Blues guitarist Joanne Shaw Taylor, playing Easton’s State Theatre, talks about rocking with Joe Bonamassa and her musical personality

Blues guitarist Joanne Shaw Taylor, at age 16, was discovered by Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics and over the past two decades, has proven herself as a guitarist and prolific songwriter.

She’s received praise fans and artists like Joe Bonamassa, Stevie Wonder and Annie Lennox for her distinctive style and soulful voice.

Taylor has released three albums in the past year, including “The Blues Album” (produced by Bonamassa and Josh Smith) which debuted at #1 on the Billboard Blues Chart.

Her new album, “Nobody’s Fool,” is another collection of catchy hooks and riffs and includes the lead single “Just No Getting Over You (Dream Cruise)” as well as Taylor’s spin on The Eurythmics’ hit “Missionary Man.” Bonamassa also joins Taylor on the original song, “Won’t Be Fooled Again.”

Taylor brings her infectious blues prowess to Easton’s State Theatre on Nov. 12.

I spoke with Joanne Shaw Taylor about the show, her new album and more in this exclusive Morning Call interview.

James Wood for The Morning Call: Is your tour stop in Easton part of a larger run of dates you’ll be doing?

Taylor: We’re doing three weeks here in the States in November and then straight to the UK for three more weeks. We’ve got a bigger Spring run through the U.S. in March and April that’ll start in Florida and make its way out west.

What can fans expect from your upcoming performance at The State Theatre?

For people who know my stuff, it’ll be a bit of a mix. In the past year, we’ve done three albums: “The Blues Album,” “Blues From The Heart: Live,” and the new album, “Nobody’s Fool.” With COVID kind of shutting down touring for a bit, all of that material is still fresh. I say this tongue in cheek, but I’ll also play a selection of greatest hits from the older albums. It’ll be a good night of the best of my catalogue played by an explosive band.

Read the rest of my

Interview with Joanne Shaw Taylor by Clicking Here.

My Father

Where to begin?

There are so many things I remember about my dad. He was a tough guy, a south paw that everyone else in my family respected. He was a hard ass at times and someone you didn’t want to get into a scuffle with.

But beneath the exterior, dad also liked to have fun, too. Some of my best memories from childhood were of him taking our family on long camping trips with my other relatives every summer. One that particularly stands out was when we spent nine days at Knoebels Amusement Park and Campground, where it did nothing but rain day and night for three days. My brother had been given the title, chamber maid, and had to dump the contents of a large bucket outside. To do this, my mother and father dressed him up in an oversized garbage bag. A make-shift rain coat, if you will. I still have photos of him dressed in his work clothes.

I’ve heard more than one person say that having all of us crazy “Woods” in one place during the summer was a sure sign of the apocalypse. But there was no fire or brimstone raining down. Hell, all we ever did was play cards, fish, pitch quoits and burn marshmallows as we sat by the campfire.

Of all the times my father and I shared together, there are three moments I’d like to share with you today:

1. The Stop and Think Moment

2. The Drifting Apart Moment

3. The Prodigal Son Moment

The Stop and Think Moment is the one I’ll probably remember most of all. It all began, curiously enough, during a rain storm in summer.

It was late afternoon and I had just come home from playing a neighborhood game of tackle football just prior to the rain. I was upset at having gotten into a fight with one of the neighborhood kids (over what I can’t remember). Dad was sitting alone at the kitchen table, wearing his usual white, cotton t-shirt, drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette.

Our home didn’t have central air conditioning, so to keep cool during storms we’d open the windows just enough to let the breeze in while keeping the water out. We’d also use big portable fans to help vent the kitchen. The smell of the hot asphalt street outside cooling down from the steady stream of rain would often fill the room and, thankfully also allow a respite from the second-hand smoke.

It was on this particular occasion that Dad saw his dejected son and asked him what was the matter.

