Earlier this month, the roots-rocking Boxmasters, led by vocalist/drummer Billy Bob Thornton and guitarist JD Andrew, released their fourth album, Somewhere Down The Road, and are just now wrapping up their supporting tour.
Billy Bob Thornton
Born August 4th, 1955 in Hot Springs, AR, Billy Bob Thornton never intended to become an actor. While he fell into the Hollywood world by chance, his true passion has always been music.
In 2007, Bud (Thornton’s stage name), Teddy Andreadis, J.D. Andrew and Brad Davis launched the Boxmasters. Combining Thornton’s surprising musical talent with that of his bandmates, the group released their eponymous debut album, a two-disc set of both covers and originals. Following a nationwide tour, the Boxmasters quickly released two more well-received albums (2009’s Modbilly was ranked Number 14 on the Americana Music Association’s Top 100 Albums of The Year).
Prior to his role with the Boxmasters (and prior to his acting), Thornton was involved in several other music-related projects. Having worked as a roadie for bands like Blood, Sweat & Tears and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in high school, Thornton also played in cover bands and recorded with a band called Hot Lanta in 1974. Moreover, he released four solo records shortly before forming the Boxmasters.
Born in Salina, KS on October 15, 1973, JD Andrew was a singer every step of the way. His first performances were with a traveling kids church group, followed by various singing groups at school, then onto the glee club and the show choir at Kansas State before studying recording arts at Full Sail in Orlando. After Full Sail, Andrew moved to Nashville and ended up at EMI, making cassettes of song demos for pitching to artists and producers. At night, Andrew would take advantage of EMI’s basement studio to make records with local artists like Will Kimbrough, Tommy Womack and the Georgia Satellites’ Dan Baird.
Eventually, with the aid of producer Csaba Petocz, Andrew found work as an engineer in Los Angeles, ending up at the famed Record Plant, where he worked with artists like Kanye West, the Pussycat Dolls and Keyshia Cole. Following that, his work as a freelancer saw him collaborating on the Rolling Stones’ A Bigger Bang in 2005.
Soon after, Billy Bob Thornton recruited Andrew to work as a sound engineer on his Beautiful Door album. The project spawned a fast friendship, and the two began to jam together, eventually recruiting a guitar player and making the decision to write and record material. By June of 2008, they had released their eponymous debut as the Boxmasters. A guitar and bass player, keyboardist and singer/songwriter, Andrew is a multi-faceted musician, perfect for his role in a band that prides themselves on a genre-blending and bending sound, from rock to pop to psychedelic to blues, covering the Who, the Rolling Stones, Mott the Hoople, ZZ Top and more along the way.
When Andrew isn’t involved in his own creative, musical pursuits, he is a much sought after sound engineer. In his usual fashion, he keeps his accolades close to the chest and doesn’t like to brag, though he easily could; he won a Grammy for his work on Kanye West’s 2004 album, The College Dropout. He has also worked as a music editor on many film projects, including 2011’s The King of Luck, a documentary about Willie Nelson directed by pal and bandmate Thornton.
Elmore: What are you listening to right now?
Billy Bob Thornton: I’m old school. I carry a disc player and a bag of CDs on the airplane. People look at me like if someone pulled up in a covered wagon. The guy who makes our in-ear monitors gave me this new thing—I can’t remember the name of it—but it’s bigger than an iPod and it holds like a jillion songs.
I never stop listening to all the things I listened to growing up. Old-time country from Del Reeves and Webb Pierce and George Jones; Cash, Haggard, all the way through the ’60s, including the Mothers of Invention. My daughter is ten, and loves movies like Finding Nemo and Happy Feet, so all of a sudden songs that aren’t even my cup of tea, I feel warm when I hear them, because my daughter loves them. She’s been playing the Rio movie soundtrack around the house, so all of a sudden I’m listening to Rio all of the time, but I still listen to the Allman Brothers and Traffic and the Doors.
JD Andrew: When I have time, I listen to Outlaw Country on XM Radio, mostly in my car. I’ve been remixing one of our older records to get ready to release, so I’ve listened to that one for three weeks solid. I mixed most of this new record in my kitchen, and really liked how it came out—for some reason, I made it a dark-sounding album.
EM: What was the first record you ever bought?
BBT: The first record I ever owned was the soundtrack to the movie King Creole by Elvis. But I didn’t get it right then; I was about five. The first one I bought with my own paws was a 45 of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” on the Capitol orange and yellow label. I was nine and I marched into Pa’s Record Shop in Melbourne, AR. It was probably 59 or 49 cents.
JDA: Alvin and the Chipmunks, and it might have been the Chipmunks doing the Beach Boys. I was probably five.
EM: What was the first instrument you played?
