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Omaha Magazine

Opry Omaha: Billy Troy Has Stories to Tell

Mar 01, 2022 11:38AM ● By Tara Spencer
billy troy smiles with orange backdrop

Photo by Bill Sitzmann    

The platform was set for Billy Troy from birth. The singer, songwriter, and producer essentially grew up on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, Tennessee. 

His father, Josh Graves, is known as the “king of the dobro” after introducing these resonator guitars to bluegrass music in the mid-1950s. Josh, 1997 International Bluegrass Music Association Hall of Honor inductee, played the Opry with the Foggy Mountain Boys, and his son was often by his side. 

“I grew up on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry,” Troy said. “And then when I turned 16, I became part of the Grand Ole Opry.” 

Throughout his youth, Troy appeared regularly on a TV program called The Noon Show, and later he was also on The Porter Wagoner Show, where Dolly Parton got her start. Throughout high school, he would leave class to go perform on TV shows and head back to school after. “I was just a Nashville boy,” Troy said.

In the early 1970s, right after high school, Troy signed with Andy Williams’ record label, Barnaby Records. At the time, there were only a few other names on the label, but they were notable—The Osmond Brothers, Jimmy Buffett, and Ray Stevens. 

Troy took to the road, performing first as a solo act, later adding members to the group that would become the Billy Troy Band, and they were known for playing country and bluegrass.

Besides being a well-known singer and performer, Troy has also found success as a songwriter and producer, earning him several Grammy nominations.

“I know that my father worried about me being in this business because it’s such a hard thing, but luckily he gave me the tools to be able to do more than one thing,” Troy said. “’Cause when [performing] doesn’t work, I’m still a producer and a songwriter.”

Troy’s music interests also extend beyond country and bluegrass. “There was a time where they wanted to put you in one genre, and I just couldn’t do it,” he said. “I always just liked all kinds of music.” A devoted fan of The Beatles, he started his own group when he was around 10 called The Crickets, because “we wanted to be The Beatles.” He still enjoys performing Beatles songs, as well as Billy Joel tunes and other pop classics, even taking the band on the road to perform as a Billy Joel tribute a while back. Omahans often found him putting on a lively show at The Ozone Lounge every Saturday night, before the venue closed. 

Troy also works with the Merrymakers Association, a nonprofit that provides senior living communities with free music entertainment. According to Merrymakers executive director Sandy Lemke, Troy typically plays 12 shows a month with them. “He has people who request him constantly in the senior communities,” Lemke said. “They’ll go to their activities director and say, ‘When can we have Billy Troy back?’ He is amazing.”

The 68-year-old still records his own music, and now plays with his own son, Troy Graves, in The Billy Troy Band. Besides his son, who is the bassist, the band includes a second guitarist—who also plays for country singer Toby Keith—and a drummer. Troy said they’ve been with him since they were teens.   

“They all had been with me for years before I moved here,” he said. “They’re all doing so well…They all work in different bands, right in downtown Nashville.”

Since Troy now lives in Omaha and the rest of the group members live in Tennessee, they often collaborate remotely. “It’s so easy to do with technology,” Troy said. “They’ll be in the studio in Nashville, and they’ll send me files and I’ll work on my part.” 

Technology also proved helpful when the pandemic hit, and Troy was unable to perform for regular audiences. His solution, at the urging of his wife, Sheryl, was to use social media. He started posting videos of his In-House Sessions, sometimes working with other musicians. “Each week I would do a three-song segment of me at home, just performing, and that was very successful,” he said. “We even used it in the Merrymakers. We all started doing videos for some of the places we couldn’t get into, and it worked out really well.”

Despite taking careful measures to avoid exposure, Troy and several members of his family did contract COVID. “The biggest thing you need to do, and it’s just what I didn’t do, is get to the hospital.” Troy said he mistakenly refused to go, but when he started turning blue at home, Sheryl called 911 and he was transported to the hospital during a snowstorm. 

While struggling to stay alive in the hospital, Troy said he started getting cards and letters from all over the country. “You won’t believe what that does to you,” he said. “I’m in the hospital, I’m looking at stacks of mail that come in, and it’s like, man…I was so touched by it. You know, it changes the way you look at everything, really.” 

Troy still records and performs his original music, and he wrote a documentary-style musical play called Backstage Memories, based on his own memories of the Opry. “I base the show on that, because [people] can relate to it. Because I can give them the music of their past.” 

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This article originally appeared in the March/April 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

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