Ranked by Billboard as the #1 Adult Contemporary Artist of all-time, Barry Manilow’s unparalleled career is made up of virtually every facet of music, including performing, recording, arranging, and producing.
With more than 85 million albums sold, Manilow is also ranked as one of the world’s all-time best-selling artists, with songs that include such timeless classics as “Mandy,” “I Write The Songs,” “Could it Be Magic,” Looks Like We Made It,” “Weekend In New England,” and “Copacabana (At The Copa).”
On Friday, August 12, Manilow will bring his musical legacy and arsenal of hits to PPL Center in Allentown, PA as part of his “Manilow: Hits 2022 Tour.”
Every stop on Manilow’s current East Coast jaunt will also bestow a Manilow Music Project’s Music Teacher Award, where a winning teacher from each city, based on voting, will receive a five-thousand-dollar cash award and another five thousand in “Manilow bucks” to purchase instruments for their school’s music program.
I recently spoke with Barry Manilow about his new tour, music, and some of the most memorable moments of his career in this exclusive new interview.
What can fans expect from your performance at PPLCenter in Allentown?
Barry Manilow: There were years that I was out doing shows with medleys of big band songs and show tunes and album cuts. These days, I know what people want. They want to hear the songs they know and I’m happy to give it to them. I’m very lucky that I’ve got ninety minutes of hit records that I can go to. Every song is familiar to audiences. They sometimes sing even louder than I do at these shows and we all have a great time together. With the world the way that it is being an entertainer is a big responsibility. So, the lights will go down, the doors will close, and I’ll get to take them into a place that feels safe, joyful, and full of music. That’s my job and I love doing it.
Some may say that I’ve crossed over. That the torch had finally been passed along to me from my father, much the same way as his father and his father before him had passed it down to their sons. Yesterday, much like the way that guy in the comic books becomes The Incredible Hulk, I came very close to metamorphosizing into that dreaded three-letter word—old.
The truth is, I’ve never thought of myself as that three-letter word that I will no longer mention to describe me. That word is reserved for people who are much more advanced in age then I am. Those are the people who grew up having their milk delivered to them by a man in a horse drawn carriage, or someone who once wore saddle shoes while playing hopscotch with her friends. The same people who listened to Buddy Holly or Peter, Paul, and Mary on the radio and were forced to watch Lawrence Welk on Sunday evenings at their grandmother’s house. The same poor souls who claimed to walk two miles to school barefoot in ten feet of snow and had parents who gave them enemas at the slightest inclination of a stomachache. That word is reserved for them, not one for someone as cool, and young, as me.
Sure, I may have grown-up but I still do most of the same things I did as a child: I still play guitar, not very well but enough to amuse myself. I still enjoy reading the box while relishing bowls of Lucky Charms and Cap’n Crunch cereal. I still play video games, though not as often as I’d like, and am still a big fan of superhero and Godzilla movies. I even continue to do chores like mowing the grass and taking out the garbage. I’m still fourteen years old if you really want to know. All that’s missing is a little more hair on my head and the loss of the forty or so pounds I’ve gained over the years.
Ok, unlike when I was a child, I’m forced to do my own laundry and make my own meals. I have to go to work every day but I make my bed without being told and fix things around the house when they break instead of leaving it for someone else to do. I do all the things a grown-up should do, but that shouldn’t put me in the same league as those three-letter-word people, should it?
And I confess, when I look in the mirror, I do see a little bit of gray in the beard, but no one has ever said a word about it to me. Besides, I’ve done a pretty good job at covering it up. Just for Men is working just fine, thank you very much.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, the crossover to becoming that three-letter word.
It happened yesterday when I was at my ten-year-old daughter’s softball league end of season celebration. It was a chance for a team of girls who had played hard all season to experience one final round of camaraderie together, along with some swimming and several slices of pizza. After dinner, the girls were even treated to a make your own ice cream stand supplied by their manager for a sugar rush farewell.
I’ve been conscious of watching what I eat, so I passed on the ice cream and sat down at one of the empty tables while my daughter and the others stood in line. I enjoyed watching the girls giggling with each other as trickles of soft vanilla ice cream from their waffle cones ran down their arms.
