BILLY CHILDS (BRITNY FOX) INTERVIEW:
April 18, 2011
Websites: www.gtlorocks.com – www.myspace.com/billychildsbritnyfox
Interviewer: Dirk Ballerstaedt
It’s been a while since we’ve heard from the heroes of yesterday — this time it’s Billy Childs, who played bass guitar in Britny Fox. Hailing from Philadelphia, the East Coast region that produced Britny Fox also brought us bands like Bon Jovi, Cinderella, Kix and Skid Row to name a few. Britny Fox started out in the mid ’80s and shipped demo tapes around, and as I received some of them I knew that the band had potential and some very good ass-kicking tunes. In 1987 they have got record deal with CBS and the following year they released their self-titled album, a good debut full of straight-ahead rocking standards. Back then I had the honor to accompany the band in their home town of Philly and was an eyewitness as they shot their very first video for the single “Long Way To Love” in an old steel factory outside of Los Angeles. For about 15 hours I just listened to that one song… I loved that.
After that Britny Fox were deep into the touring-recording-touring process, and after the second album ‘Boys In Heat’ in 1989 the trouble began — the band of Billy Childs (bass), Michael Kelly Smith (guitars) and Johnny Dee (drums) parted with lead singer “Dizzy” Dean Davidson and went their separate ways because of musical differences. Back with new singer Tommy Paris, Britny Fox released the excellent ‘Bite Down Hard’ in 1991 but with Grunge music rising in the horizon many hair-metal bands were blown away… Britny Fox included. The band did a little club tour after the release, but the days of success were behind them. Even if ‘Bite Down Hard’ sounded a little more modern it remains my favorite, but I still like their first and second albums because of the more traditional hard rock style.
The band then broke up with Michael Kelly Smith joining Razamanaz while Johnny Dee left America and headed to Germany to play with the metal queen Doro, who he still plays with to this day. Billy Childs continued to keep the Britny Fox name alive and eventually he, Tommy, Michael and Johnny reunited, resulting in the live CD ‘Long Way to Live!’ and a studio album called ‘Springhead Motorshark’ in 2003. After that, various lime-ups of Britny Fox toured throughout the USA, playing some festivals and clubs, and now it seems like a good time to talk about it all…
Sleaze Roxx: What is Billy Childs doing today? Are you working with any bands or do you have a day job?
Billy Childs: I’m back in Philly after three plus years on the road touring and living in California. I’m playing with a band called Get The Led Out, it’s a six man group that reproduces the Led Zeppelin studio tracks note for note with proper instrumentation, amps, etc — as opposed to the look-alike groups that do the live stuff. We’re doing very well and playing very nice venues, mostly theaters and performing arts centers around the U.S. Still no day job for me!
Sleaze Roxx: What made you want to become a musician? Was there any specific moment/event that made you want to start playing music?
Billy Childs: It was just something that struck me as the coolest thing in the world. Many bands were idols to me — Black Sabbath, Grand Funk, I’ve always been a huge Beatles fan — far too many to mention… everybody whose albums I had, really. I got the idea to actually start to play at a high school dance. I always hated those things and would end up just watching the band, I just went because that was what everyone else did. One day it struck me that I looked like a guy that should be in the band, not just watching, and that’s when I became proactive about it and started to teach myself. I didn’t ever think it would amount to much really, but figured I could meet some girls, at least. It was a pretty simple idea, and things just seemed to break in my favor more often than not, so I’m just a very lucky guy when it comes to this business. Sometimes it seems like things in life just happen if you’re prepared and in the right place. I’ve always said success is really just preparation meets opportunity, and that luck is the residue of design… so here we are.
Sleaze Roxx: How did Britny Fox start out, and what in your opinion would you do differently now if you were transported back to the years 1987-1992? How was it signing the contract, doing the first video, etc., any outstanding memories?
Billy Childs: Well, it all started with an idea that Dean Davidson, our original singer, had. I really never expected much, I’m all too familiar with the success vs. failure ratio in this business and knew that the odds were very much against us. As far as regrets, I’m sure anybody in any field would choose to do a million things differently, large and small, but you can’t really spend too much time thinking about that, you were a different person then and wouldn’t make the same choices. Knowing what I know now though, and since you ask, I guess the one thing I would try to do would be a bit more accepting of the success we were having. I never felt very comfortable then, because I never really expected that to happen, and it made me feel very much like an outsider in the business. As a result I think I didn’t get the full enjoyment out of those years — I was too self conscious. I also would have fought tooth and nail to keep the ‘Bite Down Hard’ version of the band together as opposed to just stopping like we did, I think we gave up too easily.
Along the same lines as I was saying, signing the first deal was great for 5 minutes, then I immediately started thinking that if we don’t do well I’ll be back home in 6 months. It was enjoyable, but only the means to an end. The first video was amazing to do, almost like an out of body experience… very interesting. As far as memories I have so many great ones from those times it’s impossible to isolate a few, especially in print! But like I always say, all the bands were basically doing the same things, so just take the others you’ve read and insert my name.
Sleaze Roxx: Did you ever feel frustrated while you were in Britny Fox?
Billy Childs: Most of the time! Seriously though, I never really liked being the “Girlschool” guy, that was very frustrating to me. I think we could have waited a bit and then put it out, it may not have polarized us as much. To me that song was very much a double-edged sword. It was very big, but we were never going to be taken seriously after that. Eddie Trunk says we epitomized the decade with it, and I don’t disagree, but any musician would rather be remembered for what he considers his better work, not a novelty song.
