“River Gang” and “Lookout Mountain” are two gems from Outlaw country musician Billy Stoner. Both tracks offer a slice of life from the Austin-cum Tennessee singer. Each track can be found on Stoner’s eponymous debut album, which was released in 1980. Billy Stoner never found the musical fame that he was chasing and has been absent from the music scene until now. Check out both songs below.
Billy Stoner was born on Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, and resides there today. As a child, he was a member of the Chattanooga Boys Choir. After high school he learned how to drive a truck. In the late 1960s, a member of Boston band The Family Circus, and in the 1970s, Plum Nelly Austin (Texas). Billy’s friend Ernie Gammage describes him as “the poster child for hippie-redneck,” a reference to the cultural shift going on in the Austin scene thanks to the birth of outlaw country, when cowboys started doing things hippies do, and hippies started wearing cowboy boots and drinking Lone Star beer.
Plum Nelly won a prize at the Kerrville Folk Festival (now in its 47th year). When they went their separate ways, Billy hooked up with a band known as the River Gang and they moved to Houston for about two years. Although they opened shows for many people, including Rambling Jack Elliott, not much came of it, so Billy went back to Austin and found security and stage work at the Opry House. His friend Jack Cheer had reserved studio time for him, so he flew up to Boston and recorded an album at Longview Farm, in N. Brookfield, Massachusetts, where he met Jemima James. Billy was sitting on the masters when he was swept up in an Austin raid by the DEA. Ever an outlaw and consummate musician, Billy became a member of The Austin Fall Stars a few years later, a band based at Big Spring Federal Prison Camp, which sometimes performed for the public at community events.
Billy Stoner returned to Austin one more time, after thirty seven months in Big Spring, playing in several different bands before he was called back to Lookout Mountain to care for family. The masters for his album went into storage, and he started driving trucks cross-country again, becoming known by his handle “Rockabilly” on the citizen’s band for singing songs to his fellow road warriors on the move. He is now retired. Jemima James found him recently thanks to the internet. She helped him to get the analog masters digitized thanks to a program at Middle Tennessee State University, and she introduced him to Team Love.
Each song on the album tells some piece of the Billy Stoner story. The first single, “River Gang,” is about a little import company, while “Lookout Mountain” lays out some family history. Billy dedicates this album to Benny Thurman (13th Floor Elevators), a beloved member of his extended musical family.