At one point, I recognized a woman who was standing in line for ice cream with her daughter. Someone I hadn’t seen in a very long time. It was a girl I’d gone to high school with, and I decided to go over to say hello.
It was a lot of fun catching up with my former classmate. We had a good time discussing what all of our classmates might be doing now, and the lives they all were leading.
“Wasn’t it just yesterday that we all were in Mr. Kasperkowski’s science class?” I asked.
“Oh, I didn’t have him,” she answered. “I had Mr. Opitz for science. I do remember both of us being in Mr. Siddons’ history class.”
“That’s right!” I said, feeling a bit ashamed for confusing science with history. Then I asked if she could believe that next year was going to be our 25th class reunion. Looking back now, I think that might have been the precursor to what happened next, because once our conversation was over and I sat back down at the table, my daughter made a public service announcement to all in attendance.
“All softball team members sit at this table,” she announced, pointing to the table where both she and I were sitting. A moment later, a stampede of ten-year old girls with half-eaten ice cream cones started sitting down at the table with us. It felt great to be enjoying a moment with my baby girl and her teammates.
Unfortunately, one of the girls who joined us at the table thought something was a little out-of-place. The little whipper snapper pointed to another table where all of the parents were sitting. She measured me with her beady eyes.
“This table is for the girls,” she proclaimed. “THAT table over there is for the OLD people.”
I quickly tried to think of something to say. You know, some sort of a witty comeback. Sadly, all I could muster was, “Hey, I’m not old, YOU’RE old!” But all that did was invite the rest of the girls on a sugar high to come to her defense. You’ve got to love the way teammates stick up for each other.
Realizing I was outmatched I finally conceded and slowly rose from the table to join the other men and women who were closer to my own height. But don’t think for a minute that me leaving their table is an admission that I actually am that three-letter-word, because I’m not. The truth is, I could have battled those girls all night with my grown-up rhetoric if I had more time. I just didn’t want to make them look bad in front of their parents. In my mind, I’m as young as I want to be, no matter what any ten-year-old girl thinks.
Later, on the drive home and while she was mindlessly looking out the window, I stuck the tip of my index finger into my mouth, moistened it with my tongue and then reached over and gently poked it into my daughter’s left ear.
“DAD!! KNOCK IT OFF!” she screamed, as I manically laughed out loud.
It was early in the evening of June 9th, 2022. I’m going to have to mark it in my journal so I don’t forget. I’d just spent the day working in the yard and doing everything possible to make it look presentable for another week. The truth is, no matter how much you mow, how much you edge, or how many weeds and dandelions you pull from the earth, you’ll inevitably have three to five days respite before the process will need to be repeated. Nature waits for no man.
As twilight was settling in, I slowly pushed my green John Deere lawn mower back into its usual place in the garage. Residual grass clippings, which had been pasted to the chassis of the machine for most of the afternoon, now began falling onto the concrete floor in small bushy clumps. By that point I was too lazy and in no mood to even think about sweeping them up. I was much too tired and they would have to wait until morning. Despite the thought of having to clean up the excess grass and being completely drained from today’s labor, the smell of sweat and gasoline that permeated my senses gave me a wonderful feeling of accomplishment.
I went inside, grabbed a beer from the refrigerator and walked out on to the patio to admire my handiwork. As the first drams of alcohol hit the back of my throat, I could already feel the weight of the day leaving my shoulders. Tomorrow there would be sore muscles and excessive sunburn, but for now it was time sit at the patio table and enjoy the warm summer breeze that had picked up as the day was drawing to a close.
That’s when I saw them for the first time this year – June 9th, 2022.
I believe the correct term for them is Photuris lucicrescens. Some others might use the word “fireflies” in their vernacular, but here in the Northeast portion of the country, we refer to them as lightning bugs. A bug that even the person with a severe case of insectophobia will usually find attractive. Sure, the butterfly is beautiful and the ladybug is often considered a symbol of good luck, but as far as I’m concerned, nothing compares to the majesty of the lightning bug, and I’ll be happy to tell you why.
