O Bobby Where Art Thou: Busily rehearsing BANDS OF BROTHERS, his latest conceptual jukebox show with official “Basie house band” The Jersey Shore Rock ‘N Soul Revue.
(First published on Red Bank oRBit February 26, 2009)
If you’ve even so much as heard a single note of live music emanating from a boardwalk bar, an august auditorium or a plein-air portable stage around these parts, you know Bobby Bandiera.
He’s the original Cat on a Smooth Surface from nine lives’ worth of barband gigs. That guitarslinging go-to guy whom the poobahs of pop (The Boss and Bon Jovi, to name two) ring up when their bands are in need of fret-fingering fortification. AnAsbury Juke of long standing, and a frequent passenger on Tim McLoone’s Holiday Express.
Every December for the last four years, Bandiera has called in a lifetime’s worth of musical chits and favors to assemble the annual fundraising fantasia known as theHope Concert. Just to get a sense of the man’s mental Rolodex, the 2008 event at the Count Basie Theatre saw the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi,Southside Johnny Lyon, Gary US Bonds and Nicole Atkins drop what they were doing and volunteer their time and talents.
Backing them all up on stage was another of Bandiera’s passionate pet projects — the “Basie House Band” known as the Jersey Shore Rock ‘N Soul Revue. For the past few years, the bandleader and an ever-evolving cohort of classic-rock compadres have presented their own thematically note-perfect tribute concerts to the greatest singers, six-stringers and albums in pop history, right there on the boards of the House That Basie Built.
A Revue concert is a genuine “destination” event; packed with hits and exclusive to Red Bank. Remember the years when fans who wanted to see Celine Dion in concert had to make the trip to Vegas? Well, a presentation by the Rock ‘N Soul Revue happens at the Basie and stays at the Basie. It doesn’t hit the road for a summer tour of county fairs; doesn’t get taped and endlessly rerun during PBS pledge drives. It’s done once, it’s done right, and it’s done first and foremost out of a love for the music of the past fifty years.
Bobby Bandiera and the JSRNSR take the stage of the newly Botox’d Basie this Saturday night at 8pm for a show entitled Bands of Brothers; a 45-rpm spin through the history of such brother-acts as the Beach Boys, Bee Gees andJacksons, to the Allmans, Kinks and AC/DC. Then on April 23, the band comes full circle with a special tribute to the great Roy Orbison, the subject of the very first Rock ‘N Soul Revue, lo those many moons ago.
Bandiera, who accepted a special lifetime achievement award from the Monmouth Arts Council last year, took a few moments out of his beyond-busy schedule to render a verdict on what makes this project percolate. In a moment, the results of that trial…
RED BANK ORBIT: So how many Rock ‘N Soul Revues does this one make? And how many do you do each year?
BOBBY BANDIERA: This one, Bands of Brothers, will be show number seven, after which we’ll have the Orbison show and then two others this year — one around the end of July, and one at the end of October.
And who is the Revue these days?
This week we’ve got a three piece horn section, two singers, another singer who plays guitar, a percussionist — bass, drums, a second guitarist and two keyboard players.
Other than you, is there anyone else who’s considered a charter member?
There’s nobody that permanent — although there are some people who have been there with me pretty much all the way. Ray Anderson, Layonne Holmes, Bob Burger — although for the Brothers show I’ll be bringing in Jim Celestino instead; he’s more of an electric lead guitar player than Bob is, and I need that second guitar for the Allmans stuff that we’ll be doing.
The whole brother concept sounds interesting, but what it means is that you guys are forcing yourselves to take on such a wide swatch of material for one show. It’s probably more than most working musicians are used to doing in one set, but then I suppose you’re accustomed to working with people who can really think fast on their feet.
Yeah, basically I call in people who can handle what I need them to do for a particular show. In this one show we’ve got songs by the Beach Boys, the Allman Brothers, Bee Gees, Isley Brothers…
The Ribeye Brothers? The Bacon Brothers? Gene Loves Jezebel?
Well, obviously not every band with brothers in it! But I don’t turn down any input from anyone who feels strongly about doing a certain song.
Do you initiate all the theme ideas yourself, or are they arrived at by committee?
Most of them are my idea from the get-go…Phil Spector, Motown, Eric Clapton, a Tribute to Duets. Numa (Saisselin), the president of the Basie, asked me a few years ago if I would think about doing tribute shows — you know, it could work, it could be fun, people know you and there’s an integrity that’s gonna be there.
Well, I’m for expressing who I am, so I told him I’d do this if they let me pick the artist. Someone that I can believe in and feel; if I can’t get behind the tribute in an honest fashion, I won’t go near it.
And the first artist you paid tribute to was Roy Orbison?
I think they were looking for something a little more obvious to start with, but I said, you’ve gotta trust me on this — I promise we’ll come close to a sellout with this show.
I have to say that you’re one of very few singers who are either courageous or foolish enough to take on Roy Orbison songs on a regular basis. I remember your cover of his cover of “Mean Woman Blues,” which you released on the b-side of your “Come On Caroline” single way back when.
Yeah, you know when I decided to record that I was having trouble deciphering some of the lyrics in his version…I met his wife Barbara Orbison when I was doing a fundraiser for the New Jersey Network, and I asked her if she could help me contact him about it.
She said, why not call up Roy himself? So I did, not too long after that — his number in California was actually listed! But when I called, he wasn’t home — Barbara answered, and she didn’t remember talking to me about the whole thing.
I’m assuming we’re talking about the part where he goes “Boy she makes ol’ Roy a-flip.” So you never got to meet him, huh?
Oh no, I did, later on. We were playing on the same show in Manhattan, around the pier, near the Intrepid. I brought my mom to meet him; we knocked on his trailer door and he invited us in. My mom turned into a sixteen, seventeen year old girl — ‘Bobby, take my picture!’ (laughs) She’s going up to Roy and asking him if she could touch him, and he’s just laughing.
It seems amazing that you guys rehearse these sets and then do them exactly once— and as far as I know you don’t even record them for a CD! Any regrets about the whole ephemeral nature of what you’re doing?
Well, when the show is well received, you think, shit! We’ve gotta do this again! We’ve had two rehearsals for this show, and after the second one I said, goddamn, this sounds fuckin’ great! And there were shows that I was angry about afterward because I thought we blew it ‚ but people seemed to like it anyway.
Now, for the tenth show, Numa and I were saying it could be a compilation of all the shows we’ve done in the past. That might be a good idea.
Are there any ideas for shows that you’ve had to shelve for whatever reason? Anything that you’d really like to do, but it hasn’t quite come about?
I thought that a tribute to The Last Waltz was a good idea, but I started thinking about the artists that were in the film, and I wondered if I should pick those particular songs by those artists. I wonder if most people really have a clear idea what’s in the movie. But there are other things I’d like to try also — a tribute to trios, for one. That would mean finding a bass player who can play like Noel Redding andJack Bruce, to name a couple. Anyway, I’m always listening; always trying to figure out what the next show will be.