A Week with Bill Madison

drunkenmermaid.com first “met” Bill Madison when he posted a spectacular version of the traditional song “Buffalo Skinners” on our facebook page. Bill has had a long and accomplished career, some of which we will be sharing with you this coming week. We lead off today with our interview, and will be featuring his songs and video throughout the week…

drunkenmermaid.com: You released your first album, Sunday Mornin’ Hayride, in 1973. Who were your primary influences at the time?

I had moved to Newburyport, Massachusetts from Boston in 1969. At that time, Newburyport was becoming quite the place for artists and musicians. Many of my musician friends moved there as well from Boston and they all were major influences on me. Great players and writers like Paul MacNeil, Kenny Girard, Rocky Rockwood, Diane Gagner, and Joyce Katzberg. In addition, I was influenced by Gordon Lightfoot, Tim Hardin, Eric Andersen, Jerry Jeff Walker, Jesse Colin Young and of course, Bob Dylan. There were new players there to work with in Newburyport like Charlie Bechler, Fred Click, Bill Plante, Bobby and Russ Keyes, Chip Chase, Josh Dubin, Chris Pimentel, Jeff Lind, and Chuck Saloio. And there was Doug Johnson and Lana Pettey, known as ”Sweet Potato Pie”. We had even formed a musicians’ cooperative that we called “Rosewood”. We played together often and congregated at a pub called The Grog and at The Stone Church. The concept for the album came out of this interchange and environment and it turned out to be quite a grass roots group project involving the musicians, our fans, and the community as well. It was truly a magical time!  That is why I believe the album has passed the test of time being re-released in 2009 by Riverman Records and being placed in the top 10 retro re-issues for that year in The Acid Archives.

drunkenmermaid.com: How did Them Fargo Brothers come about?

In 1974, a friend of mine had opened a pub/restaurant in North Conway, New Hampshire and invited me to play there for the winter ski season. Brad Cardoza, who had been playing guitar with me, came along to sit in on some of my gigs. Then we met Bill Rost and Danny McCarthy who had a duo called “Thud and the Mudrat” and were playing in town as well. We all ended up playing together and formed the new band – Danny came up with the name – “Them Fargo Brothers!”

I became Doc Fargo, Bill Rost became Slim Fargo, Danny became Orville Fargo and Brad became Buck Fargo. A short time after we added Sonny Finnan on drums. So after many years and many member changes, we evolved into New England’s Premier Country Rock Band and toured extensively; North up to Canada – South to Jersey, West to Buffalo and sometimes beyond, and up and down the East Coast. And we’ve had two reunions in North Conway, New Hampshire – November of 2009 and again last year in November of 2011 – to rock out for ourselves and our fans! We recorded and videoed our performance last November and are working on putting together an album of that music.

drunkenmermaid.com: Who were some of the other key figures in the New England Folk/Country/Rock music circuit during the seventies and eighties?

Well, there were many great groups and musicians playing then. Here’s a long list and I hope I don’t miss anyone – let me know if I do.

  • John Lincoln Wright and the Sourmash Boys – great Country/Country rock
  • The Estes Boys – Outlaw and Country
  • Tom Dean, Alana MacDonald and Herbie Ludwig as Devonsquare – Folk Rock
  • The Blend – a hugely popular Rock group
  • The great Singer/Songwriter Bill Morrissey
  • Tom Chandler, Curt and Mike Bessette in Ethan’s Green – Folk Rock
  • The Franconia Notch Band – Country/Country Rock
  • Scorpio – An amazing one-man band – early computer programmer
  • The Shaw Bros. – Folk group
  • Travis Shook – Folk Rock/Comedy
  • Neil Thomas and the Monroe Country Outlaws – Rogue Country
  • Ina May Wool Band – Folk Rock/Great original songs
  • NRBQ – (New Rhythm and Blues Quartet) – Great band
  • Oak – Great Rock Band
  • The Fools – Very popular band
  • Aztec 2Step – Folk Rock
  • Room Fool Of Blues – Powerful Blues Band
  • The Fabulous Thunderbirds – Southern Rock
  • The James Cotton Band – Great Blues

drunkenmermaid.com: Who do you most enjoy working with? Why?

