Babyboomer and Gen X Rockers: Sticking to Their Guns!

Where are the guys/gals making music for people who still rock who were born between say, 1950 and 1970?
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If you are in your 40s, 50s, 60s and still into Guitar Rock, chances are you're still listening to your Rolling Stones, your Who, your Zep, your J, P, G & R, your KISS, your Van Halen, your AC/DC, your Dire Straits, your Mott The Hoople, your Cheap Trick, your Aerosmith, your ZZ, your Bad Co, your Kinks, your Boston, your Bruce, your You-Get-The-Picture.

You might've gotten into Punk and New Wave in the '70s and '80s, and you might've dug some of the Grunge bands of the 90s. But, the flavors you tasted in your true youth, your tweens, teens, and early 20s, stick with you viscerally and forever.

So, where are the guys/gals making music for people who still rock who were born between say, 1950 and 1970?

Well, they are damn sure NOT on major labels.

Over the last few decades, the age-old agism in the music industry re: the artists they sign and promote, has gotten completely out of hand. Surprising, no?

About a decade ago, I was managing a band (a column is overdue on this adventure!) called dEAf PEdESTRIANS. They had the goods. Real songs. Looks. Chops. Vibe. Charisma. Attitude. Hunger. Maybe the music business' single most successful major-label-rock-band lawyer at the time heard the album I'd put out on my own label. He called me out of the blue and just raved. A meeting was set. Two days later, sitting in my office, his opening line was, "I love this band's music, Binky. I could have this band a deal in less than 4 weeks [dramatic pause] ... if it wasn't for the age problem." The band in question had a 22 year old lead singer, a 23 year old lead guitarist, a 26 year old drummer... but, the bassist and other guitarist were 31 and 32. The bassist and guitarist both looked under 30. Those two 'old' guys would kill label interest from the git go, according to this lawyer, who would KNOW. sigh

Yet, there is an audience out there who would get an enormous kick out of hearing new acts doing the kind of music they grew up loving. Well, guess what, folks, those artists exist!

I once had a woman on Facebook put this up on a thread of mine... "Why is that musicians always use the word 'struggle' when describing their attempts to achieve any level of success?"

Beyond the putting together of like minded, sane, musically equal, performing units (and I know from personal experience you can hunt for months on end for the right bassist, forget finding a lead singer), beyond finding the time and money to allow for rehearsing and recording, beyond trying to get booked in clubs that have some kind of decent rep, beyond trying to get some press, Babyboomer and Gen X rockers these days have to contend with Radio Terrain that just flat-out boxes them and their style of music o-u-t out!

Yet, the drive to create remains. The juices keep flowing. The chops are better than ever (honey, you play guitar for more than 30 years, chances are you bad!). The ideas are more concise. The lessons have been learned. The music produced is Good Stuff!

So, where the hell is it?

In this article.

I got together with five guys in bands who have released full-fledged albums of original material, played by humans, not computers, in the last year...

They are (and I'm going to be stick to alphabetical order throughout, okay)...

New York City' s Ricky Byrd, Chicago's Brad Elvis, Hartford's Tom Guerra, Philadelphia's J J McCabe, and Long Island's Randy Pratt.

Ricky, Tom, and J J record under their own names, Brad is the drummer and leader of the Handcuffs. Randy is the bassist and leader of Rickity.

All five albums these guys have released have the following in common... genuine and genuinely good songwriting, killer performing, actual singing, major-label production and sonics. And all five play Rock 'n' Roll.

My own thumbnail sketches...

Ricky Byrd is a disciple of the great blues-based acts. Ricky is being shy here, but he was the guitarist in Joan Jett's Blackhearts for all the glory days, and, as a session man/performer, has played with about 25% of the RnR HoF's roster! His album totally reflects his love of Stones, Faces, Mott, Cream. His guitar playing is painstaking and pure with feeling.

Brad Elvis' band, The Handcuffs, fronted by Chloe Orwell, fit right in that classic Chicago mold of Cheap Trick, Pezband, Enuff'z' Nuff, Off Broadway, with some The Pursuit of Happiness throw in. Oh, and some Beatles. Hard Punch Power Pop with tasty female voices.

Tom Guerra's album, All of the Above is aptly titled... a very successful exercise in almost outrageous eclecticism. Flavors as diverse as T Rex, Bootsy Collins, Paul McCartney, Dire Straits, ZZ Top, get musical shout outs through some very clever songwriting and arranging. Very Wow! prod, too.

J J McCabe, on the other hand, put together a truly focused batch of original songs... As he puts it, ELO meets Keith Moon with a touch of commercial 80s metal... Sounds about right. Riding the line between Hard Rock and Hard Pop... expertly accomplished.

