Billy Rancher and The Unreal Gods – Uptown

This band had one of the most inspiring rises and the most devastating fall a band could have. They had the help of the biggest rock star in the 80s but that couldn’t stop what was coming. A truly sad story and a what might have been.

When Billy Rancher was a kid…he didn’t dream of rock stardom…it was baseball that he dreamed of. Billy’s father Joe was in the Dodgers minor league system. Billy was born in 1957 and he was an all-city shortstop at Madison High School and played ball for Mount Hood Community College on an athletic scholarship. His mom wanted Billy to finish his education, but his dad died in 1978, and Billy dropped out and concentrated on music.

He taught himself how to play guitar and started a band in Portland, the Malchicks, with his younger brother Lenny. That band soon broke up and Billy formed the Unreal Gods with Jon DuFresne, Bill Flaxel, Alf Rider, and Dave Stricker. The band was a hit in the Portland club scene…they even opened up for Peter Tosh at one point. At this time around 1981, Billy found out that he had cancer. He went to the hospital and he was cleared of cancer afterward.

The band raised some money and went to New York to record for Joe Delia, a session musician and independent producer.

They rehearsed at an auto-body shop, a favorite rehearsal spot for local bands. They noticed someone walking through…and that someone was Bruce Springsteen. Bruce helped to get the Unreal Gods into the Power Station…a famous studio…which was the place to record in the Big Apple. The Rolling Stones were putting down tracks there at the time.

Clive Davis, head of the Arista label, heard about this Portland band that had impressed Bruce Springsteen and hopped a flight to see them. Davis, caught an Unreal Gods show at the club Starry Night. He signed them the next day.

The label hired Men at Work producer Peter McIan to produce them. Right away the band were at odds with Mclan…he wanted to take their rawness away. Billy argued with him and the band agreed they would have found common ground but it was not meant to be. At this time Billy found out his cancer had come back. The label was sending the band to England to tour but that was put on hold…permanently

Billy fought the cancer and he was thought to be cleared but it then spread through his body. Billy Rancher died on December 2, 1986.  He played live up until before he died.

In 2019 an album named Upstroke Down was released and featured some of the songs they were working on for Arista and others that sat in the vaults…including Uptown.

Jon DuFresne: Stuff started showing up on YouTube, I’d think, Wow, that was me. There we all are. There’s Billy. Did that really happen?

https://www.oregonlive.com/history/2019/08/billy-rancher-and-the-unreal-gods-kings-of-downtown-portland-streaked-toward-1980s-rock-stardom-until-tragedy-struck.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_Rancher

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

43 thoughts on “Billy Rancher and The Unreal Gods – Uptown”

    1. I agree Deke… I picked the song a while back but only found some things…and then this…damn…I can’t imagine. Thanks for reading.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Wow! I love this! I think I’ve heard of The Unreal Gods, probably read about them somewhere, but I’ve never heard any of their music–until now. What a shame! This song rocks! I love guitar. The vocals have a hint of Mick Jagger.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had the song in my draft folder for months… last night I finished it and the story was something else. When I finished I thought… I should have told Pam about this… this one is something I thought you would like. I basically just rewrote 4 articles I found to condense it.
      Thanks for reading Pam… yea I like the song as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You told the story perfectly (I was there for a lot of it … including the album release party for “Boom Chuck Rock Now,” from which “Upstroke Down” was taken). Billy had the chops and charisma that would have taken the band to the top. And yes, f*ck cancer. I still miss him.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Sharon that means a lot. I condensed it but left a link. I saved the song in my drafts because I liked it…I had no clue of the back story until last night. What an exciting scene that had to be to live through. It compares with Minnesota and Athens roughly at the same time.
      I’m going to order that book.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. The timing couldn’t have been worse…of course that kind of timing is NEVER good. Like I told Sharon….who saw the band…I picked the song because I liked it…I had no clue of the back story until last night.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, interesting. I’ve never heard of them, but boy, sad story. Poor guy , cancer’s never good to state the obvious, but seems worse when you’re young like that. The whole thing shows there is always some luck involved with hitting it big… you think, Springsteen likes you, backs you, Clive Davis signs you when he’s really at his height of promoting his own new label, Men at Work connection , even if truncated… bound to hit it big. But didn’t happen. The song – not bad at all. I like the guitars, wasn’t as raw as I expected from your writeup , sounds like it could have done something. Vocals seemed a little low in the mix, (might be the computer sound mind you) but all in all, pretty decent.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sometimes you post something and the story just is a wow story…that is the reason I pointed you to it. I mean the world was at their feet and no fault of their own…it was snatched away in the worse kind of way.

      I liked the song and picked it weeks ago…and then found out all of that when I wrote it Saturday.

      Thanks for reading it Dave.

      Like

    1. Yes it does!…it’s the story that is so heartbreaking…never have I read where a band had a superstar behind them and then damn cancer.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you and I really appreciate it you coming back and reading it. I marked the song a couple of weeks ago but didn’t know the story…I was just amazed.

      Like

      1. I can imagine, you’d be expecting the typical story of a band signing a deal and putting out a record that simply doesn’t get played on the radio. These guys had amazing people on board. So sad.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. No he didn’t… so many readers missed this one…I directed two back here…it was heartbreaking…but what a story. To have Bruce pushing for you and signed by Clive Davis…and this happened.

      Like

      1. Yea…it takes 24 hours to get some of these yahoos emails. One lady had 100GB…I told her she is about to change her fing ways…she is the HR lady….NO ONE needs 100 GBs of email. most of the other people have between 20-40 GBs which is stupid… no wonder it crashed

        Like

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