Billy Bob Thornton
As a boy growing up in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Thornton was naturally drawn to music. As a child, he and his younger brother Jimmy were eager participants in the family ritual of listening to albums each night before going to bed, and grew up listening to everything from Elvis Presley, Ray Price and Jim Reeves, to Captain Beefheart, the Mothers of Invention and of course, The Beatles. At age 9, Thornton got his first drum kit and formed a band called The McCoveys, after baseball legend Willie McCovey. And at age 10 he performed publicly for the first time during a local PTA meeting, an instrumental version of Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler’s number 1 song, “The Ballad of the Green Beret.”
It was the time of music’s British Invasion and Thornton modeled his band after his idols such as the Dave Clark Five, The Kinks and The Beatles. It was those influences that really made Thornton pay attention to the country and blues musicians who were right in his backyard, and throughout high school, he would spend his weekends playing drums and singing in the style of his musical idols wherever he could, from VFW clubs to places where there was chicken wire on the front of the stage.
Following high school, Thornton joined a local soul group named Blue and the Blue Velvets and eventually formed his own soul group Hot ’Lanta, after the Allman Brothers song of the same name.
In 1974, Thornton formed Nothin’ Doin’ with band mates Mike and Nick Shipp. Playing drums and sharing lead vocals with the Shipp brothers, Thornton and Nothin’ Doin’ began performing for colleges and high schools throughout Arkansas and Texas. With a repertoire that included covers and some original songs, the members of Nothin’ Doin’ were enjoying being out on the road, doing what they loved. During a performance at the famed Houston, Texas rock ‘n roll club Carti’s, the band was approached by Scott Weiss of Lone Wolf Productions, ZZ Top’s management company. Sounding identical to the bearded rockers, Weiss pitched Thornton and the Shipps on the idea of touring as a ZZ Top tribute band. Nothin’ Doin’ became Tres Hombres and began touring and building a solid reputation.
Tres Hombres would go on to tour and perform at various rock festivals, opening for established acts such as Humble Pie, MC5, Hank Williams Jr., Ted Nugent, the Earl Scruggs Review, Black Oak Arkansas and Richie Havens, among others, and performing in legendary venues such as the Electric Company in Denison, TX, and Rockers, Fitzgerald’s and Rockefellers in Houston. When the band wasn’t touring, Thornton satisfied his need to be near music by working as a roadie for bands such as Lighthouse and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
In 1981, Thornton put down his drumsticks and the microphone, and moved to California to pursue a career in acting. And although he stopped performing music publicly, it remained a passion within him. The first film that he would direct, would be a documentary on the Athens, GA band, Widespread Panic.
In 1995, during the shooting of his film “Slingblade” in Arkansas, Thornton would get together with some of his old band mates and hold jam sessions for the film crew. Thornton comfortably settled into position behind the drum kit, and soon found himself habitually setting up impromptu jam sessions for the crews on his films.
While spending time in Nashville, and at the urging of many of his mostly musician friends, Thornton returned to the recording studio and began jamming with many of Nashville’s local session musicians. It wasn’t long before Thornton began putting together a collection of songs. Upon his return to Los Angeles, Thornton began writing the songs for what would become his debut album, Private Radio.
Produced by Grammy Award winning recording artist Marty Stuart, who co-wrote many of the tracks on the album with Thornton, Private Radio was born in the lounge of the Sunset Marquis hotel in Los Angleles and recorded in Thornton’s at home recording studio, which was built by the former owner of the house, Guns and Roses’ Slash.
Over a seven-month period, Thornton and Stuart assembled a collection of songs that retold many of Thornton’s personal experiences, as well as those of individuals who’s lives he was familiar with, and reflected the music that influenced him throughout his life from traditional country and the blues, to rock and R&B.
Structured like short stories, and in a style that could be referred to as Southern Gothic, each of the songs on Private Radio have their own unique characteristics, and are sung in Thornton’s distinctive bluesy voice, which was compared by Rolling Stone.com as a cross between Leonard Cohen and Tom Petty.
On “The Starlight Lounge,” a deep and moody duet with Grammy nominated songwriter Holly Lamar (Faith Hill’s “Breathe”), and co-written with Lamar and Dwight Yoakam, Thornton tells the familiar tale of every town’s local bar, frequently named the Starlight Lounge. In Thornton’s story/song, the lounge acts as the backdrop of an encounter between a man and a woman, two misanthropes, who find each other in the lounge. For those fleeting moments, the lounge becomes the most beautiful place in the world, but it’s an image that is destined to be shattered by the reality that the lovers are both “losers” who will inevitably self-destruct the relationship.
The up-tempo, but lyrically sad “Walk of Shame,” recalls the story of one of Thornton’s friend’s who told him about the embarrassment and thoughts that go through one’s mind as they make the trek home the next morning in last night’s evening dress.
Thornton penned “Your Blue Shadow,” for his wife Angelina Jolie. A deeply personal song that he carried within him for several years, “Your Blue Shadow” speaks of the inability of the couple to be together because of a wide variety of obstacles, despite the fact that they new that they were in love with each other.
Inspired by a story told to Thornton by the late Jim Varney, “That Mountain” is a traditional “hillbilly rock” song about an elderly woman who although curious about the world on the other side of the mountain, she is ultimately held back by her fear of finding out, an emotion accentuated by the fact that her husband went over the mountain and never came back.
On “Private Radio,” an introspective and eerily solitary song co-written with Mark Collie, Thornton addresses the voices, both good and bad, that can inhabit one’s mind, and the acceptance that the only way to find peace is to stop living.
