We lost a good friend of Forgotten Hits when Billy Hinsche passed away earlier today, taken by cancer. Incredibly, his mother Celia passed away on the same day.
Billy enjoyed his own round of success when, in 1965, he teamed with the famous offspring of Dean Martin and Lucille Ball to form Dino, Desi, Billy. (The trio was introduced on The Ed Sullivan Show with proud mom Lucy beaming from the sidelines.) Naturally, they appeared on Dean Martin’s television series, too, and over the years, performed as the opening act for some of the biggest bands of the ‘60’s.
We last saw Billy back in July of 2016 when he was in Chicago performing as part of Brian Wilson’s band at The Pitchfork Festival, subbing for Brian’s usual keyboardist Darian Sahanaja, who was off for a few weeks and unable to tour. (Billy shared with us how difficult it was to relearn these complicated, intricate arrangements again after so many years … but I think he pulled it off beautifully.) We were his invited guests to the show and had a great time. (Billy had been part of The Beach Boys' touring band for decades!) Afterwards, he brought us “backstage,” where we also found John and Joan Cusak in attendance. (John, of course, had just portrayed Brian Wilson in the “Love And Mercy” biopic.)
He was always good about checking in from time to time (as I did with him.) Carnie Wilson’s post (shown below) implies that the cancer came on suddenly and spread quickly … as such, everyone was taken by surprise. (Perhaps even more surprising was Billy’s mother passing away today as well!)
When Dino, Desi and Billy were nominated in 2012 as part of our Forgotten Hits Greatest Garage Bands Poll, Billy sent me this piece to run as their bio:
My best friend Dino Martin and I began singing songs as a duo at the age of 13 in 1964, playing non-amplified nylon-stringed acoustic guitars and covering the songs of Chad & Jeremy, Peter & Gordon, The Everly Brothers and some of the simpler Beatles' tunes. At some point we decided it would sound even better and look even cooler if we played electric guitars and had a drummer. We knew that our younger school mate, Desi Arnaz, Jr., was already an accomplished drummer and he seemed like the perfect choice. He accepted our invitation without hesitation one day on our lunch break on the playground of our grammar school, Good Shepherd aka Beverly Hills Catholic School.
The next step was for us to find a place to rehearse. Up until that point, Dino and I had just practiced at the Martin's home and it was fairly easy for us to pack up our guitars and carry them wherever we needed to go; but Desi's drums weren't quite as mobile so we decided the best place for us to get together was where his drums were already set up and ready to play - at his mother's house. His mother being Lucille Ball. We weren't old enough to drive, so my dad (Otto Hinsche) would usually be the one to drive Dino and I over to Desi's and then either pick us up later or have Frank Gorey (Lucy's driver and all-around right hand man) drive us both home at the end of our rehearsal.
Lucy lived at the corner of Roxbury and Lexington with her second husband, comedian Gary Morton, in a home purchased for her by former husband, Desi Arnaz. The two-story home (which no longer exists in its original form) had a lovely front lawn, parallel hedges leading to the front door, and a driveway along the North side of the property next to Jack Benny's home. Beyond the black, cast iron gates of the driveway was a three-car garage on the right where you might see the family station wagon or Lucy's powder blue Rolls Royce.
At the very end of the driveway and attached to a guest house was another garage that had been converted into a room for Desi Jr. and his older sister, Lucie, to stage plays and performances; at the back of the room was a short riser with a curtain, and tiny dressing rooms on either side. This room would later transform again and would include a small billiard table in the middle of the room. On center stage were Desi's Pearl Gray Gretsch drums and Ziljan cymbals (Desi told me he still has them and thinks they're the best cymbals made) and that's where Dino and I set up our small amps - Dino hadn't even started to play bass yet and we were both playing our new electric guitars and strumming in unison, so you can imagine how it sounded!
One day, we were surprised and delighted to see Chad & Jeremy standing in front of us at the entrance of the "garage" watching our rehearsal - they were going to appear on both Lucy's and Dean Martin's television shows and had dropped by to check us out. What a thrill meeting a couple of our heroes from The British Invasion - I'll never forget it and we remain friends to this day.
It wasn't long before we outgrew Lucy's place, eventually setting up shop at Dean's home though not in a garage; it was a room that was a combination of a large den, pocket pool table room and projection room all rolled into one. Dino and I now had new Super Beatle Vox amps and were playing Hofner bass and 12-string electric Rickenbacker guitars respectively, and Desi would simply leave his drum kit on the small riser on the "stage" underneath where the movie screen would lower and raise from the ceiling. It is here that we honed our skills every day after school and where Jeanne Martin (Dean's wife) would hear us practicing and thought enough of us to call family friend Frank Sinatra to give us an audition for his label, Reprise.
Well, we passed the audition, were signed to Reprise, officially became known as Dino, Desi & Billy, recorded four albums with the label and, as they say, 'the rest is history' - and it all started out in a converted garage."
-- Billy Hinsche
It wasn’t the first time Billy shared his story with our readers … he had been a regular contributor for many, many years.
Here’s another “History of Dino, Desi and Billy” piece he wrote back in 2009 …
Dino Martin and I were longtime best friends and classmates in grammar school (Good
Shepherd of Beverly Hills) and started out as a duo - just me and Dino,
following the lead of Chad & Jeremy and Peter & Gordon, and both of us
just playing 6 string acoustic guitars.
It wasn't long before we realized that having a drummer would be a good idea and we should "go electric" and proceed as a trio. We knew that Desi Arnaz, Jr. (in a younger class) could play drums and so we asked him if he wanted to start a group with us - we asked him during a lunch break out by the basketball court. He was happy to accept the role as our drummer (his older sister, Lucie Arnaz, was our classmate).
