Shoreworld: Emily Grove and Remembering Johnny Dirt

Emily Grove: The Way Across The Sea

Emily Grove is quick to tell the world that she’s a proud Jersey girl. She’s not one of those generic, big haired monsters that roam the beaches of Seaside, but a Garden State girl who embraces the artistic culture of a musical breeding ground that is well-known throughout the world. While Grove might be fairly new to the scene, she’s jumped right into the deep end, showing wisdom well beyond her years through her music and sound. Telling everyone who will listen, Grove waxes poetic about the direction and message in her music and forgoes what she describes as, “the dreamy love songs and self-indulgent navel-gazing,” often substituted for the reality of why an artist is here and why they do what they do.

Grove explores her somber side on Way Across The Sea, blending the golden ‘70s sounds of Carole King with the orchestrated texture of The Band and the Shakespearean vision of John Prine. While Grove might be labeled as a folk artist, I see a much broader artist on this CD. Elements of country and rock and roll grace the audio pages on Way Across The Sea with a seamless and organic logic. Her vocal inflection and tone pull the listener deep into her world of poetry, infatuation and imagination like a trapdoor spider at twilight.

Grove is a musician that has been performing in local NJ coffeehouses and bars, as well as NYC and Boston, where she is currently a student at Berklee College of Music. While I usually cringe at the textbook style and know-it-all cockiness of musicians that have schooling in their system, Emily Grove’s new CD tells me that she’s handling the two worlds quite well. She has also been nominated for both an Asbury Park Music Award and a Jersey Acoustic Music Award, and won several NJ singing contests along the way.

The title track, “Way Across The Sea,” tells the tale of the crush on a rock and roll star, the identity of which is up to the listener to work out. Dark, sparkling electrics wind up in the background, slipping into the forefront to spin subtle slide work webs courtesy of Marc Muller (Shania Twain). “Falling” bristles with orchestrated shots across the bow, bringing forth images of Carly Simon and Carole King, like it’s just another breezy, summer day in 1973. Drums and bass are tempo-perfect and help make this song bright and vital.

“Today” is a song that Grove told me was written after a particularly long Sopranos marathon. “I like the way the music gets progressively cheerful and lively as the stories get more depressing and terrible.” Grove goes dark and detailed with her surreal vision on “Today.” Pianos roll barrelhouse-ragged as organ, mandolins and guitars ramble under Grove’s bell-toned vocal. Ripples of Amy Helm sweep over this gem like the icy, clean waters of a New York state stream.

If this disc has a radio friendly hit on its hands, it will probably be “Flea.” Based on a poem by John Donne and also happens to be the very first song Emily ever wrote. “Flea” bounces along a great pace and features strong choruses that get in and get busy without wearing out the ears. This song steers away from the folkie direction, and Grove keeps it in the fast lane of artists like Jane Wiedlin and Alanis Morrisette.

She closes the EP with the Natalie Merchant feel of “Procrastination.” A self-confessed follower of “I can do it later,” Grove doesn’t waste any time. Her singsong voice rises and falls in perfect pitch with the instrumentation of her top-notch band. Nothing overplayed and no filler laden on this tune. For more on Emily, check out


Johnny Dirt – The Ambassador Has Left The Building

John Schroeder—better known as Johnny Dirt—has died at the age of 66, according to the Gaston Gazette of Gaston County, NC.

When I heard this, I couldn’t help but become extremely sad. Johnny is someone whom I have known since the mighty days of his Bloomfield, NJ, Dirt Club. As a kid I played that room more times than I can even count. It was an exciting time, and the bands were wild and diverse. Johnny’s basement was a well-known dressing room used by everyone from The Cramps to the Smithereens and Wall Of Voodoo. Every original band who was someone played that prestigious room. It was a magical time of explosive music and the dirty, grungy punk haven was the twisted equivalent of an underground Cheers, the other side of the “rival across the river” CBGB’s crew.

Johnny’s forays into entrepreneurial experimentation were famous. From dirt bags, which could be purchased at the club for a dollar each, to his Dirt record label, Johnny always hustled his brand to the music-loving fans that flooded his crumbling, decadent room.

The club opened in the late 1970s, or rather was gradually transformed from Delmar’s Lounge, a blue-collar neighborhood go-go bar, into the legendary center of alternative music and culture. Despite economic challenges brought on by the demise of the alternative music scene in New Jersey, it had a successful run of almost 10 years. In the world of rock and roll clubs, that was an eternity.

In 1984, while he was at the height of his Dirt fame, Schroeder organized “Dirtstock” on the banks of the Passaic River in Newark. At the pinnacle of the event, which featured somewhere between 10 and 15 bands, Schroeder was hauled in on a crane over the river and, dressed in a giant dirtbag, jumped into the dark and dangerous depths. Often referred to as “Dirt Descends into Slime and All Is Fine in the World,” Johnny kept his hijinks up for several years before moving on to something else. As the 1980s came to a close, so did The Dirt Club.

One night in 2003, I walked into Rudy’s and saw an old photo of one of my old bands up over the bar. As I inquired as to how that bizarre picture happened to be there, I learned a relative of Johnny’s owned the bar, and that the man himself was working there. Suddenly, he walked in the door. After a few fuzzy moments, he shook my hand and enthusiastically discussed plans, memories of The Dirt Club, and everything in between.

That was the last time I saw John Schroeder in person. The black t-shirted poet waved goodbye and disappeared into the 9th avenue melee for the last time for me.

Ever the survivor, Schroeder resurfaced down in North Carolina, living with wife Marnie and still pushing the Dirt brand like it was 1982. He talked positively of his merch business and label ideas, sending me a bunch of The Dirt Club t-shirts on the house. All of us musicians looked up to Johnny as a seasoned vet that pulled everything out of life on his own bold terms, shining bright like a super nova, if only for a short while on this crazy planet.

A one-time carnival barker, this inventor of the Go-Go Breakfast, patron of the arts, friend to the weird, strange and artistic will always be remembered by the musicians that benefited from his extreme graciousness and dedication to the original scene here in New Jersey. In a world of cookie cutter promoters, Johnny was the minister with the original mission for the musical masses right up until the end. Goodnight, Reverend. We will all miss you, my friend.