I've followed Bill for decades and watched his lead guitar and electric blues harmonica evolve. His style favors rock & roll and rhythm & blues and he taught himself enough to make a living for decades...........
Bill was born in Buffalo, New York and raised in Indianapolis Indiana. He graduated grade school at Western Military Academy in Alton Illinois where he learned his first few guitar licks. Notable WMA graduates include Paul Tibbets, the pilot who flew the Enola Gay on the atomic bomb mission over Hiroshima, Japan, to effectively end World War II; Butch O'Hare, a World War II Medal of Honor winner who has a Chicago airport named after him; former CBS president William Paley; and longtime journalist Sander Vanocur.
In Bill formed his first group "Bill & The Hi-Decker's" with Bob Jones (later to perform with Joe Cocker). He met Buddy Miles who was in the local rival group "The Premiers" while attending 10th grade at Westside High School in Omaha, his last year of high school. He was the only boy to enroll in a typing class for the sole purpose of meeting girls. He never dreamed that by accident his typing skills would so valuable in the new computer age decades ahead of him. That was the end of his schooling but the beginning of his education which would soon earn him his "Streetwise Diploma" from the "School of Hard Knocks" at the famous "Hear-say University".
As a under age teenager he joined the United States Air Force with his parents signatures and while stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base worked with the local group "The Lyrics" who's personnel included Tom Giving who went on to perform with J. C. Heartsfield. Then moved to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. and played music everywhere, including playing for Jackie Gleason at a party on his yacht. (This was probably where Bill got the bug for boating.). That year Bill met Otis Redding and was encouraged by him. Bill met the late well know jazz guitarist Del Staton and asked him for guitar lessons since Bill had never had any formal training. Del invited Bill over to his house and at the first lesson. Del didn't approve of Bill's solid body guitar and "very unmusical" slinky electric guitar strings so the first and last lesson ended quickly.
Bill formed a group called "What's Left?" and the band worked with Wayne Cochran as house band at a local club called The Barn, alternating with the "CC Riders" for nonstop music each night. Then Bill moved to New York City and worked local Greenwich Village night spots including the Cafe au Go-Go and the Night Owl Cafe (mentioned in that years Mamas & Papas biggest hit). One night he met Paul Butterfield in the historic Albert Hotel elevator who convinced him to come to Chicago and play the blues. After this chance encounter Bill began being compared to Paul in musical reviews because of their similar electric Chicago style approach and aggressive sound...
Moving this time to Old Town Bill began jamming on stage with Freddy Kingand Howlin' Wolf. He became a regular at a club called Mother Blues on Wells Street. There he became friends with Stephen Miller who had a band called Lynn County Blues Band. Stephen took Bill home to Cedar Rapids Iowa and helped him start a band with local musicians. Then Bill finally landed a permanent job with blues master Otis Rushwhich would last for many years. Bill & Otis traveled together from Chicago to New York and played the very first Ann Arbor Blues Festival of over 10,000 spectators on 08/02/1969 Bill & Otis were followed by Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters. In between those engagements were west & south side bar gigs where occasional shootings actually took place while the band was playing. Bill became friends with Wayne Bennett who was the original guitar player on Bobby Blands early albums. Bill was hungry to learn more guitar licks and they worked out a deal while jamming in Wayne's Southside apartment. Wayne didn't have a car, so Bill would get guitar lessons and at the end of the lesson Wayne would get paid by getting driven around the neighborhood to do errands and pay bills. The tradition inevitably became that Bill would pay some of his delinquent utility bills at the neighborhood currency exchange.
On March 23, 1969 a very young Otis and Bill were featured on the cover of the Chicago Sun Times Sunday Magazine. Bill would hang in recording studios sometimes produced by Delmark Records and in a session with Magic Sam Bill was offered a job to go to California with Sam, but Bill enjoyed his permanent job with Otis. While working with Sam Lay (the original Butterfield Blues Band drummer) he decided to produce his own album. The side men included Phil Upchurch on bass and Donny Hathaway on keyboards. Steve Goodman heard Billy in the studio and asked him to play electric harmonica on a tune he wrote called 'City of New Orleans'. The song went on to be a big hit for Arlo Guthrie.
