Local Father-Son Music Giants
Story by Michael Seguin
Photography by Travis Latam
Billy Raffoul was nine years old the first time he stepped onstage with his father, local rocker Jody Raffoul.
“I was playing at Kingsville’s Migration Hall to an audience of 1,110 people,” Jody recalls. “It was a sold out show. It was wild! Then one of my cousins scooped Billy up and put him onstage with me during the encore. He squeezed my leg and held on for dear life!”
Few local musicians reached the same venerated heights as Jody Raffoul. The eldest son of Lebanese immigrants, Jody grew up in Leamington. An entirely self-taught musician, he first began his musical career at age 17, with little more than an acoustic guitar and a love of The Beatles.
“I was fresh out of school,” Jody states. “I was asked to join a band, The Bad Apples, who did a lot of Beatles songs. That sounded good to me, so we played across Essex County quite a bit. For the first 3 years, we must have played 200 shows a year. It was a great way to cut our teeth.”
Jody quickly cemented himself as one of the leaders of the local music industry, thanks in no small part to the raw, unflinching grit of his characteristic sound.
“My sound is pretty simple,” Jody states. “It’s classic rock funnelled through real-life experiences. I’ve never really had much support, in terms of management. I’ve been signed before, with small subsidiary EMIs. But, I never had a record company or a big publishing deal. The silver lining was that I was able to talk about real experiences.”
Over the last 30 years, Jody has released a total of six studio albums, the most recent of which, Bamoré, hit shelves in 2019. He’s shared stages with Paul Rodgers, John Entwistle, The Allman Brothers and more! One of his songs, “Light of Day,” was personally selected as the national winner by Jon Bon Jovi’s 2004 “Have a Nice Gig” contest. In addition, Jody also co-founded The S’Aints with Jeff Burrows, Wes Buckley, David Cyrenne, Kelly “Mr. Chill” Hoppe and Kelly Authier.
“It’s been a wild ride,” Jody states. “A wonderful ride. A great journey.”
And, as it happened, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Jody’s son, 26-year-old Billy Raffoul, has become an accomplished musician in his own right.
“It all started with my Dad,” Billy explains. “I wanted to learn all the songs he was playing, so he showed me the classics. I remember telling all my friends that my Dad wrote all those famous songs. I would later be disappointed when I heard the originals!”
Billy first began playing at bars and coffee houses across Windsor and Essex County when he was just 16 years old, something he credits his friends and family with.
“When you’re just starting out, it’s great to have someone pumping your tires for you,” Billy states. “Everyone around me has been so wonderful and so supportive.”
“He’s easily the greatest learner I’ve ever seen,” Jody states. “He’s like a sponge.
He soaks everything up. And, he puts everything he’s learned to use. He’s definitely built for it.”
Just like his father, Billy brings a distinct, unvarnished vulnerability to his music.
“I think my Dad’s best record is Simple Life,” Billy explains. “It’s just him with an acoustic guitar. Going above all the trappings of genre, he and I are storytellers. We like telling stories. Stories about our family, our heritage. At the heart of it, it’s all about storytelling.”
Billy released his first EP in 2010, that he co-produced with musician Marty Bak of SLR Studios. In 2013, he traveled down to Nashville, where he signed with his first management company. A year later, he was picked up by a record company, Interscope Records.
“I’ve been putting out music with them ever since,” Billy explains. “It’ll be six years with them in February. The same month my Dad will be celebrating 35 years performing!”
Between the two of them, Jody and his son have accumulated thousands of shows. And while it’s difficult for them to narrow down all their wonderful experiences on stage, the two do have some shining moments in their careers that they periodically return to.
“This time last year, almost to the day, I did my big headlining tour across Europe,” Billy states. “It was sold out entirely. It was incredible. We did one show in Munich in the fall of 2019. As far as the show and crowd, the attentiveness and excitement were palpable. It was one of the best shows ever for me. A lot of musicians talk about European crowds being way more energetic. Every venue, they were singing at the top of their lungs.”
However, no matter how far away the venue, Billy’s father’s reputation sometimes precedes him.
“On my second tour after signing with my management company, they told me I was going to open for Jeff Beck,” Billy recalls. “I called my Dad and we were freaking out about it. So, I played for him in Cincinnati. I remember introducing myself to the crowd between songs. And when I said my name, some guy stood up at the front of the stadium and said, ‘You’re Jody’s tot!!’ And I lit up and said, ‘Yeah!’”
But, when reflecting on his favourite gigs, Jody turns his focus closer to home.
“When my fifth studio album was released in 2018, we did three sold out shows at The Bank Theatre here in Leamington,” Jody states. “For the finale, on Sunday night, Billy and his brother Peter came up onstage with me. All their younger siblings were shaking tambourines and things like that. Having my sons up onstage with me, playing original songs of mine… that was easily the most incredible moment of my life. I’ve done big shows where I’ve been onstage with Bon Jovi and members of The Who. But, for me, being onstage with my sons here in Leamington was the highlight of my career.”
Jody stresses how much it means to him than to be able to share his craft, his passion with his children.
“Maybe when I was Billy’s age, I might have said, ‘Yeah, being onstage with John Lennon might be cooler,’” Jody states. “And, if you know me, I’d kill for John Lennon. But, there’s nothing more fulfilling than performing with one of my sons. It just blows your insides right out. There’s nothing better than being onstage with your child. I’d rather punch Bono in the face than miss being onstage with my kid.”
“I’d have to agree,” Billy states. “There’s no one I’d rather play with than my Dad.”