Indianapolis lost one of its greatest music legends this month when saxophonist and bandleader Billy Ball died on January 11 at age 75. Although his name may be unfamiliar to the average Hoosier, Billy Ball burned his way into music history with a series of stinging funk releases recorded during the late '60s.
Documented biographical information on Ball is scant, but the native Southerner is said to have arrived in Indianapolis during the late 1950s. Ball quickly landed a full time music gig at an Indianapolis club called the Flame, convincing him to stick around. The saxophonist immediately began scouting for the talented Indy musicians that would form the backbone of his famed group Billy Ball & the Upsetters.
The Upsetters' would become major players in the cities' burgeoning funk music scene. They also toured extensively, racking up time with a slew of music greats - backing R&B/funk icon Rufus Thomas and sharing gigs with future pop superstars Kool & the Gang. However, the recording studio was the place where the group would permanently cement their legacy. 45 RPM releases like "Popcorn '69" and "You Got Me Diggin' You" are prized rarities sought after by music connoisseurs around the world and have fetched over $3,000 on the collector's market.
The Upsetters' work may have reached its greatest notoriety in 2001 when its 1968 release "Tighten Up Tighter" was selected for inclusion on Stones Throw Records' seminal funk compilation Funky 16 Corners.
The Upsetters' band nurtured the careers of many future Naptown greats, including members of The Rhythm Machine and Manchild.
Recent years found Billy Ball fronting a reformed version of the Upsetters. The group played a semi-weekly gig at OT's - an East side club located at E. 21st and Mitthoeffer. Upsetters musician Bobby Banner has stated it was Ball's wish that the band continue on in his absence. Banner and remaining group members performed a tribute to Ball at OT's earlier this month.
Far too often Indianapolis has been guilty of neglecting the legacies of its most gifted musicians. It's a shame Billy Ball never achieved local recognition on par with the international acclaim his work received. Ball's passing should stand as a challenge to reverse this trend.