Holy Moses, it’s Billy Batson!

September 17th, 2009

Posted by Weston Blelock

Billy Batson at his Beckwith upright piano. Photo by Taylor Herron.

Billy Batson at his Beckwith upright piano. Photo by Taylor Herron.

Billy Batson, a rough hewn and as authentic a musician as you’re likely to encounter, arrived in 1965 Woodstock by way of California and Greenwich Village. For a time he gigged around town as a solo act. In the late sixites he played a set at The Elephant. Sitting down afterwards with his customary bottle of Jack Daniels at the ready, he watched Holy Moses play. The band, consisting of Ted Speleos on lead guitar, David Vittek on rhythm guitar, Marty David on bass/tenor sax and Christopher Parker on drums, played with panache. Billy felt they had real gas. Apparently the attraction was mutual. The others were reportedly blown away by watching Billy in action.

 They decided to team up. The group at that point was living in a tent on Pan Copeland’s farm—where the Sound-Outs were staged. Billy invited his newfound brothers to join him at his home on lower Ohayo Mountain Road. Batson’s namesake in the Captain Marvel comics always used to say, “Holy Moley.” So Billy felt destiny was calling when a band showed up known as Holy Moses. Billy had a bunch of songs that needed recording, so the band set about mastering them in dates around town. Buzz grew and soon Albert Grossman came calling. The band had a verbal agreement with Albert and The Band’s Rick Danko was penciled in to produce it, but Michael Jeffery (Jimi Hendrix’s manager) caught them in action at the Joyous Lake and the band decided to work with him instead.  

 A recording contract with RCA followed. The self-titled Holy Moses!! came out in 1971 and failed to chart, but fortunately in the intervening years Fallout has brought it back into circulation. The album showcases the talent and style extant from the town’s rock ‘n’ roll heyday. In addition, a number of the waterholes are lovingly referenced, including the Cafe Espresso and The Elephant. The CD begins with a gorgeous number entitled “The Sad Cafe.” Billy Batson’s vocals and piano-playing palette is full of color and humor. His teasing Texan drawl welcomes listeners to the musical repast to come. The song is a recreation of the life and times of the Cafe Espresso—sometimes referred to as the Depresso or the Sad Cafe. Another great number is the haunting/psychedelic “Roll River Roll.” Quite frankly, the eight-number recording abounds with good listening tunes. The CD is readily available online at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

27 Responses to “Holy Moses, it’s Billy Batson!”

  1. Julia & Wes – It’s so great that you’ve taken on this work and the actual history of Woodstock & the Sound Outs. I LOVED going to them in ’67 and ’68. Seeing Ellen McIlwaine influenced my music a LOT and I’ve loved her ever since.
    After this 40th Anniversary event all over America, it is a joy to see our town’s history being kept alive.

    I’ll be in town c. Sept 29. Too bad I missed the concerts!

  2. Billy Batson says:

    Thank you Weston. You’re a true friend! I’d just like to correct the spelling of my other band mate’s names and add a little misc. info.

    Lead Guitarist is: “Teddy Speleos”
    Rhythm Guitarist is: “David Vittek”
    Marty David (RIP) also played Tenor Sax on the LP.
    Christopher Parker is a highly accomplished Drummer, working out of N.Y.C. and has a current band of his own.

    Teddy, Marty and Christopher were only 19 years old when the “Holy Moses” album was created at Electric Ladyland Studios in N.Y.C., designed by Michael Jeffery and Jimi Hendrix.

    Teddy Speleos was a “prodigy” of Jimi Hendrix and Roy Buchanan.
    David Vittek also played Drums and Bass and was a very accomplished “Old Time Fiddle” player.
    Marty David also played Guitar.
    Christopher Parker also played Tuba.
    On the “Holy Moses” album, I wrote all the songs, sang the leads and played; Grand Piano, Moog Synthesizer, The Hammond B-3 Organ and an old “Honky-Tonk” Upright Piano. Teddy, David and Marty added harmony vocals. David Vittek sang the lead on track #6, “There’s No Turning Back”. The album was engineered by Kim King, formerly of “Lothar and The Hand People”.

    “Holy Moses” was making their music in Woodstock, N.Y. at the same time that “The Band” was creating “Big Pink”. Rick Danko and Richard Manuel were friends and “drinkin’ buddies” of mine. I sincerely miss them.

    I have continued to write and create music/songs all these years and if anyone is interested in hearing what I’ve been up to or would like to assist me in recording more of my music, they can email me at:
    BillyBatsonMusic@gmail.com

    Thanks again Weston! I truly appreciate it…and I know my “Band Brothers” will too!

