I recently received some very disturbing news. Actually it wasn’t any thing current, but rather old news that I was only now learning of. Early last week I was talking to someone at work and during our conversation I happened to mention a distant cousin of mine Billy Avalos. This person informed me that he had heard that Billy had passed away some time ago. It caught me by surprise as I hadn’t heard anything of his passing through my family channels so I dismissed it as simply misinformation and forgot about it.
Then Friday evening I was online when out of the blue my cousin came to mind, I promptly entered his name into Google Search certain that nothing would come up. Well you can’t imagine my shock when the results appeared on screen. The first entry was an obituary for one William Lee Avalos. I had never known him as William but the accompanying picture confirmed that it was indeed my cousin Billy.
I’m not sure why I was so moved by news of his death, we were not close, in fact I only saw him a handful of time in my life, yet I was deeply saddened. In the few times that we spoke I found that I liked and enjoyed being around him. I imagine that had I pursued a friendship with him he would have been a very good friend. I’m sad that our encounters were fleeting and that we did not remain in closer contact.
After reading his obituary and learning what a kind and gentle man he was and the way he lived and loved life, I was doubly saddened. It was my loss, I should have made more of an effort to befriend him, if I had only known that we had so much in common, similar hopes and dreams and a love for music. As I read I kept thinking how our lives sort of paralleled at times. I could see that he was the type of man I longed to be, the type of man I am at long last becoming. I could have learned so much from him, I could have grown so much sooner.
Billy and I were related on my dad’s side of the family. His father and mine were second cousins so I guess that made us third cousins. His father, Johnnie used to come by my grandpa Leo’s home occasionally. He was a guitar player and my grandpa loved to hear him play. Although it’s possible that Billy may have been there with his dad sometimes or present at some of the large family gatherings my grandpa and grandma often had, I do not remember him. It is highly likely that we played together there as young kids climbing through the large avocado tree that shaded the patio or roaming around Arcadia Park, but I simply don’t remember.
The first time I remember meeting Billy was in the late summer of 1969, a summer I’ll never forget. From high school graduation in June through my 18th birthday in early September, I’ll always remember that 3 months as the best summer I ever had! There were four of us that Saturday night, Mike (aka Nosey), Paul, Brian and myself, just cruisin’, boozin’ and blazin’ in Nosey’s classic yellow 64 Chevy Chevelle, driving aimlessly through the city with absolutely no particular place to go on a hot August night!
Around 8:30pm, looking to satisfy a bad case of the munchies ,we headed over to the In N Out on Azusa Ave. The drive thru was packed so we pulled into the parking lot and made our way to the walk up window. There were several people waiting ahead of us. Almost immediately the guys started in on me telling me that one of the guys waiting for his order looked like me. I waved them off but they continued. “He look’s just like you,” they chided,”you could be brothers!” I shook my head and went on ignoring them, but the more I looked at the guy the more I realized he did kinda of look like me. It was uncanny. “Maybe your related,” Nosey said, “some long lost relative or something. Go over and ask him.” Soon all three of them were urging me to go talk to the guy. Normally I probably wouldn’t have, but I was buzzed and curious so I approached him.
After explaining to him that my friends thought he sort of resembled me, we both laughed about it and agreed that we did kinda sorta look alike. We introduced ourselves and I learned that his name was Billy Avalos. He was an Azusa High grad and one year older than me. He told me who his parents were and as soon as he said his dad’s name was Johnny it hit me! Johnny Avalos! “Does your dad play guitar?” I remember asking. When he said yes I knew I had the connection. I mentioned my grandpa’s name and sure enough he knew Leo. My gramps and his grandma were first cousins. He remembered going to my gramps house several times but he didn’t remember me, nor I him. The next thing you know I was introducing him to my friends as my long lost cousin Billy. We soon discovered that we shared several mutual friends. When our food was ready Billy sat with us at one of the tables where we enjoyed burgers and Bud and formulated a plan on what to do with the rest of the night.
After a number of crazy suggestion which included stealing stop signs and a trip down to T J, we decided instead to go to Hollywood and cruise the Sunset Strip where all the rock clubs like The Troubadour, Gazzarri’s, The Whiskey A Go Go, and several smaller venues were located. From there we’d cruise over to Hollywood Blvd with a stop at Grauman’s Chinese Theater to check out the footprints particularly John Wayne’s. It wasn’t much but it was something to do. Crusin’ boozin’ and blazin’ Hollywood style! We invited Billy to join us. I half expected him to decline the offer but he said he had nothing going on so why not! We all piled into Nosey’s car and it was off to Hollywood!
I’ll never forget my first meeting with Billy or our Hollywood trip. We had a blast! He seemed to really enjoy himself. I especially remember our 2AM drive home. We were listening to what was then considered underground radio KPPC FM. The only place on the radio you could hear whole albums played with practically no DJ chatter between sides. It was awesome!
That night we were treated to the complete, newly released Blind Faith album. It sounded bitchin’ on Nosey’s sound system. I remember sitting in the backseat with Billy and Brian listening to the final cut on the album “Do What You Like” what an incredible cut. At the end of the song there is a disarray of wrong notes and random phrases like “D flat, and “ding dong billy bong”), and an assortment of other sounds as the album comes to an end. I remember we all argued about what was said. Everyone seemed to hear something different. The only thing we all agreed on was that the name Billy was said which we all thought was pretty cool since we had a Billy with us. Paul kept saying it was karma that we had run into Billy that night and that his name was spoken at the end of the album I don’t know about that, but I do know we had a great time. Even all these years later whenever I hear that song I’m reminded of that night. I even remember going down to White Front the next day and buying the album. Fact is I’m listening to it right now as I write.
Through the years I’d run into Billy every now and then at parties, Azusa Golden Days, and most recently a few times in San Dimas at the Street Fair. We always had great chats. Of course that’s been several years ago. I think the last time I saw him was just before my wife got sick back in 2004. He was walking through the street fair eating ice cream on a cone when I ran into him. We talked and somehow got started on guitars. One of the last things he said to me was to come over to his home sometime and check out his guitars. He even gave me his address. Sadly I never made it by. Ray’s bout with breast cancer began soon after that and the invitation was soon forgotten. I would have really enjoyed going by his place,share a beer or two, swap some stories and maybe jam with him, but that never happened.
Billy passed away on February 18, 2011 after a long battle with lung cancer. His death came exactly 8 days after my brother who died on the 1oth. My brother’s death was exactly 8 days after my aunt Grace’s death. She died on the 2nd. I suppose that may be why I don’t remember reading or hearing about Billy’s passing. Besides, even if I had seen or heard the name as William Avalos I wouldn’t have realized it was Billy. I would have certainly attended his funeral service to pay my respects. After all they don’t call me the funeral guy for nothing. My belated sympathy goes out to his wife, kids and extended family. May he rest in peace…
I have to tell you, I do find it a little strange that three of my relatives on my dad’s side of the family all died in the same month, exactly 8 days apart. It makes me wonder about God’s plan for us and what it all means, but then again ‘they’ say things always happen in threes.