Billy O’s in Midtown Ventura is unquestionably a dive bar. Seedy in all the right ways, this local hang has gone through various incarnations as different crowds over the years have discovered its beer-soaked charm. With each different scene comes a different soundtrack, making for some diverse bands and memorable shows at “the O,” as it’s affectionately referred to. Strangely, though, whether it’s destructive metal or accordion folk, it always seems as if the music doesn’t quite fit the style of the venue. Ventura’s latest twangster, Dave Gleason, knows what’s missing.
“It needs country music,” explains the ultra-friendly 40-year-old guitarist. “Billy O’s is as close to a honky-tonk as you can get in these parts. I love it there. I actually like playing bars that look and smell like bars, so naturally I was drawn to it.”
Born and raised in the Bay Area, Gleason moved with his wife to Ventura in 2007. For years a mainstay on the West Coast country circuit as a guitarist for hire, Gleason also held down every music aficionado’s dream day job as Amoeba Record’s LP pricer, but he longed for a change of scenery and a less stressful commute.
“I was there in Berkeley for 12 years, and was constantly traveling down to L.A. to play. I spent years and years of that agonizing drive and having to get to work the next day. I became familiar with Ventura when I started doing some gigs at Zoey’s, and I had always played the hot-rod events down here. Something struck me about the town. I knew it was a place I wanted to live at some point in my life. It’s close to L.A. but far enough away you can have some peace of mind. So I left the record store and headed south on [Highway] 101. There’s great people here, some good musicians, and I think I can stir up the country scene here a bit.”
When Gleason says country, though, he doesn’t mean it in the modern sense of American Idol’s pre-packaged pop country or polished Nashville hat rockers. His influences are more along the lines of the California country sound of Merle Haggard and Buck Owens.
Having just returned from an appearance at the South by Southwest musical festival in Austin, Texas, where he performed with Mike Stinson, his weekly residency at Billy O’s is promising a full honky-tonk band backing him with some surprisingly familiar faces.
“I have my long-time band that I use in the Bay Area and I also have players in L.A., but I finally got the right guys to do a local thing here. Tony Cicero on drums, Joe Baugh on guitar and Sam Bolle on bass. They play together in a lot of different bands around here, so they work really well together, and so far it’s sounding great.”
In addition to April’s Monday night residency, Gleason just released an online-only acoustic record, his fourth original record, and has compiled more than 40 new original songs he’s set to record later this year. He’s also co-hosting Bernadette’s once-a-month Americana brunch, where he helps bring in friends from out of town to perform.
So with a full-time country man promising “cosmic cowboy music” at Billy O’s, one has to ask, will he be sporting one of the famed Nudie jackets made popular by Gram Parsons and signature California country fashion accessory of the ’70s?
“Sadly no,” laughs Gleason. “Those things cost like $3,000. When my last record came out, I had a friend let me borrow one for the photo shoot. I do, however, have a fine collection of slightly cheaper, yet still quality Western wear that will get some stage time. That’ll have to do for now.”
Dave Gleason takes over Billy O’s every Monday night in April. 2819 E. Main St., Ventura. 652-0327, myspace.com/davegleasonmusic.