Billy D brings the blues and more to the Grand Lodge

by: COURTESY PHOTO - Billy DSinger, songwriter and slide guitarist Billy Desmond (“Billy D”) may have the grit and swagger of a Rolling Stone and the soul of a Chicago bluesman, but he says making music for him has always been about one thing — the song.

Desmond was a sixth-grader on Chicago’s south side when the Rolling Stones and Beatles entered the American music scene and stole the hearts of an entire generation — including his own.

While high-schoolers were still dancing to flashy Elvis covers, Desmond was fascinated by musicians who wrote and performed their own songs — many of which, he learned, were inspired by blues musicians.

That’s how Desmond discovered the blues. Before he was old enough to drink, he was sneaking into clubs to hear Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy.

Those influences paid off. After a decades-long blur of late-night sets, road trips and heartbreaks, the hazel-eyed crooner and his band the Hoodoos were named “Best New Act” this year by the Cascade Blues Association.

Hooked on song

Desmond toured for years with his first band, the Skid City Blues Band, before settling in Los Angeles to focus on songwriting.

There, he studied under Blues great Tony Matthews — guitarist for Little Richard and Ray Charles — and played behind Don “Sugar Cane” Harris, a world-renowned blues violinist.

In the mid-1990s, Desmond moved to Santa Fe, N.M., where for years he played original songs and performed with his band, Billy D and the Hoodoos. Sitting on his couch there one night, Desmond was reflecting on the heartbreak of a past relationship gone awry when he wrote the blues song, “Somethin’s Wrong,” his favorite of the many he’s written.

Inspired by two immortal blues numbers he had heard earlier that day — B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone” and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell On You” — the result became the title track for his most recent CD and boasts 350,000 hits on YouTube.

The strength of a song lies in its hook and chorus, Desmond said. The idea is that “you’re singing along by the second time you hear it.”

In “Somethin’s Wrong,” the hook (I heard you baby cry in your sleep/ Sounds like a secret you might want to keep) and the chorus (Something’s wrong, something’s wrong with you) must be backed up by “a really good story,” Desmond said.

Desmond knows what makes a great song: Does it make you move? Does it make you swoon? Does it make you really take the time to look at your life?

“The great ones make you visualize the story, not because you’re trying to, but because it commands you to,” he said. While songs drenched with emotion may make you melt and swoon, the voice, pattern or words of simpler songs can too, make you reflect. 

Then again, some songs “are just stupid and become popular and then you have to listen to it,” he jokes.

Desmond moved to Portland in 2009, where he now writes music, performs and spends time with his 10-year-old son, Eddie. 

He has recorded two previous albums; Tales From Hollywood (Real and Imagined) and Rokadablu!  “There are tons of better guitar players and singers than me,” said Desmond, “But the truth is, there’s really only a handful of good songwriters."

Billy D will perform 1960s classics and original songs free at 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 22, in the Garage Door venue at McMenamins Grand Lodge.

Billy D also performs every Wednesday at Rock Creek Tavern in Hillsboro. To learn more or to hear his music, go to

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