Even before Covid-19 ground everything to a worldwide halt, there was a recent influx of artists turning their backs on the music industry in their prime and walking away to either pursue other endeavors or for reasons only known to them.
It’s nothing new, but due to the sad state of the music industry, it’s far more understandable than ever.
From Grammy-winners such as Lauryn Hill, who announce their retirement only to return sometime later, to outlaw-country eccentric Sturgill Simpson, who sort of comes and goes as he pleases.
Then there’s Hank III, (son of Hank Williams Jr. and grandson of the king himself; Hank Williams,) who, after a 5 year absence is still M.I.A.
And now, it is with a heavy heart, I hereby announce that I’m joining the ranks of these fugitives and making my own retreat from the industry that gave me a name.
Somebody once wrote:
Cited“Bullard is what one would refer to as ‘cult famous,’ which in lay terms means; though he is not world renowned, he is well-known enough so that anyone with any knowledge of that musical genre (Americana) knows who he is. Another term for this is: ‘Underground fame,’ which means; he’s not walking any red carpets, but enough people around the world know about him to give him some amount of credible recognition. It only takes one Google search to find more than enough on Mr. Bullard’s contribution.”Cited
The only thing I care about people taking from that is that there is an entire counter-culture of FAR BETTER music than what radio and TV are giving you, you just have to dig a little further. You have Google and Spotify free for God's sake, use 'em! (Search for your favorite genre of music and simply add the word "underground.")
You're in for one helluva surprise, and you're welcome.
So why walk away now?
Here’s he best way I can say it:
While bed-ridden with a back injury (ironically sustained on a music video set,) I became depressed about the abrupt touring halt after 2 & ½ very productive years on the road.
I was in bed one night wallowing in self-pity when I happened across a Dennis Hopper documentary that hit me like a ton of inspirational bricks.
Dennis, aside from being a one man Motley Crue when it came to bad behavior, (police were afraid to approach his house) was an unbelievably prolific entertainer; Actor, artist, writer, photographer, filmmaker. Kris Kristofferson even wrote about him! Another inspiration was Vincent Gallo, who is also an artistic do-it-all. I love people with no restraints.)
Then it occurred to me that I did other things too, yet here I was mourning one small piece of who I was, when I had so much more to offer.
So, even though I already had experience in photography and film-making, I grabbed my laptop and went to school online right from my bed and got diplomas in digital photography, editing, cinematography and film and television directing.
And a little over a year ago, after the weight of the decision to bow out of the music business began to get lighter, I silently began the process of retiring from touring altogether.
After 27 years of being in the music business, I was honestly just going to walk away and say nothing. Wipe out all my social media outlets and fade into obscurity, but questions began to arise because time was passing with no word from me except a few Instagram posts (I deleted my personal Facebook and Twitter 2 years ago) but I felt an obligation to fans to have an answer, so I came up with a Plan B: An old music industry trick: Vague answers! That is, until I would publicly announce it officially upon the release of my next record: “Say Goodnight to the Bad Guy,” (Yes, the title was a HUGE hint.) But when the Corona Virus put the record on hold, I just felt it was time for answers.
My withdrawal was necessary for several reasons;
My physical health was failing, my mental and emotional health were questionable, my sobriety was in jeopardy due to all that (It's not news to anyone that I've struggled with mental health issues and addiction in the past,) and without going into too much detail, there were some changes disguised as “progress” that I could no longer play along with and smile.
In short; I would have thrived in the excessive, over-the-top, all-or-nothing 70’s & 80’s, but I’m just not cut out for a world that puts rules and regulations on art, destroys people’s careers for what they would have been celebrated for 20 years ago and then calls it advancement. People get into this business to go against the rules and be irresponsible. Rock & roll used to be the place the nonconformists went to be accepted and (metaphorically) get away with murder without consequence. That’s no longer the way. In my opinion, rock & roll is truly dead, and that’s where I want to leave it.
StrongAllow me to stress:Strong
I’m not saying artists shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions, but don’t put them on a higher standard than anyone else. They’re only human, don’t kill their career over a mistake. They don’t suddenly suck just because they make a human error. I mean; Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Hank Williams, Motley Crue, Michael Jackson and the endless list of other troubled artists were all horrible people IF they were truly guilty of everything they were accused of, but it didn’t, and still doesn’t take away from their talent and brilliance! The best artists are mentally and emotionally fucked up anyway, great art can’t exist without turmoil, get over it.
