February , 1985
By Gene Triplett
Billy Squier Showing Signs of Life with New Recording
It took a full week to track down Billy Squier by telephone. When `everybody wants you,' as one of his songs dictate, it takes a while to return all the calls.
When the Boston music machine finally found the time to talk, he was on a break between rehearsals for his first Saturday Night Live appearance. In another eight hours, he would be performing in 15 million American living rooms across the country, the largest audience Squier had ever faced.
"Sorry I couldn't get back to you earlier," he apologized from a phone somewhere in NBC's Rockefeller Plaza complex. "It's just been very hectic wherever I seem to be."
Squier has been on the road for several months now crisscrossing the country promoting his last release, The Signs of Life. Squier also found time to dump his previous management company before the start of his American tour and get a new one, hired a PR firm to handle his publicity and now looks as though he is going to dump that one for someone else. Squier certainly is keeping himself and the people around him second guessing as to what his next move may be.
Like his last two LP's, Signs of Life is platinum and has solidly established the New England native as one of the top concert draws in the country. But only now is he appearing on Saturday Night Live!
"They've been after me to do it for a few years," he said. "I've always been somewhat reluctant to do it because well, a combination of a little ambivalence that I feel towards live TV, and also that the show itself had its ups and downs for a while.
"But now it seems to have leveled out a bit this year. They've finally kind of shed the albatross of the Belushi /Aykroyd years and seemed to have come into their own a bit more. I think that it's a more valid program now to do at this point."
If Squier seems a bit choosy, he has earned the tight to be.
Born in Needham, Mass., on May 12, 1950, Squier grew up in the Boston suburb of Wellesley Hills, dividing his time between piano studies, baseball and tennis. But the ivories, bats and rackets took a back seat to the guitar when young William became inspired by the British music invasion of the 1960's.
Squier recalls that he was one of the first kids on his block to let his hair grow long at a time when, "no one knew about drugs, political unrest and music and long hair; all those things that were identified with the counterculture."
He attended Boston performances of the Jeff Beck Group (which featured a young Rod Stewart),
Cream, the Velvet Underground and the MC5, sampling their various musical chops. His first important group, The Tom Swift Electric Band, eventually landed gigs at Boston's Psychedelic Supermarket, opening for the likes of the Grateful Dead, the Moody Blues and the Steve Miller band. Squier was still in high school at the time.
After a few months at Boston University, playing with a group called Magic Terry and the Universe, Squier and the band moved to New York City. From then on, Squier moved back and forth between the Big Apple and Bean Town, serving time with RCA recording band, The Sidewinders, and associating with such Bostonian rockers as Tom Scholz (Boston), Ric Ocasek (the Cars), Aerosmith's Joe Perry and members of the J. Geils Band.
When Billy's first major group, Piper, signed with A&M Records, they were heralded as the next big thing to come out of Boston. They recorded two LP's, Piper and Can't Wait, before disbanding in the late '70's because of a 'lack of uniform goals.'
Squier fortunately had attracted enough attention by then as Piper's strapping vocalist and guitarist to land a solo contract with Capitol Records. There was no group but Billy when he recorded The Tale of the Tape in 1980. In fact, before Squier went on tour with Alice Cooper, he auditioned and put together a band just ten days prior to him opening the Cooper tour.
Tale of the Tape was well-received critically, but his second effort, Don't Say No, brought him stardom. Thanks to the erotic, grinding hard rock single, "The Stroke," the LP sold three million copies and remained on the Billboard charts for more than two years.
Squier's trademark blend of heavy metal energy and slick pop craftsmanship edged closer to perfection with Emotion in Motion, which yielded the hit single, "Everybody Wants You." By this time, everybody did indeed. But despite his lofty status, Squier is one of those rare rock and roll heavyweights who is still willing to talk to the press, whether it be local or national.
"I think that people in my constituency,” remarked Squier, “or whatever you want to call it, always want to find out whatever they can about me. A lot of that isn't what they read in rock journals or what they are able to pull out of my songs. I think that in a sense they deserve it. There are people who should be allowed to find out as much about me as they can."
Squier laments that some rock publications, which lean toward the sensational, have actually invented facts about his personality and his life, creating a false image that's hard to shake.
"They'll probably have me kidnapped by a bunch of Turks in the next issue," chides Squier about one national publication.
One item Squier hasn't been able to overlook is the adverse reaction he received on his first video from Signs of Life, "Rock Me Tonight." That video he says has caused more damage to his reputation than any inaccurate writings in a magazine
"There was some controversy caused over that video I did,” lamented Squier “and I wasn't particularly fond of the way people who directed it handled the entire project. I've explained the circumstances behind the shooting of "Rock Me Tonight" nationally to let people know my unrest and anxiety about it."
Squier says he explained his case in Billboard and several other major music publications because of the false impressions the video has cast upon his reputation.
"It made me look like a cute little pop star," replied Squier, "which I am not at all. You know, I don't sleep on satin sheets and I don't live in Day-Glo rooms and that sort of stuff. The video was done very quick and I suppose that I have to take part of the blame because I was there, you know? I allowed it to happen. In situations like that though, I tend to rely more on other people when I'm doing videos because l am not a filmmaker.
"Although I was there, I couldn’t direct the concept of it. When I looked through the camera and I don't see what I want, but the cameraman tell me that it is going to come out a certain way, I have to believe him."
Though Squier believes that "Rock Me Tonight" tarnished his hard rocking image, like all things, the artist has managed to persevere. And to set the record straight, what kind of guy does Billy Squier think he really is anyway?
"Oh, I'm a helluva guy," he chimed in laughing. "What can I say? I'm bachelor, I'm eligible or available, that is, for the right price."
This was a rare levity from a man known for his serious, introspective nature. These traits are reflected in his solemn, swarthy, perpetually unshaven good looks, which are seldom creased by a smile; in the words of his songs, which seem preoccupied with themes of survival, living on the edge and an uneasy despair.
"I really try to paint a fairly balanced picture of the way I perceive society,” offered Squier. "I'm not afraid to talk about the down side and to delve in it because I think that the only way that you do survive, or the way you make something positive out of your life, is by realizing the situation that you're in.
"For instance, if you take a song li 'All Night Long,' one of the key phrases is the 'art of survival is turning me on.' That's not negative. And the net time that it comes around it says 'the art of survival isn't getting me down’. I don't really consider myself a negative writer, but I will deal with the realities of what I consider existence to be.
"My outlook on life is not one of despair or depression at all. I think those sort of elements are things that challenge us. We have to rise above them. A song like, "Reach for the Sky," I guess would be illustrative of that."
So far, Squier has worked it all out very nicely. His records and concert tickets are quick sellers and he's a sex object to thousands of women and role model to countless young male air guitarists. Everybody wants him.
"I believe very much in the power of the individual," he continued, "and I think that today we're dealing with a society in which survival is very hard. I don't believe for a minute that you can't rise above that and do more than survive. Actually, I have a lot of fun with my life.
"I suppose I don't celebrate that fact in my songs, and I don't write songs about how much fun I am having. Usually, when I'm having a good time, I don't think about it that much. I tend to become more reflective or introspective. I'm trying to work things out."
Including Saturday Night Live! Squier wasn't a bit nervous about gazing into all those eyes on live coast-to-coast TV. In fact, he loved the challenge.
"The only thing that makes me nervous is if something goes wrong technically," answered Squier considering the down side again. "The fact of being on national TV doesn't particularly intimidate me, but if they have a technical problem, obviously you can't do anything about it. When you do it, you hope nothing like that goes wrong."