You see, there are certain things in life that remind you of the different seasons of the year. We all know that when crisp leaves begin to fall from the branches of trees, autumn is here. The first snowflake that appears in the cold, milky sky means winter is on its way, and when flowers begin to spring up from their deep sleep, we know that spring has indeed sprung. But when we see the first lightning bug of the year, it’s magical. Like welcoming home an old friend. One who’s been gone for months and has now suddenly come back with word that summer is finally here.
Long before I became experienced in the art of the lawn mow, my early summer evenings as a child were spent catching these illuminated creatures. Nothing could compare to spending an entire day swimming with friends from the neighborhood and then seeing how many of these flying creatures we could catch as dusk settled in.
If I close my eyes now, I can still picture it. Me, running barefoot through the dark back yards of my neighborhood, wearing nothing but shorts and a tank top. My youthful skin glistening with chlorine-riddled sweat, the smell of crisp honeysuckle in the air, and without a single care in the world except for the task at hand. Summer had just begun and the arrival of the first yellow bus calling children back to school was a long way away. It was pure freedom.
There was always a feeling of wonder after you’d caught one of God’s miracles of childhood. Then, as you slowly open your cupped hand, you watch its blinking body escape your palm and climb to the highest point of your extended index finger, where it would spread its wings and fly off into the night.
Sometimes my friends and I would poke holes into the lid of an empty mayonnaise jar and fill it long blades of freshly cut grass to contain our electric treasures. Then we’d all take turns marching through the yard with our makeshift lantern. When the lightning bugs became lethargic from being trapped inside of our glass house, we’d release them back into the sky to rejoin their winged friends.
The most fun of all though was during what I liked to call the “magic hour.” This was usually around 9 p.m. and right before my parents would call me in for the evening. You’d notice the frenzied firestorm of lights in the yard as the lighting bugs danced in unison to nature’s song, but soon one bug would seem to burn bigger and brighter than the rest. It was the granddaddy of all lightning bugs making an appearance.
Granddaddy was the coolest bug of all and, as you might imagine, was almost impossible to catch. Every time he’d land on a bush and you’d get close enough to grab him, he’d take off and hover just out of reach above your head. It was as if he knew the measurement of his assailant. I’m sure he was thinking, “Ok, this kid is four feet eight inches tall, so let’s hover six feet five inches off the ground.” But if you were lucky enough to capture a granddaddy when he let down his guard, you were always the winner of the evening’s festivities. It was childhood summer at its finest.
I’d just finished my beer when the real firestorm of lights began. It was just as I remember from childhood but something I hadn’t so much as thought about for at least forty summers.
Then it happened.
There, out of the corner of my eye, I saw granddaddy flying slightly above my head. I stood up and used my now adult-sized hand to make a grab for him. Still smart as ever, he calculated the precise distance of my five feet eight-inch frame and rose just high enough to be out of my reach.
I sat back down in my chair and smiled. The adult duties of lawn mowing vanished and I continued to think about those carefree summer nights of childhood. Then I wondered how there could possibly be any interest in watching television or playing video games during this magical time of year.
Especially when there’s so much entertainment right in our own backyards.
As an original member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame band Kiss, Ace Frehley and his Spaceman image inspired legions of fans to pick up a guitar to try and imitate his musical wizardry.
His 1978 release was the highest selling of the four Kiss solo albums. His reunion with the band in the mid-late 90′s helped return the group to sold-out stadium performances. In 2011, Frehley’s autobiography, “No Regrets,” also turned the artist into a bona fide New York Times bestselling author.
As he celebrates nearly 50 years as an artist, Frehley is set to bring an arsenal of Kiss and solo hits to a performance 8 p.m. Friday at Stroudsburg’s Sherman Theater.
I recently spoke with Frehley about his local show, his tenure with Kiss, memorable moments, and even asked him the elusive question of whether he’ll be joining his former bandmates one last time in this exclusive new interview.
James Wood for The Morning Call: What can fans expect from your performance at The Sherman Theater?
Ace Frehley: We talk with fans often and they pretty much tell us which songs are their favorites, so we’ll be performing a variety of Ace and Kiss hits. Songs like “Cold Gin,” “Rip It Out,” “Detroit Rock City,” and “Deuce.” I’ll also be doing my light and smoking guitar effect.
You mentioned the song “Cold Gin,” which appeared on Kiss’ debut album. Can you tell me the origin of that track?
