Looking back on year’s 10 favorite local shows By Don Wilcock, The Record Don Wilcock
Steve Sloan and I were in the casino on a Holland cruise ship off the coast of Mexico having a drink when he said to me, “Do you know how lucky you are living where you do?”
At first, I thought he’d had one too many, but when he explained to me that the number of quality of acts I get to cover for The Record was unprecedented, I had to step back. Sloan is the editor of BluesWax and FolkWax, two international webpage magazines that cover the best in the field. Sloan travels the world and attends the most exotic festivals and concerts on earth, and he’s praising our area. And, you know something, I get around just enough to know he’s right.
Here, then, are my personal favorite local shows of this year.
1] John Morse benefit, December, Tugboat Tavern, Cohoes : Morse won’t let you hang with him without altering your consciousness so I only lasted through seven of the 14 bands playing, but this outpouring by local bands was an incredible display of local rock energy, creativity and love by a community that has roots. Seeing veterans like Johnny Rabb and Buck Mallen and discovering Acoustic Trauma made this my number one event of the year and made me proud of my 33 years of reporting on this scene.
2]ELECRTIC CITY BLUES FEST-3]MITCH RYDER,PROCTORS-4]BOB WEIR AND RAT DOG PALACE THEATER,5]THE VISITORS,6]SLEEPY LABEEF REV HALL-7]HONEYBOY EDWARDS CAFE LENA-8]UNCLE SAM JAM RIVERFRONT PARK-9]DANNY KALB CAFE LENA-10]HARMONICA BLOWOUT REVOLUTION HALL
The Tugboat Tavern - what the locals know By: Matt Mac Haffie, the Record09/24/2008 Email to a friendPost a CommentPrinter-friendly Advertisement
If you want to know what the locals know, go with a local. My guide for the maiden voyage to the Tugboat Tavern was Cohoes resident and rock photographer, Lisa Rustin. We drove down from "the Hills" section of Cohoes crossed I-787 to easy parking on "the Island." Rustin was met by more locals outside the venue. We were greeted by a polite doorman on the way in. Once we were inside the bar our first round needs were well taken care of by sweet blond bartender in a sleek black dress. The club boasts being a place "Where you can get a cold drink made by some fun (and did I mention good-looking) bartenders" on its friendly staff. The Tugboat Tavern say that's how they do it and that's how they do it they don't make false claims. Oh and yes, my premonition of nautical theme proved true but all in good taste falling far short of a Central Avenue fern bar brand of tacky. Casual attire is the norm, where patrons range in age from mid-twenties to late forties. The place felt neither college hang out nor old man's bar - it's more just a comfortable watering hole. The music on tap for the evening was the well established Albany band, The Erotics, who for some odd reason were opening for the veteran bar band rock of The John Morse Band, who are a staple at the Tugboat. This seemed an odd pairing like the buddy picture "48 Hours." Where the studio was unsure that Eddie Murphy could carry a picture so they paired him with Nick Nolte. I get the feeling the Tugboat is a bit uncertain about an all-original band like The Erotics' ilk but let's give them a hand for trying it. Many first time patrons, with a decidedly more glam rock look, began to show up to see the Erotics. Yet despite being new to the Tavern, and eclectic looking, they were quickly made to feel at home. Rustin introduced me to her high school friend Pat McNulty, who plays Bass in the Morse band, followed by an introduction the drummer from Ohms Law, a band that also appears regularly at the Tugboat. The nigh went very well, The Erotics made believers of the Cohoes crowd and John Morse enlisted their singer, Mike Trash, to sit in on much of his set. In addition to the regular artists like Morse and Ohms Law some top notch shows are upcoming, like SubZero, whose singer Rae is not to be missed. The same case could be made for Mike and the Monsters' tavern debut. Local legend Johnny Rabb has even made a December benefit show appearance that is still talked about. The Tugboat has a very nice house sound and lighting system. The reason you, as an audience member, should care is the consistent good sound and for the band it proves it's a venue that is committed to live music. The Tugboat Tavern opened its doors on 2007 and has been open a little over a year. It is owned by Ian Caristi and Kathy Mayer and is located at 159 Bridge St. in a residential setting just off I-787. It's open seven days a week, John Morse host an open mic on Thursday and features live music on Saturday nights. ä
John Morse plays acoustic guitar like Jerry Lee Lewis plays piano. His energy defies the very definition of the instrument, overriding its physical limitations by shear will alone. I caught up with Morse last Saturday night at Kielty’s in Waterford on a solo gig. The 43-year-old rocker’s ubiquitous presence on the Troy music scene has defined the Trojan sound (if there is such a thing) for 25 years. In front of perhaps 20 casual Saturday night patrons whose requests ranged from Jimmy Buffet to Pink Floyd, Morse slapped, slid, and pummeled his instrument, plugging the unplugged to electrify his audience and command their attention.
