By the numbers

“Billy, to me, is one of the coolest people I’ve ever met,” says singer/songwriter Richie Tipton—who just so happens to be discussing his own alter ego, Billy the Six. Billy is the front man of the just-formed rock band that shares its creator’s moniker. He’s also (by Tipton’s account), “anti-war, articulate, a spokesperson who can be trusted, like Walter Cronkite. He’s rooted in ‘60s and ‘70s ideals. He’s a composite of different things I’ve seen.”

For a new-to-the-scene group, Billy the Six (there are four members, just to be clear) has an impressively complex back-story. First, the band’s members have history with several of Asheville’s most notable music acts of yore. Bassist David Bradley (aka Number X—Tipton renamed each member of Billy the Six) played with art-rock outfit Crystal Zoo and was in the Mike Barnes vehicle Praying for Rain, along with Tipton. Tipton and guitarist Rudy Colombo played in alt-rock collective NC Rail together. It was that band’s demise, a decade ago, which prompted Tipton to split town for West Virginia, where he now resides.

Praying for a reunion: Billy the Six (aka Richie Tipton) brings several semi-retired local rockers back to the stage.

At the end of this summer, 10 years after their last gig together, Colombo contacted Tipton through MySpace and they decided to put together another group.

But Billy the Six is more than just four guys dusting off their guitars and road testing new material. This band has a mission. “The whole idea of Billy the Six is another way to convey a message,” Tipton explains. That message? “War is wrong.”

To that end, Tipton is writing songs like “War” (about violent religious fanaticism), “Tired of Them” (about hypocrisy), and “Panama” (about dictators). It’s heady stuff, especially for a group without an established fan base, but Tipton is passionate about his work.

“I see Billy as a serious good time,” he says.

However, since the guys in the band are all edging gracefully toward middle age, with wives and kids in tow, they’re not exactly in the market for a tour bus and a cross-country couch-surfing spree.

“I’m not quitting my day job,” Colombo quips.

Still, former connections (even those hearkening back to the days of crowds numbering 300 to 400 packing the former Gatsby’s—currently Scully’s—for a Praying for Rain show) helped Billy the Six turn three months and four practice sessions into an opening gig for The Goodies.

“That was the first show we’ve done since 1997,” Colombo reveals. “The first 20 minutes was like gangbusters, but then it was different. We weren’t exactly winded, but it was different.”

Perhaps this taste of mortality is at the root of Tipton’s professed “realization that life is ticking down.” He explains, “Our music and lyrics are heavily informed by the life [and] death cycle.”

Colombo half-jokingly suggests that Billy the Six might just be the band to instate the matinee concert—an earlier show time for those with kids, day jobs and a fear of getting winded. With the French Broad Brewery already holding post-work concerts during happy hour, the guitarist envisions this as a potential niche for a thinking man’s post-punk outfit.

Which brings us to the other message of this rock revival: As Colombo puts it, “You’re never too old.”

who: Billy the Six
what: Political performance-driven post-punk
where: Stella Blue (opening for The Goodies)
when: Saturday, Dec. 29. 10 p.m. ($10. 236-2424)

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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