Butterflies: The Backstory
Around 1985 Billy Rancher had
experienced very intense chemotherapy
which resulted in his losing feeling in his
fingers. No more guitar playing for one
of Portland Oregon's well know rockers.
I was deeply involved with putting
together my own one man band and to
encourage him to continue creating
music I invited him over to show how we
could put together something new of his.
Out of this came his song, Butterflies,
which he sang to me and he watched
as I sequenced a rough backing track.
Then we recorded a rough demo that
day with his vocals on it.
I just recently came across that 4 track
cassette. I had two pretty clear vocal
tracks that already had effects and one
of my heavily effected guitar track, and
one track of drums, keyboard and bass
which I knew needed to be replaced to
make the song presentable some 28
Why not work on this song, I thought.
Here's a cool Billy Rancher tune that I'm
sure most fans had never heard. Billy
went on to form a reggae band called,
Flesh And Blood, which I gladly was a
part of. Probably less than a year later
he would be dead at 29.
BUTTERFLIES free download
The following is a reprint of the story I wrote for The Downtowner on Nov. 25 1985 while
I was a columnist of the paper. Billy had been very successful along with his brother,
Lenny in getting their Portland band, Billy Rancher & The Unreal Gods to the brink of
success. They were signed with Arista Records and completed an album and video but
the company shelved the project when it was discovered that Billy Rancher had lymphoma
cancer. The album mentioned here would be something of a demo that he was releasing
himself and on which I performed. Here's The article...
Everybody knows Billy Rancher is fighting cancer, but few people know exactly what that
means. Few people are privy to the almost daily drama of pain and suffering. Wild rumors
about his condition are beginning to flourish. And as the year comes to a close with the
release of his first album in many years, his name will undoubtedly be surrounded with
even more speculation.
I want to bring you closer to this. I want to give you a close look, in fact, at exactly what has
taken place to date. I want to do this because I know you want to know.
Billy's nutritional diet was not enough. Before the album was mixed, he was back in the
hospital for what he calls his "third round" with the disease that had been stalking him
throughout the recoding sessions. Chemotherapy had killed the disease twice before, but
the remedy is almost as devastating as the disease and it was only when his health began
rapidly deteriorating that he reluctantly agreed to the cure. But he was too weak and
doctors could no longer predict he would pull through by morning. Billy did, but the days
immediately following were just as scary. To get his blood pressure up, his body required
fluid and doctors began pumping water into him. The main drawback of the procedure is
the lungs, too, fill with water so a respirator was put down his throat into his lungs, but the
balance between the right amount of water in the body and oxygen in the lungs was most
difficult to achieve. The cancer, for the moment, had to be ignored. Surgery found and
extinguished the virus, but doctors also found his intestines were blocked with the
cancerous tumor. The tumor itself is shaped kind of like an octopus--no one solid
mass--with limbs that cling to surrounding organs. It must be deadened with chemo before
it can be removed safely.
Billy has fought his way so far with a resiliency that has surprised some professionally
hardened observers. Grim details remain. The respirator was removed and exchanged for a
tube that runs into his stomach which dictates the balace of food and waste. A catheter
runs into the chest. Drugs like the synthetic heroin he is given keep him blurry, but he
draws comfort and sanity from his relatives and close friends in the insane situation.
Someone is always there for him. Day or night, a very vigilant crew.
Grim details remain even though Billy's youth is on his side as well as his positive attitude.
Veins have collapsed, arms have become swollen and unbearably painful. He.s been given
drugs to paralyse him so he wouldn't fight the respirator and breathe on his own. His eyes
were taped shut."It's was so strange talking to him and getting no response, says Karen
(Sage), his closest friends, because Billy usually talks so much."
Momentarily forgetting his obligations to reality, Billy woke up the night of Nov. 15 and got
out of bed, unaided to head for the bathroom. He fell, cutting his nose and mouth on the
floor. A vigilant friend got him back to bed and cleaned up.
Chemo continues and Billy will remain in the hospital until all is safe. His progress is very
positive. "He is so much better now," says Karen. "He gained 15 pounds since he got here
(home) and he's doing a lot better."
Billy Rancher is a fighter. Everyone knows this, but few have had a close look at what it is
he's fighting. few will ever know the strength and determination spent on his forthcoming
album, FLESH AND BLOOD, and no will ever know whether Billy's musical obsession cut
down his health. Billy now is fighting his way back. The album will be a surprise for fans
and the curious, but, more deeply, it is the man's spirit that remains the biggest surprise of
all. I love you, Billy.
