The seed of his music career was planted at a young age, as he took up the piano when he was just five years old.
“My grandmother had an old upright (piano), and I used to go over to her house all the time to play it,” Basil recalled. “I was really close to my grandmother. I’d hang out with her.”
His fiddling with the piano caught the attention of his mother, who guided him towards his first music mentor, a piano teacher by the name of Mrs. Nutt.
“My mother said that if she got me a teacher, I’d have to practice,” Basil said. “The teacher was strict, and I’d practice a half hour every day. Whenever I’d skip practice, my mom would tell me that I would have to tell Mrs. Nutt that I don’t want to play piano anymore. I was so scared of telling my teacher that, I just kept practicing.”
From that early start, Basil found other mentors and influences, taking lessons from some of Navy bands around Annapolis, Maryland. “There are a lot of musicians from the Service bands.”
A big leap forward for him occurred in high school, when he played with a volunteer big band.
“It went off from there,” Basil said. “I started playing rock and roll, jazz, and other big band stuff.”
When he was with that band, he played in the Mobile Jazz Festival in Alabama in 1971, where they won a National Championship. For his own part, Basil won an Outstanding Musicianship Award.
“That’s when I decided that I was going to do this for a living,” Basil stated. Moving to West Palm Beach in 1972, he started playing Southern Rock and Roll for 3 years before heading to Nashville.
“I was in Nashville for 4 or 5 months, and having a tough time of it,” Basil said. “On my last day there, before heading back to Annapolis, I was offered a job with Brenda Lee.”
His stint with Lee had a memorable beginning, kicking off with a tour in Japan. He spent 2 years playing alongside her before getting a job with Dottie West, who had just recorded a duo with Kenny Rogers.
“That’s when I got hooked up with both of them, and it was just when Kenny had ‘Lucille’ back in ’77,” Basil said. “Shortly after that, he came out with “The Gambler” so that kept me busy for around 6 years. That was the time where we played at the Grammys.”
Those years were spent arranging and conducting for Dottie, becoming her band leader, and working with Kenny out in Los Angeles. During that time they became the first country act to perform in Carnegie Hall. At their height, they were playing around 300 dates a year.
From there, he found himself playing with Stevie Ray Vaughn around 1985, meeting up with him while Basil was doing the Blues Circuit in the Midwest with Lonnie Mack.
Eventually, Basil set aside working with and arranging for other artists to try his hand at a solo career near the end of the ‘80s.
“I recorded a jazz record in Nashville, with all my own stuff, and tried to find a label,” Basil recounted. “I was more or less put on hold and signed by CBS. They had two artists up for a spring release, and it turned out that they didn’t chose me.”
“They ended up choosing Kenny G,” Basil said.
Following that, Basil finished up with Nashville and went home to Annapolis to raise his kids. Playing clubs and fighting through illnesses over the intervening years, Basil found himself moving to Pine Island less than two years ago. The move to Southwest Florida reinvigorated his drive to perform.
“I’m loving it down here,” Basil said. “I had gotten myself into a rut, but coming here has given me a new lease on life.”
He’s now playing every Saturday in a quartet with Jay Heavilin in JDs Bistro up in Port Charlotte.
“He’s an exciting and high energy player,” Heavilin said of Basil. “It’s a pleasure to work with some like that.” Heavilin recalled meeting Basil through Evelyn Thomas. “He came in, sounded great, and fit right in.”
Basil also plays solo and JDs on Mondays, and also has solo gigs on Wednesdays at the Sheraton Four Points in Punta Gorda. He also performs off and on at the Tarpon Lodge on Pine Island, close to his home.
By Trent Townsend