Randy Pratt's Rickity is the furthest from the other four. Less chord-change songs, more riffs and grooves. A successful attempt to meld metal riff worthy of Black Sabbath into a Funk Climate with an exceptionally powerful female lead singer, who also happens to be black. Imagine an entire album using "You Got The Love" by Rufus as its springboard, with some freaky 21st prod thrown in. Pow!

Anyways, I got together with these fabulous knuckleheads (Hey, I get to call them that, I'm in two bands. One, The Last Ditches, which includes the aforementioned Mr. Pratt on bass, is just finishing the recording a 13 song album. The other, The Planets... yes, still here!... has a once-a-month residency at Arlene's Grocery in the Lower East Side). I asked them the same five questions. I felt their individual and focused answers to my big-picture-type queries (dearies) would offer you more insight to them and their music than the usual ramblings and musings of us Guitar Goodballs...

So, here we go... Guys...

Binky: "How did you wind up a musician, anyway?"

Ricky Byrd: "Simple! It was a Sunday night in the Bronx and we were all gathered around the Big Brown Box on the floor waiting for Ed Sullivan to introduce a band I had only heard on the radio... The Rolling Stones. I sat there slack jawed. I was a shy, quiet kid looking for a way to express myself and there it was! 5 guys on the edge of society. Even at 9 years old, I thought, 'Hell, if you can't fit wearing the white hat, wear the black hat.' Three things hit me at once... They looked just like I felt. The girls were screaming (I figured it would be a sure fire way for a shy kid with bucked teeth to meet babes). The clincher... Ed Sullivan looked horrified. Sold!! The very next week my mom came home with a no name acoustic (which i still have), a gift from her boss. My hair quickly went from Opie to Mop Top... Done! I knew nothing would stop me from being in a Rock 'n' Roll band... Never once thought of doing anything else."

Brad Elvis: "Ha! That's like asking how I wound up human. I think I was born playing drums and writing songs. I grew up in a big/small Midwestern town. Believe it or not, this was some pretty fertile music ground. And lots of us had nothing to do but listen to our heroes on vinyl and try to emulate what we heard on those records. I don't know what was more dangerous, someone being able to see all those bands play live all the time like you, Binky, a New York City kid, or me, a semi-sticks kid sitting in front of my record player imagining them live."

Tom Guerra: "Well, my folks were young parents in the 1960's. Mom, being a pianist, was always was playing jazz and blues. My Dad was a big Rock 'n' Roll fan. He saw all the first generation rock and rollers and by the Sixties he was into The Beatles, Stones and Doors and Bob Dylan. Music was playing constantly and I loved creating as a kid, be it music, art, or building fishing rods. That last one being my first real job at age 14. It all came together for me the first time I ever saw an electric guitar...[AMEN!] I was transfixed, and knew what I wanted to do."

JJ McCabe: "I have been a musician since I was a very small child. I was one of eight children, all musical in some way. I began playing guitar at age 5, [man, that's young!] and I would shut myself in the bathroom to practice. I grew up in little Peapack Gladstone, NJ. yet, as a teen, I gave JFK Jr. his first guitar lessons."

Randy Pratt: "My parents tried to get me to practice piano and trumpet. My dad was a professional trumpet player until he got married. He gave me a great appreciation of music through his love of Big Band era stuff. The Beach Boys' "Little Deuce Coup" was the first song that I got into, but seeing The Beatles on the cover of Life magazine ruined me for anything else. Before I even heard their music I was hooked. Just looking at them, I knew that there was an alternative to the cookie cutter life that had been laid out for me. I fumbled around for a long time until I settled on bass. I moved into New York City in 1980 and was just around music all the time in Greenwich Village. I started taking myself more seriously, practicing a lot more. I got a rehearsal studio on 8th Avenue and had to join six bands so they'd all pay rent. I played different styles and HAD to rehearse a lot, so my skills got stronger. I haven't slowed down since!"

Binky: "So, why record now?"

Ricky: "Well, the music business is in such shambles, I just wanted to contribute something that was actually Rock 'n' Roll before the genre completely disappears like Big Band music did for my grandparents. I had no expectations except it would be a really cool fun CD. Since i paid for it out of my own pocket, I did the record I have been waiting to do my whole career. I wanted it to have the soul, grooves, and honesty of the music that made me that 13 yr old dropping the needle on a Faces record. My album has that Stones, Faces, Mott, Humble Pie vibe for sure, with even a little 70's Soul like Al Green thrown in for good measure. Really, everything I heard as a teen that molded me into me! I wore my influences on my velvet to speak. I actually did a bunch of the guitar tracks on the album over again after seeing Jeff Beck at a small club in NYC called the Iridium. I said to myself, 'Oh, you got some work to do son.' I think the CD represents exactly who I am. It sounds like what I look like. [great line, Rick] It's classic RnR guitar playing... greasy rhythms and bluesy leads... the stuff i made my bones on. I don't give a rat's ass that I copped an Albert King riff in or sing a melody like Steve Marriott. I did it on purpose to carry on the tradition. Look, I got great reviews across the board... Had "The #10 coolest CD in the world of 2013" and "The first coolest song in the World for 2014" on Little Steven's Underground Garage... Not too shabby. I called the album Lifer for a reason.