    Billy Batson, 9/16/2009

  3. juliablelock says:

    Hey Joyce, great to hear from you! Hope to see you on 9/29. It was a blast catching up with the Sound-Out crowd . . . including Ellen, Children of God and the Blues Magoos . . . on 8/15. So sorry you missed them.

  4. Billy, you’re welcome! The additional commentary really helps to flesh out the post–and it’s much appreciated. Weston

  5. George Tuso says:

    Let’s not forget the role Cat Mother and the All Night Newsboys played in starting the soundouts. Thanks!

  6. Thanks, George. You’re absolutely right. Cat Mother and the All Night Newsboys were the host band in 1968 and lived in Pan Copeland’s farmhouse that summer. They invited many acts to come and play. For more info about their influence check the 7/1/09 post in this blog.

  7. Evaristo says:

    Quisiera escuchar HOLY MOSES (1971) pero por mas que remueva cielo y tierra no logro encontrar nada. Si algien me haría el favor? MIL GRACIAS!!!

  8. Hi Evaristo,

    Thanks for posting. I forwarded your message to Billy.

  9. Billy Batson says:

    I’m Billy Batson. If you’d like to contact me to see and hear what music I’ve been writing and producing over the last 40 years, please contact me at:

    billybatsonmusic@gmail.com or call me:

    714-436-0345 I’d love to hear from you!

    Billy

  10. Billy Batson says:

    Regarding the “Holy Moses” album; the record was co-produced by Kim King, formerly of “Lothar and The Hand People” and Michael Esposito, formerly of Blues Magoos and a long time resident of Woodstock. I’m told he owns a bicycle repair shop called “Old Spokes” in Woodstock. Love to you Michael!

  11. Billy Batson says:

    Note: The Company; “Fallout Records” is no longer in business and I doubt that you can find the “Holy Moses” CD on Amazon.com or through Barnes & Noble anymore. However, if you want a CD of the album, I have plenty and for the cost of making them and postage I would be glad to send one to any one who wants one. Write me at: BillyBatsonMusic@gmail.com

  12. my father is the one and only teddy speleos this is a album that captures a time mixed within it’s vinyl that takes him and maney other people to a place in there minds eye that feel’s like being there all over again!
    The last time I saw my father he sat down played and and sang “the sad cafe” what a great song!

    Here my 8-trk. demos as I write and record them at http://www.myspace.com/oceighty enjoy
    dez speleos

  13. Jesse,
    “The Sad Cafe” is also one of my favorites. Fellow musicians from the era have told me about Ted’s innovative guitar playing. They said that his licks equalled Jimi Hendrix’s. Many thanks for your comment. Weston

  14. Dave Rice says:

    My friends and I used to go see Holy Moses when we were in high school in Saugerties. They left off “Uncle Jed” from their one and only album, their most famous song! They also did cool covers of”Jeff’s Boogie”(Yardbirds/Jeff Beck)and “You ain’t goin’nowhere” (Byrds/Dylan) They were mostly country rock like The Band.

  15. Billy Batson says:

    Hey Dave…thanks for your kind comments about “Holy Moses”. “Uncle Jed Say” and “Oh Holy Rollers” were scheduled to be on the album. But the whole band was ill during the time we were recording and in those days LP’s had limited space, unlike CD’s today. Hell, you can put twenty songs on a CD if you want to. I truly regret that “Jed” and “Rollers” didn’t get recorded but we / I just was too sick to continue at some point. Obviously, we thought we’d have a second album so we just figured we’d get them on the next record. Others have complained that the song, “Up In The Lighthouse” was not on the LP. The biggest problem was that aside from being ill, we had a performance group of more than 50 songs so it was tough to make choices. Also, the album was recorded live. Teddy couldn’t handle being in a booth with ear phones on, separated from the band. So we just grouped together in a semi circle, just like we performed in and played and recorded live. All those songs (8) are first takes…live. We as a band wanted “Jed” and “Rollers” on our first LP but no one could decide what to leave off…so we ended up with the first 8 songs we cut. I regret with all my heart that “Holy Moses” only made one record. It was the biggest disappointment of my life. RCA had a real problem with us and we received little support from our Manager; Michael Jeffery. The pressure really got to us and we just sort of imploded from the inside out. I do hope you liked the other songs. Very sorry we/I let you down.

