Buck Dharma together with Bouchard Brothers at Hilfiger Tribute

Friends of Billy Hilfiger came together to remember his life and music Monday, October 8th at Don Hill's night club in Manhattan. The night started with Al and Joe Bouchard doing a Hilfiger original Billy's Song and then the rest of the Brain Surgeons took the stage for Last Angry Woman and Godzilla. The Cult Brothers with brother Andy Hilfiger and Jimmy Cacalla were joined by Buck Dharma and Al Bouchard for unforgettable versions of Cities on Flame and (Don't Fear) the Reaper. Leslie West and Corky Lang played Mountain favorites, Theme From an Imaginary Western and Missippi Queen. Dennis Dunaway and Neal Smith joined Joe Bouchard for the driving Alice Cooper track, Under My Weels, the Buchard,Dunaway and Smith song Real Thing and their new version of Fallen Angel. Handsome Dick Manitoba's Wild Kingdom with JP, Adny Shernoff and Daniel Rey played The Party Starts Now, Haircut and An Attitude and I Want You. A reconstituted King Flux with Richie Stotts, Marky Ramone, Michael Houghton and Andy Hilfiger played Stones songs Jumpin' Jack Flash and Last Time. Ricky Byrd was joined by Joe Bouchard and the house band Rock Candy for Billys favorie love song, Hunk of Burnin' Love. Michael Houghton played Cheap Trick songs with Rock Candy and Billy's nephew Michael Fredo joined in to sing a song. Billy's original band Fright played and sang on into the night with many of the musicians in the audience joing in.

Hilfiger was fun-loving rocker




William "Billy" Hilfiger lived and embraced life to the utmost, grabbing it tightly and squeezing everything he could out of it. He loved fun, he loved rock 'n' roll, but most of all, he loved his family and friends. "He was an all-around average guy who loved to play guitar and loved to enjoy life," says 43-year-old Jason Kirk of Elmira, who played in local rock bands with Mr. Hilfiger from 1976 to 1982. "He was always happy with who he was and where he was at in life. There's nothing bad you can say about Billy."

Mr. Hilfiger died Saturday, Sept. 15, 2001, from brain cancer at Arnot Ogden Medical Center in Elmira. He was 45. He is survived by his wife, Karla, and scores of relatives. Mr. Hilfiger was a musician and landscape designer in New York, and the brother of fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger, who was born and raised in Elmira.

Mr. Hilfiger was buried Monday morning in St. Peter & Paul's Cemetery in Elmira.

Those who knew Mr. Hilfiger remember him as always smiling, always happy and always ready to have fun. "He was the life of the party," said Deborah Frost of New York City, who plays guitar and sings with The Brain Surgeons, a rock band that Mr. Hilfiger played with since 1993. "He was always having fun, getting into mischief, telling jokes and just being a total character. You couldn't help but laugh and have fun around him."

Mr. Hilfiger's musical resume is a long one. He played in local rock 'n' roll bands starting in junior high school, gaining confidence and acclaim as the talented guitarist in Glass Head and then Fright, an immensely popular Elmira group in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Fright filled Elmira nightspots such as The Connection and Myhalyk's with fans cheering the band. "Billy was a huge (Rolling) Stones fan," said Kirk. "They were his biggest influence. Their music was playing at his wake (Monday)." Mr. Hilfiger wrote a little music and some lyrics, said Kirk, but his true love was playing guitar. He had scores of guitars, but one of his favorites was his Gibson Firebird, said Kirk.

After moving to New York City in the early 1980s, Mr. Hilfiger and younger brother Andy Hilfiger formed a band that went through several different names, including Greenwich, Bad Blue, and Hill Fire. In 1986 they formed King Flux, playing loud, boisterous rock 'n' roll with Richie Stotz of the Plasmatics and Marky Bell, a former Ramone.

Mr. Hilfiger was working in Manny's Music Store in New York, where resident and visiting pros bought their instruments, when he met brothers Joe and Albert Bouchard, bassist and drummer, respectively, for Blue Oyster Cult -- another one of Mr. Hilfiger's well-loved bands. Soon after, both Billy and Andy Hilfiger were regular bandmates of the Bouchard brothers, who toured (and played Elmira several times) as the Cult Brothers and The X Brothers.

As guitarist in Albert Bouchard's band The Brain Surgeons, Billy Hilfiger made his mark and found his most satisfying niche. The band has made a string of critically acclaimed albums, and Mr. Hilfiger played and composed guitar parts on a new double CD.

Even though they lived and developed their careers in New York, the Hilfiger brothers would regularly return to play a show for the hometown crowd, with their "family band" HIPPO -- named for his late father -- that included drummer Jim Cacala of Elmira and Michael Fredo, Mr. Hilfiger's nephew, a professional musician and rising pop star. "He was a real rock 'n' roll musician, with an incredibly distinctive sound, almost like Keith Richards (of the Rolling Stones)," said Frost. "I'll never forget him, and I bet anyone who knew him won't forget him either."

Who the heck is that guy above Billy's right sholder?


Pete and Billy share a fascinating moment.