I actually wrote that song while I was on a subway going to rehearsal. I came up with the guitar riff and then the lyrics came. But I don’t have any set formula for how I write. Sometimes I’ll write the lyrics first and the music will come second. There’s no set way of writing songs.
Chicago has always been my kind of town. I’ve been there several times, mostly on business, and did not regret a single minute of it. From the moment I enter the subway at O’Hare and take the Red Line south, there’s a familiarity about it that almost feels like home.
Here I am again, arriving alone for more training on a software application the hospital I work for uses. No one from work ever goes to conferences with me and, quite frankly, it doesn’t really bother me. I actually like flying solo on my business excursions, but never expected this visit to Chicago would change me in a way I never thought possible.
I had just finished eating my usual deep dish pizza at the original Uno restaurant when it happened. Yes, the Uno that started it all. Don’t even waste your time going to the chain ones you see. Those just aren’t the same. Corporate always has a way of ruining things. But I highly recommend the original Uno if you’re ever in town. For me, I like to sit at the bar and order the Chicago Classic. That and a Goose 312. The deep dish and beer is more than enough to put me into food coma for the rest of the night.
As I waddled outside into the evening twilight, I began to take in the whole Chicago vibe. The lights on the Harley Davidson store down the street caught my eye immediately, and although they don’t actually sell motorcycles there, it was a cool place to go to get some swag. A way to be biker even if you didn’t ride. I began to wonder how a store like that could stay in business in downtown Chicago. I surmised that just the presence of Harley Davidson in a big city is more than enough reason for a company to pump endless amounts of money into an unprofitable store.
I looked north and thought about the possibility of taking in a Cubs game this week if the software conference sessions got out at a reasonable time. That is, unless the sales guy decides at the last minute to take a bunch of attendees out to dinner. One look at my mid-section will tell you I’m not one to pass up a meal. I could easily find time to hob nob and chat with people from different hospitals all over the country, provided of course, that a free steak was involved.
And that’s when I really noticed it.
It was something all too familiar but something I hadn’t seen for a very long time in it’s natural habitat. I found myself standing next to what was probably the last phone booth on the face of the Earth. One that has the word “Telephone” prominently displayed across it. One that Clark Kent might use in order to change into Superman. The ones I thought had gone the way of the dinosaur ever since mobile phones became all the rage was right in front of me.
As a child, I always loved using the old school phones. Even when I was around eight or nine and would occasionally receive a call from the neighbor kid across the street, the whole “telephone” process fascinated me. I loved how you just could pick up a receiver, plug your index finger into one of the small plastic holes and begin rotary dialing (remember, we’re talking old school here) a combination of numbers until someone on the other end of the line would answer. My aunt even had one of the first new-fangled, push button versions. She was really living large.
I suddenly remembered some of the fun things I used to do during my phone touting experience while I was growing up, like dialing zero for the hell of it, just to reach this person called an operator. Of course, when she would answer, I’d always giggle and then hang up. After about the third or fourth time doing so, my father would soon receive a phone call from the frustrated woman scolding him for allowing his children to dial the operator. Let’s just say that it didn’t end well for me but, sure enough, a month or so later I’d be right back it. Just like Dad’s Playboys hidden in the nightstand next to his bedside, there was something taboo about dialing zero that was too good to pass up.
And don’t even get me started about those old “Dial a Joke” Jim Backus commercials I’d see on television. “Just call 976-JOKE for today’s joke… CALL NOW!” Mr Howell would plead, and who was I to say no when the guy who also played Mr. Magoo told me to call him? I think at one point my bottom was red for a week when the phone bill had an extra $25 on it from me half listening to the stupid, pre-recorded jokes at 99 cents a minute.
Funny now, not funny then.
Even before Dad had passed away three years ago, I still remember us having a good laugh about my phone adventures at his bedside. As the IV’s slowly pumped morphine into him and despite his pain, something about me telling him the red ass phone stories made us both laugh out loud. And for a moment, I wondered if laughter could possibly be the unknown cure for cancer. It sure seemed possible.
But yeah, me and the phone go way back.
