird,” says Sam. “There’s a lot of adversity right now, but the stars are aligned…in a way. Little things come through that make [performing] worth it.”

In the song “Fourth of July,” Shooter Jennings sings of “driving across country/ In a dusty old R.V./ Just the road and its majesty”—a story of travel rendered tuneful that the Wilsons plan to perform during their next live trek. But on this trip, there are no romanticized R.V. trips, no godforsaken vans. Hell, there’s no driving.

“I’m looking forward to playing Shooter’s ‘Fourth of July’ in Okinawa,” says James with a laugh.

Sam looks concerned. “Aren’t we in Guam on the fourth?”

“No, it’s Okinawa.”

The Wilsons have a few short weeks to get their schedule straight because, on July 1, the Sons of Bill head to the Pacific as musical emissaries for Armed Forces Entertainment, an agency run by the Pentagon. In 30 days, the Bills will perform 21 shows at U.S. military venues in four countries. They will spend five days flying between performance sites, leaving them with four days off.

The Wilsons have never toured beyond the Atlantic coast. In fact, the three brothers continue to hold down jobs in Charlottesville: Abe Wilson interns at an architecture firm, Sam averages 20 guitar students a week and James cuts hay and fixes fences on a Scottsville farm, a job he’s held for years.

“We’ve had a lot of success in our hometown, which creates this idea that we’re bigger than we really are,” says Sam.

“But we’re still eating from the dollar menu!” says James. “In an ’81 Dodge!”

And, to be honest, the promise of these dynamics—a young band caught between local fame and international tours, who thrive on live performances but who also have Van Stories—is too tempting to pass up.

Following their send-off gig on June 29 at Starr Hill, the Sons of Bill set off for the Pacific, but promise to sing to you from the road. The brothers Bill plan to post to the C-VILLE website weekly updates documenting their trips, which may be accessed exclusively, along with audio and video content. The only URL you need to know:

“This trip is coming at a good time—things are slowing down for us,” says Sam. “It’s a good chance to really get our set tight. If we don’t all kill one another.”