So here I am in Washington, D.C. after a solo show at the lovely City Winery. I'm booked at a fancy hotel a half mile from the White House. Had I been aware that the majority of rooms here had windows overlooking a sprawling view of the lobby and not the outdoors, I probably wouldn't have stayed here. However the lobby is kind of pretty, and I realize I am lucky to stay here. When I think back to the early days, staying at the very un-fancy Motel 6's, where the windows overlooked eighteen wheelers, Waffle Houses and drug dealers pacing the parking lot, the lobby view is pretty ok.
THE PUSH STARS
But in those days, I didn't care where I stayed. I was with my band of brothers, a band called The Push Stars. We started out as a lark. I had decided I wanted to make a career of music, and I met Ryan (MacMillan) when I would take any gig I could get, and his band happened to be on the same bill one night. He liked my songs, and I thought he was an amazing and charismatic drummer.
I had absolutely nothing to offer as far as opportunity goes, but somehow, he wanted in. Later, we went to record some demos with a friend of another friend (from my brief stint in college) who was working at a great recording studio in Woodstock, NY. We had no bass player, so the friend of a friend offered to fill in. He was brilliant. A few months later Dan (McLoughlin) moved to Boston to be our official bass/keyboard player and we came up with a band name.
We had no game plan other than to play live as much as possible. We found a gig in Boston (a bar called the Common Ground in Allston, MA that is still there) that would book us on a regular basis despite the fact that we had no following. They’d pay us $250 a night to play for a few stragglers. Gradually, more people showed up, then even more, and then there was a line down the block.
We were so eager to tour that we would take a one-off gig 12 hours away just for the experience. Our eagerness and ambition would get the better of logic 100% of the time, but a funny thing happened, we became a full time band.
We supported Julian Lennon on our very first national tour, met friends like Great Big Sea and Matchbox 20, and toured with them too. We had songs in movies like "There's Something About Mary" and "The Devil Wears Prada”. We signed multiple record deals; from a local Boston label to Capitol Records, who had signed the Beatles and Frank Sinatra.
We spent almost a decade on the road together. For better (gigs) and for worse (gigs). We had so many thrills…and hangovers. We decided to take a break when we felt like we couldn't push the boulder up the hill any further on our own.
Our friendships were intact, which was not the story of most of our friends' bands that had fallen off.
At that time, I realized I had no other marketable skills but to write songs, play and sing so I kept going. We were all supportive of each other's endeavors.
That is the condensed version of who The Push Stars are, for anyone who has come on board to my music recently...which I only tell you because the boys and I just released a new record together.
3 FEET IN THE AIR
We had always talked about doing it, and we finally did. After visiting Memphis, TN and going to Graceland, Sun Studios, and finally Al Green's church, we had completed the perfect trilogy of inspiration to make us want to record there.
In typical Push Stars spirit, we decided TO do it before we knew HOW we would do it, but that may be what I love most about the band.
We had lunch with Al Green's musical director, Brandon Gaddy Rayborn, who encouraged us to record in Memphis by saying that not only would he play on our record, but he would bring in some of Memphis's finest.
I got really excited and went back to Boston and wrote a batch of songs. I had studied our catalog, especially our last album, “Paint the Town”, so that I could imagine what might have been our next step musically and lyrically. It was a fun process to feel like a "hired gun" for my own band. The inspiration was quite natural.
Ryan had found us a great studio in Memphis called Ardent Studios. It's owned by Jody Stephens, who played in an influential band called Big Star (he also played some tambourine on our record). REM recorded their album "Green" at Ardent. The Replacements recorded "Pleased to Meet Me" there, Al Green had worked there, Led Zeppelin too. So, the studio certainly had it's share of mystique. We felt lucky to walk through the door.
The nicest thing about the process was that it felt like we didn't miss a step. And we got to immerse ourselves in the Memphis music scene. For those of you who have never been to Memphis, it is like the antithesis of Nashville. It is soulful, gritty and mysterious. We felt welcomed there, and didn't want the experience to end.
You may hear all of it on the record. A band with a rich history following their hearts, or their muse or whatever you choose to call it. You will feel a little Memphis and you will feel a little of Al Green's church.
Al Green is one of the last living soul legends, and he just happens to spend the majority of his time preaching at a (relatively) small church on the outskirts of Memphis. He had been a pop star, had some personal drama, and set his sights on a spiritual path. One of my friends had strongly recommended we go check out the service.
Upon further exploration, I found out that Al Green is not always there preaching on Sundays. You can't depend on it, but if he is, get ready to be blown away. And blown away we were. Sitting not more than 10 yards away from one of the greatest voices in history, hearing him sing for an hour and a half straight, with an amazing band, and a choir that sounds like it's singing directly into your soul.
It's hard to describe, but when you hear the Push Stars’ album, you will hear a little of that same Al Green choral feel on the songs "Into the Bright Lights" and "Wrote a Song for You”.
BUFFALO MUSIC HALL OF FAME
Anyone who knows me well will know how much of a huge deal this is for me: I’m being inducted into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame. I will join the ranks of Rick James, the Goo Goo Dolls, 10,000 Maniacs, Chuck Mangione, Ani DiFranco, etc....
Not a night goes by where I don't talk about Buffalo on stage, what a wonderful and underappreciated place it is. It's the place I learned to pick up a guitar, shape a melody and dream up a lyric from the hidden depths of my imagination. Most of all, it is my story, for better or worse, and it is the story I tell no matter how far I travel.
There is a special spirit there, and a kind heartedness that you don't find in most other places. And the fast food there is the best in the country, hands down. Sure we may suffer from some bad sports teams and some rough winters, but we do it with love and dignity.
And my own little geeky sidebar: the barbershop quartet from “The Music Man” (movie version) is also in the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame, the aptly named Buffalo Bills. When I was in 9th grade, I was chosen to be in our junior high's barbershop quartet. And believe it or not, it was a huge deal in our school. It's still the closest I've ever felt to Beatles level hysteria being directed at me. When we performed at our 9th grade farewell concert, the rafters shook. So I became obsessed with all things barbershop, and the Buffalo Bills were the best quartet of their time, enough to make it to Hollywood and a major motion picture. This is what thrills me.
My induction into the Hall of Fame is on Thursday, Oct 11th in Buffalo, and it's open to the public, so If anyone wants to road trip I'd be honored.
As always, come say hi on the road, be true to your school, and thank you for your beautiful ears.