In the heart of Manhattan’s Upper West side, music man, Billy Nichols a.k.a. Papadollabill, runs Boss Records. With over 50 years of producing rap, the blues and gospel, the singer, songwriter and former guitarist, he served as band leader for the legendary Marvin Gaye, something that grew from a simple introduction.
“I was introduced to the entire Motown family by Billy Henderson (The Spinners) and met Marvin at his home during his 25th birthday bash. I then played bass and the guitar for many of the acts and eventually became Marvin’s band leader,” Nichols said. “Working for Marvin was amazing, but I was young, naive and a square, so I was not quite prepared.”
Nichols toured across the country and in Bermuda with Gaye from 1964 to 1965. During that time, Gaye’s major hits were “I’ll Be Doggone” and “How Sweet It Is.” Nichols remembers when how fascinated Gaye was when he found out he was a vegetarian and he always made sure to question him about it.
“Every time he asked I was never able to give him an answer,” said Nichols.
Years later, after Gaye’s death, Nichols says a childhood memory surfaced of his life on a farm, having a rapport with the animals and naming them as his pets.
“One evening my family and I , we were sitting at the dinner table having dinner. I asked about Joe, my pet rooster and my sister’s response was; ‘You’re eating him!’ From that point on, I said; ‘When I get old enough, I’m never going to eat meat again.’”
Born in the south, the seventh of nine children, Nichols says farm life and picking cotton could be harsh and the blues of the Mississippi Delta was an outlet for everyone.
“My dad was a musician and played guitar. Music was everywhere, even Muddy Waters came around.” Nichols says the music helped people cope with everyday life. “Growing up, there were songs that just made me make it through the day, like Sam Cooke’s music, so I take pleasure in doing the same.”
When he was 14, the family relocated to Springfield, Mass., where he attended junior high school with Taj Mahal. Today, Mahal still credits the Nichols’ family with helping him in music. Nichols recently wrote “Shake Me In Your Arms,” a single on Mahal’s latest album, TajMo.
This year, Nichols co-produced “If You Ain’t Getting’ Your Thing,” for L.J. Waiters and the Electrifiers. On Broadway, Nichols produced music for the Shakespearian play, “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” starring Clifton Davis and Raoul Julia. The production won a Tony for best music.
“I’ve learned a lot in my lifetime but want people to know that when you’re sincere about what you’re doing, it’s not always your talent that carries you, it’s the opportunity and support of the people around you.”
For more information, go to www.BillyNichols.com