Billy Block, Advocate for Alt-Country, Dies at 59

He Supported Numerous Up-and-Coming Country and Americana Artists

Billy Block, the founder and longtime host of the weekly Western Beat music series in Nashville, died Wednesday (March 11) after a long fight with metastatic melanoma. He was 59.

For decades, Block advocated for artists who didn’t fit neatly into mainstream country, although some of his onstage guests did ultimately become stars — Florida Georgia Line, Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves and Keith Urban among them.

“Billy Block is such a staple in the Nashville music community, and it was really cool of him to support us when we were fresh out of college trying to figure it all out,” FGL’s Brian Kelley told the Nashville Scene in 2014. “Tyler (Hubbard) and I owe him a lot for having our backs in those early days. … It was really cool being on his weekly show and getting introduced to new people around town.”

“Man, Billy really is a believer in new artists, and we were honored that he took an interest in what we were doing,” Hubbard added. “He was a really cool guy to learn from.”

Block grew up in Texas, then relocated to Los Angeles in 1985 to pursue a career as a drummer. He and his wife Jill moved to Nashville in 1995. Together, they built a Nashville following with a weekly live radio show built around four or five acts. In addition to drumming for some of the bands, Block emceed with an undeniably cheerful demeanor.

“Billy Block’s Western Beat was the first live radio show coming out of Nashville that put a frame around what eventually came to be known as Americana music,” Rodney Crowell told the Scene. “We ’Americana’ artists would do well to remember this.”

CMT picked up Block’s show, Western Beat With Billy Block, in 2000, giving alt-country — as it was often called then — a national audience.

Craig Shelburne has been writing for CMT.com since 2002. He is also a producer for CMT Edge, Concrete Country and Live @ CMT.