MC Life: Music or Motorcycles? – Billy Morrison

February 26, 2010
Steve Atlas
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Professional-grade speed and an attitude to match, Steve Atlas is the new blood at MotoUSA. Atlas has AMA racing creds that are even more extensive than his driving record.

Billy Morrison
Rocker Billy Morrison has been riding since a young age, with a father and uncle that both road raced professionally.

Had it not been for a fateful TV show some three decades ago, rocker Billy Morrison may have well been a motorcycle racer. That’s the way his childhood was headed, at least. With an Isle of Man TT sidecar-racing father and works Kawasaki road-racing uncle, young Billy’s life was all about one thing – motorcycles.

“My Dad, before marriage and babies, he was a semi-pro road racer,” says Morrison as we sit and chat about his childhood over a cup of coffee at Alpinestars’ headquarters in Southern California. “He did the Isle of Man in ‘59 and ‘61 when they used to carry spare tires around with them. I have so many stories from my Dad about the Isle of Man. Up until he had me, I kinda wrecked it for him, he raced sidecars. He was the guy that hung out, the monkey.”

“My uncle, Barry Ditchburn, was a works Kawasaki rider in the ‘70s as well,” Billy continues. “He was Mick Grant’s teammate for a few years until he moved to Australia, and he still races there now. We were on the Grand Prix circuit when I was eight, nine, 10; going to Brands Hatch and Mallory Park and Assen. Even came to Laguna Seca.”

Riding a dirt bike since age six, being a racer consumed his thoughts and dreams. That was until just another average day, sitting on the couch and watching the telly, a mega-popular British rock band called the Sex Pistols came on. Morrison was 12-years-old and what followed was 30 minutes that would greatly alter his life. “Until I saw the Sex Pistols on TV my life was pretty much bikes. But then they came along and pretty much shat on everything,” laughs Morrison.

Billy Morrison
“Utill I saw the Sex Pistols on TV my life was pretty much bikes. But then they came along and pretty much shat on everything.”

From that point his focus changed dramatically, submerging himself full-bore into the music world. Instantly picking up the guitar and, at the risk of sounding like the biggest cliché of all time, literally playing until his fingers bled. Billy was going to make it as a rocker or die trying. And he did exactly that.

Probably most well known for his time in The Cult as their touring bassist during the Beyond Good and Evil album, he’s now part of several bands, including the long-running Camp Freddy. The tribute/celebrity cameo band features an all-star cast including Dave Navarro, Chris Chaney and Donovan Leitch, Jr. They’ve been playing gigs, mostly corporate, for eight years running. And they’re still going strong. He also has a side project called Circus Diablo and does some work with Ozzy Osbourne.

“We have an established company that’s been going eight years and we’ve played music with some amazing people,” he says of Camp Freddy. Morrison also recently teamed up with Ducati to form the Ducati All-Stars, a band which includes none other than his boyhood idol Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols. “Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols – he’s the reason I started playing music when I was a kid and now I ride with him and play music with him! Anytime I get to play a guitar I’m happy. I lead such a blessed life. I’m not working at Wal-Mart, not that there’s anything wrong with working at Wal-Mart, but I’m lucky enough to pay my bills by playing guitar. So if I’m going to play guitar for Ducati motorcycles that’s even better.”

“It’s also great because I’m not Slash and I can go to the grocery store and live a normal life while still making my living playing music and for that I’m truly fortunate,” he adds. “We all have our roles. Dave Navarro is a guy that’s got great abs and he’s front and center and he’s good at being really famous. I’m a rhythm guitar player, not a lead guitar player, so by default I’m the guy who stays a little out of the spotlight and for me that works.”

Billy Morrison
On top of the tricked-out Ducati Sport 1000S the Italian manufacturer gave him, Morrison also has a fully kitted Triumph Speed Triple.

While music is Morrison’s profession, motorcycles have always remained a major part of his life. The rock star even tried his hand as a motorcycle courier in London for four years to make ends meet while getting his music career off the ground – not a job for the faint of heart. “I was a motorcycle courier in London for four years in rain, sleet, snow, and traffic you wouldn’t believe!” exclaims Billy. “Life expectancy is three years for that job and I did it for four. That’s not to say I’m a good rider, I was just lucky.”

He continues to rack up the miles today. Morrison truly is a motorcycle nut. With a murdered-out Triumph Speed Triple 1050 and tricked-out Ducati Sport 1000S in the garage, the British musician spends some serious time in the saddle.

“I’ve put 4000 on the Triumph since I got it and I’ve only had it four months now,” he adds. “I’ve got about 400 miles on the Ducati as well and I just got that three days ago. But you can only ride one at a time, so now the Triumph is gonna go away and have more work done on it. It’s down at South Bay Triumph getting the pipes ceramic coated black and the pegs and everything painted black. It’s a ridiculous Mad Max machine and you’ve got to wear a Simpson RX helmet for the full look.”

The rock ‘n’ roll elder statesman also finds one serious similarity between picking the axe in front of 5000 people and throwing a leg over the saddle: The rush!

