Bill Abernathy: Topping the Charts, Later

Bill Abernathy, 56, has been writing songs and playing guitar for most of his life, though it’s rarely been his focus. Today, with two grown children and a well-established career as a logistics expert for a large multi-national company, Abernathy has reached the top of Reverbnation’s Americana chart with his very first album, Changes.

Always attracted to the acoustic singer songwriter sound, he recalls how his brother, who was 10 years his senior, let him tag along when he’d go listen to music “back in the old hippie days.” “He was into the music scene in Kansas City and I was the little kid with curly hair who played guitar a little bit. The first real concert I ever went to was Loggins and Messina. That’s how I learned to love acoustic music,” says Abernathy.

“I always thought I was born out of time from a musical standpoint,” he says, adding that from about 1972, his main influence has been Dan Fogelberg. “I started listening to Fogelberg when I was about 13 years old when he came out with his first album, Home Free. While everyone else was listening to Reo Speedwagon and disco, I was listening to Folgelberg, Loggins and Messina, Stephen Stills, Paul Simon, and John Denver.”

As a musician, he says he never had any thoughts of being “discovered” or even making a career in music. “I never had any delusions of grandeur. I wasn’t going to make a lot of money as a guy and a guitar sitting in a coffee shop, telling stories about the songs I was singing,” he says.

Still, when he first took his “day job,” the intention was just to raise enough money to go on tour. “I ended up staying a little bit longer, and then a little bit longer, and pretty soon it’s 36 years later,” he says. In that time he also married and dedicated himself to raising his two children.

“I’ve always played a little bit every weekend in my studio. I have a notebook and I would write down an idea and sometimes they would evolve into something,” he says explaining how he put song concepts on hold for later. “For example, the song ‘Meant to Be’ that’s on my CD is one I started to write when I was in high school. I finished it last year on an airplane.”

Most of the ideas and inspiration for his songs come from personal experiences, he says. “Most of the songs, particularly the ones on Changes, are events that occurred to me or around me where I was emotionally invested.”

“Meant to Be” is about his wife of 35 years, “Willow Creek” is about the place where Abernathy grew up and first learned to play guitar, and the CD title song “Changes” is about his own life and how he adapts to situations. “‘Changes’ has about 50 verses and I pick and choose which ones I’m going to play,” he adds.

He says he spends most of his songwriting energy on lyrical content. “Once I get the idea and the lyrics down, the melody is pretty much in my head and I sit down with the guitar and figure it out,” says Abernathy.

He sees the Internet as a huge advantage to part-time musicians like himself. “It’s amazing to me, as I’ve gotten back into this, that there is a lot of stuff on the Internet you can do. There are tons of Internet radio shows you can be a part of. A lot of talented people out there are making good music. Playing music is not our full-time gig, but it’s still a love and it’s something that is part of us,” he says. “I’ve randomly run into people that remember me from back in the day, and I’ve made several thousand fans of the new stuff. It’s really fun to see and connect with people in this venue where I can turn off the professional Bill and be music Bill for a while.”

Abernathy also plays out a couple times a month, often at events to benefit charitable organizations. “I really enjoy interpersonal connections with the audience,” he says.

His advice to other singer songwriters is: “Have something to say and don’t just write a song to write a song. Songwriting is being able to portray in words, music, and feelings, something you need to say.”

He also says that musicians should continuously challenge themselves. His son, Chad, helps him move outside his own comfort zone. Also a songwriter, Chad frequently introduces his dad to new music. “It’s fun to sit down and see how they do what they do, which challenges you, and helps you learn and avoid becoming stagnant,” says Abernathy.

Though being recognized as a musician has been a fun experience for Abernathy, he says the real rewards of making music are more personal. “It helps you understand who you are,” he says. “I think the benefit is to find yourself. I’m really high-energy and I think songwriting gives me a chance to sit down and chill and let everything else go away.”

Cherie Yurco is a former editor at Making Music and has worked as a freelance editor and writer for over 20 years.

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