Billy Block Nashville Loses a Shining Light

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Submitted by Don Graham

Billy Block, champion of the talented artists needing a leg up and a break in the hard-to-break-into Nashville music scene has passed away at age 59.

Billy Block famously championed talented, emerging artists and gave countless numbers of artists their first shot in front of a live Nashville audience on  his weekly radio show. The Billy Block Show was one of Nashville’s longest running shows (just under twenty years) Billy Block was known as “The Honky-Tonk Underdog’s Best Friend.”  Billy claimed his show catered to “the misfits, the troublemakers and the creative geniuses who resist all categorization” but if you examine the list of stars that got their start on his show, you’ll see that it was much more than a stage for off-the beaten track talent. Mainstream artists such as Keith Urban, KaceyMusgraves, Miranda Lambert, Jason Aldean got  their chops together and found their big breaks on this legendary stage.

Block was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic melanoma in 2013 after doctors discovered cancer in his lymph nodes, spleen and liver. It was his third bout with melanoma, which he had battled in his twenties and again in the 1990s. He went into hospice care on Tuesday March 10th and passed away on Wednesday March 11th.

Billy came by his love of music naturally, growing up in Texas, where he was playing drums in a Houston night club six nights a week by the time he was a senior in high school. He began drumming on Freddy Fender’s records before he was 20, and a few years later, in 1978, he played with Billy Joe Shaver on a tour that included Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris.Block moved to Los Angeles in 1985, where he played drums in the house band at the legendary Palomino night club and made many musical connections. He met his wife Jill in L.A., and the couple moved to Nashville in 1995. Block launched his first Western Beat Barn Dance at a local venue called the Sutler in 1996, which provided a showcase for up-and-coming roots and alternative country artists and what would turn into the Billy Block Show.

After his passing, tributes popped on social media sites .Singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale posted on Facebook “We have lost another great friend, Billy Block. He gave us so much, was so positive, generous, encouraging and inspiring. He created a music scene where all were welcome and wanted all that were aspiring to succeed, helping so many along the way. He was a leader. He believed in you even when you didn't believe in yourself. He was such a fine man and his sons are such fine young men. He played the drums with such joyful abandon. He was a creator of many good things. His greatest creation was his wonderful family with Jill. It was blessing to know him. We are grieving hard now, but let's celebrate him and his life. He wanted people to be happy and we sure had a good time together. If you got his voicemail at the end he said, "If you see someone that’s not smiling give ‘em one of yours". Peace to you dear Billy.

Clayton Bellamy of The Road Hammers posted “15 years ago in the beginning of my career when no one would give me a place to play in Nashville, Billy Block gave me a stage and an audience. He continued to support me and encourage me with his kindness and enthusiasm. He had me on his radio show and over the years I have played the Billy Block Western Beat Roots Revival a dozen times. As a solo artist, with The Road Hammers and over many late night jams we shared the stage. He was a staple in the Nashville scene and was passionate about God, Family, and Music in that order. He will be missed by all of us that knew him and will forever be remembered for his positive outlook on life. Like he always said "If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours" I will be sure to do that my friend, rest easy.”

And fellow Hammer and songwriter Jason McCoy sent this message, “Billy Block was a lover of great music, period. His passion was infectious, and it made me feel welcome, and encouraged every time he had me on the show.  His passing is a true loss for Music City and the Music World.”

Canadian country star and hit songwriter Patricia Conroy, who lives in Nashville wrote in an email “Everyone in Nashville loved Billy and his family. He championed so many unknown artists and songwriters from around the world and spent his time helping to give them a stage to get their voices heard. I am just one of so many who were lucky to have known him.He will be remembered by the Nashville community with deepest gratitude.”

And an email from Victoria Banks, another transplanted Canadian having success as a songwriter in Music City “Billy was the first person to offer me a full-band show in Nashville. As a songwriter, I thought of myself as someone who spoke through other people…like I didn’t deserve to be in a spotlight fronting a band. Billy believed that songwriters are worth putting in a spotlight. He supported underdogs and outsiders with a passion. You’d be hard-pressed to find an indie artist or songwriter here in town who wasn’t helped by Billy. He’ll be sorely missed.”

Singer/songwriter and son of Hall of Famer Roger Miller, Dean Miller said in an email “He always made artists seem like they were doing so well. He lifted them up. He always helped and promoted people beyond what he had to. He was always very positive and enthusiastic. He loved his family.”

Billy is survived by his wife, Jill; sons Rocky and Grady Block, Michael Hughes and Shandon Mayes; sisters Francine Beckman and Nancy Block; and his brother, Jay Block.

Maybe we can all learn from Billy Block’s message “"If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours."