Dallas Moore recently released a new album called No God in Juarez via Sol Records. The album itself is a great listen and certainly worthy of your attention as a work of Dallas’s modern-day true Outlaw country music. But just as good is the story and the purpose behind the album. All ten songs of No God in Juarez are written by one of country music’s forgotten Outlaws named Billie Gant. Gant’s use of character and the stories he tells are quite incredible and enthralling. But none of them may as be as incredible and compelling as the true-to-life story of Billie Gant himself.
Dallas Moore says No God in Juarez was 20 years in the making. “The timing was never right until it was, and that time is now,” Moore says in a video about the album. Dallas calls Billie Gant his, “Original honky tonk hero, champion, and friend.” Dallas also says Billie Gant’s life should be a movie. He’s not wrong.
Dallas Moore first met Billie Gant when he was 17 and Gant was 38. They met at a club in Norwood, Ohio just north of Cincinnati—the same town where both Billie and Dallas were born. After Dallas and some friends sneaked into the club, they saw Billie Gant do a headstand on the bunkhouse rail in front of the stage, then a back flip into the crowd before Billie went sashaying around the place with a women under each arm, singing the whole time at the end of a 100-foot microphone cable. That was Billie Gant … before the accident.
Billie Gant was an Outlaw before there were Outlaws. Mixing rock with country and putting on wild shows, he was too much for the mainstream and country radio at the time. But when country acts would come through the Cincinnati and northern Kentucky area, many would book Billie Gant as an opening act because of the way he would rev up the crowd.
Ernest Tubb, Jimmy Martin, Hank Williams Jr., David Allan Coe, Johnny Paycheck, Tompall Glaser, The Bellamy Brothers, Ronnie Millsap, Bill Anderson, John Anderson, and Barbara Mandrell were just some of the acts Billie Gant opened for and collaborated with at the time. Gant was a legend in the Cincinnati area, even though he was also vilified by many who though he was too wild to be taken seriously, and because he didn’t play by the rules.
If you do a Google search for Billie Gant though, you won’t really find anything.
“Nobody knows anything about me because I got hurt before the internet,” Gant tells Saving Country Music. “So when the awaking happened as the doctors call it—or the miracle as I call it—the internet was there all of a sudden. I can remember going to Lowes, and just being amazed. I went to Guitar Center with all the guitars on the wall, stunned at what I saw.”
Billie Gant was born on July 17th, 1947. When he was five years old, he heard a piano playing across the street. He was barely old enough to cross the street by himself, but he did, and started singing songs with the old piano player there. He walked out with some change in his pocket, and had performed his first paying gig. His mom saw the promise in Billie as a singer, and took him to an old Vaudevillian performer named Harris Rosedale who was Gant’s first mentor.
This is where Billie Gant got his propensity for showmanship. Hearing the stories of Gant’s wild stage presence back in the day, it makes sense that it was a Vaudeville character who first took Gant under his wing. Soon Billie was performing on local television, and he later performed with Lloyd Price who is famous for the songs “Stagger Lee” and “Personality.”
But Billie Gant’s father didn’t see the value in singing and entertainment, even though Gant says he knew from a very early age it was what he wanted to do in life. Gant’s father was a cement contractor and stone mason, and valued hard work over arts and entertainment. This set up a conflict throughout Billie’s life where he was always having to prove himself, and was regularly at odds with the powers that be.
In 1967, Gant moved to Cape Cod briefly where he had a friend. The first night he was there, the house they were staying in burned down, and so they ended up joining a hippie commune. Then in 1968, Gant left Massachusetts and moved to San Francisco. But at that point, the “Summer of Love” (1967) had come and passed, and it was no longer as easy to break into that scene. So Billie Gant headed back home to Cincinnati where he stayed for most of the rest of his life to cultivate something on a local level.
When Gant returned to Cincinnati though, he had long hair and had been coast to coast, and the guys playing country music in southern Ohio and Northern Kentucky were of a completely different mindset. “I just didn’t fit in,” says Gant. “I could do rock, bluegrass, country. I prided myself that I could sing anything. But I fell in love with country music because of the ballads, because of the way you can express yourself.”
But he also knew that country audiences also could handle a little rock in their country. “So we rocked them too. And that was unheard of. We couldn’t get gigs in the good places. We played the joints nobody else would want to play. They wouldn’t play my records, so I quit recording. But the more they threw me out, put me down, the more determined I was to rise above it all. My dad didn’t want me to play. Cincinnati didn’t want me. I just wanted to be a thorn in their side. I eventually got it together as a regional act. It was a high energy show. A real crowd pleaser. The audience loved it. I was more interested in the audience than the folks wishing I was gone.”