“So and So threw the ball at my head,” I said, or something similar to that effect. And for the next fifteen minutes Dad gave me a lecture on football, friendship and life. “Stop and Think…”, he’d say. “Did you do anything to bring on this situation?”.

Inevitably, there would have been something I had done to put at least some of the blame on myself. I’d usually start with a “but…but” and he’d always continue on. Telling me to just “Stop and Think” for a minute.

“Stop and think,” he’d say. “Do you think that person who thinks he’s so tough and treats you bad is your friend? He couldn’t fight his way out of a wet paper bag.” I still laugh to this day about that one.

On certain days now, when the weather is grey and rainy, I’ll sometimes sit at my table staring out the window and think of that day in the kitchen. I never forgot “Stop and Think.” Someday I’ll probably write a book about it and dedicate it to him.

The Drifting Apart moment came during the separation and eventual divorce of my parents in the mid 1980’s. By then alcohol, which has always been the Achilles heel in my family, had estranged me from my father. We spoke many times over the years on the phone and in person but rarely when beer hadn’t influenced him in some way to make conversations short.

My brother and sister would see and talk to him way more frequently then me. They were able to see past the alcohol. I couldn’t. Soon I was off to college and living on my own and the phone calls became less and less frequent. Sometimes months would go by where we didn’t speak at all and were lost to each other.

I eventually heard that he had remarried but the next time I would actually see him for any extended length of time would be at my own wedding in 1995. It was a bit awkward at first but I remember it being one of the best times of my life.

It’s not that I didn’t love him or anything like that. On the contrary, the love I had for my dad never changed. The separation was just a result of our going our separate ways and me not being able to deal with him in that condition. Especially when it got to the point where nothing was ever going to change.

Which brings me to why I decided to write about my dad.

My father died 25 years ago today, October 17th, 1997. Whenever I think of this day I inevitably think of The Prodigal Son Moment.

It was mid 1996 when I got a call from my aunt telling me my father was in the hospital. They had found a mass in his colon and were operating on it. The doctors thought they had caught it in time. They advised him to give up drinking and smoking if he wanted any chance of fully recovering and, surprisingly, he agreed to it.

The next 15 months were spent reconnecting with my dad. Ironically, the one thing I remember most is going to the bar with him and my brother for the first time (myself now also a legal drinker) and watching him play the poker machines and nurse a non-alcoholic beer.

One might assume that a bar would be the LAST place I’d want to take my father to all things considered. And truth be told I really didn’t want to go into the lion’s den either. But he was adamant about taking his sons to the bar with him. Maybe it was some kind of rite of passage that made him this way, kind of like working one a 1965 Ford Mustang in my uncle’s garage a block away. Maybe it was just to prove to me that he finally had control over his problem. Whatever the reason, and after everything he had gone through with his cancer treatment, he wouldn’t take no for an answer. So, off we went.

Sadly, his condition continued to worsen until he was finally hospitalized in August of 1997. A man who had just celebrated his 51st birthday was now lying in a hospital bed with tubes sticking out of him and morphine running through his veins.

I visited him almost every chance I could in between my full-time job and duties at home. Some nights when it was just he and I, we would have long conversations. Although I selfishly longed to have another Stop and Think session, at that point I was willing to take whatever I could get.

When October rolled around, his condition deteriorated. I remember sitting at his bedside while he was going in and out of consciousness, closing my eyes and asking God that if he was going to take him, to please not take him on my birthday. Any day but on the 5th. It was selfish but I just couldn’t bear the thought of living out the rest of my days knowing that my father died on my birthday. Looking back now, it wouldn’t have even mattered.

Yet someone on high must have heard me because I was able to spend my 28th birthday with him. The best gift I’ve ever received. And over the next ten days it seemed like he was actually coming around a bit. There was reason to hope even though the doctors had all told us he was the sickest person in the entire hospital.