“I didn’t expect I’d live past 27,” admits the barely contained ball of energy that is Johnny Morse. “So, at 43, I’m ahead of the game.” His eyes looked like cats eye marbles in a pool of motor oil. He’d just come off a three-day bender he admits was spent downing whiskey to a George Jones greatest hits CD in rotation with other country weepers. Morse’s personal life has always been a blur in the background of a bright rock and roll comet streaking across the local music scene. The details of his soap opera are almost irrelevant to his flame in the sky, but you know he’s going to crash eventually. One just hopes that he becomes Keith Richards and not Keith Ledger.
His enthusiasm is as infectious as his music. He hosts two open mics a week, Wednesdays as Kielty’s and Thursdays at The Tugboat Tavern in Cohoes. He’s long had the John Morse Band, and five months ago he formed Starstruck, a new group mining the same field that England’s Thin Lizzy held in the ’70s, garage rock and a punk attitude with savoir faire. He started the band when drummer Danny McCann revealed he’d been writing a lot of material. “I said, ‘What good is it if you’re not doin’ anything? You’re not getting’ out and playin’ it, you know?’”
After four rehearsals, Starstruck opened at Northern Lights for Dokken, a band that did for ’80s hair bands what Queen had done for classic rock. A couple of the guys in Starstruck were upset when they didn’t get to do an encore. Morse told them they should be flattered. “Don’t get bummed out,” he said. “Take it as a compliment. They wouldn’t let us do one more song. That means they’re worried.”
Since then, the fledgling group has shared stages with Blue Oyster Cult, Blackfoot, and Pat Travers whose 1980 hit “Snortin’ Whiskey” bragged about a lifestyle Travers, now in his mid-50s, no longer shares with Morse. “He doesn’t drink anymore,” says Morse about Travers. “So, he’s a little leery of me.” Teasingly I say to Morse that I’m sure he wouldn’t try to lead his colleague down the road to perdition. “No, not me,” says Morse in mock seriousness. “If he made it through it, and he’s still alive, God bless him.” Apparently, Travers is recording an album with high profile Steve Thompson who produced Gun ’n Roses’ Appetite for Destruction. “Maybe that’ll give him a plug to push him back (onto the charts), and then I won’t be hearing from him anymore.”
There is a sense of resignation in Morse’s voice. On one level, he’s done what few from the area have accomplished and that is make a living playing classic rock four nights a week within a 20-mile radius for a quarter century. He’s outlasted two owners at The Tugboat Tavern with an unusually pliant attitude. “I guess I just work with (club) owners, you know? If they’re having a terrible night, it’s not worth it for me to sit there and play all night and expect full pay. If it’s not worth it to them, it’s not worth is to me. So, it’s kind of like Let’s Make a Deal at the end of the night.”
Last Saturday night, Morse sang a Tom Waits song about Jersey girls that he said Bruce Springsteen covered, commenting how good the song had to be for Springsteen to want to do it. Like Springsteen, Morse is so in the now, as if this moment, this song, this lyric, this plea is his last shot at defining his musical emotion before the end of the world. By the same token, he tells his audience that Starstruck on April 4th is opening for Bret Michaels, Poison’s lead singer and star of the VH1 reality series Rock of Love at Northern Lights. “He tours around with two buses full of (naughty ladies) that try to be his girlfriend,” says Morse. “I might be jumping on one of those buses.”
What: John Morse
When: Every Wednesday and Thursday
Where: Wednesday at Kielty’s, 39 Broad Street in Waterford and Thursdays at The Tugboat Tavern, Bridge Ave., Cohoes
John Morse is one of those old school rockers who have been around forever and is still kicking ass. Although criticized by many, Johnny makes no bones about who he is, and what he does. I first heard about John on the radio sometime back when Pat Travers was playing in Albany, and Pat called into Mrozek talking about this crazy drunk guy named John Morse who just gets hammered and runs onstage to rip on his guitar. Needless to say, I had to learn more about this guy. So I checked out Johnny’s website (which greets you with an image of a sodium chloride drip filled with Jagermeister) and loved everything I saw and heard. His originals are pure booze fueled blues rock, the way it should be. It immediately struck me that John Morse is a guy who plays with all he’s got, and doesn’t give a fuck what other people think. I liked that. At this point I had many questions about this guy, and I thought, what better way to answer them than to get it straight from the Jager – Camels mouth!!!!
