Giving Him the Six Degrees: An interview with Kevin Bacon as he comes to The Odeum

Kevin Bacon and his brother Michael will be bringing their band, The Bacon Brothers, into the Greenwich Odeum on Friday, July 16. I had the opportunity to speak with Kevin via phone last week in advance of his show.

John Fuzek (Motif): We actually played a show together quit a while back. You played in Newport, probably 2004ish. I opened for you. I guess I can do “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” with you.

Kevin Bacon: You know we’ve actually played around with the six degrees thing with music, which is actually pretty easy to do because, you know how it is, you played a gig with us, you end up working with people or playing on records with people who played with other people, you can get pretty far down the six degrees road just with the music thing…

JF: How did the pandemic affect you? Both in music and film…

KB: I can tell you that the Ides of March, that moment that we all remember when everything seemed to go bye-bye, I was shooting  TV show that I’m on in New York, City On A Hill, and I got the call that we were going to suspend production, we’d kind of gotten wind of this pandemic. I’d got the call that we were going to suspend production for a couple of weeks, and we were in the studio finishing up our last record and I just had this sense that it wasn’t just going to be a couple of weeks. My whole family was out in Cali, and so I booked a flight and left NY and that was it for another, whatever it was, months. I was in LA and I ended up going back and starting up again, we ended up shooting the remaining six episodes, we had shot two. I guess started back in June and we were able to  mix the record, sort of remotely, you know, pass mixes around. I also wrote a song In LA, and we cut that, again using file sharing. I did go into a studio that a buddy of mine owns down the street from our place in LA, put on masks, and he mixed it and we were able to get some guitars and some drums in isolated rooms, you know, it was just all that crazy stuff. So, yeah, this is the first time back.

JF: You haven’t played any shows yet? Will this be the first one back to playing at the Odeum?

KB: No, we did play one show. We went to Iowa. We went to a Casino in Iowa and played a single show about a week ago.

JF: Are you in Rhode Island right now?

KB: I’m not right now, I am actually on my way overseas this weekend, I’m doing a film in Bulgaria. 

JF: What are you working on in Bulgaria?

KB: I’m doing a film called The Toxic Avenger.

JF: I think I have heard of that. You WERE in Rhode Island because Kyra (Sedgewick) is working on a film here, right?

KB: Yes, Kyra is up there now, it’s very serendipitous that we’re playing in RI while we’re working in RI.

JF: You have played the Odeum in the past, correct?

KB: I believe we have, yes.

JF: It’s a great room, I have played there a couple of times, good sound, good people.

KB: I seem to remember having a good time. We really like those old converted movie theaters, we’ve played a lot of those all over the country.

JF: When you started out, did you want to be a musician or an actor or both or just whatever came your way?

KB: I was kind of on the fence about it. We’re talking about when I was maybe 11? I knew it was going to be one of the two. I think when I really started taking acting classes and tried to sing in theaters in Philadelphia, I was a pretty driven kind, I really got out and started getting my feet wet when I was really young. I was writing songs and my brother was already off to the races on a music career and I think that for whatever reason I should probably do something different and that, in combination with the fact that I just loved acting, I mean I just immediately felt nurtured by it.

JF: Do your other siblings do anything musical or acting-wise?

KB: My sister Hilda was really more into music even before my brother. She was a Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins type acoustic folk singer when she was in high school. She never really pursued it as a career, but she was good. Had a really good voice and then her and my brother put together a jug band. They used to practice in our little house in Philly, so when I was a little kid — she’s 10 years older and he’s 9 years older than me — if you picture they’re probably about 13 and 14 and I’m probably about 3, and I’m sitting on the steps to our — unfinished would be the understatement, when you talk about our basement — and they’re down there playing away with jugs and washboards, you know the whole thing.

JF: Your brother Michael plays cello as well, correct?

KB: Yeah, he’s a good cello player, over the years we have capitalized on that and have added it. When we first put the band together we didn’t really use cello, but we use it more and more now. Michael’s first band was a rock band called Peter and the Wolves when he was in college. When they broke up he came back to Philadelphia and he was in a pretty successful band that was just acoustic guitar and cello, but Michael didn’t play the cello, his friend Larry played the cello. His friend Larry was like a virtuoso cello player and they were called Good News and they were great and very popular, especially in and around Philadelphia. There was a very specific kind of music scene in Philly.

JF: Do you both handle the songwriting in this band?

KB: Yes, and we used to write together, but we really don’t write much together anymore.

JF: I am sure that is tough because of the travel and such.

KB: Yeah, I mean I think that when I was first starting to write, first I started writing without knowing how to play an instrument. So I was just writing melodies and lyrics and then bringing them to my brother and he would kind of figure out the changes and structure the song. Once I started playing a little bit of guitar I just started writing on my own. Once in a while he’ll send me, there’s a song on our last record that he had a great, cool lyric and he had a sort of rhythm and he sort of spoke the lyric into the phone and sent it to me and I put it aside for like almost a year and one day I just kind of busted it out and said, “Now I’m kind of hearing something.” In that case we co-wrote it, but he did the lyrics and I did the music, a lot of people write that way.

JF: Yes, I’ve written that way with others as well. When did you start playing guitar?

KB: I was probably about 13 or 14.

JF: That’s about when I started as well. I think that’s when everybody starts.

KB: A lot of people start when they’re 14 and stop when they’re 14. I’m one of those guitar players that really didn’t put in the hard work and as a result, I’m sort of stuck in a certain place. I got plenty of knowledge in order to write, but that is kind of where it stopped. And that was just the process for me. Everyone has a different kind of process. There’s a big difference — the 14- or 15-year-old kid who opts to not go to run around on the street or go to a baseball game or whatever, but opts to stay in his room and really shred. Then you get to a certain level that I’ll never get to, but I am very happy to have any kind of facility on any kind of instrument. I don’t need to tell you it’s a nice thing to have.

JF: Has the Bacon Brother’s music been used in any of your films and has he appeared in any films with you in a band capacity?

KB: He never appeared in any film in a band capacity. There was a time when we were constantly trying to write something and get it into one of my movies and constantly unsuccessful. It’s funny, we do a song in the set now that I actually dragged out from our last record or the one before, I can’t remember, that I wrote for Tremors. But the funny thing was at the time the movie was called Beneath Perfection, so the song is called “Beneath Perfection” and then they rejected the song and the movie came out and they changed the title of it. We’ve had a couple of songs not only in one of our movies, but in other ones as well. I wrote two songs for a movie that I did called Telling Lies in America that was about an early ’60s DJ and a relationship, he was kind of a slimy DJ, he had this band that he was trying to promote, and they they needed a couple of ’60s R&B tunes for the movie. The writer, great writer, Joe Eszterhas, wrote a title of a song that was supposed to be the hit for this young band, the song was called “Medium Rare,” and I read that title and I thought that was the worst title I have ever heard for a song, so let me see if I can write it. So I ended up writing that one and another one that ended up in the movie. So that was kind of fun. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to specifically write in a style of an era or a kind of genre. It’s kind of a fun challenge, it’s not something that you necessarily get to do all the time.

JF: One movie I remember you playing guitar in was Stir Of Echoes. I think you played guitar throughout that one.

KB: If I remember correctly, he was a musician. 

JF: And he was hearing a song in his head. 

KB: Yeah, it was like “Paint It Black” or something like that. And the funny thing about it, I wrote a song for that one and it didn’t end up in that movie, but i think it ended up another movie. I’ll tell you a funny story about that one was that the prop guy came to me and said, “You need to have a guitar. What kind of guitar would be lying around in this guy’s house?” And I was like, hmmm, let me see, I think it would be a J-45 or a J-50 Gibson with a sunburst from the ’60s. Basically thinking of a guitar that i kind of wanted (laughs) and sure enough they went out and found me one and I most definitely kept it. I still have it! So if you look at that movie I still have that J-45.

JF: I don’t blame you. It’s a nice guitar! What can we expect at the Odeum?

