Smiling through

Upbeat Jonathan Edwards hits Ogunquit for birthday show

Though born in Minnesota, raised in Virginia and college educated in Ohio, Jonathan Edwards is a New Englander all the way. He came here in 1967, hoping to get a record deal with his bluegrass band Sugar Creek. “We didn’t know at the time that we were about three years too late for that,” Edwards said in a recent phone interview; the scene had peaked. “But we stayed here anyway.”

Their first show after a long drive from the Midwest was on the Harvard Green; a humbling experience, Edwards recalled.

“We found a place to park right in front of the stage, and there was Earth Opera playing,” a seminal Boston band including  David Grisman and Peter Rowan. “We had never seen nor heard anything like that in our little parochial life in Ohio… it was like, ‘uh oh, we’re in some high, deep cotton here, boys.’”

Sugar Creek did make, 1969’s Please Tell A Friend. Other than that, though, the band gained little traction, and Edwards went solo in the early 1970s. “I liked the sound of bronze strings on rosewood better than steel strings on magnets,” was how he explained the decision in one interview.

It’s that spirit Edwards is bringing to his shows of late. All are solo, apart from longtime piano player Tom Snow joining him on his birthday July 28 in Ogunquit – “he’s giving me himself,” Edwards said with a laugh.

“It brings me back to how I started out,” he continued. “The first night I walked out on stage, I wasn’t 20 feet from the microphone and somebody yelled out, ‘you suck!’ I figured I no place to go but up from that point.”

That he did – his first record spawned the monster hit “Sunshine,” and found him opening for the Allman Brothers, B.B. King and other greats. Edwards has made 15 albums since, including the buoyant Honky Tonk Stardust Cowboy and four other 70s LPs, a bluegrass collaboration with Seldom Scene, and a children’s collection called Little Hands.

His most recent is Tomorrow’s Child, which came a relatively short time after his first studio collection in over a dozen years, 2011’s My Love Will Keep. What sparked the creative burst?

“I had taken some time off to be on the road and enjoy that aspect of creativity, but the stars all fell together,” Edwards said, crediting songwriter and producer Darrell Scott for inspiration. “We got together and he made this amazing dinner; we started talking songs and playing guitars and pretty soon we had an albums worth of tunes right there on the table.”

Many were deeply personal songs, touching on Edwards’ experience as an adopted child, and his public revelation that in the mid-1960s, he’d given up a child for adoption. “They all fell into this category of family and love and reunion… all these things that I was going through pretty hard at the time,” he said. “It all fell together really magically and that’s what you’re left with on the sound of that record.”

Few interviews with Edwards fail to touch upon his biggest hit. “‘Sunshine’ was a perfect song for the Vietnam era and what my generation was going through,” he said when the subject came up. “It’s still clinging to it today, and I’m proud of that. I’m glad that my one hit song in the world wasn’t ‘Yummy, Yummy, Yummy, I Got Love In My Tummy.’”

Were it not for a producer accidentally erasing a song called “Please Find Me” (seriously), “Sunshine” wouldn’t have been on the record at all, causing all manner of cosmic dominoes not to fall.

“It probably would have come out on another album, had I had a chance to do another album,” Edwards said, adding that if a first record stiffs there’s no guarantee of a second. “These are the hands of fate that come in and mix up the pot, and point you in a direction that you have no control over… you have to be aware of those course corrections, and take advantage of those moments, because they’re important.“

Ex-pat pop

KurtBaker2When Kurt Baker toured with his punk pop band The Leftovers, and as a solo act beginning in 2010, one luxury he always allowed was satellite radio in the rental van. It stayed locked on a single station,Underground Garage, packed with bands  that inspired them like Ramones, Blondie and The Plimsouls, along with up and coming acts.

“For us it was awesome,” Baker said in a recent Skype interview from his home in Madrid, Spain. “There were great DJs on there and great garage rock, both new and old stuff.”

His bandmate Geoff Palmer one day decided to send the station a single by his band, The Connection. To his delight, their cover of the 1956 Moon Mullican hit “Seven Nights to Rock” was named a weekly Coolest Song in the World. When Underground Garage creator Steven Van Zandt asked Palmer if he knew any other good bands, he pointed them to Baker.

Baker subsequently racked up multiple Coolest Song wins, on his own and with The New Trocaderos, his side project with Palmer and  Brad Marino, also of The Connection. Last year, Van Zandt signed him to Wicked Cool Records and released Baker’s latest album, In Orbit.

Inconveniently, satellite success happened right around the time Baker moved overseas. He’d grown weary of the withering punk pop scene in his home base of Portland, Maine, and its sharp contrast to to the energy he’d found in Europe. “It was a buzzkill to come back; finally, I decided to see about living in Spain, see if I could do it.,” Baker said. “I had enough money for a few months, but it really worked out …  there are a lot more opportunities for my style of music, and a culture for it that feels really comfortable.”

