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Meet One Of New Jersey's Greatest Songwriters
Bobby Strange
It's so cool when a song somehow changes shape as you are working on it. You can't fight it. Every song has a special way that it should be arranged. It's just up to us to find that perfect arrangement. - Bobby Strange
by Josh Davidson
 [Chorus and Verse] December 2002 Feature: Bobby Strange
Bobby Strange on stage with Bruce Springsteen at the Third Annual Light of Day concert

Bobby Strange has been, still is, and will remain, a fixture on the New Jersey shore music scene for as long has he desires. Strange’s trademark goatee, baseball cap and folk gems manage to appear at bars anywhere in the shore area. Whenever there’s a big show, Strange seems to always hop on stage bringing his guitar and inspiring songs and stage show with him.

His perfectly-raw musical style mixes open-chord guitar strums, with lyrics paralleling someone who is not only a veteran of songwriting, but life as well. Strange sings a message of living and laughing through life’s tough times, with a voice that strongly reflects the words he sings.

The key to his craft is his dedication. The years of getting out to area music venues such as, to name a few, South Amboy’s Broadway Central Café, and New York’s ultra-historical folk joint, The Bitter End, has helped Strange season his musical abilities. This has turned the songwriter into someone who can enter a club he’s never seen and immediately feed off his audience like they were old friends.

Strange writes songs that are infectious and, like a good book, they awaken the listener’s intrigue to find out what happens at the end. The sincerity with which he delivers his live show can make a late-night crowd stop, put down their beers, and think.

Chorus and Verse recently asked Strange about his involvement with and feelings about the music in New Jersey, and his recent appearance standing on stage next to Bruce Springsteen, a Jersey songwriter Strange deserves to stand next to, at the Third Annual Light of Day concert, held Nov. 2 at the Tradewinds in Sea Bright.

I know we have spoken about you recording some new music. What has happened most recently with this?

I’m working on my new CD currently. It's titled Days of Faith. I’ve just finished a track featuring local greats Mary McCrink on second vocals and David Crowton on guitars.

It was originally to be a full electric band track. It ended up being a pretty acoustic thing. I love when that happens. It's so cool when a song somehow changes shape as you are working on it. You can't fight it. Every song has a special way that it should be arranged. It's just up to us to find that perfect arrangement.

What musicians have you worked with and how has that worked out?

The next recordings are with some of my old friends who I have recorded with many times. It's always easy and fun to work with guys who know you; only problem is, once the old band stories start it's hard to get any work done!

I'm working with Beef Ciminese, bass and maybe some trombone, if I can figure out how to fit it in. Greg Marchese on piano and organ, maybe some strings if we can find some real-sounding samples, and Ronnie Wilson, who is one of the sharpest skin beaters around! I'll be chipping in some guitar and piano, and electric guitar will be the master, P.K. Lavengood, when he gets a few minutes to stop in the studio. That's usually all it takes. He always gets it on the first take! P.K. plays with John Eddie and is always busy.

Bobby Strange

How does playing guitar, as well as singing and writing, help you in the recording of your songs? Does it provide you with an added edge in putting your vision to tape for others to hear? What other instruments do you play and how do they help in recording?

Playing guitar, singing and writing does give you a little edge in the studio. Doing it all guarantees that the song will have your own personality. Sometimes, when someone sings or covers one of you songs, they can take your song in a direction you did not intend it to go.

I have to admit there have been times when someone has covered one of my songs and I had to fake a thank you smile. It was really painful to listen to, but I couldn't criticize it, because I'm more flattered that they would like my stuff enough to cover it. I also sometimes do a keyboard track, along with my guitar track. I find it easy to play both tracks myself, because obviously you can match your own feel better than anyone else possibly could.

You've been playing here in New Jersey for years. Where do you see the music scene right now? Would you say it’s in a good state or bad one? How does the latest closing of clubs such as the Tradewinds in Sea Bright and Jason's in Belmar [set to close early next year] factor in the overall picture of the scene?

I think the music scene is strong. I don't want to say I don't understand the stuff the younger bands are doing at the risk of sounding like my parents did, but some of the bands do seem to forget a little thing called melody. But, on the whole, there are a lot of great bands around.

Josh Zandman is a great songwriter. Chrisie Santoni and New Family are really cool. Planet Janet is one of my favorite young bands. They really rock.

One thing that has changed, over the years, is the fact that we just don't get paid anymore. In the old days you got paid for playing. Now, the club expects you to promote and bring your own crowd or you get zip!

I'll miss the Tradewinds for selfish reasons. They had great national acts, and I live across the street, so it was really convenient. I guess one club closes and another opens, but some are more special than others. I really miss the old Cheers/Hooligans/Metro in Long Branch. I really grew up as a musician there.

I know you said you recently set up your own gigs for a tour in California. How can an artist go about doing this? What other ways can an artist help make their own self-sufficient career?

The Internet really comes in handy for national bookings. List the type of places you're looking to play and the city, i.e. coffee houses in LA, and a million will pop up. Read about the place and, if it sounds good, you can usually call direct and then send a promo package. You'll be surprised, it actually works!

Your computer can really help to get you self-sufficient in the music business now. I have a simple website I do myself and a simple design program to do my own promo notices. And, with e-mail, you can build a fan base and bombard them with what you are up to.

How has your own musical style changed since you first hit the scene?

