Bill Abernathy: “Work hard”

When I returned from my Living the Dream tour in February 2020, Covid hit and hit hard. We all went into quarantine, stayed home, and seriously limited contact with others. I do believe that was the right thing to do, but it certainly came with some challenges. That said, I was talking with my daughter […]

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When I returned from my Living the Dream tour in February 2020, Covid hit and hit hard. We all went into quarantine, stayed home, and seriously limited contact with others. I do believe that was the right thing to do, but it certainly came with some challenges. That said, I was talking with my daughter one day thinking about how we could keep some music out there and do something that would not only give homebound fans something to look forward to, but also help support the critical small businesses that rely so heavily on foot traffic to stay in business. We came up with what we called “The Coronavirus Sessions”. The concept is simple, really. Fans would request I play a song, I would make a video for them of the song here at my loft, post it on Social Media, and in return ask the fan to support a local business in some way. They did things like order take out, buy a gift card, purchase something from their website- those kinds of things. The “kicker” is they could request essentially any song they wanted to hear whether it was one of my tunes or a cover song from another artist. I am not known for playing a lot of cover songs, but we have had a lot of fun with this. I have learned songs I would never have learned otherwise; the fans have had some fun with it, and local businesses across the country have been supported due to the project. I never thought that playing Meatloaf’s song “Two out of three ain’t bad” would help support a local winery, but there you have it. I did wear sunglasses to protect my anonymity. Lol


As a part of our series about music stars who are making an important social impact, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Bill Abernathy.

Bill is an award-winning, chart-topping singer-songwriter based out of Kansas City MO. Bill is essentially a storyteller with a guitar, sharing stories and learnings from his life and those close to him. Utilizing nearly every genre of music, Bill focuses all his music to emphasize the messages his lyrics.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?

I grew up in a place I call Willow Creek. My parents had 4 kids with me as the baby of the family. Being raised in a traditional Midwest family has given me the values I live by- “Work hard, be a good person, pay your bills, and enjoy life to its fullest”. My life has been filled with music from a very young age and I believe that is where it all started playing the guitar under a willow tree at Willow Creek.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I am fortunate to have been given a second chance with music. After playing a lot when I was young, I stepped away from music for a myriad of reasons. When my kids finished school and started their careers, I reached into a drawer full of songs I had written over those many years and decided to see if folks would enjoy them. It seems there are a few so I am lucky that way. After a successful corporate career, music has once again given me another opportunity to share my thoughts with fans. Second chances are always good, but this chance to embrace my music has really been a life-changer.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career? What was the lesson or take away that you took out of that story?

During my 2020 pre- Covid Living the Dream tour, I was approached by a fan after a show. He explained that he had driven 3+ hours to attend the concert. When he explained why it became one of my favorite live shows ever. The fan had recently lost his father to a long illness. He had heard my Find A Way song and it touched him deeply. This song depicts the last day my father was alive on this earth. The fan wanted to hear that tune live along with the backstory of the song. I closed the show that evening with Find A Way, as I typically do. The fan was totally engrossed in the song and I could see tears in his eyes as we discussed the lessons in the song in our post-concert conversation. When something I have written and shared touches someone’s life and helps them work through a tough situation, it really makes it all worthwhile.

What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?

Work hard. Practice a lot. When you think your good, practice even more. Be yourself. It’s really cool to be able to emulate other artists and learn from their styles, however, the most important thing is to find out who you are, what your sound is, what your message is and how to deliver it all effectively. Did I mention practice a lot? LOL

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?

“If you want something bad enough in life, and you’re willing to put in the blood, sweat, tears and toil, you and always Find A Way to make it happen.” That is a life lesson given to me by my father. It is great advice for anyone, and something I think about every day. Anything is possible if you’re willing to “sell out” to make it happen.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’ll use a story from my corporate career. At one point I reported to a boss who was a really good guy, however he was also extremely blunt. He called me into his office one day and told me of an “opportunity to excel” he wanted me to manage. It would have been nice if he had explained the project in detail, highlighting the importance of the project, tell me this would be a career-building opportunity, slapped me on the back and told me he was confident that I would succeed, but that was just not who he was. He was short and to the point. He told me the project was global and would have huge impact on the organization and then gave me a piece of advice I will never forget. “Don’t screw it up”. Ha-ha. In his own way, he told me all the things I wanted to hear in a short concise statement. I’ll never forget that. So, for the next 5 years, I focused on “not screwing it up”, and the rest of the things all fell into place. Sometimes a short simply statement can really change your life. Who knew right?

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?

When I returned from my Living the Dream tour in February 2020, Covid hit and hit hard. We all went into quarantine, stayed home, and seriously limited contact with others. I do believe that was the right thing to do, but it certainly came with some challenges. That said, I was talking with my daughter one day thinking about how we could keep some music out there and do something that would not only give homebound fans something to look forward to, but also help support the critical small businesses that rely so heavily on foot traffic to stay in business. We came up with what we called “The Coronavirus Sessions”. The concept is simple, really. Fans would request I play a song, I would make a video for them of the song here at my loft, post it on Social Media, and in return ask the fan to support a local business in some way. They did things like order take out, buy a gift card, purchase something from their website- those kinds of things. The “kicker” is they could request essentially any song they wanted to hear whether it was one of my tunes or a cover song from another artist. I am not known for playing a lot of cover songs, but we have had a lot of fun with this. I have learned songs I would never have learned otherwise; the fans have had some fun with it, and local businesses across the country have been supported due to the project. I never thought that playing Meatloaf’s song “Two out of three ain’t bad” would help support a local winery, but there you have it. I did wear sunglasses to protect my anonymity. Lol

Can you tell us the backstory about what originally inspired you to feel passionate about this cause and to do something about it?

