Although Henry County High School tenth-grader Billy Washburn has been a Kentuckian since he was just a year old, his honky-tonk piano style sounds more like it came from his native state of Texas.
At the tender age of 16, Washburn has been burning up the keyboards for 12 years. Leo Mason, leader of Leo Knight and the Moonlighters out of Eminence, met Washburn two years ago. Washburn played a song or two with Mason’s band. “I was very impressed,” Mason said. “He didn’t even practice with us and was very good.”
Cheryl Preston, Washburn’s mother, said her son is a natural. Although the teenager has no formal training, Preston says Washburn can listen to a CD once and play all the songs back from memory. “He really just loves his music,” Preston said.
Mason agreed. “He’s going to make somebody a great keyboardist,” he said. “And, being self-taught makes it even better.”
At the age of four, Washburn started picking out simple melodies like “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” but honky-tonk rock and roll was not far behind.
Washburn said he tried piano lessons at one point, but gave those up after his music teacher told him she wished she could play as well as he.
The only music Washburn reads is drum tablature, something he uses as a percussionist in the HCHS band. He does not, however, read piano music — every note Washburn plays is by ear. “I tried to read music,” he said. “I just don’t get into it.”
If he were to try out for American Idol, Washburn said he probably would play Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Gimme Three Steps.” The only problem with auditioning for something like American Idol is that Washburn doesn’t sing much yet but he is working on that.
Washburn credits a very supportive family with helping him to grow as a musician. He and younger brother Daniel, 12, live with their mother and step-father, Cheryl and James Preston just outside of Eminence. Washburn said his mother bought him the portable keyboard he uses for practice and band gigs. “I practice 24/7,” he said. Washburn noted that his father, George Washburn of Carrollton, also encourages and helps him a lot.
The budding mucisian has played with local band Sugarfoot on a number of occasions. Washburn said he enjoys playing with Sugarfoot at the Six Mile Jamboree, a music venue just past Defoe. He plans to perform at the upcoming Music on Main in September.
So, where does this young Jerry Lee Lewis see himself in ten years? “Hopefully in a mansion somewhere,” he said. “I see myself on the beach somewhere in Florida or Texas, hopefully performing.”
Mason had his own prediction.
“When he gets out of his shyness, he’s gonna be out there,” he said.
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