The Genesis of Bill Lloyd’s “Feeling the Elephant”

The original inspiration for the July|August 2020 print edition of The East Nashvillian arrived by way of Bill Lloyd’s 1983 song “Feeling the Elephant,” which kept creeping into my mental soundscape as the events of 2020 unfolded. Based on the ancient parable Blind Men and an Elephant in which a group of blind men attempts to discover what an elephant looks like by feeling it, the song seemed to crystalize our situation. Each of the blind men was limited to “seeing” only one part of the elephant, therefore conceptualizing what the elephant looks like based on what they’d touched. In one version of the parable, the blind men end up fighting over what the elephant looks like, stubbornly holding on to their impressions of what they “saw.” To me, it speaks to the difficulty we each face in understanding this experience. Everyone has a unique perspective, whether they agree or disagree with their neighbors about the macrocosm of what’s happening. Hence the reason why the chorus of Bill’s song kept running through my head.

—Chuck Allen, July 2020

We’re all feeling the elephant
blind and feeling the elephant
blind and feeling the elephant
it’s all we know

 
Listen to “Feeling The Elephant”

The story behind the song. by Tommy Womack

In early 1983, a newly-minted Nashvillian named Bill Lloyd wrote and recorded a delicious bit of pop-rock. Anchored by a palm-muted acoustic guitar and a cheesy Casio drum machine, a tasty simple electric guitar hook and a smooth vocal, “Feeling the Elephant” soars above and beyond its humble 8-track genesis. “We’re all feeling the elephant,” he sings, “It’s all we know.”

“When I moved down here from Bowling Green,” Lloyd remembers, “Doug Dillard [banjo player for The Dillards] lived in the same apartment complex that I did. And I already knew Dean Webb, their mandolin player.” (One thing about Bill is that he knows everybody.) “So when Dean found out that Doug and I were neighbors, he arranged a meeting.”

The Dillard’s guitarist, Rodney Dillard, was also present. During the course of social ice-breaking and conversations about the music business that move hither and yon, Rodney brought up an old Hindu proverb, saying, “We’re all feeling the elephant.” Bill laughed and said, “That’s a song title right there. And then Rodney gave me this blank look, just like The Darlin’s would do on Andy Griffith, and after a few seconds he said, ‘Well, you write it.’” Bill did.

In 1985, just as he inked a deal with indie Throbbing Lobster Records to put out a full-length LP entitled “Feeling the Elephant” (natch), other things were happening. Most artists clamber and scrape to get one record deal, but Bill wound up with two. And two artistic lives, a power-pop one and a country one.

Throbbing Lobster Promo Sheet. Courtesy Bill Lloyd

Radney Foster, a classic Texas country-western crooner if there ever was one, tuned into Bill’s pop leanings. The result was Foster & Lloyd, whose genre-blended New Traditionalist country-rock success on RCA Nashville beat the shit out of anything Throbbing Lobster could do, especially with power-pop basically being the secret handshake of record store owners everywhere.

It’s hard to remember now how huge Foster & Lloyd became and the mark they left. The next time you hear an electric 12-string guitar on a mainstream country record, you can thank Bill Lloyd, because F&L were the first ones to try such a thing. When the duo ran its course in the early nineties, Bill returned to his first love, jangles, and harmonies. He has made a slew of brilliant records and co-leads the Long Players, with whom your humble scribe has sung many joyful times. And all these years later, Bill is still feeling the elephant. It’s all he knows.

Press in the second issue of Lost Highway magazine. Courtesy Bill Lloyd

Check out more music from Bill Lloyd’s prolific career — including his latest album, Don’t Kill the Messenger — on his website.