Kicking cancer's ass

Kicking cancer's ass

Debra Davis, Claire Holley, Rick Solem, Sugar in the Gourd, Sweet Talk Radio and host Ed Tree raise funds for impresario Billy Block

By Bliss Bowen 06/05/2014

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Drummer and entrepreneur Billy Block fostered a very strong sense of community through his Western Beat showcase, first in Los Angeles and then Nashville — and that community is rallying to support him as he battles Stage 4 metastatic melanoma. Next Wednesday, longtime Bum Steers bandmate Ed Tree will host the third in a trio of recent local fundraisers for Block and his family at Firefly Bistro in South Pasadena. 

Under the banner of Brad Colerick’s weekly Wine & Song night, the event will feature performances by singer-songwriters and bands, including Hauser Boughter, Ben Carr, Wendy Conrad, Debra Davis, Claire Holley, Dale LaDuke, Brad Parker, Rick Solem, Sugar in the Gourd, Sweet Talk Radio and Allan Wachs.

An ebullient personality and showman, Block has been a mainstay of Nashville’s country and Americana community since 1995. But before that the Houston native spent a formative decade in Los Angeles. In September 1991, he and songwriters Wendy Waldman and Brad Parker launched Western Beat at the long-gone Highland Grounds coffeehouse in Hollywood, a showcase that welcomed bluegrass, blues, Cajun, country, pop, rock and rockabilly bands but primarily spotlighted songwriters. Over the years, Americana artists who graced Western Beat included Dave Alvin, future Oscar winner Ryan Bingham, Tim Easton, Rosie Flores, Tony Furtado, Tony Gilkyson, I See Hawks in LA, Robert Earl Keen, Jim Lauderdale, Jake La Botz, Lowen & Navarro, Anne McCue, Maia Sharp, Rick Shea, Lucinda Williams and an “unplugged” Spinal Tap. 

In 1995 Block and wife Jill relocated to Nashville, where Block started a Nashville edition of Western Beat; he also hosted a Western Beat radio show (now “The Billy Block Show”) and, briefly, a CMT variety show. He frequently shuttled back to the Hollywood showcases, which were coordinated monthly by Tree, songwriter John Stowers and other guest hosts, including this writer. Western Beat’s LA run ended in 2007.

Given the number of venues across LA on which songwriters share their tunes, it’s easy to underestimate the value of the stage Block & Co. provided via Western Beat. It wasn’t just the opportunity to grab a mic and play for a captive audience. It was about the musical quality and the support. Unknown and veteran artists all found a receptive forum in which to test and develop material, and bonds of community forged there have endured: All the artists performing Wednesday played Western Beat.

Block’s unflagging enthusiasm is aiding his fight to stay healthy, but he’s unable to work steadily — and, because of previous surgeries for melanoma, he’s ineligible for disability insurance. According to Tree, who refers to Block as his brother, 100 percent of the proceeds from the tip jar, CD sales and auction items at Wednesday’s show will go to help the Block family with their expenses.  

Billy Block Family Fund benefit at Firefly Bistro, 1009 El Centro St., South Pasadena, 7-9:30 p.m. Wednesday. Free admission. Info: (626) 441-2443. To learn more and/or make a donation, visit


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