Drummer Billy Haarbauer

Savor member since 2019

Interview video thumbnail for Billy

Growing up in Duluth, Minnesota I just always had a natural love for music. My father bought me my first record album when I was five years old — which was Louis Armstrong – and he is my favorite musician in the world to this day.

I was able to experience the big band era, the rock era, the ‘60s where there was a lot of diversity of music. Of course, I was always into jazz. Traditional jazz at first, which morphed into jazz-fusion and a little more complex and sophisticated music.

An inauspicious beginning on the drums

In kindergarten and first grade they used to pass out little percussion instruments for all of us to play. And my mom, years later, showed me report cards from two separate teachers, both saying “Billy has an exceptional sense of rhythm.” Later I would pull the pots and the pans out from underneath the sink, and salad forks and spoons and hit on them. My parents got pretty sick of that so my dad bought me a little snare drum.

When I moved in with my grandparents, the rule was “don’t make any noise around the house,” so I picked up the guitar. But one Christmas my parents bought me this entry level set of drums.

Billy playing live

An unusual drum kit setup is born

The Beatles had just come out, and I looked at a picture of Ringo Starr on the front of one of The Beatles magazines, and I set up my drums like I thought he set his up. The problem was, the picture was reversed. To this day I play half left-handed and half right-handed, which makes it virtually impossible for anyone to sit in my set. I play left-handed with the bass drum and the ride cymbals, but I am right-handed, and my right-hand is my strong lead hand.

Joining bands and starting a career

At one point I met a group of guys and we started playing together. One of the guys said he had a gig for us. I was scared stiff! I didn’t know how to do a gig. But we played at the Sock Hop in Roller City in Glendora, California for thirty-five dollars — seven dollars apiece — and that was the beginning of my music career.

When I got a call to do my first night club gig, I was just as nervous. However, soon I was playing nightclubs with different people, and backing up singers.

Eventually I traveled around with ‘60s and ‘70s artists, and met Bo Donaldson. Rick (Thibodeau) was in Bo’s band, and we developed the reputation for being a great backup band for a lot of different artists. It was fantastic! I’m getting to play with people whose music I listened to when I was in junior high and high school; that was a pretty big fulfillment for me — and still is. (See below for full list.)

Billy with Coolio
Billy hangs out backstage with artist Coolio.

Learning never stops

I probably played at 12 to 15 nightclubs long term: two years to five years, five to six nights a week. But I never wanted to stagnate, so I kept practicing, trying to expand my horizons and be more of a sophisticated player.

During this pandemic, I thought: “I’m here at the house, I might as well spend three hours a day practicing my craft.” And it’s given me a renewed sense of enthusiasm and excitement about the music because it’s allowing me to sit and be creative.

In the past I took a few lessons from Louie Bellson’s brother, Henry Bellson, who taught me some stuff about Latin music and swing. I went to Dick Grove Music School for a while, and Citrus College where I took rhythmic sight reading and some harmony and theory. For a drummer it’s good to have at least a cursory knowledge of a melodic instrument; I play a little guitar, a little bass, not much keyboard, but I do have a knowledge of harmony.

Joining Savor

A couple of times a number of years ago, I filled in as a drummer for Savor. (EDITOR’S NOTE: He was recommended by bassist Rick Thibodeau.) So when Michael asked me to join, I was all in.

Some of the artists I’ve played with

Bay City Rollers; Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods; Maxine Brown; Freddy Cannon; The Chiffons; Coolio; The Cowsills; Mike d’Abo (Manfred Mann); Ron Dante (The Archies, etc.); James Darren; Duncan Faure (Bay City Rollers); Leif Garrett; Sonny Geraci (Climax and The Outsiders); Andrew Gold; John Claude Gummoe (The Cascades); Bobby Hendricks (The Drifters); Eddie Holman; Andy Kim; Denny Laine (The Moody Blues and Paul McCartney and Wings); Elliot Lurie (The Looking glass); Robin Leach-MC; Barbara Lewis; Mark Lindsay (Paul Revere and the Raiders); Trini Lopez; Ian Mitchell (Bay City Rollers); Jimmy McNichol; Chris Montez; Maxine Nightingale; Alan O’Day; Ohio Express; Freda Payne; Imelda Papin; Mike Pinera (Iron Butterfly/Blues Image); Martha Reeves and the Vandellas; Shirley Alston Reeves (The Shirelles); Merilee Rush; Mitch Ryder (The Detroit Wheels); PF Sloan; Rex Smith; Jimmy Sohns (The Shadows of Knight); Frank Stallone; Terry Sylvester (The Hollies); Dennis Tufano (The Buckinghams); Pat Upton (Spiral Starecase); Sal Valentino (The Beau Brummels); Kyle Vincent (Candy-Bay City Rollers); Barry Williams (Greg Brady); Al Wilson; Kathy Young, and The ladies of Doo Wop.