Billo’s swansong ends a musical era


William James ‘Billo’ Smith, son of the legendary band leader from the heyday of Brisbane’s famed Cloudland Ballroom, has died just a few weeks short of his 93rd birthday. 

A resident of the Scenic Rim for the past 10 years, Billo Smith Jnr passed away suddenly but peacefully in the morning of Monday, July 31. 

People in Beaudesert may remember Billo as the cheery old bloke riding on a motorised billy cart, who was always ready to chat to folks in Beaudesert’s shopping centres. 

Born at the height of the great depression in Brisbane in 1930, Billo studied piano from age five. His musical career began at 13 when he became an apprentice to his famous father, Billo Smith senior, a veteran of WW1. 

At 17, Billo officially joined his father’s 12-piece Dance Band at Cloudland, playing saxophone and clarinet. His Scottish mother (Agnes) Nessie Smith – an accomplished musician and band leader in her own right – was also a band member, performing both as a vocalist and pianist. 

Billo was still a band member when his father’s band was invited to perform for the Royal Ball at the Brisbane Town Hall, during Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation tour of Australia in March, 1954. 

Aspiring to a classical career, he won the Queensland clarinet championship at Brisbane Eisteddfod in 1956.

In 1973 he moved with his two young children – Philip and Kate – to Queensland’s Gold Coast to live with his parents. 

 Upon arriving on the Gold Coast, Billo Jnr teamed up to form a vocal and harmonica trio with the Ted Preston Band, based at the Tweed Heads Bowls Club (now called Club Tweed). This full-time gig continued for a decade. Billo also played with Lindsay Bates in his jazz band at the Twin Towns Services Club.

Billo continued to play at various venues, and teach music from his home. As his professional playing career wound down, he embarked on a new chapter of music writing. He wrote and self-published several music tuition textbooks.

In 2001, he travelled to Manila to marry Ellen, his third wife.

After returning from the Philippines, Billo re-entered the workforce, driving taxis part-time for Yellow Cabs, based in Logan city, which he did until he was about 80. 

Ten years ago, Billo and Ellen moved to Rathdowney, before they settled in Beaudesert. They were well-known at the Beaudesert Caravan Park, where they cultivated a great vegetable patch behind their van. 

In mid 2019, Billo and Ellen relocated to a unit that his son owned in Gleneagle.

Billo spent the last years of his long life as a much appreciated member of the Beaudesert Seventh-day Adventist Church. He has collaborated with various singers, songwriters and producers, including some from overseas, on a diverse array of projects that involved composing and recording songs for church music. 

He will be missed by his wife, children and their families and will be remembered by those whose lives were touched by his love of music.

SRM Print

About Keer Moriarty 427 Articles
Small town newspaper Editor, journo, social media manager and tea lady.