Gene Casey on Rock ‘n Roll, Obsession and Dancing in the Aisles
Gene Casey and the Lone Sharks have long been East End legends of rockabilly, but in recent years bandleader Gene Casey’s bent toward original tunes, steeped thoroughly in the history of rock, has taken a front seat in the consciousness of the band’s fans.
The band is getting ready this week for a concert of mostly original music, packed with special guests, at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on March 25, in conjunction with the release of Gene Casey’s new album, “Guitar in the Rain.”
We caught up with Gene as he prepared for the March 25 concert.
Q. How did this concert come about?
They’d heard my music on WPPB quite often, on Brian Cosgrove’s show in the afternoon, and Clare Bisceglia, the manager at the theater, has an app where you can hold your phone up to the radio and it will tell you who’s singing. When she’d try this on a song she liked, very often it would be me. She kept liking what she heard.
They’re exploring the possibility of having more local talent in the theater, and I’m really happy that they chose us. It’s rare for us to be in a proper theater where it’s not a dance concert. We’ll be doing 80 percent my songs, with a seven-piece band as opposed to the usual quartet. I have my favorite players on the gig.
Nancy Atlas will sing one or maybe two songs. She’s our special guest. It’s kind of like when Bob Hope would have a TV special and Bing Crosby would walk on.
Tony Palumbo will be on upright bass, Chris Ripley on drums, and Paul Scher on tenor saxophone.
Andy Burton, who was our regular keyboard player throughout the 1990s, now plays with Cyndi Lauper. He’s a great player, and when he’s not out working, we’re glad to have him back. Our drummer from the 1990s, Stan Mitchell, will be our percussionist, augmenting Chris on drums.
Tricia Scotti, who I met about three weeks ago, will be singing harmony. She’s a backup singer for Ronnie Spector, and she now has a singing studio, “Sing Sessions,” in Mattituck. She sounds great.
Q. Tell us about the new album, “Guitar in the Rain.”
I’ve been recording on and off for about three years, and once I got the date for the concert, I stepped up the process of finishing the record.
I said ‘I’m not going to put out a record until I have 12 really strong songs.’ There’s a lot of filler in this world. After the record comes out, you have to perform it for the next two or three years, and you have to really believe in it. I purposely took my time with this. Being an independent artist afforded me the time to hone my craft and hopefully get better.
I was worried we wouldn’t have it finished by March 25. This is the modern world, and it’s available for download on CDBaby now, but a lot of people still like to actually buy a CD. I’m waiting for the physical copies to show up now.
I’d be really unhappy if CDs were to disappear altogether. I’m used to having photos and things that you hold and read. I devoured the information on liner notes on LPs when I was growing up, reading on Stones records, wondering who is Jimmy Reed? Who is Muddy Watters? It led me to be into early American rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm and blues.
Q. I’ve heard you on WPPB, talking to Bonnie Grice. You sound like a professor of rock ‘n’ roll.
That doesn’t get you much in this world. I do obsess about it. It’s apparent in the music I do, which is within the tradition, but also, I hope, unique enough that it’s clear it’s coming from me. I find a lot of comfort in the solidity of tradition. This is a very insecure world, a very transient world. We’re attracted to things that have roots.
Q. Which song did you write first on “Guitar in the Rain?”
“Hey, Mrs. Troubadour,” which is a song about the spouse of a musician, about the sacrifices that one has to make. It’s one of my rare mature songs, not just sexy rock ‘n’ roll or a depressing blues song. It has characters. I said ‘this feels good.’ I want to write more songs about people who stick to their guns and are kind of obsessive and have to do what they do. They’re not being romantic. They just have no choice.
“Guitar in the Rain,” the title track, is about being chucked out of your house, and all you have is your guitar.
So that’s the kind of quasi-theme running through the record, if I can be that pretentious.
Q. Do you feel like you have no choice in what you do?
Usually I am quite aware of how fortunate I am that I can be this along in years with no gold records, no Grammy Awards, but I’m working more than I can handle, gigging, writing, recording and getting acknowledgement. I’m fortunate to work with great musicians. It’s not lost on me how lucky I am, but it’s also something I fought for. My day job is booking, recording, writing and doing gigs. It’s a hard job because it’s a crazy business, but my marriage and home enables me to do it somehow.
Q. You broke your hand last year. How’s it doing?
I’m still in rehab and I can’t do a lot of things I want to do, but guitar-wise i’m as bad as I ever was.
Q. How have things changed for you since winning the Long Island Sound Award from the Long Island Music Hall of Fame a couple years back?
Winning the L.I.S.A. was a wonderful honor. At this level of show business, it’s really hard to know if people are listening to what you’re playing, as opposed to just boogying. But the message is getting through and it’s encouraging and humbling. It’s work. Everyone works and not everyone gets acknowledged in their lives.
Q. Is dancing allowed at the concert at the PAC?
Dancing in the aisles will be permissible, unless Homeland Security swoops down to put a stop to it.
“Gene Casey and the Lone Sharks: Like You’ve Never Heard Them Before” will be at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on Saturday, March 25 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 and are available online here or by calling the box office at 631.288.1500.