Growing up in a family of professional musicians, Billy Peterson cut his teeth on music at a very young age. Those early influences were the foundation for what was to follow. He began singing national commercial spots at the age of nine. Being interested in “any instrument he could get his hands on," Billy studied simultaneously drums at the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra and the keyboard while in junior high school. In the mid-sixties he came along an electric bass and immediately thought “I need to learn how to play it.” Then at the age of fourteen Billy's father left a friend's upright bass in their home studio. “When I picked that bass up, I knew I had no choice but to make this my instrument of choice.”
In 1967, when Billy was just sixteen years of age, he joined the famous Righteous Brothers on a summer tour. As he continued going to school, Billy played bass and drums in local orchestras, big bands, R&B bands and even toured with the Lawrence Welk show All Stars. After high school he started playing bass with trumpet-legend Clifford Brown's pianist, Billy Wallace until 1973. This same year Billy co-founded the internationally acclaimed jazz band Natural Life that recorded three albums for the Celebration Records label and made several US tours from 1973 to 1976. The band's first album was recorded “direct to disk” as one of the first audiophile categorized records. At approximately the same time, Billy was also one of the first musicians to record on 3M's new digital tape at Sound 80 recording studios in Minneapolis.
In the mid 1970s his outstanding musical career kept flourishing being the bassist on three albums of Leo Kottke, the great folk guitarist, and also the electric and upright bassits on Bob Dylan's legendary multi-platinum album “Blood On The Tracks” for Columbia Records, which remains one of Dylan's all-time best-selling releases (the single “Tangled up in Blue” topped charts in 1975, ranked number 49 on “the Top 100 Rock & Roll Songs ever recorded” in 2000 and ranked number 16 of “the 500 greatest albums of all time” in 2003, both by the Rolling Stone Magazine).
The late 70ies and early 80ies were consumed with music from all angles. In 1976 Billy was asked to join the Gibson guitar staff giving him the opportunity to perform with guitar legends like BB King, Johnny Smith, Lenny Breau, Les Paul, and the late Howard Roberts. It was also during this decade when record producer and engineer David Rifkin (aka David Z, who produced Prince in the 80's) introduced Billy to keyboardist Ben Sidran (Steve Miller Band, Rolling Stones), a beginning of an inspiring musical partnership remaining strong to this day. In 1981 Billy released his first solo album “Threshold of Surrender”. While continuing to tour Europe with various artists, he recorded many albums plus national radio and television commercials performing from solo bass to playing with a full symphony orchestra.
In 1986 Ben Sidran produced an album for Steve Miller and hired Billy to play bass on the recording “Born to be Blue”. Afterwards Billy became member of the Steve Miller Band. He toured with the Steve Miller Band during the spring and summer months from 1987 onwards and played bass on the Born to Be Blue (Capitol), Steve Miller Band Box Set (Capitol), and Wide River (Polydor) recordings, amongst others. Billy continued to be part of the Steve Miller Band for almost 25 years, until 2010.
Simultaneously, he also continued to tour Europe and Japan with Ben Sidran when possible. He also kept on working with him on numerous recordings, as well as with pianist and vocalist Georgie Fame, and guitarist Phil Upchurch, amongst others. It was also in 1990 that Billy's old buddy, Leo Kottke, called him to play, produce and arrange the Windham Hill recording That's What. Billy wrote a composition for this project called “Mid Air.” It was a haunting departure from the norm for Leo; but the critics loved it and it was even considered as the theme song for a motion picture.
Shortly after this time, The Artist (formerly known as Prince) asked Billy to create a string arrangement for the New Power Generation's dynamo maven, Rosie Gaines. Further, the re-harmonization and soulful rendition of Bryan Adam's hit “Everything I Do I Do It For You” is a beautiful showcase of Billy's writing style and includes a magnificent solo by alto-saxophonist David Sanborn. Projects that highlight Billy's outstanding production and arrangement capabilities are numerous.
Billy is called a chameleon, you can catch him performing with various artists in different genres of music weather it be jazz, rock, pop, R&B or country. In case you are in St. Paul, Minnesota, you might catch him in the Artist’s Quarter that opened its doors in 1996 becoming Billy's new “home” while not on tour. In any case, it is definitely worth a visit, critics and artists say it's certainly one of the premier jazz clubs in the world.