THE SMITHEREENS HONOR BILLY HINSCHE
The Smithereens are saddened to learn of the untimely passing of Billy Hinsche, who many of you know from Dino, Desi and Billy, as well as his time with The Beach Boys. Please take a moment to read Dennis Diken’s remembrance below, on behalf of The Smithereens - Jim Babjak, Mike Mesaros, and himself.
L-R: Mike Kowalski, Mike Mesaros, Dennis Diken, Mike Meros, Billy Hinsche, Jim Babjak
“After playing a boffo set to a feisty New Orleans House Of Blues audience on May 30, 1994, the four Smithereens repaired to our dressing room to bask in their exhilaration and toast each other to a job well done, Moet and Bass Ales firmly in hands and gullets. Some of our wives were also hanging out, making spirits bright. “We couldn’t get much higher.” Or so it seemed.
Meanwhile, our trusty crew chief Marc Mirman was helping tear down the stage when he spied some familiar faces heading for the door. “Billy!” “Marc!” Mirman had been Dennis Wilson’s drum tech in the 70s and was gobsmacked by the surprise appearance of his old chums from The Beach Boys touring band, especially keyboardist/guitarist Billy Hinsche. Drummer Mike Kowalski and their other keyboardist Mike Meros were also in tow. Carl had also been in attendance but left earlier (dammit).
After exchanging “What the hell are you doing heres?” Billy told Marc that they dropped by the club to blow off steam after having played a date in Biloxi earlier that night. Knowing that The Smithereens’ Beach Boys fandom reached tidal wave heights, Marc “told” Hinsche that he “had to” come backstage to meet us. Mr. H demurred, saying they “didn’t want to bother us”. Marc insisted, “No, Billy, you don’t understand. If the guys find out I knew you were here and I didn’t bring you back, I’d be fired!”
We knew Billy played harmonica on Beach Boys Party!, had been Carl’s brother-in-law, sang on “Sail On Sailor,” Dennis Wilson was best friends with his dad – lore galore, but he also wrote and recorded some lesser known sides with Dino, Desi & Billy (“Lady Love,” his Brian Wilson co-write, among them) and had been on our pop music radar since we were pre-teens.
It was one of those nights we didn’t want to end. Once we got our genuflecting out of the way, we all hit it off like gangbusters. Billy held court as only he could, regaling us with tales of growing up in Beverly Hills, auditioning for Dean and Frank at Martin’s home den (as he later said, “we were a garage band but unlike all the others, we rehearsed in Lucille Ball’s garage”), playing on a bill with The Kinks, The Beach Boys, Sir Douglas Quintet and The Byrds – DD&B got a better billing - even though McGuinn and company were “so much older then.”
And joke after joke after joke. “Enjoy it, use it” he’d say as our guts busted after each punch line. If anyone could carry on the Rat Pack ethos to the next generation it was Billy.
Thinking back on that night brings back so many memories and I could spend the day writing about the friendships we all shared with Billy. He became a frequent visitor with Pat during his Las Vegas “Confessions Of A Rock Star” run at the Riviera (Hinsche lived nearby in Nevada). He called me for a bunch of gigs, not the least of which was to be the drum sub for Arnaz for an ad hoc Dino, Desi and Billy set (Dino had already passed by that time) at Rickenbacker's 75th Anniversary Concert at the House Of Blues on Sunset Strip in ’06. He even made the scene one time at a pool party at Jimmy’s house!
Billy was one wonderful dude, a truly fine musician and just a stone gas to hang with. Over the last few years he was airing a weekly videocast where he welcomed calls by guests from his storied past, sang songs and gave life to the saying “oh, the stories we could tell.”
You can see episodes here: https://youtube.com/c/BillyHinscheOfficial
Our hearts go out to his sister Annie, his nephews and all his family. They were hit real hard this past Saturday. Almost unimaginably, Billy’s mother died that morning. He passed later that afternoon.
And talk about full circle. Marc Mirman was the one to break the sad news to us. We lost a great friend. It’s times like these when the title and sentiment of a sweet ballad Billy wrote and recorded with Dino, Desi & Billy in 1968 gathers deeper meaning: “Tell Someone You Love Them.” Do it today. “