IT’S PRIME TIME FOR SOME PRIME CUTS OF (MARC) RIBLER

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.”

Continue reading

SHORE’S CHAMPIONSHIP BLUESBUSTER BRINGS O’REE-LY BIG SHOW

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, February 7 2019

It was some time in 2006 when Shore music fans came to the sobering realization that, effective immediately, they would have to share dibs on Matt O’Ree with the rest of the planet.

The clincher was Guitar Center’s annual King of the Blues competition for that year; a contest that the young blues-rock guitarist from Holmdel aced over a field of thousands of contenders for the throne. In addition to the instantly conferred cred, it was an accolade that netted O’Ree a cash prize, a Gibson Guitars endosement, a personal Guitar Center shopping spree — and a brand new Scion automobile, about which more in a bit.

It was a sure shot in the arm for the young veteran who’d made his rep playing in just about every indoor or outdoor setting to be found on the regional scene — from the portable parkside stages of the Jersey Shore Jazz & Blues Foundation’s summer series, to the hallowed halls of BB King’s, and pretty much every barroom, bistro, barn, backyard BBQ or boardwalk bench between.

“I was using credit cards to finance my career up to that point,” recalls the guitarist who formed his first edition of the Matt O’Ree some 25 years ago, in 1994. “So no matter how much mileage I get out of that win, being able to pay off those cards was the greatest feeling!”

That said, the single greatest thrill of Matt O’Ree’s career arguably occurred nearly a decade after that, when he was tapped by Bon Jovi to serve as an onstage guitarist for the mega-band’s Burning Bridgestour of major international markets.

“Suddenly I went from playing to a couple of dozen regulars at a local bar, to being in front of anywhere from 50 to 70 thousand people,” he says. “It was an awesome perspective to be able to experience…truly a magic moment.”

As the hometown guitar hero confesses, the aftermath of the Bon Jovi tour was an interval that “took a bit of adjustment,”while he resumed a schedule of hyper-local gigs that included a first-Friday monthly set at the music-friendly Red Bank bar Jamian’s — a tradition that he maintains to this day.

At the same time, a sold-out “homecoming” show at the Stone Pony served to “O’Ree-inforce” the fact that the guitarist was operating on a newly heightened level of play —  a fact borne out by the release of his 2016 album Brotherhood.

A followup to such multiple Asbury Music Award-winning opuses as Shelf Life, the long-player found the singer-songwriter-instrumentalist (then newly named to the NY/NJ Blues Hall of Fame) working within some rarefied company — in particular Bon Jovi charter member David Bryan, with whom he cemented his friendship and professional partnership via their co-authorship of the album’s breakout track “My Everything Is You.”

The keyboard man would go on to make several guest appearances at O’Ree gigs — and listeners would soon enough discover that the cut “Black Boots” boasted backing vocals by one Bruce Springsteen. In addition to the legendary Memphis guitarman Steve Cropper, a deeper delve into the recording sessions revealed additional collaborations with Blues Traveler harpist John Popper and Parliament-Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell— with O’Ree divulging that he’s “still sitting on”tracks featuring those artists, whose contributions were cut from the final release due to legal issues.

Even with all of that collaborative energy zinging about, the most significant partnership of Matt’s career was soon to manifest itself — and when the Matt O’Ree Band takes to the stage of Monmouth University’s Pollak Theatre this Saturday, February 9, audiences will key in on a genuine labor of love in big, bluesy bloom. Continue reading

ROBERT GORDON: THE ‘FIRE’ STILL BURNS BRIGHTLY

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, January 24 2019

Take a stroll through the Asbury Park Pop-Up Museum, the temporary exhibit now open weekends on the boardwalk through mid-March, and you’ll see among the many artifacts, images and ephemera of the city’s architectural, cultural and sociological history a set of photographs taken at the old Fast Lane nightclub back in 1978. The pictures show a recently clean-shaven 28-year old Bruce Springsteen in a very familiar setting: jamming on the Asbury stage with a visiting musician; seeking out and finding that common ground in a shared influence, a fondly remembered song, or, failing that, a boundary-busting Chuck Berry riff for any occasion.

Then there’s the out-of-town guest whose gig that was some forty-plus years ago — a slick and slender figure sporting a mile-high atom-age mutant pompadour, a finely tailored sharkskin suit, and a knowing grin that lets on he’s well aware of the value of this cool moment.

