Billy Bob Thornton and his band The Boxmasters are touring the US in support of Thornton's fourth album, 'Beautiful Door.' - Phot by Maryam Santos Kayda

Music has always been his passion

Billy Bob Thornton and his band The Boxmasters like to play their music two ways — as good, old-fashioned hillbilly music and as heavier rock 'n' roll. So don't miss the opening act.

"We open for ourselves," says Thornton, during a telephone interview. "We do a lighter set, then we come out and do the headliner act.

"We also treat ourselves very poorly as the opening act," he adds. "We just get the small vegetable tray in the dressing room."

Thornton and his band are touring the country in support of "Beautiful Door," Thornton's fourth album. They'll perform at 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 24, at the Rogue Theatre, 143 S.E. H St., Grants Pass.

Thornton, a drummer since the age of 9, led various bands before becoming an actor, screenwriter and director. Most notably, he and fellow musicians Mike and Nick Shipp played together during their 20s as a ZZ Top tribute band called Tres Hombres. The three had started out as a power trio called Nothin' Doin'.

"We played a lot of original songs, but we sounded just like ZZ Top," he laughs. "We were huge fans."

During a gig at a Houston club, Thornton and the Shipps were approached by Scott Weiss of Lone Wolf Productions, ZZ Top's management company. Weiss pitched the idea of becoming a tribute band, and Tres Hombres began performing at rock festivals and opening for bands such as Humble Pie, MC5, Hank Williams Jr., Ted Nugent and Black Oak Arkansas. Later, Thornton would present an award to ZZ Top at the 2007 VH1 Rock Honors Award Show.

Thornton put aside his drumsticks and moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting in 1981. He didn't really decide to make a career switch as much as he just followed his muse, he says.

"I was going to play baseball, that's what I wanted to do. I grew up in Arkansas and Texas, and movies weren't that big of a deal. I wasn't one of those guys like Scorcese who had a passion to direct films since he was a kid."

One of Thornton's friends was going to L.A. to become a screenwriter. Thornton was playing music on weekends and working for a state highway department.

"I just wanted a change of scenery," he says.

Thornton says he spent five or six miserable years in L.A. before he happened to get into a theater group and be discovered by a producer. After that, he got enough small parts to live on and eventually became a steadily working actor.

It was in 1995, during the shooting of his Oscar-winning film "Sling Blade," that Thornton would get together with some bandmates and begin playing music again. His latest work, "Beautiful Door," is a collection of 12 tracks composed by himself and co-writer, producer and guitarist Brad Davis.

"Brad and I had just finished a long songwriting streak that was all over the map," he says. "We finally hit a stride on about the last 12 songs. They're about life, death and how you deal with it all."

Thornton's earlier work includes his 2001 debut album "Private Radio," "The Edge of the World" in 2003 and "Hobo" in 2005. All of the albums have been produced by Davis and engineered by Jim Mitchell.

"The songs on 'Beautiful Door' are comparable to my first and third records," Thornton says. "They're moodier and tell stories.

"There are some politically oriented songs that are something I haven't done before," he says. "They're about people, religion and war. They're not heavy-handed, and they don't blame anyone or anything in particular. War sucks. Period."

Along with Davis on electric and acoustic guitar and mandolin, bassist Leland Sklar and keyboard player Teddy Andreadis join Thornton on "Beautiful Door." Graham Nash provided the background vocals for the title cut and two other songs.

Thornton's seven-member touring group, The Boxmasters, includes Davis, Andreadis, Mike Shipp, J.D. Andrew, Mike Bruce, and Mike Butler. Thornton plays drums on the recordings, but during live performances Bruce, an Atlanta-based musician, plays drums.

"When we play live, I'm out in front," Thornton says. "As a musician, I want people to come out and hear the band, not come out just to see the monkey."

Thornton and The Boxmasters recently signed with Universal, and more albums under the band's name will be in the works.

Tickets to the show at the Rogue Theatre cost $25 in advance and $30 the day of the show.

Tickets are available online at roguetheatre.com or at Larry's Music in Medford and Grants Pass; Blue Moon Antiques, Oregon Outpost and The Music Shop in Grants Pass; and CD or Not CD and The Music Coop in Ashland. Or call 471-1316.

Share This Story