Indie

Billy Sedlmayr's First Solo Album the Product of Prison, Art, and Age

Page 2 of 2

See also: Howe Gelb Discusses Rainer

Sedlmayr's lived his life in music: He played drums for art punks the Pedestrians in the late '70s, and when that band fractured not long after opening for the Ramones, he formed Giant Sandworms with Howe Gelb, Rainer Ptacek, and Dave Seeger, which would morph into Giant Sand. He spent time in Minneapolis in the '80s, fronting a band called Stagger Lee and palling around with the Replacements and the Jayhawks. Later, he'd team with Rich Hopkins of the Sidewinders and Sand Rubies.

But it's taken the 53-year-old Sedlmayr more than three decades to make his solo debut, a stunning new album called Charmed Life. The album is the work of a consummate songwriter, but it's also a document of Sedlmayr's scars, both physical and psychic. Sedlmayr's story is a desperate one: years filled with heroin and cocaine, shuffling among New York, Minneapolis, and Phoenix, but always back to Tucson, the town where a robbery attempt at a Dairy Queen resulted in a high-speed chase and a wreck that nearly killed Sedlmayr and the Tucson officer holding a gun to his head (the harrowing story is recounted in "Billy's Blues," by Brian Smith in the November 12, 1998, issue of New Times). And then incarceration; he spent most of the late '80s and the '90s in lockup in the state prison in Florence.

It's all on the album, Sedlmayr says over the phone on a balmy night with monsoon clouds sweeping over Tucson. He's in the midst of finishing handwritten lyric sheets, rewards for Kickstarter backers who chipped in to help record the album. The idea of crowdfunding an album was a new one for him. "It's not like the old days at all, and I was gone when the good old days were here," Sedlmayr says.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.