Billy Coulter is one of many musicians who, looking back, can point to The Beatles’ iconic performance on The Ed Sullivan Show as a highly influential moment in their lives. Sure, he was only 3 years old at the time, but he still looks back to this moment and the “indelible stamp” it left, fostering an interest in music that would start the Washington, D.C. area roots rock singer-songwriter on the path to later-in-life musical success and recognition.
Coulter celebrated some early fame, winning the Rising Stars of Washington D.C. contest at 19 and earning himself a TV appearance, but went off to college and stopped playing.
“I just sort of gave it up,” Coulter said. After college, Coulter found a job and eventually made his way into the publishing technology field in which he currently works, but in the late 1990s, challenging times in his life lead the musician to reconsider his childhood pastime.
“It was great fodder for songwriting,” Coulter said. “I found my muse again.”
The product of musically expressing these tough times was his 2003 self-titled album, produced in part thanks to a chance encounter with Steve Thoma of Fleetwood Mac fame which led to some studio time with Thoma and the roots of his Marco Delmar-produced album.
It wasn’t long before the relatively unknown performer would get the attention of the regional music scene, bringing in a handful of 2004 Washington Area Music Awards (Wammie) nominations.
He still performs the songs that earned him that early acclaim, and works at letting his audiences know just enough about stories behind these song to let the tunes speak for themselves. Coulter is still amazed by how at ease he is with talking about personal topics.
“I was amazed when I first opened my mouth, at the first gig I did, at how comfortable I was at expressing these kinds of feelings,” Coulter said. “I don’t shy away from that, that’s where the good stuff is. I wrote songs when I was younger that had nothing to do with feelings, and I don’t remember any of them.”
For Coulter, the songwriting is key. It lets him make a familiar brand of music, but deliver it from a unique perspective which he hopes will speak to something universal for his audiences. The importance he puts on his songwriting makes his most recent Wammies win in 2010 for Songwriter of the Year all the more satisfying.
“I was very honored to receive it,” Coulter said. “That frankly was one of the highest compliments I could have gotten.”
The award is the latest in a string of Wammies for Coulter since his debut album, including four in 2008 for his sophomore effort, Dose. His most recent album, Trace: Live at Goose Creek, features original songs prepared just six weeks before the May show.
Coulter has booked shows with his band through the Washington, D.C. area thanks to the efforts of his wife and booking agent Maggie, and has still had the opportunity to open for such nationally recognized acts as the Johnny Winter and Phil Vassar. He will be taking the stage at 3 p.m. at the Taste of Falls Church Festival Saturday, playing a set that will debut some of his new material.
• For more information about Billy Coulter, visit billycoulter.com.