Billie Gant’s band was called The Vigilantes, and it became a proving ground for talent from Ohio and Cincinnati. Mike Hodges who went on to play drums with David Bowie played in The Vigilantes. The Adams Brothers from Ohio were recognized in February by The Ameripolitan Awards with the “Founders of the Sound” Lifetime Achievement Award for the work they did in The Jones Boys behind George Jones, as well as playing with Johnny Paycheck. Gary Adams and Don Adams also played in The Vigilantes. Roger Cooper was another Vigilante that went on to win scores of awards, including the Ohio and Kentucky fiddle championships.
“They reviewed me once in Cincinnati Magazine and said I was lewd, pompous, obscene, and vulgar,” Gant explains. “But it also said that the 700-plus longneck beer drinkers didn’t seem to mind.”
Billie Gant would pick up and lose players regularly, and he had trouble finding performers that wanted to leave Cincinnati. His dreams were bigger than being just a local musician, but since he didn’t play guitar himself, solo gigs were not possible. He also became a father in the ’70s, and wanted to honor his commitments and stick closer to home. To the crowds in Cincinnati, he was a star, and Gant earned the respect of national performers through his opening gigs. But to the rest of the world, he was a virtual unknown. Then Billie Gant disappeared from the entertainment business entirely.
It was February 1st, 1995 in the afternoon. Billy Gant was on the way to pick up his bass player when he got in a major car accident. Along with seriously injuring his back, Gant was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury. “I was knocked out, and eventually came to. But I couldn’t think. I couldn’t speak a sentence without losing the thought. It was over.”
Gant was 47 at the time, and in his brain fog, he lost track of time. He says he remembers virtually nothing from the period. Over this time, the internet came about, the use of cell phones exploded, and life changed in America in fundamental ways. 13 years passed with Billie Gant basically in a mental stasis. But then everything changed.
“I went to sleep one night, said my prayers. And I woke up the next morning, and a voice told me what to do. And I did it. And ten days later, I was okay. And I knew I was supposed to write. So I sat down, and barely left the house for the next 4 1/2 years. I was writing from the moment I woke up, to the moment I fell asleep. The old Billie Gant died in my arms somewhere in that 13 years. I remember mourning my own death, and it was tough on an old boy. It’s truly a miracle here. What happened to me was a miracle.”
Now 60 years old with lingering health issues, it wasn’t like Billie Gant could revitalize his wild stage character. He was also $50,000 in debt. But he set to being the best Billie Gant he could be. He started lifting weights and lost 110 pounds. Songwriting became his mission in life, including finally breaking down and learning how to play guitar.
“It took me 18 years, 1 month, and 16 days to get back on stage,” Billy Gant says. At an Outlaw event, he met folks like JB Beverley, Whey Jennings, and started collaborating with the new generation of Outlaws, and endeared himself to them when he played his song “Stop Fucking Up Country Music.” Just like Billie Gant early on, Whey Jennings didn’t play guitar and only sang. Eventually they went out on tour together.
Later Gant toured with guitar player Nick Giese backing him up. Giese now plays in The Dallas Moore Band, and also plays guitar on No God in Juarez. “Nick’s like a grandson to me. I love that kid,” says Gant, who also went to Sweden in 2016 to play. “That was a thrill of a lifetime. The Swedish people treated me so nice. You would have thought Willie Nelson had hit town.”
Gant has also collaborated with Rowdy Johnson and others. At some point people started referring to Billie Gant as the “The Ambassador of Outlaw Country.” Billie says, “It beats the hell out of what they used to call me. So, I’ve instructed them to put it on the tombstone.”
These days, Billie Gant isn’t doing much performing or touring. Instead he’s doubling down on writing songs, and as he says, watching the next generation of Outlaws from the bleachers. “I love country music. I love the grit it takes to make the decision to go down this road. It involves a lot of grit, and a lot of living. You can’t just waltz in and write songs that have no meaning. You’ve got to live. But in my songs, the bad guy always gets it. I try to write little morality tales.”
Now Dallas Moore is helping to bring the songs and the story of Billie Gant to a new generation, and a wider audience. Regarded as one of the last true Outlaw country artists, Dallas Moore has made a national following for himself, and his fans are finding favor with the Billie Gant songs he sings.
“Ever since the miracle occurred, only good things have happened in my life,” Gant says. “It’s really hard to take credit for answered prayers. The sun is shining on my work, and I’m truly blessed. If you would had seen the 30-year-old with a chip on his shoulder fighting his way through, you would say, ‘Yeah, this is a miracle.’ When you get older, you start to become the person you should have been in the beginning.”
“The Bible says that the long suffering faithful will be rewarded,” Billie Gant says. “And I have to think that applied to me.”
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