Music with a Message
Billy Brandt is a Jewish folk rock musician that has been a creative force for 40 years. He loves yoga, has his own record label called Drum Dancer Records and continues to create fantastic music that everyone can relate to. He grew up in Oak Park and currently resides in Ferndale. Brandt gives us a look into his world.
RT: Who or what made you want to become a musician?
BB: Well for one thing, I’m an old guy. I’m a ’60s guy. I grew up in the ’60s and I can’t be swayed from thinking that it was the most fertile time for rock and folk. TV music was fantastic then because it was live. There was so much good music.
Growing up I remember that one of the first things that really got me off were No. 1, Harry Belafonte. My parents had his records. He was very handsome, looked good on an album cover and I loved his voice. He really did it for me at 4. Then I had a couple of children’s folk records around; the rest of it was all over the place.
There were great folk clubs in Detroit then, too. We had the Raven Gallery, which was amazing. Right now it’s Sweet Lorraine’s — the one in Southfield. We also had a really great one down at the U of D campus called the Chessmate. Playing there was a young Neil Young, a young Joni Mitchell and anyone else who was a national folk act in the mid ’60s. Between the Raven and the Chessmate, we had this big explosion of folk music.
RT: How important is Judaism to you?
BB: I’m connected to being a Jew because I am a Jew. I don’t go for religion but I believe in God. I’m a spiritualist, a whole bunch of stuff came from the ’60s, psychedelics actually. I never believed in anything until I dropped acid some 40 years ago.
My story is I never left the fold. I felt what was happening and brewing and then went seeking awareness, seeking truth, seeking experience and seeking transcendence through music. It was not just entertainment; it was something more.
I long for the day when the Jewish community was the leaders on so many levels of social awareness, of justice, of probing intellects that face the questions of who are we and where are we’re all going.
RT: You have a record label. How did that come about?
BB: I started my label for a folk rock group that I was producing back in 1992 called Red Sea. I’ve always been more of a folk rock guy within my wheelhouse. I don’t do rap. I don’t do heavy rock. I don’t do metal. I can’t stand it.
I like yoga. I gotta feel good. I actually need to be soothed and loved by my music.
RT: Besides the Ark, where are other venues that you play that cater to folk music?
BB: There’s a huge thing called “house concerts.” The house concert circuit is where we’re playing if it’s an Ark-type group, or Americana or rootsy. All over America right now is the house concert scene. This is the saving grace. I’m playing a house concert in a Jewish neighborhood. It’s called Music In the Burbs and it’s on March 10.
Back during the 18th and 19th century, classical musicians were able to write because they were sponsored by richer dukes and duchesses. And they would have salons in their large houses where the musicians would perform. That’s a house concert. So the people that are doing it have a space that can house 30, 40, 50 maybe even 100 people. It’s not a business because they’re not making money out of the deal. It’s usually someone that really likes the music enough that they want to provide a space and it’s usually in their home.
To find out about Music In the Burbs, logon to http://musicintheburbs.com.