I was already tired of fighting the same uphill battle for eons because I refused to conform and make pop music, or play top 40 covers, or anything but my own material for that matter, and whatever obscure covers I wanted to hear that night. Eventually it worked, and the audience wanted my songs, but I was weary.
By the time "Elizabeth" caught on, I'd been playing it for 10 years.
(There's a tidbit of history here that only a few people know. In 2003, I was contacted by a ton of ‘managers’ and ‘A&R reps’ from all over who told me how much I needed them...at the low, low price of...fuck you. There's more scammers than labels. If you're any good, they'll come at you by phone, e-mail, social media, wherever, and promise you the world. However, one day I got a ‘real’ phone call from a man calling himself Tony Mac. He was British, looked like an overweight Bill Clinton with a gin blossom nose, and after some research, I found out, and he eventually, almost matter-of-factly, admitted to having been Steve Marriott's drummer in his youth, along with having ties to Keith Moon, Eric Clapton, David Bowie and Kim Fowley. He was calling me on behalf of himself as a manager, who had left his music career behind years earlier to find other artists worth his time and effort to promote, and he obviously had one helluva roladex! As it turned out, at that moment, he was working under Jon Landau, courting artists for development deals and instead of asking for my money, proceeded to tell me how much they were gonna make for me! WHAT?!! ...This was new!
Now, at this point I had not been around a lot of famous people, so the Steve Marriott and Jon Landau thing really hooked me. (For those of you that don't know who Steve Marriott is, do a another Google search, and Jon Landau discovered Bruce Springsteen, enough said.)
Tony called me at least once a week just to check in, see if I needed anything, and to keep me updated on what was going on. At this point I was so into Gram Parsons’ and Waylon Jennings’ sound and trying to reignite some sort of country-rock movement, (which I was to later find out, thanks to the internet, had been going on for 10 years without my help.) Tony was trying every way he knew how to persuade me to go in another direction. Not too far off the course I was on, but not country enough for me. His sales pitch was that he and Landau had a dream that the world needed a new ‘Heartland Rocker’ like Springsteen, Mellencamp, or Tom Petty. (All of whom I love and respect highly, but it wasn't MY plan.) I played along. Smiled, nodded and figured I would hook them, then do what I was gonna do anyway and they'd love me for it!...I was wrong. (All of this was a mistake I would repeat several times in my life.)
So, I hooked them. That was the easy part. They sent me the money to record a demo which they expected to sound like what they had in mind. It came back across their desk a few weeks later sounding like the missing Gram Parsons demos. They were not amused or pleased, but I had a damn good head start on my next record and in the end, they chocked it up to a loss as far as the demo money went and cut ties with me shortly thereafter…I didn't speak with either of them after that, and I was definitely saddened to hear that Tony passed away in 2017, though we butted heads on creativity, he was a nice guy.
I can only assume they never found what they were looking for, since I have never seen this new ‘Heartland Rocker.”)
So back to now...After all my personal issues and questionable future in the industry, what was the icing on this shitcake?
We’re hit with a pandemic, which completely crippled an already wounded industry.
Touring musicians no longer had a job aside from the generous folks on the internet who keep the tip jars filled for livestream concerts, etc., but no purse strings can stay loose forever.
And it’s not just artists; Sadly, most of the major venues have joined the #saveourvenues and #saveourstages movements to keep their heads above water too.
So even when your favorite artists go back on tour, where are they going to play?
Where will the money to cover the artist AND the venue come from?
How long until the audiences aren’t afraid to be in large crowds again?
Even if the whole thing ends tomorrow, the damage is already done. I'm most saddened by the fact that my son will never have ‘rockstars’ with private jets and chateaus in France to admire like my generation did. There’s just no money left in this business. The internet saw to that.
Sadly, I know some pretty successful artists right now who have millions of downloads and streams, but live in vans and RVs in Wal-Mart parking lots.
Today, you can be rich OR famous, but not both, not anymore. Trust me, a little bit of mid-level fame is cool, but I should have chosen rich!
If you doubt my jaded outlook, just like the music industry before it, watch what happens to the film industry in the next year as well. Movie theaters will be a thing of the past that your kids tell their kids about as something their Mom's and Dad's used to take them to. (Kind of like we blow our kids minds now by telling them we didn't have cell phones, computers or X-Boxes, and only 3 channels on TV!) Remember I called that.
In the end, I never wanted anything but to make my late father proud and show my son that you can do anything you want. What else is left?
