Marc Ribler (left) and Steven Van Zandt (photo by Rene van Daimen)

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, February 21 2019

“He got the bug again,” says Marc Ribler of his friend and frequent collaborator Steven Van Zandt, by way of explaining how that iconic prime mover ‘n shaker of the Shore music scene — a guy who, after all, had diversified his portfolio in recent years to score significant successes in the realms of on-camera acting, Broadway theatrical production, satellite radio, education, philanthropy, and everything this side of branded spaghetti sauce — came to rely on the veteran musician as his music director for a newly resurgent iteration of the Disciples of Soul.

“Steven was working with Darlene Love, and asked me to be her music director for some shows,“ recalls the singer, songwriter and guitarist whose own solo trajectory ranges from charting songs for other vocalists, to earning a reputation as an ace interpreter of signature stuff from the classic rock playbook. “We’d do a few of his compositions at each show — ‘‘Love on the Wrong Side of Town,’ ‘Til the Good Is Gone,’ ‘Forever’ — and we all came to the realization that, wow, there’s a great body of work here.”

“A year later he called me to do a one-off festival in London, and, well…ever sonce then he’s been immersed in his own artistry. Right now his music is the center of his universe.”

Having “toured continuously”  in recent years as Van Zandt’s right-hand lieutenant (as well as co-producer of SVZ’s recording sessions), the Brick Township-based Ribler prepares to hit the international road once again, on the momentum of two new projects with the resurgent Little Steven: the just-issued Soulfire Live! box set/ Blu-Ray package, and the May 2019 release of the all-new studio set Summer of Sorcery.

“If he had somehow misplaced that songwriter within, he’s reconnected with it in a major way,” says Ribler of the bandana’d bandleader whose upcoming itinerary brings him to Australia in April, and various European ports of call in May (with some high profile CD release shows planned for New York and LA). “He’s a man on a mission!”

Before all that, however, Marc Ribler returns, in the company of assembled Friends, to the Asbury Park venue where he’s found happy harbor for the past several years — Tim McLoone’s Supper Club, the sophisticated space-age saucer that hosts not just one but twoRib-sticking repasts in the next couple of weekends. This coming Saturday, February 23, it’s a birthday salute to the life and musical legacy of the “Quiet Beatle,” George Harrison — a retrospective for which Ribler is joined by the in-demand rhythm section of Rich Mercurio (drums) and Jack Daley( bass), as well as by keyboardist Andy Burton from SVZ’s band. Then the following Friday, March 1st, it’s an Electrifying Tribute to The Who that finds the core band joined for the occasion by vocalist Dale Toth.

“Everyone in the band grew up with this music…it’s in our DNA to begin with,” observes the chief Friend  whose repertoire of special salute sets also includes a Traffic tribute performed in partnership with Jukes keyboardist Jeff Kazee. “We’ve been celebrating George’s birthday for five years now…both here, and at the Cutting Room in New York…and we like to do it at least once or twice each year.”

Scheduled for 8 pm, the Harrison set traces the personal and professional journey of a Beatle bandmate whose years in the considerable shadow of Lennon and McCartney saw him emerge over time as “an artist with an incredible sense of self…and a genuine humanity.”

(photo by Richard E. Hoynes)

“By the time that the Beatles broke up, George had just built up this incredible arsenal of songs,” says the  tributeer whose “down the road” plans include a recreation of the Concert for Bangladesh, the Harrison-organized event that stood as the first big all-star benefit show of the rock era.

“He also developed one of the most unique slide guitar voices in the world…as unique in his own way as Duane Allman, or (Little Feat founder) Lowell George. When you heard his slide, you always knew instantly that it was him.”

Switching gears from the so-called Quiet Beatle to The Who — a band whose intense personal dynamics, supercharged generational anthems and explosively instrument-smashing stage show would never have been branded “quiet” by anyone — Ribler praises his guest vocalist Toth (with whom he’s worked previously at McLoone’s) for capturing the essence of Roger Daltrey, a singer who “really tapped into his inner being, as the band progressed through the 1960s.”

“Pete Townshend’s songwriting voice is deeply primal, intelligent, philosophical…he’s as much a master as John, Paul, and George, and such a compelling figure on stage,” he says. “It really was like you were watching two frontmen working the same space, and finding that balance within the tension.”

“Meanwhile, (the late Who bassist) John Entwistle was taking bass playing to a whole new place…Daltrey’s voice became as powerful an instrument as the guitar or drums…and I almost see Keith Moon (the band’s long-deceased, one-of-a-kind drummer) as the lead guitar player, in the way that he grabbed the spotlight.”

Lest we forget, in the midst of his ongoing work with Van Zandt, his numerous tribute projects, and such activities as his recent sitting-in subbing for Sandy Mack’s weekly Sunday Jam at the Asbury Hotel, Marc Ribler remains a maker of original music — one who established his bona fides as a writer of tunes for acts like the Canadian rockers Helix and (current Great White frontman) Mitch Malloy, and whose own catalog as a solo act includes the albums Life Is But a Dream (2003) and This Life (2008).

“I had two songs flying up the charts with Mitch Malloy…until Nirvana knocked ‘em off!” recalls the songsmith and producer, still smarting over the scabby wounds of the early 90s “grunge” wave. That said, Ribler acknowledges that “the business has changed” — and that his own successful partnership with Van Zandt has often left him “too busy” to do anything but place his solo stardom ambitions on a back burner.

“When I did the Soulfire record with Steven in 2016, I had a bunch of my own songs to work on,” explains Ribler in addressing the decade-plus gap between albums. “I went in to Shorefire studio in Long Branch with my guys and recorded everything in 2 or 3 days, then finished up in my home studio.”

“But I can’t say when I might put out the new record…just as you’ve got to put the time, blood, sweat and tears into creating the music, you’ve also got to have the time and space to work it after it’s done; do interviews and promote it.”

As for the role of music director for SVZ on the long road ahead, it’s a more-than-name-only assignment that Ribler takes very seriously — one that involves “understanding who the artist is; realizing what Steven means, whether he says it in so many words…and finding musicians that connect with him, both stylistically and philosophically.”

“It’s about making sure everyone is aware of their role; that they have the music they need to do their part; that they respect the music and respect each other,” he adds, describing the preparations for the shows that are keyed to Van Zandt’s Rock and Roll Forever initiative. “Creating a sacred space, with low drama and a total synchronicity…it’s how I approach my job, whether I’m playing a Tuesday night at Jack’s in Belmar, or at Madison Square Garden.”

“I’ve been blessed to know so many great musicians, and Steven makes sure that everyone gets a chance to shine,” says Ribler of the traveling circus (all watched over by “our amazing tour manager, Gary True”) that can number more than 35 people, including tech crew. “Steven has strong opinions about these things…after all, he’s served so well as Bruce’s right hand man for so many tours…and if you can make it in this camp, you’re pretty much good to go with anything!”