Interview with Billy Yates

Interview with Billy Yates

by Christian Lamitschka for Country Music News International Magazine & Radio Show


Christian Lamitschka:  Music has many new fans throughout Europe who may be hearing about you for the first time. How would you describe yourself and the music you play to someone who has never seen or heard you?

Billy Yates:  I lean more toward the traditional side of country music. I grew up loving it and nothing has changed… I still love it.

Lamitschka:  How was the last year for you? What were your highlights?

Billy Yates:  I completed another great European tour this year with sold out shows in England, Norway, Switzerland, Poland, Lithuania, Germany, and in Austria. I love the trips over when I get to see old friends and make new ones!

Lamitschka:  What is your latest CD and how’s it doing?

Billy Yates: JUST BE YOU is my latest CD and it came out only a couple of months ago. I am so proud of it… this is the first CD that I’ve written all of the songs by myself. I also did all of the voices on this one, which is another first… oh, with the exception of an appearance on one song by my 10 year old son! That was a real treat, getting to sing a song with him. I also did all of the production which has been the case on all of my music from the beginning. JUST BE YOU has gotten great reviews and sales are strong. I’m very proud of the fact that most people who hear it, say it’s my best work yet!

Lamitschka:  How did you choose the title for the CD?  Is there a story behind the name?

Billy Yates:  After years of trying to fit some major labels idea of what I was, I finally decided a few years ago to go out on my own. Even then, I was still focused on writing songs that might appeal to the masses. Finally, after falling in love with Europe and the country fans there, I figured out that it was time to just have fun and just be myself when it comes to my music. The song, JUST BE YOU, is probably the most autobiographical song I’ve ever written. I knew it had to be the title cut!

Lamitschka:  Do you write the songs yourself? If not, how do you go about finding the songs for your CD?

Billy Yates:  I’m probably best known around Nashville as a songwriter. I’ve had songs recorded by just about everybody. I’m so blessed in that regard. As I mentioned earlier, I do write my own songs as well and love the freedom and having the ability to say things that I want to say in a song.

Lamitschka:  Please tell us about the songs on your album (influences, etc).

Billy Yates:  When I listen to this CD, I hear George Jones, Lefty Frizzell, on to Keith Whitley and Alan Jackson. These are all favorites of mine…

Lamitschka:  What is the difference between your last CD and your current one?

Billy Yates:  BILL’S BARBER SHOP was the last CD and I suppose it had a more progressive side to it in places. JUST BE YOU is country through and through… just the way I like it. I’m proud of all of my work. Each album reflects where I am/was during that period of time. The new CD finds me in a really happy and comfortable place!

Lamitschka:  Your current single is being played by radio. What do you feel is special about this song that makes people want to hear it?

Billy Yates:  ON MY WAY (THE NORWAY SONG) is a special song that I wrote specifically for my friends in Norway. It is such a beautiful place and the people there are special. After what they’ve just experienced, they deserve to have a special song for them!

Lamitschka:  What will your next single be?

Billy Yates:  That is still up in the air a bit, but I think it’ll be MFC (MAMA’S FRIED CHICKEN). This almost immediately started standing out as many people’s favorite song on the JUST BE YOU CD. I know it’s one of mine and the song also is a tribute to my mom who does make the best fried chicken anywhere!

Lamitschka:  What kind of songs do you like to record the most?

Billy Yates:  I think an album should have a good variety of tempos and also content. I try to come up with songs that will make people laugh, cry, or maybe even just smile. Too many songs just make you sort of do nothing and I think that’s where many CD’s that I’ve bought in recent times have fallen short. Music is about emotions. If a song doesn’t push some sort of button, to me it’s just a waste of time.

Lamitschka:  You did a duet with George Jones. How did that happen to come about?

Billy Yates:  George Jones is a highlight no doubt. We did a duet on a song I wrote for him called CHOICES. It’s on my FAVORITES CD. Basically, I just asked him if he’d sing with me and he said he would. It was really funny because we took the studio down to his house south of Nashville. He thought it was the coolest thing that he could record vocals at his house instead of a studio.