This particular booth actually still had the tattered phone book dangling from a small metal chains. I imagined how many people had let their fingers do the walking through it over the years. I had a strange urge to see what year the phone book actually said. My guess was somewhere in the late nineties, but before I could verify and claim a mental victory, the phone abruptly started to ring. Ringing and no one standing there to answer it. No one but me.
Maybe it was my childish subconscious telling me that it was Jim Backus calling that made the deviant young kid who liked to have his phone fun start making his way forward. Here I was in a big city, with no possibility of receiving a red ass and with absolutely nothing better to do until my software conference starts tomorrow. As I trudged towards the booth, I began thinking of interesting ways I could answer the phone.
Would I say something like, “Dave’s Pizza – We Deliver?” Nah, too predictable. Maybe I could talk in a Chinese voice and pretend to be the dry cleaner down the street. That was a possibility, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able pull it off without laughing. Either way, if I grew tired of the game I could just hang up the phone and head back to my hotel.
Just to be sure I wouldn’t be caught, I quickly looked around to see if any legitimate phone answerer was there waiting for a call. I realized I was alone and slowly stepped into the booth. I could immedialtey feel the claustrophobia and could smell the old paper, cheap beer and stale cigarettes from years of calling and receiving calls.
I placed my hand on the black receiver and, as carefully lifted it up to my ear, decided I was now a gainful employee of Dave’s Pizza on the south side of Chicago.
“Dave’s Pizza – We Deliver. Can I take your order?” I said, confidentaly.
That’s when my heart lurched inside of my chest. It felt like a vacuum had sucked all of the air out of the booth. There was a rush of vertigo and it became hard for me to breathe. I quickly realized Dave’s Pizza was out of business.
“Jimmy? Jimmy it’s me,” a weak voice on the other end of the line said.
Chicago faded into darkness as the whole world turned dull shades of black and white. Of all the things I could say, only one word came to mind.
After thirty-five years of trying, and subsquently putting it off for various reasons, today I finally graduate from college. There are so many emotions I’m feeling right now. Not just about the achievement, but my life’s journey over these last three and a half decades and how a global pandemic became the spark that would ultimately bring me to this day.
In order properly tell this abridged version of the story, I first need to go back to April of 1987, when I was a senior at Easton Area High School and met with my guidance counselor to discuss my future plans. Plans which, as far as I was concerned, only included world domination as a rock star.
By that point, I’d already been playing guitar for two years and knew that it wouldn’t be long before Atlantic Records would be knocking on my bedroom door at home with a six-figure recording contract. Of course, that wasn’t going to happen, and before graduating high school, I ultimately decided to pursue a degree in music education.
I started out at Penn State, going to classes and getting all the student loans they would give me. Back then, they pretty much wrote you blank checks, and I used the money for important things, like guitars, amps and taking my friends out to expensive dinners. Side note: It took me until 2010 to finally pay off all of my student loans.
I dropped out of Penn State halfway through the fall 1987 semester for a reason now that escapes me. Although I bet it had to do with wanting to be a rock star. A year later, I decided to give it the old college try again, this time enrolling at Northampton Community College, before transferring to West Chester University. I received all A’s at NCC and made the move south in the Fall of 1989, where I continued to rack up every loan they handed out.
In the Spring of 1990, with $1.37 left to my name, I bailed West Chester to start a job at Easton Hospital, and by bailed I mean I just left. Didn’t tell anyone and didn’t even officially drop out. I guess you know what my WCU transcript says about that. If not, keep reading.
In the mid-90’s I went back to NCC to take a few science and computer programming classes but, that too, eventually went no where. Although I passed those classes I didn’t continue, and I wouldn’t even think about college again for the next 25 years
Fast forward to the fall of 2020. The world is in the early stages of lockdown for Covid-19, a pandemic that was killing thousands of people every day. I’m sitting at my dining room table recalling all of the terrible things that had happened in my life recently – mostly, the loss of my mother in March and being let go from my job just a month later. There was a lot of uncertainty.
My daughter, herself a recent Easton High School graduate, was looking into taking a virtual course at Northampton Community College and I helped her go online and schedule. As I was browsing the college website a strange thought popped into my head. I wondered how many classes it would take for me to get a degree — any degree at all.