Frustrating as well was doing ‘Bite Down Hard’, what we consider our best album, and feeling we were only going to get better and then having the era end so suddenly. It seemed like the timing that had always helped us turned against us after the first album. I don’t think Britny Fox ever realized its potential, or even close, and that will always frustrate me to a degree. At the same time the band could have never gotten big at all, so I’m not gonna bitch too much.
Sleaze Roxx: Tell us about the first real big show you played and the very last show before the band broke up.
Billy Childs: I guess you would mean our first arena show. It felt unusually comfortable, which I didn’t really expect for the first time in a 20,000 seat arena… kind of odd. That would have been the Poison tour in ’87, it was everything I would have hoped it to be as were all the accompanying experiences. Our last show in the ’90s I don’t even remember, some club somewhere after the era had died, so it’s really kind of meaningless to me. It was in ’92 though, I know that much.
Sleaze Roxx: Tell us about your fondest memories from the Britny Fox years.
Billy Childs: Doing well on the local level, because I wasn’t even sure we would do that, was the first good memory. In some respects that’s also when it was the most fun. The first time being on MTV was also pretty amazing, I never thought that would happen either. Going to Europe for the first time was great, it was always a dream of mine and I knew I would never be able to afford it as a tourist. And a million other things all along the way, far too many to mention.
Sleaze Roxx: Looking back, what do you feel is your defining moment as both a musician and private person?
Billy Childs: I guess actually deciding to try and play was very defining, as everything else that happened just seemed to follow a pattern. It was all just a learning curve and I was very lucky to find myself in the right place at the right time so often. Looking at my career as a whole, at this point, I can’t think of anything else I was more meant for or would have been better at or enjoyed more than this. That being said, the professional and private person at a certain point become one, as this has become the thing that defines me — my defining quality if you will. We all have one, and I guess this was meant to be mine. For that I couldn’t be more satisfied. Possibly as well, coming to terms with that could also be viewed as a defining moment for me, privately. It’s such an odd life that it can take a long time to understand what you are and where you fit in the world. It is a very different path than most and can easily isolate you from others if you allow it to.
Sleaze Roxx: What in your opinion were the reasons for breaking up with Dean Davidson? Was it tough having such fine CDs out and then having it fall apart?
Billy Childs: That was Dean’s doing, not ours. We were trying to patch things up, the band was still doing very well in terms of videos, getting more radio, sold out shows, etc. He just wasn’t happy with many things. In retrospect I think he thought we should have been making more money than we were, and in that respect I don’t blame him. When I think about it now we never had big, top level management in Britny and I don’t think that helped. We stayed loyal to our original guy and in the long run I think we suffered in that we didn’t make very much money. I walked away from that original version 7 years after it began with not much more than I started with. Like many stories in the biz, but ours was even a little worse than most. It was tough when Dean left, you hope for that kind of success your whole life, and to have the first chapter end like that was very depressing. We did recover with ‘Bite Down Hard’, but as I said before, nobody saw the era ending like that. Dean didn’t have much success after Britny either, so it really ended up being in no one’s best interest.
Sleaze Roxx: How does a typical day of Billy Childs during the Britny Fox years compare to now in 2011?
Billy Childs: Surprisingly not that different. I still perform for a living, not as much travel but still a lot, still do the same things I always did, and still enjoy it just as much. Now it’s Get The Led Out instead of Britny Fox. I’m still very active playing tennis, basketball, listening to music and alternative media like infowars, etc. Actually, more sports now as I don’t party nearly as much. My girl got out of college and lives with me in Philly now, she is why I moved to California, her and the weather, but when the GTLO offer came up I moved back here and she came out a few months ago to join me. I’m really a very lucky guy to have had so little change in all those years, I’m very happy really. Things couldn’t be better, all in all.
Sleaze Roxx: Most of the bands from the late ’80s are still around, what do you think about nostalgia being such a strong factor in music?
Billy Childs: I have to admit I never saw that coming. When I was growing up when bands were done, they were done. There wasn’t really any “nostalgia” thing happening, the next thing just always happened. I guess its cool… I kinda like to move on myself as far as what I listen to, but other people seem to like older stuff so it’s good for them. And it gives me a job, so that’s cool too!
Sleaze Roxx: Are there any plans to do a new Britny Fox album or any other release with you playing?
Billy Childs: No, not at the moment, and I really don’t have much interest. Recording was never really my favorite part of the business, and I don’t have anything together right now, so I’m just happy with GTLO — that keeps me busy enough. I’m a pretty lazy guy, just enjoying my free time mostly. Never say never though I’ve learned.
Sleaze Roxx: Do you have still have contact with the other members of Britny Fox and do you know what they’re doing now?
Billy Childs: Tommy Paris and I were playing together in the ’07-’08 Britny line-up, but I really don’t know what the others are up to. I haven’t spoken with them in years. We were never really a tight bunch, just bandmates.
Sleaze Roxx: How about the family side — do you have kids, etc?
Billy Childs: No, I’ve never been married and have no children. I’ve been with the same girl for almost 7 years now and am very happy. She’s much younger than I am and we have no plans for children — we enjoy traveling and just living too much to really even think about it. I’m a little different than most people, and have never really felt the “family” urge as most do. Some things aren’t for everyone.