Pollak Up for Second Blues Music Award
By Edward Desautels
Bill Pollak has been rockin’ and rollin’ for decades as a writer for the Software Engineering Institute, while staging an award-winning career singing the blues.
Growing up in northern New Jersey, Pollak tuned to the great stations broadcasting out of Newark and New York City and fell in love with the sound of artists such as Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, James Brown and Ray Charles. It was the golden age of classic soul, and Pollak caught the bug. Before long, he was the one holding the mic.
“I figured out I could sing a little bit,” he said, “and I tried to emulate what I’d seen them do on records and on stage.”
Some 40 years and 16 albums later, Pollak, better known to his worldwide audience as Billy Price, has developed an international reputation that has earned him a second straight nomination for a Blues Foundation Blues Music Award. This year, he is nominated for Best Soul Blues Album for his most recent offering, “Reckoning.” The nomination comes on the heels of the 2016 BMA Pollak received for “This Time for Real,” a collaboration with Blues Hall of Famer Otis Clay.
“Working with [producer] Kid Andersen and the other great musicians he assembled on ‘Reckoning’ was a highlight of my career,” Pollak said. “It’s right up there with my work with Otis. At least from my point of view, it’s the best music I’ve ever made. I’m proud it has been nominated for a Blues Music Award and glad to still be doing this at my age.”
Perhaps what makes Pollak’s musical résumé even more impressive is the long and successful business career he has pursued in parallel at CMU. After earning a master’s degree in professional writing from CMU, Pollak began his career in 1992 as a senior writer/editor at the SEI. He went on to serve as the SEI’s Technical Communications team lead; SEI public relations coordinator; manager of SEI Communications; and communication and transition manager for the SEI’s Software Solutions Division. He also taught “Marketing and Public Relations for Writers” as an adjunct instructor in CMU’s English Department. Pollak, who recently reduced his schedule, now serves part-time as writer/editor for the SEI Blog.
“I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had devoted myself exclusively to music,” Pollak said, “but overall I think that working in both fields worked well for me.” He noted that his work at CMU put him on a better financial footing than many of his peers in the music business, and that has afforded him a freedom some of his peers haven’t enjoyed.
And his dual career offered other, more subtle, benefits that cut in both directions.
“I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had devoted myself exclusively to music, but overall I think that working in both fields worked well for me.”
“Knowing my way around computer applications and social media, and working in marketing and PR, gave me some advantages in running the business side of a music career,” he said. “Likewise, leading a band and leading a team in a business setting are virtually the same thing. In both cases, you’re dealing with people.”
Not one to rest on his laurels, Pollak already plans to return to Andersen’s San Jose studio in February to begin work on his next recording. As always, he’s looking to keep things fresh.
“I avoid any approach that treats soul music as an exercise in nostalgia,” he said. “The genre is well worn, but at the same time it’s a language that can still be used to express ideas and feelings that are happening to us right now.”
Pollak has embarked on a rigorous performing schedule for 2019.
“I love singing with my two bands,” he said, “one in Pittsburgh and one in the Baltimore/Washington area. It’s simply tremendous fun. There’s nothing I enjoy doing more.”
To learn more, including where he’s performing next, visit http://www.billyprice.com/.
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