The Legacy of BILLY ‘STIX’
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
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
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.