By TOM CHESEK (Originally published on APP.com November 11, 2010)
It was a beautiful midsummer’s night at Red Bank’s Riverside Gardens when Richard Barone, performing the final free show of the annual Brookdale Concerts in the Park series, remarked with kidlike wonder on “how awesome it is to see Pete Seeger’s name on your caller ID.”
Indeed, the 91 year old Seeger is just one of many formidable music, arts and showbiz figures with whom the NYC-based Barone has interacted as guitarist, producer, arranger, vocalist, composer and all around go-to guy.
At the risk of sounding like the most awful name-dropper, there’s The Band’s Garth Hudson, Randy Brecker, Marshall Crenshaw, Three’s Company star Joyce DeWitt, Donovan, David Johansen, Liza Minnelli, Moby, Lou Reed, Amy Rigby, Fred Schneider, Jill Sobule, Sonic Youth, Paul Williams, underground film kings Kenneth Anger and Jonas Mekas — and the late great Tiny Tim.
As packed as that theoretical Rolodex may be, however, it’s to Barone’s supreme credit that he remains identified primarily through his own turns as frontman — whether leading the Hoboken new wave band The Bongos, or navigating more than 20 years as a solo performer — to say nothing of his turn as author of Frontman: Surviving the Rock Star Myth.
Seemingly busier than ever (and apparently having aged only a few days since the release of his first record in 1980), the artist who melds the edgy instincts and oblique poetry of Bowie with the unerring pop savvy and good cheer of McCartney has a brand new release to promote; his first studio effort in some 17 years.
Just out on ‘boken-based Bar/None Records, Glow is a lush and layered dreambook that’s produced in major part by a true studio wizard of the album-rock era — Brooklyn-born Tony Visconti, whose 1970s sessions with Bowie, Sparks and, especially, T. Rex established a template for a glam-rock sound that remains fresh, fun and fraught with delightfully wicked ideas.
“I’ve always felt that that era represented the pinnacle in recorded music history,” says Barone, who revisits the T. Rex/Visconti classic Girl on the new disc. “Tony and I are kindred spirits in many ways.”
Barone, who famously stripped down for the Mick Rock photo shoot that produced the cover of the Frontman book (a volume that does duty as textbook in a lecture series by the singer at NYU), has taken a largely stripped-down show on the road in recent months; performing a mix of Glow songs, catalog favorites and eclectically selected covers (including a Reed-blessed rendition of the Velvet Underground’s sublime “I’ll Be Your Mirror”) at such forums as Music on Main Street in Woodbridge, where he saluted the Ramones evergreen “I Wanna Be Sedated” with violinist Deni Bonet and guest vocalist Willie Nile. It’s a road that takes Barone to two iconic Jersey music clubs this weekend — The Brighton Bar in Long Branch on Friday, and (Bongos spawning ground) Maxwell’s in Hoboken on Saturday.
Tonight’s show at the Brighton finds Barone taking part in a special “Remember the Coop” salute to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, the Alice Cooper Band. It’s the latest project from glam-rock impresario and supreme authority Keith Roth (of Main Man Records and WRAT-FM’s “Electric Ballroom”), and it features Barone (who contributes a cover of “Hello Hooray” to the Coop tribute CD) performing originals and sharing the stage with Roth’s band Frankenstein 3000, as well as original Alice Cooper bassist Dennis Dunaway, reunited Shore faves Well of Souls, and next-gen Coop specialist Renee Dunaway.
Tomorrow night, the Tampa-born bandleader hits his adopted hometown (Barone and his fellow Bongos were presented with the Key to the City of Hoboken in 2006) for a Glow CD release event that spotlights the songs from the new album, with full band and by-now requisite surprises.
“Each ‘Glow’ show is completely different from the others, in terms of musicians, material and makeup of the audience,” says Barone. “I’ve played biker bars and Carnegie Hall…my songs are meant to be played anywhere, and on anything.”
And what of that recent Tiny Tim project? It seems that a teenaged Barone (who entered the business as a 7 year old radio disc jockey), met the late, long-locked and legendary ukelele-strumming entertainer best known for “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” back in the 1970s; recording several songs and stories that belatedly saw the light of day with the 2009 release of I’ve Never Seen a Straight Banana.
Just one more colorful feather in the cap of a forward-thinking “prince of New York” who’s placed songs on network TV shows, performed and directed music for Off Broadway productions, emerged as an early champion of internet music marketing, kickstarted the “unplugged” era of chamber-pop with the landmark album Cool Blue Halo — and perhaps more than anyone perfected the whole Songwriters in the Round format via a celebrated series at The Bottom Line.
“I live a very fortunate life — ‘The Life of Kings,’ you could say,” Barone explains. “I get to work with people I admire, and I work in a way that makes the audience just as important.”
Although the eternally effervescent artist is less than forthcoming about his age, he does attribute his youthful “Glow” to the fact that “I go to the gym every day, I play music every day, and I never date anyone over 25. Well, most of the time!”