KB: It’s a lot of new music. I’m sure there’s a lot of new music from the last time that we played there. We are playing in a five-piece configuration. We don’t have keys, but we have cello, guitars, ukulele, different kind of percussion situations, harmonica, you know, all that kind of stuff. We like to have a good time, we’re looking forward to playing.

JF: I remember it was a fun show. How long has the band been around?

KB: We started in, I think, ’94 or ’95.

JF: I know that this is probably a dopey question, I know you did it when I opened for you, but do you still do the Footloose song and dance a bit?

KB: We sometimes do it.

JF: I am sure you are tired of it.

KB: Well, there’s two ways of looking at it. One is that bands talk about how hard it is when fans just want to hear their hits. My feeling is that, “Shit if I had a hit I’d play it!” In our case we don’t have a hit, so if it’s going to give people pleasure and they’re going to have a good time, just as a goof, to hear, what I like to call “The F song,” sometimes we’re happy to do it!

JF: That’s good. I am sure that people like to hear that. That’s the reality of the band is that as much as it’s about music, you tend to be the focal point just out of default.

KB: I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth. I kind of feel like, it’s just a reality. I can’t tell people to come in and close their eyes and pretend that I wasn’t in a movie. There’s nothing I can do about that. I’m happy it gets people in the seats. We don’t pretend that’s not part of who I am.

The Bacon Brothers play the Greenwich Odeum on July 16. For more about this show and the many others at The Odeum sizzle over to: GreenwichOdeum.com

That’s it for now, thanks for reading. www.JohnFuzek.com

Roots Report: Puff Puff, I’ll Pass: Music should be the only thing smoking

Okee dokee folks… This bit is going to annoy 14% of you folks. Who are these 14%? Smokers! Because I haven’t been many places in the past year and a half, I haven’t really had to deal with cigarette smoke, but now that things are opening back up I again have to contend with this vile scourge. When I started performing publicly in the mid-’80s, people smoked just about everywhere. Back then you were even still allowed to smoke on planes. In addition to playing solo gigs I was a bartender. When I came home from slinging drinks or a gig I would reek of cigarette smoke. It permeated everything — my clothes, my body, my music gear, even the money I made. I took a hiatus from performing to produce for a while, and by the time I got back to gigging again smoking had been banned indoors. But now that the pandemic and summer have pushed a lot of shows outdoors, the smoking issue is a bit unclear. Folks figure that if you are outside it is okay to smoke. Rhode Island prohibits smoking in public places and people smoking are supposed to be at least 20 feet away from the entrance of any business, but it seems like no one pays attention to this. Most large, outdoor concert venues do not allow any smoking, so why do the local nightclubs? Well, smokers tend to drink.

You would think after the pandemic that maybe fewer people would be smoking and everyone would take better care of their lungs. Smokers, please be courteous to the majority of people in the world who do not smoke; let us breathe clean air and take your pollution elsewhere. Here are some lyrics for you from the 1947 song,”Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)” written by Merle Travis and Tex Williams, “Smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette, Puff, puff, puff and if you puff yourself to death, Tell Saint Peter at the golden gate, Lord, you hate to make him wait,You gotta have another cigarette!” Please do us all a favor and quit. Read on…     

A lot of you may know Rick Couto as drummer of Rhode Music Hall of Fame bands Rizzz and the Schemers, but did you know he was an amazing photographer who documented lots of RI concerts and musicians in the ’70s and ’80s? The pandemic gave Rick time to go through his immense collection of photos, and the culmination of this is a virtual exhibit by the Narrows in Fall River called To Have Been There. To view, snap over to NarrowsCenter.org/to-have-been-there-video-exhibition. The accompanying drum music is a Couto original called “The Other Other One.”

A couple of the photos in the Couto exhibit are of John Hall (Orleans, John Hall Band, and former US Congressman). He is best known for his songs “Still The One” and “Dance With Me” as well as the No-Nukes Concerts/Musicians United For Safe Energy. John Hall is a Providence [Rhode Island] Folk Festival alumnus and one of the musicians/people I most admire. His 1981 “Crazy” is one of my all-time favorite songs. Hall just released his 6th solo CD called Reclaiming My Time. Check out the video for the oh-so-timely song “World on Fire”: youtube.com/watch?v=qgc7yc3MFoI. For more, “Power” over to JohnHallMusic.com.

The Bacon Brothers are coming to the Greenwich Odeum on July 16. Believe it or not, you can play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon with me. I played a show with the Bacon Brothers years back and according to Kevin, that counts. I spoke with Kevin Bacon the other day and you can read our interview at motifri.com/kevinbacon.

That’s it for now, thanks for reading. www.JohnFuzek.com

Rockin’ in the Free World: Welcome back to the folking music

Rhythm and Roots Festival, 2019; photo by Phil Stewart

Okee dokee folks… This summer should be dubbed the “Summer of Laxity.” Mask restrictions have been lifted or loosened and some folks are living life “like someone left the gate open” already. I am not ready for this.

A few months ago I designed a t-shirt that read “All Vaxxed Up And Nowhere To Go” and put it for sale in my Etsy store, but I might have been a little late to launch because there are plenty of places to go. I have started scheduling shows, and my first show in more than a year will be this weekend in NH. “Live Free Or Die”? Well, hopefully not.

Anyway, music is mostly happening again, but even though things are returning to normal, my band has a show that was just postponed once again until July 22. This was the sixth date change since spring 2020, so who knows for sure about the concreteness of any schedule. In the meantime, read on to find out what is what at this point in time…

Common Fence Music has paired up with the Norman Bird Sanctuary in Middletown to present a series of outdoor concerts over the next few months. Dick Lynn, the new program coordinator at CFM, says, “I had crafted putting together an outdoor series in April while doing spring Facebook live series for CFM and while COVID was still a major issue. I approached Kaity at Norman Bird Sanctuary and she immediately and enthusiastically said yes. I put together the series and Kaity is putting together a wonderful setting for the shows.” For the series lineup, flap over to commonfencemusic.org or NormanBirdSanctuary.org.

The Town of Westerly presents another summer of Tunes on the Dunes at the Westerly Town Beach. This series happens from 6 – 8pm with Monday Night Jams and Wednesday Night Blues on the Beach. Highlights include a couple of my favorite acts — Aztec Two-Step 2.0 and David Tessier’s All-Star Stars, as well as Beaver Brown, Dave Howard and the High Rollers, Roomful of Blues, Greg Piccolo and many more. For the complete schedule, drift over to TunesontheDunesRI.com       

The Rhode Island Folk Festival (formerly The Providence Folk Fest) will be happening on August 29 at Larissa Park in East Providence. This year’s line-up includes the Lisa Couto Trio, How’s About Charlie, Michelle Cruz and many others. This community event needs lots of hands to make it work and is recruiting volunteers. If you would like to help, please contact HearInRI@gmail.com. For more info, get the folk over to RhodeIslandFolkFestival.com.

The 2021 Rhythm and Roots Festival is something to look forward to this year. Labor Day weekend, the 23rd R&R Fest will once again bring the best musical party and Motif award winning festival to Ninigret Park. Some of the performers for this edition of the weekend gathering are Rhiannon Giddens & Francesco Turrisi, John Hiatt, Uprooted featuring Michael Glabicki of Rusted Root and more. Festival organizer Chuck Wentworth says, “Live music eases our minds in troubled times. After the year we’ve just had, the 2021 festival will be a real celebration, but a safe one.” The Labor Day weekend festival brings together music fans, dancers, campers and families for dozens of performances, food of every variety, artisan’s handmade wares, and a reunion-like vibe that’s been described as “chill but lively at the same time.” Health and safety mandates require smaller crowds than in the past so tickets are limited. For more, zy-de-go-go to RhythmAndRoots.com

Catch the Vox Hunters and Atwater Donnelly on June 4 at the Bristol Maritime Center in Bristol. The Empire Revue presents The Directions Show live at Prospect Terrace Park on June 27. Providence’s premier sketch showcase will happen socially distanced and safe, out in the wilds of Providence! Space is limited so advanced ticket purchase is required, and masks are mandatory (fb.com/EmpireRevueProvidence). The Spindle City Fest in Fall River, presented in part by the Narrows, will feature 20 art vendors, two great bands, activities for the kids and food trucks on June 5 from 11am – 4pm. Admission is free. The Narrows also has a lot of great indoor shows coming up as well. Check out their lineup at narrowscenter.org. And the Greenwich Odeum also is hosting some indoor shows. Check out their lineup at greenwichodeum.com. Your favorite Dive Bar, Nick-A-Nee’s, has the Bluegrass Throedown on Wednesdays and lots of outdoor live music all summer (fb.com/nickanees). So far Bold Point Park in East Providence only has one show on the schedule for this summer, The Brothers Osborne on August 1, but check back from time to time at waterfrontconcerts.com/venue/bold-point-park.