I think I've had a total transformation in the years I've been doing solo shows. When I started out, I was tight, stiff and very staccato. I remember my hands would sweat and stick to the strings. I think, over the years, confidence in myself has made the biggest difference.

When you have confidence, you play with an attitude. You don't have to be cocky, but if you're not sure of yourself your audience won't be either. I think only playing as much as you can will give you the experience to get the confidence, which brings a more relaxed live show. When you relax, the audience relaxes, and everybody has a swell time.

How has playing out helped you develop that style?

I think the more you play out, the more tricks you learn along the way. The only way to test your sound is in front of a live audience. After all, if the crowd is not receptive, then you should think about another way to make a living.

One new thing I’ve come up with lately is key cheating. Simply lowering your song's keys a half-step or so will make you sound like you have a better vocal range. You don't, but the crowd thinks you do.

I guess, after playing out, you learn what moves an audience and what doesn't. This is the absolute best way to develop your style. Keep the stuff that works, lose the stuff that doesn't.

Is there anything you do to not loose the sound and feel you get when playing live when you record?

Lately, I've been recording with an open monitor in the studio. This is an engineering no-no. It creates feedback if you don't get the volume and eq just right.

But, if you do, you can hear yourself as you would at a show and, therefore, record sounding as you might at a live show. And, of course, this should be the goal of every recording, to not sound like a recording, but to sound live. That makes sense, right!?

Bobby Strange at The Saint

What can fans expect from you in the next few months?

My fans can expect to see my ugly face a lot more in the next few months. I'm doing a lot more shows this winter. So come on out.

I promise I'll play my little heart out for you!

You recently [Nov. 2] performed at the Third Annual Light of Day concert to benefit the Parkinson’s Disease foundation [www.pdf.org]. How many years have you performed at this concert?

This is my third year performing at the Light of Day. The first year, I just did some singing on the grand finale when every musician in the Stone Pony rushed the stage to sing along with a guy named Springsteen.

Last year, I did a set on the acoustic stage, and this year I was fortunate to play on both the acoustic stage, as a solo, and the main stage with Bruce, Gary U.S. Bonds, a rock an' roll hero of mine, the Miami Horns, and my good buddy, Mark Bach, who is Gary's music director and a great guitarist/songwriter and also the guy who was kind enough to invite me up.

What makes it special? What sets it apart from other shows you do throughout the year?

This show is so special because the guys that play are the absolute best musicians to come out of the Jersey Shore! I'm always humbled to get to play with these guys. It never ceases to be a thrill for me, no matter how many times I do it!

Tony Amato, Little John [Luraschi, both of Boccigalupe and the Bad Boys], these are some of the guys who invented the Asbury sound!

What makes a charity show different from a regular show that you play?

A charity show is usually a little looser. The guys aren't doing it for money, they have volunteered to play, so it's for fun and gives the guys, who don't usually [have] a chance to play with each other, the opportunity [to do so].

What does a Bruce Springsteen appearance add to an event like this?

It may sound cliché, but everything you hear about Bruce is true. Backstage and on stage he's just one of the guys. He doesn't pull that Michael Jackson/Prince attitude stuff.

But, I'm not too cool to admit I do have to pinch myself when I’m on stage with him, just to check that I’m not dreaming.

Gary U.S. Bonds, Bruce Springsteen and Bobby Strange at the Third Annual Light of Day concert

I'm sure that the fact people know that Bruce may show and play does help draw a bigger crowd. It is special to see him in an intimate setting playing loose with his old friends.

What other musicians do you like seeing and playing with at Light of Day?

Back in the late 80's, whenever I had a day off from working with my band, I would catch a La Bamba and the Hubcaps show. It was great to be on stage with him and the legendary Miami Horns!

But, I have to say, most of all, playing with Gary U.S. Bonds is the tops for me. He is just my favorite rock and roll voice of all-time. He is also an extremely fun guy to be around.

He's got great rock and roll stories. The guy played with the Beatles for crying out loud! For a shore-boy musician it's like getting to go to heaven every year on [event organizer] Bobby Benjamin's birthday.

I can never thank him enough for inviting me each year. I think the shows have raised something like $100,000. How cool is that!

Josh Davidson
Josh Davidson has written music feature articles for Jersey Style and served as the Jersey Shore rock columnist for Steppin' Out Magazine. Other music writing credits include Aquarian Weekly, Jersey Beat, Backstreets and njcoast.com. He has written free-lance for the Asbury Park Press' Community Sports section and has written featured articles for its news section, as well as covering campus news and sports weekly for the Signal, the College of New Jersey's (formerly Trenton State College) student newspaper. He has worked as a staff writer for The Independent, and his work for Greater Media Newspapers has also been published in the News Transcript. He is a former beat reporter for the Ocean County Observer who presently is a news writer for Symbolic Systems Inc. supporting the US Army's Knowledge Center. His music writing covers a vast range of topics, from the current cover band craze, highs and lows of the original scene, to the early days of the Jersey Shore rock scene in Asbury Park. He is also a musician, having written hundreds of songs as a singer/songwriter, and playing them out as a solo/acoustic artist. He has also played with cover bands, including It Doesn't Matter, and several original bands, including as the guitarist for the solo project of singer/songwriter Dave Eric. He continues to work on solo material and is presently the guitar player for Jersey Breeze.
©2002, Chorus and Verse
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