7/25: Red Bank ‘n Black, Perfect 2gether

Local boy makes good: country superstar Clint Black returns to the area where he lived as an infant, when he headlines The Y’s Goin’ Country for Kids benefit concert, Saturday night at the Count Basie.

Pay a visit to the entrance corridor at the Red Bank landmark Murphy Style Grill, and you’ll encounter muralist Andrew Sabori’s Wall of Fame panorama featuring famous people from New Jersey. Take a closer look and you’ll probably wonder why — nestled in with familiar homegrown heroes like Jack Nicholson, The Chairman and The Boss — you’ll find the equally familiar black hat of country music superstar Clint Black.

Although he forged his traditionalist sound in the honkytonks of his Houston hometurf — and despite venturing forth into much of the world from his Nashville base of operations — Clint Black can claim a pedigree on Upper Wet Side of NJ, the place where he was born 50 years ago and, according to some sources, where his family briefly resided prior to young Clint’s first birthday.

On Saturday night, July 28, the platinum-plated singer, songwriter, producer and occasional actor makes a Red Bank homecoming of sorts, when he headlines The Y’s Goin’ Country for Kids — a benefit for The Community YMCA and a show that finds the Count Basie Theatre  also playing host to another local boy gone country: Little Silver native Greg Trooper.

It’s a road stop that holds special significance for Black, whose 25 year recorded catalog has garnered him more than a dozen Number One hits, tons of precious metal sales, a trophy case of awards and his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Having met all the Nashville milestones (and duetted with everyone from Waylon Jennings to Monty Python’s Eric Idle), the AMA Favorite New Artist of 1990 entered the new millennium with some of the most intriguing music of his career. He’s also co-starred in a series of family-friendly Flicka flicks, guested in movies and countless TV shows, composed original music for the upcoming stage extravaganza Aussie Adventure, and continues to serve as Honorary Chair for the nonprofit research and awareness organization International Rett Syndrome Foundation (IRSF).

Check this space on Friday for our interview with Greg Trooper here on upperWETside — and turn the paperless page for some Q’s and A’s with the Man Named Black.

The painted portrait of Clint Black has long been a centerpiece of the NJ Wall of Fame mural, at Red Bank’s Murphy Style Grill. (photo by John Ward)

upperWETside: It is customary, whenever someone from our neck of the weeds talks to Clint Black, to remind you once again that you were born in Long Branch, New Jersey — and Wikipedia even says you lived your first few months in Red Bank. It must be said that you’ve got fans up this way who feel very proprietary about you; who think of you as a hometown guy.

CLINT BLACK: It’s nice to be claimed! It’s true that people around there have thought of me as being one of their own, and I’m excited to be coming back there — I was thrilled and a little surprised when I realized where we going to be doing the concert; the people around me knew of the New Jersey connection, but not necessarily the Red Bank area connection.

I want to point out one other very special thing about the Red Bank show. Some of the attendees will be some very special friends from the military, including Staff Sgt. Brett Bennethum, who lives in the area (Note: the Army reservist was stationed at Fort Dix and lives with his family in the Lehigh Valley region of PA) and who inspired “She Won’t Let Go,” the song that I introduced on Good Morning America a while back.

You can find the song up on iTunes — it’s based on a well known photo I saw of Sgt. Bennethum, who was being deployed to Iraq, and his daughter Paige. If you go to the photo, you’ll see the little girl holding her father’s hand, not wanting to let go of him, as he’s getting ready to ship out. The picture was taken by Sgt. Bennethum’s wife, who’s allowed us to call attention to it with the stipulation that it not be politicized, or exploited for any sort of partisan cause. So the Sergeant and his family will be there, which is something that’s just going to happen there in Red Bank.

Whether you’re donating a song or raising funds for a nonprofit organization like the local YMCA, it seems you’ve had a long history of stepping up for some kind of community effort or awareness campaign in just about every place you play.

When I was doing the big nationwide package tours, I always made sure to do something like that; nowadays it’s a little bit happenstance, more centered around my own foundation (the International Rett Syndrome Foundation).

I confess to not ever having heard of that neurodevelopmental disorder several years ago, but since then I met a local family whose daughter was afflicted with Rett — it’s a serious thing that’s not on a lot of people’s radar screen, and you’ve been on the frontlines of the effort to call attention to it…

It’s a terrible, often misdiagnosed disease that can strike very close to home; in my case with my niece, Cortney. It’s extremely stressful on families — it requires 100 percent care; it’s like an alien monster within.

There is some hope on the horizon, though, with the work that’s been done with genome markers. They’ve had some success with tests on lab rats, and doctors are saying that it’s really just a matter of some more research hours.

Changing the subject, I do want to ask about this Vegas project you’re involved with, AUSSIE ADVENTURE — it sounds like quite a show. Would it be the sort of thing that stays put in Vegas for an open-ended run, or would you be packing it into a bunch of 18 wheelers and trucking it around the country?

It’s not actually a Vegas project; we’ve been rehearsing in Vegas and the idea is to take it out on the road to mid-size arenas. It’s a spectacular show, with horses, dancers, a great band, and Broadway style production effects.

It’s set in 1901 Australia, where an American father and daughter move from their ranch in Wyoming. They sell the ranch back home and buy a new ranch down under — the adventure comes from their trying to understand the Australian way of doing things; the slang and the customs.

The producer, who’s had years of experience taking great Broadway shows out on the road, was asked to take this Australian story and move it toward an American audience; hire an American composer to create new songs for it. So that’s where I came in, and I’ve come to understand it better myself, as it gradually came together.

I’ve been busy finishing my part in the production, at the same time that I’ve been recording my first album in seven years. And after that, I’ll be writing a new show for Broadway! I’ll be working with one of the great playwrights of our time — and that’s all I can tell you just right now, because I believe in the jinx!

And might we be hearing any of these new songs, from the album sessions or the stage show, at your concert on the 28th?

Not from the Aussie project, but I’ve been working in new material from the album, not really promoting it yet but just for fun, at some of the shows I’ve been doing lately. Each audience is different, you know, and we kind of tailor things to what we think works in each place we play. So there are times when I might do an acoustic version of one of the new songs, and sometimes we stick to the hits.

Well, all of that together with the movies and other things you’ve been involved with, and it sounds like you’ve got a whole lot on your plate.

It’s a great plate, though. I’m lucky to have it. You know, this comfort I have these days is new to me — I work with a lot of people who are very good at their jobs, and I’ve gotten to a place in life where I don’t bother myself with their jobs. I concentrate on doing what’s fun for me.

Produced by MusicWorks Entertainment, The Y’s Goin’ Country for Kids event kicks off with a 5 pm cocktail reception at Buona Sera in Red Bank, during which Little Silver’s own Rick Dill will perform. A Distinguished Citizen Award will be presented to Timothy J. Hogan, president of Riverview Medical Center prior to Clint Black’s set, and tickets (priced from $35 to $90) are available from the Basie box office right here

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