Anyway, I am typing this column with blurry vision. I managed to have a metal splinter lodge in my eye while grinding metal for a new RI Folk Festival stage. Yes, I had safety glasses on, but it breached those. It took me a week to decide go to the eye doctor and have it removed. Did I ever mentioned that I am VERY stubborn, in addition to my get-off-my-lawn personality? On another note, my band, Forever Young, has a live, in-person show at the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River on July 16! Yippee! Time to start “Rockin’ In The Free World” again! That’s it for now, thanks for reading. JohnFuzek.com

The 60s!: One of our favorite folk enters a new decade

Okee dokee folks… YIKES! I am 60! How did this happen? I still think I’m 30, but my body feels like I’m 90, so I guess that averages out to 60. The first time I met Pete Seeger, he was 60 and he seemed old to me then. I don’t think I am old, but I suppose that I really am. At least I am coming out of the other side of the pandemic alive and healthy unlike 575,000-plus Americans. I am fully vaccinated and now have immunity. Getting the vaccine was a relief. Both shots were painless and neither bothered me in any way — except maybe that pesky third nipple that popped up. KIDDING!!! The same applied for my girlfriend and parents, they were all fine. It is a huge step toward hope — hope that we can start playing gigs again and can get back to whatever normal will be. I was supposed to play a show last week but it was canceled because of COVID restrictions. I was disappointed, but understood. This thing is winding down, but it’s not done with us yet. Jumping the gun is a mistake and precautions still need to be taken. I wish that more people would understand this. I still see people arguing against mask mandates and won’t get vaccinated. I have actually seen a man standing by the side of 295 protesting mask wearing. Seriously? When I went to Japan in the late 1980s I was freaked out when I saw people wearing surgical masks. I didn’t understand why. I found out that it was polite to wear a mask if you were sick. Thirty five years later and this is something that many Americans are CHOOSING to complain about: common sense! Until society comes together completely over this and complies, the pandemic will linger longer than it has to. Venues are beginning to open and host live music. Some of it will be outside, some of it is limited indoors while some still remain shuttered. Safety precautions will hopefully remain in effect for a while. A handful of festivals will take place this year, such as Newport Folk Fest, Rhythm and Roots Fest and The RI Folk Festival (formerly PVD Folk Fest). Details about these events are still being hammered out. As far as the Rhode Island Folk Festival in East Providence, this year will be a lower key event. It takes months and months to raise the money, coordinate the artists and volunteers and do all the other things that go on behind the scenes. It is hard to pull together with less time as well as gamble on the whims of an unpredictable pandemic. I am sure that this will apply to other events that require lots of advanced planning, so take this into consideration if you are going to be cranky about abridged affairs. I know you are tired of hearing this, but wear a mask and get your damn vaccine! Read on…

The Narrows Center for the Arts continues its Friday Night Streaming Series with Heather Maloney on May 14, The Blue Ribbons on the 21st, and Tom Rush on the 28th. George Winston is performing a limited audience show on May 7, but that is only because Winston is strictly piano music and there is no singing, which is currently prohibited indoors in Massachusetts. Alas, this show has already sold out. The Colby James show on June 12 is already sold out as well. For more, navigate to narrowscenter.org for updates on in-person shows as well as the streams.

With the weather warming up, the Millrace Music Series will be getting underway. On May 7th, this eight-week, Friday night series kicks off with The Kickin Brass Band outside on the patio of The Millrace Kitchen, 40 South Main Street, Woonsocket. The free shows begin at 6pm and continue to 8:30pm. The series continues with Kim Trusty on the 14th, Lisa Bello May on the 21st, Dynamite Rhythm on the 28th, High Planes on June 4 and Eastern Medicine Singers on the 11th. Seating is limited and all COVID-19 capacity limits will be enforced. For more, side by each to: Facebook.com/MillraceKitchen

The Greenwich Odeum is presenting a livestream in May with Marielle Kraft and The Naticks to help raise some clams for the Odeum. The Odeum’s calendar also boasts a few limited capacity, in-person shows so it’s best to get your tix before they go. Coming up: Hubby Jenkins from The Carolina Chocolate Drops on May 15, Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Sophie B. Hawkins on May 21 (it will be streamed on the 22nd as well), The Verve Pipe on May 22, Richard Shindell & Lucy Kaplansky on June 10, and The queen of mall concerts, Tiffany, on June 25. To stay in the know about the O go to greenwichodeum.com

The Evening Sky band’s One Mic, Two Weekends was recorded over two weekends in 2020 by musicians Eric Hastings, Gino Rosati, Chris Brooks and Joe Potenza, with amps and drums strategically placed in the same room around just one stereo ribbon microphone. The eight-song disc features guitar and pedal steel instrumentals with a country twang, bluesy-jazzy-funk feel. Some of it even leans into the Allman Brothers’ “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” territory. You may even hear echoes of the Grateful Dead and Asleep at the Wheel in there as well. Slide over to eveningskyband.com for more, or catch them live at the Pump House on May 14 or The Music Mansion on May 30.

Unfortunately, we lost another member of the Rhode Island music community to COVID last week. Bill McGrath, a musician who was also a staunch supporter of other local musicians and produced showcases for up-and-coming artists, passed away after a month-long battle with COVID. This loss has heavily affected many in the music community as well as his daughter, singer-songwriter Allison Rose.

Anyway, chin up, mask up-over the nose, please. That’s it for now, thanks for reading. www.JohnFuzek.com

People You Ought to Know: Celebrating the life of Jack Hardy

Okee dokee folks… “I Ought To Know” is a song by the late, great singer-songwriter, Jack Hardy. It includes poignant lines such as “I ought to know the songs of Joe Hill, I ought to know Trotsky, Marx and Hagel; I ought to know about the Haymarket hangings, And the H.U.A.C. This I ought to know, but I don’t.”

It is probably the closest Hardy ever had to a pop song, but it still maintained his working of serious, intelligent lyrics. Jack Hardy passed away 10 years ago this month of lung cancer at age 63, presumably caused by the debris at Ground Zero Jack inhaled while searching the site for his brother, who died in the Twin Towers.

Hardy was the champion of the Greenwich Village Folk scene and helped many artists, such as Suzanne Vega, John Gorka and countless others, get their start. He held a well-known songwriters night critique at his Houston Street apartment, which was part of the impetus for him to start Fast Folk Magazine in 1982. The publication included recordings and lyrics from up-and-coming songwriters such as Lyle Lovett, Tracy Chapman, Shawn Colvin, Michelle Shocked, Christine Lavin, Richard Shindell and Lucy Kaplansky.

Fast Folk also had an issue dedicated entirely to Rhode Island when the first Hear In Rhode Island music festival was recorded for the magazine. Hardy was inspirational in the beginning of The Rhode Island Songwriter Association (RISA) and occasionally was a guest host at RISA critiques. Besides all this, Jack was a friend of mine. I met him in the early ’90s when Fuzek-Rossoni did a weekend of shows with him Passim in Boston, and I did many shows with him over the years.