    Billy

  16. Billy Batson says:

    Hey Dave…thanks again for your kind comments. I do want to point out to you that it may be that Teddy Speleos and other members of our band played and performed “Jeff’s Boogie” (Yardbirds/Jeff Beck) and “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” (Byrds/Dylan) in other bands he may have been in (Kangaroos or The British Walkers) but as “Holy Moses”, we never played those songs. The only “cover songs” that we ever performed were very “old time tunes” like “Rhy Whiskey, Rhy Whiskey” or an old blues like “Mean Things On My Mind” and maybe a Hank Williams Sr. song. We made a point of playing only original songs…my songs…so as to differentiate our selves from the “pack”. Now a-days everyone writes their own songs (for better or worse) but in the 60’s, only a few bands played all original material. I assure you that “Holy Moses” never played those songs you mention while I was a member of the band. But again, thanks for your generous comments. I’ll pass them on to David and Teddy. You may know that, regretfully, Marty David passed away some years ago. He is so missed…

    Billy Batson

  17. Dave Rice says:

    I saw you guys play at “The Fur Baloon”a hippie tye-dye factory, for a Halloween party ’69. I could swear you played those cover songs there. And we saw you at The Woodstock Playhouse before Chris Parker. Who was on drums? My friend thinks it was Mike Esposito..It’s good you got Parker!.My friend says he saw you guys play with the Burrito Bros.in Woodstock. I don’t remember that. Teddy was on a Kangaroo record I have with John Hall and N.D. Smart. Marty is on a Van Morrison record I have I believe.

  18. LIZA VITTEK says:

    MY DAD, DAVE VITTEK DIED THE 25TH @ 8AM.

  19. Liza,
    We’re very to sorry about your loss. I am contacting Billy Batson and either he or we will post a tribute post on your dad. With best regards,
    Weston

  20. Glen Martin says:

    Jesse Speleos (Dez)

    I recall your Dad blazing thru “Jeff’s Boogie” lick-for-lick while I was still in high school in Vienna, Va.
    I hope you got to hear him play. Simply amazing.
    Ted was expelled immediately, because it was 1966? and his hair was too long for the schoolboard.
    Don’t know where my copy of “Holy Moses” LP ended up . . . sure would like to hear it again.

  21. jerry riley says:

    hey glen, hungout with ted in the late 70s and saw him play in a country band a couple of times.

  22. Manuela Thiess says:

    I remember hearing the Cowboy Song on the juke at Barney’s Beanery in the early 70’s, and I remember, also, putting in my coins to hear it gain, and again. ¨I know a cowboy rinding along, I know a cowboy singin’ a cowboy song, let him ride, let him ride…¨ with Billy Batson doing the vocal. It fills me with nostalgia and longing to hear what else he might have in store for us.

  23. Weston Blelock says:

    Manuela, Billy Batson, the Holy Moses lead singer and songwriter, has written hundreds of songs. Recently he sent me two excellent demo CDs. Write to billybatsonmusic@gmail for release dates. Best regards, Weston

  24. I remember your band very well – I lived in Bearsville 1969-1970. Saw you play a few times and always thought – these guys are good – I am sure something will happen for them. Loved the raw edge to the music. Solid material. Woke up this morning and said “I wonder if they’re still around”. Googled your name and here I am. A nice way to start the day.
    Manny

  25. Kenneth Lenz says:

    I was15 and living in Tiangle,Va, in 1974. I was at aplace called Belle Store. There was a little area near the front where they a selection of out of print l.p.s @ 8-tracks. Really nice stuff that I really didn’t know much about. “Future Blues” by Canned Heat on l.p. “Streetnoise” by Bian Auger on 8-track. “Welcome To The Canteen” By Traffic,Fat Matress’s 2nd album, and “Jamming With Edward” by Jagger,Watts,Wyman,Cooder&Hopkins all on 8-track.There was more but you get the idea. For a kid who’d only been listening to AM radio(which was good) this stuff was like a small goldmine. And of course there was the “Holy Moses!” album on 8-track. I loved it! my favorite cuts were “Sad Cafe”,”Rock City Road’,@”Roll River,Roll”. I played that thing on my tape player til it broke. Then I spent another 10 years in Va and down here in N.C. hitting the flea markets til I found a copy in so-so condition. It’s always been one of my favorite albums.

  26. Calvin Hardy says:

    Calvin here/ one more thing. you ever from alfie & susie they did leather work-on tinker street. by the way are you living in woodstock again?
    ( I am the tall black skinny guy who hanged out with doris croner/ & janice brody her sister also lived with , chris/martyout on whitenburg road. excuse the spelling. peace be with you>>>>>

  27. Cassie says:

    Purchased Holy Moses!! for a Christmas present for my friend Ann Bickford who was reminiscing about you all 🙂 she is going to be so happy!!

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