A Wall Full Of Music
a Billy Lightcap Story
Billy Lightcap walked west down Sunset Strip. It was the summer of 1973 and Billy was more or less stranded in Los Angeles. He felt hungover even though it was only 7:30 PM…to him it felt more like 7:30 AM.
He noticed a big hubbub on the north side of the street. Limos pulled up and and bodyguards jumped out to create a secure pathway for what looked like the members of Led Zeppelin to enter the Hyatt Regency Hotel. There were lots of phonies who tried to pass themselves off as English rockstars in LA. “Here we go again” Billy muttered as he turned the corner to go to work as a “doorman” at the Brightwater Cafe.
He did his job, which, as long as no fools showed up, was to simply sit on a porch and smoke and sip beer from a coffee mug until 11 or so, and then got up, gave his goodbyes and walked all the way home to a small apartment in Hollywood that he shared with 2 other musicians. Looking at the lamp by the couch he slept on, he read a note by the phone….”recording session tomorrow with the Marble Hill Slim Band”. Great…now sleep.
This session turned out to be a disaster. Billy started drinking before he got there. The band, to him, sounded terrible. He especially got angry with the drummer saying, “You’re no fuckin’ Claude Pepper!!” and asked them all to leave. When they didn’t, he pushed the drummer out the door and pulled a gun on the others. He was left with only the engineer who he told to “Just keep the fuckin’ tape rollin’!”.
He started playing every song he knew, by himself , singing and doing intros and solos on harmonica until he heard the “clackity whap” of the unwound tape and realized that the engineer wasn’t even there anymore.
He took the tape off the machine, carefully put it in a box, held it under his arm and stumbled out into the night……
40 years later….a renovation is taking place in West Los Angeles. A worker, Juan Motime, is tearing sheetrock off a wall, carrying it outside and tossing it into a dumpster. He sees something between two wall studs….it’s a box that says SCOTCH on it. He hopes it’s booze but it isn’t. It looks like it’s just plastic ribbon wrapped around a metal wheel. He hides the box in a corner under his jacket and takes it home at quitting time.
Juan opens the box at home and his wife suggests they find out what this wheel thing is. They search online and learn it’s recording tape & from the date on the track sheet it’s from 1973!! They hope that it’s valuable…, it was hidden in a wall after all! Eventually they find out that it’s pretty much worthless. The wife calls her sister who then asks her neighbor who then calls her friend who works at a vet. The woman from the vets office, Rhea Encarnacion, said that there’s a patient whose owner is a recording engineer. She took the Scotch box to work and waited for the guy to show up for his dog’s checkup. Two weeks later he shows up and she shows him the tape. He laughs and says he’ll give her $25 for it. She calls the Motimes and gets the ok to sell it.
The engineer, a guy nicknamed “ODubD”, got the tape restored and finally put it on in his home studio which still had a 16 track tape player. He’s confused at first because all he hears is cursing and incoherent yelling…then he hears the opening lines of a song called “Drunk & Brokenhearted” and he’s floored…..It’s a really good performance, but there’s no band, just a guy singing, stomping his foot, and playing harmonica…He hopes he has found a “lost tape” from the ‘70’s. The track sheet says it’s Billy Lightcap & The Marble Hill Slim Band. He knew Marble Hill Slim was a local 70’s blues guy that opened for all the major acts in the Los Angeles area. But he never heard of Billy Lightcap.
Not one to waste a moment..ODubD texted several musicians, and singers who owed him favors and asked them to lay down some tracks for him. He quickly turned Billy’s “Drunk & Brokenhearted” into a modern sounding blues rocker.