It took some work but I was able to gather transcripts from Penn State and West Chester, the latter one allowing me to see all the F’s I’d earned thirty years earlier. I took all of the information and forwarded it to NCC. A few days later an advisor contacted me and told me that if I took five classes: Environmental Science, Geography, English II, Developmental Psychology and Nature of Mathematics, I would be able to graduate with an Associates in Arts degree in the Spring of 2022.
“Spring of 2022?” I thought to myself. “Who the hell knows where any of us will be by then?” Then I thought about it some more and said, “You know what? Fuck it. Let’s go!”
I enrolled in the Winter of 2020 and, fortunately, was in a position where I wouldn’t need student loans. I’d take things one class at a time.
These last 18 months weren’t easy. I mean, how could they be, I’m a 50+ year old dude who hasn’t picked up a college textbook in 25 years, and also had to continue to navigate a full-time job, take care of a house and pay bills. Environmental Science and Geology were eye openers, Developmental Psychology was interesting and English II, which is right up my alley as a writer, was a piece of cake.
The last class though, Nature of Mathematics, nearly killed me. Believe it or not it was so hard that at one point I actually considered dropping out. But I’m so glad I was able to bury that give up attitude I had as a young adult because — well, today is the day I’m graduating from college.
Touting itself as the most authentic Queen live show since the days of the original lineup, Almost Queen delivers a high-energy live performance that showcases Queen’s signature four-part harmonies, lavish costumes, and intricate musical interludes.
The band, featuring Joseph Russo (”Freddie Mercury” / vocals), Steve Leonard (”Brian May” / guitar and vocals), John Cappadona (”Roger Taylor” / drums and vocals) and Randy Gregg (”John Deacon” / bass and vocals) prides itself on capturing the intricate sound of the studio albums and bringing it (live) to the stage.
Fans can expect to hear Queen classics like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “We Will Rock You,” “We Are The Champions,” “Another One Bites The Dust,” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.”
With the overwhelming success of the Academy Award-winning film, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” fans may lament not having been able to have experienced the original line-up, but Almost Queen promises to be the next best thing.
I recently spoke with Almost Queen bassist Randy Gregg about the band’s multiple performances in the Lehigh Valley area and more in this exclusive new interview.
James Wood for The Morning Call: What first attracted you to the original band and how did you become involved in Almost Queen?
Randy Gregg: Queen has been one of my favorite bands ever since I was five years old. Back then a neighbor of mine would play Queen records all the time and one day he played me “Tie Your Mother Down.” I guess my jaw must have dropped because he said, “Oh, you like this?” [laughs]. Then he put on “Bohemian Rhapsody” and that was it.
I began writing the Queen logo all over my kindergarten workbook. As time went on and I became musical and toured in other bands, I quickly realized that Queen was the best band around. I remember I had just come off a tour with Thin Lizzy when I got a call asking if I’d be interested in playing in a Queen band. For me, it was a no-brainer. Even after eighteen years in this band I still get chills playing on stage. There’s not one song that I don’t like to perform.
Two legendary artists are set team up for an evening of guitar-driven blues and classic rock when guitarist G.E. Smith and British drummer Simon Kirke (Free, Bad Company) bring their “We Rock U Roll” tour to the Sellersville Theater X p.m. Saturday
Smith, a Stroudsburg native and frequent performer at the theater, is no stranger to music fans. He served as guitarist for Daryl Hall and John Oates during their formative years in the 80s — performing on albums with monster hits like “Kiss on My List” and “Private Eyes.” He was with them in Philadelphia for the Live Aid festival in 1985 where he also played with Mick Jagger and Tina Turner.
Smith would later become music director of “Saturday Night Live.” A position he held for 10 years before returning to touring as a sideman with such artists as Bob Dylan and Roger Waters.
Although they’ve occasionally worked together in the past, Smith and Kirke’s performance marks the first time the pair has taken their friendship and love of music out on the road.
I recently spoke to G.E. Smith about the upcoming “We Rock U Roll” performance in Sellersville (8 p.m. Saturday), his Stroudsburg upbringing, and much more in this exclusive new interview.
James Wood for The Morning Call: What do you like most about performing at The Sellersville Theater?
