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Billy Bob Thornton and The Boxmasters play BarrelHouse Brewing on April 27th

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It's almost as if Billy Bob Thornton didn't want to capitalize on his fame as a screenwriter and actor. The band he formed with long-time musical partner J.D. Andrew lists his name as W.R. Thornton, and when his publicist puts him and Andrew on the phone, you're told, "OK, you have Bud and J.D. on the line." But there's no mistaking that deep, resonant voice with its hint of Arkansas atmosphere.

LOUD-ASS ROCK'N'ROLL The Boxmasters—featuring Billy Bob Thornton, J.D. Andrew, and their band—play BarrelHouse Brewing on April 27. - PHOTO COURTESY OF CONNIE THORNTON
  • Photo Courtesy Of Connie Thornton
  • LOUD-ASS ROCK'N'ROLL The Boxmasters—featuring Billy Bob Thornton, J.D. Andrew, and their band—play BarrelHouse Brewing on April 27.

Formed in 2007, The Boxmasters have a dozen albums out, a sizable cult following, and a brand new album in Help ... I'm Alive, from which they'll draw when they play at a Numbskull and Good Medicine show on Wednesday, April 27, at BarrelHouse Brewing (doors at 6 p.m.; all ages; $28 to $30 presale at eventbrite.com).

"On our first two records, we did this hillbilly rockabilly stuff that was a stylized thing," Bud explained. "We were kind of doing 'what if Frank Zappa did this?' Now, for all the rest of our albums, we just started sounding the way we naturally do, which is British Invasion, Memphis, Southern California pop—you know, The Band, The Beatles, and The Byrds."

Where'd the title come from?

"We made the record during the lockdown, and you know how people will say, 'Help, I'm drowning?' At the time we were thinking of a humorous, ironic title, which was 'Help, I'm living in these times,'" Bud continued.

Is the album pandemic related?

"There are a couple that are loosely based on the pandemic but also other social issues, like how people are being so separated these days, and people are drawing lines in the sand, and then we've got some that are, you know, like any rock 'n' roll record—about girls. It's loosely thematic, but it's just a rock 'n' roll record, and we're very proud of it," Bud said.

Bud and J.D. are prolific songwriters who meld their musical interests into a polished pop rock air with harmony vocals and a big sound.

"As the years have gone by, we've taken all those influences and just written songs how we would write them, as if we were a band that was in 1965," J.D. explained.

Help ... I'm alive is actually the band's second pandemic record. They first recorded Nothing Personal, which has yet to be released and which J.D. called more "moody and about isolation."

"After we did that, we needed a little more release, a bit more fun on the next one. Then we thought, we need to do another Christmas record because we haven't done one of those in about 12 years," J.D. continued, "so we recorded a Christmas album [Christmas in California] real quick. We made the most of only being able to go to home to studio and back again.

"Billy writes all the lyrics," J. D. continued, momentarily forgetting the "Bud" or "W.R." ruse, "and to be honest, our band members used to joke we'd write a song every time they turned their back, and now it's even worse than that."

It helps that Bud has a new house with a new recording studio.

"In the four or five month since we've had that, we've written and recorded close to 30 songs," J.D. said. "We recorded one whole album and mixed it a few days before we started rehearsal for the tour, and we've got at least another one or two records ready, sitting there, that we've got to finish off when we get back."

Bud, who played in bands throughout middle and high school and who was a roadie for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Johnny Paycheck, said music is what he loves and that he never intended to become a movie star, but here he is. What's a live show like?

"We're a full band," Bud said. "There're two guitars, bass, drums, and lead vocals. It's regular rock 'n' roll band size. We used to take a keyboard player with us, but we're more of a guitar band, and we found that keyboards—live especially—just kind of made a noise in the middle. J.D. plays keys on our albums and pulls out a Mellotron when we're on tour."

Bud—who I should mention is funny, charming, and humble—is generous with his audiences, too.

"We're pretty interactive with the audience," Bud claimed. "Some people get up there and just rattle off 15 or 20 songs, say 'thank you very much' and go home, but we usually talk to the audience, maybe explain the genesis of a song.

"We've got a pretty great cult following across the country, and most people who come to our shows are familiar with our music or have our records," Bud added, "but the ones who don't know sometimes assume we're a country rock band, and they're usually in for a surprise because we're a loud-ass rock 'n' roll band."

Prepare yourselves, Paso! This is The Boxmasters' first time through our neck of the woods.

"We can't wait to play that show up there," Billy Bob said. There, I said his name.

