WHO: Billy Squier
WHAT: He ruled the ’80s airwaves with “Everybody Wants You,’’ “Rock Me Tonite,’’ and the evocative “The Stroke.’’ Before growing big hair and shimmying into skintight jeans, Squier was a clean-cut jock who grew up in Wellesley. Forty-three years after graduating from Wellesley High School, the former glee club member returns to the school tomorrow to perform at the sold-out Turn out the Lights Celebration.
Q. In high school you were one of the cool kids, I bet.
A. I became cool in my own group, straddling a couple of worlds. I was good at sports - basketball, football, tennis and dropped them all. At 16, I didn’t care about sports anymore. Once I found the inspiration, I focused on it.
Q. And that was music?
A. Yes. When the Beatles and the Stones hit, they were the new messiahs for us. I had been playing the guitar, and I just liked it. The electric guitar gave me a chance to cut my own swath. I always loved music. I liked to go to church because I liked to sing the hymns.
Q. When did you start your first band?
A. I had a basement band with kids from Wellesley and Dedham. My friend Terry Rabinowitz was a poet. He came back from England and discovered this record by John Mayall, the godfather of British blues. The album was “Blues Breakers’’ with Eric Clapton playing lead guitar. I put it on, and it completely blew me away. I was overwhelmed. I had goose bumps all over my body. That was it. I was done. It changed my life.
Q. Not too many rockers come out of Wellesley. Who were your models growing up?
A. When I was getting into rock ’n’ roll, no one was getting into it. There was a fair amount of hostility toward us. One of the heads of the police department - Keefe, I think his name was, a sergeant - made our lives miserable. People didn’t know what else we were doing. They think you are teenagers and you are drinking and getting into trouble. Because this was the ’60s everything was about sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ and roll. Parents were naturally scared. But kids are going to rebel against their parents, and that’s what we wanted to do.
Q. Sounds like your parents were supportive.
A. They acknowledged that music was something I was going to do. They didn’t stand in the way. Doing nothing was supportive.
Q. You moved to New York at a young age, fresh out of high school. What was it like going from Wellesley to the Lower East Side in the ’60s?
A. It couldn’t have been better. I had no money; we were living in squalor, but living our dreams. That was the important thing, living the dream and stealing milk and bread off of trucks to survive.
Q. These days you work in Central Park?
A. I look after 20 acres. I’m up in the trees pruning them. It’s an unpaid job with the Central Park Conservancy. At the same time I was getting out of music in ’93, I realized I could do other stuff. Living on Long Island I fell into gardening. I’m always happy when I’m outside working in the company of nature.
Q. What else do you do?
A. What else do I have to do?
Q. If you didn’t walk away from your public persona as a rock phenom in ’93, what would your life be now?
A. I don’t know if it would be as good as it is now. You have to ask yourself a question: How do I feel being Billy Squier. What does it feel like to be in my own skin? I like my life. It’s not perfect, but it’s good. I get to make a living doing something I love. Things are really good for me. I live my life the way I want to.
Q. And that still includes playing live occasionally?
A. Every couple of years it’s nice to get out to relive the life. When you’re on stage playing, when I plug in a guitar and chord, I’m 16 years old again. I feel the same excitement. It’s very overwhelming. It engulfs you.
Q. Can you still fit into the old jeans?
A. Absolutely. My wife and friends don’t like it because they can’t. It makes you feel young.