When I was about 13 or 14 years old, my brother and I were raking leaves. He was singing these ridiculous words that were about a "Candyman" and a "Saltydog." I had no idea what they meant. He explained that he had seen a guitarist/singer the night before named Billy McEwan at a local pub. I had seen Billy walking around our neighborhood with his Saint Bernard, Humphrey. The huge reddish dog being slowly walked by an even redder owner made for an unusual sight to me. For some reason, I decided to muster up some courage and ask Billy for some guitar lessons. He agreed and we set up our first lesson. He was living in a massive house in Amityville at the time, and I had to ride my Schwinn there, holding my guitar in one hand, to get my first lesson. He was patient and attentive and the music he played sounded like no other music I had ever heard. I worked hard at getting my thumb to become independent and eventually, I began to be able to play the songs he was showing me. He helped me buy my first guitar. We drove around Long Island in his red Chevy station wagon to find the just right guitar for my young hands.
I may have only had ten lessons from him, but his effect on me was significant. I learned about the great delta bluesmen from him. I learned about guitars from him. But I also learned something more important, I believe: there is no substitute for quality. Everything Billy did, he did exceptionally well. Drawing, playing, pitching, building. I was in awe of his commitment to excellence and I was driven to work as hard as I could to perfect my guitar playing. I did not want to disappoint.
When I finally turned 18, I could not wait to see him play at Arthur's Pub. The sound I heard in his bedroom during my lessons was great. Hearing him live in front of an audience was even better. I don't believe I have ever heard a guitar and voice sound better live than hearing Billy McEwan live. His attention to live sound has no parallel, in my opinion. I started to hear all the songs in his repertoire and in addition to his expertise in guitar playing, singing, and live sound, I started to get his sense of humor.
I would come home from college and try to find out where he was playing so I could get my fix. We corresponded while I was in the Peace Corps in Morocco. When I returned from Morocco, he decided to sell his L5 to me. The thought of owning the guitar played by nothing less of a musical hero to me was overwhelming.
Over the years we tried to keep in touch and now I have lost contact with him, sadly. I somehow managed to find Small Fry and purchased that guitar about 13 years ago. I don't believe there is another instrument that sounds anything like that little 12 string. I believe that he is still in Norway, and I hope we someday cross paths again. I am sure that as usual, I will be a bit tongue-tied when I talk to him, as I always had been. I was always a little too in awe of him. Being in the presence of such a fantastic talent does that to me, not to mention the effect he had on my life. Not just guitar playing or songwriting. I believe he taught me that adage that anything worth doing is worth doing well. And I try to keep that going through all aspects of my life.
I hope that this page can be a place where people can share stories about Billy. Please feel free to comment or leave word that you were here. Please leave your email so I can contact you. I have this idea that if I get enough people involved, we can fund a recording of Billy's music. I've been in touch with him in Norway via regular snail mail. I even recently saw a post by a neighbor!