The visitor in question was Robert Gordon — and the common ground was “Fire,” the classically catchy slowdancer that Springsteen originally pitched to a still-breathing Elvis Presley during that weird interlude between Born to Run and Darkness; a time when The Future of Rock and Roll was stranded in a jungleland of litigation, even as he was giving generously of his time and talents on projects involving everyone from Lou Reed and Patti Smith to those monumental first few albums by the Jukes.

While the prisoner of Graceland apparently had other peanut butter banana sandwiches to fry — and while The Pointer Sisters would be the ones to score an eventual hit with the tune — it was Robert Gordon (and his band that included the legendary guitar wolf Link Wray) who lent his king-ly baritone and his old school “he’s good bad but he ain’t evil” savoire faire to the song’s debut in the public arena. And whenever the rising-star veteran of the same CBGB scene that spawned Blondie, the Ramones, and Talking Heads passed within fifty miles or so of the Asbury HoJo’s, any rock fan might reasonably expect that “Fire” could spark a duet between the song’s ace interpreter and its proud papa.

“Bruce and I used to do ‘Fire’ a lot in those days, not just in Asbury but in some other places,” recalls Gordon, at the top of a winter tour of northeastern nightspots. “Thanks to that song, I feel like I have a real connection to Asbury Park…I’ve been coming there forever, and I’ve always loved the place.”

The old sky-high pomp may have retreated back to earth — and the svelte suits may have been mothballed in favor of a working-class wardrobe of black slacks and bowling shirts — but at the age of 71, the voice that lent new life to the music of Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Johnny Burnette and Jack Scott (and, lest we forget, introduced many of us to the songwriting skills of Marshall Crenshaw) has lost little to none of its smooth bourbon-y blast. As the self-described “rock and roll singer” tells it, however, there’s one traditional ingredient that’s gone missing from the old vocal recipe.

“I struggled with it for a while, but I finally gave up smoking cigarettes cold-turkey, about three years ago,” he says. “I made that choice for my voice…and I made the choice for my heart. I had a heart procedure a while back…I’m feelin’ good, and I consider myself lucky to be around.”

That said, when Robert Gordon comes around Asbury town once more this Friday, January 25,  he’ll be falling back into one of the happier habits of his long career.

Continue reading

IT’S JUST AROUND THE CORNER: LIGHT OF DAY KEEPS THE AP HOME FIRES LIT

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, January 17 2019

To hear the man tell it, “Longevity is a benchmark of greatness” — and given that the speaker is Tony Pallagrosi, the words are no mere fridge-magnet platitude. After all, this is the veteran music scene mover ‘n shaker whose unimpeachable cred extends from his days as one of the cats in the band (The Shots, The Asbury Jukes), to host of some much-missed Shore nightspots (The FastLane, Xanadu), to co-founder of major concert venues and promotion entities (Starland Ballroom, Concerts East), to manager of The Weeklings — and quite possibly all the way to “the other side,” thanks to Asbury Angels, the musical memorial initiative that he chairs.

Pallagrosi, however, isn’t referring to himself, or to any of those aforementioned feathers in his cap, but to the endeavor that may ultimately stand as his most lasting legacy: Light of Day, the music-driven fundraising vehicle that’s  illuminated some of the darkest winter days and nights in this City of Summers for well nigh two decades.

Co-founded by Pallagrosi with music promo/ management pro Bob Benjamin as an awareness resource for Parkinson’s Disease research — and inspired by Benjamin’s own diagnosis with the disorder — the annual slate of star-studded happenings grew out of a 40th birthday party for Bob at the Stone Pony; taking its name from the Springsteen soundtrack song “Just Around the Corner to the Light of Day” on its way to becoming a sprawling affair that’s spanned several continents, major North American cities and additional satellite events throughout the calendar year.

Of course, along the way Light of Day became indelibly identified with the stamp of Benjamin’s long-time friend Bruce Springsteen — not just via the organization’s name, but in the very real presence of The Boss as an onstage participant and de facto ringmaster for the majority of those all-star Bob’s Birthday concerts. As an undeniable draw (and a focal point for some tantalizing will-he-or-won’t-he buzz each year), the Bard of the boardwalk has generously shared the stage with a core cast of frequent-flyer performers (including Joe Grushecky, Willie Nile, and Steve Forbert), as well as drop-in guest stars that have ranged from Southside Johnny, Darlene Love and Gary US Bonds, to Light of Day movie star (plus high-profile person with Parkinson’s) Michael J. Fox, and  The Sopranos’ Vincent Pastore.

