Resident plays music field

Donelle Pardee Whiting
William "Billy Slips" Henry

When a lot of people are able to say they met famous people, they usually have one or two names.

However, in the case of William “Billy Slips” Henry of Washington, the list reads like the who’s who of the music biz.

Henry got his nickname “Billy Slips” when he would do karaoke at Katy T’s in Washington.

“I was asked to write a program for tracking selections,” Henry said. The program would print the amateur performer’s name and what they wanted to sing on slips of paper.

“She would call out ‘I have another Billy slip here,’ so that became my nickname.”

Henry, 53, grew up in Peoria. He went to Woodruff High School his freshman year and Illinois Valley Central in Chillicothe for his last three years.

Henry, who has lived in Washington on and off for the past 20 years, started performing when he was 13, and through his early years learned how to play the guitar, drums, bass guitar, keyboard, clarinet and violin.

Henry said he learned to play the drums from his dad, Bill, who played in a swing band.

He learned how to play the piano from his sister, Pam.

At one point, Henry played with the band Nuthin’ Much.

“One of the sax players joined the Tower of Power. The bass player went on to California and played for the Partridge Family and The Fifth Dimension,” Henry said.

The Fifth Dimension were best-known during the late 1960s and early 1970s for popularizing the hits “Up, Up and Away,” “Wedding Bell Blues,” and “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In.”

Early on, Henry became what he called a nomad. He would fill in and perform with area bands when needed.

When he was 14, Henry played guitar with three separate bands in a Battle of the Bands at Woodruff High School.

“That was the time when REO Speedwagon was popular,” he said.

All three bands placed in the top three.

“That was fun,” Henry said. “Those were the good times.”

In 1981, when the economy took a downturn, Henry played with a band called Suspect.

“They had a female drummer and a female singer,” he said. “We played in a place on Rush Street in Chicago where the stage came up from the basement. We got $2,500 for four hours.”

Henry also played guitar with a band called The Release, but they had trouble getting a bass player.

After five years together, the drummer, Dave Lawrence went on to play with Head East.

The keyboardist, Kevin Stratton, who programmed the system for the Chicago Transit Authority, Henry said, played the keyboard for Van Halen’s “Jump.”

Both Lawrence and Stratton recently went to Phoenix to work with a recording company.

Henry, who works as a support analyst at Caterpillar Inc., said he would have gone, too, but with 25 years invested in Caterpillar decided not to go.

Henry continued to fill in with bands when needed.

After one show in the early 1980s, Henry had a little too much to drink and had coffee with a woman he met, Henry said.

“She would not let me drive home from the gig,” he said, adding that woman was Joan Baez, with whom he kept in contact.

“She came to visit me when I was in the hospital.”

In another tale about meeting famous rockers, Henry said he used to write record reviews for the Prairie Sun in the 1970s.

However, after a while, he stopped.

He wrote one last review after he was contacted by a woman whose son would be performing in a show.

“She asked if I would review the performance,” Henry said.

Henry agreed and was given backstage pass where he met Steven Tyler and the rest of the guys from Aerosmith.

After the show, Henry said, Ted Nugent came up to talk. He added, that was how he found out that the woman who talked him into writing one last music review was “Mama Nugent, Ted Nugent’s mother.”

In the early 1990s, while at the Peoria Civic Center, “a guy came up and asked me if I knew how to play guitar,” Henry said. He then played on stage with Molly Hatchett.

“Those guys are pranksters,” Henry said.

After the performance at the Civic Center, Henry was invited to join the group for the Southern Pride Tour.

So, he was able to hang out and play with Molly Hatchett some more, as well as Lynrd Skynrd, 38 Special and the Fabulous Thunderbirds.

“They are all so neat,” he said. “They wanted to do a song I wrote, so all four bands would go out on stage and perform it together. It was just a jam song where everybody would switch off with a solo. It was the thrill of my life.”

Nowadays Henry, who has lived in Washington on and off for the past 20 years, does what he calls the Holiday Inn circuit.

He performs at fairs and smaller shows in the area.

In addition, Henry records his own music.

“I play all the parts then combine the tracks,” he said, adding that his music is what makes him feel good.

“I write and play what moves me. There is a lot of expression.”

Other famous musicians Henry said he has been privileged to meet include Brian Setzer of Stray Cats fame, the members of Cheap Trick, Lita Ford and Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Henry did have one non-music related meeting with a famous actor.

Henry, a cancer survivor, occasionally speaks on behalf of the American Cancer Society.

Henry gave a speech in California, he said, adding that during the speech, he told a story about a time he was in the hospital getting his chemotherapy treatment and inadvertently mooned the entire hospital floor.

“Jack Nicholson came up and asked for an autograph, saying after hearing that story ‘I laughed my a-- off.’”

Because Henry, who performed at the Gin Joint in downtown Peoria Friday and Saturday night, does not like to stay idle long, he said he will never stop playing.

“They will probably bury me with my guitar.”

Henry also wrote a novel called “Billy Slips,” which has the moral lesson of how to treat people.

The storyline includes the music business, so Henry said he wants to include a CD with five solid songs to go with the book.

Although he said there is a publisher interested in the book, he is not sure when it will be published.

Aside from his music and writing, Henry also collects native american art and history.

He also has what he calls a Civil War room in his house and a collection of 700 teddy bears.

When not writing, performing and playing, recording and writing music, Henry is painting.

“Someone called me a renaissance man,” he said, adding he believes in “doing everything you can while you are young.”