Benefit concert to aid drummer & tireless Western Beat impresario Billy Block
Thursday, April 10, at Musicians Institute Concert Hall in Hollywood

By Kim Grant

The Los Angeles songwriter and roots music community is rallying to support one of its most tireless advocates: Western Beat impresario Billy Block, who has been undergoing aggressive treatment for Stage 4 metastatic melanoma since receiving his diagnosis in December. Because of previous surgeries for melanoma, he has been deemed ineligible for disability insurance — thus the formation of the Billy Block Family Fund.

Billy new posterCo-sponsored by Musicians Institute, Music Connection, Riozen Media and the Friends of Western Beat, the Western Beat Special Edition Billy Block Family Fund Benefit will take place 7:30-11:30 p.m. Thursday, April 10, 2014, at the Musicians Institute Concert Hall, 6752 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Confirmed performers include event hosts/co-chairs Brad Parker and Ed Tree, Jack Tempchin, Wendy Waldman, the Bum Steers (Ed Tree & Taras Prodaniuk), Dan Navarro, Teresa James & the Rhythm Tramps, Karen Tobin, Ed Berghoff, Freebo, Rick Shea, Bliss Bowen, John Stowers, Marty Axelrod, Jamie Houston, Phil Parlapiano, Maia Sharp, Randy Sharp, Lawrence Lebo-Croy, Matt Cartsonis, Jenny Yates, Paul Zollo, Kevin Fisher, Eddie Cunningham, Mark Islam, John Cate, Warren Sellers & James Grey, Lois Blaisch, and the Zydeco Party Band (Doug Lacy, Lisa Haley, Mark Shark and Freebo), with more artists TBA. A silent auction is being planned in conjunction with the concert. The event will be recorded and hopefully broadcast live on the Internet; edited video footage will be shown online afterward to assist continued fundraising efforts.

Block is best known nowadays as a bastion of the Nashville country scene, but he played a key role in LA’s roots community for more than 20 years — starting in 1985, when the enterprising Houston native piled his belongings into a pickup truck and headed west to Venice, where his sister offered him a place to stay. It was a heady musical time in the City of Angels. From 1987 until 1995, Block drummed in the house band for Ronnie Mack’s legendary Barndance, which placed him at ground zero of a roots music explosion that helped birth the careers of the Blasters, Rosie Flores, James Harman, James Intveld, Duane Jarvis, Lone Justice, Jim Lauderdale, Los Lobos, Buddy Miller, Lucinda Williams, X and Dwight Yoakam, among other future Americana luminaries. It was a vital experience, but as Block later explained in interviews, he wanted to do something more songwriter-focused.

In September 1991, he teamed with Wendy Waldman and Brad Parker, and they launched a showcase at the now defunct Highland Grounds coffeehouse in Hollywood: Western Beat. With its emphasis on songwriters and acoustic instruments, Western Beat positioned itself somewhere between the historic Barndance model and Nashville’s venerable Bluebird Café. On the first Thursday of every month, local and touring Americana artists covered the roots spectrum: bluegrass to blues, Cajun to country, rock to rockabilly. Dave Alvin, Ryan Bingham, Boy Howdy, Tim Easton, Rosie Flores, Tony Furtado, I See Hawks in LA, Robert Earl Keen, Hal Ketchum, Jim Lauderdale, Jake La Botz, Lowen & Navarro, Anne McCue, Jeffrey Steele, Amelia White, Lucinda Williams and an “unplugged” Spinal Tap are just a handful of the acts that graced the Western Beat stage over the years.

1389054981-billyblockBlock continued to host and vigorously promote LA’s Western Beat even after he and wife Jill moved to Nashville in 1995 and started a family. Once in Nashville, Block expanded Western Beat from a songwriter showcase into a magazine column, radio show and, briefly, a variety show on CMT. He eventually started his own Billy Block Show, while his Bum Steers bandmate Ed Tree and songwriter John Stowers faithfully tended the Western Beat fire in Los Angeles until it died out in 2007.

All the artists performing at the April 10 benefit found a welcoming home with Western Beat, which provided a supportive forum for veteran and developing artists alike. To regular performers and attendees, it was more than just a stage; it was a nurturing oasis in a challenging metropolis, one defined in no small part by the positive attitude embodied in one of Block’s favorite maxims: “If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours.” That kind generosity will be returned with love on April 10. Due to the generosity of Mark Islam (Grassroots Acoustica) Billy Block and his wife, Jill Block will be in attendance.

Tickets for the Western Beat Special Edition Billy Block Family Fund Benefit are $25, and can be purchased via Eventbrite: For updates, please visit



Kim Grant is a music publicist and Americana music enthusiast who created the Los Angeles live show, The Grand Ole Echo. You can find her at

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