Although he was known as William Jefferson Clinton for several years as a young man, as a famed member of the music industry, he would forever be known as Billy Blythe. William Blythe, Senior, Billy’s father, was a traveling salesman who died in a traffic accident just months before his son was born. The young widow and new mother, Virginia, made ends meet as a nurse. In 1950, she married Roger Clinton, a car dealer in nearby Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Clinton would prove a dominating force in Billy’s young life. He took his stepfather’s surname informally, though he refused to ever take it legally, one of many issues that arose between them. Clinton was a gambler and alcoholic, and he took out his struggles on Billy’s mother and younger half-brother, Roger, Jr. As Billy grew older, he stood up to his stepfather violently, and soon regular fights broke out in the Clinton household.
When Billy was sixteen, the same year Virginia divorced Clinton, he won first chair in saxophone in the Arkansas state band. This, he determined, would be his ticket out of his family’s struggles in Arkansas. Despite interests in being a doctor or even public servant, Billy focused on his music, dreaming of becoming a great like John Coltrane or Stan Getz. Upon graduation from high school, he moved to California and worked to establish a career.
If Billy lacked in talent, he more than made up for it in personality and his uncanny ability to make connections. He crossed paths with his idol Stan Getz several times as Getz won awards with his bossa nova style alongside talents such as Joao and Astrud Gilberto. Getz’s affair with Astrud broke their collaboration and created a turning point in Getz’s career. Billy, who would himself become infamous for his many affairs, worked his way into Getz’s circle and is often credited with turning the great saxophonist’s attention back toward cool jazz.
Working on albums with Getz and others, Billy’s true fame came when he burned his draft card and began his “Canadian Tour” after his name was announced for the Vietnam War effort. He eclipsed Getz and began playing peppier music in tune with the taste of his new, much younger fans. Although scandal would break out when it was discovered that Billy’s uncle had led a failed effort to get Billy into the Navy Reserve and thus wait out the war at home, Billy avoided any bad press in America by hopping the Atlantic and playing venues in Europe into the mid-1970s.
After Billy’s return during the Carter years, he continued to be loud in his politics, although it was the terms of Ronald Reagan that brought him to his height. The saxophone had become a widely popular instrument, and Billy’s concerts surpassed those of Kenny G and others. Billy proved to be a savvy businessman and was soon demanding hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single appearance. Blythe Merchandising became a multi-million-dollar company, which transitioned into Blythe Entertainment as Billy’s personal fame dimmed.
Billy found that his smooth personality translated well into the backroom dealings of the music industry. Numerous stars of the nineties and new millennium owed their fame to his patronage, although later stories were told over how deep his take was, not to mention his routine encounters with interns. Billy’s name still often sprang into the news for a land investment scandal or the like, although his greatest legacy seemed to live on through his ongoing campaign for the legalization of marijuana, claiming, “I always inhale.”
In reality, according to his autobiography My Life, Clinton only threatened violent repercussions to protect his mother and half-brother. “I loved music and thought I could be very good, but I knew I would never be John Coltrane or Stan Getz. I was interested in medicine and thought I could be a fine doctor, but I knew I would never be Michael DeBakey. But I knew I could be great in public service.” Clinton went to Georgetown on scholarship and became president of his class, the first of many successful campaigns, including President of the United States in 1992 and 1996.