Lamitschka:  What is your favorite song among all the songs you have recorded and what’s the story behind it?

Billy Yates:  Back in 1997 I recorded a song called FLOWERS. I was on a small label at the time and they really didn’t want me to record the song, but I fought them and won. As it turned out it was a top 20 record here in the States. This song was always special to me. My grandfather who loved music and was an old-time fiddle player was killed by a drunk driver back before I was born. I always wondered what he was like and always just knew that he’d be proud of the road I’ve taken in persuing a career in country music. I always felt cheated out of knowing him.. .just because some idiot decided to get drunk and drive. This song will make you stop and think before you get behind the wheel while intoxicated… or at least I hope it will.

Lamitschka:  How much creative control do you have over your music?

Billy Yates:  100%. If something turns out great, I get the credit. If it’s not so great… it’s my fault! Since I do it all by myself, I have to take full responsibility for my failures… unfortunately, I have no one to blame!

Lamitschka:  There’s a lot of work that goes into a number one hit. What did it take to make it in your case?

Billy Yates:  Many people think that some of the songs I’ve written were number 1’s… like CHOICES or I DON’T NEED YOUR ROCKING CHAIR , both for George Jones. Both of those songs barely reached the top 20. The great thing about a George Jones cut that manages to get even moderate airplay, it will be played forever. Still today, over 20 years later, I DON’T NEED YOUR ROCKING CHAIR generates more money that songs that were number 1 that same year makes buddies of mine. I think that’s very interesting and also says something for the life of a country song verses a not so country song… hmmm. *laughs*

Lamitschka:  Do you have any interesting stories about how fans have been affected by your music?

Billy Yates:  FLOWERS, CHOICES, on to JUST BE YOU… fans always comment on how these song have made a difference. That’s the great thing about music and making music to me… songs speak to people and I can’t think of a better gift! I feel so lucky!!!

Lamitschka:  Who inspires you musically and how deep do your musical roots run?

Billy Yates:  My roots go back a ways… I grew up listening to artists like the Carter Family, on to Carl Smith, Webb Pierce, Lefty Frizzell, George Jones, Buck Owens, Jim Reeves, then later came Don Williams, Emmy Lou Harris, Ricky Skaggs… the list goes on and on.

Lamitschka:  What do you think about today’s music scene versus its post and where do you see it going in the future?

Billy Yates:  I like all types of music. I don’t listen to much modern country because I can get that fix from listening to artists like Adele who I think is the real deal. I listen to a lot of today’s pop music because I think some of the voices are more interesting than in other genres. However, when I want to really feed my soul, I listen to old country and bluegrass. Lately I’ve been listening to a great bluegrass pioneer named Delia Bell. She recorded an album for Warner Brothers several years ago. Emmylou produced it… it’s wonderful….some of the best music ever!

Lamitschka:  What do you think about today’s music industry?

Billy Yates:  I don’t know… I guess it’s fine. I really don’t spend too much time worrying about it. I was fortunate to have come to Nashville in the late 80’s. I lived through the great times… I’ve seen so many come and go. I’d love to see country music flourish in the future, but to be honest, I wouldn’t bet either way on that one. I really have no idea.
I do know that what I see in Europe is the most promising thing in my eyes. It’s like the industry side hardly exists in country music there. There’s no major label participation so far so to me, it’s like dealing with something very new and young. I think Europe is worth investing in when it comes to being a country music artist.

Lamitschka:  If you had the chance to change something about the music industry, what would it be?

Billy Yates:  You know, it is what it is. Everything changes and while it may be in a bad place right now with illeagle downloading becoming a way of life for the current generation, I still think that there are new ways of doing business yet to be discovered. With that in mind, I think it’s a very exciting time for country music.

Lamitschka:  As an artist, you so many tasks such as recording, touring, interviews. What do you like best, what’s your favorite activity?

Billy Yates:  I really love it all. I suppose if I had to choose between songwriting and performing, I’d have to say performing is about my favorite piece of it all. I love people so much and enjoy giving them all I’ve got for the show, then the chance to shake their hand or hug their neck after the show is really great! I learned early on, if you love the people, they’ll love you back. That’s worked for me for years now.

