Born in San Francisco, William John Stapleton has been playing music since the age of seven, starting on the accordion and moving onto tenor sax and guitar at thirteen. Captivated by rhythm and blues and rock and roll at an early age he was soon working professionally at age 18 in San Francisco night clubs & bars. Able to play the rhythm and solo parts to the better chart recordings of the time by anyone from James Brown to the "Beatles", he was a popular, if under aged sideman.
The sixties scene in San Francisco was exploding. Billy’s original bands “King Kong” & “Trouble” played anywhere they could get a gig, and even played a few Tuesday nights at the Fillmore West. One early blues band even featured the Muddy Waters/James Cotton drummer Francis Clay.
In ‘69 Billy joined the motley “Mendocino All Stars” in northern California. It was here he met and played with soulful singer songwriter Lenny Laks, with whom he would later collaborate in his first solo CD. The anywhere from eight to ten piece soul/R&B/rock/funk band was the stuff of urban legends. The ever-changing line up was always challenging. Luminaries included future Carmen McRae musical director and pianist Marshall Otwell, Jerry Miller vocalist “Loud” Lloyd Morris and writer of the “Monster Mash” vocalist Lenny Capizzi.
The revolving door policy of “Godfather” founder/drummer/booker/hit man Andy Kandanes included over a hundred players all tolled in the All Stars checkered history. Billy may hold the record for being in five different All Star bands.
In 1971 Stapleton developed a severe case tendonitis that prevented him from playing for nearly five years. The only positive musical outcome of this setback was that Billy taught himself how to play slide guitar, and did so with Monterey CA funk legends from “Duck Butter”. That band featured world-renowned bassist Bobby Vega and LA session ace Mark Ross on keyboards.
By 1978 Billy found that the five year exile had left his hand finally pain free although weak. Moderate practice and a chance audition with San Francisco’s popular “Water Brothers” band soon found him playing out again. The Water Brothers became an ultra tight original rock outfit that regularly opened for "The Tubes" and "Journey."
In the early 80’s the lure to write and have his own band lead to the formation of “Billy Blastoff & the Retro Rockets”. Although the band recorded numerous demos and had a brief flirtation with a major label, none of the other talented band members really “wanted it” quite as bad as Billy and in ’86 the band split.
The move to Seattle in ’86 came at the invitation Kevin Fallon to whip Seattle’s American Music guitar and amp inventory into shape. A band soon was formed with Kevin on bass and close friends “Screamin” Mick Mitchell and Drummer Eric Manigold, and called themselves “The Blind”. Threats are currently being made by bassist Kevin Fallon to issue a CD of live and studio performances.
A move to play serious original music and to play close to 200 nights a year lead Billy to an eight year partnership with vocalist/harmonica great Mark Dufresne. Over the years the “Mark Dufresne Band” won “Best vocalist, Best Harmonica, Best Band, Best Guitar Player, Best Writer and Best Slide Guitar” awards from the Washington Blues Society. They became club & festival favorites and had many sets of self written material. However, regrettably the band only recorded one CD “Have Another Round”. On a good note Stapleton’s’ first solo CD was completed at this time with Dufresne handling vocals.
Dufresne abruptly departed to join East Coasters “Room Full of Blues”, but as luck would have it North West legend, Blues Hall of Fame-er & Experience Music Project inductee, “Little Bill” Engelhart (Little Bill & the Bluenotes), www.havemusic.com/littlebill, was changing guitar players. So in 2002 Billy had a new home, learning the craft of the North West Guitar style, an amalgamation of Blues, Jazz, R&B, Gospel & Rock. Little Bill’s former guitar players include greats Jo Johansen and Rich Dangel, to name a few. Tall shoes to stand in for sure. Billy has recorded the CDs “Just One Night” and “Live, Fast & Loose in the key of G” with Little Bill, so far.
Billy recorded his second solo CD “Slide Swiped”, a collection of all-slide-guitar performances, with the old Dufresne rhythm section of Alan Issacson on drums & Kelly Leifer on bass for most of the CD, and new friends & band mates Little Bill, vocals and Bass, Tommy Morgan drums, North West Hall of Fame-er Dick Powell on keyboards, while the numerous ”WBS Best Vocalist” recipient John Hodgkin handles the bulk of the singing chores in a big way.
Stapleton plays mostly big Gibson jazz boxes these days, as opposed to the Les Pauls and Strats that dominated his earlier playing. The big guitar compliments his gig with Little Bill, the tone fits the band and has moved him into new styles of playing. Billy still uses his trusty “Frankencaster” for slide guitar duties.
The "Little Bill and the Bluenotes" schedule for the year is on his web site and is available in the “links” button of the home page. Billy Stapleton is available for session work in the Seattle area.
Thanks for checkin’ me out! You can write emails to billystapleton.com and I’ll answer ‘em as best as I can. Any CD’s you’re interested in can be obtained through this website.
"Keep pickin’ ... "
- Billy Stapleton