Billy Triplett died of a heart attack on Sunday, August 11th. Anyone who knew Billy knew him to be in every way a gentle giant of a man. He was physically massive—tall and very heavy. But he was the friendliest guy you are ever likely to meet. Exceptionally helpful. Incredibly kind. A real sweet man.
Billy was a sound engineer of the highest order. He was so good at his craft that he wasn’t around Portland very much after the mid-90s. He ended up touring with the likes of the Goo Goo Dolls, Prince, Paul McCartney, Pat Benatar and Joe Walsh and the James Gang, as well as working on projects with countless other musical acts over the years.
But pretty much any musician playing in town prior to the mid-90s has a Billy Triplett tale to tell.
The first time I met Billy was at Luis’ La Bamba club in 1982, when my band opened for Billy Rancher and the Unreal Gods during the height of the Rose Festival. That was our very first gig and we were excited to be opening for the Unreal Gods, the city’s most popular band, but completely disorganized. Billy was the first person I met when we were setting up. His aura of unruffled tranquility becalmed those around him. He calmed us right down and got us set-up on stage in front of the Gods’ gear and all mic’ed up, hooked up and dialed in without a care.
He handled the main soundboard at the back of the room, while Mick Boyt manned the monitor board. Billy and Mick made doing a sound check seem so simple that we naively assumed it was how all sound checks were supposed to go. Ha! A musician should be so lucky. By all accounts our gig that night was the best sounding we ever had. That was the only time Billy Triplett was our man at the board. It was three years downhill from there. And we had a damn good sound man of our own.
Billy and the Gods were that lucky. They had Billy Triplett doing their sound for every one of their gigs. Most certainly he was a key component in the Gods’ success. He played the board and the attending rack of effects as expertly as any musician plays his instrument. He was an artist. And that was thirty years ago! He only got better at his craft with every one of the thousands of gigs he engineered since that time.
He often did sound at Key Largo in the late ‘80s and into the ‘90s. I played there with two different bands with him doing the sound, and the whole gig was like butter. Everything was just warm and toasty and copacetic. It was Billy Triplett’s world of sound engineering and we were welcome to it.
Billy began working with Troy Williver and his band Bombay when they played at Key Largo around 1995. Not long after that he signed a contract with Williver, and headed with Bombay to LA in search of gigs that would lead to a recording contract. Williver is a true professional musician, and while in LA, he introduced Billy to many influential musicians, technicians and industry contacts.
Billy ended up staying in LA circa 1997 and he lived there for over ten years. In 2009 he moved to Sturgeon Bay,Wisconsin, where he stayed at the Holiday Music Motel—Jackson Browne’s recording studio/motel complex—working on numerous projects from there. By the end of 2010 his health had begun to deteriorate and he was hospitalized for a time, in critical condition.
Unbeknownst to most local musicians, Billy returned to Portland at Christmas 2010, staying with Troy Williver and his family. Billy convalesced there for many months. He returned to Sturgeon Bay where he worked at the annual Steel Bridge Songfest last June.
Every time I met with Billy over the years I was continually struck by his benign demeanor, his reverential humility. I will always remember those qualities in him. But most of all I will remember the countless live music gigs I attended around town where the sound was absolutely perfect. You’d look around to see who was doing sound—and sure enough—it would be Billy Triplett. Hopefully Billy is even now reunited with his old friend Billy Rancher, creating music in the great hereafter.
by SP Clarke