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LA Star to Sing, Phnom Penh Blues

By: Bronwyn Sloan Posted: January-01-2006 in
Bronwyn Sloan

Billy Haynes lists musicians like Lou Rawls and Tina Turner on his CV. He played in the Middle East just months after 9/11 in an attempt to soothe tensions with his music. And now he is in Cambodia looking to overhaul the live music scene.

Billy Haynes is one of the top Rhythm and Blues artists to ever come out of Los Angeles.

"Well, it's a challenge - I mean, this is not a music town," he says of Phnom Penh. "But that's the great thing about it. In LA, London, Amsterdam, if you try to do this, there are already people doing it. This is a one-horse town."

But his influences have been varied. He jokes about selling cars when music got rough ("that's not in my CV"). Once a Latino musician took him on a new path, and he credits his overall success to what one audience member taught him, years ago.

"When you're young, you think 'well people should be thanking me for giving them a piece of my talent and my music' - there's that tendency," he says. "Then years ago I finished a show and a frail little old lady came up to me out of the crowd and said 'this is the first time I have been out of my house in two years and I want to thank you'. That blew me away. That's when I realized the true power of music and how it can help people. That's when 1 understood the concept of giving music from my heart. And I've been successful ever since."

Billy lists his first influence as his step-grandfather Elijah Smith, guitarist for The Heavenly Gate Church of God and Christ. It was a big leap from there to the drug-fuelled euphoria of the 80's, when he jammed with

musicians including Natalie cole. But it's the guys behind the scenes that he credits most.

"You may not know them, but I guarantee you've heard them." he says of people like Clarence McDonald, Roy "Guitar" Gaines and Keb'Mo, who has taken two Gramies.

Since being called in to overhaul the Cambodiana Hotel and turn it into a venue, rather than a series of lobby bars. Billy has bought top equipment in from Thailand and hired a drummer with a similar affinity with Louisiana, where he played for many years.

"There's a real sense of adventure, like you are breaking new ground, going into this," he says, "I got burnt out on Hollywood, but it gave me the chance to meet people like Ray Charles."

And it's his network he promises to use to bring real, gutsy R&B to Cambodia, calling the best in the business if necessary, he says. He is also borrowing some ideas from big names, such as a neon stage logo which he credits to BB King.

But he will not pass up the chance to involve Cambodian talent if he comes across it.

"Are you kidding? Of course. That's the thrill of music," he says. Then he explains Blues. "It's more than music. It's an attitude. Music is incredibly powerful. You see six, seven, eight thousand people and that music is reaching as far as the very back row - there's no drug in the world can compare to that. That's the best feeling, and you can only do that if it comes from your heart."

But even big names like Haynes have to have an idol, and despite the caliber of people he has played with, he doesn't even have to think twice to name his. "Tina Turner - no doubt. I was fortunate enough to be with Tina at her lowest point. She may not be Aretha or Natalie ... but she gives every performance from the heart, no matter what, 100 percent professional. I seen her behind the scenes, and what she went through, and no matter what, she came on stage and acted like nothing was happening in her life except that audience. That's a performer."


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