"I love Blake’s poetry and I love rock 'n' roll. If he was alive today he’d be in this band - it’s an utterly seamless magical fusion.
    - Irvine Welsh (author of Trainspotting and Skagboys)

A brash rendition of William Blake’s 'Songs of Innocence and Experience,' Billy Blake & the Vagabonds illuminate poetry on stage.
    - Fred Sasaki (associate editor, Poetry magazine)

The kids need Blake but find him hard to swallow. These guys are the spoonful o' sugar that helps the medicine go down.
    - Tim Rutili (singer/songwriter, Califone/Red Red Meat)

"Billy Blake and the Vagabonds" are Chicago songwriters Kennedy Greenrod (The Thin Man/Honey and Buffalo) and Reid Coker (The Judy Green/Califone/Fruit Bats), lead guitarist Saleem Dhamee (Grimble Grumble), bassist Jason Labrosse (The Thin Man) and drummer Seth Vanek (Roommate). Inspired by 18th century Romantic mystic William Blake, the Vagabonds have arranged 15 new tunes from his canonical collections, "Songs of Innocence" and "Songs of Experience". Pairing Blake's classic poems to contemporary fashions, the Vagabonds breathe new fire and meaning into his iconic words, and help to re-illuminate his incendiary visions for both the casual and most devoted of Blake enthusiasts. Drawing from Stones-y-rock, mellow pop, countrified folk, gospel music and hopping Bo Diddley blues, "Billy Blake and the Vagabonds" are a wholly modern representation of William Blake and his work.

Originally commissioned by the Poetry Foundation in Chicago (where the group performed to a sold-out crowd in March 2012 and received the Foundation's first-ever standing ovation), the group has entertained rock clubs, art galleries and schools, with plans to incorporate multi-media elements into their performance in the near future. The Vagabonds are a five-piece outfit of multi-instrumentalists (vocals, bass, electric and acoustic guitars, drums, organ, piano, glockenspiel, percussion), but can easily expand into nine members (horn sections, backing vocalists, strings) or shrink down to a dirty three. It's partly this range of adaptability which makes the Vagabonds a unique performing act.

In the summer of 2012, the Vagabonds recorded Blake's songs in a collection called "Billy Blake and the Vagabonds", produced and engineered by Jim Becker of Califone/Iron & Wine. Inspired by the raw, subterranean recordings of Bob Dylan and the Band's "The Basement Tapes", the tracks capture the five-piece Vagabonds live in living rooms around Chicago. Additional instrumentation from musicians Jim Becker (organ, violin, mandolin), Joe Adamik (clarinet, bass clarinet, alto sax) and Justin Walter (trumpet), plus backing vocals from Maggie Schultz and Mallory Nees, make for a uniquely nuanced atmosphere: rough and tumble rock band meets sophisticated, sometimes experimental pop arrangements with the timeless words of William Blake as steadying bedrock.

See this interview with Kennedy Greenrod for more about the group.

In addition, the literary journal Measure invited Vagabond Reid Coker to write about his experience working with Blake's famous poems for their music issue, which features other artists like Gillian Welch and Sufjan Stevens. Read Blonde on Blake on page 7 here.

For booking and press, contact: reid@billyblakemusic.com or 773.251.4862

Thanks & see you soon,

Billy Blake & The Vagabonds

papercuttings by Daniel Rathbun