Lamitschka:  Are you doing anything to take music beyond its current borders or are you happy where it is?

Billy Yates:  I’m constantly looking for opportunities to grow country music, especially in Europe. I look for non-country venues to play in and am always excited to see non-country fans at the shows. In many parts of Europe I’m starting to see younger people at the shows and that is such a good sign. If country music can lose some of the stigmas attached (in Europe), there can really be a bright future for it there.

Lamitschka:  What was your big break that got you into the music business?

Billy Yates:  My first break came before I moved to Nashville. It was a developemental deal with RCA in 1986. Later I signed with Curb Records and after nothing came from that, I signed with Almo Sounds where the top 20 recording of FLOWERS came, then on to Columbia Records where again, nothing happened… my biggest break came when I walked away from the majors and started M.O.D. (my own damn) Record Label. *laughs*

Lamitschka:  What inspired you to become an artist?

Billy Yates:  I knew at an early age that music would was my destiny. I grew up out in the middle of nowhere. I would walk around in the fields there where I grew up in Missouri and I would sing at the top of my lungs. My mom and dad also had a Sunday morning radio show… I started singing with them when I was around 7 or 8. Music has been such a big part of my life for as long as I can remember. It was like I never really had a choice.

Lamitschka:  What inspired you to become a songwriter?

Billy Yates:  After I moved to Nashville, I started hanging out with songwriters. It was really contagious. I began to love the idea of writing songs and wanted to learn. It took a while to really tap into the gift, but I was fortunate to have some great friends who were willing to teach me. Frank Dycus was really my songwriting mentor. He taught me so very much!

Lamitschka:  What drives you?

Billy Yates:  I’m very self motivated. You have to be when you run your own business. Things don’t get done if you decide to sleep all day. Honestly, the music is what drives me. I get up in the mornings and make a pot of coffee, grab my guitar and see what comes out. Somedays it’s nothing and somedays it’s like the gift is there for the taking!

Lamitschka:  What’s unique about you that will differentiate you from other artists?

Billy Yates:  Well, let’s see… I’d like to think that I don’t really sound like anyone else. That’s a tough question and makes me feel very self absorbed to even answer it. I suppose just being yourself is the ticket. The song JUST BE YOU says, If you’re thinking of being happy, you’d better make it snappy, don’t waste no time to put on your own face, stand tall and embrace your will to erase what you’re leavin’ behind… cause that old somethin’ that you’re not is not what you oughta be, proud of who you are and be it like you’ve got a mission in life, a mission to be true, so just be you, just be you, you’ve gotta just be you.

Lamitschka:  What moments in your career stand out in your memory as highlights and achievements which you are proud of?

Billy Yates:  Wow… I’ve made so many great friends. It’s the people you meet.. the stories, the laughs you share that make this business so special. Many of my personal highlights involve the people I’ve shared great moments with. Beyond that, my first song recorded was I DON’T NEED YOUR ROCKING CHAIR which ended up being the 1993 CMA vocal event of the year. Then the Grammy nomination for CHOICES was pretty cool. My over 30 performances on the Grand Ole Opry also stands out. Really, there are just too many highlights to even start naming them all. God has truly blessed me and I’m so very thankful for everything and everyone He has put in my path.

Lamitschka:  When you get time off, how do you like to relax?

Billy Yates:  Time with my family is how I relax. My wife, Nancy, and son, Grayson, are my life. I love nothing more than hanging out with them at ballgames or just relaxing at home playing board games. We are really close and pretty well are always together when I’m not on the road. They also go with me some. They just spent about 2 ½ weeks with me in Europe this past summer. That was a blast!

Lamitschka:  Is there anything in your life that you would change if you could?

Billy Yates: You know, it’s taken both good and bad luck to get me to where I am today… so I guess there are really no regrets. I suppose you can always be a better person so I try not to worry about things I did or didn’t do in the past. I worry more about today and tomorrow.

Lamitschka:  What hopes and desires do you have?

