Billy Strings was born William Apostol on October 3, 1992, and grew up listening to his stepfather’s bluegrass music as well as the more broadly popular rock and metal genres. As he started playing music, all those influences come tumbling out of his guitar in ways surprising and often refreshing. His aunt gave him the moniker Billy Strings after recognizing his talent as a multi-instrumentalist.
I’d say she hit the nail on the head.
In 2016’s Meet Me At the Creek, Strings and his band head off on an extended jam that sounds like bluegrass meeting indie rock. One of the funniest online comments (apropos of nothing) makes the observation: “Forest Gump 3 months into his run on the upright bass…” but the music is great.
With this 2017 version of Turmoil and Tinfoil, Strings and his band head off down a path of bluegrass metal music.
Two of the best next generation bluegrass guitar players — Strings and Molly Tuttle — play the old chestnut Sittin’ On Top of the World at the 2019 Grey Fox festival, and the guitar interplay and fireworks are terrific.
Bluegrass fans will be glad to know Strings can also go back into the tradition and sing a chilling acapella version of the Charles Wesley hymn And Am I Born to Die.
Billy isn’t your normal play-it-safe country star, as seen when he uses his Grand Ole Opry debut in 2019 to sing about a life of sin in Dust in a Baggie. Yes, reflecting on one’s misdeeds is pretty standard fare with country singers. What’s not is the direct reference to methamphetamine, played with a blazing bluegrass backing.
“This life of sin / has got me in / got me back in prison once again / I used my only phone call to contact my Daddy / Got 20 long years / for some dust in a baggie.”
Strings was to be at the Red Wing Roots Music Festival this weekend, before the event was cancelled for 2020. He is scheduled to play a series of streaming concerts online from Nashville and other cities this month and into the fall, so if you are interested and want to see the artist that Rolling Stone named as the “Bluegrass star you don’t want to miss,” check out one or more of these offerings.
More to come…
Image: Billy Strings performs at Winter Wonder Grass, Steamboat Springs, CO, on Feb. 23, 2020 (Credit: Mr.schultz – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0)