The Last Call: Local music great Krause releases final album

Max Martinson, photos by Andrea Paulseth

MORE CHORDS. Eau Claire singer-songwriter Billy Krause’s latest (and final) album is a deeply personal album touching on personal stories.
MORE CHORDS. Eau Claire singer-songwriter Billy Krause’s latest (and final) album is a deeply personal album touching on personal stories.

As Billy Krause and I sat and had breakfast, he described his long and interesting career as a musician. After listening to his new record, Last Call, I was a little intimidated to meet a man who could write such rich and sincere folk ballads; to me, the names of good folk musicians are loaded with a sense of traditional wisdom and a seasoned knowledge of the “way it really is.” After we ordered coffee and sat down, I was relieved to find that while Billy seems to have those qualities which form the real folk musician, he is just as sincere and personable as his songs.

“It could be something that someone says, or a thought that I have during the day that sparks a song.” – Billy Krause on his songwriting process

When Billy was in sixth grade, he biked down to the Day-Kittlestad music store and bought his first guitar. When he was versed enough to start playing live, he took a bus out to Boston and hitchhiked along the East Coast, sleeping in Goodwill donation bins wherever he could find them.

“The bins were pretty big, and there were always loads of clothes you could form a bed with. The thing was you could never know when they would come to empty out the bins, so I’d never leave my gear in one.” He was 18 then, and now, after 40-plus years of working as a musician on top of being a full-time stone carver, Billy has released what will be his final album.

Some people have bursts of inspiration and the songs come pouring out, while others have a feeling and then proceed to chip away at the music in their head, crafting songs with lyrics that are thought-out and personally significant. Billy says he is in the second category, and that’s why his songs tend to tell elaborate stories.

“It could be something that someone says, or a thought that I have during the day that sparks a song,” he explained, mentioning that he likes to write lyrical stories that listeners can insert themselves into in one way or another. Ballads – songs that narrate stories – have always hit home with Billy. As a child, he listened to artists such as Peter, Paul & Mary, Dave Van Ronk, and Phil Ochs – all singer songwriters who produced sprawling folk ballads. The benefit of storytelling is that it provides clearer meaning in a song, making it easier to digest. “If the lyrics don’t make sense,” Billy asked, “what is the point?” He repeated, “What is the point?”

Last Call’s cover image pictures Billy leaning against the doorframe of The Joynt where he used to be a bartender. Considering that Last Call is his final album, and that much of it deals with experiences rooted in Eau Claire, the picture fits perfectly. The record hits on some folk, blues, and country notes, but it’s an inescapably personal album that should be categorized by its stories, not genre.

There’s a lot of nostalgia packed in this album – a lot of beautiful stories told about the past. There are also confessions and ballads that feel like lonesome love letters set in the present tense. Some are love stories; a few are personal reflections. In either case, the guitar tells just as much of a story as the lyrics do, and it’s hard not to enjoy the warm timbre of Billy Krause’s voice regardless of the subject matter.

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