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The Memories

Musical influences

Bill Quateman

So many rock musicians have developed their styles by emulating artists they admired. Did you pattern your style on any one artist?

In the beginning, it was Gene Autry. Later it was Elvis Presley. In the early 60s, it was Bobby Vinton, and the later 60s, John Lennon. In the early 70s, I copied Bill Quateman's style. People used to come up to me in clubs during the break and tell me I was the second coming of Bill Quateman. I took it as a huge compliment. At the same time, some of my fans complained to me that I wasn't creating my own style. But my girlfriend at the time just loved that I could do that because she also thought Bill Quateman was awesome.


People used to tell me I was the second coming of Bill Quateman.

Did you study Quateman's records?

When I first heard Bill Quateman, he didn't have a record out so I studied him live when he played weekends at the Fifth Peg Pub before Columbia Records and Clive Davis signed him. I used to watch him whenever I could. I loved the way he chorded and made use of open tuning (where you tune your instrument to a specific chord). I greatly admired his use of body language and vocal abilities. To this day, I have never watched a live performer who moved me the way Bill Quateman did. The Fifth Peg was a small, intimate club that held around 75 people. I used to sit 10 feet from him, and when he performed I was mesmerized. He reminded me of Stephen Stills.


Well, you are certainly putting him in good company. Was he that good?

He was phenomenal. He is gifted with genius. Unfortunately, he never had a producer like George Martin (the Beatles' producer) to work with him. He changed styles somewhat when he signed with RCA in Los Angeles. In Chicago I enjoyed his acoustic guitar playing. When I moved to Los Angeles, he was playing all electric with different musicians, and I used to go listen to him frequently at The Central on the Strip (now the Viper Room). His craft and ability to spellbind an audience was just as powerful as when he played acoustic. It was frustrating at the time because I had developed an allergy to cigarette smoke so I would have to leave usually before the end of his first set and I would often find myself standing outside the entrance listening to his music (which wasn't so bad because the nightlife on the Strip was never boring).


Did you know him personally?

Not back then so much. I mean, I used to talk to him sometimes on break and tell him I was playing one of his songs in one of my sets or that I was looking forward to hearing his new record. He was always very gracious and polite. Today I do know him personally, and when I was in Los Angeles a couple of years back, I spent time at his house. I was hoping to shoot a documentary about his life and career but the funding never came through. I still hope to work with him or his daughter India — already a fabulous singer — in one of my films sometime in the future. They both put out a wonderful book together, as well. I encourage folks to check out his website at Bill Quateman.com.

John Lennon

I was told you used to spend a lot of time down at the Troubadour, which was and still is one of the hottest clubs in L.A. In fact, didn't you have a meeting with John Lennon there?

Well, actually no, I never had a meeting with him. I happened to live in L.A. and had performed at the Troubadour, where he and Harry Nilsson had a run in with the Smothers Brothers. It was very ugly. Lennon started mocking one of the Smothers Brothers while they were performing on stage, and Lennon and Nilsson were kicked out of the club.


Did you like John Lennon?

Oh, I loved him. When he was killed, I couldn't stop crying for weeks. I thought I was going crazy, but it was a grieving process. His music was so intimate and touched me so deeply that it changed my life.


How so?

He gave me the ability to understand what emotional and physical abuse does to you. I had no idea that I had been traumatized by abuse as a child because you are taught not to think that way, but Lennon gave me a new perspective. I'll never forget one night when I was listening to one of his songs and it hit me like a freight train. He said in one verse what had been done to me and how it was impacting every area of my life. He helped give me a voice to speak up for myself and others.


[Lennon] helped give me my voice to speak up for myself and others.

In 1995 you started your nonprofit film company Autumn Tree Productions and under that umbrella you've made a number of documentaries about emotional child abuse, haven't you?

Yes, and I have to give partial thanks to John Lennon for that. He has always been a great inspiration to me. I wanted to make films that could help viewers the way John Lennon helped me. My educational films are distributed all over the world by Aquarius Health Care Videos. Folks write me about how I have opened the door to understanding what abuse does to us.


I heard you discussed an acoustic tribute album to John Lennon with Kris Noveselic of Nirvana fame.

I asked Kris if it were true that Kurt Cobain loved the Beatles' Rubber Soul album and wanted to emulate it for their next CD. He said Kurt had no interest whatsoever in doing that. I was very disappointed. I love acoustic rock and the American release of Rubber Soul is probably my all-time favorite album.

Other Influences

What other musical artists have influenced you?

There have been so many, I don't know where to begin. Well, besides Gene Autry there were Buddy Holly, Roy Rogers, Roy Orbison, the Everly Brothers, the Beatles, Zombies, Stephen Sack, John Lennon, and Alan Parsons. I love the music of Alan Parsons. When I moved to Seattle from Los Angeles, I listened to his album Ammonia Avenue every moment I was in the car.

Stephen Sack was a huge wake-up call for me. We met in 1971, and I thought I was there until I heard him play and sing. He's such a genius, it saddens me that he's not better known. I plan to produce and release an album of Stephen's music sometime in the future under his stage name Blue Stephens. You can hear Stephen singing harmony and playing guitar with me on "Brand New Life" and "In a Dream" on my new release. He was wonderful to me and taught me so much of what I know today about chording and musical phrasing. He was an incredible teacher and mentor. I had the best of two worlds then-Stephen giving me hands-on teaching and personal advice and Bill Quateman showing me how to perform live. Many nights Stephen and I would go hear Quateman play live together and then stay up late into the night discussing why Quateman did this or that. It was a great education.

The group America had a big influence on me as well. They played great acoustic pop rock. When I saw them perform live on The Tonight Show, I knew that was the type of sound I wanted to replicate.

Paul McCartney also influenced me with his incredible ability to create melody and his incredible songwriting talent. The Beatles were magic to me and I was thrilled to see Ringo Starr performing on television the other night promoting his new CD.

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