Billy Nichols (US soul/disco singer/songwriter)

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Billy Nichols (aka Papadollabill) was one of nine children born to Laura Bell and Tom Sanders in Carrollton, Mississippi. They were a farming family. At the end of the work day, Billy's father played blues on the guitar. Billy and his family gathered on the porch to listen. Billy would play the guitar when his father was not home. Billy's favorite blues artist was Muddy Waters.  He was also influenced by the likes of Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Louis Jordan, Hank Williams, the Blindboys of Mississippi, and many, many other artists that he heard on the radio.

When he was 14, the family moved to Springfield, Massachusetts.  Billy joined the high school band and played in a local band with his brother Ernest, Lyn Perry and Bob Burgess. After high school, he joined the gospel group The Bells of Harmony and traveled from church to church.

Billy then joined Jimmy Vick and The Victors. After they recorded a single in 1963, they had their picture in Billboard Magazine and got some local radio airplay. However, by November, the group broke up. In 1964, Billy went to Detroit to live with his brother with his guitar.

He and Tony Newton were hired by Motown Records where his first job was playing with Martha and the Vandellas.  Billy was also in the Motown Road Band led by Choker Campbell where Billy played for the Marvelettes, Stevie Wonder, The Spinners, the Four Tops, and many other Motown artists. Later he became the musical director for Marvin Gaye touring and working with the band at all of his concerts.

He met Billy Stewart, a recording artist who had hit records in Cleveland, Ohio. It was through Billy Stewart that Billy Nichols was taken to Chicago to the Chess Recording Studio where Stewart recorded Billy’s song “To Love, to Love”. This was Billy's first formal opportunity to be the songwriter that he truly wanted to be.

Still on the road with Marvin Gaye and being disenchanted with the roadwork, Billy jumped at the opportunity to lead a house band in New York City. Billy Nichols and the Soul Swingers played at the Crystal Ballroom for about three years. Many artists came through and performed with the band:  such as Al Green, Wilson Picket, Otis Redding, Joe Tex, Bobby Womack, etc.   Through this gig, Billy met Galt MacDermot, the writer/composer of the musical "Hair."  He invited Billy to work with him on the musical play Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Billy’s job was to rehearse the fledgling actors and to get them accustomed to singing to the sound of an electric guitar instead of a piano. The actors were Clifton Davis, Raul Julia, Jonelle Allen, Diana Davila, Jeff Goldblum and a cast and ensemble of singers and dancers.  The play won a Tony in 1972 for best music in a play.

Billy was still composing songs. His first hit song was "Ask Me What You Want" recorded by Millie Jackson in 1972. It reached the top twenty on Billboard.  In 1973 penned the all-time classic entitled, "Do It Til You’re Satisfied," recorded by B.T. Express and released in 1974. Billy went on to write and produce a couple of other hits for the group such as “Can’t Stop Groovin’” and “Shout It Out.” In 1979, near the end of the disco era, Billy wrote, sang and co-produced with Andre Saunders a disco classic entitled, “Give Your Body Up to the Music.”  Billy produced two rap records, which are hip-hop classics, the pioneering: “The Adventures of Super Rhymes” and “Rhythm Rap Rock.”

Rappers such as Will Smith, Beanie Sigel, EPMD, Master P, Ice Cube, P. Diddy, Jay-Z, Ludacris, Dr. Dre and de la Soul have sampled Billy Nichols' music.  A sample of his song “Do It,” heard in the song entitled “Addictive” performed by recording artist Truth Hurts, won him two BMI awards for most urban airplay for the year 2002.

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Discography

Single

Year Title RatingReleases
1979 Give Your Body Up to the Music 1

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