We were in Colorado’s Flat. Top Mountains when a large flock of sheep stopped us in the middle of the dusty road back to Oak Creek. Billy and I had spent the afternoon trying to catch a brook trout in the beaver ponds that dot the Colorado high country. After what seemed like a very long wait, a wrinkled old man wearing a large brimmed hat and a once colorful serape knocked on Billy’s window with his shepherd’s staff. Billy rolled down the window of his pickup and before he could get out a word the old man handed him an envelope urgently saying “posta, posta” in a very intense but pleading way. The envelope was crumpled and dirty, addressed to someone, someplace in Mexico. It was obvious that he was pleading for us to mail the letter for him.
“Si” said Billy and he was off, headed down the valley with his sheep. Billy turned to me and said “we are miles from the nearest road. In fact this is the only road for miles in any direction.” As we looked at the envelope I thought to myself how the old shepherd had gotten lucky that it was through Billy’s window he had handed that letter. Billy would make sure his letter got mailed and not tossed just away. Billy might have been a little rough around the edges but a more soulful man would be hard to find. And probably the reason we ended up becoming such close friends.
The story of our friendship had begun months before. Brewer and Shipley were booked to play a wedding reception in Colorado later that summer but, at the time, we were sitting on the patio of a bar we had just played at Lake Of The Ozarks. That is probably why we were out on the patio drinking. As we groused about what a terrible audience it had been, another boat pulled into the dock. As the passengers were getting out, one of the fellows in the group came over to our table and asked “are you Brewer and Shipley?” We told him we were and he replied,” We just got married and you guys are playing our wedding reception in Steamboat Springs in a couple of months.” So that is how it all began.
I went up to the wedding party and was introduced around. As always I asked if there was any fly fishing up there. One of the fellows said yes, introduced me to his wife Donna, and said if I wanted to come up early I could stay at his place and we could fish the Yampa River together. That’s all it took. It was Billy.
As our departure got closer I picked up the phone and called the number Billy had given me. I introduced myself and said “You have to be careful. I’m one of those guys who takes you up on an offer you made to him in a bar when you had already had enough to drink.” A couple of weeks later, there I stood, my bag, my ticket, and my fly rod in hand, ready for what turned out to be a couple of weeks in Colorado.
For our performance the newlyweds had set up a stage in the pasture next to their log house. Late that evening, after most of the guests had left, the party continued in the rec room downstairs. That is where I met the people who would soon become my friends.
Later that evening, as the party progressed I looked around for Billy. He was nowhere to be found. By then some of the musician guests and I had begun making music when Billy walked in. I asked him where he had been and he replied “I was just outside watching the stars go by.” We were still playing and for whatever reason I sang the words “watching the stars go by” to whatever I was playing at the time. Everybody joined in as we sang that refrain over and over. When Michael came into the room, he said very cool and asked me, “what about that melody you played for me a while back?”
Miraculously I remembered which one it was. Michael joined in and by the next evening we had a song. “Watching The Stars Go By…Billy’s Song” which appears on the Brewer and Shipley “Heartland album.” Several of the guests had spent the night there as well and I remember sitting on the porch playing it.
Those couple of weeks turned into several years of companionship with Billy, the newlyweds, and several of our new friends in Steamboat Springs. Afternoon rain showers in that part of the west are part of the environment and it seemed like every day, in the late afternoon, a double rainbow would appear over the Yampa river valley. I always looked at it as the river saying welcome back to Steamboat.
My best adventure with Billy was full of great memories. He took me up one of the mountains to see the house he worked on for John Elway. Later on, as the day’s light was starting to dim, we were fishing a small creek that flowed through the mountains. Just as I was about to call it a day I hooked a brown trout that jumped high in the air, the gold of his sides covered in red spots, and the dark amber of his back shined against the darkening blue sky. It was then Billy hollered “Tom, turn around.” The sun was setting behind me and the sky had turned the colors you see in great photographs. One of those once in a million sunsets. They were the same colors that seemed to glow as the trout leapt from the water. It was then I truly saw Billy’s heart and realized I had found another soulmate.