The Reverend Billy C. Wirtz is a big man. He has broad shoulders and stands six feet, five inches tall. There are not many individuals out there that could bring him to his knees, but a kidney stone, well, that’s another story. The pain, he admitted, is excruciating.
“I’d hate to come up with anything worse,” said Wirtz from his home outside of Daytona. “It’s a religious experience every time I have to pee.”
Wirtz underwent surgery Monday.
“They took a scope, messed around and then put a stint inside (my urethra). So I’m walking around with an apparatus inside of me,” he said.
This is not the first time the jagged little calcium deposits have plagued the performer.
“This is about the fifteenth time I’ve had them,” rued Wirtz. Despite the pain, he insists that the show must go on.
“I’ll be a little dopey (from the pain medication), but I’ll be okay,” assured Wirtz.
For those unfamiliar with Rev. Wirtz or his First House of Polyester Worship and Throbbing Teenage Desire, the South Carolina native has been barnstorming across the country for the last 20 years with a fiery brand of entertainment that owes equally to Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Swaggart and Rick Flair. A gifted blues/boogie-woogie pianist, Wirtz has gained cult hero status by thrilling crowds with his ivory banging abilities and biting southern satire.
“I always liked the comedic elements of music as well as the old roots style so I just combined the two,” said Wirtz. “(The force of music and religion) become one and the same if it is done right.” The heavily tattooed, mullett-sporting red head was raised Episcopalian and attended church every Sunday as well as Bible study.
“At 11, I bought my first Elvis record, and it’s been all downhill since then,” said Wirtz.
Wirtz is one of Skipper’s Smokehouse’s biggest draws and is a frequent host guest for their Anniversary, Freaker’s Ball and New Year’s eve bashes.
“I’ve been playing Skipper’s for almost 15 years,” said Wirtz. “(It’s) been a good place. I work hard and try to be approachable and just show folks a good time.”
Wirtz attributes much of his drawing power at the local venue to community radio station WMNF 88.5.
“He is a wild man and one of the most fun performers on stage,” said WMNF radio personality Mike Mann. “He’s part Jerry Lee Lewis and part George Carlin.”
Wirtz’s refusal to repeat himself on stage also adds to the relevancy of his shows and makes repeat visits very common among his followers.
“There’s always something different. A lot of it goes with the moment,” said Wirtz. “At Skipper’s especially, it’s such a free and open place … I just kind of go with the mood.”
Today, audience members have a better idea of what to expect when Wirtz looms over his piano and begins singing ribald barbs such as “Sleeper Hold on Satan” and “Mennonite Surf Party;” however, early in his career audience reactions were much more varied.
“Every now and then places I play just don’t get it, which is few and far between,” said Wirtz. “But in the old days there were plenty of times when what they thought they were gonna get (and what they got) just didn’t match up.”
Wirtz goes to great pains to harpoon everyone form Jesse Jackson to Jesse Helms, the Christian Coalition, baggy jean punks and over-the-hill potheads. Nothing is sacred with The Reverend.
“You have people that are so far to the left or so far to the right, that are so caught up in their (agenda) that they can’t see the humor in it, or it’s just not their cup of tea,” said Wirtz.
In addition to biting satire, Wirtz is also capable of writing a sentimental song such as “The Visitor,” which has been known to bring a manly tear to many an audience member’s eye. The tune is about an elderly women who is granted her last dying wish to spend some time with The King of Rock ‘n Roll. Being able to blend satire with sincerity is a source of pride for Wirtz.
“That’s me at my best,” gushed Wirtz. “When you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.”
Elvis Presley has been a very important figure in Wirtz’s life.”So many songs goofed on poor Elvis,” lamented Wirtz. “I always thought he was a great singer. I’m sitting in the Elvis room right now – I got a room with all kinds of Elvis memorabilia. I always thought his best stuff was his gospel stuff. Towards the end, that was the only music he really liked doing.”
Wirtz is an interesting character who despite the fact that his show often borders on blasphemy, finds inner peace performing gospel songs to himself in the privacy of his own home. A witty wordsmith, Wirtz is usually quick to answer any question. He took a sizeable pause before saying whether or not he considered himself a religious person.
“I’ll tell ya, I don’t consider myself religious or non-religious … it all depends,” said Wirtz. ” In the course of an evening, when I’m up there on stage playing and people are laughing and there is a good spirit going through the crowd … that’s a very spiritual or religious moment.”
- The Rev. Billy C. Wirtz will perform with the Nighthawks at Skipper’s Smokehouse on Friday at 8 p.m. For more info call 971-066.
- Contact Wade Tatangelo at email@example.com.