Hardy toured the US and Europe often, but drew more fans abroad. He still had a lot of stories to tell when he died, but he left a body of work containing at least 20 albums and a tribute recording of his songs by various artists. Smithsonian Folkways now owns the Fast Folk recordings, and Hear In Rhode Island is enshrined as well. You ought to know Jack Hardy. For more, “Bandolier” to: JackHardy.com   

Most of you probably know John Juxo and if you don’t know by now, Juxo recently released a follow up to his last offering, Long Distance Driver. Juxo has been part of the RI music scene for decades as a band member or the consummate sideman on keys or accordion. His new album has a title that is near and dear to my heart, Get Off Of My Lawn. This recording was made during the pandemic lockdown. You may have had the opportunity to catch one of his many livestreams from The Rehearsal Space where this recording germinated. While Juxo did not write any of the songs on this disc, he certainly makes them his own. The very first piano notes transform wherever you are into New Orleans. Juxo could easily slide into the line-up of Rhode Island’s Rhythm and Roots Festival and wow the crowd. Throughout the collection Juxo is supported by musicians Benny Banning, Lisa Marie, Jim Morgan and Virginia Stevens. He certainly curated a wonderful collection of tunes from some of the best songwriters the area has to offer like Paul Geremia, Mark Cutler, Bill Harley, Keith Munslow, Dan Lilley, Mickey Scotia as well as the late Barry Cowsill. A couple of notable tracks on the CD are the titular “Get Off Of My Lawn” by Glenn Shambroom and “$20 Gig” by Mickey Bones (we musicians can all relate to this one!). With Dan Lilley’s “Stormy Seas,” he turns the vocals over to Virginia Stevens who beautifully interprets Lilley’s lines. The closing song is Mickey Scotia’s “Something Good Coming,” which leaves you with a quiet, soulful feeling. Juxo’s vocals and piano are simple, yet rich and emotive. He is carrying the torch of the late piano men Dr. John and Leon Russell with some juke joint boogie-woogie stylings of his own. Ironically four of the writers on this recording (Cutler, Lilley, Warren, Scotia) were featured on the Hear In Rhode Island edition of the Fast Folk Magazine I mentioned above. My favorite song from that HIRI disc was Jimmy Warren’s “Wine In a Bottle” that the Flying Ditchdiggers recorded, which Juxo was a member of back in 1994. On this CD, he does his own admirable take on that song. The liner notes quotes Juxo saying, “I love playing songs written by my friends and the many talented people that I admire and have had the pleasure of working with over the years.” You can certainly hear this with every note on the disc. You will want to own this one. For a “Real Good Time” head over to: Facebook.com/JohnJuxo

S-L-O-W-L-Y things are beginning to happen again and S-L-O-W-L-Y is the only way they should. The Greenwich Odeum is offering both livestream and limited in-person shows. Coming up are Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Hubby Jenkins, Hey Nineteen (Steely Dan tribute), Sophie B. Hawkins and more (greenwichodeum.com). The PumpHouse will begin presenting shows on the green again starting April 16 with New Nova, Groovin Confusion, and DudeManBro (pumphousemusicworks.com). The Stone Church Coffeehouse in Bristol is back on April 10 when they bring in The Meadows Brothers (stonechurchcoffeehouse.weebly.com).

Insomnia paid off for me because I managed to score one of the vaccine appointments that seem to become available at 3am. I will be fully vaccinated in time for my first live gig in eons, happening at the end of April. YAY! Anyway, that’s it for now, thanks for reading. JohnFuzek.com

Pandemic Dealings: How are local musicians faring?

Okee dokee folks… It has been about 8 months (I know, time flies) since I last checked in with my control group of local musicians, who MAKE THEIR LIVING from music, about their music careers and the pandemic. I wanted to know how they were doing since my last check in. The pandemic is FAR FROM OVER, but it seems that restrictions are being lifted nonetheless. Personally this plague has hit me hard. My life revolves around music and without gigs and concerts I have been lost. My instruments have been collecting dust. I know that with all the time in the world I should be playing a lot but instead it’s the exact opposite. Without any gigs to work towards I have had little motivation to make music. It’s depressing. I do write a lot of lyrics still but haven’t composed any accompanying melodies. Instead I have been building things to satiate my creativity. It is not the same as making music but I am getting a lot of little things done and diversifying a bit in order to generate additional ways to fund my life. It is looking like shows will be slowly coming back, at least outdoors when the weather warms, and indoors as the vaccine is more widely given. I just hope that people are smart and careful. Losing a half million people to this virus is serious and it has already shown that it waxes and wanes. Read on for more about how these musicians are still dealing with the pandemic. I included all they had to say. I think they all needed to have their voices heard and have an opportunity to vent. It’s a long read but it’s all important.   

These are the questions posed to them for this round of curiosity.

Has the pandemic affected your desire to play your instrument?
Have you been playing music or have you been musically idle?
Have you been musically creative-writing/recording?
Are you surviving financially? How?
Have you resorted to other ways of generating income?
Do you have any gigs in the coming months?
Are you currently booking or trying to book any shows?
Do you think it is safe to be playing music live or when do you think it might be?
How do you feel about people who performed/are performing during the pandemic?
Have you done any live/in-person shows?
Will you get a vaccine? If so, when do you think you will get one?
Will a vaccine make you feel like it will be safe to perform in public again?
When do you think we will get back to normal performance schedules again and what do you think will have changed once we do?
Do you think you will have to build back some of your fan base again?

Singer-songwriter-guitarist Betsy Listenfelt says, “I am still collecting unemployment because it is not safe out there in my opinion. I don’t think anyone should be playing inside until this pandemic is under control somewhat. I came down with COVID right after Christmas and it’s not funny and it’s real. It affects not just your body, but your mind as well. I’m hopeful that this summer will bring some relief for me and my musician friends…maybe we might be able to hug one another again? I am depressed but I am hopeful for better days to come.” BetsyL.com

All Star Band of All Stars Band leader, David Tessier tells me, “I find myself practicing different instruments more consistently rather than just concentrating on guitar. I’ve spent a lot of time on violin, piano and drum set as well as getting back to some basic, fundamental guitar exercises. I’ve been very active, working/playing everyday. I’ve had a handful of performances with the band, but mostly I’ve been writing and recording stuff for the next record. We had a great Halloween show at the Rathskeller, and a really fun show at Dusk in December. Our keyboard player just had a baby, so we’re going to be on a little bit of a hiatus until he gets some sleep. I’ve been working on the next All-Stars record as well as setting myself some songwriting challenges like a five song solo EP, and “copy-cat” songs that intentionally sound like other bands. Video editing has also been taking up some of my down time. I’m also an actor and I’ve been fortunate to pick up some part-time work in that area, as well as receiving gig-economy unemployment benefits… I’m always open to new opportunities. There are no All-Star shows booked as of yet. I have some outdoor shows booked with the tribute band I play with (The American Who) starting in April spread out through June, but it’s anyone’s guess whether or not they’re really going to happen. This time has given me ample opportunity to rework my studio, and start on some projects that have been on the back burner. I think it playing can be done safely under certain circumstances (outdoors, distances, etc) but I don’t really think it’s worth the risk at the moment. As for when it might be completely safe from COVID? I couldn’t even guess. I have no feelings one way or another about people who are performing during the pandemic, but I certainly don’t think folks should be congregating too closely. Myself and the band (The All-Star Stars) have had four shows between last September and December, all were outdoors, social distance-conscious and well received, though very chilly. I will get a vaccine as soon as I’m able, I have no idea when that will be possible. It will certainly make me feel safer to a certain extent personally, but I’m more concerned about the audience as they are the ones who are going to be close together. It would be nice for people to be able to safely intermingle again. I don’t really think anyone’s going to start feeling normal until next year after the vaccine has been out for a while, but I don’t know, anything can change at any time, right? Do you think you will have to build back some of your fan base again? As for our fan base, I think those 14 people will still come out, ha, ha!” Facebook.com/DTessier1

Massachusetts blues guitarist and instrumentalist Ryan Lee Crosby replied, “I play everyday. I’ve been recording on multiple instruments and also collaborating remotely. I’ve produced more than 10 new songs in the last 8 months. I’ve been teaching private lessons and group classes on Zoom. I’m playing a Faculty Concert for WUMB’s SAMW group on Monday, March 22 at 8pm. This will be on Zoom but not booking show just yet as it does not yet feel safe to me personally and I hope to begin playing outdoors in a socially distanced setting by the summer, but I have no expectations. I just hope that all people everywhere stay safe. As soon as I’m able, I will get a vaccine. I expect that we will be easing back into things through the next year and that there will be a need to re-establish a sense of well being, trust and community. I will want to play for the people who want to hear me and I hope to play for the people for whom I may have something to offer as a songwriter, musician and teacher. This experience has been a powerful and challenging opportunity to face the truth of who we really are and what we really care about.” RyanLeeCrosby.com