The story ends there with an address where "those wishing to offer similar kind words could do
so." Billy would return to the stage with a smaller band. In full disclosure, as they say, I was also a
part of that band.
On December 8, 1986 my final story on Billy was published by The Downtowner, reprinted here:
Billy Rancher's return to the stage lasted one month exactly. A large audience, which
included a very rowdy and drunken rugby team from Canada, squeezed into the Last
Hurrah to see what was correctly rumored as the last show of Billy Rancher Presents:
A Night in The Concrete Jungle." This was Nov 22 1986 and
around 11:30 p.m. that night Billy went on stage. By about the
same time the following evening he was rushed to Good
Samaritan Hospital. It had started out to be such fun. It was in
the full heat of summer when Billy began coming to my house
to work on what would become a new musical direction for him.
I was busy recording and sequencing material for my own solo
act, when I began doing the same for him. After three or four
hears battling cancer and suffering from not only the disease,
but from the chemotherapy also, he was in surprisingly good
health. Even with his hands and feet numbed by chemo and
seeming a bit spacey at times, his ideas about melodies and
lyrics were sharp and clear. His desire to make music was
He surprised me one night by bringing over the newest drum
machine on the market, a Korg DDS-1. "I bought it today!"
he grinned. Handing me a huge manual of instructions, which
contained the most infuriating typographical errors and
misspelled words, he asked, "Could you read this and tell me
how it works tomorrow?" By the next day, he had acquired a
rudimentary knowledge of the machine and was not just
sparked, but ignited by what he heard and what he knew he could do with it. He then
proposed setting up a recording studio in the bedroom of his apartment
as soon as possible.
The scope of his new vision was enormous. He not only wanted to record a lot of new
material which hadn't even been written yet, but wanted to record other people too,
especially a band called The Harsh Lads, which he ostensibly was now managing.
The scope may have been large, but the time frame wasn't. He had acquired the recording
gear for two weeks, maybe three. After much confusion over which wire went where, Billy
found David Zimmerman, a very artsy, creative man whose zeal for computers and musical
equipment gave us a great sense of security. Recording followed at a furious pace with
Billy and Zimmerian recording the parade of musicians who traveled in and out of the
Toward the end of the recording, Billy was spending more time in his magnet, a series of
copper circles which wrapped around his stomach. He claimed it was fighting his cancer.
"No more!" Zimmerman and I would plead each time Billy wanted to do yet another new
song for which he had some idea. We were alarmed not only about his health, but about our
deadline to be on stage with a band of players who had not rehearsed other than on tape.
Our Key Largo debut dates of Oct. 24-25 (1986) were closing in.
Recording and mixing went on anyway.
Billy's show included The Harsh Lads, who had changed their name to Hundread Percent,
Art Carnage (my solo act) and Billy's band, Concrete Jungle, with Billy running the drum
machine and singing. I was on keyboards and handling taped information. David Stricker
on bass; Lenny Rancher (Billy's brother) playing guitar (eventually Jon Dufresne replaced
him); Trinket Allport on mock drums. Zimmerman assisted on sound; eventually he had to
punch in the drum commands when Billy's health deteriorated.
The cancer sprang back fast with its deadly message. By Halloween, Billy was in a lot of
pain. Though he had come back to the stage with a blitzkrieg of publicity, promotion for his
following shows, without his attention to detail, elements began breaking down until, finally,
promotion for the events collapsed completely. Billy was collapsing too. Unable to sing to
full sets, his section was geared down to one with musical interludes by Lenny or myself.
During the Pine Street Theater show, Billy laid down on stage near Trinket's drum set
during his brother's rendition of "Lenny's Blues."
This wasn't fun anymore.
The Sunday Evening after the Last Hurrah show, Billy still wasn't happy at have to cancel
the rest of the shows. If there had been an ounce of strength left, I'm sure he would have
gone on performing. But he was still at work. Jon Dufresne was going through each song
on the Mr. Groove cassette while Billy, lying down, suggested where guitar parts could be
put in. These were the new songs that were the mainstay of our shows. Recording would
start that following day at Cascade Studios. Shortly after Jon left for home to do more
studying Billy got a fever and started shaking. "It is really the Amadues concept," said his
doctor, Stephen Kimberley. "I was astounded at how much weight he had lost in three
weeks. He's in the same shape now as he was 15 months ago when he had to have chemo.
He needs a miracle. He enjoyed a miracle then, but it's all used up."
(postscript: This column was written when Billy was still in the hospital. He lapsed into a
coma and died Tuesday, Dec. 2, 1986)
Billy Rancher has a remembrance page on Facebook: search Billy Rancher
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