While the nonprofit Light of Day Foundation is a year-round entity upon which the sun never sets, the heart and soul of the positively charged enterprise remains LOD Winterfest, the mid-January jamboree of activity that commandeers the stages, storefronts and saloons of Asbury Park during the post-holiday “off season” interlude when most other Shore towns are deep into a long winter’s nap. Having offered up a couple of preliminary pace-setter events on January 13 (see the feature on Bob Burger in last week’s Coaster), the circus comes to town in full force for a long weekend that begins tonight, January 17, with a choice of tuneful entertainments that includes a “Hall of Fame Jam” featuring veteran Bruce drummer Vini Lopez (Langosta Lounge), a special edition of Sandy Mack’s Wonder Jam at the Wonder Bar, and an official kickoff concert at downtown’s House of Independents that spotlights such next-gen talents as Williams Honor and Anthony “Remember Jones” D’Amato.

“No other town this small has such a vibrant music scene,” says Pallagrosi. “And at the end of the day, I want everyone involved.”

Continue reading

BOWEN APETIT: JT, FEILES GIVE A SUNDAY-SAUCE TASTE OF A NEW PROJECT

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, November 15 2018

On paper at least, it looks like a bit of an oddball team-up; a partnership between a couple of performers who — while they can each boast some deep Asbury roots and a fervent local fanbase — have earned their musical street cred working two very different corners of that musical street.

On the one hand, you’ve got JT Bowen, an R&B/soul exciter in the classic spirit of Otis Redding; a gospel-infused entertainer with a preacher’s passion, who’s long specialized in fronting big, brassy, funky-sassy organizations on the stage — and whose long association with the late and legendary Clarence Clemons ranged from the 1960s outfit The Chosen Few, to the major label recording and touring project CC and the Red Bank Rockers.

On the other hand, you’ve got Arlan Feiles, a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and Jewish kid from LA who — while he’s shared stages and studios with generations of local and/or internationally renowned music makers — has spent decades on the scene as the quintessential lone-wolf solo troubador. It’s a finely tuned songs-and-stories approach that’s allowed him to excel in settings that range from the corner of your favorite coffeehouse, to the Paramount Theatre, where he captivated the crowd during last spring’s TEDx Asbury Park program.

This Sunday afternoon, November 18, Mr. Bowen and Mr. Feiles convene inside the intimately scaled space of the Asbury Park Music Foundation’s headquarters (located inside the Lakehouse complex on Lake Avenue), for the latest in a series of Sunday Sessions sounds-and-syllables events. It’s actually an encore duet for the artists who previously shared a mini-set at that TEDx happening — and who also played for an audience of people on the go, during an August set at Newark Liberty Airport.

As anyone who’s followed Arlan or JT at any time within the past several months already knows, the 3 pm matinee also serves as an appetizer for a very special endeavor: Dig Deep, a full album of Feiles originals, interpreted by Bowen and currently being prepped for release under Bowen’s name with the help of a fan-based fundraising campaign. Check out the title-tune teaser on YouTube, and you’ll hear a powerful cry for dignity and respect; put forth with a sense of slowly simmering, righteous anger by JT’s big voice (and a surprisingly chunky rocked-up rhythm guitar) — in a way that evokes the sort of early 70s symphonic-soul heat, and bitterly cold urban landscapes, of Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, Bobby Womack and their contemporaries.

“I first met Arlan a little over a year ago, when we were both in a show at the Strand in Lakewood,” says Bowen in recalling the origins of the highly anticipated project. “I heard about him as a writer…I introduced myself and we hit it off right away, like I knew him for a long time.”

“He’s an all around real nice guy, and a very spiritual person too,” adds the singer of his new collaborator — who, for his part, told Madison Marquette’s Gary Mottola on the TEDx stage that “I’d known about JT for a long time…he’s a local hero.”

“As I shook his hand, it occurred to me that we needed to work together,” Feiles continued during the interview with Mottola. “I told him, your voice is so powerful, and it needs to share a powerful message.”

Thus did the 71-year old veteran find his newest collaborator, in a career that’s seen partnerships with Marc Ribler, and, most famously, the Big Man.

