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‘Catalyst Sessions’ recap: Greg Billings and George Harris

Bill DeYoung

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Singer Greg Billings showed us how it’s done Friday on The Catalyst Sessions, as he discussed Stranger, Florida’s biggest rock band of the ’80s and early ’90s, which he famously fronted. But the North Carolina native isn’t living in the past, just celebrating it with the contemporary Greg Billings Band.

Billings and lead guitarist George Harris talked past, present and future, and bookended the program with acoustic performances: First, the old Waylon Jennings tune “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love”) and then a one-verse take on Stranger’s hard-rocking signature song “Swamp Woman.”

Billings’ life and career have been inexorably bound with rock ‘n’ roll, and with Pinellas County, since he arrived here in the latter 1970s (read a 2019 Catalyst profile here).

At 63, he considers himself a fortunate survivor. “We did not put this recipe together where ‘OK, we’re going to do this later in life, we’re going to do this early in life …’ It’s just the way things worked out. The best thing I can tell you is, I made so many friends over the years. Not fans – I don’t call ‘em fans. They’re friends! They got my number, they can call me, I call them. We exchange emails. They’re faithful people that remember the Stranger days. They’re friends of mine, and I think they feel that connection.”

The people who make up his audience, Billings says, “They feel a connection with that ‘80s thing, going out and drinking all night. I don’t know what they did for a living – never ask questions – everybody was drinking Heinekens and top shelf liquors seven nights a week. We never asked, it was just, they were all friends. And they continue to be friends, and we stay in touch.”

Adds Harris: “It’s a pretty amazing scene. I’ve been what, 18 years in this thing, and there are people that come to see us regularly now that were at our first gig.”

The guitarist, who also owns and operates Creative World Recording Studio, talked about living all over the country as a young man – his father was a traveling repair manager for the Holiday Inn hotel chain. “We would stay six months in one place, live in the Holiday Inn and move on,” he says.

A childhood passion for music led to a professional career, first as a drummer – “I played my first club gig when I was 6, in Mesa Arizona ….”

Billings interrupts: “That’s when he started to do shots of tequila.”

“The wire services picked it up, and we ended up going out to do The Mike Douglas Show, this little bar trio, because I was a kid. It was totally cheesy, but the die was cast.”

His father retired in 1973, after working the Madeira Beach Holiday Inn. That’s why George Harris is here. “Great place to be if you’re a kid learning to play music,” he says. “It was a great scene.”

Billings made history Thursday night, becoming the first performer to play a socially-distanced live show in a major room – in this case, the newly-refurbished Ruth Eckerd Hall lobby club (accompanied by guitarist McLean Maddox from the band Jericho Turnpike).

It was the first in a planned series of five Billings lobby shows (Harris will join him later in the month). All five shows sold out quickly.

So what was it like for the easygoing rocker?

“I thought it was gonna be everybody I knew. I thought the whole place was gonna be filled with ‘Hey, I know you, I know you, I know you …’ I knew about half the people … the other people had never seen either one of us. They were just kind of interested in what was going on. They were great.

“At the end of the night, everybody stood up – all 100 people stood up, and applauded, and really enjoyed themselves. It was really something else.”

Monday, June 15 on The Catalyst Sessions: Cyndi Edwards, the 14-year host of WFLA-TV’s morning chat show Daytime.

Streaming weeknights at 7 on the Catalyst Facebook page. All episodes are archived on our YouTube page.

 

 

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  1. Avatar

    Sandy Steenberg

    June 14, 2020at2:28 pm

    I have a table for four tonight. 3 seats available as my friends cannot make it. Anyone want to go? Text me. 7277099008. Sandy

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