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

MACK DADDY: THE ‘JAMILY’ PATRIARCH’S AT THE HEAD OF THE TABLE IN JANUARY

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, January 3 2019

For a couple of generations’ worth of Shore music fans, he’s a scene stalwart and a living landmark whose presence remains every bit as reassuring as a favorite club or neighborhood watering hole. To his fellow music makers, he’s the go-to man for all manner of sessions and sitting-in situations; a blues harp ace who can stake out harmonious common ground with acoustic old-schoolers, supercharged axslingers, roots rockers and alt-Americana songsmiths alike — or as local radio linchpin Rich Robinson said, “he could sit in with anybody like he’s played with them forever.”.

But perhaps above all else, Sanford “Sandy” Mack is the keeper of a weekly ritual that rivals any family’s most cherished Sunday-sauce tradition. At 4 pm, during every so-called “day of rest” on the calendar, an extended “jamily” of musical regulars, guest players, fans, friends, and drop-in passersby convenes inside the lobby lounge of the Asbury Hotel for a little gathering known as Sunday Jam— a lovably loose but enviably organized afternoon-into-evening that offers up a sonic smorgasbord of danceable Dead, concise classics, and some often wild workouts on things you’d least expect. All of it presided over by Mr. Mack, the patriarch of this Jamily and the founder of the feast that’s been an Asbury Park fixture for the better part of a decade.

“I’ve been doing Sundays around town for about eight years now,” says Mack, speaking amid the game tables, ultra-designey bar and conversation pit of The Asbury’s Soundbooth Lounge. “I started at Asbury Blues, and continued there when it became The Press Room…it was the first place where I ever did Grateful Dead music…and then (Stone Pony honcho) Kyle Brendle asked me if I would do a Wonder Jam event each week at the Wonder Bar.”

Those Sunday sessions at Lance and Debbie’s Circuit landmark became the stuff of latter-day legend in themselves; happenings that generated their own momentum, drew a fairly fervent fanbase, and soon had a whole lot of top-shelf talents expressing a desire to sit in. But when it came time once again to relocate the moveable feast, Mack was momentarily at a loss as to where to go next.

“I was curious about The Asbury…it didn’t look like my kind of place;; kind of upper crusty, you know…but I reached out to them,” he recalls. “They originally gave me three dates, to see what happens…that was a year and a half ago, and as you can see we’re still going strong!”

Sandy Mack will once more sit at the head of the figurative table this Soundbooth Sunday, January 6 — but before that, the harpist and a crew of his fellow Jam-mates will be performing a very special gig that’s required an unusual degree of rehearsal: a set paying tribute to The Allman Brothers, scheduled as part of A Celebration of Jam Bands.

Going up this Friday, January 4 at Asbury Lanes (where Mack and company were one of the first acts to play the reborn bowl-a-rama in a “soft opening” event last spring), the program further features the Grateful channelings of The Cosmic Jerry Band, as well as a Phish tribute featuring members of Secret Sound.

It also represents a return to the Duane/Gregg catalog for Mack, who teamed with Marc Ribler for a classic Allmans tribute a couple of years back. Joining in for the occasion will be Jam standby Mike Flynn, key man Arne Wendt, guitarist Big John Perry,  plus bassists Mike Caruso and Mike McKernan, drummers Kevin Johnson and Dan Donovan, and special guest Matt O’Ree. Stu Coogan of 90.5 The Night Brookdale Public Radio hosts the tenpins taproom throwdown, with doors at 7 pm and admission a positively spit-take-inducing five bucks.

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