The Legacy of BILLY ‘STIX’ NICKS

Bio by Miles Beaudway

Billy “Stix” Nicks (William Tyrel Nicks) born December 8th 1934 (2nd of 7 children) in Greenwood Mississippi to Wyze and Alma Nicks. Billy’s parents were share croppers on a large cotton plantation and decided to move away from the Delta to escape racial difficulties haunting the south at that time. Billy’s father “Wyze” in search of equality and peace of mind had relatives in South Bend Indiana and decided to relocate the family in the autumn of 1944.

Billy’s obsession of always carrying around drum sticks practicing on anything in reach earned him the name Billy “Stix” Nicks by Jackie Ivory when they were attending Central High School together. A friend lent Billy a pair of sticks he borrowed from his older brother. Billy couldn’t even afford a practice pad.

As a natural, he had a God given gift and was determined to become a world class percussionist. Billy, tired of beating on chairs and books, finally bought an old beat up drum set from a local pawn shop in South Bend, IN with money he had saved up working for a typewriter company. Pounding on the skins every day he became hungry for percussion mastery.

Self taught and after much practice, Billy was finally equipped as a professional at age 17. In the fall of 1952 he played with his quartet at weekly “Sock Hop” dance parties for all the local high schools. Billy’s first band, “The Blue Notes,” played parties around town from 1953 to 1955. They were known for their showmanship and were called the Whopper Bopping Show Stoppers.

Cutting his teeth early on music, Billy “Stix” Nicks and “The Rhythm Rockers” came into their own on the summer of 1954 (still existing and lead by Nicks). The original Rhythm Rockers line up consisted of: Billy “Stix” Nicks (drums, vocals, band leader), Junior Walker (saxophone) and Fred Patton (piano, vocals).

Billy Graduated from Central High school, South Bend, Indiana in the spring of 1954 and played weekly with many young up and coming artists for various local venues such as Morris Park Country Club.

At age 19, Nicks was approached by one of Morris Park Country Club’s (South Bend, Indiana) prominent members; Mrs. Beaudway at his weekly gig. Her 9 year old son Michael Beaudway was mesmerized by Mr. Nicks’ playing techniques and begged his mom to inquire about lessons. She asked Nicks if he could give her son weekly drum lessons. Without having any previous thoughts of ever teaching, Nicks accepted his first student and teaching opportunity. This was a new beginning for Nicks and his legacy that followed.

In 1956, Billy “Stix” Nicks and “The Rhythm Rockers” were first hired to do the grand opening Saturday afternoon teen dance party show for Club 46 WNDU TV and it was aired that spring.

From 1956 -1957 Nicks agreed to and signed a contract for the weekly Saturday afternoon teen dance party show for Club 46 WNDU TV, owned/operated by the University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame IN.

In 1957 Jr. Walker became discontented and took a hiatus from “The Rhythm Rockers” and that’s when Willie Woods on guitar & vocals was hired by Nicks to replace Jr. Walker on saxophone. Junior was out for 3 months and then returned to rejoin forces later that year. Upon Junior’s return Willie Woods was kept on as the guitarist and 4th member of the Rhythm Rockers.

Mid 1957 Nicks got drafted into the Army (forced to take a 2 year hiatus from his own band, the Rhythm Rockers) and played as a percussionist for the Army band at Fort Benning Georgia (3rd Infantry Division), traveling to Würzburg Germany and then transferred down to Stuttgart Germany (7th Core band). Nicks finished his military tour in 1959 with an honorable discharge and came back home to South Bend, Indiana for more history in the making.

From 1959 to 1962 Nicks hit the civilian streets with both feet running, collaborating with long time friend Oscar Baby Jones, doing several local engagements with the “Oscar Baby Jones Jazz Quartet”.

In 1962 Nicks quickly dug deeper into his music roots and joined forces with “Jackie Ivory and The Gents of Soul”, the first band he ever toured with and recorded the 1965 release, “Soul Discovery” LP, Atco/Atlantic Records. “Soul Discovery” was recorded at “Universal Studios” Chicago, Illinois and Mr. Nicks credits this as a big turning point in his career. The group performed together on the “Chitlin’ Circuit” in the southern states of the U.S.

Nicks also played and recorded for the prestigious Motown/Soul record label with “Jr. Walker and The All Stars” for the 1965 LP release, “Roadrunner”, on songs: “How Sweet Is To Be Loved By You”, “Pucker Up Buttercup” and title track “Roadrunner”. Unfortunately, due to record company and production issues Nicks never received documented credits or royalties for the Motown “Roadrunner” release. Sad but true this was an unfortunate common occurrence in those days in all genres of music and it happened to many of the best and most undeserving artists.

In January of 1966 Billy Nicks, Jr. Walker, Willie Woods and Victor Thomas (4 originals of Jr. Walker and The All Stars) opened at the famed Apollo Theatre (NYC). Then onto Harvard University, The Regal Theatre (Chicago, IL), The Uptown Theatre (Philadelphia, PA), The Howard Theatre & Constitution Hall (Washington DC), the Twenty Grand and the Rooster Tail (Detroit, MI), Shea Stadium (NYC), the LA Sports Arena and many other famous venues. Performing with greats: Wilson Picket, Sam & Dave, Billy Stewart, The Staple Singers, Louis Armstrong, Sammy Davis Jr., The Fifth Dimension, Leontyne Price, James Cleveland, Marvin Gaye, Patti LaBelle and the Bluebells, Major Lance, Chuck Jackson, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Four Tops, The Isley Brothers, The Five Stairsteps, The Spinners, The Temptations, The Supremes, Dionne Warwick, Dee Dee Warwick, Jerry Butler, Adam West & Frank Gorshen to name a few.

Then it was straight to the top with Dick Clark’s National Band Stand TV show.

In 1967 Nicks organized and performed with his own trio: the “Billy Nicks Jazz Trio” when not touring with Jr. Walker and The All Stars and performing at numerous reputable venues nationwide. The “Billy Nicks Jazz Trio” still exists and tours today.

Later in 1967 Nicks signed a contract with the University of Notre Dame to be a disc jockey for the “Bill Nicks Radio Show” for WNDU Studios that turned out to be a colossal success.

In 1968 credit finally came through for Nicks when he receive partial credits for co-writing and playing on “Sweet Daddy Deacon”, the 1967 Soul/Motown release of Jr. Walker and The All Stars - Home Cookin’ LP.

From 1968 to 1976, Nicks recorded with Marry Wells and Jr. Walker and the All Stars in Detroit, Michigan and Los Angeles, California doing numerous engagements over the next several years. In the early to mid 80’s Nicks performed with jazz legend Sonny Stitt and Blues legend Pinetop Perkins.

From 1973 till present Nicks is actively playing and touring with his own group projects: “The Rhythm Rockers”, the “Billy Nicks Jazz Trio“ and (re-formed and touring with) “The Jr. Walker All Star Band”. Nicks has also branched into promotion of other artists and music publication. Nicks also teaches at his privately owned studio and affiliated groups as the Percussion Studio Director of Nicks Music Studio in South Bend, IN. Nicks’ lifelong loyal relationship with the University of Notre Dame since 1955 brought him a teaching position of percussion at UND from 2004 to present.

Copyright © 2006 Bill Nicks