Continue reading

HONORARY SHORECAT GRUSHECKY MAKES A PITT-STOP, IN HIS HOME AWAY FROM HOME

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, July 12 2018. Photos by JOHN CAVANAUGH

If there ever was such a thing as a Mount Rushmore of Honorary Shorecats…you know, those veteran rockers whose long-running careers were nurtured in the same pool of influences as our own Asbury-area aces…and whose wall-of-sound work ethic has allowed them to mix, match and make themselves entirely at home among the stars and bars of the Jersey Shore, despite being rooted in other states/ other scenes…then Joe Grushecky would have to be considered a carved-in-granite cornerstone (our other picks: John Cafferty, John Eddie, and Willie Nile, himself profiled in this space a few weeks back).

A frequent-flyer visitor to all shapes and sizes of Asbury Park venues (plus nearby Monmouth U) for nearly forty years…and a core component of the Light of Day concerts since their inception…the Pittsburgh-based musician and educator has staked a place on our city’s boulevards, beach and boardwalk since the days of the original Iron City Houserockers, the acclaimed late 70s/early 80s band that put a particularly amped-up spin on the “working class rock” template.

“I’ve always felt a strong kinship with Asbury Park,” explains the singer-songwriter-guitarist who made his local debut in 1980, as opening act on a Convention Hall bill with Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson (who would go on to co-produce, with Steve Van Zandt, his band’s acclaimed sophomore release Have a Good Time But Get Out Alive!). It’s a well-traveled road that would carry him numerous times to the old Fast Lane, the Stone Pony (on whose stage he recorded a 2016 live album), the Paramount — and the Wonder Bar, where Joe Grushecky and the rebranded Houserockers return on July 14 for a Saturday night session that looks to be a sell-out as we post these words.

“I’ve played in Asbury at least once each year since 1993…including that era when you could drive a truck down the middle of the sidewalk and not hit anyone,” he says. “I like to think that we’ve been part of the fabric of this scene, and I’m really gratified to see the way it’s rebounded in recent years.”

“Of course, Light of Day had a lot to do with it,” adds Grushecky in reference to the annual slate of concerts — and the foundation for Parkinson’s disease research that they support — established by Joe’s manager Bob Benjamin, himself a person who’s lived with Parkinson’s for many years. “Light of Day played a large part in keeping Asbury Park afloat.”

As a fixture on the program of those big January Light of Day concerts produced by Benjamin and veteran promoter/ executive director Tony Pallagrosi (as well as ancillary L.O.D. events in places like Philadelphia and Niagara Falls), Grushecky has shared the stage with multiple generations of recording artists, in addition to movie stars, TV stars, circus stars — plus a certain Mr. Springsteen; composer of the song “Just Around the Corner to the Light of Day,” and a guy whose tendency to jam frequently with his Pittsburgh pal has made him not so much Joe’s Big Scary Friend as, quite possibly, Joe’s biggest fan.

“We share a lot of the same roots,” says Grushecky of Springsteen, who famously produced Joe’s 1995 solo album American Babylon — and who added his voice to the timely anthem “That’s What Makes Us Great” last year. “We’re the same age, same working-class background…I come from a family of coal miners…and you can say that our viewpoints are very closely aligned. It’s an easy friendship, and it translates whenever we play music together.” Continue reading

MAX WEINBERG is THINKING INSIDE the (Juke)BOX

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, June 14 2018

In a seven-day Asbury interlude that boasts no less than Bruce Springsteen among its headlining musical attractions, why opt to spend Saturday night hovering over a jukebox stocked with very-well-played 1960s and 70s hits?

Why? Because the hit-dispensing device in question is Max Weinberg’s Jukebox, the people-pleasing project personally curated and conducted by Max Weinberg himself. For this raucously retro-rocking (and hyper-currently interactive) touring attraction, the dapper timelord who’s long steered the back of the firetruck for the E Street Hook ‘n Ladder Company has secured the expert services of Messrs. Glen Burtnik, Bob Burger, and John Merjave — together comprising three of The Weeklings (profiled a few weeks back in this space), and collectively joining with Mighty Max to form a Kollege of Musical Kno’ledge whose fab faculty wrote the book when it comes to encyclopedic mastery of the rock, pop ‘n roll canon.

