Irreverent humor meets blues boogie
STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
William Wirths’ stage persona as Rev. Billy C. Wirtz was once described as “Jerry Lee Lewis on mushrooms.”
Well, the “high-brow/low-brow” reverend does refer to his “church,” among other oddball names, as the First House of Polyester Worship and Horizontal Throbbing Teenage Desire.
While clowning around and listening to “James Brown Live at the Apollo” with friends one night in 1978, Wirths got the squirrely idea to apply for a minister’s license. Further inspired by an interest in gospel music, the charismatic fervor of the Sunday night preachers that aired on his favorite R&B station growing up, and goofing on the televangelism of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s “PTL Club,” Rev. Billy was born, and there was no putting that genie back in the bottle.
Do some people mistakenly think he’s a sincere clergyman instead of a comedian? The reverend’s theme song, “Who Dat?,” fixes that. “After the first couple songs, they get the idea,” said the singer and pianist responsible for nuggets like “Female Problems,” “Do the Toleration,” “Stairway to Freebird,” “Waffle House Fire” and “Mennonite Surf Party” — which is a product of his days as a student at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., which is also the home of Eastern Mennonite University.
“That song was banned on EMU’s campus at one time,” Wirths said, tongue in cheek.
His song “Teenie Weenie Meanie,” about a midget woman wrestler, led to a six-month contract as a manager character with a Florida professional wrestling association, which at that time had future WWF (not-yet WWE) big names like The Nasty Boys and Steve Keirn (The Fabulous Ones). For a time, Wirths produced a TV segment for the now-long-gone WCW. He would also record a song called “Sleeper Hold on Satan” and write a book called “Red Headed Geek: My Short and Painful Career as a Rasslin’ Manager.”
Last year, Rev. Billy teamed up with the blues band The Nighthawks to record the album “Full Circle,” which offers a taste of what’s coming to Sellersville Theater Feb. 16. The show, Wirths said, will be 45 minutes of Rev. Billy, 45 minutes of The Nighthawks, then about a half-hour together — a night of rock, blues and “pumpin’ boogie woogie.”
“I actually met Mark Wenner, the harp player (of The Nighthawks), in the winter of 1975, maybe ‘76. I was working at a record store in Washington (DC), and he asked me: ‘Do you have any blues?’ Back then, blues was like a secret club,” he said.
The Rev. Billy C. Wirtz discography includes a 2006 live album and DVD titled “Sermon from Bethlehem,” which was recorded at Godfrey Daniel’s in Bethlehem. He described that show merely as “OK, it wasn’t one of the best times of my life” because he thought the listening-room intimacy of the venue rendered the audience sometimes afraid to laugh at his brand of comedy. “It was a little too much pork for the fork, if ya know what I mean,” said Wirths, who calls Ocala, Fla. home.
He also hosts “Rev. Billy’s Rhythm Revival Radio Show,” which can be streamed from the websites of Tampa non-commercial station WMNF (www.wmnf.org) and Freedom, Calif.’s KPIG (www.kpig.com).