Bellflower, California’s The Boxmasters have a precarious predicament that await them at every venue they play: Billy Bob Thornton is both the group’s humble drummer and singer. Even if he was a bassist or played only the cowbell, nearly everyone with a 100 mile radius of the venue would come to see the main character of “Sling Blade” keep time.
Even though the 61-year-old Thornton is quite the prolific songwriter in his own right — especially from 2001-07 — his solo records seemingly got lost in the shuffle.
For the uninitiated, Thornton’s love of music started at a very early age of 9.
“Before we could afford instruments, we used to pretend we were the Dave Clark Five. We would take brooms and mops and pretend we were singing the songs,” Thornton said in a 2015 phone interview with Music Recall Magazine.
“We would go into my buddy’s back porch and just pretend we were playing with these brooms and do Dave Clark Five songs, of course, a capella. And then we discovered the joy of making a guitar out of a cigar box.”
Spur of the moment
During the Boxmaster’s formative years, shows were largely unannounced and special gatherings took place in far-reaching destinations like Tecate, Mexico (where the band played several times).
The band eventually caught the attention of boutique label Vanguard records and the buzz soon followed upon the timely release of their self-titled record in 2008. A Christmas record soon followed the same year.
And while initial reviews of their first record were less than satisfactory, die-hard fans knew there was something inherently special about Thornton’s first love: Music.
Fortunately, the group found themselves needing little more than their own dough to complete and release records and did so with great effect as evidenced on their Providence (2015) record. Once more, the group have amassed a following with enough followers to be a veritable headlining sensation across the states.
Today, the band sits on top of a healthy catalog and recently released a new 2-LP collection via NDR Records. The highly anticipated 2016 release and double album’s title is “boys and girls ... and the world,” which perfectly encapsulates the band’s good-time vibe. Standouts include the album opener “Wait Until You See (What We’re Going To Do Tonight)” and the Southern-fried feel “Careless” which is featured on the group’s official lyric video.
9 years in
At present, the touring band includes Teddy Andreadis (organ, piano), J. D. Andrew (bass guitar, guitar, vocals), Brad Davis (guitar), Eric Rhoades (drums) and, of course, Billy Bob Thornton (credited as “W.R. Thornton” on drums and vocals).
Onstage, Billy Bob and his able band play a bevy of songs both known and unknown, and most titles are preceded by Thornton’s witty anecdotes and stories.
Often misunderstood in his personal life and choices in film and music, Thornton does only what he wants and rarely grants interviews these days, given how many questions center around his film career.
Music is a major priority for Thornton and he rarely likes to be included in interviews and spontaneous pics. A 2009 incident at Q TV during an on-air interview has amassed nearly 4,000,000 views alone and shows the musician not enjoying the limelight. Instead, he prefers to let his band members do the talking and hates redundant, obvious questions.
Putting themselves in a box
Although many critics have tried to pigeonhole the band’s sound, Thornton referred to their brand as “Cosmic Cowboy Music,” which he said contained parts of the British music invasion along with blues and country.
“Well, I was heavily influenced by the British invasion — The Beatles, The Animals, Gerry and The Pacemakers and all of that back in the day. And Elvis Presley and all of the music from Sun Records like Jerry Lee Lewis and Charlie Rich. So, I was kind of all over the place,” Thornton said
“And in the mid-’60s, I kind of became heavily influenced by kind of avant-garde rock like the Mothers of Invention and Captain Beefheart. My musical tastes were all over the place. I also listened to people like Les Montgomery and Ornette Coleman, the jazz player and saxophonist,” he said.
His band plays the Cargo Concert Hall in Reno this weekend and, as luck would have it, the venue suits the band’s needs (and his) to a T.
“We love being the headliner in smaller clubs and bigger rock and roll clubs and theaters. Because you get that rush of being the headliner where they are there to see you,” Thornton said.
“Then, there’s a huge thrill of being an opening act in an arena too. But they feel different, but they both are really thrilling. But we are not choosy, we like both things. But we are always really honored to open for people that we admire. And for doing it in front of thousands of people is quite a rush,” he said.
The band are embarked on a national tour that includes dates in Canada as well Oregon, California and, finally, Nevada (the last stop is in Las Vegas). Expect a lengthy set of Boxmasters songs and a show that changes every night without fail.
Treat the band (Thornton included) with respect and listen and you just might find great reward. Do the opposite and expect an abbreviated set as you would for greats like Tom Petty, Elvis Presley and the like. Thankfully, there are many more stories to be told by this group.
Just don’t put the Boxmasters in a box. They already know what’s coming before you ever could.