Bill Lanphier is one of the most original and multitalented artists out there. He is a musician, a photographer not afraid of experimenting. Some years ago he recorded a reversed version of the "Theme from New York, New York", for which he and other musicians had to sing and play notes backwards.
In 1985 Bill embarked with Madonna on her first ever tour, The Virgin Tour, as the bass player. We recently met him to chat about that tour, whose name was not only linked to Madonna's then current hit album but also to the fact it was the first time she played in front of large audiences in big arenas.
Hi Bill and welcome to MadonnaTribe.
I n 1985 you were the bass player in Madonna's first ever
live tour, The Virgin Tour.
There isn't so much info about
that tour and our readers are very curious so let's start
from the beginning.
How were you contacted to join the band?
Bill Lanphier: A studio guitarist in Chicago
with whom I'd worked, Bruce Gaitch, composer of La Isla Bonita,
recommended me to the musical director, Pat Leonard.
Pat was looking for an electric bass player who could also
play keyboard bass and I was the guy.
MT: Do you
remember the first time you met Madonna in person? What was
BL: I tried to connect with
her, but we didn't have much in common and never hit it off.
MT: You were all consummate music
players but for Madonna that tour was her long awaited live
She had to prove she was not a fake to her fans and
Were you curious to see if she could do it?
BL: Yes, we all were. I assume that's why, early on in
the tour, we played smaller venues, just to see how it would
MT: How long did it take to put together
BL: We rehearsed for several weeks, starting at Leeds, just a few blocks
from my apartment in North Hollywood, and then moved to Hollywood
MT: Do you remember something about the music
BL: I missed
one because my mom was ill. Upon my return the next day I
was pleasantly surprised that Madonna seemed genuinely concerned
about my mom.
MT: How was the track list decided? Did Madonna
personally pick out the songs?
BL: I assume
she had a lot to do with that. Pat Leonard and her seemed
to have strong ideas about musical matters and a mutual respect
for one another, both of which are important.
MT: The Virgin Tour debuted
on April 10 1985, at Paramount Theater in Seattle. Do you have any memories of the debut gig? was it a full
BL: Oh yeah.
Like nothing I'd ever been a part of. The fans went berserk.
We could do no wrong.
MT: Did you have a
favourite song or moment from the setlist?
Musically it was all pretty challenging at first because
keyboard bass wasn't my main axe and most of the songs, as
recorded, were sequenced bass (and not necessairly played
in real time).
So, I had to replicate some stuff that required
a lot of practice.
"Over and Over," one of the easiest songs, had uplifting
lyrics and I enjoyed singing along with that one on stage,
hoping people were picking up on the positive message.
MT: How was touring
with Madonna at that time?
BL: Very professional and fun. Pat Leonard and I had that
keen Midwestern appreciation for things irreverent, scatological,
and silly. The band never traveled before noon, and took a
bus only when it was a short haul, 150 miles or less, as I
recall. We always got the nicest rooms in the nicest hotels, although
one all-night wheelchair derby in the suite next to mine was
MT: And how was playing in Detroit, Madonna's home town. Was she really so emotional about it?
BL: At the time of the Detroit concert it seemed Madonna was emotional about it. But now my guess is that it was just part the show.
MT: Many of her fans today, were not even born when
she did The Virgin Tour. That makes you see how enduring her
success has been. As a member of the band who lived that tour first hand how
would you describe that show to the fans who have never seen
BL: Every concert
on the Virgin Tour was an overwhelming success. Great crowd
response and good media coverage. But I'm completely clueless
about current trends in pop music. So I'm only guessing that
some of the Virgin Tour looks pretty dated. Although, most
things the Beatles and Kinks, for example, did is pretty timeless
and maybe the Virgin Tour looks that way to some people.
MT: What do you remember about the fans attending
the show? It was the time of the Wannabes so I guess the arenas
were full of Madonnas everywhere?
BL: For sure.
I thought it was kinda interesting that a straight woman seemed
to attract more straight women than men. In some smaller town,
a group of a dozen or so young female wannabes showed up with
a big older guy, also dressed like a female wannabe. It didn't seem
to be a joke to them and it seemed odd to me. It just didn't
make much sense. At the same time, I was impressed that these
young girls had befriended the guy, whatever his particular
bent happened to be. Although, I can't rule out the possibility
than I was the only person in the whole arena who didn't get
MT: Do you have any anecdotes of funny situations
happened on stage or behind the scenes?
BL: Ah! There's a picture of this somewhere. I often hung out with James Harrah the guitarist, and neither
of us looked particularly rock and roll, at least on the street. As we left the band hotel to go for a walk, a bunch of young
wannabes in front were on the lookout for band members or,
better yet, Madonna. We pretended to know nothing of the tour
and chatted with them for a few minutes. Then I backed away
with my camera, got ready to shoot, and said to the girls,
"Do you know who he is?" Their eyes widened and
I informed them that "He's Madonna's guitarist!" Then I shot a photo as they collectively pounced on top of
him in front of the hotel.
MT: One other member of the band was of Patrick
Leonard himself - he played keyboards on that tour. If I'm
not wrong Leonard and Madonna started writing music together
during the Virgin Tour.
One of their first compositions together
"Love Makes The World Go Round" was played live
during Live Aid.
Do you remember about them writing or rehearsing
new songs together?
BL: Yes, they co-wrote some things and I'm
pretty sure that was one. I don't remember them rehearsing
it, but we did record a of demo of that in Chicago.
MT: What do you remember about Live Aid in Philadelphia?
Did you realize while you were playing there with Madonna
that it was going to be such an unforgettable event?
BL: No, I had no idea how big Live Aid was going
to be. We were hustled around and it was hard to get a feel
for it until I got on stage looked out over all those people
in the stadium. Surreal.
But the highlight for me was hearing
Phil Collins sing "Against All Odds" which, as I
recall, happened at Wembley either right before or after Madonna.
One guy at a piano singing his heart out to a zillion people. That performance still gets to me.
Along with your career as a musician you also pursued photography.
When did you start taking pictures professionally?
BL: Around the time I quit playing full time,
1990, I started editing, writing and shooting photos for ATV,
bass, and humor magazines.
MT: And what
are you working on at the moment?
BL: Same thing, now regularly
with ten magazines here and abroad. Also, just for fun,
playing jazz and East European folk music, including Bulgarian - check out these links at MySpace and YouTube.
this is our classic question to our guests to wrap up our interviews: what is your fondest memory of Madonna?
BL: Certainly not when,
at the Virgin Tour wrap party at a trendy NYC club, she tossed
a glass of water on me.
MT: Aha, good one. Thanks
a lot for being with us Bill and all the best.
BL: My pleasure! Thanks
for the invite.
Bill's portraits and the image of Madonna and her band backstage at the Virgin Tour
are courtesy of Bill Lanphier and his official website, www.lanphier.net
This interview © 2008 Madonna Tribe.
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