Brad: "It's what I do. After three major label deals, a few indies, agents, lawyers, managers (i.e. rent-a-pricks) and 4,090 (and counting) live shows, and all my various bands throughout my career, I still want and need to produce good music. If I may pat myself on the back, I've been able to evolve and roll with the changes in the industry pretty easily. I know some people just can't do that. That's neither good nor bad, but I choose to constantly grow, learn and evolve - and that's why I formed The Handcuffs."

Tom: "Like others Rock 'n' Roll music fans, I felt that there was an absence of new guitar-based rock out there, and felt that I had something to say. So, I wrote a bunch of 3 or 4 minute songs that became "All of the Above." I spent the past 15 years with a rock and roll trio, Mambo Sons. We did four albums on an indie label. All four got ridiculously good reviews, but we couldn't seem to get to the next level. Throughout this, I kept writing, but this time I was writing them for my voice, which is a baritone, so things like tunings, keys and sonics were really considerations. Perhaps because I have a short attention span, my musical vision is this... A great hook in a quick song, with lyrics that generate an emotion, arranged with enough sonic variation ("parts") to make things interesting and keep my and your attention."

JJ: "Music is something that has always been with me. Songs come when inspiration strikes, sometimes all at once, sometimes nothing for a long time. For me, there's no right or wrong time to record. When I had songs I wanted to share with the world, I recorded them for others to hear and respond to."

Randy: "In 1997, I took the plunge and moved to Long Island, bought a house and built a professional recording-rehearsal studio in my basement. I've since recorded 25 CDs of original music in many different styles, often with my childhood heroes. It's been non-stop bliss. I record because it gives my life meaning and makes me feel great. I feel like I've "made it" when I record something that meets my standards of excellence. I'm my own worst critic, so it's been a real ego boost. Maybe I'll be "discovered" after I die, or maybe everything I've done will be chucked in a dumpster. But, so far, it's been a wonderful ride."

Binky: "All your albums sound great! How did you deal with getting the 'major label' sonics on an indie budget?"

Ricky: "I co-produced it with my old friend, Bob Stander. Tracks done in his basement studio. All guitar stuff and vocals done in my studio before Hurricane Sandy took it out. [UGH!] Overdubs like organ and a few backgrounds were done around town in various studios owned by friends who were generous enough to open the doors for me. I made sure that when I closed my eyes, I was Keef on one side, Ronnie on the other, bass and drums in the center, keys a bit over there, and even had the Asbury Juke Horns on a few! Background vocals were 90% done by me but also had La La Brooks, Elaine Caswell, and my "sister" Christine Ohlman, on a few. The album was mixed by me and Bob and mastered by my pal, Ray Kennedy, who I started this with in 2001 down in Nashville. I took great care in the song order and the liner notes because i used to love to read them as a kid." [Me. too!] In the end, Binkala I am totally satisfied, thrilled, and proud of the result. It will always be there. That is pretty much all I had control over. The times are the times and the business is the business."

Brad: "We're heavily influenced by artists like Bowie, Zeppelin, Mott, Roxy, etc. Their records all have that special something. But we also listen to loads of new music. I'm interested in how Lady Gaga, St. Vincent and QOTSA records sound and a hundred others, too. Sometimes that stuff seeps into our sound. Truthfully, our indie DIY budget may be toward the higher end of the spectrum, which helps. And we don't do any of that Kickstarter nonsense. I got myself into this mess, the least I can do is find a way to finance it myself." {Love that, Brad!]

Tom: "Over the years, I did a lot of guitar sessions in pro studios. I've been producing my own music for about 25 years now, going from analog tape to digital tools. A lot of these songs were originally conceived on an acoustic. I spent some time imagining what "clothes" they'd look best in, whether that meant a 12 string, a clean or dirty electric guitar sound, a specific effect, etc. I am a huge fan of vintage gear, and am always chasing after great tones, so I knew what I was looking for, and how to get it." [and you did, brother!]

JJ: "I submitted a song to Music XRay on the internet called "The Answer". Marco "Frenchy" Gloder, musical director of Flicknife Records, UK, was one of the judges. He heard the song and liked it. When we spoke on the phone he remembered my band, Kinderhook Creek, opening for The Eagles. He soon signed me to a deal with Flicknife. I worked from a home studio with ProTools to write songs and sent them out to be mixed, by 5-time Grammy winner, James "Bonzai" Caruso, who I happened to grow up with in the same little Peapack-Gladstone, NJ."

