Rock 'n Soul

12/30/2022 12:48 AM By Lisa Anderson
Rich with History
Billy Buchanan
Billy Buchanan
Story by Taylor Strickland • Photos by Joshua Jacobs

Rock 'n Soul

Regional Musician Brings History to the Present

“I knew from early on that I wanted to be a musician,” declares Billy Buchanan, award-winning songwriter, singer, producer, and self-proclaimed Ambassador of Rock ‘n Soul. “I noticed that people paid attention to me when I performed, and I loved it!”

Given his renown as “the hardest working musician in North Florida,” it may come as a surprise that Billy isn’t a Florida native. “I’m originally from Cleveland, Ohio,” he says. It’s a city as steeped in music history as the man who once called it home. It was there that DJ Alan Freed first coined the term “rock ‘n roll,” and it was there that a young Billy began his lifelong love affair with music.

“I come from a deeply musical family,” explains Billy. “My biggest source of support was my mom. Throughout my childhood, she was the one who always encouraged me to pursue music.”

Old Soul

It wasn’t long before Billy sought opportunities beyond his hometown. “I left about a year after high school and moved to Atlanta,” Billy begins. “I cut my teeth on the music scene there. I was taking anything that would come my way.

“Eventually, people started to take notice of me. I started to get a reputation. I was coming to be known as a sideman–someone hired to perform, who’s not a regular part of the band,” Billy explains.

Known for his versatility in genre, as well as performance, Billy credits his father for his music education. “My dad was not the best dad in the world,” Billy confesses. “But he had a great love of music. He had the best albums. There was everything from soul, rock, blues, to country. I came up on that music honestly.”

Billy learned early in his career that his greatest advantage also served as his greatest hindrance. “When the record label first signed me, they didn’t know what to do with me,” he laughs. “They kept asking, ‘Are you a soul singer or a country singer?’ I didn’t want to choose.”

If pressed, Billy leans a little more soul. “Soul music is my first love. Old soul music is at the heart of that love.”

Overcoming Setbacks

Billy eventually left Atlanta and found even greater success in the beachside city of St. Augustine, but contrary to what others may think, this shift in fortune was unexpected. “I didn’t plan that,” refutes Billy. “When I moved to St. Augustine in 2007, I was frustrated with the music industry. I had the talent, I had the drive, but it just wasn’t working out.

“I love performing, but I’m a songwriter at heart. It’s always a challenge to just be that guy, so I started playing locally. It was there that I found my niche, my groove. I realized there’s such a large audience for this kind of music throughout Central Florida.”

Ever the realist, Billy is quick to dispel any notions that he’s always played big acts. “I’ve played everything from empty venues to restaurants to concerts with hundreds of people.”

Some would be discouraged by such experiences, but it just rolls right off of Billy. “A lot of people are affected by that stuff, but I don’t let it get to me. I do me. I’m happy to just be performing.

“I persevered. Setbacks come, but you overcome it,” he emphasizes. “Don’t quit.”

Bringing People Together

Billy is aware of his influence, not just as a performer, but as a mentor to the younger generation. “I dress up in character as a lot of older artists. I put that together, because a lot of the younger generation, especially Black kids, don’t know about them or their influence. Guys like Chuck Berry, Stevie Wonder, Prince—we’re all [progeny] of those artists.

“I’m a closet thespian!” Billy exclaims. “I love performing as them! I get to talk about these artists and show how important they are.”

When it comes to the future of the music industry, Billy is uncertain how to measure the merits against the disadvantages. “Honestly, what I’m really struggling with right now is there’s no big rock bands. It kills me, because I love rock music.”

“Streaming is another thing that frustrates me about the industry right now,” Billy scoffs. “The money from streaming is so low. Record companies get a piece of everything now, because they can’t make money selling your music. That’s why you have to perform live. You can sell live.

“I sell some merchandise and some albums at my concerts, but it can’t sustain me. It’s that way for everybody. As a songwriter, man, it’s a tough nut to crack.”

Billy’s reservations about the industry’s future don’t extend to the recent popularity of genre mixing, though. “Everything is becoming so integrated. There have never been so many Black country singers. It’s not even an anomaly now. There are white soul singers, too. Everyone has a chance to perform whatever they came up with, with what’s real to them.

“What’s so great about music is the different people it brings together,” Billy says. “If you come to my shows, you’ll see all kinds of people are there. They all love to hear those older artists and that older sound.”

Regardless of what the future holds, Billy Buchanan will undoubtedly be around for years to come, welcoming fans both old and new. He performs at a different venue nearly every day of the week.
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