Initially, Baker was a troubadour, accompanying himself on guitar. Then offers to play summer festivals started to arrive, and he recruited three natives and has kept busy ever since. For a guy whose motto is “have a good time, all the time,” it’s a perfect situation. There’s something about Spain,” he said. “There’s just a huge appreciation for rock and roll, power pop and garage rock.”

He’s returned home to visit family and play an occasional solo gig, but the new record has given Baker the chance to tour with a full band for the first time since 2013. A March 23 show at Dover Brickhouse includes his band Kurt Baker Combo, The Connection, label mate Soraia, and 90s legends Watts, now with Tim McCoy of Heavens to Murgatroid’s on bass.

“Tim has helped us out many times back when I was living in Portland; he helped set up shows and we’d go down,” Baker said “We’re friends, and we’ve had a lot of fun together in the past, so I’m really looking forward to playing with him and seeing those guys.”

What promises to be one of best rock shows to hit the region in years is the second stop on a tour that stops in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Milwaukee (home to Baker’s favorite basketball team) and Washington, D.C. The two-week run wraps up in Boston on April 7, with a show at Allston’s O’Brien’s Pub.

The busy schedule leaves Baker little room for other work, so studio time with The New Trocaderos will have to wait for another visit. “There is word of maybe doing a new record in the future, so who knows? It’s a fun project,” he said. “We’re kind of like this New England Rockpile – Geoff, Brad, Kris Rogers and I have always played together, and we’re always in each other’s bands.”

Conceived by Los Angeles songwriter and producer Mike Chaney, the supergroup has released one album – 2015’s Thrills & Chills – and three EPs and the single that launched the project, “Money Talks” backed with “The Kids” – both written by Chaney. Along with longtime Seacoast cohort Rogers, the band includes drummer Rick Orcutt.

What keeps it fun for Baker? “I really love playing live and seeing the expressions on people’s faces when they’re listening to rock and roll and having a good time, also meeting people and visiting new places,” he said. “The Combo’s been touring a lot this year, we’ve been to Sweden, Austria, Germany … that’s what keeps interesting, to be able to tour and play. I feel fortunate to be able to do this. As long as I can still do it, I will.”

Kurt Baker Combo, Soraia, The Connection and Watts

Where: Dover Brickhouse, 2 Orchard St., Dover

When: Thursday, March. 23, 7 p.m.

Tickets: $7/cover – see

Local Rhythms – My Favorite Years

I don’t really have a definitive answer to the question, “what’s your favorite band?”  Before the Beatles, all I cared about was television cartoons.

All I cared about after was … rock and roll, so it’s probably the Fab Four.

But I can tell you my favorite time – mid-1970 to mid-1972, right after the Beatles officially broke up, and a new order stepped in to fill the void.

The shear amount of music released in that short time was staggering.  Many great bands made their best albums – “Who’s Next,” “Aqualung” and “Sticky Fingers” come to mind, but that just scratches the surface.

There’s Neil Young’s “After The Gold Rush” and Paul Simon’s masterful first solo record.

Don’t forget the Stooges’ “Fun House” or Miles Davis’s “Bitches Brew.”

There was definitely something in the water.

Alice Cooper’s three best records came out in the space of 16 months – “Love It To Death,” “Killer” and “Schools Out.”  I could say the same for Black Sabbath – their eponymous debut, “Paranoid” and “Master of Reality” were a fine triple play, but that band’s fans are a scary lot, so I’ll let them decide.

Two artists in particular made a career’s worth of music in those two years.  Elton John may have become famous for “Bennie and the Jets” – a novelty song, in my opinion – but he won me over with four flawless albums in a row over two years.  Those songs filled a well that Elton’s (justifiably) never stopped returning to.

Rod Stewart took a smidge more than two years to make his four best records (I’ve been embarrassed for him since “Hot Legs,” so don’t even go there).  But during that time, he managed to finish a pair of great discs with his band the Faces.

That’s six records, an average of one every four months.  If you wonder why this stuff endures, it’s partly because there was just so much of it.

None of this nostalgia makes me want to go and re-live it at a live concert – when “Hippie Fest” recently rolled through town, I just chuckled.

But there are some excellent DVDs from the period.  The best, “Fillmore,” can only be found on eBay.

Every generation has their own golden era, but none as prolific as this.  These days, could anyone even afford to make so many records back to back, even if they did come up with the material?

Well, maybe Ryan Adams…

What’s live this week?

Thursday: Fred Haas & Peter Concilio, Sophie & Zeke’s – Two busy bees in the area’s cross-pollinating jazz scene get together.  Haas plays sax and piano, occasionally at the same time, while Concilio lays down the rhythm on bass guitar.  Fred plays next Wednesday at Elixir with his wife Sabrina Brown on vocals, while Peter sits in with Emily Lanier a couple of times (including the 28th at this Claremont restaurant) before month’s end.

