Bill's Story

Bill Ellis - Austin City LimitsBill Ellis came of age during the tumultuous 1960s when the anti-war movement was taking root in San Francisco. During this time garage bands were popping up all over the Bay Area, many composing songs against the Vietnam War. 

The Invadersbegan playing guitar and writing music in his early teens, performing in several Battle of the Bands events, school concerts and other venues with a variety of bands he started with his guitar-playing brother, Phil. One such band was an instrumental group called "The Invaders."

After high school, Bill joined a group called the
"Bristol Boxkite," as
a lead guitar player and Bristol Boxkitevocalist. The band, armed with Bill’s original material, ultimately earned its way to a recording contract with Liberty Records. While celebrating the recording of Bristol Boxkite’s first album in 1967, Bill received his draft notice. Fearing that his dream of a musical career – so close to being realized – could slip away, Bill was torn. But he put aside his guitar and went to join the ranks of young men who were being called to serve, knowing well that he may wind up in Vietnam. When word reached Liberty Records that Bill had been drafted, they canceled the album’s release.

Bill Ellis, 1st Cav GruntBill arrived in boot camp in May of 1968 and concentrated all his efforts on becoming a good soldier. After tearful goodbyes to his family in October, Bill headed for Vietnam. The reality of his new position as a grunt in the First Air Cavalry began to sink in immediately as he learned firsthand the magnitude of war. It was in Vietnam that Bill began to pray, and he soon experienced the first of several “miraculous” events in his life.

After several months in the field, Bill bought a Vietnamese guitar and started to play. When the Army staff learned of his musical talent, they called upon him to perform at the officers’ mess, even tapping into his songwriting expertise to write a song for one of the lieutenant generals. A senior officer eventually had Bill reassigned to a special services unit that allowed him to fly in to landing zones to perform for the men coming in from the battlefield. Flying into areas too dangerous for the USO acts to go, Bill traded his rifle for a guitar (figuratively speaking, of course; he was always armed for potential enemy action). It was at the bunkers that Bill first began to see the effect war had on his fellow troops.

Prior to completing his tour, Bill was given the opportunity to go to Japan to record four songs that he wrote while in Vietnam. An EP record of the four songs was produced and over 30,000 copies were distributed, mostly to those First Air Cavalrymen leaving Vietnam. The remaining copies were sent back to the U.S. for distribution.

Returning safely from Vietnam in January 1970, Bill desired to get back to his dream of making music, and he embarked on a solo musical
career of performing Bill Ellis, San Franciscoin nightclubs all along the West Coast. Bill went through the typical struggles of civilian life, from making ends meet in a marriage, to divorce, to disappointment at not resuming his pre-Vietnam music success. In his despair Bill reached out and began to pray once again. His prayers were answered in a way he did not expect. In 1984 Bill received a call from a Vietnam buddy who encouraged him to go back to Texas to attend a First Cavalry reunion. It was during his attendance at this event that Bill witnessed the same morose faces of the men for whom he once performed at the bunkers in Vietnam. Bill could not forget the sullen emptiness in the eyes of these men, and it was then that he received the idea to write their story through music. This began the concept of Beyond The Wall.

Beyond the Wall is a compilation of original music based on one concept: the experiences of one main character as he journeys through an era that completely transforms him. It encompasses emotional tribulations that affected many Americans during that time. It is not just about the horrors of war, but about the ability to find hope through despair. The uniqueness of Beyond The Wall lies in its authenticity. Bill wrote some of the songs prior to going to Vietnam, some while in the jungles of Vietnam, and many since returning home. The outcome is music that is not only quite relevant to the era (the musical’s time period spans Vietnam through 9/11), but true to the existing genre as well.

Michael Pinder
Michael Pinder Of special interest is Bill’s acquaintance and musical association with Michael Pinder, original member of the Moody Blues, whom Bill met while in a music store in Sacramento in 1985. Bill had commented on an album of the Moody Blues that was hanging on the store wall, and a man nearby indicated that it was in fact his album. The discussion of music that ensued between Bill Ellis and Michael Pinder eventually turned toward the project Bill was working on, coincidentally a musical compilation similar to the idea of concept albums which the Moody Blues were known for in the early years. Mr. Pinder decided to work with Bill and together they recorded four of the songs for Beyond The Wall. Bill and Mike separated musically for various reasons, but they remain friends who hold high regard for one another’s musical work.

Beyond the Wall - November 1991:
In November 1991, after working for over 14 months with a new group of musicians including Bill’s second wife Lisa, a singer and theatre actress, Beyond The Wall was staged at a San Francisco bay area theater. “This was no captive audience, and several times during the performance the estimated 400 people packed into the theater erupted into applause,” wrote Paul Fattig of the San Ramon Valley Times. The evening concluded with a standing ovation, with many teary-eyed attendees enthusiastically expressing their praise and support. Colonel J.D. ColemanProviding the introduction and closing comments was Colonel J.D. Coleman, the same Colonel-then-Major, who was Bill’s commanding officer during his special assignment in Vietnam. Michael Pinder attended the event as well, and afterward stepped up to the podium to express his praise and hopes for continued success.

A follow-up performance was soon put aside after Bill’s father became terminally ill. After mourning his father’s passing, Bill found it difficult to continue with the show without the assistance of financial backing. Since that show in 1991, Bill has been finishing the script, writing additional material and finessing the music for Beyond The Wall. He hopes to take the production all the way to Broadway. Bill’s dream is to one day stage Beyond The Wall at the Red Rocks outdoor amphitheatre in Denver, Colorado.

Skytrooper is Bill's newest production. It is currently in production in the San Diego, California area. 10 of the 12 songs of Skytrooper are from Beyond the Wall.

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