Writers In The Raw

Highway Nine's Gordon Brown Discusses The New Singer/Songwriter Series Coming To Harry's Roadhouse

One of the marks of any successful scene is a cross-pollination of ideas among the performers, and the fans who dedicate themselves to it. In some areas, this is a spontaneous event, usually taking place at the local hang-out. Around mature scenes, it's a more formal process, done to ensure that the scene continues to prosper and thrive.

In the early days of Asbury Park, a bunch of talented kids hung out at places such as the Upstage, playing all night and using a healthy competition to drive each other to perform better and better.

Now a more mature and established home for all sorts of artists and performers, Asbury Park has become one of those places where musicians come, similar to Los Angles and Nashville, to become part of the local atmosphere, benefit from the proximity to many other talented players, and try to become a part of the local magic.

Starting on December 10, and running the second Wednesday of every month at Harry's Roadhouse in Asbury Park, New Jersey, Gordon Brown and Barry Dorsey present "Writers In The Raw," a songwriters series meant to expose the best writers and storytellers in the area. The performer will be set-up in the middle of the venue's floor, with fans seated all around, in an intimate setting.

Co-producers Brown and Dorsey are bringing considerable experience to the establishment of this project. Brown is a long-time songwriter himself, currently publishing with BMG, who is a member of RCA recording artists, Highway Nine. A well-known performer on the Asbury Scene himself, Brown started out with bands such as Mr. Reality and Samhill, including a stint as the house band at the legendary Stone Pony rock club, before Samhill was signed to Sony Records (changing their name to Highway Nine in the process) and releasing a critically-acclaimed album with that label. Leaving Sony last year and recently landing with RCA, Highway Nine is in the process of working on a new release set for 2004.

Chorus and Verse spent time talking with Brown while he was in pre-production for the debut Writers In The Raw show to talk about the planning and the goals for the evening, as well as the performers who will be taking part and how he hopes it will become an established event and a long-term boost to the local scene.

Give us an idea of the concept behind Writers in the Raw and what you're hoping to accomplish with the shows at Harry's Roadhouse each month.

Well, the concept basically started with just wanting to have a great songwriters night on the Jersey Shore. One where everyone that is interested in any style of music, songs and the music business can have a place to go to watch songwriters share their art and stories with an attentive audience and with each other. Hopefully, helping to bring back the musical community to Asbury Park and, at the same time, enjoying some really great songwriting.

Can you introduce our readers to Barry Dorsey and give us a little bit of his musical background? How long have you and Barry known each other and why was he the person you went to when putting Writers in the Raw together?

Barry Dorsey and I have been good friends for many years and have had many of the same experiences growing up around the musical community here in Monmouth County. He's been the guy running the ship for places like Cass's Café (Tom Cruise's sister's place) in Freehold a few years back, The Metro in Long Branch as well as working at various places in NYC, including the Bottom Line and now Harry's Roadhouse in Asbury Park.

He also spent a few years traveling around the country managing corporate events and became a published writer himself. The guy loves music. I always thought Barry would be a great guy to get involved with because of his love of music and sense of business.

You've mentioned that Writers in the Raw was inspired by the time you spent around the Nashville and Los Angeles music scenes. How did you feel that the musical climate in those areas supported the local artists, and how does that attitude translate into the Asbury Park music scene?

Both places are extremely dedicated to exposing the musical community and it thrives in those places because of that. It's part of the soil. People move there to be a part of it.

There is a tremendous amount of people in both cities working together, including musicians, bands, promoters, club owners, songwriters, record labels, fans, etc., to help each other create events and let people discover new talent and music. It happens many times, every day and night in those cities, creating a thriving and vibrant scene.

We are extremely lucky to come from a diverse and unique musical climate here in Monmouth County. We have musicians that call this place their home that have sold more records and tickets to sold out shows than most signed artists will ever know. That creates something for local musicians in this area to aspire to; they can see that success is real. People can look to the great examples we have here in New Jersey and see that anything is possible if you're willing to work hard and take the chance.

In a sense, there has already been a map given. If we choose to follow it and learn from past mistakes we can really begin to build upon the Asbury Park scene here once again. Hey, we're lucky enough to have beachfront property, we just need to use it to our advantage!

Can you describe some of the writers nights you experienced in Nashville? What were some of the venues like, and who were the performers who made an impression on you there? How healthy is the live music scene in Nashville, and did it live up to its cut-throat reputation while you were there?

The writers nights there are really extraordinary. You have places like The Bluebird and Douglas Corner Café. On any one bill you can have guys that have a ton of placed songs (cuts) sitting next to young budding talented writers, sitting next to guys that have had 15 top ten hits in the last five years. It's truly an amazing place to find inspiration. Not to mention, who you might be sitting next to in the audience. Everyone goes to writers night in Nashville. Producers, A&R guys, artists looking for songs, publishers, other writers, etc.

The live scene in Nashville, in my experience, is not any more cut-throat than any other place in the country. There are a lot of songwriters there looking to get cuts on records and sometimes competing for a publisher's attention, but it is a healthy type of competition. One that makes the songwriters better at what they do. There are all types of cool places to go to for all types of styles of music. Not just country. One of my favorites is a place called The Exit Inn and Billy Block hosts a great show there once a week called "Western Beat" that has become known around the country. The downtown area is loaded with great honky tonks where some of the greatest musicians you can imagine are playing for tips.

There have been plans to tape and video the show for broadcast on WBJB 90.5 the Night radio, and cable television. Do you have any specifics for when these shows might air, and which cable station will be showing the event?