Randy: "I have been blessed with the means to keep my studio up to date with the latest technology and I know world class engineers who respect me enough to work with me. That's how I accomplish professional sounding music. It's a very collaborative atmosphere, which I crave. We put a lot of time into details."

Binky: "What kind of support have you given your project and what kind have you received?"

Ricky: "I put together a band when the CD first came out but, with no backing, it just became too expensive. I reached out to all of my friends on tour and my pal Southside Johnny let me open for him. That's about it. What are ya gonna do... dog eat dog these days. Now, I am totally thrilled to go out with my Gibsons, the J-200 and my '69 Hummingbird, and play the CD acoustic-style. Plus, I get to add a few songs I wish I had written like, "Reason to Believe", "Wish It Would Rain", Sam Cooke's "Sentimental Reasons", John Hiatt's "Have A little Faith" and sometimes, even "All The Young Dudes"... all solo acoustic. I'm having fun. If someone says 'Hey man, here's an ass load of money, put the band together and hit the road', I might consider it. But, I am also 27 years sober and twice a week I go to to Sunrise Detox in NJ and lead Music Therapy groups for the patients. Frankly, the feeling I get back from that trumps almost everything else, so i'm good. I also do benefits at the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and every year. I also do a cool one with Little Steven. Last year, I backed up Brian Wilson on "God Only Knows"! So, I ain't got nuttin' to complain about."

Brad: "The Handcuffs consist of me and four talented and attractive women. What other kind of support do I need?!"

Tom: "Since All of the Above was released in June, I've been working pretty much day and night to get the music heard. I've been (excellently) reviewed in print and online, and played on some of the few remaining non-programmed radio shows. It's been a one man operation, but the response and reviews (and sales!) have gone way beyond my expectations."

JJ: "My principal support came from Grammy Winner, Jim Bonnefond, with whom I reconnected in 2012 when I attended Institute for Audio Research in New York. I had initially met Jim when he recorded Kinderhook Creek in the early 80's at House of Music in West Orange, NJ. Jim was head engineer there. He has worked with Robert Fripp, Jimmy Cliff, and Kool and the Gang, among others. Throughout 2012 and 2013, Jim came out to Studio 66 in Branchburg, NJ where he recorded, produced, co-wrote and collaborated with me on my first album, Presenting JJ McCabe and Fallin' Angel."

Randy: "I have a manager with real credentials for the first time with Rickity. I also hired a publicist for a worldwide press release. Some of us are not kids, but we rehearse twice a week, no matter what. We get in vans and drive to gigs. Sometimes we're away for days. We play for little or no money to push ourselves out there. We maintain a good website and Facebook page, do photo shoots and pro live videos a lot. We've even turned the recording studio into a video studio."

Binky: "Given the outrageous age-bias in the music business re: unestablished acts, what's the realistic goal for you these days?"

Ricky: "In the end, Binkala, I am totally satisfied, thrilled, and proud of the result. It will always be there. That is pretty much all I had control over. Nobody cares how old I am. I was too old twenty years ago! It's just plain good."

Brad: " I actually think there's less age-bias now than there was 10 or 15 years ago. I'm not getting rich off of it, but we've licensed a few dozen tracks for TV and film. This has resulted in a few hundred thousand teenagers illegally downloading our songs, which is now the true measure of success, right? And realistic or not, I could go for another record deal. Why the fuck not? Any takers?"

Tom: "My goal is to keep writing, recording and pushing my original music out there for people to hear and hopefully enjoy. Guitar International magazine said that my All of the Above breathed life into the classic rock format. It could use some, that's for sure. Writing songs is a such a satisfying endeavor, like a puzzle that you have only one piece to and somehow have to complete. It is something that I will always do."

JJ: "I asked Flicknife's 'Frenchy' Gloder if, at 55, I was too old for the business. He replied, 'JJ, when you listen to music, do you think of how old the person singing is? No, good music is good music.' I don't really want to be Justin Bieber or One Direction. I had some things to say, musically, about life and my journey through it, and I have been fortunate enough to have been able to say them. There will be more. The important thing is that the songs are out there for people to listen to. I'm just going to keep on writing, playing, and recording."

Randy: "Well, I don't feel old, so I probably have unrealistic goals...which I think is necessary. We try really hard to be great, play from the heart. We think like restless kids (with adult experience) and try to stay in shape and dress well. I just want to play and get over. I can't quit, so I'm gonna keep trying. It's fun!"

As Lawrence Welk used to say, Thank You-uh, Boysss!

Here are the links, yo!

Ricky Byrd:

Brad's Handcuffs:

Tom Guerra:

J J McCabe:

Randy Pratt's Rickity: