Billy Gale — the best kept secret in country music

Like many from Malibu, Billy Gale loves to hit the waves on his surfboard in his spare time, as shown in this undated photo. Contributed Photo

By Benjamin Marcus

Victoria M worked at Neptune’s Net in the 1990s and has known Billy Gale all that time. She pointed him in this direction for a chat.

Billy Gale’s a good country name. Stage name?


What about surf?

I started surfing when I was 6 years old. I started surfing Malibu with all the boys: Johnny Fain, Lance Carson, Miki Dora, and all those guys. I was the little guy in their way. Dora hated me and dropped in on me all the time. Actually I dropped in on him a couple of times. That’s where he learned the Miki Dora shove I think.

When did the music start?

I started playing guitar when I was 6.

Half the top 10 country songs in 1956 were by Elvis Presley. Can’t imagine why anyone would be influenced by all that.

Wasn’t Elvis for me at first. It was Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald. First album was Bill Haley and the Comets — “Rock Around the Clock.” Also Louis Prima and Keely Smith — one of the greatest jazz singers ever. 

So you were there on the cusp of jazz and rock and roll.

I guess it really started in 1969, when I signed with Cliffy Stone at Capitol Records. Wrote songs for Anne Murray, Cher, Bobby Wayne, Dorsey Burnette. A couple of mishaps. Dorsey passed away early. I almost wrote for The Everly Brothers but Don Everly couldn’t get out of bed. So we blew that off. I wrote a song for Ricky Nelson, after “Garden Party,” but his plane crashed before he could record it. That’s kind of how things went.

I just wrote songs and recorded them and handed them into Cliffy Stone and went to the beach. I didn’t like the star trip. Egos and everyone believing their own press. 

Chris the Tree Guy remembers you from The Old Place. How far back does that go?

A long way. About early ’70s, me and a bunch of the boys lived across the street in the Turquoise House. The HQ for the Agoura Borealis Boogie Band — a bunch of crazies: Me, Tyler Gibson, Tiny on drums, and once in a while Gary Carino would show up. He was one of the sole survivors of Doctor John’s band. 

Doctor John the Night Tripper?

Yeah. Nick Nolte would show up and hang out. We had an eternal bonfire in the front yard and an eternal keg of beer. Bob the Cop would come by on his motorcycle and yell “Hide your shit, I’m coming in!”

I played the Old Place four nights a week for about four years. A lot of fun. Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw would show up. Jason Robards would come by for the poker games in the back room. I met Michael Preiss there. He was on the Board of Directors of the Malibu Stage Company with Rod Steiger’s wife — I forgot her name.

Steiger was married five times. Probably would have been Sherry Nelson from 1973-79.

Michael Preiss arranged for me to play some shows at the Stage Company. The only music event ever done there. Now it is the Malibu Playhouse, owned by the guy from Coldplay, I think. A beautiful 99-seat theater. One of the best rooms in Malibu. I wish he would do some shows there.

I’ve often wondered why Malibu doesn’t have more of a music scene, considering everyone from Bob Dylan to Pat Benatar to Beck live here. When did Malibu have a good music scene?

It didn’t. It’s just a surf town. Nothing going on. 

What about Waylon Jennings?

I met Waylon when I was at Lorimar Telepictures, scoring a documentary on Ernest Hemingway with Margaux Hemingway.

So you’re telling me you scored with Margaux Hemingway?

Well … she almost ruined my marriage. She was a beautiful person, such a tragic loss. Waylon cut “As Far As the Eye Can See” for the title track to the movie. We became friends and hung out at some of The Highwaymen gigs.

The Highwaymen?

Yeah, Waylon and Willie [Nelson], Johnny Cash and [Kris] Kristofferson. My son Willy and Kristofferson’s kid would hang out on Kris’s bus playing Nintendo. They could care less about the show.

You have a 10-song release, what’s on it?

Ten songs, all live, first take. Kevin Zinger at SRH put it all online. I guess you can Google “Billy Gale Sessions.” 

Thank you kindly.

For the EP version of this interview:

Billy Gale Old Place atmosphere from Morgan 6 16 2023
Billy Gale (third from left) hangs out with friends at the Old Place, where he once played four nights a week, drawing such celebrities as Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw. Contributed Photo