Testament’s Chuck Billy Opens Up About His Native American Upbringing
On Jan. 14, Testament vocalist Chuck Billy will be appearing at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Albuquerque, N.M. to celebrate becoming the first Native American entertainer to be permanently featured in one of the famed establishment’s memorabilia displays.
“When the folks at the Hard Rock Casino told me what was happening, I was blown away! My good friend writes for Native Entertainment Magazine, and he has been on a crusade to get more Native American musicians included in all of the different Hard Rock locations throughout the country,” Billy told Noisecreep about the honor. Last year the 49-year-old was also featured in Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian‘s ‘Up Where We Belong: Native Musicians In Popular Culture’ exhibition in 2010.
Noisecreep asked Billy about his upbringing. “My father is Native American, and my mom is Mexican, and she also has some Native American blood in her. My father was raised on the Hopland Indian reservation, which is about two hours north of San Francisco. I was born in Oakland, Calif., and for the first five years was raised in Los Cerritos, Calif. After that, we moved to Dublin, Calif., and I pretty much grew up there. My father owned two properties there, and I remember going to the reservation a lot as a kid. When my father retired, he moved there permanently.”
The singer told us life on the Hopland reservation during the ’70s and ’80s was radically different from the existence he knew back at his Dublin neighborhood. “There was just so much freedom on the reservation. I hate to say it, but they were just a bunch of wild Indians [laughs]. It was crazy back then. Our tribe and reservation is really small, and before we ever had a casino on the land, there wasn’t a lot of hope. There wasn’t any money around, and it just felt desperate. It was dire, especially with education and basic resources like that. The kids didn’t even have the basic stuff other kids have in the rest of the country. So a lot of kids didn’t even bother going to school.
“There’s always the stereotypical stuff about Indians being drunk and high on the reservation, and all of that stuff. And yes, there was a lot of that back then. But you can say that about a lot of other places in the world. If you have a situation as rough as it was for our tribe back then, you’re going to have people escaping into alcohol and drug abuse.”
Billy said the opening of the Sho-Ka-Wah Casino on his tribe’s land saved his reservation, and its people. “My father was on the tribal council, and he and a lot of other people, had a lot to do with bringing in the casino. Once that came in, it cleaned everything on the reservation up. Not just money for education and the water system, but also programs for things like keeping our language alive.
“It was tough in the beginning, because there were people running the casino that had no idea what they were doing. So there was some corruption and mismanagement of funds, but they eventually got the right people in there and it’s flourishing now. The casino changed everything for the better.”
Testament will be releasing their album, ‘The Dark Roots of Earth,’ later this year via Nuclear Blast.