When Billy Buchanan’s music permeates the dancehall, you can’t help but get up and dance. Any style is fine: boogie-woogie, bop, stroll or the chalypso.
The soulful St. Augustine-based artist finds inspiration in the classic music of legends like Little Richard, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry and Otis Redding. His performances, based on the many genres of music that came out of the ’50s and ’60s, pack the house.
“I’m really comfortable in my skin right now,” Buchanan says. “It’s really cool to know what you’re about, because I spent so many years trying to figure it out. People would come to my shows and I’d do so much stuff, Prince to Keith Urban. They’d be, like, ‘You do those songs fine, but when you sing all that old-school stuff, man, you can tell your heart’s in it.’ I really started paying attention to that. They were right. This is the music I love. I cut out all that other stuff. This is the only music I’m going to play, and it was the best decision I ever made.”
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Buchanan has had music in his blood for as long as he can remember. His mom played the piano, his uncles were guitarists, his aunts sang in church, and Buchanan was actively involved in school musicals, choir and band. “Other kids, they dream of being firemen and policemen and whatever,” Buchanan reminisces. “Music was the only thing I wanted to do from a very, very young age. I remember being six or seven years old and my friends would be outside playing kickball and I would be inside listening to my dad’s records. I just love it. It was a part of who I was from pretty early on.”
“I remember seeing Prince’s ‘Little Red Corvette’ music video and thinking, ‘OK, I don’t know what it is that guy’s doing, but I want to do that.’ I haven’t looked back,” he says. “Since I was that young, I knew that music was going to be a huge part of my life. Of course, you don’t know early on what that looks like, how do you make it? But once I figured that all out, it’s been a neat little journey. I’ve never wanted for anything. I’ve been able to raise a family doing what I love. People keep showing up for these shows. It’s been pretty awesome.”
After high school, Buchanan spent time in Atlanta and Nashville. He performed with funk-rock band SkinDeep in Atlanta. Later, his contemporary and Christian rock band Fusebox produced three Top 20 songs on the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) charts: “Every Move I Make,” “Once Again” and “Look What You’ve Done.” Buchanan has opened for or shared the stage with many big-name performers like Jersey Boys on Tour, Tower of Power, Betty LaVette, Morris Day & the Time and Chaka Khan. He’s performed in all 50 states and in more than 25 countries. Latvia, Austria and Romania stand out in his mind, though Germany is one of his favorites, too. “I loved playing in Germany because I love rock-and-roll there,” he says. “Every time I’ve been there, it packs out and you just rock out. It is crazy.”
Buchanan moved to St. Augustine in 2007 and instantly fell in love with the local cultural scene. He’s been playing music full-time locally since 2009. “When I was in Nashville, I was on the road for 300 days a year. Just craziness, you know? I wanted to find some balance,” he explains. “I moved to St. Augustine because I really loved the town and I was really surprised how cool the music scene was here. The last few years, things have really taken off. It’s been really cool. I’ve found my niche. I’m doing a lot of old soul and early rock stuff; my originals are very influenced by that era and it’s been really fun.”
Once a month, Billy Buchanan’s Sock Hoppin’, Be Boppin’, Juke Joint Jamboree packs Jacksonville’s Friday Musicale for two hours of nonstop music and dancing. “The coolest thing that I have found here is the dance community,” Buchanan says. “The music I play just goes hand-in-hand with all these cool dances that came from the ’50s and ’60s, all the swinging and shagging and twisting and all that. There’s a huge dance community here that a lot of people don’t know about. I found my tribe.”
Buchanan combines traditional ’50s and ’60s classics with the soulful songs of his favorite African-American artists and early blues rockers to create something truly unique and unforgettable. Elvis exists alongside Ray Charles. “Sock-hops were dances in the ’50 and ’60s where kids would go to hear all their favorite songs and dance. My sock-hop is a combination between a sock-hop and a juke joint,” Buchanan says. “What I mean by that is, culturally, sock-hops were more for white people. In the South, black folks would go and hear all the blues and all that. I’m a huge fan. I love that music. So I was, like, I want to put in a bit that draws all these audiences. People come and dance to all their favorite songs, but it’s a mixture of these two ideas. I wanted it to be all-inclusive.”
Another much-anticipated event is the online release of Give Love - The Christmas EP on Thanksgiving Day on his website, featuring seven classic holiday songs. It’ll be available elsewhere online after that. “People have been asking me to put out a Christmas album, literally, for 20 years,” Buchanan says. “You know how frickin’ Hallmark Channel starts playing Christmas movies in July, it’s ridiculous, right? Anyway, there was a commercial for one of their shows and it had Stevie Wonder’s ‘Some Days at Christmas’ playing in the background. I was, like, ‘Man, that’s a great tune. You know what, I’m going to record that and all the other Christmas songs I love.’ I really tried to pick songs that had a really, really good message. I’ve always loved the words of ‘Some Day at Christmas’ because it’s kind of about humankind, how we treat each other, trying to reach for something better, and Christmas being a reminder of that.”
His EP also includes “Happy Christmas” by John Lennon, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid, “Run, Rudolph, Run” by Chuck Berry, and Otis Redding’s “Merry Christmas, Baby.”
This St. Augustine performer, husband and father of three brings fresh vibrancy to Northeast Florida’s cultural scene while keeping the spirit of the Golden Age of Rock-and-Roll alive. He’s living his dreams, and believes anyone can do the same, with a little hope and a whole lot of determination. “We live in a crazy world, and I think it’s easy to get discouraged. I think a lot of talking heads on the news focus so much on the negative things in our world, but I think there are a lot of people trying to do good in this world,” he says. “If you don’t like what you see, be the good. Try to make a difference in the short time that we have here in this life.”
“Try to make a difference, try to create, and do things that will impact those who come after us, our kids. It starts with you,” Buchanan says. “You can complain all day long, but you’re not doing anything, you know? You have nothing to complain about. Do your part.”