B.B. King thrills State Theatre crowd
“Openers Steve Brosky and Jimmy Meyer played a great seven-song, 30-minute set of roots rock. A highlight was Allentown native Brosky’s “Cadillac Radio” It’s a tribute to listening to music in his 1974 Eldorado. “That’s when I heard B.B. King and The Stones,” he sang.”
-April 1, 2009
Beyond the Shades: Steve Brosky’s move from trendy to troubadour is no trouble
By Geoff Gehman Of The Morning Call
Forget the fedora. Forget the yellow glasses and the red guitar. Forget the beatnik goatee, the jive talk, the hip salute to the unhip Pennsylvania Dutch. After 24 years as a streetwise saloon singer, Steve Brosky is ready to be more real.
The Allentown native gets down to the business of life on ”Trouble” (Darktown Records), the latest and deepest of his four full-length recordings. The CD jumps all over the map just like Brosky, who plays all over northeastern Pennsylvania.
”Cadillac Radio” is an R&B ode to big old music and big old loving in a big old car, ”U Mean the World 2 Me” a lyrical love letter to a saintly spouse, ”Shadez of Blu ‘n’ Otis” a bluesy elegy to two popular bassists. Assisted by an all-star band of local musicians, Brosky makes a serious bid to be known as a serious troubadour.
”I’ve definitely gotten to that space where being the hip one – well, that’s for younger folks,” says Brosky, who will perform material from ”Trouble” next weekend at the Raubsville Inn. ”The trendier sort of stuff – hey, I’m beyond that. I’m finally playing music that’s real for an audience that knows it’s real.”
For three decades Brosky has hung out at the corner of Reality and Blues. He’s chronicled funky defunct music bars (the Cameo in Allentown), funky neighborhoods (Darktown, the Hokendauqua hamlet where he lives with his wife and his daughter) and funky characters from his funky old stomping ground, Allentown’s 6th Ward.
For a solo show he invented Hey Now, a vet based partly on his time in Vietnam. Even his 1983 novelty hit, ”Hey Now (Do the Dutch),” has a political past. He and his friend, arts journalist Paul Willistein, wrote it as a cheeky critique of Billy Joel’s ”Allentown,” which they considered an overly bleak picture of rust-belt America.
Brosky is certainly serious about being a professional musician. He plays more than 150 dates a year from Bucks County to the Poconos. He gigs pretty much anywhere: restaurant and fraternity, club and country club. He adds his gravel-rubbed sandpaper voice to originals and party standards like ”Mustang Sally” and ”Margaritaville.” Like any road warrior, he has tricks for making non-listeners listen.
”Sometimes I’ll play ‘Hey Now’: believe it or not, that turns heads,” says Brosky. ”Or I’ll turn down the volume so low, they can’t figure out if I got sick and had to go home.” Brosky is a rare live-wire performer, says percussionist Wayne ”Paco” Maura, who performs on ”Trouble” and in Brosky’s Big Lil’ Band.
”I wouldn’t be afraid of getting on stage with Steve anywhere in front of anybody,” says Maura, a Brosky pal since the late ’80s. ”He may be playing for five people or 500, but he will be able to create some connection, some emotional impact. He has a sincerity so deep, even a blind man could see it.”
It was this kind of witty honesty that attracted Wayne Becker, who produced ”Trouble” in his Allentown studio, Westwires Recording USA.
Reviewing Brosky’s old CDs and new demos, Becker decided that Brosky was out of touch with his age bracket, a group Maura jokingly describes as “between 45 and 78 – rpm.” “With his fun stuff, his parody stuff, Steve was missing his target audience, which is adult alternative and Americana,” says Becker. “I told him: “What people in your age bracket want is a song with feeling. They want to know what you’ve learned in all your years.”
Becker’s advice tickled Brosky’s ears. He began ”Trouble” with two mature goals. One, he wanted to take his time recording for the first time. And, two, he wanted to record songs that were universal as well as personal. “Trouble” took two years to complete. Brosky and Maura built rhythm tracks carefully, block by block.
Becker supervised a lot of pre-production, then created tracks from live performances. He also surrounded Brosky with his biggest, best supporting cast. The who’s who of Valley performers includes keyboardist Craig Kastelnik, guitarist Mike Dugan and the gospel-singing Holmes family. The best-known guest is Steve Kimock, a renowned guitarist in his own bands (Zero) and bands led by Grateful Dead founders (The Other Ones). The Bethlehem native was recruited by his cousin Kenny Siftar, the lead guitarist in Brosky’s Big Lil’ Band. Two songs are bound to polish Brosky’s reputation as a sensitive soul. One is ”U Mean the World 2 Me,” a piano-kissed valentine to his wife. ”I owe her more than a couple of songs,” says Brosky of Renate, who teaches German at a Bethlehem middle school. ”She’s the patron saint of my art. As a matter of fact, I think she went to sainthood right after marrying me.” The other heart-tugging tune is ”Shadez of Blu ‘n’ Otis,” a Brosky-Maura tribute to two bass-playing friends who befriended a host of area musicians. James ”Otis” Nastasee was Maura’s partner in the Riddim Players. Al Guerrero, leader of the band Shades of Blue, was pretty much a resident at the Westwires studio. Becker calls him a first-rate session player, idea man and go-to guy.
Both men made a big impact; both men passed away too soon. In December 2002, Guerrero died from a heart attack at age 45. Five months later, Nastasee died at 50 from natural causes triggered by kidney and liver problems. Brosky began recording ”Shadez of Blu ‘n’ Otis” by himself. As Becker heard it for the first time, he imagined a bigger production, something that would better suit the song’s vision of Nastasee and Guerrero gigging at the Pearly Gates for a happy St. Peter. The producer brought in saxophonist Peter Fluck and an angelic choir of vocalists Sarah Ayers, Bev Conklin and Mary Hawkins. Maura suggested a unique tribute: a solo played by bassist Kjell Benner. All the guests were chosen because they belonged to the Nastasee-Guerrero circle. Once planned as a bonus track on ”Trouble,” ”Shadez of Blu ‘n’ Otis” makes a very touching farewell. It’s also a companion to Westwires’ new Al Guerrero Memorial Recording Grant. The first recipient, bassist Steve Rosati, will use the award to cut three demos at Becker’s studio. Brosky is using ”Trouble” as a career trampoline. He’s promoting the CD through an unusually large number of outlets. It’s being sold on amazon.com, downloaded on Napster and sampled on radio stations in Europe. For years Brosky has been compared to Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen and other R&B rockers. Now he’s being compared to Randy Newman, Tom Waits and other sneaky sociologists. Pleased with the buzz, Brosky is outlining his next record. He’s also envisioning an all-star tour outside the Valley with ”Trouble” musicians. He even has a name for his dream band: The Atown Revue. Brosky plans to continue playing the streetwise saloon singer. He won’t forget the fedora or the yellow glasses or the beatnik persona when he’s performing ”Plywood Gypsy,” a crazy, sane conversation between a struggling musician and a lawn ornament looking for a light. Serenaded by sultry violin and accordion, the speakers seem to be drinking in a cabaret haunted by Kurt Weill. ”The song’s all about recognizing people’s differences,” says Brosky. ”All I’m saying is that it would be a better world if we accepted each other’s flaws. Just remember: Fashion is temporary, but style’s forever.”