Stallion-maned thrash-metal rocker Chuck Billy enjoys rewarding faithful followers of his long-running Bay Area outfit Testament. That’s why the band issued a special deluxe tour edition of the CD “The Formation of Damnation” and why it’s offering special VIP meet-and-greet packages for its local appearance with Slayer and Megadeth. But, Billy himself was just rewarded by no less than the Smithsonian Institution, which is featuring the Pomo tribesman in its new exhibit “Up Where We Belong: Native Americans In Popular Culture.”
How did this Smithsonian thing come about? They contacted us, saying they wanted me in there representing Native American heritage for its contribution to pop culture, and they wanted to put something in there for heavy metal. And I was like, “Wow, really?!” I didn’t even think it was really happening until I got the release form and was invited to the ribbon-cutting. But, I didn’t get to attend the cutting because we were in Australia playing a show, so I haven’t seen the display. But, they’ve got my photo up and the story of my contribution to music.
What’s happening with your tribe these days? Our reservation is up in Hopland, so I spend a lot of time up there. Right now, our tribe has come a long way. In the past, we didn’t have much money for schools, transportation or even keeping up the land. But, 10 years ago, they built a casino there and started generating revenue for themselves, then started improving the schools, roads, everything. And now, here comes the government with its hand out, suddenly wanting a piece of it, which upsets me a bit.
How have your Pomo beliefs informed your music with Testament? Back in 2001, I had cancer. And, I was born and raised a Catholic, went to church and the whole bit, so it wasn’t like I was really turned on to my Native American side at all. But, it got to where I really turned to my Native American spirituality and went through the process of healing ceremonies, sweat lodges and just — just believing. Being focused on the power of the Earth, as well as the power of the mind. And, here I am. Back on tour, doing what I love.
There’s traditional scary metal imagery on “Formation.” But, something else too? Definitely. When I beat cancer, I didn’t listen to music for two years, so by the time I got back into it, Testament felt fresh and new to me again. So, this was almost like our first record, all over again, in a sense.
IF YOU GO
Where: Cow Palace, 2600 Geneva Ave., Daly City
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Tickets: $16.05 to $49.20, $189.50 for VIP package
Contact: (800) 745-3000, www.livenation.com