And I wanted in, man. I was listening to the Who, the Kinks, the Yardbirds, stuff like that. I wanted to be Keith Moon and Ringo and Mitch Mitchell.
BILLY: Warren we liked right from the start. And then Pete was an easy grab. Went to school with us, played bass for this high school band that played our prom. When they broke up, I said, “Pete, come on and join us.” He was always really cool about stuff; he just wanted to rock out.
Then there was Chuck. And Chuck was a few years older than the rest of us, from a few towns over. But Pete knew him, vouched for him. Chuck was real clean-cut—square jaw and blond hair and all that. But we auditioned him and turned out he was better than me, at rhythm guitar.
I wanted to be a front man and now we had a full five-man band so I could do that.
GRAHAM: We got a lot better, really quickly. I mean, all we were doing was practicing.
WARREN: Day in and day out. I woke up, grabbed my sticks, and headed over to Billy and Graham’s garage. If my thumbs were bleeding when I went to bed, it was a good day.
GRAHAM: I mean, what else were we gonna do? None of us had girlfriends, except Billy. All the girls wanted to date Billy. And, I swear, it was like Billy was in love with a new girl every week. He’d always been like that.
In elementary school, he’d asked out his second-grade teacher. Mom always said he was born girl crazy. She used to joke it’d be the end of him.
WARREN: We played house parties and a bar here and there. For maybe about six months or so, maybe a little longer. Got paid in beer. Which, when you’re underage isn’t so bad.
GRAHAM: We weren’t always hanging out in the, let’s say classiest of places. There were a few times a fight would break out over something and you were worried you might get caught in the cross fire. This one time we were playing a gig at a dive bar and this guy in the front got a little too jacked up on something. He starts swinging punches at people. I’m minding my own business playing my riffs when suddenly he’s coming for me!
And then it all went lightning fast. Boom. He was on the ground. Billy had taken him out.
Billy’d done the same thing when we were little kids. I was headed down to the five-and-dime and some kid tried to jump me for a couple nickels. Billy ran up to us and then just flattened him.
WARREN: You knew back then not to say any shit about Graham if Billy could hear you. You know, Graham wasn’t that good when we were starting out. I remember one time Pete and I were saying to Billy, “Maybe we should replace Graham,” and Billy said, “Say that again and Graham and I will replace you.” [Laughs] Honestly, I thought that was cool. I was thinking, All right, I’m not gonna get involved then. Never did bother me much that Billy and Graham thought of the band as theirs. I liked thinking of myself as a drummer for hire. I was just trying to have a good time playing in a good band.
GRAHAM: We started to play enough that some people around town knew who we were. And Billy was just starting to get into his lead singer thing. He had a look, you know? We all did. We stopped cutting our hair.
BILLY: I wore jeans everywhere, got really into big belt buckles.
WARREN: Graham and Pete started wearing these tight T-shirts. I’d tell them, “I can see your nipples.” But they thought that was cool.
BILLY: We got hired for this wedding. It was a big deal. A wedding meant we were gonna be heard by, you know, a hundred people. I think I was nineteen.
We had auditioned for this couple with our best song. It was this slower, folkier song I’d written called “Nevermore.” Just thinking about it makes me cringe. Truly. I was writing about the Catonsville Nine and things like that. I thought I was Dylan. But we got the gig.
And about halfway through our show at this wedding, I notice this fifty-something guy dancing with this twenty-something girl and I thought, Does this guy know what a creep he looks like?
And then I realize it’s my dad.
GRAHAM: Our father was there with this young girl, about our age. I realized it before Billy, I think. Recognized him from the pictures our mom kept in the shoe box under her bed.
BILLY: I couldn’t believe it. He’d been gone ten years by that point. And he was supposed to be in Georgia. That asshole was just standing right in the middle of the dance floor, no idea his sons were up onstage. It had been so long since he’d seen us, he didn’t even recognize us. Not our faces or our voices, nothing.
When we finished playing, I watched him walk off the dance floor. Didn’t so much as look at us. I mean, what kind of sociopath do you have to be not to notice your own sons when they are right there in front of you? How is that even possible?
