WARREN: Chuck was real cool. He would cut right to the heart of something. He sort of looked like he’d never had an interesting thought in his life. But he could surprise you. He turned me on to Status Quo. I still listen to them.
* * *
On December 1, 1969, the U.S. Selective Service System conducted a lottery to determine the draft order for 1970. Billy and Graham Dunne, both born in December, had unusually high numbers. Warren just missed the cutoff. Pete Loving fell in the middle. But Chuck Williams, born April 24, 1949, was assigned lottery number 2.
GRAHAM: Chuck got called for the draft. I remember sitting at Chuck’s kitchen table, him saying he was going to Vietnam. Billy and I kept thinking of ways he could get out of it. He said he wasn’t a coward. Last time I saw him, we played a bar by Duquesne. I said, “You’ll just come on back to the band when you’re done.”
WARREN: Billy played Chuck’s parts for a while but we’d heard Eddie Loving [Pete’s younger brother] had gotten pretty good at the guitar. We invited him to come audition.
BILLY: Nobody could be Chuck. But then we kept getting more shows and I didn’t want to keep playing rhythm guitar onstage. So we invited Eddie. Figured he could pitch in for a little while.
EDDIE LOVING (rhythm guitar, The Six): I got along well with everybody but I could tell Billy and Graham just wanted me to fit into the mold they had set for me, you know? Play this, do that.
GRAHAM: Few months in, we heard from one of Chuck’s old neighbors.
BILLY: Chuck died in Cambodia. He wasn’t even there six months, I don’t think.
You do sometimes sit and wonder why it wasn’t you, what makes you so special that you get to be safe. The world doesn’t make much sense.
* * *
At the end of 1970, the Dunne Brothers played a show at the Pint in Baltimore where Rick Marks, lead singer for the Winters, was in attendance. Impressed with their raw sound and taking a liking to Billy, he offered them an opening spot on a few shows on their northeastern tour.
The Dunne Brothers joined the Winters and quickly became influenced by the Winters’ sound and intrigued with their keyboardist, Karen Karen.
KAREN KAREN (keyboardist, The Six): The first time I met the Dunne Brothers, Graham asked me, “What’s your name?”
I said, “Karen.”
And he said, “What’s your last name?”
But I thought he said, “What’s your name?” again, like he didn’t hear me.
So I said, “Karen.”
And he laughed and said, “Karen Karen?”
Everybody called me Karen Karen from then on. My last name is Sirko, for the record. But Karen Karen just stuck.
BILLY: Karen added this extra layer, a lushness, to what the Winters were doing. I started thinking maybe we needed something like that.
GRAHAM: Billy and I were starting to think…maybe we don’t need somebody like Karen. Maybe we need Karen.
KAREN: I left the Winters because I was sick of everyone in the band trying to sleep with me. I wanted to just be a musician.
And I liked Camila. She’d hang out after the shows sometimes, when she came up to visit Billy. I dug that Billy had her around sometimes or was always on the phone with her. It was a better vibe all around.
CAMILA: When they went on tour with the Winters, I’d drive up to any weekend shows they had, and hang out backstage. I’d have spent four hours in the car and I’d get to the venue—usually these places were pretty sketchy with gum all over everything and your shoes sticking to the floor—I’d give my name at the door and they’d show me through to the back and, there I was, a part of it all.
I’d walk in and Graham and Eddie and everybody would yell, “Camila!” And Billy would walk over and put his arm around me. Once Karen started hanging out, too…it just cinched it for me. I felt like, This is where I belong.
GRAHAM: Karen Karen was a great addition to the band. Made everything better. And she was beautiful, too. I mean, in addition to being talented. I always thought she looked a little like Ali MacGraw.
KAREN: When I said that I dug the fact that the boys in the Dunne Brothers weren’t trying to get with me, that doesn’t go for Graham Dunne. But I knew he liked me for my talent just as much as my looks. So it didn’t faze me much. It was sweet, actually. Plus, Graham was a sexy guy. Especially in the seventies.
I never got the whole “Billy is the sex symbol” idea. I mean, he had the dark hair, dark eyes, high cheekbones thing. But I like my men a little less pretty. I like it when they look a little dangerous but are actually very gentle. That’s Graham. Broad shoulders, hairy chest, dusty brown hair. He was handsome but he was still a little rough around the edges.
