William Seth Russell, aka Forbidden Pigs founder, singer/songwriter, bassist and frontman Billy Bacon, passed away Tuesday evening, August 20. "Last time I spoke with him, he was planning on selling his place in Texas and moving to Lincoln, Nebraska," posted Jerry Raney (Beat Farmers, Glory). "He was one of the good guys."
"Billy had actually already been living in Lincoln for the last six weeks or so," B.J. Huchtemann told the Reader today. "He was a longtime important member of the Zoo Bar community, which is devastated by his passing."
Billy Bacon & the Forbidden Pigs were formed in 1984, quickly establishing their vibrant stew of American roots music including TexMex, R&B, rockabilly, pop, and classic country. In 1988, they released their first single “Una mas Cerveza” on Mark Neill’s local label Swingin’ Records.
Playing Tex-Mex covers and originals, former drummer Chris Giorgio recalls “Billy and Pete [Conway, guitarist] had only recently graduated from St. Augustine High School in North Park. I myself [was] a recent transplant from Long Island and sporting my new Pig stage moniker Long Island Link. Just a three-piece outfit, featuring an old American Telecaster guitar, Kay upright bass, and vintage Ludwig drum kit...our monthly fanzine newsletter was appropriately titled ‘Slop,’ which humorously lent itself to both our band name and some of our earliest performances.”
By 1991, with the help of friend and mentor Mojo Nixon, they landed a record deal with Los Angeles-based indie label Triple X Records. They played locally at the Calypso, Mandolin Wind, PJ's, the Bacchanal, and elsewhere, as well as serving a lengthy residency ay Bodie's (until owner Harvey Bodie's lease was cancelled, anyway).
With two full length albums under their belt, they began to tour overseas playing to Americana hungry audiences in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Switzerland, Canada, and Mexico, thus expanding their worldwide fan base. The Pigs were playing over 250 shows a year at this point, a nonstop touring band taking an occasional break to record.
Their numerous albums boast a list of “honorary Pigs” such as Joe Walsh, Michael Doucet, Dave Alvin, Evan Johns, Country Dick Montana, Mojo Nixon, Buddy Blue, Chris Gaffney, Wade Preston, John “Juke” Logan, and Candye Kane. Drummer Stinky (the Rugburns, Jewel) was in the Forbidden Pigs from 1987 through 1991, and guitarist Mike Hebert was a member from the '80s until around 1991.
In 1998, Bacon was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, but this didn't affect his ability to continue the rigorous touring schedule, at least not at first. By 2006, the condition had worsened to the point that touring was no longer an option, and the band only played occasionally. After several different treatments, Bacon was showing improvement in his condition. The band still performed from time to time in clubs and at festivals, with no permanent lineup.
Drummer Chris Giorgio had moved on to co-found Hot Rod Lincoln and later launch a solo career as Jackslacks, beginning with his 2002 rockabilly album Rock & Roll Dinosaur, produced by Stray Cat Lee Rocker and featuring Billy Bacon. Giorgio still embraced his Forbidden roots on the 2013 Jackslacks EP Farm Jazz, released on the indie label Shield of Love and including the track “Don’t Mind Me.” He told the Reader at the time, “That song was actually co-written with my ex-Pig mate Billy Bacon, who unfortunately suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and is unable to gig much anymore. It was cool to work with him again after so many years.”
In 2012, Bacon announced that a new Forbidden Pigs album was in the works. Their song “Are You Going Back There Tonight” was heard in the 2012 William Friedkin film Killer Joe, starring Mathew McConaughey.
A new album, High Wide and Handsome, was released in August 2016.