Bill to Last
Bill, get a jump rope, get in shape and have a Coke. -- anonymous post in Rogue's guest book
"I've gotten laid more than any of these skinny guys who talk shit about me," Bill Terrell says emphatically. "I've played more shows than any of these skinny guys. I'm cooler than they are. It takes a lot of body to hold this much cool."
Although Rogue's frontman is laughing, underneath, he's seething. He doesn't mind jabs about his weight, but with everything that his band has accomplished over the past seven years, he's exasperated that he has to respond to anonymous critics at all.
"The thing is, they can't go, 'Well, you have a bad voice,' because that ain't true," says Terrell. "And they can't go, 'Well, you don't have a great band,' because that ain't true. So they have to dog on the one Achilles heel. I am overweight, dude. But I challenge anyone who thinks I'm overweight to come stand toe to toe with me on a mat for five seconds. I'll whip his ass."
Cue the crickets. So far, there have been no takers; most of Terrell's detractors are content to make their disparaging remarks while securely behind a keyboard and monitor. And the few who dare to whisper behind his back are making a big mistake, because Terrell is connected. So much so, he claims he'll hear of any insults within days of the words' leaving his enemy's mouth. While Terrell is a big fella, he's more Billy Milano than Chris Farley. And he's tired of the animosity, but he understands the reasons for it -- and is even energized by it. "You're nobody until somebody hates you," he points out.
"He's just very direct," says Rogue guitarist John Bollack. "There's no shit-talking. If Bill has a problem with somebody, the first person to know about it is the person he's got a problem with. It's been great. We can go about our business and just be happy. Bill deals with all the business issues and politics, and in a very Midwestern fashion: 'Respect me and do what you promised me and everything is great. If you don't, if you disrespect me and don't do what you promised, there's going to be hell to pay.'"
"Exactly," Terrell agrees. "But it's not even so much an ass kickin' -- it's the threat of it. There's a saying where I come from: 'You got a battleship mouth and a tugboat ass,' and that's half of this world. I'm not a talker, dude. I can make someone cry with my voice, though. You know what I mean? Straight up, it's like, 'Fuck you. I will beat your ass.'"
This unwavering bravado is a remnant of Terrell's time in Terre Haute, the Indiana town famous for being the last stop of federal prisoners like Timothy McVeigh on their way to the dirt nap, the place where Larry Bird played college hoops, and the home of Columbia House, the company that offered twelve CDs for a penny. When Terrell was fourteen, his father, a onetime kick returner for the St. Louis Cardinals, was paralyzed in an auto accident; he moved his family to the Hoosier state from Illinois, so they'd be closer to the hospital that was treating him.
"If you came home from school in the eighth grade," Terrell recalls, "and you're like, 'Hey, this kid is picking on me,' my dad would take a duffel bag, put a pair of roller skates in it and go, 'Here you go. If he picks on you again, rap him in the fucking ear.' That's how I was raised. Straight up. Out here, it's not like that. In small towns, dude, if someone fucks with you, you beat him up every time you see him. If you're fifteen and someone messes with your girlfriend, when you're 33 and you see him at a gas station, you punch him in the nose."
"There was not a lot to do there," confirms guitarist Butch Putman, who also grew up in Terre Haute. "You could drink, fight and get laid."
And make music. One afternoon when Terrell was shooting hoops in the alley, a neighbor kid stopped by and invited him over to get high. Terrell was no stoner, but as the new kid in town trying to fit in, he gladly accepted the invitation. When he got back home, his mother was suspicious -- but Terrell, who'd noticed musical equipment strewn about the neighbor's house, quickly explained that he'd been jammin'. And then, just as his mom was preparing to unleash an ass-whoopin' of her own, his new pal backed up that story when he knocked on the door and asked if Terrell could come out and play.
Rogue's other members -- Bollack, Devon Kimzey and E.A. Schuster -- enjoyed much less intense childhoods here in Colorado, where all three had working dads and stay-at-home moms. "We're really mellow people. There wasn't the fighting," says Bollack, whose father is a Methodist minister. "We were all taught to turn the other cheek. The only thing that the other guy is hurting is your pride."