I will admit that Billy knew how to wear a pair of jeans though.
BILLY: Karen was just a great musician. That was all there was to it. I always say I don’t care if you’re a man, woman, white, black, gay, straight, or anything in between—if you play well, you play well. Music is a great equalizer in that way.
KAREN: Men often think they deserve a sticker for treating women like people.
WARREN: That was around the time Billy’s drinking seemed like it was getting a little over the edge. He’d party like the rest of us but when we all went off with the chicks we met, he’d stay up drinking.
But he always seemed fine in the morning, and we were all kind of going crazy out there. Except for maybe Pete. He’d met this girl Jenny in Boston and was always on the phone with her.
GRAHAM: Anything Billy does, he goes hard. He loves hard, he drinks hard. Even the way he spends money, like it’s burning a hole in his pocket. It was part of the reason why, with Camila, I was telling him to take it slow.
BILLY: Camila came out with us sometimes, but a lot of the time she waited at home. She was still living with her parents and I would call her every night from the road.
CAMILA: When he didn’t have a dime to make a call, he’d call collect and when I answered he’d say, “Billy Dunne loves Camila Martinez,” and then hang up before the charge kicked in. [Laughs] My mom always rolled her eyes but I thought it was sweet.
KAREN: A few weeks after I joined the band, I said, “We need a new name.” The Dunne Brothers didn’t make sense anymore.
EDDIE: I’d been saying we needed a new name.
BILLY: We had a following with that name. I didn’t want to change it.
WARREN: We couldn’t decide what to call ourselves. I think somebody suggested the Dipsticks. I wanted us to go by Shaggin’.
EDDIE: Pete said, “You’re never going to get six people to agree on this.”
And I said, “What about The Six?”
KAREN: I got a call from a booker in Philly, where I’m from. And he said that the Winters had pulled out of a festival there, asked if we wanted to play. I said, “Right on, but we aren’t called the Dunne Brothers anymore.”
He said, “Well, what do I put on the flyer?”
I said, “Not sure yet but I’ll get the six of us there.”
And I liked how it sounded, “The Six.”
WARREN: Part of the brilliance of the name was how close it was to “the Sex.” But I don’t think any of us ever talked about that. It was so obvious there was no need to put a finer point on it.
KAREN: I was not thinking about it sounding like anything.
BILLY: “The Sex”? No, that wasn’t a part of it.
GRAHAM: It sounded like sex. That was a big part of it.
BILLY: We played that show in Philly as The Six and then we got an offer to do another show in town. Another in Harrisburg. Another in Allentown. We got asked to play New Year’s Eve at this bar in Hartford.
We weren’t making much money. But I’d spend my last dollar taking Camila out whenever I was home. We’d go to this pizza joint a few blocks from her parents’ place or I’d borrow money from Graham or Warren to take her out somewhere nice. She always told me to cut it out. She’d say, “If I wanted to be with a rich guy, I wouldn’t have given my number to the singer of a wedding band.”
CAMILA: Billy had charisma and I fell for all that. I always did. The smoldering, the brooding. A lot of my girlfriends were looking for guys that could afford a nice ring. But I wanted somebody fascinating.
GRAHAM: Around ’seventy-one, we booked a few shows in New York.
EDDIE: New York was…it was how you knew you were somebody.
GRAHAM: One night, we’re playing a bar over in the Bowery and out on the street, smoking a cigarette, is a guy named Rod Reyes.
ROD REYES (manager, The Six): Billy Dunne was a rock star. You could just see it. He was very cocksure, knew who to play to in the crowd. There was an emotion that he brought to his stuff.
There’s just a quality that some people have. If you took nine guys, plus Mick Jagger, and you put them in a lineup, someone who had never heard of the Rolling Stones before could still point to Jagger and say, “That’s the rock star.”
Billy had that. And the band had a good sound.
BILLY: When Rod came up to us after that show at the Wreckage…that was the watershed moment.
ROD: When I started working with the band, I had some ideas. Some of which were well received and others…not so much.
GRAHAM: Rod told me I needed to cut out half of my solos. Said they were interesting for people that loved technical guitar work but boring for everyone else.