Being the southern rebel that he was, Billy got kicked out of his Tampa High School for refusing to cut his hair. Ironically, the principal of the school was Monte Yoho’s father.
A talented musician even at young age, Billy was offered a placement in the famous Julliard School of Music in New York. He refused. Instead he studied math at the University of South Florida and graduated with honors.
After college, Billy decided to make music his career. He played a Hammond B3 organ in the beginning before switching over to guitar, out of convenience. He recorded one album with a local Tampa area band called H.Y. Sledge before joining The Outlaws in 1972.
That’s when the magic began. He became the Ying to Hughie’s Yang, the complementary component that made the band a huge success.
Regretfully, Billy took his own life at the age of 44. He had quit playing music and was living a quiet private life at the time. Billy will always be remembered for his ringing guitars solos and velvet voice prevalent in all of the Outlaws classic music.
Most rock and roll bands have one lead guitar player. The bands success hinges on the ability of the lead guitar player. Led Zeppelin had Jimmy Page, The Who had Pete Townsend, and Van Halen had, well..Van Halen! Many other acts were based on the single lead guitarist, like: Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
In the late 60′s, early 70′s, Southern Rock started to emerge with bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Outlaws following the dueling lead guitarists formula of the Allman Brothers, and becoming hugely successful.
One glaring difference was that the Outlaws were the only one of the three bands that did not feature a piano or keyboard player. Another difference was that Skynyrd and the Outlaws used the contrasting styles of a Fender and Gibson, while the Allman Brothers were mainly two Gibsons
These great guitar duos go down in music history and will stand the test of time. They are, in order of appearance:
- Dickey Betts and Duane Allman – The Allman Brothers
- Gary Rossington and Allen Collins – Lynyrd Skynryd
- Billy Jones and Hughie Thomasson – The Outlaws
There is a big difference between the sound and playability when it comes to Fenders and Gibsons. Gibsons are heavier and have more of a ringy tone. Fenders have a more country sounding, bassy tone. For perspective: Jimi Hendrix played a Fender and Peter Frampton played a Gibson.
In the Outlaws, Hughie played the Fender and Billy played the Gibson. When you listen to the Outlaws recordings you can hear when the lead guitarist changes during the song. It is very evident in the live version of Stick Around For Rock and Roll when on the first solo break the fast playing Hughie on his Strat, gives way to the high note ringing sound of Billy on his Gibson.
We keep mentioning ringing sounds for a reason. When Chuck Berry said he could play the guitar like a ring in a bell, he was talking about the same thing we are talking about here: the sound of a Gibson Les Paul being blasted through a classic amps. The technology and equipment used is the same now as it was over 50 years ago. So why aren’t there thousands of guitar virtuosos coming out of the woodwork?
The problem with taking a classic “rig” like a Gibson Les Paul on a Fender Twin Reverb amp and cranking it up is: any little mistake comes out like a glaring error. It sounds like a ring in a bell if you hit all the right notes, but if you miss a single note you ruin the entire song.
That’s what Billy Jones did consistently: hit the right note and rang that bell.