Friday: Yer Mother’s Onion, Cornish Fair – The much-loved YMO hasn’t been gigging much of late, but they always play this Fair, now in its 59th year.  Other performers coming to the stage over the weekend include country singer Tammy Jackson’s band, the traditional sounds of Maria Rose, the Celtic-inspired Spirit Fiddle and the local singing group Gospel Train.  If you don’t like that, eat some fried dough and go on one of those spinning rides.

Saturday: For the Heroes, Twin State Speedway – A Nashville-based musical contingent visits Claremont to celebrate the men and women in our uniformed services.  Military, police, fire and rescue workers get in free, and the music starts at 4:30 (contrary to a report in Sunday’s paper). Local bands Little Memphis, High Ground and foreverinmotion join the artists behind the recently released “For The Heroes” country music compilation.

Sunday: Jeffrey Foucault, Armadillo’s (Keene) – One of my favorite new folksingers, with a dusty, weathered voice and songs that cut to the quick.  “Northbound 35” is, in my opinion, one of the five or six best songs written in the last 10 years – “you were as much in my hands as water, or darkness or nothing could ever be held,” he sings, and the blood just drains from my heart.  That’s what a good song should do.

Monday: Music Showcase & Jam Session, Summer Mansion (Hartland) – Ringmaster Dave Clark sends out an invite to “musicians, artists, dancers and music lovers of all stripes” to bring their instruments and voices for a collective good time.  Heck, what else is happening on Monday night?

Wednesday: Hal Ketchum, Iron Horse –
A Claremont favorite who’s played two memorable Opera House shows does an intimate Northampton club date.  Expect songs from his upcoming “Father Time,” a record Neil Diamond calls “so real and unpretentious and so much fun to boot.”

Finally: R.I.P. Doug Bashaw, a good-hearted, talented and enthusiastic participant in the area music scene.

Meadowbrook Marathon – Live, Collective Soul & Blues Traveler

In what could have been billed as a festival (Post-Grunge-Palooza?), three bands that helped shape rock in the 1990s shared the stage at the Meadowbrook U.S. Cellular Pavilion Saturday night.  Live, Collective Soul and Blues Traveler each attracted their own focused contingent of fans, a testament to the decade’s fragmented music landscape.

Few acts reached critical mass back then, but plenty did the kind of respectable business that today’s performers would welcome.  This fact also made the ride home from a sold-out show easier than usual at the end of the night; many fans headed for the parking lots after seeing their favorite perform.

It also gave those who stayed an enjoyable 6-hour musical marathon.  Many spent a large portion of the show milling around in the two lounges adjacent to the stage, each of which afforded excellent views of the stage.

The facility’s design allows fans to be connected to the musical action no matter where they stand.  With each show, Meadowbrook continues to impress, both with its staff and amenities.  The venue is as much a star as the bands on stage.

The afternoon sun still shining brightly, Blues Traveler strolled onstage without introduction.  They set the bar high early with a scorching version of Charlie Daniels’ “Devil Went Down to Georgia,” followed by their biggest hit, “Runaround.”  On “Mullin’ It Over,” John Popper’s harmonica playing echoed the Stones’ “Midnight Rambler” during the extended jam, which ended when the band uncorked “But Anyway” – one of the best moments of the night.

They played a few selections from the upcoming “North Hollywood Shootout,” including “What Remains,” a loping rocker featuring rich organ swirls and passionate vocals from Popper.  Opening act Hana Pestle then joined the band for Steve Miller’s “The Joker.”

The crowd rose to their feet immediately for Collective Soul’s well-received set. The band went from a whisper to a scream on songs like “December” and “Shine,” while 45-year old lead singer Ed Roland ranged across both ends of the stage like a man half his age.  During “Better Now,” Roland hauled ten women (and one over-energized man) onto the eight-foot tall stage to dance, much to the consternation of the security team.  Later, he invited John Popper out to join them for “Hollywood.”

While headliner Live played several familiar songs (“Selling The Drama,” “The Dolphin’s Cry,” “They Stood Up For Love”), their set also featured some nuggets.  They did “Black and White World,” from their first album, and a reworked version of the Johnny Cash song, “I Walk the Line.”  The latter caused a kerfuffle when Daughtry tried to pass off the arrangement as his own on “American Idol” (they’ve since made nice).

There were a few overly earnest moments.  Lead singer Ed Kowalczyk spent too much time introducing “Turn My Head” as a giant hit record he used for his wedding ceremony (did he hire a band to play it?), but Live’s 90 minutes of family-friendly rock was for the most part easily digested.

Though with a relatively equal amount of platinum records (each band has four – Live’s “Throwing Copper” is the biggest seller of all), Collective Soul could have topped the bill – or Blues Traveler, for that matter.