With a setlist determined by the audience’s choices from a video menu of some 300 songs (including a bunch of Springsteen selections, although no “Born to Run”), the act that takes the stage of the Stone Pony on June 16 claims its immediate origins in an idea from Weinberg’s manager Mark Stein — plus a bit of acknowledged inspiration from a 1986 Elvis Costello tour, in which the set was shaped by spinning a giant Wheel of Songs. But its roots draw from every aspect of the drummer’s career; from his singular stewardship of the E Street beat, to his long tenure as a network talk-show bandleader, and (perhaps most importantly) his formative years “growing up as a Jersey musician.”

“As a drummer, playing those 9 pm to 2 am club dates, you had to know how to play everything…Dixieland, cha cha, merengue…and whatever was playing on the radio, which was extraordinary eclectic in those days,” says the North Jersey native who famously honed his chops in contexts that ranged from Broadway pit orchestras, to one of the region’s leading bar mitzvah bands.

“I enjoyed impersonating other drummers…and I had a knack for where if I heard a song just once or twice, I’d learn it.”

With his early pre-Bruce forays into the land of the fast-thinking, hard-working cover bands — and his 40-plus years affiliation with a superstar songsmith who’s never been shy about working some of his own fave record-party oldies into his live sets (“Quarter to Three,” “Twist and Shout,” “Wear My Ring Around Your Neck”) — Weinberg bore unique witness to the universal power of a well-placed, generational touchstone tune. And when the “classic Jersey bar band” found itself performing for crowds of more than 100,000 in places like Barcelona, another special bit of dialogue between musicians and audience began to manifest itself. Continue reading

A SPRINGSTEEN CONFERENCE AT THE EDGE OF TOWN

Clockwise from top left: Gary Cavico and Vini Lopez, Joe Rapolla, and Pat Roddy help Monmouth University mark the 40th anniversary of Bruce Springsteen’s DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN, during a weekend of words, music, and history. (Bruce photo by Michael J. Booth; Rapolla photo by John Posada)

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, April 12 2018

From the bins of Sam Goody and Record Town — to the win-an-album wheel games where so many life-changing LPs found their forever-homes — Memorial Day 1978 came and went without an official transmission from the Future of Rock and Roll. But from the boardwalk to the bars and the bedroom communities beyond, there was a palpable “Something in the Night” that said the world would soon hear again from Bruce Springsteen, the man whose Born to Run spun the scene off its axis in summer ‘75; shining a sudden spotlight on all things Jersey Shore, and shuttling its author to a realm of national magazine covers and radio rotations.

Of course, the Boss had spent those three years locked in a legal quagmire with his old manager, and unable to release new music; a case of careerus interruptus that would have proven lethal for any less grounded artist. But he had also spent that time in careful burnishing of a growing legend — gigging throughout North America; putting his stamp on those fine early albums by Johnny and the Jukes; hitting the charts through covers (Manfred Mann) and collaborations (Patti Smith); doing cagey cameos on records by Robert Gordon and Lou Reed; watching as a slew of popular bootlegs kept the fanbase energized — and working on a massive trove of songs that would eventually become his fourth long-player, Darkness on the Edge of Town.

When the album dropped on June 2, much of the world got its first look at a new, Schick-shaven Bruce pouting out from the cover of Darkness. Gone was the grinning wolfman in the po’boy cap; replaced by a Thinking Man’s Fonzarelli whose brooding challenge suggested that the truth wasn’t out there on the highway escape routes after all, but somewhere within the papered walls and drawn blinds of a room full of secrets — and that you’d have to go through him to get to it.

The sound inside the spiral scratch was at once instantly familiar but also transitional; the word-high poetic epics and one-act playlets beginning to give way to muscular mini-manifestos, in which those working-dude hopes and dreams were sparked with the seeds (and stems) of doubt— and extinguished within the somber ballads that smoldered each side of the record to a close.

That was forty years ago; several lifetimes removed in the roller-coaster ride of Asbury Park history, and an alien place defined more than anything by all that we didn’t see coming — not the least of which was The Promise, the 2010 box set of remasterings, recollections and revisited outtakes that served to illuminate and complicate a work that had become a part of so many listeners’ lives.

Beginning today, April 12, and continuing through the weekend, Monmouth University shines new light into the heart of Darkness, during a fan-friendly International Symposium of words, music, and history that commandeers some hallowed haunts around Asbury, as well as the MU campus on the edge of town.

Continue reading