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A Rooster in Every Town

After his singing voice, the thing one notices at a Billy Joe Clements show is the sound of his guitar, which is to say alt-country perfect. Clements can bend lyrics in the manner of the Black Crowe’s Chris Robinson (some hear Waylon Jennings, too) but his Fender Telecaster growls like some kind of mean animal. He gives much credit for that sound to his amplifier. It’s an all-original Traynor, a tube amp made in Canada in 1975 for which he paid $200 dollars.

Then there is the Telecaster, which is not really a Telecaster at all. It is a Billycaster.

“I made that guitar myself,” he says in the neon-lit dark of the Turquoise Room at the Riviera Supper Club in La Mesa, where his Roosters have had residency for the past few months. “The Fender custom shop wanted $5,000 dollars to build the same thing.” Instead, Clements bought a body and a neck and all the parts, including some ’52 Tele replica pickups by Jason Lolar and assembled it himself. “My wife,” he says, “opened the door to the garage and saw me working on it. She said, you don’t know how to do that, and I said you’re right.”

He finished the guitar in eggshell blue and somehow aged it to resemble the nicotine-stained patina on his uncle’s guitar. "It's more greenish now, than blue."

Clements, who moved to North Park a few years ago, is originally from Tennessee. Before San Diego he and his wife lived in Los Angeles where they both went to school. Clements produced television show theme music and wrote jingles to pay the bills. He remembers a producer once asking him to make a jingle sound like Monday Night Football meets ‘Welcome to the Jungle.’ “I started with horns, and then I added a Les Paul sound, like Slash would play.” When that line of work got slow due to the economy, he and his wife moved south.

The Grass Heat, a ‘70s power rock trio with bassist Chris Torres who sings and co-writes vocals and drummer Mike Stone, and the Roosters, a country rock quartet, are the two bands that Clements is presently a member of. “I’d been trying to do the Roosters since I got down here,” Clements says. “I had 10 originals and a demo recorded, and I put a band together but then the Grass Heat took off.” The Roosters were temporarily sidelined which gave him time to re-consider the name.

“I found out that every city in the U.S. has a band called the Roosters, so I changed it by putting my name first.” The band is now Billy Joe and the Roosters.

Indeed, there are many Roosters in rock in places as far-flung as Japan, England, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Indianapolis. And couple of those Roosters were locals. For example, Jimmy and the Roosters used to channel Jerry Lee Lewis with semi-pornographic glee at the long-gone Spirit Club in Bay Park (now Brick By Brick) way back during the late 70s. And before them, there was the house band at the Cinnamon Cinder in La Mesa.

They too were Roosters and featured a guitarist named Jerry Raney who would one day become an ex-Beat Farmer. The Roosters were a Top 40 band and wore uniforms on the stage at the all-ages club on El Cajon Blvd. The Cinder eventually went away and so did the Roosters, but not before their high water mark as a band: opening for the Buffalo Springfield in 1966.

Originally with ex-Beat Farmer Rolle Love on bass, pedal steel guitarist Kevin Ryan and Bill Coomes on drums Billy Joe and the Roosters finally booked a debut gig at the Riviera on a Wednesday night in summer.

“We came in, unloaded our gear, played our 10 songs, and were done in an hour. That’s all we had,” he says, a one-hour set, which didn’t go over well with club management. Clements says they eventually learned enough material to flesh out a 90-minute set and with the help of yet another ex-Beat Farmer named Joey Harris, they landed another gig. They’ve been at the Riviera since, playing every other Friday night. Their next show is scheduled for December 30.

Clements, who teaches guitar and produces bands on the side says he will have the Rooster’s debut album ready for release early next year and has booked a release party for January 27. Otherwise, he says the future includes more outdoor festivals like the Adams Avenue Street Fest, where the Roosters headlined earlier this year. “I hope to keep writing music," says Clements, "that people will come out and dance to.”

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After his singing voice, the thing one notices at a Billy Joe Clements show is the sound of his guitar, which is to say alt-country perfect. Clements can bend lyrics in the manner of the Black Crowe’s Chris Robinson (some hear Waylon Jennings, too) but his Fender Telecaster growls like some kind of mean animal. He gives much credit for that sound to his amplifier. It’s an all-original Traynor, a tube amp made in Canada in 1975 for which he paid $200 dollars.

Then there is the Telecaster, which is not really a Telecaster at all. It is a Billycaster.

“I made that guitar myself,” he says in the neon-lit dark of the Turquoise Room at the Riviera Supper Club in La Mesa, where his Roosters have had residency for the past few months. “The Fender custom shop wanted $5,000 dollars to build the same thing.” Instead, Clements bought a body and a neck and all the parts, including some ’52 Tele replica pickups by Jason Lolar and assembled it himself. “My wife,” he says, “opened the door to the garage and saw me working on it. She said, you don’t know how to do that, and I said you’re right.”

He finished the guitar in eggshell blue and somehow aged it to resemble the nicotine-stained patina on his uncle’s guitar. "It's more greenish now, than blue."

Clements, who moved to North Park a few years ago, is originally from Tennessee. Before San Diego he and his wife lived in Los Angeles where they both went to school. Clements produced television show theme music and wrote jingles to pay the bills. He remembers a producer once asking him to make a jingle sound like Monday Night Football meets ‘Welcome to the Jungle.’ “I started with horns, and then I added a Les Paul sound, like Slash would play.” When that line of work got slow due to the economy, he and his wife moved south.

The Grass Heat, a ‘70s power rock trio with bassist Chris Torres who sings and co-writes vocals and drummer Mike Stone, and the Roosters, a country rock quartet, are the two bands that Clements is presently a member of. “I’d been trying to do the Roosters since I got down here,” Clements says. “I had 10 originals and a demo recorded, and I put a band together but then the Grass Heat took off.” The Roosters were temporarily sidelined which gave him time to re-consider the name.

“I found out that every city in the U.S. has a band called the Roosters, so I changed it by putting my name first.” The band is now Billy Joe and the Roosters.

Indeed, there are many Roosters in rock in places as far-flung as Japan, England, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Indianapolis. And couple of those Roosters were locals. For example, Jimmy and the Roosters used to channel Jerry Lee Lewis with semi-pornographic glee at the long-gone Spirit Club in Bay Park (now Brick By Brick) way back during the late 70s. And before them, there was the house band at the Cinnamon Cinder in La Mesa.

They too were Roosters and featured a guitarist named Jerry Raney who would one day become an ex-Beat Farmer. The Roosters were a Top 40 band and wore uniforms on the stage at the all-ages club on El Cajon Blvd. The Cinder eventually went away and so did the Roosters, but not before their high water mark as a band: opening for the Buffalo Springfield in 1966.

Originally with ex-Beat Farmer Rolle Love on bass, pedal steel guitarist Kevin Ryan and Bill Coomes on drums Billy Joe and the Roosters finally booked a debut gig at the Riviera on a Wednesday night in summer.

“We came in, unloaded our gear, played our 10 songs, and were done in an hour. That’s all we had,” he says, a one-hour set, which didn’t go over well with club management. Clements says they eventually learned enough material to flesh out a 90-minute set and with the help of yet another ex-Beat Farmer named Joey Harris, they landed another gig. They’ve been at the Riviera since, playing every other Friday night. Their next show is scheduled for December 30.

Clements, who teaches guitar and produces bands on the side says he will have the Rooster’s debut album ready for release early next year and has booked a release party for January 27. Otherwise, he says the future includes more outdoor festivals like the Adams Avenue Street Fest, where the Roosters headlined earlier this year. “I hope to keep writing music," says Clements, "that people will come out and dance to.”

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