BBT: A little nylon string guitar that my uncle gave me that had a picture of Roy Rogers on it. The first instrument I ever played in earnest was the ukulele. I actually wrote one of our songs on the ukulele. It’s on this record,
JDA: I took piano lessons when I was a kid. I still can’t play my right hand and left hand differently. Thankfully, with technology these days, I can fake it if I really need to,
EM: What brought you to the instrument you now play?
BBT: When I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and Ringo was back there doing that little swing thing on the high hat and shaking his head, and I said, You know what, I’m gonna do that. There was something about Ringo that just appealed to me. My influences were guys like Ringo and Levon Helm and Charlie Watts; I always had a kind of natural clock in my head and sense of rhythm. And guitar playing just hurt my fingers too much.
JDA: My dad used to play guitar and he always had a kind of crappy Fender acoustic laying around. He was talking lessons at some point, and then when I was 14, I took a few lessons. I’ve never been really good about practicing and I stopped pretty soon. My guitar teacher said, “He would probably be more of a natural bass player.” I was a singer growing up and I wanted a way to accompany myself, so in college I started playing again when I was 18 or 19, and you know, then it stuck.
EM: Who would you like to write with that you haven’t?
BBT: I’d like to write a song or two with John Prine. John’s an old friend of mine, but we’ve never written anything together.
JDA: Tony Joe White. I would like to write with Joe Henry some time ’cause his songs are amazing and he uses all those great jazz guys.
EM: What musician influenced you most?
BBT: As a song writer, probably Kris Kristofferson. As a musician in general, my inspiration for being creative was probably Frank Zappa. You don’t hear that in our music, but I was obsessed with the Mothers of Invention, and I saw that you could combine humor and music and political topics where you don’t hit the nail on the head. He gave me a real sense of adventure in music.
JDA: Paul McCartney with bass playing, ’cause he is so melodic and he would play another song in whatever song he was playing. I use countermelodies all the time in my bass playing.
EM: What was the song or event that made you realize you wanted to be in music?
BBT: It would have to be The Allman Brothers Band’s At the Fillmore East. In ’71, I was in a little rock ‘n’ roll band. I was probably 15. When I saw the road cases on the album, and saw this guy sitting there, and then listened to that record, that’s what set in stone in my head that I would never give up music. Music took on a heavier meaning to me. It wasn’t just stars in my eyes, it was actually in my soul.
JDA: I remember in college, I was standing facing the television, kind of in the middle of the living room, and I had this “I want to make records” moment. I don’t know that there was a song associated with it. I thought of recording as how I wanted to make records.
EM: What was it like the first time you didn’t have to carry your own gear?
BBT: I was in this band, and this guy who used to work with ZZ Top saw us and said, “Hey you sound just like ZZ Top, how’d you like to be a ZZ Top tribute act?” We did that for a couple of years and we had one roadie, but he could lift anything. I’d worked as a roadie, but I never dreamed we’d have anyone help us with anything. The acting career took off there for a while, and I just had to go with what I was making a living at, and then about the late ’90s I started back into music. After a couple for years, we started going out on tour and we were playing shows that made enough to where we could afford to get a full on crew. It wasn’t like we had a huge operation, but we had a bus and a trailer. It was certainly more than I’d ever had.
JDA: I’ve never gotten used to it. My nature is like I should be working on the crew rather than being on stage. I feel like I should be over there mixing monitors or something, but instead I’m playing guitar. It’s fun, but it’s always just a little like I’m standin’ in the wrong spot.
EM: Who would you like in your rock ‘n’ roll heaven band?
BBT: I would have two drummers: Richie Hayward from Little Feat and Levon Helm. Duane Allman on guitar, and John Lennon on rhythm guitar. Jimmy Smith on organ, Louis Armstrong playing trumpet, Ornette Coleman on sax. And on bass… that’s kind of a tough one, I think, but James Jamerson. As a singer, I’d have Paul Rodgers.
JDA: I would like Levon to be my drummer, and have Levon sing too. I would like McCartney to be my bass player, Keith [Richards] to be rhythm guitar player. My lead guitar player: Duane Allman. I want to just have the Beach Boys to be the singers—you just have all of those guys. Do you have a keyboardist? Nah, not really.
EM: What’s your desert island album?
BBT: I would definitely have The Allman Brothers’ At Fillmore East. I would also have Humble Pie’s Performance: Rockin’ the Fillmore. So, two live shows at the Fillmore. I think I could get by with those. And Kris Kristofferson’s The Silver Tongued Devil and I. If I had those three, I think I’d be set.
JDA: Robert Earl Keen‘s Picnic. I’ve had it stolen out of two cars—the stereo stolen one time, and my entire car stolen. I replaced it both times.