Sudden I turned step by step in Niagara Falls.

At the Coconut Teaser Billy jams with Mike Watt.

Billy and David leaving Seattle

tBS in Portland OR

I met Billy Hilfiger in Manny's Music Store on 48th Street in Manhattan in 1984. I had been working on the Imaginos album for a few years already and had some days off to get my thoughts together on how to make it better and how to appeal to the "Bigs" at Columbia who were not exactly overwhelmed with it. I was living on West 53rd Street at the time and when I needed a positive mood change I would go to Manny's to check out the gear. This time when I walked into the store a guy in the guitar department started playing "Cities On Flame." I looked at him and he had the biggest grin, I had to find out who he was. Turned out he was a guitar salesman there and was a big BÖC fan. Later I found out he was a fellow upstate New Yorker and we had other connections through his brother Bobby and my brother Gerry, both of whom were champion high school wrestlers (as was I) and had college roommates in common.

Billy told me about his band with Richie Stotts, King Flux. Every time I would see him on 48th Street he would tell me about the next gig they were playing. I finally went to see one of the shows at the legendary Cat Club and was quite impressed with the band. I thought the material was original and the Hilfiger brothers, Billy and Andy looked and sounded particularly good.

Billy was always in great shape in spite of his readiness to party and rock and roll lifestyle. He rode his mountain bike to stay fit. When Deborah wrote an article on Rocking Runners for New York Road Runners Magazine she included Billy in the story and pictures.

In 1987 Sargent Rock and Lee Deedmier quit the Helen Wheels band and we asked Billy to join. Another guitarist was hired to be the lead guitarist and Billy was supposed to play rhythm. After almost a year of playing sparsely attended shows Billy was clearly frustrated with the band. He particularly disliked being relegated to the rhythm guitarist role. The other guitar player did not want to let Billy play any leads and would denigrate Billy's attempts to get even a little bit of the spotlight. Within a year of joining Billy quit the Helen Wheels Band.

In 1988 the Helen Wheels Band was finished and Billy told Richie Stotts that I would make a good drummer for his new band. I joined and played with Richie for several months during which we played a couple great gigs and recorded an EP of Richie and Billy's songs.

Later in 1988 my brother Joe and I started a band to play covers of BÖC songs and we asked Billy and Andy to join. After a few very productive practice sessions we decided we were ready to play and booked a gig. It was then that Joe and I started arguing about the direction of the band and just before the gig I had the opportunity to record a live album for a popular artist. The gig was the same night as the gig with the Cult Brothers so I backed out of the band and was replaced with Jimmy Cacalla. There were some hard feelings but within a short time it was just so much water under the bridge and never brought to mind. I was even a surprise guest with the Cult Brothers on occasion.

In 1994 I was going for a run in Riverside Park and I ran into Billy on his bicycle looking at some of the gardens there. He was starting his own landscaping business and was checking out the competition. I told him about my new band the Brain Surgeons and Billy insisted that he had to be in it too. We started practicing in late April for our gigs in May. We only practiced twice before our first show and David was having great troubles with the bass parts. At the second one he expressed his frustration with trying to remember all the songs and Billy turned to him, started playing the riff to the Red and the Black and said, "Play this and follow me." Finally David was shown he could jam on a rocking riff and everything was going to be all right. Billy was a valuable member of tBS from early '94 until his last gig with us in April 2000.

Billy was very particular about how the little things were organized in the band. He was outrageous but also concerned that he not look like a fool. All the wires on the stage had to be neatly grouped. He was willing to play new songs but they had to be arranged well and learned down pat. He felt the look of the band was as important as the music. He was such a showman that when Pete would play a lead the people would look at Billy and think he was playing the lead. I know this happened many times because I would hear them compliment him on the leads that Pete played.

When Billy first got sick he was acting strangely. He developed a bit of a split personality. He was the life of the party in Toronto and Buffalo and then got very cranky on the way back to New York City the next day. When he got the diagnosis that he had a tumor he kept a very upbeat attitude. He took anti-seizure drugs and felt this thing was controllable. Later that fall when we played a gig in New York City he was scheduled to go in for surgery the following week. He was very upset and when I put my arm around him he cried. I told that I would be there for him and did my best to help him be brave. After the surgery we visited him in the hospital cracked jokes and all felt relieved that it had gone well. Later when we started playing shows without him he felt really guilty and told me how sorry he was that he was sick and worried that he had let us down. Of course, I assured him that that was not the case and having to do it without him made us stronger, especially Deborah, who had to take up most of the slack. In fact he had helped us immensely because Deborah had a chance to study how he played the songs (hand positions etc) and was able to copy him.

I last spoke to Billy a month before he died. We just came back from our summer tour and many of our fans had asked how he was. He had told me before we left for the tour that the doctors felt he was running out of options but was still hopeful that something could be done to prolong his life. When I called him that day after the tour he was very lucid but for the first time in four and half years he did not sound hopeful. He was glad that people asked for him and glad I called but after a few minutes he needed to rest and we said goodbye for the last time.

Billy's last show with the Brain Surgeons at the Living Room, NYC 4/15/00.