We played at local neighborhood parties and made $20 a show. I remember thinking - how do we split this equally?
Our rehearsals began at Lucille Ball's outside playroom and eventually moved to Dean Martin's large den, that had a small riser for a stage.
Over time, we got better and better as musicians and singers. Jeanne Martin (Dean's wife) picked up the phone one day, called Frank Sinatra and told him that he had to hear us play - she thought we were really good.
We auditioned for Mr. Sinatra as he and Dean listened to us perform a few songs in the bar area of the Martin home - perfect, right ? There they sat - old blue eyes and old red eyes!
After the audition, Mr. Sinatra walked over and asked if we
would like a contract on his label, Reprise. Of course, we gladly accepted his
kind and generous offer.
We were shocked to learn that we wouldn't be playing on our first recording session but would have professional studio musicians record the tracks instead of us. This hurt our feelings, as we thought we were good enough to record for ourselves but didn't realize how things worked in the LA recording scene even though, apparently, it was commonplace, as we know today. I remember that Jerry Cole played guitar on our first two sides but I don't recall who the other musicians were. On subsequent recordings it shouldn't surprise anyone that the Wrecking Crew played on our sessions though, over time, Dino, Desi and I recorded and were incorporated more and more onto our tracks.
I don't think most people know that the first song we
released was a dud, sold nothing and went nowhere ("Since You Broke My
Heart" / "We Know"). I wanted us to record "Since You Broke
My Heart" after I heard it on a Searchers' LP. I didn't realize at the
time that it was written by the Everly Brothers - no wonder I liked it so much.
The B side, "We Know," was pitched to us as having been "turned
down by the Beatles," so we eagerly agreed to record it, since anything
that even came close to being a Beatles' song was good enough for us. Even
though we performed "Since You Broke My Heart" on the Hollywood
Palace TV Show on November 28, 1964 (Tony Martin hosted and the broadcast was in
black & white), it got little airplay.
In 1965 (I was 14 years old), our Producer and A&R man, Jimmy Bowen, brought in a young country gentleman named Lee Hazlewood to try his hand at producing us and it yielded our first and biggest hit, "I'm a Fool" / "So Many Ways". If I'm not mistaken, it went Top 20. Earl Palmer played drums and James Burton played guitar on "I'm a Fool". If I had to guess, I believe that Ray Pohlman played bass, though it *might* have been Carol Kaye -- sorry for the lapse in memory. But give me a break - after all, it's been 45 years !@#$%
It opened the doors for us to tour with the Beach Boys, Paul Revere & the Raiders, Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs, and many tours of our own in both the US and Canada. Over the next four years we recorded four albums for Reprise and had six songs that charted on the Billboard / Cash Box Hot 100.
As a result of the success of "I'm a Fool" (written by Red West - yes, THAT Red West & Shindig regular Joey Cooper), we appeared in countless articles and pictorials in Gloria Stavers' 16 Magazine, Tiger Beat, etc., and did all the relevant television shows of the day including Shindig, Shivaree, Hullabaloo, Sam Riddle's 9th Street West, the Lloyd Thaxton show, Where the Action Is, the Joey Bishop show, the Mike Douglas show, the Dean Martin show and Sammy Davis Jr.'s Thanksgiving Day Special for kids. We even made appearances on the Hollywood Squares and the Dating Game.
But the TV appearance that was the most important and memorable was the Ed Sullivan show. It was the first color broadcast of the Ed Sullivan show and we did it at the CBS studios on Beverly Blvd. / Fairfax in LA - not in the studio in NY, so it was historical on several levels.
We were also in the Matt Helm (Dean Martin) spy spoof flick "Murderer's Row" wherein we performed Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart's composition of "If You're Thinkin' What I'm Thinkin'" - one of our charted hits.
You can still see our RC Cola TV commercial on YouTube and filmed at the Hollywood Bowl: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ymwK-n2VCms
But getting back to the main topic - I found out many years later that Red West had based 'I'm a Fool" on Elvis Presley's "Dont' Be Cruel". The titles even rhyme! When you compare the two songs you can see the similarities, especially lyrically in the first verse of each song:
"Don't Be Cruel" (Otis Blackwell / Elvis Presley)
You know I can be found
Sitting home all alone
If you can't come around
At least please telephone
Don't be cruel
To a heart that's true
"I'm a Fool" (Red West / Joey Cooper)
You know where I can be found
(Dontcha' know) I'll be waiting by the telephone, girl
While you're out running around, yea
I'm sitting home all alone
I'm a fool, just a silly fool
To be in love with you
I think it is very cool that Dino, Desi & Billy had this connection, albeit minimal, to Elvis.
Thanks for including "I'm a Fool" as a topic in your newsletter.
Dino, Desi & Billy
More memories …
Frannie found this posting by Carnie Wilson …
I can't believe you are gone. My memories of you growing up laughing, joking, playing the keyboards, Carl's bestie, Annie's brother, Celia's son, Dino Desi and You ...
My Uncle Billy. Sgt. Bilco. You're hair that was always great ...
I watched it turn gray over the years, but your energy never got old. Thank you for making this world a better place with your relentless spirit and sense of humor. Your talent was so huge and you were always one step ahead of us all with your ideas and creativity.
It's really fucked up and hard to think about that cancer took you so quickly ... but I swear to God the only thing that makes me feel a little relief is that you and Grandma passed on together and that Otto, Carl, Dennis, Audree, all the grandparents and loved ones are greeting you.
Fly peacefully and I know you will live on forever. We won't stay sad for long because you wouldn't want that. Eat some Lumpias for us all with Grandma Celia up there. I will miss you.