I live in the historic KC City Market in a building built in 1880 that is on the National Historic Register. I am surrounded by history. I frequent small mom and pop businesses that I daily. These businesses are very important to me, support my lifestyle, and are very entrepreneurial for the owners and operators. I really enjoy the goods and services they offer as well as the great conversations we have regarding everything from business to sports. It is so much fun walking through the City Market, talking with folks, people watching and seeing what the vendors have to offer. Covid really slowed down the foot traffic in my area and subsequently the income of many of these businesses. Many of these are part of the history of KC, and I wanted to do something to help ensure that history continued.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?

They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. When one of my favorite shops that made fresh Cajun-style Beignet’s closed, and I could not have my traditional Saturday morning breakfast, something had to be done. Saturday morning, no beignet? Unacceptable. Time to make something happen.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Thank you for asking. I had one fan who requested a song that was so far out of my comfort zone I asked them if they would request something different. It was a piano-based song and was really a beast to play on the guitar. In the course of conversation, they told me why they had requested that particular song. After hearing the story of a young girl who had been in an auto accident, needed therapy, and her finances were taken away by Covid, I had no choice but to play the song. So yes, a 60-year-old grandpa played and sang “Let It Go” from the Disney movie Frozen on acoustic guitar. A nice donation was made to help out to ensure she got the therapy she needed. There is of course the Meatloaf song as well… that one left a mark.

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

Well, if you want to request a song, I am in. I currently have a local contractor doing some renovation in my loft so it may be a bit before I can get it done. Of course, just bringing the challenges and struggles of local businesses to light during this time is the most important thing. Step out and support some locals. It’s critical not only to their business but to our society in general, and it may just make you feel better to know you supported a local business or artist.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Be yourself, be different, be unique and be confident. When I was young, I was fascinated by the rock stars of the day and attempted to emulate them. George Carlin once said, “there are many people who can play the notes, but very few who know why the notes need to be played”. I now try to understand why the notes need to be played.
  2. I had a music teacher who absolutely refused to allow anyone to use notes or written music during a performance. His point was if you need a cheat sheet you don’t know the content well enough. I get frustrated when I go to a performance and folks are reading their music or using their iPad as a cheat sheet. Invest the time to really know the music, only then can you deliver the tunes with the emotion and expression they deserve. Your audience will appreciate it. Trust me on this one.
  3. I was watching a live performance online the other day, and the artist really struggled playing the guitar and singing at the same time. They focused so hard on his hands, that the lyrics, the reason the song was written, were an afterthought. I think I may have mentioned the importance of knowing your subject and practice a time or two. Get the hint?
  4. Know when it’s ok to experiment and take chances, and when it’s not. Maybe the best time to decide if a key change in the middle of a song is needed, is not in the middle of a performance. Try it sometime and see what the other musicians’ expressions are. Have a plan, know the plan, and execute the plan, and don’t throw your team under the bus in the middle of a performance or project.
  5. The three R’s. Read, Recognize, and React. Develop the skill to know your audience.

Read — understand why they are there, what their expectations are, and how you can deliver to those expectations to get your points across.

Recognize — Look into your audience and understand who they are. Understand who are the ones that you need to affect, the ones who are the most influential, the ones who can help spread your message and vision.

React — be flexible and change your approach and performances as needed to ensure your message is being heard and accepted the most effective way possible. There are always folks in the audience that want and need to hear what you have to say. Play to them, they are there for a reason and you may never know who or why.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Boxes. We so love to put people in boxes. We like to categorize people based on our preconceived ideas and stereotypes that are so prevalent in society today. In music as an example, we plug artists into genres that someone somewhere thinks they belong in. In the corporate world we plug people into positions based on their resume or education. Really now, how many of us are in the same areas we received our formal education in? How many artists are expected to replicate their last hit to keep their audience engaged? How many times do I need to hear about your truck, your latest breakup, or how you will rock me all night long? How many times do I need to hear someone regurgitate information from the latest book of the month? I would like to see our society get away from the boxes, the stereotypes, the profiling and take the time to understand who a person really is. What are their real talents, what can each do creatively, what can each of us do or say to add value to our world as a whole? I was fortunate in my corporate career to be able to use creativity, imagination and outside-the-box thinking to gain some success and add value. Though supply chain and project management are seen as far different than writing songs, really, they are very similar. You have an idea, expand that idea, validate the idea, plan the project, get the right people involved, and implement the concept. So, the challenge is, you interview for a project management professional and see they are a songwriter, do they get to the next level of the interview? Or do you put them in a box and move on? You are programming tunes for a radio station. You see a new tune from an artist that has a history of playing in a different genre than your standard programming. Do you listen to the new tune? These are things that make you say “hmmmm”.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Politics, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I am a huge sports fan. I think sports is a microcosm of life. You win, you lose, you prepare, you work with teams, you lead, you follow, you adjust on the fly. I would love to talk with a leader in sports and businesses to see how they read, recognize and react in their world. I think a beer with Bill Belichick would be a very interesting conversation. Hopefully I would be able to keep up.

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!


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