As a matter of fact we're trying to work all the details out for that right now. We will definitely be recording and filming the shows for future broadcast on radio and cable. George McMorrow's crew (Cinecall Soundtracks) will be filming and Steve Greenwell (engineer/producer for S-Curve/EMI) have been kind enough to lend their services and get involved with Writers In the Raw. We also have Michelle Leone, one of the Jersey Shore's biggest supporters, assisting us in helping to organize all aspects of the event. She's been a tremendous help.

We are weighing the options for which avenues to go down as far as the right stations and broadcasting affiliates. We are in talks with WBJB to be the first station to air the show because we really love what they're about and think it's a great fit to go along with the concept of the night. Plus, Jeff Raspe and the dj's there really have a deep passionate love for music. We would like it to work out with them.

Have you had success in getting sponsors and advertisers interested in supporting the radio and TV broadcasts, as well as the printed "Rawbill" you'll be producing for the show with bios of the performers? Has your experience putting the Writers in the Raw together at this early stage given you any new insight in the interest people have in supporting the development of a local live music scene in the area?

Yeah, we have garnered a lot of interest in the whole entire show and concept since the press release was sent. It seems everyone wants to help build upon the local music scene here. There is a lot of support from many of the industry people in our area and throughout the tri-state area. As far as the artists from the area, I don't believe we've heard a "no" from anyone we've asked as of yet. As a matter of fact please let your readers know they can reach out to us at [email protected] if they would like to be included in one of the shows, have suggestions, want to become a sponsor, or need more info on where to send press kits. We're just getting involved with advertising and sponsorship now, but your readers don't want to know about the boring stuff, they just want to see a great show or be part of a great night.

What type of performer are you looking for to participate in the Writers in the Raw evenings?

All kinds of styles; we would just like the writer to be self-contained (accompanying him/herself) so it's easy on the inputs of the soundboard and the rounds help inspire conversation among the performers.

What do you consider the mark of a good songwriter, and do certain regional scenes tend to produce more great songwriters than other ones?

I believe a good songwriter starts with the need to want to say something in a unique and personal way and ends with knowing how to turn those things into great memorable hooks and melodies so the music stays with us as well as the message. At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is if a song touches someone's life and helps the listener express something they couldn't have said on their own. For some reason, when a great song is performed, most of us know it when we hear one.

Great songwriters come from everywhere and every walk of life, many of them we will never hear of or see on MTV, but I can assure you that success to them is just being able to express their art no matter how many people hear it. A songwriter must be fulfilled by the work they do so they can stay true to the art whether they ever see great "success" or not.

For a true songwriter, real success usually comes from the feeling that you've been a part of creating a heart-filled, honest piece of music. Something uniquely all your own, either telling a story or evoking emotion that you were able to finally get out of your system.

Run through the performers who will be playing during the first Writers in the Raw event on December 10. How did you go about putting the bill together, and how long has the event been in the planning stages?

The 7:30 pm round will feature Pat Dinizio from the SMITHEREENS, John Hampson from NINE DAYS, Bruce Tunkel formerly of the RED HOUSE, and Ben Arnold from 4 WAY ST.

The 10pm show will include Alice Leon from the Alice Project, Jpat, Tommy Anton and Melissa Chill.

It's all ages and it's $10 general admission, $25 for a special dinner ticket. With the amazing food at Harry's, we're able to offer a price-fixed dinner menu at $15 which guarantees the dinner ticket holder the best seat in the house.

We started planning about a month and a half ago putting in the calls and getting responses back from everyone after we figured out exactly how we wanted to put the show together.

Have you started talking to anyone about playing at future events? Have you gotten any initial reactions to the concept that lead you to believe that it'll have long-term success and an impact on music in the area?

Yeah, at the moment we have Glen Burtnick lined up for next month and we've also been talking with Steve Forbert (who just received a Grammy nod) as well as many other talented writers from the area for future shows. The show is going to grow month after month if we continue to get the type of responses we have been getting and, of course, as long as people want to come out to Harry's Roadhouse and be a part of the night. We do hope to give people an inside look at the music and how it's created. In the future, we're talking about bringing music industry professionals to come sit in and answer questions from the audience during the intermission.

Want to sidetrack a bit and share what's going on these days with Highway Nine? Where does the band stand with regards to the label, and future recording plans? When can fans expect to see the band back to a regular touring schedule and releasing new music?

Highway Nine is in the middle of recording our new record for RCA Nashville. We spent the summer putting arrangements together and recording with some of the top session guys in Nashville. We're slated to go back in January to continue working with them and discuss plans for releasing the album before summer of 2004. My band has learned through the years there are no guarantees in the music business, so the most important thing we strive for is to make great music that we will always feel proud of. We may do a few acoustic shows here and there, but will not be back on the road for a few months until we release a new album. You can be sure we'll let everyone know when the time comes.

What are you hoping that fans will get out of the Writers in the Raw evenings at Harry's Roadhouse, and what would you like the reaction of the musicians and fans to be as they make their way home and think about the show?

This is an early night where people of all ages can come to Asbury Park and meet one another in an intimate setting. The music won't be blasting and people can listen to some of their favorite performers, eat a great meal, share ideas and concepts relating to our musical community during its "rebirth" and maybe walk away feeling like they are a real part of something special happening again. Maybe even just simply entertained by a great show.

Being a songwriter for many years myself, I'm just glad that we finally have a writers night on the Jersey Shore that everyone will be able to take part in.

Matt Mrowicki

Matt Mrowicki founded Chorus and Verse in 2001. He is a rock star designer and technologist, Internet professional, content creator, and entrepreneur specializing in web development, IT consulting, branding, social media and online marketing. www.imprtech.com