ODub knew he had to find this guy…
He began by going online….no Facebook, no Twitter…nothing…no social media presence…the guy had no digital footprint. He finally had some luck with a “people finding” website. Billy Lightcap — Texas — deceased. Several other William Lightcap mentions but only one is in LA…..the guy is bankrupt, divorced, arrested for weapons and assault, case dismissed…and has no address….except there’s this ….William H. Lightcap, slip #19…he owns a boatslip?? Then he found an article about “Young American Blues” from “Looney” a defunct 70’s British music magazine:
“Billy Lightcap was born and raised in the murky, steaming, stinking swamps of Staten Island, New York. Staten Island is known as the “forgotten borough” of New York City, but Billy recalls his time there all too well.Billy told me that growing up in Staten Island’s public housing, with summers spent as a kid in Harlem, gave him a unique view of the world. His life followed a classic pattern that is well known to denizens of “the projects”. Vandalism was not Billy’s thing, nor was petty theft. His first gangfight occurred at the age of 7, when an older opponent beat him with a stickball bat during a turf raid. That incident taught him to ”Swing First, Talk Later”, the title of one of his early singles.
His grandfather gave him his first pistol at the age of 9. He claims he can’t remember where he put it, but the lyrics from one of his early tunes, “Somethin’ In The Sewer” may provide answers. Some say that at the age of 10 he smacked a neighbor kids head with a hatchet. Billy called it an “accident”. Billy lay low, avoiding trouble like the plague. But it didn’t matter, trouble seemed to find Billy. He eventually graduated from the Brooklyn House of Detention, where he listened to inmates singing raunchy lyrics to old doowop songs, figured he could do that himself, and started playing harmonica and singing original blues as a teen.
He started the ill fated “Billy Lightcap Soul Group” in the late 60’s. They played only one gig in a mountain lodge in New Jersey and broke up soon afterwards.”
Billy’s actually been living 9 miles offshore of Santa Monica on a boat…a BIG boat with a casino on it. It’s an illegal offshore gambling ship. There hasn’t been one of these off of Santa Monica since 1939! The S.S. Cash is owned by Billy through a corporate maze. He manages it, books acts and sings in the nightclub on board and in general, lives a very casual lifestyle. He can’t drink like he used to but he still has a nose for women & trouble. He appears to be working for a guy named George “the Greek” Parkyakarkis, who was fronting for a syndicate, but that’s all a story to keep everyone away from the profits. He hasn’t been ashore in three years.
When ODub went through the Coast Guard boat registration database…there he was…W.H.Lightcap LLC…on the S.S. Cash… a “fantasy vessel”. Whatever that means.
ODubD took the hourly launch from Santa Monica out to the ship. The other people on the launch were couples, dressed to the nines. They were sipping champagne from plastic flutes and seemed really excited to be doing something so retro. They arrived, and ODub skipped the casino and went to the nightclub where he sat through the show, which included a chorus line, a magician/hypnotist and a dreadlocked comedian named Nikki who wore a derby and smoked a cigar. Then Billy came on and closed the thing with a couple of songs, one of which was “Please Kiss Me” from the “lost tape” but Billy’s current version was totally different.
ODub wandered backstage and walked in Billy’s dressing room, or the closet with Billy’s name on it. Billy was standing there staring at the blank wall. He didn’t notice ODub standing behind him. ODub tapped him on the shoulder and Billy spun around and stuck a short barreled revolver in ODub’s face….”Who are you?”. The gun had no visible hammer…funny, when a person is scared..the odd details that stick in the mind. Then he stuttered, “Ah ah ah I’m looking for you, Mr. Lightcap, I have something for you…it may be important”
“Yeah…it better be”
“it’s your music….”
“Your music, Mr. Lightcap….I found something you really oughta hear”
“Dammit!! Really??? Well then play it fella…play it for me”
ODub took out his phone and gave Billy the earbuds and ODub hit play and “Drunk & Brokenhearted” started playing….
“holy crap! That’s crazy…where did you get this”??? “I put this in a wall in LA in 1975! Who’s playing on this???”
ODubD explained the whole story to Billy….Billy was amazed…..his music lived on while he was in self-imposed exile. He then wrote down a list of addresses and handed it to ODubD. “Here ya go Mr.D….here’s where the rest of my tapes are buried. I also got a couple more hidden on the boat. Good luck.”
“Don’t you want to help me finish this?”
Billy answered, “Man….I gotta figure out how to get my ass off this boat first”.
(to be continued…)