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.
Island is planning on rereleasing White Trash Receptacle, originally issued last year on Aden Holt's One Ton label, at the end of March with a few changes: Liles is deleting "The Dread Song" and the untitled 10-minute instrumental at the end (he might also take off "The Economy of Used CDs" for practical purposes), and he plans on adding two or three recent and unused tracks. There will also be a radio edit of "Hoops" with a few minor language changes (no more "fuck").
The album's due date will coincide with the release of two videos, "Hoops" and "Me and My Last Four Bucks/Ugly People," that will likely air on The Box and perhaps MTV. The videos basically make up the first 10 minutes of Enable Me, which Liles says he plans to finish by July.
"The whole point of getting these videos out is to make people want to see the movie when it comes out," Liles says. Ironically, Liles was on Island once before--in the late '80s, as a member of Decadent Dub Team. It was Island that released the Liles-assembled Sounds of Deep Ellum compilation in 1987, a record Dallas is only now beginning to live up to...and live down.
Ingram's new deal
Jack Ingram has in his possession a copy of his CD Live at Adair's--a beautiful package, he beams, right down to the famous Warner Bros. logo stamped on the back. But Jack Ingram is the only person who will ever own that CD. When Live at Adair's is released in mid-February, it will have on its packaging the logo of Crystal Clear Sound--the same local label that has manufactured and distributed his two previous albums.
"I showed my mom the album with the Warner Bros. logo on it," Ingram says from his San Antonio home, "and she started laughing."
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Ingram, the former local folkie-turned-country boy, was not dropped from Warner Bros. Despite reports that he had signed with the label's Nashville subsidiary (in these pages, among other places), Ingram never actually put a pen to the contracts that were already drawn up and finalized. Ingram insists he backed out of the "done deal" of his own volition: Instead of going with Warners, Ingram is now in the final stages of negotiating a deal with a label called Rising Tide, a newly formed subsidiary of MCA Records--which happens to be run by Ingram's manager, Ken Levitan, co-owner of VSOP Management.
Live at Adair's--which Ingram recorded at the Deep Ellum burger joint last summer with a back-up band that included Mitch Marine, Chris Claridy, Pete Coatney, Reed Easterwood, Milo Deering, Jim Richmond, and Al Mouledous--will now be issued in February. Crystal Clear Sound will handle manufacturing and distribution, and Rising Tide will take care of radio and press promotions. Ingram will likely sign to Rising Tide in the next couple of weeks and record his studio debut this fall, he says.
"This whole thing was a weird introduction to the music business," Ingram says. "I had a deal with Warner Bros. and felt pretty secure, and then, whoa!, a couple months down the road, I'm going, 'Fuck, I guess things aren't so secure...Not to put myself down, but I'm young and just learning how to write and do things, and it turns out the longest route and the slowest route is now the best route."
Brave Combo's 1995 Polkas for a Gloomy World has been nominated for a Grammy--in the polka category, oddly enough.