In my experience, biology kicks in. You meet that kid, and you know it’s yours, and you love that kid. That’s just how it works.
GRAHAM: Billy asked a few people at the wedding about him. Turns out, our father had been living a few towns over. Friends with the bride’s family or something. Billy was boiling mad, saying, “He didn’t even recognize us.” I always thought that he probably did recognize us and just didn’t know what to say.
BILLY: It messes with you, when your own father doesn’t care about you enough to say hello. I’m not saying it was a self-pity thing. I wasn’t sitting there asking, “Why doesn’t he love me?” It was more…Oh, okay, this is how dark the world can be. Some fathers don’t love their sons.
It was a lesson in what not to be, I’ll tell you that much.
GRAHAM: Seemed like he was a drunk asshole anyway. So good riddance to him.
BILLY: After the wedding had ended, and everyone was packing up, I had a few too many beers…and I saw this woman working as a cocktail waitress at the hotel bar. [Smiles] Gorgeous girl. Real long brown hair, down to her waist, and big brown eyes. I’m a sucker for brown eyes. I remember she was wearing a tiny little blue dress. She was short. And I liked that.
I was standing there in the hotel lobby, on my way to the van. And she was waiting on a customer over at the bar. You could tell, just watching her, that she wasn’t taking shit from anybody.
CAMILA DUNNE (wife of Billy Dunne): Oh my word, was he good looking….Slim but still muscular, which has always been my type. And he had these thick eyelashes. And so much confidence. And a really big smile. And when I saw him in the lobby, I remember thinking, Why can’t I meet a guy like that?
BILLY: I walked right up to her, in that bar, holding, you know, an amp in one hand and a guitar in the other. I said, “Miss? I’d like your number, please.”
She was standing up at the register. She had one hand on her hip. She laughed at me and kind of looked at me sideways. I don’t remember exactly what she said but it was something like “What if you’re not my type?”
I leaned over the bar and said, “My name is Billy Dunne. I’m the lead singer of the Dunne Brothers. And if you give me your number I’ll write a song about you.”
That got her. That doesn’t get every woman. But it usually gets the good ones.
CAMILA: I went home and told my mom I met somebody. And she said, “Nice boy?”
And I said, “I don’t know about that.” [Laughs] Nice never did much for me.
* * *
Over the summer and fall of 1969, the Dunne Brothers started to book more shows in Pittsburgh and the surrounding towns.
GRAHAM: When Camila started coming out with us, I’ll admit I didn’t think she’d last much longer than the others. But I should have known she was different. I mean, first time I met her, she came to a gig of ours wearing a Tommy James shirt. She knew good music.
WARREN: The rest of us were really starting to get laid, man. And Billy was taking himself off the market. We’d all be with chicks and he’d be sitting there, smoking a joint, having a beer to keep himself busy.
I came out of a girl’s room one time, zipping my pants up, and Billy was sitting on the sofa, watching Dick Cavett. I said, “Man, you gotta ditch that girlfriend.” I mean, we all liked Camila, she was foxy and she’d tell you your business right to your face, which I liked. But c’mon.
BILLY: I’d been infatuated before, called it love. But when I met [Camila], it was something different altogether. She just…made the world make sense to me. She even made me like myself more.
She’d come watch us practice and listen to my new stuff and give me really good notes on it all. And there was a calmness to her that…nobody else had. It felt like when I was with her, I knew everything would be fine. It was like I was following the North Star.
You know, Camila was born content, I think. She wasn’t born with whatever chip on her shoulder some of us are born with. I used to say I was born broken. She was born whole. That’s where the lyrics to “Born Broken” came from.
CAMILA: When Billy met my parents for the first time, I was a little nervous. You only get one chance to make a first impression, especially with them. I picked out his outfit, down to his socks. Made him wear the only tie he had.
They loved him. Said he was charming. But my mom was also worried about me putting my trust in some guy in a band.
BILLY: Pete was the only one who seemed to understand why I’d have a girlfriend. Chuck, one time, as we were packing up for a show, said, “Just tell her you aren’t a one-woman guy. Girls get that.” [Laughs] That was not gonna work on Camila.