The Siren

On Sunday, April 24, Numbskull and Good Medicine bring rapper/producer Dizzy Wright on his Smoke Out Conversations Tour to The Siren (doors at 7:30 p.m.; 21-and-older; $20 to $170 on eventbrite.com).

Also this week at The Siren, see the Traveling Songwriters Tour featuring Charlie McNeal, Kenny Curcio, and Jack McKeon on Thursday, April 21 (7 to 9 p.m.; 21-and-older; free). They create Nashville Writers Round, where they swap songs.

Get a dose of the Cal Poly college scene on Friday, April 22, when The Honeyboys play The Siren (7:30 to 11 p.m.; 21-and-older; $10 at eventbrite.com) with openers with Couch Dog and Buppy. Some garage rock for your listening pleasure!

Scott Cooper & the Rosebud Band bring their Grateful Dead-inspired sounds to The Siren on Saturday, April 23 (8:340 to 11 p.m.; 21-and-older; free). "The band mixes luscious three-part vocal harmonies with adventurous jams and infectious grooves," they said.

NO MORE MR. NICE GUY Shock rocker Alice Cooper opens the Vina Robles Amphitheatre concert season on April 23. - PHOTO COURTESY OF JENNY RISHER
  • Photo Courtesy Of Jenny Risher
  • NO MORE MR. NICE GUY Shock rocker Alice Cooper opens the Vina Robles Amphitheatre concert season on April 23.

Vina season opens

The Vina Robles Amphitheatre kicks off its concert season this Saturday, April 23, with shock rocker Alice Cooper (7 p.m.; $60 to $295 at ticketmaster.com) and special guest Ace Frehley (of Kiss). My older sister played Cooper's 1973 album Billion Dollar Babies over and over, so as an 11-year-old, I learned to love songs like "Raped and Freezin'," "Sick Things," "I Love the Dead," and the record's biggest hit, "No More Mr. Nice Guy." Cooper's touring in support of his newest, 2021's Detroit Stories.

Chart-topping rock act Needtobreathe plays Vina on Thursday, April 28 (7 p.m.; $40 to $60 at ticketmaster.com). Their newest is The Mystery.

THEY BUILT THIS CITY Eighties era rock act Jefferson Starship plays the Fremont Theater on April 22. - PHOTO COURTESY OF JEFFERSON STARSHIP
  • Photo Courtesy Of Jefferson Starship
  • THEY BUILT THIS CITY Eighties era rock act Jefferson Starship plays the Fremont Theater on April 22.

Old but not forgotten

SLO's historic Fremont Theater has a couple oldies but goodies lined up this week. Arena rock act Jefferson Starship plays on Friday, April 22 (8 p.m.; all ages; $41.50 to $66.50 at eventbrite.com). Their heyday was in the '70s and '80s, but they have a ton of terrific songs like "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now," "We Built This City," "Sara," and more. They also just released their first studio album in 12 years, Mother of the Sun.

The Music of Cream comes to the Fremont on Saturday, April 23 (8 p.m.; all ages; $29.50 to $47 at eventbrite.com). The band features Kofi Baker (Ginger Baker's son) and Will Johns (Eric Clapton's nephew), and their current tour spends the first set playing Cream's landmark album Disraeli Gears in its entirety, followed by a second set of additional hits and rarities from Eric Clapton, Blind Faith, and Cream.

It's not too late for Rent

Cal Poly Arts hosts the Broadway musical Rent at the Performing Arts Center on Thursday, April 21 (7:30 p.m.; 13-and-older; $69 to $109 at calpolyarts.org). The Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning show is a fan favorite, and there are still a few tickets left.

More music ...

The Basin Street Regulars hosts The Yosemite Jazz Band from Oakhurst and the Tevis Ranger Junior High Jazz Ensemble from Bakersfield on Sunday, April 24 (1 p.m.; all ages; $10) in the Pismo Vets Hall. Enjoy some hot swinging jazz for your listening or dancing pleasure!

Seattle-based singer-songwriter Josh Ottum plays Atascadero's Raconteur Room on Saturday, April 23 (7:30 p.m.), with his band featuring Sean Collins, Lorenzo Cortese, and Spencer Hutton. "The music consists of originals and significantly reworked covers and jazz tunes," Ottum said. He also plays on Saturday, May 21, at Amstrdm.

The Friendly Neighborhood Big Band plays Sunday, April 24 (1:30 p.m.) at Camp Arroyo Grande (250 Westley Ave.). Featuring singer Kathryn Loomis, the event is a fundraiser for Fort Hope, a nonprofit corporation that gives at-risk kids a chance to experience outdoor activities. Δ

Contact Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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