Anyone familiar with the acoustic music scene of Western NC, or with the music of the legendary Charlie Moore, is no stranger to Billy Constable. In fact, I am not certain Billy encountered many strangers. He is a friend to many people, and to those of us fortunate to know him well, even a great mentor.
Now, this fast friend and lifelong grasser needs our help dealing with a medical crisis.
Starting out as a young teen playing guitar for his stepdad Charlie Moore, Billy demonstrated an inventiveness and adventurous attack on lead guitar that’s remarkable to hear on record to this day. Barely larger than the guitar (some things don’t change much), the maturity he exhibited could only come from the natural talent handed down to him from his mountain ancestors.
Of course as a historian of bluegrass, and a champion of Charlie Moore in particular, I was well aware of what a musical giant Billy Constable was. He had spent time with The Doug Dillard Band, toured with Kenny Baker and Josh Graves, and later worked with envelope-pushers like Larry Keel, Leftover Salmon, and String Cheese Incident on both banjo and guitar.
It wasn’t until I had moved to Asheville in 2010, though, that I became aware of what a rare human being he was – both as a friend, and a brother in the order of acoustic music. We had spoken a time or two during my research on Charlie, and I knew of his prowess and ability to play all kinds of acoustic music: jamband, gypsy, rock and roll… The guy is a genius.
I think we became close quickly because of my general ignorance of the aforementioned musical styles, and my complete inability to play them. Billy is the type of fellow who is not easily impressed by folks who can fly over the fretboard. He could do it all, yet his true love was the traditional sounds of bluegrass and country music.
We would talk for a long time at Thursday night jams in Asheville, occasionally for a couple hours, about the great music from our early heroes. It’s so entrenched in his soul that he could break down the beauty of it in words that would capture it like no other. We would jam and there was Billy, ever the mentor, holding up his guitar guiding the jam circle. Even the best there was in the “Paris of the South” respected Billy, and dare not invoke his wrath by placing a flat 7 chord in Pike County Breakdown.
Make no mistake… he was quick to point out any attempt to defile the old stuff with out-of-place innovations. That music was great the way it was… That’s how it became great… Who were we to mess it up?? Of course this drew me closer to Billy because I possessed the same thought process.
There was a time and place for innovation and Cabin In Caroline or I Know You’re Married wasn’t it. He was one of those innovative players who could do anything on an instrument, but cared enough for the music of the greats not to render it completely unrecognizable.
These are my thoughts on my friendship with Billy Constable, and there are thousands in all corners of the acoustic music world who have theirs. This is a man who has given his life to the music, devoted himself completely to it, and now he needs help.
Billy has recently been diagnosed with a brain tumor after having endured a number of violent seizures. He has begun treatment, and is an excellent candidate for surgery.
Here’s where our help comes in. The cost for this potentially live-saving procedure is approximately $20,000 – not much in the grand scheme, but more than the Constable family have at the ready. There will also be substantial additional expenses, for medications and general support during recovery, as well.
We all recognize that the potential of growing a healthy retirement from your work in the trenches of bluegrass and acoustic music may be impossible. It’s also highly likely that as a musician, you may not have seen the value and necessity of health insurance.
The bluegrass world has always rallied ’round our own in their times of need, so let this be no exception. A website has been launched to accept donations, and to introduce Billy to those who may be unaware of his contributions to our music. You can hear recordings and see videos, and read his story – a fascinating one, indeed.
There, donations can be processed via Paypal, or major credit cards. Checks are also accepted by mail:
155 St James Place
Buffalo NY 14222
A benefit show will be held for Billy at Murphys Pub in Boone, NC on October 26 featuring Big Daddy Love and some of Billy’s friends and bandmates.
As a bandleader, and friend of Billy’s, my group (Avery County) will be doing our share for Billy. A big benefit is in the works for Asheville soon, as we also call on our industry colleagues to pitch in. We will begin to collect donations for Billy at our live shows, and will soon have a link on our website to encourage fans to do the same.
The spirit of giving is one of the cornerstones of Billy Constable’s mountain upbringing. He gave freely of what was ingrained in him by birth (did I also mention his blood relation to the Wisemans of Western NC?). He brought joy, knowledge, and even for a lot of us comfort and encouragement in our own tough times.
Wouldn’t it be a wonderfully delightful honor to return the favor at least partially?
God bless our brother Billy Constable. Let’s help lift him and his family up in this most trying and frightening time.