Getting Schooled By Billy Morrison ~ The Crowned Prince of Ozzfest
Tag: by Todd K. Smith

Life lesson learned: Whenever interviewing Billy Morrison, don’t give him a blank stare when he asks about Camp Freddy. Yes, we knew they were a high-profile cover band, based out of LA that had the occasional rockstar jumps up and jams on any given night. But Mr. Morrison makes sure you know they flex serious musical muscle. Spinning his laptop around he shows me their long list of big-shot corporate gigs they played the past few years... “This is how we paid for the Circus Diablo record.” He explains, a bit on edge. “Dave Navarro’s in this band, Billy Duffy, Matt Sorum, Slash gets up and jams. We are the biggest cover band in the world.”

I get it - but then asked the next dumb question, “How do the Cardboard Vampires fit into this tale?” Morrison, in his south London accent, is quick to put the story together. “Billy Duffy started the Cardboard Vampires with Jerry Cantrell as another covers band in LA. They were our friendly competition if you will. Camp Freddy was started by me when I left the Cult and still consists of Dave Navarro, Scott Weiland, Matt Sorum, Chris Chaney from Jane’s Addiction and Donovan Leach (son of ‘60s legend Donavan). We started playing covers for fun and doing the one off gig. Then got hired out by big-name companies that wanted a juke box of sorts and thought it great fun to have some of the biggest names in rock play the shows. Duffy and Jerry have both been our guests, but let’s be clear – we pay homage to the classics.”

A number of musicians - longer than I can list here, have graced the stage with Camp Freddy including Robbie Williams, Kid Rock, Melissa Etheridge, Brandon Boyd (Incubus), Slash and Duff all to play sport in what has become a popular corporate turntable. “We are an 'Occasional Happening', a freak of Hollywood nature,” says Morrison. “What happens when we get together and play is anyone's guess. Surprise, that’s the story of Camp Freddy.” Yet, at the end of the day, Camp Freddy is still just a cover band and Morrison wanted more. “I toured with the Cult as their bassist from 2001-02. I was invited, for a little while, to participate in the legacy that is the Cult. I was very fortunate to be on the good end, tour with Aerosmith, travel around the world. We did the Reading festival in England, went to Japan the whole nine yards.”

He stops to take a call on his cell and continues without missing a beat, “The one piece of my musical puzzle was missing so here I am fronting Circus Diablo. Camp Freddy is purely a corporate, fun covers band. Circus Diablo is original music written by the band.” And who was originally in the band? Well all Morrison’s mates from Billy Duffy and Matt Sorum to Billy Warwick and Bret Scallions. “Everything was written after a certain day, “says Morrison of the writing cycle. “Nothing came from old stuff, no previous band material – all new. Duffy suggested we write a song together - thought I’d make a good frontman and away we went. A year later we were sitting on 12 songs and wondering what to do with them.”

Eventually the band signed with Koch Entertainment and on the eve of moving forward with tour plans, the Cult announced they were regrouping for a summer tour. “Yeah,” says Morrison, “Billy’s a lucky man. He’ll have two records out this year… one with Circus Diablo and one with the Cult.” Duffy gave Morrison his blessing to hire a new lead guitarist and hit the road. They ended their search with Rob Patterson (Otep, Korn) and that’s about when Ozzy called. “Ozzy and Sharon are my family friends,” says Morrison. “Ozzy called my cell phone and asked me to join the tour (Ozzfest) this year. They’re rock royalty; it’s like having the Prince of Prussia call and invite you to his palace. I said, ‘Absolutely’ and will be forever in their debt.”

Billy Morrison grew up in south London in the mid-seventies and witnessed the rise of punk personally. “I have to admit I am a huge Sex Pistols fan,’ he confesses. “Me and Dave Navarro have our own radio show on the same station as Steve Jones, Indy 103.1 FM, I love Steve Jones, he’s been a regular guest of Camp Freddy and I’ve played “Pretty Vacant” with him many times. We close our show with it every day at Ozzfest – that’s how much they are a part of my life. You see, there’s my life pre-Sex Pistols and my life post-Sex Pistols. The Sex Pistols made me realize that I could do it. Before them it seemed like an unobtainable dream to be a musician. I credit the Sex Pistols with allowing me to realize my dream. Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath they had many albums to change and hone their sound – basically to create rock history. The Sex Pistols made one record and still changed the face of rock history. It must be a pretty special record.”

Naturally the sound of Circus Diablo swings toward old school punk yet still embraces the heyday of the sunset strip. A head on collision between Fuel and the Cult bake the disc in a no-frills guitar-driven punch that is a perfect showcase for Morrison’s raspy voice. “Eleven of the twelve tracks came out perfect and I wouldn’t change a thing,” says Morrison. “There’s no auto tune, pitch or timing corrections – what we played live in the studio is what you hear. We did the record in about 19 days. It was done on our money. I went to the bank every day and pulled out my money to pay for the sessions. We didn’t have the time or the money to tweak it. I think we made an amazing, honest rock record.”

Morrison does add a disclaimer to “Commercial Break” a spoken word piece played over a Billy Duffy solo. “It’s art for art sake and does have its place,” says the singer. “Would I do it over again? Yeah, probably.”

When asked how he feels playing Ozzfest with more extreme bands he lights up. “Man, I love the energy. We are the one band that’s different maybe even the odd man out, but we’ve been greeted with nothing but respect and applause. We take it to them. They don’t know what to expect from a band they’ve never heard of but it’s real for us and we believe in what were doing.”

Website: Circus Diablo, Camp Freddy