Schuster, the soft-spoken bassist, nods in agreement. He and Bollack, kindred spirits, met in high school and have been playing together for over a decade. Their first outfit, Jesteel, was together for two years. Not long after it disbanded, the two met the audacious frontman who changed their lives.
In May 1988, spurred by his appetite for destruction, Terrell packed a suitcase full of spandex, left Indiana and headed for the Hollywood jungle. He never made it past Colorado, where he'd stopped to visit some friends. "I was always talking shit about how I was going to go somewhere and do something," he remembers. "And everyone thought it was just that -- talking shit. Now I go back and they have tickertape parades for me."
But before he could make a triumphant return to Terre Haute, Terrell had to find a group who would appreciate his brazenness. Every early attempt seemed to end the same way. "I've been fired from every group I've ever been in," Terrell confesses. "I always got fired for the same reason: They always thought I was trying to be in charge -- and I was. People just got tired of hearing that they were in Bill's band."
But in 1995, Terrell found some guys who didn't mind being in Bill's band. At the suggestion of Tread bassist Joe Van Schoyck, Terrell joined forces with Schuster to form Rogue. Kimzey, who'd played drums in one of Terrell's previous bands, and guitarist George Lopez (later succeeded by Derek Nissen, then Bollack) rounded out the original lineup. Over the next two years, the quartet built a large local following with an unusual tactic.
"I drank my way into popularity," Terrell explains. "I mean, it takes years of hard-core partying to get the base we have in Denver. People say, 'How do you have so many friends? How do you have so many fans?' I've gotten fucked up with every one of them, that's how. I've paid for this following with my liver."
Bollack joined Rogue in 1997, and Terrell then gave the band exactly six weeks to pull together for its first show with the expanded lineup. During that time, the members penned and rewrote enough material for an inaugural full-length, If I Were God. Released in 1999, the album was the prototype for Rogue's metallurgy: Bollack's pulverizing riffs rip and tear like a serrated blade, revealing the tendons of Kimzey and Schuster's three-legged interplay, and Terrell's terrorizing baritone -- equal parts Phil Anselmo, Oni Logan and Sebastian Bach -- rubs alcohol into the pulsating material.
Live, Terrell plays a similar role. During Rogue's early days, he'd yell "Get the hell out of the bar!" at more stoic members of the audience who failed to clap -- and then he'd drink their beers. But a pugnacious frontman and a strong following didn't instantly lead to bigger gigs. Rogue spent the first few years "getting turned down for everything," Bollack recalls. Terrell got tired of people not keeping their word and started kicking down doors to get noticed.
"Yeah, I called people on their shit," he admits. "My old technique was walking in and saying, 'I'll pack your place.' And they'd look at you like a dumb-shit -- you know, everyone says that. And then you'd pack it. The deal with the bigger promoters with theaters, you really have to prove yourself, over and over and over again. And finally, they start paying heed to you. What finally got us over the hump was we've always had the mentality that if you act big, you'll be big. So we've always put ourselves on a pedestal. Not that we want people to kiss our ass; it's just if you look at yourself like 'We're okay,' you're going to be okay. Nobody wants to hear 'Come see my band, we're okay.' You know what I mean? 'Come see us, we'll kick your ass.' And that's how we've been."
Peter Ore at Nobody in Particular Presents gave Rogue its first big break. "We finally broke the threshold and got some of the bigger NIPP shows," recalls Bollack, "and proved that we could do that on a bigger scale than in a bar." But as soon as Rogue made the transition to a theater-sized act, the haters started surfacing.
"It's jealousy, man. It's a fucking business," says Terrell. "You can't tell me that a quarterback sitting on the bench watching some guy start doesn't hate his teammate. He fucking hates him. And that's just how it is."
Rather than let itself get clotheslined by critics, Rogue channeled its energy into two more records -- 2000's Subliminal and 2002's Rogue Nation -- and continued to improve on the original template. But there were other obstacles on the road to respect. In November 2000, Bollack was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and the disease sidelined him for nearly a year. He urged the others to move on without him, but they refused. Their patience paid off: Bollack is able to play again, and now, with the addition of Putman, who moved to Denver in November 2002 and worked as Bollack's guitar tech, the group's sound has gotten even thicker and more polished. The most striking development is Terrell's vocal prowess. He's expanded his range, augmenting his larynx-shredding scream theater with Geoff Tate-style falsetto trills and modulations. That voice, coupled with Terrell's outrageous stage antics, has earned Rogue its reputation as a killer live act -- in more ways than one.
