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Gypsy Cowboy Bill Laymon: American Bass Player

By Michele Murphy

Historically, the Bay Area has attracted some of the greatest musical talent in the country, and many of the people who embody the spirit of 1960s rock ‘n’ roll have performed, and eventually settled, right here in the Santa Cruz Mountains. How fortunate for resident live music lovers to be treated to regular performances and even the occasional public sightings of some truly wonderful artists. Bill Laymon is one such artist.

A well renowned and respected musician, bassist, songwriter, producer, and educator, Bill has lived in the San Lorenzo Valley and played in many of our favorite local haunts for over four decades. Influenced by his incredibly musical family, including his father who played in Big Bands (playing with the Tommy Dorsey Band for a spell), Bill was fascinated by the important role bass players had in complex arrangements. A huge fan of 1950s and 60s rock ‘n’ roll, he’s performed professionally since the age of 13 and over the years has played in over 200 rock bands. He studied film production and music at the University of Illinois, Springfield, and performed with the SSU Jazz Ensemble.

When Bill moved to Santa Cruz in 1981, he began playing steadily, most notably with the Continental Drifters. Around that same time, it was Bill’s great fortune to become acquainted with one of his musical heroes, legendary LA studio bassist Carol Kaye, with whom he took private bass instruction. From there he became an in-demand recording and live session player, typically working over 300 days a year. The culmination of all his hard work and enthusiasm for musical adventure and fun was getting called to play bass with seminal psychedelic country rockers The New Riders of the Purple Sage in the mid-80s, raising Bill’s profile as an outstanding bassist and singer to the national level.

Continuing his work as a popular session musician around the San Francisco Bay Area, Bill played with such musical greats as Gregg Allman, Pete Sears, Lacy J. Dalton, Vince Welnik, Henry Kaiser, Peter Rowan, Melvin Seals, Steve Kimock, and many more, as well as touring with other nationally famous acts such as Big Brother and the Holding Company and Kingfish.

In 1994, the David Nelson Band emerged as a new entity featuring David Nelson, Bill Laymon, Barry Sless, Arthur Steinhorn, and keyboardist Mookie Siegel, and showcasing innovative new original tunes and extended jazzy improvisations.

In 1996, Bill got the call to play with the world-renowned Jefferson Starship (with Paul Kantner and Marty Balin), whose historic bassist Jack Casady was encountering scheduling problems with his other touring band, Hot Tuna.

Bill’s self-penned song “Kerouac” was included on the DNB’s CD release “Visions Under the Moon” and achieved rotation status at radio stations throughout the US. When asked about his song writing process he said, “I’m really not a prolific songwriter, but I think I’ve come up with some good ones, some real gems that I’m proud of.” There is no one approach to songwriting, he says. “Perhaps a line might occur to me and I’ll fashion the structure around that, the melody and the chords. With me, some have just popped right out, others have taken 20 years of anguish trying to figure out how to finish it.”

These days Bill is playing full time and is currently working on the much anticipated release of a new album called “The Great American Novel and Other Road Stories.” He would normally be on tour now with his old musical partner, Jim Lewin, in a fantastic local band called Edge of the West. He says “Jim and I have been playing together for more than 40 years now and our playing has become very intuitive and fluid. It’s a very good band and is basically “Americana jam-band hippie music.”

We can’t wait to see and hear them again.

Read more about Bill Laymon at billlaymon.net

Michele Murphy is a writer, Energy Efficiency Consultant, and singer-songwriter who has lived in the Santa Cruz area since 2005. In August she celebrates purchasing her new home in Felton.  

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4 Thoughts to “Gypsy Cowboy Bill Laymon: American Bass Player”

  1. Audrey Blaker

    Loved the article … Love you Billy …
    I have a special place in my heart for “ Edge of the West” that’s where I met John and Jeanne at the Sweetwater … Best of luck to you …..

  2. Bill is absolutely the best! As a half-century New Riders fan, I’ll always be out there, cherring Bill on.

  3. Barbara

    David Nelson Band , New Riders of the Purple Sage , Edge of the West , all great bands and great musicians, with musical ties going in all directions. Bill Laymon has been a part of all of them. He is a well respected player and songwriter. Go see him perform when you can

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