Tell ’em Billy sent ya

Billy Haggard

Photo by Larry Dalton

Anyone who lived in the greater Sacramento area between 1968 and 1987 could not have avoided seeing the Arden Furniture commercials with the tag line spoken by a tough little boy, “Tell them Billy sent ya, not some other guy.” Billy Haggard’s father owned Arden Furniture, so his step into showbiz was like, “Hey, kid!” Haggard became interested in playing rock music in his early teens, and he has been in bands ever since. He worked as a sound engineer in a Bay Area recording studio and learned the intricate skills of sound and recording. He is now the guitar buyer at Skip’s Music, where his customers include most of the area’s bands, comedian Eddie Murphy and members of the Sacramento Kings. His rough-and-tumble rock outfit Billy Goats Gruff is releasing its debut CD later this month.

How did you start doing those commercials?

The whole TV thing started because my father worked in this furniture store back in the late ‘60s selling baby furniture, and he ended up buying the place. They were filming a TV commercial, and it was supposed to be with a guy that Channel 40 hired to do the spot, but he didn’t show up. It went over OK, and there was no slogan at that time. And a good friend of my dad’s, Okie Paul, talked my dad into the closer, and I started doing that. And it snowballed from there.

What was your most memorable commercial?

I was sitting on Santa Claus’ lap, and my line was after Santa asked me what I wanted for Christmas. And I was supposed to say that I wanted a baby brother, but I can’t get one, so I guess I’ll settle for a bunk bed from Arden Furniture. I didn’t want a baby brother, and I didn’t want a bunk bed from Arden Furniture because, at the time, Levitz Furniture had these stagecoach beds. And so, when he asked me, I told him that I wanted a stagecoach bed from Levitz Furniture, and everybody shit their pants.

Shit their pants?

I peed my pants. My dad has photos somewhere of me scared to death sitting on Santa’s lap. He’s got pee on his leg; my jeans are covered.

How did being on TV affect you in school?

There were people who didn’t accept it, and there were a lot of people who did. I was pretty well-mannered and a fun-loving guy, but I got ribbing. I turned to music and used that as a focus and hung out with friends at school who played. But yeah, I got a lot of ribbing.

What advice do you have for child actors?

Get a good agent and get a good lawyer.

Did you ever get your stagecoach bed?

No, I never got that stagecoach bed.

What is the most common mistake musicians make with their guitars?

I’d say proper maintenance and not really learning about the guitar. Every guitar is like a person, so each guitar has its own personality. If you have two [Fender] Stratocasters sitting side by side that are the same color, with the same necks and the same pickups, they are going to sound completely different.

What is your favorite electric guitar ever made?

I would have to say a 1962 Fender Stratocaster.

What’s the best guitar you’ve ever owned?

I would have to say a 1962 Fender Stratocaster.

What is the most rare or expensive guitar that you’ve ever seen?

I would say it was a Martin guitar, and it was an HD28 body, which had—on top of the guitar—an aged spruce top. The back and sides were solid Brazilian rosewood, and it had 14-karat gold inlay on the fret board [and] the headstock, along with abalone for days. I believe that guitar was $30,000.

Was it new?

Yep, and it was sitting there for people to play. I mean there were guys just strumming away, and I was like, “God, I don’t know why they are letting people do this.” It was crazy, but I picked it up, and it was neat, you know?

Have you ever played a guitar that was formerly owned by a famous musician, and you felt their vibe in it?

When Eddie Van Halen went into business with Kramer [Guitars], he built the first prototype, and Skip [Maggiora] has that. When they took that guitar out of the display case, which was in there for two years, and I plugged that thing in. And, number one, it was still in tune, and I just started playing Van Halen songs, saying, “This is so fucking bad!”