October 17th, 1997 – 10PM. It was just me in the darkened hospital room. My brother and sister weren’t there. My father’s wife had stepped out of the room for a moment. The single light over his bed softly illuminated the gray beard on his thin face, and the beeps from the saline drip and morphine pumps were the only thing that stirred the silence.

Now I’m no expert on theology but I do believe souls can feel when another soul moves on. For as he began gasping for breath, something inside me told me the end was near.

At that moment, I felt the temperature dramatically drop in the room. So much so that I began to shiver. It was like being in a warm room and stepping into a freezer. And I’ll go to my own grave feeling this way but I swear, at that moment, I had this overwhelming feeling that someone was coming for him.

I told him I loved him and, although his eyes seemed to be fixated somewhere else, he was able to say that he loved me back. And that was when my father uttered the last word he’d ever speak. One that I had never heard him say anytime before.

“God”.

Silence.

Tears streamed down my face. A man who never so much as went to church and who, to my knowledge at least, never said a prayer or even read the Bible. The last word he ever spoke on this Earth was “God”.

What did he see?

The alcohol, the distance between us and everything that happened in the past was gone. All that mattered was that he was my dad, and I was there with him at the end.

25 years later I lament about so many things. Mostly of all the things I missed out on with him.

Cancer has done horrible things to my family. Things I hope no one ever has to go through. But in some odd way, with all the pain and suffering that it brings, there’s one thing I have to actually be grateful to it for.

Without cancer, I probably never would have gotten my father back.

Birthday Reflections at 53

October 5th, 2022 – my 53rd birthday.

This is my twelfth entry in this series of birthday posts. Something I started shortly after I began my writing journey in the fall of 2011. 

To be honest, and especially with everything that’s happened over the course of the last few years, I didn’t feel like posting anything at all, but instead of rehashing all the gloom and doom about viruses, failed leadership and elections, I’ll try to remain upbeat. After all, it IS the greatest day of the year:

Birthdays are the one day where we, collectively, celebrate the individual, and by that I mean we don’t use the day as a reason to inundate social media with over the hill jokes, pay for lavish lunches, or give someone a number of spankings equivalent to their new age, plus an extra one to grow on. Although I do remember that was the best part about attending birthday parties as a kid in the 1970s, so long as you weren’t the one on the receiving end.

No, the real reason people blow out candles, consume large quantities of cake, receive greeting cards (hopefully, with a few greenbacks in them) and open whimsical presents is to commemorate the day you arrived on Earth.

You’re alive, and that’s reason enough to celebrate.

For me, it seems like it was only yesterday that I was a youthful teenager; driving me and my buddies around in a beat-up, 1972 Toyota Corona (honest, there really was a car named “Corona”). Going to the mall on Friday nights after school, pouring my hard-earned, summer lawn mowing earnings into video game cabinets and drinking gallons of Orange Julius and wishing I could somehow muster up the courage to go over and talk to the cute girl who was standing with her friends outside of the Listening Booth record store. Ah, youth.

Wasn’t I the one who was able to go to rock concerts and stay up til the wee hours of the morning? Sitting in some dingy diner; smoking cigarettes, eating cheese fries and drinking gallons of coffee while talking to friends about what would happen when we took on the world and made all of our dreams came true? Now, I’m lucky if I can stay up til 10 p.m. most nights.

There’s an odd sense of immortality you have when you’re young that makes you believe time will always stand still, and that you’ll never be as old young as your parents. But then, one day, you take a nap and wake up in their role. To give you some perspective, my father died at the age of 51 (twenty-five years ago this month). As of today, I’ve outlived him by two years.

I promised I would keep things upbeat for this post so I won’t continue to rehash the past. Instead, I’ll talk about the future. In addition to continuing to do interviews for The Morning Call newspaper and Guitar World magazine, I’m also still in the writing process of several books. Something that has been put off for quite a while but something I am extremely excited about. I am thinking perhaps a collection of short stories — perhaps two novellas in one. Five years is long enough. It’s time to make it happen. More on that in the months ahead.