Singer-songwriter-guitarist Lainey Dionne tells me, “The pandemic hasn’t affected my desire to play. I play livestream shows every weekend, co-write with other musicians weekly, go into the studio monthly, and learn new material consistently. The only difference is that I’m not playing live shows in front of a live audience 3-4 nights a week and there’s a huge financial loss from that. I am teaching private instrument and voice lessons to make ends meet but I’ve had to cut back A LOT. I am severely immunocompromised and can only play shows outdoors with an 8ft barrier around my set up. Because it’s too cold to play outside- I can’t perform and it would be too much of a risk to get an indoor job interacting with people. I don’t even leave my house to get groceries. I have booked outdoor shows for the warmer months when it’s safe for me to play outside, but as of now- I only go out if it’s absolutely necessary. Throughout the summer of 2020 I played multiple shows every week and I felt very safe and respected by the patrons and owners. Now that it’s cold and all entertainment is indoors, I don’t judge any people playing restaurants/bars in Rhode Island- it’s simply just too much of a risk for me being immunocompromised to do. I understand that people have to do what they have to do to stay afloat and I think the majority of restaurants and bars are doing their part to make everything as safe as possible for the musicians they hire and their patrons. However, I personally believe it’s irresponsible for big acts to be playing live music venues right now as I don’t believe it’s safe. I honestly believe that we probably won’t be back to “normal” until 2022. As for the fan base question, my family, friends and fans will still be there for me when it’s safe to play year-round. I’ve gained some more fans off of my social media that I’ve been working hard on these past pandemic months. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Please keep supporting your local musicians — watch their live streams and buy their music when it comes out. We appreciate it more than you know!” LaineyDionne.com

Pianist, songwriter, bandleader, Empire Revue host and creative director Keith Munslow sent this to me, “I’m doing all right, holding steady. I think a saturation point got reached as far as how many live stream things people could consume. For me, I have done a handful for schools and libraries. Sometimes they want a pre-recorded show, which I just put as a private link on YouTube. Over the summer, I did a few outdoor events. We did one Empire Revue in Lippitt Park on Hope Street. And I played with Superchief trio at Blithewold, because they have a giant lawn that people can put blankets out on. Everything was safe. Going forward with the Revue, we are currently producing what is basically audio sketch comedy. We did one for the holidays, and it was very well received. It’s an interesting recording process, because I am recording each person individually for the most part. Then gluing all the dialogue together in post production. I think we will try to do some live performances outdoors over the summer, until we can safely get back on stage. I would say the same thing goes for my performance for kids, and with my band. Hoping to do some outdoor stuff over the summer, keeping an eye toward next autumn, hoping things will be able to move back inside. But of course, all of this is subject to the path of vaccinations. I am also producing an album for David Rabinow, which we are safely recording at George Dussault’s studio in Cumberland. That project has been a joy. I’m very much looking forward to finishing it, and getting it out so people can hear it! From a financial standpoint, I am largely in the same boat that I was six months ago. I am doing a few virtual shows. And I receive some royalties for my kids music that they play on SiriusXM. This has been a very long slog. I have joked to many people that I used to often say that one great thing about self-employment is that you can never be fired. I never imagined that I would be fired by a global pandemic! But I would say that in general, I am seeing some light at the end of the tunnel. I am heartened by the arrival of a new, more competent administration. I am doing everything I can to keep my spirits up. I am blessed to have a very supportive wife and family, and a great, close-knit circle of colleagues and friends who are keeping me sane and creative.” KeithMunslow.com

Massachusetts singer-songwriter-guitarist Molly Pinto Madigan tells me, “While I certainly miss playing shows, being less performance-focused has given me the opportunity to devote more time to the songwriting aspect of the singer/songwriter life. I’ve been playing about one livestream concert per month, which is another unique opportunity to reach fans in other parts of the country/world, who wouldn’t necessarily be able to make it to one of my live shows. I released a new album during the pandemic, and came out with two music videos, so that’s been an interesting experience. With the loss of gigging income, I’ve been doing a lot more teaching (online). I don’t have any live shows booked right now, and the last ones I did were some farmers markets outside during the summer. I’m looking forward to getting back in front of a live audience again, but in the meantime I’m enjoying being creative in any way I can.” MollyPintoMadigan.com

Multi-award winning folk artist and one half of the Atwater-Donnelly duo,  Aubrey Atwater says, “Can’t wait to see people in person again. I have been hellbent through the whole thing and enjoying my music more than ever in many ways. Elwood and I run through songs every couple of days, keeping our repertoire muscular and alive. It is a pleasure to play together and sing and play songs in our 30-year repertoire, evoking all kinds of stories of travels and friendship, and a nice way to be together…been doing lots of folk music research, transcribing, teaching, performing on Zoom and more. Having a ball. Expanding my international reach, thanks to years of presence on YouTube and Facebook and a particular niche — the mountain dulcimer circuit. I know, what is that? But, believe it or not, there are thousands in this scene and they have rescued me throughout this whole year. Making about half of what I would be making non-pandemically with music. Have been collecting part-time unemployment when needed and, having been self-employed for almost 30 years and paying my own benefits, was able to lower my health insurance last March which has helped a lot. Plus, who spends money on much but bills these days? As far as gigs, yes, quite a few, many virtual and some in the warm weather months that will be live. I am also fully vaccinated as a therapeutic musician at Hasbro Children’s Hospital and have started back there in the last few weeks. All this is much less than pre-pandemically but it is a start and, I was too busy before anyway! As for live shows going on, not yet inside but yes, in the spring and summer if outside, socially distanced, etc. I am fully vaccinated now so it is somewhat different for me. I am still being safe but feel much more protected. Playing shows now, if we are talking INSIDE, I think it is up to them and the people who go to the shows. I don’t judge this if people are being careful, responsible, and not spreading the disease. Last summer we played several times outside, which was fine although beautiful and strange. And then one time in a coffeehouse in the fall which was was stressful mostly because some audience members where not wearing masks even though they were directed to do so or wearing them under their noses, which just plain hurts my feelings. So, we did that just once and realized it wasn’t worth it. Plus, no one has asked us to play inside since! I believe in science, read a lot about it, have a lot of doctor friends and discuss often. Feel much more protected now that I am fully vaccinated but am still very careful because of the small chance of getting a mild case and spreading it and/or unknowns around virus variants. And also just to stay with the herd and model good and safe pandemic protocol…If we have learned anything it is that we don’t know how things will play out. One thing I feel is that all us live performers will most certainly have JOBS when we can perform again safely and comfortably. Zoom and virtual work is great but NOTHING will every replace live music, live people. People have been so hungry for music. I hear from fans almost every day. Music, as it turns out, is ESSENTIAL. We humans are resilient and when the time is right, I feel we will all adjust quickly to being back in public again. I can’t wait for the time we don’t have to wear masks all the time. I miss people’s faces! I suspect there will be lots of changes in our lives, post-pandemically, as there already have been. Pandemics, historically, radically change societies. I am hopeful, optimistic, intrigued. I think there will be a lot of good changes. Like, maybe people won’t allow themselves to be too busy if they can help it. Maybe some of our meetings will be on Zoom so we don’t have to travel. Maybe some people will work at home from now on. Maybe some folk festivals will be hybrids of virtual and live…I have expanded my fan base…through social media, email, and years of ‘pounding the pavement’, I have had the world’s folk fans at my fingertips. My music has changed its course. This is an ethnomusicologist’s dream study. I now present and teach music I didn’t always have the audience for, before. From here on out, I will always enjoy doing some virtual work. Since last April, I figure I have taught and presented to folks in about ten countries and nearly all the US states. I don’t think we, as a society, quite have language yet for what has happened to our connectivity since last March and for that, I am deeply grateful and fascinated in what has otherwise been a scary, wretched, disheartening year in some many ways. Once again, my music has rescued me as it has over and over and over again in my now somewhat long life!” Atwater-Donnelly.com