In the summer of that year Bill would slip backstage and hang out in the lighting booth over the stage at Second City in Chicago's "Old Town" (where the actors went to consume appropriate spirits) with comedians David Steinberg ,Peter Boyle and Avery Schreiber when he was asked to be an extra in a new movie called "The Monitors". Billy was happy to get to the studio at 5 AM for most of the summer and then play music at night. Featured in that movie was Larry Storch from the TV series "F Troop". Later that year Bill attended the original Woodstock with his girlfriend Tania.
The next job to come along in Chicago was with "Baby Huey & the Baby Sitters" on Rush Street, a 14 piece soul band cranking out grinding soul music until the dawns early light. Some other local competitors were some other North side bar bands called "Chicago, Styx, REO Speedwagon" and old friend Buddy Miles. At this point Bill couldn't resist forming his own group. He had always had a sense of humor about his legal name "Horace William Prewitt III" so he called the new group "Horace Monster" which would last for the next 7 years without a personnel change. In the Chicago Reader's Annual Poll the band was voted the top rock act of 1975. One of the local performers who auditioned for that band was Chaka Chan of Rufus and Horace Monster sometimes became a topic of conversation on the Steve Dahl show. At a club called "The Night Gallery" a brand new group from Rockford called "Cheap Trick" was one of the regular acts to work with the band. In 1976 after a 7 year relationship with Playboy model "Tania" (who eventually became Eric Idle's wife), Bill moved into his van to economize which became his permanent residence for the next 2 years. He fondly remembers the period as a humorously unique experience saying things like "wherever I turned off my engine, I was home!" or "any where I went, I only had to drive one direction!".
It was positive and creative, really putting things into perspective with plenty of time to think during the Chicago winters. After receiving letters of interest and support from Jay Ferguson of "Spirt" and also the late Lowell George of "Little Feat", Bill went on his own with a solo career. He met country singer Dana Clark and invited her over to his place saying "I just live around the corner" She followed him around the corner and was surprised to see his old van.
They got their own place and worked together as a duo for the next five years helping her record her new album. After Billy and Dana played in concert on the same show with "Alliotta, Haynes, and Jeremiah", Bill was asked to join the group and replace Skip Haynes who left for a solo career. The band worked well together and Bill wrote several songs for their new album as the "Acme Thunder Band".
When it was finally time to leave the group Harvey Mandel joined the group to replace him. Later that year Bill teamed up with singer Mark Skyer for a duo. Mark had just returned from touring with "Canned Heat". In 1980, Bill teamed up with Dennis Johnson and Gary Smith, the original "Survivor" rhythm section to do some more recording. One of the records he wrote "Feels like gold", got air play on WLUP, WXRT, WLS, and WMET.
He recorded a popular WXRT commercial for 'The Chicago Music Company'. On March 3, 1982 David Letterman mentioned Bill on his national TV show. Later that year Bill was asked to be a guest several times on the morning show which aired on WIND radio. That same year a new version of Horace Monster was featured in "Chicago's Local Rock" book. Major radio station Z-95 gave air play to the bands single "Going To Mexico" in May of 1988. On "The Beat Of Chicago Show," Bill McCormick encouragingly added that there seemed to be too much time between the bands records.
The band was still called Horace Monster after almost 15 years. This was unusual because most performers joked around and said things like "don't change the act; just change the name", but the band had lasting power in a competitive market. On September 20, 1990, Ben Hollis, star of the the "Wild Chicago Show" on channel 11, interviewed Bill for the show. The topics went from bands to Bill's boat, and they went for a humorous ride all around the lake front. Bill's boat "Fast Forward" was shown on the show at full throttle as part of the beginning credits each week of that seasons shows and is still rerun often. That show was aired on December 14, 1990. That same year Bill takes out the well known lightning bolt guitar and forms the "Greased Lightning Band" bringing back 60's & 70's music. In the bands first month they play many outdoor festivals with names like "B.J. Thomas" & "Gary Lewis and the Playboys." The band played clubs & private parties in the winter and outdoor concerts & neighborhood festivals in the summertime and worked well together for years.
