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Fred Steven Heller, known to the music world as Skip Heller, is one of the Los Angeles country and roots music scene's most interesting and complex players. Known as "America's most confusing country singer," Heller was born in Philadelphia on October 4, 1965 to an Italian mother and Jewish father. The oldest of three, Heller began his musical odyssey when he saw John Hartford perform on Glen Campbell's television show and Michael Nesmith become one of the infamous Monkees. The young Heller decided that their jobs were more fun than his dad's bus-driving gig.
He spent his formative years listening to anything and everything, an aspect of his music that is reflected in the eclectic nature of his work, revealing that no two Heller projects are alike. He was deeply influenced by Floyd Tillman, Merle Haggard, Roy Nichols, Bill Evans, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, and a host of other contemporary artists from many different genres. While in high school, he was a member of numerous garage and wedding bands. This led to jazz gigs and the formation of his own rockabilly band. He continued to play around his hometown after college, finally landing a publishing deal and eventually a small record contract with Gladman Records that resulted in his first release in 1992, Fallen Hand of Love. Hailed by local critics for his stellar guitar style and journalistic approach to songwriting, Heller was considered to be one of the top up-and-comers around Philly.
A second project followed in 1993. Again on the Gladman label, Moon Country was equally well-received. In that same year, Heller hooked up with fellow player D.J. Bonebrake and formed a quartet; their efforts were recorded on the Dionysus Records release One More Midnight.
Heller's success as a musician and recording artist allowed him to expand his horizons. Educated and literate, he moved to Los Angeles in 1995, where he served as Les Baxter's score librarian and publicist while working as the reissue producer of Les Baxter: The Lost Episode on Dionysus. Thus another aspect of Heller's artistry became apparent as he not only worked with Baxter, but also other artists in various capacities. (Heller feels a tremendous responsibility to older artists and has dedicated himself to working with them as much as possible.)
As a producer and arranger, Heller's move to the West Coast was profitable. Working with rockabilly legends Ray Campi and Sammy Masters propelled him forward. He was in demand both in front of and behind the boards, and toured with Yma Sumac, as well as serving as a sideman on the Rosie Flores/Ray Campi CD A Little Bit of Heartache. In 1997, he released Lonely Town, on the TRG Records label. In 1998, Heller released St. Christopher's Arms on Rounder/Mouthpiece and continued his studio work with artists as diverse as bluesman Big Jay McNeely and young rockabilly filly Dee Lannon. He also formed a working relationship with fellow jazz buff John Gilmore.
A multi-instrumentalist, Heller plays guitar, keyboards, and bass. He has proven to be invaluable as an arranger, orchestrator, and teacher. He moonlights as a music journalist, paying special attention to avant-garde, Jewish, and roots music. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and is often in the company of pals like Dave Alvin, Chris Gaffney, Katy Moffatt, and other locals who have come to respect this most baffling of country singers.
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