“Just finished changing strings roadside,” Bill Bloomer texts, a few minutes past 6:00 p.m.; dinner hour for most people is driving time between gigs for Bill. “Chicago, IL for The Montrose Saloon at 8, and the club owner expects me there. Gotta fly — driving off into the sunset.”
A warm and windy weekday evening, and Bloomer is mid-tour, a grueling exercise in stamina and the power of positive thinking. Nine weeks, 32 shows, and 11,500 “happy miles of smiles,” the spring leg of his No Bad Days tour will drive him right to the edge of August, perhaps the kindest month, heralding the release of his highly anticipated, all-star cameo- studded fifth studio album, Bounty.
Graciously agreeing to make a pit stop—about 20 miles off his carefully configured route—Bill and I plan to meet for lunch at a local Glory Days. When I arrive he is already busily hunched over a table in the outside seating area, lit cigarette in hand, unexpected access to WIFI allowing him to answer emails, catch up on Facebook, and offer updates–No Bad Days miles reimagined through curated photos and sound bites of gratitude.
Part modern day Jack Kerouac, part marketing maven, Bill is responsible himself for much of the day-to-day operations required to preserve an old-school troubadour tradition. AND of that tradition, he is a remarkably rightful heir. In the middle of his second coast to coast tour in five months (“I drove about 3,000 miles in Texas, so much that I needed an oil change.”) and about to see his second album in two years drop, following a close heartbeat behind the highly acclaimed and award winning Jubilee, Bill’s dedication to his craft is palpable. Like those who came before and those who walk alongside, Bill Bloomer knows the art’s the central thing — along with the audience — and the artist’s responsibility to both.
We only have about an hour, as Bill has a gig at Bertha’s in Baltimore with Andrew Grimm, and recent touring has him acutely aware of how traffic, as much as anything else, determines the rhythm of the DMV (DC/Maryland/Virginia) area. Bill Bloomer’s unusual biography is a good first stop (lion wrestler, rodeo bareback bronco rider, Buddhist monk, self–described “refugee,” living with his “jungle bride” in France) but much has already been made of those impressive details, so I ask instead for a roadmap, both the physical destinations and the mental motivations, that fuel his current tour.
“A typical tour begins and ends in Joshua Tree,” Bill says, “and I am currently in the middle of a four coast tour; I am counting the Great Lakes and the Gulf as coasts,” he adds with a smile. His commitment to constant motion is oddly antithetical to the “nest builder dreading free flight” he identifies in Bounty‘s very personal (and lovely) track, “I only Get Homesick at Night.”
“You have got to understand, for me–well, I was very sickly as a child, and the reality is without modern medicine, I probably would have perished. I mean I curse technology—kind of feel like I was born 100 years too late—but I suffered from asthma and double hernia. To placate me, they would take me out in a car, and—to this day—motion is stimulus. Even in my late teens and early twenties, and that is why riding and the rodeo were so natural. And it was just as natural to drive from here to there, alone, on the road–just driving for twenty hours. I was an escapist … in my mind, I was always getting away.”
In many ways, Bill Bloomer’s approach to touring epitomizes a certain quintessential American ideal of freedom. The iconic road trip, and the sense of its infinite accessibility and possibility, has deep roots in American history as well as the American imagination. “Have car will travel” offers an antidote to the stultifying creativity-obliterating reality of nine to five living. The continued relevance of Jack Kerouac’s seminal On The Road as a tutorial is a striking example of Americans’ collective need to imagine, in varying degrees of intensity, an exit ticket, a kind of psychic liberation.
Of course, as is true with any romanticized notion, the story is larger and more complicated than the “only if…” daydream it inspires. Dangers, prejudices, fears, and human frailties do not disappear once on the proverbial open road. Bill Bloomer readily offers the “more driving than sleeping” reality that seems to be such a tour’s mandate. But the pull of perpetual motion is tempered by the “nest builder” instinct identified above.
“When I am at home, I can not leave the property for two weeks,” Bill confides about his time in France, with his one true love. “It’s tranquil there, in the country, and she is a whirlwind, always busy, but she gives me the grace to make my music a priority.” All those miles reaffirming for him what he learned years earlier when taking refuge in a Buddhist temple: destination is the place one arrives when ready.
“Doing Things Different,” Bounty’s terrific opening track and first single, for example, provides an intimate portrait of the inimitable power of enduring love: “We read so many mysteries. Yours is the best I’ve found/ So I guess I’ll stick around.” And several stanzas later: “So we will rise and shine tomorrow. Roll away the stone somehow/And feel better than the law allows.” Sysiphus’ boulder is downgraded to a stone; our daily burden made less so by the redemptive power of love.
During the time that we talked, I am reminded just why Bill Bloomer is such a fantastic live performer. A natural storyteller, he brings wisdom, depth, and emotional presence to his gigs as readily as he brings his guitar. Add to that a brilliant songwriter, delivering a blend of blues, roots, folk, and gospel through a rich baritone voice. The Bounty he bestows each tour is equivalent only to the miles he drives, and, once done, for Bill Bloomer all roads will lead home.
Bounty showcases an impressive catalog of support and contribution. The album is Bill Bloomer’s second release from Red Barn Recorders, with Gar Robertson (producer/engineer/mixer) at the helm, and the third project featuring Bill’s all-star studio band including
Bobby Furgo (Leonard Cohen), Danny Frankel (Lou Reed),
Wally Ingram (David Lindley), Kip and Lisa Mednick Powell (Ray Wylie Hubbard), and a special guest appearance by Anthony Patler (The Temptations). Finally, Bounty is mastered by Grammy nominated engineer and producer, Dennis Moody.