RI Music Legend and Hall of Fame member Mark Cutler tells me, “I’ve been playing as much as I usually do. The pandemic has definitely screwed with my mind. I like to think it hasn’t affected my desire. Most of the time I’ve been working on music with usual breaks after I write or record stuff. I haven’t been idle, time is passing by fast and I don’t want to waste it. I’ve been writing a lot and working on my next releases in my home studio. I won’t do any gigs until I get vaccinated. I’ll start booking once I have a better idea of when the vaccine will be available. I don’t know if it’s safe to be playing music live now but I’d rather not take any chances. We’ve lost family members and friends to COVID. I’m respecting the disease and the advice of the experts. I had throat cancer and open heart surgery within a year of each other. I like living and don’t want to tempt fate more than I already have. Probably late this year or early next year will start playing live but I’ll defer to Dr. Fauci. I wish some people wouldn’t be so cavalier about this pandemic. If we had responsible leadership at the beginning, I think we would have had a handle on this earlier. Wearing a mask shouldn’t be a political statement.” MCutler.com

Open Mic Host, music teacher and singer-songwriter-guitarist Beth Barron wrote to me, “As I reflect on this past year, I can honestly say I am so grateful for this community. I was laid off a couple days after partaking in this article almost a year ago. The amount of inner work that has taken place this past year, for myself, has been incredibly humbling. I started my own business from home by teaching guitar and piano lessons to beginners through Zoom… and through word of mouth by parents I was quickly teaching 20 students. It helped maintain some kind of normalcy in regards to keeping a daily schedule. In regards to my own music career, I began to work on truly to get to know myself as a songwriter. I dove into all of my writings… I took the time… because all I had was time. I enjoyed the live streams because it allowed me to just continue to practice and also challenge my vulnerability in sharing my new music. I wrote and recorded with New Castle Sound located in the east bay and produced my first single, “I’m Alive” Which is one of the most honest songs I ever wrote. All I could do during quarantine was to create a new career and sense of new normalcy for myself. Also to take the time to support and fund raise for local businesses  such as The Parlour and Galactic through live streams. Right now I am just working hard and moving forward and I’m grateful.” Facebook.com/Beth.Barron.54

Singer-songwriter-guitarist, music teacher, Providence Folk Festival host Steve Allain responded with, “To say that this has been the strangest year related to music (and life in general) since I’ve been playing, is putting it mildly. As with many musicians that I know, I’ve gone through a real roller coaster of motivation since last March. There have been periods where I have had no desire to write or play music at all. And then the pendulum would swing completely over and I would have super prolific spells of writing and wanting to play. One of the unfortunate impacts of the pandemic, is that I have had to postpone two separate recording projects that I had started. The engineer and the musicians involved all agreed that we would wait until we felt safer to start up again. Up until the pandemic, a significant part of my income came from performing live shows. All of the gigs that I had booked from March through the rest of 2020 got canceled. I had one solo show that was outdoors and a safe distance from the audience that I ended up playing over the summer. And Tracie Potochnik (my bandmate from Cardboard Ox) and I  did play one outdoor show over the summer as well. I was offered a few gigs, but felt that they were not safe or worth the risk. Fortunately, I have been able to teach online lessons, and collect unemployment for the first time in my life. And I have to say, that has saved me from financial ruin. I do not have any gigs booked at all, and have not reached out to venues. I personally feel that until the vaccine has been given to the majority of the population and the numbers come way down, and we start to see some form of normalcy (whatever that means), I will probably wait to even start reaching out again. In the meantime, I’ve done some Facebook live shows online, and Tracie and I have started a bi-weekly show called 20 minutes with Cardboard Ox every other Thursday night streaming on Facebook and YouTube.” SteveAllain.com

RI Blues legend and RI Hall of Fame Member Duke Robillard tells me, “I can’t really say I don’t pick up the guitar as much, but not being able to perform has cut down the amount of playing I do of course. I do weekly online lessons at Sonic Junction. I also have various musical projects I’m working on in my home studio. I just started writing a bit because I’ve just started a new album this week. It was the first time I’ve seen my band members in several months…all masked up of course. I’ll say one thing, getting to play music with your friends after being isolated for most of a year sure makes playing in the studio a joyous occasion! We cut basic tracks in two days and it was a very satisfying experience! We took every precaution to be safe so I feel it was OK to get together being distanced. As far as finances, it’s not great but we’re getting by. I’ve lucked into a few recording jobs I have been able to do at home that have helped. When things get slow I have always been able to sell an instrument or two which I’m used to doing anyway. These days, vintage instruments are something I don’t really care about anymore. I love them, but I look at instruments as tools so I don’t get attached to them so much. Plus I have several contemporary guitar builders that have made me fabulous playing and sounding instruments. So all the vintage ones have gone to new homes of players that can really appreciate them. My agent has just booked a few shows in October for The Duke Robillard Band and I have about a half dozen shows with the New Black Eagle Jazz Band at the end of the year also. But of course the reality is, the new variants of COVID 19 could destroy all that but I have hope that the vaccines will solve the problem. There’s no doubt that the world is suffering from many issues now. Climate change, COVID and economic problems are going to make it tough to beat and when you add in politics…Well no need to go there! One thing I have to say, There’s no worry that Blues will be going away anytime soon with humanity in the shape it’s in…For someone of my age and health it’s definitely not safe to play gigs for me. Once I get both shots of the vaccine I believe it should be safe but I personally, will take every precaution. I am enjoying my life too much at this point to do anything foolish. I am scheduled to get my first vaccine shot in two weeks. When things will be normal again is anybody’s guess. I’m not putting my money on it ever being like it was again. Personally I don’t feel humanity in general, will ever come together as a whole enough to mend the issues that cause the problems. I feel my fan base is pretty strong. I have young kids in schools listening to my music. Just last week I sent a card to a fan in Belgium who was turning ninety. So I’m not worried about my fan base. It took five decades to develop and I don’t feel they are going anywhere. My fans are music fans, they aren’t people who chase after matinee idols. so I feel pretty secure LOL! You could say they’re in it for the long haul. I feel very lucky in every way.” DukeRobillard.com

Award winning band member, music teacher, violinist, Amy Bedard and I talked and she told me,”The pandemic has not affected my desire to play. I still want to play even if I am not performing. I have been working on improv…and I’ve been very fortunate because I have had opportunities to play in churches and weddings. I have had some pit orchestra work start to come back as well but it has been live-streamed…I have also done live streams with Forever Young and a couple of live performances to a limited audience with FY. It was a lot of fun to play for a real audience again! I have a couple of video recording performances coming up for Saint Patrick’s Day with a Celtic Band…and I’m hoping to have some church gigs for Easter…I do feel it’s okay to do in person performances as long as they are limited and carefully planned…I have already received the vaccine and I feel somewhat protected… I’m not sure when things will ever get back to normal, but it seems like venues are making it work with a limited audience and with live streams. They will probably have some combination of both for a while. Hopefully we will have more outdoor performances this summer.” Facebook.com/Amy.Bedard.58, ForeverYoungNeilYoungTribute.com