In 1996 the lead singer of the "Greased Lightning Band" Cass Siva and Bill met Bobby Blue Bland at the House of Blues in Chicago when he unexpectedly invited her up to sing with him during the show. Later in the dressing room he invited them to come to Mississippi to be on his new album. Then he surprised her when he invited her up to sing again at the same club on May 10, 1997.
During the 2nd week of January 1998 on a chartered cruise through the Caribbean with Delbert McClinton & Friends, Delbert's road manager organized a 2 AM jam session on Jan 17 with Delberts drummer on percussion, Clay McClinton on harmonica (Delberts son), seasoned bass player Don Bennett who has been working with the Marcia Ball band for decades, and Bill on stage on guitar which lasted until the dawns early light. During the first week of January, 2001 on the same annual cruise international Cajun star Wayne Toups invited Bill up to play harmonica during his stage show and invited up to play with Nick Connolly at another show.
In 2003 Bill became one of the owners and the biggest six figure investor of Biggs Steakhouse Seafood & Wine Bar on Chicago's Gold Coast which features well known jazz artists Terry Higgins and Dale Prasco. You could hear Bill doing live commercials during the WNUA Sunday morning jazz brunches live from the mansion with Rick Odell or jamming with Terry and Dale late at night entertaining customers in the wine cellar which was built in 1874. Biggs achieved national recognition in national magazines... "Zagat,Conde Nast's Bon Appetite, Wine Spectator, Women's Wear Daily" and the local "Chicagoland Market". Biggs was the best upscale restaurant in Chicago for a few years with regulars like Ramsey Lewis, Steven Tyler and Mayor Daley until Lezlie Keebler scammed all 30 investors out of their life savings. Never-the-less it was a very entertaining experience with never a dull moment.
On May 8, 2004 at Bill's high school reunion for Western Military Academy in St. Louis he imported and played a 5 minute Chicago blues harp solo by himself in front of his long lost schoolmates. The impromptu performance was warmly received, especially since he didn't graduate high school and he hadn't been in contact with any of his classmates for years. One of his classmates in the audience was celebrity writer Michael Wallis who immediately gave Bill a very favorable review. His schoolmates were pleasantly surprised to hear his new identity that carried him through most of his life, a far cry from the shy cadet with a crew cut who never seemed to quite fit in. Bill wrote this thoughtful "Essay of the Reunion".
Then just for fun on July 8, 2004 Bill went to his class reunion for Westside High School, (the second one this year) the last year of his education only finishing 10th grade. He thought it would be fun to see the class even though he never actually graduated high school at either school. It took place at Ricks Boatyard Cafe and it was during the Omaha Jazz and Blues Festival just a few hundred feet from the balcony of Ricks with old friend Buddy Miles on the lineup. Bill and his classmates watched Robert Cray and War play all night. Bill wrote this great poem that the school used to advertise the Reunion. "Calendar Of Our Lives"
In 2005 Bill met writer/singer Paul Thorn and spent some time with him exchanging ideas. Then later that year a surprise party was staged for Bills birthday in August of that year. The yacht club and restaurant was rented complete with Bill's old band that he used to work with. He was invited on stage to play.
In this new age of hi tech computers Charlie Musslewhite began sending e-mail from his tour bus on the road to Bill. They found that Charlie and Bill's dad were born in the same small town in Mississippi called Kosciusko. They shared experiences about when they both used to live in Old Town playing blues harmonica in the late 1960's. In 2007.they got together in Chicago.
If you have never heard of Bill it's because he demonstrates his sense of humor explaining he is enrolled in the "Artist Protection Program" and his career must be kept a secret.....He's been off the radar for a little while but don't be surprised if you see a tree top flier coming in under the radar. He loves what he does and says he never goes to work, he goes to play!
The musical adventures go on. He is my younger brother and I was his very first fan......(To Be Continued!)