At an outdoor festival in Terre Haute a few years ago, a female fan died at a Rogue show. Two songs into the set, she suffered a stroke, fell into the middle of the mosh pit and hit her head. As paramedics moved in, the bandmembers stood on stage, slack-jawed. "We were flippin' out," Terrell remembers. "We were like, 'Whoa, shit!' Then, when they moved her away -- they don't teach you in rock school how to win a crowd back from a death experience -- within two songs, we were like the Who. My parents were at that show, and that was the first time they had seen this band. My mom was like, 'You were killing people and shit.'"
On that same tour, Terrell came pretty close to death himself. Rogue had just finished playing a biker party in Illinois, a seven-kegger in the middle of a field, with an eighteen-wheeler's flatbed for the stage. Terrell was drinking heavily and didn't notice when a fan slipped him something. He spent the rest of the evening convulsing, lying helpless before his befuddled bandmates, who held him up and talked him through the ordeal. But he recovered the next day -- "All I had to do was shave my facial hair and I was fine," says Terrell -- and by that night, they were back on stage.
Such tenacity comes when a band is driven by a common goal. Terrell likens the outfit's relationship to a marriage -- one that he controls. "I'm like one of those dudes living out in the country with four wives," he says. "They all do my laundry and listen to me. It's cool." And the other members agree. "We just trust that more times than not, his instincts are right," Bollack explains. "It's gotten us a lot farther than anything we've done on our own."
"A good team doesn't go anywhere without someone playing quarterback," Putman adds.
But sometimes Terrell's audacity gets the best of him. A few years ago, drunk and disgruntled that a member of the media was passing him over, Terrell engaged not only the offending party, but his boss, too. "I'll be honest; I mulled over that one in my head for six months," he says. "I opened my mouth a little too quick. In hindsight, I wish I hadn't done things in a certain way. But everything I did back then got us to where we're at. Now I'm known as being the consummate professional. Anybody who works in this business -- either radio or promoters -- will tell you that I'm on my shit. I never let them down. I'm a man of my word. At that time, I was a good businessman, but I was really young."
Although age and experience haven't settled Terrell much, the people who know him -- the acts he's mentored over the years, the musicians seeking advice who ring his phone off the hook -- insist that beyond the braggadocio is a generous spirit. He's happy to share the love. Last fall, Terrell spent five weeks on the road managing Motograter, whose members he'd worked with when he operated an Aurora bar called the Blitz Room. And Love.45's recent success has a tie to Terrell, too: A chance meeting with Three Doors Down's Chris Henderson led to a relationship that just may result in a deal for the outfit.
Despite these connections, though, Rogue isn't signed to a major label. "Why? Who knows? I don't spend my time thinking about that shit," says Terrell. "This industry sucks balls. Nobody's selling records. I don't judge our success on getting a record deal. I know the business. I've learned. I'm educated. Whereas people who aren't educated might say, 'You're just squirrels out here searching for a nut.' That's fine, but I'm getting more of them than you are. I'm loading my basket, and you can't even fucking feed yourself.
"I know what I've accomplished. I could retire tomorrow, and I've accomplished more in Denver than anybody who's ever played in this fucking town. I have, and I know I have. If I die tomorrow, look at this," he continues, picking up Rogue's three discs and dropping them back on the table. "It's a legacy. As long as we leave a legacy. Besides, we've been headlining the Ogden for five years. The people who talk shit about us can't headline the Cricket. And they're talking shit about us!"
Terrell plans to keep building that legacy -- Rogue's members are now writing songs for a fourth full-length, tentatively dubbed Cycle of One -- and to keep taking on those who hide in the shadows and talk shit.
"I don't know who that anonymous guy is," he says, returning to his guest-book writer. "But he's got a hell of an ass-whoopin' coming his way."
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