Award winning singer-songwriter-guitarist, Joanne Lurgio says, ”This entire past year has been a roller coaster ride for sure! I would be lying if I did not admit that I have been playing and writing a lot less as the months have passed. My responsibilities as a caregiver intensified during this pandemic leaving less time, emotion and energy for much else. My mom just received her second vaccine and I am very grateful. I feel a weight has been lifted as I let go of my overwhelming worry to keep her safe. Soon, I can get assistance with her care again. I already feel freer just knowing this; it is lifting my musical soul. Without a doubt, I will get my vaccine as soon as it is my turn! This time safe at home motivated me to finally clear out space dedicated for music making and writing, four years in the waiting, it took a pandemic to get to it. With all that said, I HAVE written a little more than a handful of songs inspired from events over the past year. These songs are different from my usual writing; I think that is a good thing. I am considering recording a simple EP, even if only to document these events and emotions that have dominated and changed our lives. Aside from cantering funerals & memorials services I am not performing live and have not started booking gigs. I do not believe it is safe to perform inside venues yet. I believe science. I will follow the science recommendations. We have all sacrificed for a full year now, why on earth would we rush back in haste? We all feel the loss, but I don’t want to take step backwards out of desperation and impatience. Sorry, I do get resentful when I hear people denying facts & rationalizing around them. I worked in healthcare & safety for 3 decades and remain a rule following nerd … LOL. That’s just my nature. I am optimistic for our musical future. I see music returning but I don’t believe it will be the same for a while. The upcoming warm outdoor weather is a great plus for the transition back, but we will still need to be careful and take precautions even outside. Our overall lifestyles have been changed. Another honest reality, I am unsure exactly where I will fit in when we are back rolling again; this at least has offered inspiration for my newest song; there you have it, music lives on and I I will continue to make music. ‘Everything changes, nothing remains the same.’ Change is good; change is inevitable. It will be interesting to see things unfold and reemerge. ‘Pollyanna Joanna’ remains cautious, yet hopefully optimistic; a bit excited as well.” JoanneLurgio.com

Phew! Your eyes deserve a break now! Thanks (so much) for reading. Thank you to all of the musicians who answered my questions for this column-I do appreciate it! www.JohnFuzek.com

Adventures in Listening: Grandpa Simpson finds a new musician who can stay on his lawn

Okee dokee folks… Most of you know I’m a “get off my lawn” type of guy, and age is finally catching up with my attitude. I will be turning 60 this year — yikes! In general, I don’t find a lot of new mainstream music that I like. I make an exception for local music; that is about the only place I hear anything interesting going on.

Recently I shocked myself by not only liking some new music, but by buying the CD! Admittedly, this artist is not new to a lot of younger folks, but she is new to me. I learned about her when PBS News did a year-end music retrospective and played about 10 seconds of a song that, to me, sounded a lot like Canadian songstress Kathleen Edwards, whose come-out-of-retirement release, Total Freedom, was the only CD I’ve purchased in the last few years.

The performer was Phoebe Bridgers and the song was “I Know The End.” I found her Seth Meyers performance of the song on YouTube and listened to it over and over and over again. I really loved this song so I listened to Bridgers’ album, Punisher. My first impression was “eh.” “I Know The End,” was different from the version I was used to from the Seth Meyers show, and I didn’t care as much for the album version. But I forced myself to listen to the album again and found another song I liked: “Graceland Too.” I was up to two songs that I liked out of the 11 on the disc so I kept listening. I test drove that CD on YouTube for almost two months.

Then I found her Saturday Night Live performance on YouTube and watched it several times. While I like both of the songs that she played — “Kyoto” and “I Know The End” — I thought the performances were weak. Her band was lacking and the violin player — YIKES!, find the note!

Now let’s get to the part of her performance that caused controversy: the attempted guitar smash at the close of “I Know The End.” I have read so many comments about this on both sides and think it’s amazing that something stirred up so much discussion. I found it to be contrived and unauthentic. In general I think any guitar smashing post Pete Townshend (The Who) is dumb. Pete originally did it when his guitar hit the ceiling of the club the band was performing at and it cracked the neck. He got pissed and smashed it. The crowd loved it so he kept it in the act and destroyed a lot of good guitars. But it’s been done to death; enough already. Phoebe needs a good band and should focus on her music because it’s good. At least the SNL stunt got her music more attention. The kid’s got a fu-cha!

Anyway, my point to all of this is, I bought the actual, physical CD and I like it! Give new music a chance.   

Local musicians are still dealing with the pandemic and I interviewed a few of them about it. Check it out at motifri.com/pandemicmusic2021. That’s it for now, thanks for reading. JohnFuzek.com

Everything Old Is New: ’80s icons find new life on screen and stage

Okee dokee folks… Most people remember where they were when they heard that John F. Kennedy was shot. Not many remember where they were on July 16, 1981. I do because that was the day that Harry Chapin died. I was doing a service call on a pinball machine (in another life I ran an arcade), and I was devastated when I heard that Harry had been killed in a crash on the Long Island Expressway. Harry was a huge inspiration in my youth. If, per chance, you don’t know who Harry Chapin is, you should — watch the documentary about Harry Chapin, When In Doubt, Do Something. Chapin was an incredible singer-songwriter known for songs such as “Taxi,” “Cats In The Cradle,” “W.O.L.D.” and “Circle.” He also was a tireless activist for the poor and hungry.

The Chapins, a band made up of the Chapin brothers and sometimes their father, formed in the early ’60s and was the impetus for Harry to begin his solo career. He was dismissed from the band and wound up as their opening act. A record company bidding war ensued and Harry secured one of the most lucrative recording contracts at the time. Ironically, my first exposure to a Chapin was though the TV show “Make A Wish,” which was hosted by younger brother Tom Chapin. Tom would sing songs, sometimes penned by Harry, which would accompany various interesting and educational segments. It was when “Taxi” became a hit that I first heard Harry. I remember my mother saying how she loved that song except for the last line, “When I’m stoned,” which was radical for 1970s radio.

I had the pleasure of meeting Harry in the mid ’70s at The Leroy Theatre. Remember the Leroy and the crumbling ceiling? Harry took the time to meet and talk to everyone who wanted to engage. After I met Chapin I marched onto the stage (ballsy, I know) and talked to Big John Wallace, Chapin’s bass player and the voice of the angelic part in “Taxi.” He offered me a hit from his joint, but I had to refuse — I was with Mom!

Harry became evermore involved in social activism and politics. He is quoted as saying, “Politicians wish I spent more time doing music and the critics wish I spent more time in politics.” He began spending more and more of his efforts working to aid those affected by hunger and poverty. He donated the earnings from as many as 150 shows per year to this cause. By 1981 this was taking its toll on his music career and he needed to buckle down and focus on it in order to save that and the fundraising. Unfortunately, he never really got the chance.

Harry’s music can still be heard on the radio and is referenced often on television. His charitable work continues through the many organizations he founded, one being World Hunger Year (WHYHunger.org). The Chapins continue to make music and I have had the pleasure of playing shows with Harry’s daughter, Jenn. She and her husband headlined the Providence Folk Festival a few years back. People who don’t know Harry and his music should really watch When In Doubt, Do Something and introduce themselves to a truly noble songwriter/activist. Older folks, like me, will want to watch for the nostalgia and emotional ride. Do yourselves a favor and stream it (available on Amazon). For more, “Shooting Star” over to HarryChapinMusic.com

I am going to stick with the early ’80s and bring you back to the time when the band Robin Lane and The Chartbusters was climbing the charts. They had hits such as “When Things Go Wrong,” Why Do You Tell Lies,” “It’ll Only Hurt A Little While” and many others. The band had one of the first videos to be aired on MTV, and Lane sang back-up on Neil Young’s first solo album. If you catch her in concert, when concerts come back, she augments the show with Laurel Canyon stories. Unfortunately, despite her success, her record label dropped her early on. The Chartbusters dissolved and she joined forces with RI’s own The Shake, but she eventually faded from the limelight to raise her daughter.

Lane has been back writing, performing and recording for quite a while now. She was one of the first headliners of the Providence Folk Festival and I have worked with her on many other shows over the years. Lane founded an organization called Songbird Sings where she “helps people write their owns songs about their experiences using her musical ability as a form of rehabilitation for those suffering or recovering from heady trauma like domestic violence, sexual exploitation, child abuse or war.”

Lane has just released her latest CD titled Instant Album, consisting of 16 tracks of new, remastered and unreleased older songs. The first single from the album, “It’s Your World,” is “a powerful look at today’s world and the constant choices one faces in life.” Lane’s music has only gotten better over the years. Her songwriting is as solid as ever, and her voice has remained just as strong, but now has a lifetime of experience powering it. She has a new site (patreon.com/robinlane) that will feature concerts, guests, interviews, stories and intimate slices of life through her many years of making music. For more “Don’t Wait Until Tomorrow,” get to TheRobinLane.SquareSpace.com

Pandemic fatigue and denial are setting in for a lot of folks. I want music and entertainment to come back more than anyone, but I think it’s still not safe in public places. Stay home, but if you must go out, double-up on the mask and wash your damn hands! A friend of mine, who is a doctor in San Diego wrote to me, “We have achieved the ‘COVID Hellscape’ that we have feared from the beginning. The hospital is insane right now … so many sick people … people dying every day … working 3 times my normal schedule. The new strain scares the hell out of me.”

