A Cowboy’s Dream
Billy Batson was a no-nonsense, straight-shooter and true friend, besides being a fantastically gifted musician and wordsmith, who some may have considered either a rogue or a sage.
Sadly, Billy passed away after a long battle with lung cancer on September 5, 2017. Yet, his presence remains with those who knew him… those who loved, appreciated and still marvel at his music, razor-edged perception, and sardonic wit!
Billy’s creative, resourceful, and astute instincts led him along many sundry paths… singing, writing, acting and even modeling in Hollywood, California. Early in his career, Billy was signed as a solo artist to Decca, and Capitol Records.
While in Hollywood, Billy’s muse surprised him with the clarion call to move eastward. Sensing a strong scene emerging, he soon sang and played in the center of it.
Almost immediately, Billy found himself showcasing as a premiere singer-songwriter around NYC, eventually settling in Woodstock, NY.
With a heart full of songs, Billy joined forces singing lead and playing keys the likewise gifted musicians of Holy Moses: Dave Vitter on rhythm guitar, Teddy Speleos on lead guitar, Marty David on bass and tenor sax, and Chris Parker on drums to form the original Holy Moses. They soon became the most popular band in the Catskills, packing clubs and attracting record label attention.
In an era when mainstream rock was redefining itself, record labels searched for real musicianship and songwriting talent. Bands like Mountain were emerging, too, not to mention Bob Dylan’s players who branched out to become “The Band”.
Many fantastic stories about Woodstock, NY abound, with its cast of characters and multi-talented artists who dotted the mountainous landscapes in and above the tiny township. Music was everywhere, pouring into the valley, and out of windows, with new sounds resonating in the town square. From recording execs to known and upcoming music icons, it was the place to be, if you were hip enough to even know or care about it in those days.
I remember fondly, Billy’s Tudor mansion on Ohayo Mountain Road, which saw its share of famous faces who came to visit, jam, and engage in challenging conversations. Laughter, smoke, and music wafted through the halls, echoing above the 2-story great room with its towering balconies. It was Billy’s lair, but he and the band were kind and generous hosts.
Perhaps, my most poignant memories of Billy Batson and Holy Moses are the stunning performances they gave at Joyous Lake and other local haunts, powerfully unearthing the angst and newness of their music. Billy and his band made history, soon to be realized… even through the mishaps and tragedies that ensued.
Billboard Magazine recognized Billy as a great songwriter, and when Holy Moses were signed by RCA, and recorded at Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland in NYC, everyone presumed they would make it really big. After all, they had all the perks, and it was a hopeful, shining, and magical time to be young and alive.
But Woodstock, NY was built on Native American burial grounds, so legend says. The town is believed to be cursed, and has certainly seen its share of strange luck, as Billy and his band would soon find out.
After Jimi Hendrix passed, his manager, Michael Jeffries decided to take on Holy Moses, crowning their guitarist, Teddy Speleos the next Jimi, by presenting him with one of Jimi’s white Fender guitars. Everyone was in awe. With Billy Batson’s singing and songwriting at the helm, powerful, gifted musicians, and a great manager, how could they lose?
Holy Moses had just completed their debut album at Electric Ladyland, when Michael Jeffries died tragically in a plane crash. Strange luck, indeed. Then, the unimaginable happened. On the way to a gig, Ted’s guitars, including the much-coveted Hendrix white Fender Jefferies had given him, was stolen from their parked van, leaving the rest of the band’s equipment. Suspicious at best.
Billy tried to keep spirits high, but strange luck struck, yet again. Ted discovered his girlfriend was pregnant, so he decided to move back to Virginia to start a family. Since Ted’s sound could not be replicated by other guitarists, no one wanted to keep the band going without him. Thus, Holy Moses scattered to the winds.
Albeit short-lived, Billy Batson and the original Holy Moses band garnered an international cult following that has survived to this day.
Click the following YouTube video, to hear Billy Batson and Holy Moses’ 1971 RCA debut release, recorded at Electric Ladyland, NYC:
West is the Best
Everything changed around Holy Moses’ split, for a lot of us. Friends recognized, however, that Billy Batson was a creative force to be reckoned with. Billy’s muse survived, and his drive to create and express proceeded, relentlessly.After yet another robbery in Woodstock, Billy moved back west. In Los Angeles, he aligned with a new set of great players, creating three more albums of original material.
You can find Billy Batson’s music and that of the original Holy Moses on both YouTube and this site. Fans remain, to this day, with new generations discovering Billy’s songs and marvelling over how fleeting and fickle fame can be, no matter how great the talent.
Bruce Springsteen’s book about the music, times, and artists of Woodstock, NY, circa 1962-1972, rightfully acknowledged guitarist, Teddy Speleos and the music of Billy Batson and Holy Moses.
Angel Xyra H-Cann