I’m also still dabbling a lot in watercolor painting. Not only has it been a great stress reliever but it’s something you can do that doesn’t cost a lot of money and where you can literally see your progress every day:

I called this one “The Road Beyond 50.” If you visualize yourself in it, the painting is a metaphor for life. You can’t see where you’ve been (the past) or the scars that you carry. All you can see is where you’re standing now and the road to what lies ahead of you. As in life, there is beauty all around us and a brave new world just waiting to be explored. I plan on doing a lot of exploring in the days, weeks and months ahead.

I hope my next trip around the sun, and walk down this path, brings all of us a sense of hope, peace and most of all, love. 

Easton State Theatre concert preview: The Orchestra is set to play ELO’s greatest hits

With a pedigree dating back to the early days of the Electric Light Orchestra, members of The Orchestra continue to tour and perform the music of ELO to generations of fans.

All six group members were once part of ELO II, which formed shortly after the original group disbanded.

On Oct. 7, The Orchestra will bring ELO’s catalog of classic and symphonic rock hits to Easton’s State Theatre for an intimate performance.

Mik Kaminski (violin) is the longest-term member of the group, having not only worked with ELO II and The Orchestra but has also recorded many of ELO’s biggest hits and toured the world with Jeff Lynne and the original lineup from 1973 through the early eighties.

In addition to being a keyboardist and vocalist for The Orchestra, Eric Troyer has contributed his talent as a session artist on monster hits for John Lennon, Billy Joel, Bonnie Tyler and more.

The Orchestra includes Kaminski (violin), Troyer (vocals, keyboards, guitar), Parthenon Huxley (guitar, vocals), Gordon Townsend (drums, vocals), Glen Burtnik (bass, vocals) and Louis Clark (orchestral keyboard, cello, guitar).

I spoke with Mik Kaminski and Eric Troyer about the upcoming State Theatre show, the music of ELO, and more.

James Wood for The Morning Call: What can fans expect from The Orchestra’s performance at the State Theatre?

Mik Kaminski: They can expect to hear all of the ELO hits that I’ve been playing for nearly 50 years. I still get great fun out of playing songs like “Mr. Blue Sky,” “Living Thing” and all the other favorites. As long as the audience is with us we’ll be doing it as long as we can.

Eric Troyer: We’ve been touring all around the world playing the songs the way they were written and recorded by Electric Light Orchestra. Mik was in the original ELO lineup and I’ve been doing it since the ELO II days that started in 1988. It’s an engaging and exciting show to watch. We really enjoy playing this music.

What do you think makes the music of ELO so timeless and special?

Troyer: It’s classic rock, a high point of the rock and roll era that speaks to everybody. These songs are still used in movies and many other things. It carries the torch and becomes familiar to other generations. We have a lot of young people coming out to see us.

Kaminski: Every time you walk into a supermarket there’s an ELO tune playing. It’s embedded in people’s heads. Jeff Lynne’s writing was, and still is, brilliant. He’s a very talented guy.

Read the rest of my

Interview with Mik Kaminski and Eric Troyer by Clicking Here.

Barry Manilow, set to play Allentown, reveals secrets behind the songs and personal triumphs

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.

Read the rest of my

Interview with Barry Manilow by Clicking Here!

Young As I Want To Be

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.

There I go again, being childish.

Lightning Bugs

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.

 Lightning bugs.

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.

Sherman Theater concert preview: Kiss’ Ace Frehley talks about crazy memories and possible band reunion

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. 

Ace Frehley – Photo by Jay Gilbert

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.

Read the rest of my

Interview with Ace Frehley by Clicking Here.

The Phone Call

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.

Ring one.

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.

Ring two.

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.

Ring three.

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.

“Dad?”….

Graduation Day (Part One)

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.

Me graduating from high school on June 11, 1987

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.