Billy Yates:  I hope my 10 year old boy grows up to be as good as he can be. I hope my parents live to be 200 years old. I hope I live to tell them goodbye when that time comes and I hope the world becomes a better place to live. I hope I go to heaven when I die and I hope to see my grandparents and all of the loved ones who have gone before again. I hope everyone wakes up tomorrow with a smile on their face because they are so happy! That’s what I hope. *laugh*

Lamitschka:  What has been the biggest disappointment in your life?

Billy Yates:  There were loads of disappointments over the years. You can’t be in this business without them. I remember one time after asking out of my deal with Almo Sounds in order to sign with Columbia Records, I felt so depressed and became really overwhelmed with the disappointments of the business. That’s when I started seeing the light and realizing that my happiness depended on myself and not others.

Lamitschka:  Is there any place you haven’t played that you would like to?

Billy Yates:  There are very few States that I’ve not worked in and very few Countries in Europe that I’ve not played in. While more of those shows are a part of my plan, I do hope to work in Australia and New Zealand. Japan and China are coming up in October… that should be fun!

Lamitschka:  What can your fans expect to see when they see you in concert?

Billy Yates:  I think the show has something for about everyone. We do the ballads and the uptempo songs as well. I always want the fans to walk away feeling like they got to know me. I know when I go to shows, I want to see the artist’s personality.

Lamitschka:  When you’re on tour, do you have time to play tourist?

Billy Yates:  Absolutely…. I see and do as much as I can. Life is too short not to experience as much as you can while you’re out there. Europe has so much great history. It’s really fascinating to see things that have been around for so long and things that you’ve read about in history books.

Lamitschka:  Many music fans today get their information about artists online. Do you have your own website and what will fans find there?

Billy Yates:  Yes,… You can also find me on facebook and twitter. The website is full of great information, plus you can sample the music there. The store offers all of the music for sale… there’s bio information along with a complete discography of songs I’ve written for others. Just about anything you’d want to know, you can find it there.

Lamitschka:  Tell us about the fan club and how people can join it.

Billy Yates:  It’s free online club that you can join through the website (

Lamitschka:  What’s the best compliment a fan has ever given you?

Billy Yates:  People say all kinds of nice things, but really… when you are on stage and you’re singing a song and look out and see people singing along or even better, when you see them laughing or crying… that’s really the best to me.

Lamitschka:  What’s your favorite song that you wish you could have recorded?

Billy Yates:  You know the Randy Travis, STORMS OF LIFE CD? I wish that CD had my voice and my picture on it… that would be so cool! *laugh* That really is a collection of GREAT songs.

Lamitschka:  What message would you like to send your European fans?

Billy Yates:  I love you and I will be somewhere closeby soon!!!!! *laugh*

Lamitschka:  Fans are always hungry for good road stories. Do you have one you can share with us (come on don’t be shy)?

Billy Yates:  I had a show in Copenhagen a couple of years ago. I was traveling from the States to meet up with my Dutch band (Savannah). I had to take the train to ge to the city center. As it turned out, two different trains broke down. I ended up carrying all of my luggage up the tracks to get to another train station. I finally made it to the stage just in time.. Savannah was already there, I grabbed my hat and my guitar… I asked if I had a set list on stage and we did the show. No one had any idea how stressed out we all were before the show. It ended up being a great time!

Lamitschka:  Describe what a perfect day is like for you.

Billy Yates:  When I’m not on the road, I enjoy a lazy Saturday with the family… when we can sleep in late… get up and just relax. This is funny, but I love yard sales… maybe the perfect day is one of those Saturdays of going from yard sale to yard sale looking for bargains!

Lamitschka:  Most careers don’t last as long as yours.  What’s given your career the staying power?

Billy Yates:  I was never willing to give up. I knew lots of great singers that tried and tried and finally gave up. I always wondered what might have happened if they’d lasted another month. Their big break may have come… you never know. I also think I have tried to do it all for the right reasons. I never got in this to be famous. It was always about the music. If you love the music and the people, you will always find a way to keep it going. It becomes like an addiction… you can’t quit!

Christian Lamitschka ( )

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