A classic “road song” in the tradition of Merle Haggard, “Forever” is Thornton’s homage to all the drifters. Written in about twenty minutes, the song uses a telephone conversation as it’s vehicle, and is about every guy who has promised his girl that this time when he gets back home, he’s going to stay forever; knowing that he never will.
Written before Thornton decided to record an album, the dark and murky “Dark and Mad,” is the agoraphobic tale of a recluse who is driven to insanity by his own self-imposed solitude.
Thornton changes up the mood of Private Radio with “Smokin’ In Bed,” an upbeat “rock-a-billy” party song, along the lines of the classic “Taking Care of Business,” about laying in bed all day, smoking pot.
“Beauty At The Backdoor” is Thornton’s reflections on the childhood home that he and his late brother grew up in, in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and the strong connections with the home that remain with him.
An homage to the bands that inspired him in his youth and the only cover song on the album, The Byrds’ “He Was A Friend Of Mine,” serves as a reminder by Thornton about what the true spirit of rock ‘n roll was, and what it should be. Adding to the recording, Marty Stuart played the guitar parts on the song on the same guitar that Byrds band-member Clarence Whittle used on the original recording.
Prior to the recording of Private Radio, Thornton appeared on the album Hollywood Goes Wild, a benefit CD for the Wildlife Waystation animal sanctuary. Thornton wanted to pay tribute to his late brother Jimmy, who he admits was a much better musician than he and credits as one of musical influences growing up, by recording one of Jimmy’s original songs, “Island Avenue.” Asked why he contributed to the benefit project, Thornton commented, “Aside from it being a good cause, I wanted Jimmy to see his name on the credits of an album.” In addition to the release of Private Radio, Thornton will also make an appearance on country legend Earl Scruggs’ upcoming release, performing a rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”
A true child of the sixties and a self-described hippie, Billy Bob Thornton views his music as an extension of his desires to tell compelling stories of the everyday man. Private Radio at its core, was born of that desire, in many ways reflecting a journey of discovery that everyone who listens to it can relate to.
MOTION PICTURE & TELEVISION BIO Academy Award-winning writer, actor, director and musician, Billy Bob Thornton has an extensive and impressive career in motion pictures, television and theater. Charismatic and uniquely talented, Thornton has established himself as one of the most sought after filmmakers of his generation.
Currently shooting the drama “Levity,” in which he co-stars with Morgan Freeman, Holly Hunter and Kirsten Dunst, Billy Bob Thornton is currently celebrating a high water mark in he career. Showing the versatility of his acting abilities, this fall Thornton starred in the caper comedy “Bandits” for director Barry Levinson and co-starring Bruce Willis and Cate Blanchett; the noir “The Man Who Wasn’t There” for the Coen Brothers; and the heart wrenching drama “Monster’s Ball,” in which he co-starred with Halle Berry, Peter Boyle and Heath Ledger.
Each of the three performances garnered Thornton unprecedented critical acclaim, and resulted in him being named Best Actor of 2001 by the National Board of Review, Golden Globe nominations for Best Actor in a Drama for “The Man Who Wasn’t There” and Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy for “Bandits,” and an American Film Institute Award nomination for Best Actor for “The Man Who Wasn’t There.”
Thornton’s 1996 release of the critically acclaimed and phenomenally popular feature film “Sling Blade,” which he starred in and directed from an original script he wrote, firmly secured his status as a preeminent filmmaker. For his efforts, he was honored with both an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. The film, produced by The Shooting Gallery and released by Miramax, also starred Robert Duvall, JT Walsh, Dwight Yoakum and John Ritter.
Prior to Sling Blade, Thornton already had an extensive motion picture credit list. He wrote and starred in the thrilling character drama “One False Move,” which brought him immediate critical praise. Thornton’s powerful script (co-written with Tom Epperson) was enhanced by his intense performance as a hunted criminal. The film, directed by Carl Franklin, was an unheralded sleeper success.
In addition, Thornton has been featured in such films as “The Winner,” for director Alex Cox, Paramount Pictures’ “Indecent Proposal” directed by Adrian Lyne, “Deadman,” for director Jim Jarmusch for Miramax, and in “Tombstone,” directed by George Cosmatos for Buena Vista Pictures.
Thornton has also appeared in the films “On Deadly Ground,” “Bound By Honor,” “For The Boys” and “The Stars Fell on Henrietta.”
As a writer, Thornton has worked on numerous projects for United Artists, Miramax, Universal Studios, Warner Bros., Touchstone Pictures, Island Pictures, David Geffen Productions and HBO. He also scripted “A Family Thing,” a highly regarded feature film that starred Robert Duvall and James Earl Jones for United Artists.
Thornton co-starred in the blockbuster action-adventure film “Armageddon” with Bruce Willis for producer Jerry Bruckheimer and he has also co-starred opposite Sean Penn and Nick Nolte in “U-Turn,” directed by Oliver Stone and in “Primary Colors” opposite John Travolta and Emma Thompson for director Mike Nichols. He also starred in the dark comedy “Pushing Tin” opposite John Cusack.
Thornton received an Academy Award nomination and Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his celebrated work in the tightly woven drama “A Simple Plan” for director Sam Raimi, as well as a Best Supporting Actor award from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and a Best Supporting Actor nomination from the screen actors Guild.
For his second and third directorial outings, Thornton chose the comedy “Daddy And Them,” which he again wrote and starred in, and the best-selling Cormac McCarthy novel, the epic “All The Pretty Horses,” starring Matt Damon, Penelope Cruz and Henry Thomas.
Thornton also co-wrote “The Gift,” starring Cate Blanchett, Giovanni Ribisi and Hillary Swank.
Thornton will next be seen in the comedy “Waking Up In Reno,” co-starring Charlize Theron, Patrick Swayze and Natascha Richardson for Miramax Films.