Billy Morrison
Based on the success of Camp Freddy and the Ducati All-Stars Band, Morrison is planning more projects to blend the music and motorcycle worlds together.

“With music there’s definitely the high adrenaline thing that also goes with riding, especially a sportbike, but any kind of motorcycle. It’s that kind of adrenaline that you get sitting around waiting all day and then all of the sudden you are on and, bang, it’s time to go. It’s that same kinda rush, that same buzz. That’s really what it’s all about, searching for the buzz. Much like 90% of the planet I would imagine, though I can only speak for me, it’s about finding the buzz. Hence, playing guitar for a living and riding fast motorcycles.”

“The hard part becomes finding time to do both and being married as well. My wife is aboslutly gorgeous and amazing and lets me do it, but she does get pissed off. She’s a bike widow to be honest. I picked up that (Ducati 1000S) Friday morning and when the Ducati PR stuff and playing the gig was all finished all I wanted to do was ride. But she’s fantastic and very supportive, so I’m lucky there.”

There’s good reason why Mrs. Morrison isn’t the biggest fan of two-wheeled machines. Billy didn’t give her the best of introductions to the motorcycle world.

“Before I knew I was going to marry her, of course, she comes to England to visit with me and my friend has an R1. So I said, ‘You ever been on the back of a motorcycle?’ She said, ‘No.’ So I said, ‘C’mon, I’ll give you a ride.’ She gets on the back of the R1, which isn’t the most comfortable place to be anyway, and I set off and pull a wheelie for the first three gears. She’s punching me in the head and I’m laughing!

“Then I ended up marrying her and said, ‘Alright, I think I’m going to buy a motorcycle.’ And she went, ‘Wait a minute here.’ So it’s been a few years of work but she’s been absolutely amazing to let me ride again,” he adds.

Billy Morrison
Billy’s passion outside of playing rock music: Motorcycles. When not riding look for Morrison to be touring with Billy Idol this year, as well as playing more Ducati All-Stars shows.

One would think having a rock star for a husband would be more nerve racking than a motorcycle-riding one. “Well, yeah it is, too. The year we got married I moved my stuff in and said, ‘I’ll see you in about 18 months’ and I went around the world with The Cult,” Morrison says. “I just got back from England and right away I was off traveling with the band on the Aerosmith world tour. And now we’ve added motorcycles into the mix. I’m not sure what I did to deserve my wife but I’m damn sure I don’t deserve her (laughs). She’s a great lady. She is a lawyer so I went through her qualifying (for the) Bar, which meant I pretty much didn’t see her for four years, but it’s understandable. A lawyer and a rocker, there’s a reality TV show if there ever was one!”

Morrison and a group of fellow rock stars and celebrities ride on a regular basis in the SoCal canyons, many of whom I’m sure you’ve heard of.

“In our group of guys that meet every week, even sometimes two or three times a week, you’ve got Danny Boy from House of Pain, Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols – the reason I started playing music when I was a kid – Mark McGrath from Sugar Ray, or more recently E! TV presenter,” says Billy as he interjects a friendly laugh. “Jason Bonham from a little band called Led Zeppelin (son of original Zeppelin man Jon Bonham) and Frankie Perez from a band called Scars on Broadway.”

Billy has a signature Gibson guitar coming out in 2010, but there’s one thing he wants more than his personalized axe. A Ducati Desmosedici. “I have a signature guitar coming out next year with Gibson, the Billy Morrison model, so I will put some music out with that, but right now I just want to ride that Ducati Desmo again!”

Billy was able to put some miles on a Desmo after his Ducati All-Stars event and came away flabbergasted with the performance.

Billy Morrison
Something tells us this vintage racer styled Ducati Sport Classic will see many rides in the SoCal Canyons.

“I’ve had a lot of experiences in my life, and I’ve had a lot of rushes in my life, but there’s nothing to compare to that thing. You also can’t ride that thing without thinking ‘don’t drop it.’ It’s an $85,000 motorcycle and in the back of my head I’m thinking, ‘don’t drop it, don’t drop it.’ But the power is outstanding and it keeps pulling and pulling and pulling. The next thing you know you’re going 125 mph in about third gear!”

But Morrison’s real goal for 2010 is to further blend music and motorcycles, something he started with Camp Freddy and Alpinestars and continued with the Ducati All-Stars band.

“Ever since Alpinestars got involved and co-sponsored the gigs we did in December with Camp Freddy the amount of friends that I’ve added on my Facebook page that have motorcycles as their pictures has gone through the roof,” Morrison says. “Before that everyone was photos with guitars or rocking out or what have you, and I’m going – rocker, rocker, rocker… After that Alpinestars event there are a lot of people that I can see the avatars are starting to be motorcycling and that is a direct result of sticking an Alpinestars logo on my T-Shirt and playing a bunch of gigs. How much better can it get than that? So my mission for this year is to spread that word and get more people involved in motorcycles and rock music.”

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