PUBLISHED IN THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR OCTOBER 6, 1997

 

ON THE BILL DILLON EXPRESS - O

 

by NICK KREWEN

 

If beatification was based simply on the amount of espresso one consumes over a lifetime, BILL DILLON would have qualified for sainthood years ago.

The world-renowned guitarist -- raised in Grimsby, Ancaster and now based in New Orleans -- is as legendary for his gourmet caffeine habit as he is for the unnatural sounds he manages to coax from his instrument: sounds that have graced recent albums by NANCI GRIFFITH, EDIE BRICKELL and COUNTING CROWS and brand new efforts by ROBBIE ROBERTSON and JONI MITCHELL.

"I'm talking to the medical profession about installing an I.V. pipeline of espresso into the studio so that Bill doesn't have to stop playing," joked Robbie Robertson, the former BAND leader who has used Dillon extensively on his three solo albums and for soundtrack work.

"I've never seen anybody drink so much espresso and smoke so many cigarettes and remain so healthy," adds IAN THOMAS, who employs Dillon as guitarist in his band THE BOOMERS. "Bill's living proof that viruses and bacteria can not live in a tar base."

On this particular occasion, Bill Dillon is sitting in a corner of Valentino's on King Street. Nattily attired in a bowler, thin-rimmed JOHN LENNON sunglasses, a vest, jeans and stylish greying mutton-chop sideburns neatly trimmed to the jawbone, Dillon could be mistaken for a distinguished English gentleman save for one clue: three drained cups of double espresso sit discarded on the table, orbiting around an ashtray obscenely packed with cigarette butts.

Espresso has become such a necessary regimen of Dillon's diet that even he doesn't even keep track of the number of cups he empties in a day.

"I can't count that high," winks Dillon as he excuses himself to use the men's room, but not before ordering another double espresso.

Ask anyone about Bill Dillon, and they'll tell you what a sweet guy he is. One of the most well-liked and respected musicians in the business, his friendliness, love for THE BEATLES and obsession with English sportscars are his three most-mentioned attributes outside his guitarmanship.

It's definitely when talking about his musical approach, however, that jaws begin to drop and accolades come pouring out.

"What he does on guitar is what a synthesizer would do," states BOB DOIDGE, Dillon's former TRANQUILITY BASE bandmate who operates Grant Avenue Studio and has employed -- along with DAN LANOIS, Grant's previous owner -- Dillon for hundreds of sessions.

"He puts a shimmer in guitar. Sometimes it's not even recognizable as a guitar."

"He's probably one of the most instinctive musicians I know," says Ian Thomas, who has worked with Dillon on both Boomers albums, What We Do and The Art Of Living.

"He has complete control of his instrument. He's not content to play a part he might have heard. When Bill Dillon plays, he has his own sense of composition."

Robbie Robertson has used Dillon for his Robbie Robertson, Storyville and brand new Music For The Native Americans album as well as on The Color Of Money and Jimmy Hollywood soundtracks.

"One of the things we do that's extremely different is that Bill creates a sound orchestra, which frees me up to do rhythms and solos," Robertson explains. "He understands my music emotionally. He has very good taste in sounds, and he's always doing something where the band stops and says, `Who is that? What the hell is that?' It's always Bill."

Dillon himself is coyly at a loss to explain his secret.

"I have no idea," he laughs. "I don't know if I want to know."

What it is is a combination of semi-acoustic guitar and volume pedals, and through an experimental nature, the former RONNIE HAWKINS, SYLVIA TYSON and MARK LaFORME sideman has endeared himself to a global circle that includes Robertson, Joni Mitchell (her upcoming Turbulent Indigo album), MARTIN PAGE, OVER THE RHINE, Edie Brickell (Picture Perfect Morning), SARAH McLACHLAN and others, thanks to a break in 1987 when Dan Lanois produced Robertson's first album and recruited Dillon for the gig.

At one point, he was even a member of THE PRETENDERS for six weeks a few years ago, although things didn't work out with leader CHRISSIE HYNDE.

"It was a struggle for me, because my mother had just died," recalls Dillon, "She (Chrissie) was going through one of my, `I don't want to make a record periods.' It was bad timing.I was going through some pretty heavy things myself."

Hynde, however, did take the Beatle fanatic to Mecca for a few hours: Studio 2 of Abbey Road in London, legendary birthplace of The Fab Four's groundbreaking albums.

"I sat on a stool on the original Abbey Road, and just stared," recalls Dillon. "I was down the street from PAUL's (McCARTNEY) house. It was so overwhelming. Everyone left me alone so I could be overcome with emotion."

Of his status and lifestyle, Dillon says he feels fortunate.

"It's everything I dreamed and more. It's pretty intense and ongoing," he admits." "It takes a lot of time and energy -- often 18 hours a day for weeks on end, until the job is done.

"But I don't want to work all the time. This allows me that luxury, and time to work on my own stuff."

Dillon says recording with a Daniel Lanois or a Robbie Robertson requires imagination and discipline.

"The challenge is trying to focus -- to step a little further aside from the general conscience. To see what's inspiring. They teach me to go where I don't always go, and to come back with the same inspiration. You just can't make mistakes."

Until last week, the 43-year-old Dillon and his third wife Barb were stranded in the Grimsby-Hamilton corridor since their marriage in Baysville seven weeks ago. The hold-up was due to body and paint work he was doing on his '69 Triumph Spitfire, which the newlyweds planned to drive back to their New Orleans apartment.

While those plans were pre-empted by a call from Robertson to appear on The Tonight Show last Monday and Good Morning America this coming Monday, Dillon says he's happy to be based in the Mardi Gras capital for a number of reasons.

"It ain't Hamilton," says Dillon, lighting up a cigarette.

"We came up here to get married. But New Orleans is mainly a snow-free, temperate climate. We live in the French Quarter . It's a good hub for me to be geographically. I'm right in the middle between New York and L.A. It's also a short distance away from Nashville."

"When Mom passed away, there were no ties anymore. Dad past away last summer, and I've been here all my life. I want to see the rest of the world."

In fact, Bill and Barb are toying with the idea of emigrating to Ireland.

"I'm just tired of North America," explains Dillon. "We're both of Irish descent, and it would plug me into the European scene without relinquishing my Canadian passport."

Dillon says Europe is both "more civilized and loose."

"Espressos are a way of life over there," explains Dillon, an incredulous expression on his face.

"You ask for a coffee over there, and it's espresso. Over here, it's an imposition!"

-30-

DISCOGRAPHY

1991 -- The Boomers, What We Do -- Warner

1993 -- The Boomers, The Art Of Living

1994 -- Counting Crows, August And Everything After

1994 -- Lisa Germano, Happiness

1994 -- Robbie Robertson, Robbie Robertson

1994 -- Various Artists, The Unplugged Collection Volume One (with 10,000             Maniacs)

1995 -- Chris Whitley, Living With The Law

1995 -- Edie Brickell, Picture Perfect Morning

1996 -- The Boomers, 25 Thousand Days -- Alma

1996 -- Lisa Germano, Geek The Girl

1996 -- Robbie Robertson, Storyville

1996 -- Nanci Griffith, Flyer

1996 -- Robbie Robertson and The Red Road Ensemble, Music For The Native            Americans

1997 -- Dar Williams, At The End Of The Summer -- Velvel/Razor & Tie

1998 -- Gordon Lightfoot, A Painter Passing Through

1998 -- Joni Mitchell, Turbulent Indigo

1999 -- Gordon Lightfoot, Songbook

 

 

THANKS: Wade Hemsworth

© 1997, 1999 Nick Krewen, Octopus Media Ink

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