This has now become an industry of: ‘Get in, do your damage, and get out while you can,’ and that’s exactly what I’ve done.
Longevity has never been what matters. Your favorite artists, even the legendary ones careers are/were roughly 3-5 years long, the rest of the time they spend doing greatest hits records and nostalgia tours, playing the same old songs, because no one cares about their new stuff anymore.
Yeah, yeah yeah, I know what you're thinking, but artists like The Stones, Metallica, Aerosmith, etc. are just anomalies that won’t ever happen again.
Even my idols, for example: Waylon Jennings was biggest from 1973-1978. By 1979 he had already released a greatest hits record, and though he continued to make records and tour until his untimely death in 2002, he never quite saw the same popularity until after his death.
This is just the nature of the music business and the buying public. They jump onto the next bandwagon too fast to even say goodbye to the best.
Alas, you don’t HAVE to be anywhere long to make your mark.
Want a hard example?
The Sex Pistols.
Widely known as one of the two most recognized punk bands in the world, yet, in their entire career, they only released one record and did only one U.S. tour that ended after a disastrous 7 shows...Yet, almost 50 years later we're still talking about them!
Thus proving a theory:
It is far less about how much time you, as a monkey, spend at the zoo. It’s about how many cages you rattle while you’re there.
As far as the pandemic impact, a recent outlook by industry insiders and artists alike on touring and live shows beyond the Corona Virus is bleak at best.
The hopeful expectation right now is fall 2021, but some prime industry insiders recently weighed in that realistically it could be 2022 or 2023 before we see full scale touring or festivals again, and by then most of the venues will be long gone.
Then there’s the artists who can’t afford to wait around either.
They’ll move onto other ways to make money, which will severely hinder their ability to tour in the future.
When a fan on social media challenged this grim speculation in hopes of a more optimistic outlook, the elusive Sturgill Simpson himself was quick to chime in that from what he’s seeing, 2023 WAS being optimistic. And he's not alone; Dave Grohl and many others have weighed in as well, and not many had a better opinion.
As for my decision to bow out, please know there’s NO ONE to blame here but me, this is my doing and mine alone, the team behind the scenes was top-notch!
My management, label, booking, PR, and radio promotion were pure gold!
As were the fans.
And the kindness of the venues was unparalleled, I’m saddened to hear some of them are closing their doors due to the Corona Virus’ economic impact.
I was fortunate enough to see a good amount of moderate success with my career that very few artists get to see and I can’t begin to thank you all enough for your critical part in that.
You can’t explain to someone who doesn’t know the sound of a crowd when you walk onto a stage in a city you’ve never been. Or how humbling it is to see an audience singing your words, or people waiting in line after a show to get a photo or a signature. Endless emails, messages, awards, recognition, your songs on radio, your face in magazines, your videos on TV, your name next to people you worship, playing on stages your heroes played, meeting people you only dreamt of meeting and going places you only dreamt of going.
The sweat that runs down your face and stings your eyes from the stage lights and the way your throat feels like it’s on fire as you pray that tomorrow night you’ll have a voice at all.
Plane rides and 16 hr. road dawging. Living on bananas, coffee, truck-stop hot dogs and order-in pizza to the motel (on a good night.) Not being sure what day it is or what city you’re in unless you look at the itinerary. (And yes, I have made the ‘Spinal Tap’ mistake of saying the wrong state into the microphone, sorry Nebraska.) The point I’m making is that it’s the fans that make it. All I did was write a few songs some people liked.
And it’s all very surreal to a small town Southern boy who just wanted to be in KISS when he grew up. They are all memories I will cherish forever.
I’ll wrap it up by saying that this leaves a strange and alarming question to be asking myself at 46 years old: What next?
I will always write songs and continue to record and release music.
I will gladly produce records for other artists when asked.
I’m actively pursuing photography and filmmaking.
There are some unreleased music videos from the vault coming.
I have a book titled: ‘’Dead Man’’ that was published June 1st and is now available for download and paperback, and I have more books already in the works.
The documentary “I Thought I’d Be Dead By Now” is still on the way, as well as the EP, “Say Goodnight to the Bad Guy.” Everything is still happening as soon as life returns to some kind of normal.
My dad never used the words: “done,” “over” or “end.” Instead, he said: “We’ll see what tomorrow brings.”
The future of live music or the business in general? I pray I’m wrong, but my hope is bare.
My personal future in the industry? We’ll see what tomorrow brings.
All my Love & Respect,