I enjoy working with everyone I play music with. Of course, Them Fargo Bros. stands out because of our long tenure together and the many great times we had on the road! For example, when we got together for the reunions is was like we had never stopped! Our rehearsals were just like they always were, and when we hit the stage we always put on a great show!

drunkenmermaid.com: Which of your songs is your favorite? Why?

I really like all the songs that I have written or have had a hand in writing,  although, All She Wanted stands out because my wife Nancy wrote most of the lyrics, and the song has such a strong message. Desperate Wind is another great song with a strong message and the song is also on the All She Wanted CD – written with my friend Scott Roby. And I like the newest song that Nancy and I wrote called Shadows On The Wind. These are songs with tremendous substance.

drunkenmermaid.com: Which one of your albums is your favorite?

That would be All She Wanted!  It is such a culmination of many feelings, moods and styles. It took a few years to get it where I wanted it to be.

drunkenmermaid.com: Tell us about The Stone Church in New Hampshire. What was it like to play and record there?

On a snowy night in 1971, my friend Chris Biggi – who later on would be the recording engineer on Sunday Mornin’ Hayride – picked me up to take me to the Stone Church to audition. The place was in fact an old granite church that had been vacant until three guys took it over and decided to make it into a music venue. It was very rustic – the tables they made were from plywood and 2X4’s and they rounded up every kind of used chair they could find. They served light and dark beer up and down a long wide rustic bar. They instituted a Sunday afternoon open mike program and along with that they served a buffet style roast beef dinner – They charged $3.00 per person for the meal! That became hugely popular – people and families and musicians flocked to the place on Sunday. Chris recorded just about every session and to this day there are hundreds of reels of tape still on the walls in his studio. I’d really like to archive that music someday – it would be a huge project, though. There were some terrific jams that went down on those Sundays played to a very enthusiastic audience.

There was one time when everyone was maybe a little to “high” and the tape didn’t come out that well. Chris nailed the tape to the wall of the Stone Church and it is still there to this day. Yes, the Stone Church is still there in Newmarket, New Hampshire, open for business as usual. You can see their page on Facebook. And I was the first person to play there!

drunkenmermaid.com: How has your music evolved over the years? What impact has your wife had on your music?

Nancy is my best friend, my sounding board and my greatest critic. If she says she doesn’t like it, she always has a good reason why. She’s an incredible quilter and designer.  Her vision is amazing. (We can attest – check out her work here – the Eds.) We work very closely together on every thing we do. I help her pick out material for her quilts – she writes some really great lyrics. I come to her with a melody, and she comes up with some really great lyrics. We’re quite a team – 24/7!

I think the biggest evolution for me was when I set up home studio. Not having anyone nearby to work with as far as other musicians, I saw the opportunity to do something I always wanted to do – play lead guitar. I actually surprised myself with how easily I took to it. I’m not a flashy lead player – but as B.B. King said, “make every note count” and I have tried to do just that. I also started playing piano again, picked up bass guitar, doing some percussion – it’s amazing what you can do with some stuff laying around to get some great percussion sounds. Another thing that home studio has helped me do is explore different musical styles. I’m also experimenting with different acoustic guitar styles and using the mountain dulcimer to come up with some pretty unique arrangements for acoustic instruments. I love the basic soothing nature of acoustic instruments. I am also realizing that my music is way beyond just one genre. This leaves so many different approaches open to writing and arranging a song!

drunkenmermaid.com: Looking back over your career, is there anything you wish you’d done differently?

I suppose I could have worked more diligently in trying to get that all-allusive record deal. But I’m a do-it-myself kind of guy, which is why I love being an independent musician. I have to be in control of my music.

drunkenmermaid.com: What’s next for you musically?

I’m working on a solo album – just me and my guitar. I am doing a couple of traditional sea songs, and want to do more. I have a desire to play some Celtic music.  I love writing and or covering songs with historical content and great stories. Good stuff for movies, which is why I am also working to place songs in films and such. When writing new songs, I’m keeping that in mind – writing themes that would fit in movies.

I am also involved in working with the Traffic Jam Campaign – musicians working to stop child trafficking and slavery, as well as Arts 4 Humanity, a Not for Profit Association – musicians performing for charity. And I think come fall I’d like to find a nice little pub somewhere where I can play a few late afternoon cocktail hour gigs. Sounds good to me!!!!

drunkenmermaid.com: And to us; but you might have picked up on that by our name…stop back regularly this week, Bill’s tracks will be here to brighten your day…


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