You’d probably recognize Billy Crain’s guitar before you’d recognize him. That’s not a slight against Crain; on the contrary, he’s shared the spotlight with the Dixie Chicks, the Outlaws, and many more, while opening for bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers with his late brother, Tommy. And this is just literally scratching the surface. It would take a full book to list all the incredible musicians Crain has stood beside.
Now, his musical focus has expanded to include a philanthropic angle. Through his church, Crain’s completed missionary trips, including one to Haiti, and taken up the cause for fostering, parenting and adopting two children, Stella and Dallas. His humanitarian efforts shine on his latest release, Family Matters, which is sure to delight classic rock fans with its Southern Rock lean. But it’s truly a winning disc for any and all music lovers — and knowing Crain’s a good guy doesn’t hurt, either.
We chatted with Crain about his incredible past, remarkable present, and bright future.
First off, your resume is amazing. You’ve performed with everyone from Shania Twain to the Rolling Stones. You drank whiskey with Jimmy Page and were a songwriter on Music Row. Can you tell us about your most memorable experience (or a memorable experience, since you’ve had so many!)?
I do have so freaking many that it’s hard to choose! Okay, I have one. In 1978, I moved to Tampa, Florida, to play with the Henry Paul Band. He had recently left the Outlaws and was pursuing his own musical endeavor. There was a band called Slowpoke out of Jacksonville that used to play in Tampa all the time. Their drummer was roommates with Leon Wilkeson from Lynyrd Skynyrd. I got to be good friends with Leon when he would come over to Tampa with them. One night after a hard night’s drinking, we ended up in this van, sitting and talking, for about three hours until the wee hours of the morning. Leon poured out his heart and told us a very, very detailed description of the ’77 plane crash. I was in tears and just floored with how open he was about it. Of course, we got to do a lot of shows together when Rossington Collins Band formed. I will never forget that night so long ago.
What artists inspire you? What’s on your turntable right now?
Ho, boy! Actually, I was just listening to a friend named Oklahoma Johnny Blue, who gave me his new EP yesterday. I will be quite honest and say there is nothing new out there that inspires me right now. I’m working on a new CD right now, and there is a song on it called “Dying Breed” that is about the guitarists of old and how they are disappearing. I still go back and listen to the Allmans and a lot of classic rock. I’m still inspired when I see the Outlaws because they are still out there pouring there hearts and souls into it. I do love Blackberry Smoke!
Over the past five or so years, your music seems to have been inspired by your humanitarian efforts. What motivated you to go to Haiti?
I have traveled the Caribbean over the years extensively and I would always see, as you got away from the glamour of the beaches, how the other side lived and their poverty conditions. I just had it in my heart that I wanted to go to Haiti, and my church took a small team down there to help out after the earthquake. It was a life altering experience and I really want to go back.
Fostering and adoption are recurring themes in your life and work. How did you decide to become a foster parent?
Well, let’s just say that what my wife, Sandy, wants, Sandy gets! Actually, we were driving home from church one Sunday, and Sandy said she wanted to have more kids. We had two grown ones who had moved away. I had already been neutered, and at my age, a reattachment surgery wasn’t a promising answer, so she asked if we could foster. With those John Wayne tears rolling down her cheeks, how could I say no? Besides, she’ll forget about it in a few months. Oh no, next thing I know, we are in foster-parenting training. Then came the first baby. She went home to the relatives after six weeks. Then came Dallas and then came Stella. At that point I was hooked, so it was the best decision Sandy ever made. Those kids do way more for me than I could ever do for them.
Proceeds from Family Matters helped fund a mission trip to Columbia. Do you have any mission trips planned in the near future?
No, but my friend and co-mentor, Father Chris Findley, is taking another group to South America this year. I haven’t been able to do one at this point as Stella is at a critical point in her growth and I need to stay home and be a father. She’s had some rough times being born a drug-addicted child. God has trusted me with this two precious children and I will do my best to take the best care possible of them.
Do you have any advice for other artists looking to incorporate a message into their music?
Just do it. It’s okay to play it safe and write songs for the masses hoping to make a million dollars, but 98 percent of all the artists out there cannot make a living playing music, so write about your life. Write about what you love, what you don’t love, just don’t write everything about love. As we used to joke on Music Row, “What are we gonna rhyme with love today?”
To find out more about Billy Crain and his music, check out his official website.