She is on the front lines, pay attention! Anyway, that’s it for now, thanks for reading. JohnFuzek.com

Singles Ready to Mingle: Don’t miss these new releases from PVD singer/songwriters

Okee dokee folks… There is a quote floating about that says, “We are NOT all in the same boat; we are in the same storm. Some have better boats than others.” This perfectly sums up the inequities people are experiencing in the pandemic even though we are all in the middle of a worldwide health crisis and people are dying! I am annoyed by the folks who cannot find it within themselves to wear a damn mask or abide by restrictions for everyone’s sake. I have stayed home and spent the past few months building things: from a cigar store Indian as a stage prop for my band to a litter box house for my cats. I would rather be playing gigs, but I feel less than motivated to do so with no real outlet to perform live. I played a livestream once and it was fine, but only because it was with my band and that made it fun. I have less than zero desire to do it solo, but I am sure I will cave to livestreaming at some point just out of necessity — that is if we survive the coming year! A week in and it is already insane! Read on…

Back in the old days when we could actually play live, in-person gigs, we were planning the 2019 Providence (now Rhode Island) Folk Festival and decided that Festival board member Lisa Couto should be part of the show. She resisted a bit at first, but relented and her performance at the ’19 fest was memorable. Lisa has a long musical resume that includes multiple CD releases, fronting a band, and a tour in Southeast Asia. Her voice is capable of more gymnastics than Mary Lou Retton in her floor routine. Inspired by their PVD Folk Festival performance, Couto, who besides having great pipes also plays guitar, and Erik Peterson, a Berklee graduate who plays piano, sings and does production work, have been writing and working on recording a full length album. They just released their first single called “After the Trouble.” To hear this marvelous piece of music, Tsukahara on over to: reverbnation.com/soundedground.

Another member of the PVD Festival committee, who was to host a new stage in 2020, is singer-songwriter Beth Barron. She has hosted shows and open mics at The Galactic Theatre, Askew, and other venues, and has been a cheerleader for the local music scene. Over the past pandemic year, Beth played a lot of livestreaming shows and a few rare live gigs outdoors. Barron has been developing as both a performer and a songwriter and it really shines through on her recording of her very first single, “I’m Alive.” Joined by Bob Giusti on drums and Stephen Demers playing electric guitar, Barron’s vocals stretch out and soar. She writes, “’I’m Alive’, is a journey of a song. I dove into my truths, depths, lows and highs.” For more, check your vitals at: soundcloud.com/beth-barron-851791880

RI Music Hall of Fame member Ken Lyon recently passed away at the age of 79. During his long and storied career, he worked at the Brill Building as a songwriter, recorded for Epic, Columbia and Decca Records; criss-crossed through the folk and blues scene; was a member of the Celtic band Pendragon; and shared the stage with Elton John and Queen. But he is best known for his work with The Tombstone Blues Band. Besides all that, Ken was a nice and funny guy and I had the pleasure of working with him a few times. His rendition of “Handsome Molly” during the Pendragon days will always be a favorite of mine. Rhode Island has lost a legend.

Attention songwriters! Entries are now being accepted for the 2021 Kerrville/Grassy Hill New Folk Competition for Emerging Songwriters. The first 800 entries postmarked or submitted online by March 7 will be judged, and 24 finalists will be announced in April. I had the honor and pleasure of playing at Kerrville back in 2000 and if you love the Texas heat, then this fest is for you! For more, mow on over to: kerrvillefolkfestival.org/newfolk

I am looking forward to January 20 when the mango moron leaves the White House for good. I hope to never have to see his vile countenance again! We have had enough and it’s time to heal and repair. That’s it for now, thanks for reading. JohnFuzek.com

Do You Hear What I Hear?: Holiday concerts from your couch

Okee dokee folks… I would like to send a big THANK YOU out to the folks who voted for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. If you were one of the folks who voted for the mango moron, PLEASE begin the cult deprogramming process immediately. Hopefully this nation’s nightmare will soon be over. In the meantime, please start taking the COVID-19 pandemic very seriously or we will just be stuck in a Groundhog Day loop. People are getting sick and dying, and many of those who have corona and live through it end up with long-term health issues. Besides, if we don’t keep it in check, live music and venues may never come back. Read on… 

Singing for Shelter, the 13th annual Christmas concert that features Newport area musicians raising money for local homeless havens Lucy’s Hearth and The McKinney Shelter, will be held online over a period of two weeks, from December 5 through 22. In order to hold some form of a fundraiser, the organizers decided to present a series of shows featuring the musicians playing live from their living rooms on Facebook. Viewers will be urged to visit the shelters’ websites and donate directly. Over the years, Singing for Shelter has raised more than $85,000 for these shelters. All shows are from 7-7:30 and for the schedule, telethon to ChristmasInNewport.org or SingingForShelter-Newport on Facebook.

The Zeiterion Performing Arts Center in New Bedford will be streaming Canada’s most endeared and revered fiddle power couple, Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy’s Celtic Family Christmas At Home on December 5. Partnering with Homeplay.live, the concerts will continue MacMaster and Leahy’s annual tradition for their fans across North America while encouraging audiences to support their local theaters that are struggling with the quarantine. The show will be left up to watch any time from posted the show day until December 27. Also through the Z, Brian O’Donovan’s Virtual Christmas Celtic Sojourn will premiere on Thursday, December 17, at 7:30pm. O’Donovan will host, introduce the artists, chat with them about their lives, read favorite poetry and recount stories from his own West Cork Christmas. Proceeds from this performance benefit both the performers and The Zeiterion. If that isn’t enough holiday “tune-age” for you, then you can listen to the mother lode on December 19 when the Holiday Pops presents a virtual family concert. This show will be pre-recorded at the Zeiterion and presented via YouTube. All ticketed patrons will receive an email on the day of the concert containing a private link for access, and a digital program book will be available to view before the concert airs. For more, tune in to Zeiterion.org

Common Fence Music keeps the streaming going with a couple of new internet installments in December. On Sunday, December 6 at 7pm, The MoNo Guitar Duo, consisting of Italian guitarist Giuseppe Molino and Polish guitarist Anna Krystyna Nowicka, will perform. The two met in 2010 at Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome and the MoNo Guitar Duo was born. These talented musicians perform what is known as “4 hands guitar” where two people play the same guitar at once! On December 13 at 7pm, Samoa Wilson, vocalist and song-stylist, will play a cyberspace concert with her current duo partner, slide guitarist Ernie Vega. Collectively they are known as the Four O’Clock Flowers. Their repertoire of gospel, blues and jazz songs are sung from a woman’s perspective of struggle, transformation and triumph. These events are free, but tips are encouraged and go to the artists. For more, go with the flow to CommonFenceMusic.org

The Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River will continues with its Friday night live stream shows until in-person shows are deemed safe once again. They have a stellar line-up that will make your Friday nights fun! Coming up are the Duke Robillard Band, Sarah Borges and The Broken Singles, Gary Hoey’s Ho Ho Hoey’s Rockin Holiday Tour, Ward Hayden & The Outliers, Christine Ohlman and Rebel Montez and Roomful of Blues. For schedule information, taper toward NarrowsCenter.org

Unfortunately the RI Music Community lost David Haller to COVID on November 27. He was a mandolin player and member of the jug band The KC Moaners. David was always helping out at festivals as well. He was a forever member of the stage crew at Rhythm and Roots Festival and helped me many times at the Providence (Rhode Island) Folk Festival. He was a good soul and will be missed. Hopefully we can overcome this pandemic before it takes any more good folk. That’s it for now, thanks for reading. JohnFuzek.com