By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
There was a time not long ago when Mike Dillon was regarded as a buffoon--a talented musician who hid his prodigious gifts behind bongos, ridiculous antics, and a heroin habit that became the stuff of infamy around Deep Ellum.
As frontman for the more-funk-than-metal Billy Goat, Dillon once wasted his talent and his estimable band--which included drummer Earl Harvin and former New Bohemians guitarist Kenny Withrow--becoming more famous for his "outrageous" onstage behavior than his music. There was the time he told drummer Harvin to lick his ass on stage; once, during a South by Southwest performance, he covered his naked body with whipped cream and stuck his dick in applesauce.
No one took Mike Dillon seriously, especially Mike Dillon--the guy who cofounded Ten Hands only to be kicked out of the band; the guy who was in the original Fingerprints before the band went pop-fusion; the guy who played in the prestigious One O'Clock Lab Band at North Texas State University; the guy who used to sit in with Brave Combo; the guy who could have done it all but chose to do himself in.
"It's taken me a long time to believe I can sell myself on the music alone," Dillon says now. "It's taken me 30 years to realize I can play my music and not talk shit in between songs. I have low self-esteem. It's taken me a long time to believe in myself."
Three years ago, in October of 1992, Dillon and longtime girlfriend Kim Pruitt left Dallas for Kansas City, packing their clothes and instruments but leaving behind their baggage. They were running from their infamy and their drug connections, escaping to a city where Dillon had a "good support system" and knew no one dealing smack.
"Kim and I left town with seven dollars," Dillon recalls. "We had her car, and gas money. When we moved...I ended up doing landscaping for two months until we started playing again." When asked what would have happened if they had stayed in Dallas, Dillon pauses, then says, "We probably would have died."
Since the move, Billy Goat has lost its deal with Hollywood Records, disbanded, reformed with a new lineup, and released a new CD on the Lawrence, Kansas-based indie Mercy Records. Titled Black & White, the disc gives considerable credence to Dillon's claims he's changed, grown up, kicked all his bad habits, and become a better musician for it. Funkier, denser, tighter than any previous Billy Goat record, it also reveals the talent Dillon obscured all those years--there to be found in the Latin and fusion grooves of "Idiot Boomerang" and "Bacon Boy," the conga duel with Earl Harvin on "Good For the Soul," the sly New Orleans marching band beat of "Virgin Vein," the thick boogie-funk of "Pure."
"Mike is basically trying to get people to understand what he's about," says Brave Combo's Carl Finch, who Dillon credits for much of his turnaround. "There's a lot there," says Finch. "He puts music first."
If Billy Goat was once nothing more than a glorified party band where the host had more fun than the guests, then it has now evolved into a more serious beast. Dillon no longer plays it for grins, no longer gives you the punch line without ever letting you in on the joke. Dillon, who has recorded some tracks for the next Brave Combo record, tries hard to insist he's actually a serious musician who has kicked his drug habit; he says he's in Narcotics Anonymous now, but that it's "fucking tough."
"I haven't been perfect," he shrugs.
He recites his resume and accomplishments to back up his claims, and, over the phone, even plays a bit of Thelonious Monk on the vibes to prove his point, saying he hopes in the near future to do a jazz record. And he probably could: The only thing stopping Mike Dillon in the past was Mike Dillon.
"When Billy Goat started, it started as a joke," Dillon says. "It was a joke, a gimmick band in a way...and once you've been labeled as such, it's hard to get over that stereotypical image. A lot of people will never get past it...But I've been studying percussion since I was a little kid, and sometimes people take cheap shots at me, and I go, 'That's not right.'
"You've just got to stay focused and learn something every day, and that's what's fucked up about doing drugs. You stop practicing and lie around and get lame. But now I love music more than I love drugs."
No Chate is an Island
Though Jeff "Chate" Liles is loathe to talk about his new record deal--"Getting a record deal is just the means to an end," he says--the man who was voted most likely to for almost a decade is now signed to Island Records. Again.
The deal came about a few weeks ago through Liles' connection with the Los Angeles-based multi-media company, The Underground, a creative brain-trust responsible Nirvana, Peter Gabriel, and Nine Inch Nails videos. Liles has been working with The Underground--which also has a distribution deal with Island Records--on Enable Me, the film version of his out-of-nowhere 1995 spoken-word record White Trash Receptacle; Liles and a host of local musicians have already begun some shooting around town.