I’ve come to the point when I get an unexpected call from a friend, I’m dreading what I’m going to hear. About 30 minutes ago, one of my best friends Andrew Rieger called to tell me that Bill Doss had died.
Bill. Billy. A fellow freak. Dead. The cause has yet to be determined.
Bill Doss and I met each other in the din of Athens of the early 90’s when nobody outside of town cared about us. Cheap rent. Cheap booze. Good times. Let’s do this. Bill was always flanked by his childhood friends from Ruston, Louisiana, Jeff Mangum and Will Hart. At that time (late ’92/early ’93), they were in a band called Synthetic Flying Machine who were always considered nothing other than weird by Athens standards. Syd Barrett backed by the Minutemen. That’s how I think of them now, and still thought of them back then.
Bill had been recently discharged from the U.S. Army (as witness by his issued combat boots he wore in town) and was growing his hair out and expanding his mind in the Classic City. Athens was still a small town then (at least among those that weren’t students) and we’d run into each other everywhere. We had a mutual love of drone, noise and krautrock, not to mention a similar sense of humor. We just clicked. Very fast. And it still feels like yesterday.
Synthetic Flying Machine would appear infrequently as Jeff was always traveling and Bill would tour with Chocolate USA. It wasn’t too far along before the Olivia Tremor Control (always note the "The" as it’s part of their name) started playing in town. Jeff named the Olivias as the Olivias named his new band, Neutral Milk Hotel. And so it became.
The gang of misfits and oddballs in Athens continued to grow, morph and develop. By the time I got up the guts to ask Will and Bill if I could release an Olivias record, they were mentioned far and wide, but rarely, if ever, in town. It was still a blissful and talented vacuum of naiveté. To call those years good times would be an understatement. Funny enough, the very first time I smoked weed was under Bill and Will’s direct assistance. He might be embarrassed by this fact, but like almost everything with Bill, he’d probably laugh and move on.
As things go, house parties led to coffee houses led to opening gigs for touring national bands and, eventually, The Olivias were established in Athens and got a record deal with Flydaddy and a well-connected booking agent. He toured. I worked. He came home. I toured. He went back on tour. I went on unemployment. It’s the age old story….
Oddly enough, when I left Athens to actually make a living wage in Atlanta, Bill and I still were close. I put on a number of Olivia shows at the Echo Lounge and we’d run into each other at out of town gigs. Always. ALWAYS. Always a great time. Smiling. Laughing. Bill.
He and his wife were very supportive of me during very difficult times and would routinely check in on me during some particularly trying times in the late 90’s. Bill was a bro. And as you go through life, you get very few of those. I’ll always cherish that about Bill.
And I’ve not even mentioned Bill’s musical prowess because, well, it all speaks volumes for itself. Yes, Bill was good. Will was good. Talented. But together? Forget it. They were a powerhouse. Unquestionably. Bill’s permanent legacy is his music. A wide swath of material that you wouldn’t imagine that came from a kid from the flatlands of Northern Louisiana. Bill left an indelible impression. No doubt.
Billy D is survived by his companion of over 20 years, Amy (who he continually dedicated "Jumping Fences" to while on stage), his other companion Will Hart, a loving family and a virtual army of friends and fans.
Out of respect to Amy, Will, the Olivias and the Doss family, please know that any memorial or funeral arrangements will be posted here for all those coming out of town.
UPDATE (2AUG12): Join us for a celebration of Bill Doss’ life. Saturday, August 4 from 2-4p.m. at the 40 Watt Club, 285 West Washington St. Athens, GA. (further arrangements are being made)
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you make donations to Nuçi’s Space, a local musician support & resource center.