KM: How do you know Pat Travers? JM: I met Pat Travers a while back doing a show with him. I first played a gig with him at Tigers around 1990. Since then I have booked his band in the Albany area many times and opened up for him about 10-12 times. Just to get to watch someone of his caliber is always a treat, especially when it’s someone you grew up admiring. I also had the good fortune to share the stage with many of my childhood idols, Pat being one of my faves. Also the Robin Trower show back in the day was surreal. The Blue Oyster Cult were cool guys, as a matter of fact I just did a show with U.F.O at The Chance and they kicked ass! I do remember opening for Bad English in 89’. The band was basically half of Journey and Half of the Babies. Funny story about that one. I came off the stage and a guy says “hey man pretty good up there!” I look up and find myself face to face with Neal Schon. I then proceeded to spill a beer on his $500 shoes! Nice guy though.
KM: How long have you been playing? JM: I have been playing clubs around here since I was 13 Years old. I got my first guitar around 10 years old. And to all the haters the answer is NO I don’t practice all that much so start bashing now hahaha!!! The John Morse Band has had a total of about 2 practices in over 20 years (I know it shows right!).
KM: Name your favorite Albany clubs, past and present. JM: Most of the clubs I liked are long gone, like the NYC Cafe back in the 80’s (lots of hot ladies dressed like video vamps, and Wednesday nights ladies drank FREE!). Saratoga Winners was the shit in the 80’s as well, I did a lot of shows there, and they also had lots of hot ladies. The Sandpiper was always a good time too. Used to be a different scene back then! Nowadays, I love to play anywhere there are cool people who dig what I do and like to drink! P-4th is always cool (HI ARTIE), Humpy’s is one of my favorites ‘cause the owner is cool as shit, and it is a very small club with cool drinking people that like to have fun. I like opening up for the 80’s hair bands at Northern Lights. I like to see how the older groupies have aged!! The Bret Michaels and Vince Neil shows were a hoot by the way. I didn’t watch the bands much, it was more of a people watch gig and hanging out in our bus drinking and whatever else.
KM: What is the difference between your band and Starstruck? JM: Starstruck is classic old rock like Thin Lizzy, Rainbow, and will be mostly be all original music soon. We are working on new tunes but only practice once a week due to my schedule. The band consists of me on guitar, Bill McCann on vocals, Dan McCann on drums, and C.J. Benenati on bass. The John Morse Band is mostly covers with some originals off my album, “Life On The Bottle,” which are drinking songs and good old blues.
KM: How much do you love Jagermeister? JM: I have a bit of love for the booze, can’t drink the hard stuff as much as I used to (doctors orders) but I still love Jager. I drank a lot of it in Ireland.
KM: Do you have any old school groupie stories from back in the day? Or any crazy story that you wouldn’t mind sharing (like about broads)? JM: Well as far as groupies go I take my craft very seriously and don’t get involved in those sorts of shenanigans (hahaha). I have been doing this a very long time and can’t even remember all the stories. I’m saving them for my tell-all book (hahaha)!
KM: What’s in the future for The John Morse Band and Starstruck? JM: The John Morse Band is myself, Pat McNulty on bass, and Jim Fisk on drums. We just like to play and have a good time. We are looking forward to doing it as long and hard as possible! The bar scene is kind of rough around here these days, so just to play 3-5 times a week after all this time is an accomplishment (and don’t forget about the free booze}. Starstruck is working on new original music and hoping to record later in 2010. Then we’re looking to tour a bit.
KM: What do you have to say to all of the haters out there of John Morse? JM: Well there certainly are a lot of Johnny haters out there. I would say you have too much time on your hands to sit and bash me on Craigslist. Maybe you should try playing out once in a while, or get drunk, or maybe even find yourself a woman if that’s possible. Really what does that say about you if you have to bash a drunk fuck like me all day? Could you maybe aim a little higher? I guess some people’s lives suck so much they have to bash others. I don’t have the time for that shit. I’m too busy trying to get gigs and have fun! I also just noticed some people bashing your mag on CL, WTF? You’re just trying to have some fun, I don’t get it.
KM: Neither do we. Thanks Johnny for answering some questions with us. Keep Rocking!
JM: Cheers and Thanks to you too! Be sure you all check out www.johnmorseband.com www.myspace.com/thejohnmorseband and www.myspace.com/starstruckalbany. Look me up on Facebook as well! Happy Holidays! John Morse for 3/5/09