G.E. Smith: Well, one great thing is that I’ll get to stay at my brother’s house in Stroudsburg [laughs]. Sellersville is a good feeling theater. I like that town. There’s a nice hotel next door where we’ll have dinner, and a lot of people I know from the area will also come to the gig. These are people I grew up around.
Ann Wilson is one of the premier hard-rock vocalists of all time. Smashing boundaries with longstanding Seattle outfit Heart, she’s enjoyed a decades-long career resulting in more than 35 million albums sold and an induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Wilson recorded much of her new solo album, Fierce Bliss, at the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, Alabama, and enlisted the company of a trio of guitar powerhouses for good measure: co-producer Tom Bukovac, Warren Haynes and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
Haynes, who last worked with Wilson on her Immortal solo release, returns for Fierce Bliss, bringing along Gov’t Mule for a pair of original songs: Gladiator and Angel’s Blues.
Shepherd accompanies Wilson on two covers: a monstrous version of the Robin Trower classic, Bridge of Sighs, and an ambitious take on the Eurythmics’ hit, Missionary Man, the latter of which has Wilson backed by a 40-person gospel choir.
An ethereal duet version of Queen classic Love of My Life with Vince Gill is also featured on the album, as well as fantasy art by Roger Dean, renowned for his work designing Yes’s sleeve artwork.
We spoke with Ann Wilson about Fierce Bliss, working with Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Warren Haynes and her favorite memories of Heart.
Was it your desire to create a guitar-driven album?
“Yeah, that’s what I’m comfortable with and what speaks to me. I was blessed to get into the company of Tom Bukovac, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Warren Haynes. They’re great players who are also great humans. After we got vaccinated, we all put on masks and went to Muscle Shoals, where Tom had put together this band with Tony Lucido on bass and Sean Lane on drums.”
The band 10,000 Maniacs has covered a lot of ground during its 40 years together. From small niche market to international stardom, their current status is among the cornerstones of alternative music.
The band’s live show celebrates their musical legacy by embracing songs spanning its entire catalog and features a lineup still anchored by four of the six original members.
Viola player and backing vocalist Mary Ramsey began touring and recording with the Maniacs more than 30 years ago. She assumed the role of lead vocalist shortly after the departure of Natalie Merchant. Ramsey’s first album fronting the band was 1997′s Love Among The Ruins. The album featured the group’s ethereal take on the Roxy Music hit, “More Than This.”
The band will play will perform selections from their vast collection of hits at 7 p.m. April 26 at ArtsQuest’s Musikfest Cafe. Listeners can expect a few surprises during an intimate performance.
Fans can enjoy songs like the aforementioned “More Than This” as well as “These Are Days,” “My Mother The War,” “Rainy Day,” and “Because The Night,” the Patti Smith classic that became a monster hit for the band during its MTV Unplugged special.
10,000 Maniacs is Mary Ramsey (vocals, viola), Steven Gustafson (bass), Dennis Drew (keyboards), John Lombardo (guitar, vocals), Jeff Erickson (lead guitar) and Jerome Augustyniak (drums)
I recently spoke with vocalist/viola player Ramsey about the show and more in this exclusive new interview.
James Wood for The Morning Call: What can fans expect from the 10,000 Maniacs’ performance at SteelStacks?
Mary Ramsey: We have a variety of tunes from the Maniacs catalog over the years to choose from. We’ll be playing the hits as well as a few surprise covers. There’s a song John Lombardo will sing called “My Mother The War,” which goes way back. I have an electric five-string Zeta viola I play so we’ll do some Celtic tunes here and there as well. It’s an interesting blend of different sounds that work nicely together.
The band has been celebrating its 40th anniversary and you’ve been with them for more than 25 years. Can you give me some of the backstory on how you came to join the group?
I suppose it was all fate, John Lombardo had left the group for a while in the 80s and the two of us met and started a duo called John and Mary and were signed to Ryko Records. In 1990, 10,000 Maniacs released the Hope Chest CD. Some of John’s contributions to that CD were a few of the first songs the band had written, and they asked us to open for them. That was when Natalie [Merchant] asked if I’d like to sing background vocals and add strings to their set. That’s how I got on the MTV Unplugged performance. It was a thrill.