Whether he's playing bass or writing songs, Bill Laymon follows his own vision

by Lee Abraham

Bill Laymon is not a crafty tunesmith. Never will be. He's an artist. Just so happens the guy also plays one helluva bass. And when inspiration strikes, Laymon is a gifted songwriter. Currently playing with the David Nelson Band, Laymon is also a music biz lifer. "I've been playing in bands since I was thirteen years old," he says with an easy laugh. "That's basically all I've ever done. I've been in over 100 bands!"

Originally from Springfield, Illinois, Laymon graduated from the University of Illinois film program in the early '80s. He also minored in music and played in the school jazz band. "I was just sick of the Midwest by that point, and there was this group that I fell in love with, called the New Riders of the Purple Sage. I used to chase 'em all over the Midwest when they'd come around.

As soon as I graduated, I told everybody that I was out of there, and it was like, 'Well, what are you going to do with your big college degree?' I told 'em, 'I'm going to move to California and join the New Riders of the Purple Sage!'" Friends and family thought he was crazy. And maybe he was, but that's exactly what happened. In addition to the NRPS gig, Laymon has also played with the Jefferson Starship, and was in the right place at the right time when the David Nelson Band formed.

"It was about six years ago that we put this group together, and it was coming out of the ashes of sort of a Dead cover band with a pedigree, called the Dead Ringers. We were all just loving playing together in the previous group and wanted to keep it going. Nelson had some pretty good songs, and we formed as the David Nelson Band."

David Nelson's resume dates back to the early '60s when he played acoustic guitars with Jerry Garcia and Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter in a band called, The Wildwood Boys. And although Nelson penned most of the material, one of Laymon's tunes, "Kerouak," is not only one of the DNB's most frequently requested songs in concert, it's one of their most powerful. "That one came to me about three years ago. I was going through one of those very challenging periods in life, when everything was going wrong. I think that happens to everybody at some point, but things were going wrong in such a major way, and one thing after another. It was really getting to me. I was laying here in bed at night, wondering, 'What am I going to do?' I was sort of feeling like life's wheel was going to run me over and kill me or something."

"I was thinking about those beat authors that had such a big influence on me when I was a kid. Wondering what kind of movie they signed me up for. I was laying there in the dark and the line, 'Take me back Jack Kerouak,' popped into my head. I hopped out of bed, grabbed my guitar, got out a bottle of Cuervo, stayed up all night and had a little chat with those guys. I finished the bottle of Cuervo, and when dawn came around the song was basically done, and I had resolved, as the song says, I've still got a long way to go."