The New Rick Barrys and The John Henrys
March 8, 2011
ASBURY PARK, NJ—One of the biggest problems with the original music scene in New Jersey has always been the fact that people come for their specific band and leave as soon as that portion of the show is over. It’s really weird as hell. They march in, pay their cover, sit quietly at the bar, drink a beer and watch the band. Then Pfft! They’re out the door and headed home only to be replaced by the next grouping of somber-faced patrons.
But there are a few ways around that, and one that I witnessed happened at this Saint show. Rick Barry has a nice local following of people who apparently have no set schedule restricting their night. So he went to work rallying his troops, getting the social media word out and asking people to come early, give a listen to the opening bands and stay for all of the groups. And this Tuesday night crowd did just that. Rick and the Saint crew introduced The John Henrys to the mainly Barry audience, putting them on before him and elevating visibility for a cool, hard-working group that warrants some attention. The kicker is that they had already done the same thing for Barry, who told me, “A year or so ago they had me up to open for them up in Canada and treated me really great, promoted the shit out of the show and got a lot of people out for me. So it is really cool that I’m getting to return the favor for them.”
I say a good job in that department. If more bands would double up in and out of town there would be a lot more opportunity and musical enlightenment available to bands and fans alike.
The John Henrys are traditionalist in every sense of the word. Their name comes from the legendary John Henry, the giant, iron-pounding railway man who was immortalized in song for challenging a steam locomotive to a track-laying contest, which, by the way, the myth says he won, before promptly passing away. But The John Henrys take his torch to the next level, pounding their own version of road track and promoting their third release, White Linen, on Canada’s own Linus Entertainment.
The band is label mates with the mighty Gordon Lightfoot, a man who needs no introduction from the likes of me. On tour throughout the USA, The John Henrys are a blend of Americana (can Canadians be that?) and rock and roll in the stark, no-nonsense vein of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, The Band and some southern brothers from another mother. Simple and elegant arrangements brought those influences front and center all night long.
Their stage show was filled with confident and dynamic playing. Songs such as the chimey, organ-grazed pull of “Little One” led the pack, as did the Woodstock feel of the band’s latest disc’s title track. The down home hillbilly growl of “Hit The Floor,” complete with dual guitar attack, were good ole’ boy high points. Everyone knows my penchant for The Outlaws, hollow body Gretschs and Telecasters; and these guys had all of those present on that dirty gem. Other highlights from their set were “Cold Chill,” a Lennon-esque and dream-steeped, mid-tempo number, and “Piece Of Mind” a cool, blue-collar crossover that has hit written all over it.
If I had to describe it in one sentence, I would say, “Ottawa’s outlaws poised on the platinum back porch of Americana folklore. Gritty and straight to the point this is the great north’s five piece rock and roll salvation.”
Thanks to Rick and Scott for bringing them around and presenting them to the Garden State gang.
Speaking of Barry, I have to admit, the guy’s becoming an elder statesman when it comes to combining the smart thing with the right outcome. He hasn’t always been liked, and he freely admits to a certain amount of social dysfunction, but his organizational skills are getting sharper and he even had time to jump out of his booking agent/manager costume to play the guitar and sing tonight. And sing he did.
The band consisted of Sarah Tomek on drums, James Stahon on guitar, Justin Bornemann on bass and guest vocalist Lindsey Miller, went through 10 of his top tunes including “Richard Please,” and his newest song titled, “Annie in Stereo,” a song that will be first in a monthly offering from Barry recorded under his own Stupid American Music moniker, with the help of Roger Quinn at Asbury Media and Andy Bova at Simple Sound studios. Rick said that the goal is just to continuously release quality sounding tunes on a one a month basis with zero overhead, giving fans a different insight as to what he does while raising money for his next hard copy release.
Rick also pulled out a new trick on this night, soloing on an emotionally rickety version of Henry Mancini’s “Moon River” Sure, I smirked at this at first, but, truth be told, it turned out to be a brilliant choice and was done in such a way that you could not help but admire his thought process in picking this particular song and making it sound so vulnerable and new.
No one except Rick Barry could have pulled that off and still look credible to the motley rock crowd present tonight. Besides, I own every record Mancini ever recorded, so who was I really smirking at? Is there a Psychiatrist in the room? An interesting night all around and I hope to see it repeated with other out-of-town bands in the coming months. To listen to the latest Rick Barry song, “Annie In Stereo” and name your own price, head over to rickbarry.bandcamp.com/track/annie-in-stereo. For more on those Canadian cowboys check out thejohnhenrys.com.
Even Jersey Gets The Blues:
Willie Mitchell, Sonny Kenn and Jeff Cafone – Special Heritage Event
March 27 at The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park
Three generations of blues musicians will perform an exclusive night of entertainment that celebrates this city’s blues roots on Sunday, March 27 as part of the Asbury Park Musical Heritage Festival.
Long time bass player Willie Mitchell, who toured with Bobby “Blue” Bland, guitarist Sonny Kenn, who opened for Jerry Lee Lewis and helped turn New Jersey into a rock and roll institution, and Jeff Cafone, from Outside the Box, will perform both separately and together for a special night devoted to blues and rock ‘n’ roll.
The event holds special significance for Mitchell who recalls when both Kenn and Cafone were getting their respective careers started.
“You get to a point in your life when it’s time to teach the next generation what you’ve learned,” said, Mitchell, 75. “I’m grateful to see people turning out to hear the blues again played by these fine, young musicians.”
Both Mitchell and Kenn’s memoirs appear in Asbury Park: Where Music Lives, the recently published anthology edited by award-winning author Helen-Chantal Pike that spotlights the city’s core music traditions. The book will be available for purchase the night of March 27.
Both the anthology and Blues Generation coincide with the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibit, “New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots Music” that is open free to the public through April 17, at the city library on Grand and 1st Avenues. For further information, check out asburyparkmusic.org.