By TOM CHESEK
Does guitarist and vocalist Bob Bandiera‘s musical versatility have any limits?
When he’s not busy maintaining a longstanding lieutenancy with Southside Johnny and the Jukes, the veteran of over 40 years’ worth of local barband gigs might be globetrotting as a touring guitarist with Bon Jovi. Back home in Jersey, Bandiera’s been known to plan the occasional holiday-season Hope Concert (a star-studded series that’s boasted the participation of Bruce Springsteen, Southside, JBJ and more), travel with Tim McLoone’s Holiday Express, and, somewhere in there, prosecute a solo career that’s seen him play everywhere from theater-scale venues to the barstool in the corner at your favorite hometown watering hole.
But it’s the intermittent supergroup one-nighters by the Jersey Shore Rock ‘N Soul Revue at the Count Basie Theatre that have remained the best showcases of Bandiera’s virtuosity and encyclopedic mastery of pop music. Fronting a jukebox Justice League of talented friends from the regional bandscape, the guy who cut his teeth in such classic cover combos as Holme and Cats has conceived and performed tributes to favorite artists (Roy Orbison, Eric Clapton, the Bee Gees), as well as a Tribute to Trios, One Hit Wonders, Bands of Brothers and about a half dozen other theme-perfect entertainments.
On Friday, August 17, the-14 piece “Basie House Band” reconvenes at the Monmouth Street landmark for a special salute to the music of the Beatles. Special, because it’s a tribute to their solo careers, a rich vein of material from the years in which the former MopTops continued to write and make guest appearances on each other’s recordings provided they didn’t all have to be in the same room together. The Legacy Rock Desk at redbankgreen spoke to Bandiera on why the 8 pm event may be even more special than we reckoned. Flip the record over for more.
redbankgreen: You’ve done a lot of artist tributes at these Count Basie shows, like the Bee Gees and Roy Orbison. And there’s certainly never been a lack of Beatlemania-type acts making the rounds. But to my knowledge this is the first time that you or anyone else has put together an entire post-Beatles Beatles tribute.
This is our tenth or eleventh show, and when I got the notion to do a Beatles tribute it was decided that we couldnt go there, what with The Fab Faux coming in to the Count Basie on a regular basis we cant do them better than them!
If you’ve heard those guys, you know they do these amazing recreations but I’ve never really been interested in doing things that way. I like to mix it up with the arrangements and the instrumentation. We do “Instant Karma” with two pianos, bass, drums and acoustic guitar. To inject a little of your own personality means more to me than doing something strictly note for note.
So what can we expect to hear in the set on Friday night?
From Paul, Band on the Run, “Live and Let Die,” “Jet.” From George, My Sweet Lord, “Beware of Darkness,” then from John we do “Imagine,” Instant Karma. And from Ringo, It Dont Come Easy and “Photograph.” And a lot of other things.
Most of the songs you just mentioned were tremendous hits that were all over the radio in the early seventies. And not only were they big hits, they had a big sound, kind of the Phil Spector influence with all the strings and horns and voices. Where did you even begin with all the material you could have sifted through for this show?
Well, we could do a whole night of more obscure stuff like “Cold Turkey,” but after a while you’d be yawnin’. And they’ve all had their share of things that probably wouldn’t have made the cut if the other guys were there to argue with them… McCartney’s done a lot of corny things along the way.
This is actually a great way to celebrate their music without getting bogged down in the usual Beatlemania kind of format. These are songs that everybody knows, but that you hardly ever get a chance to hear done live.
I should mention also that we’re throwing a few more surprises into the set, like the David Bowie song “Fame,” which John Lennon was involved with. And “Day After Day,” which was a hit by Badfinger. George produced it, and you hear his guitar all over it.
And who do you have on board this time around?
Oh, we’ve got Bob Burger and Ray Andersen, who’ve done so many of these shows with me. Graham Maby on bass, who you know from Joe Jackson and a whole lot of other people. Rich Scanella on drums; Mike Mancini on keyboards and also Arne Wendt, which is spelled a-r-n-e, very important.
Well now wait, there’s more! We have Jillian McCoy and Reagan Richards on vocals. Joe Bellia, percussion… and I almost forgot to mention we have four guys playin’ horns, on things like “Mind Games.” John Berry, Doug Dehays, Tom Labella, Tommy Meares…
I’ve said this before, but I picture you having a Rolodex of contacts that’s about the size of the Big Wheel from The Price Is Right.
Ha! Yeah, there’s so many great people to choose from. We even had Tim McLoone sit in, when we did the American Graffiti show.
Well, a lot of very prominent people drop what they’re doing, out of respect for you when you put together a special project. Either that, or you’ve got some absolutely amazing dirt on all of them.
That reminds me of something I heard a while back. Somebody gave me a cassette of a live Ray Charles show, where he’s in the middle of singing “Busted,” and the guitarist stands up and starts shouting “This man’s a fraud! A fraud!” Because, you know, Ray had a great reputation for not payin’ people. Or paying them late, if at all. And Ray’s calling for security to come take the guy off the stage.
So are there any plans to continue on with the Rock ‘N Soul shows, given that we’ve got some new faces in charge at the Basie? I’m aware that [departing Count Basie Theater COO] Numa Saisselin was instrumental in working with you to get this project off the ground.
Well, Numa is still there into the middle of September, but I’m looking forward to sitting down with [new interim Count Basie CEO] Justine Robertson, getting her take on me doing what I do here. The shows have been successful, and wed like to do more of the Rock N Soul Revues, the Hope Concert and benefits.
Anyway, this could be the last one for a while, because soon I’ll be getting ready to get back on the road for Bon Jovi for another tour. Now I always like bein’ on tour, but going on the road is not as shiny and new as it was when I was, say, 25 years old. Now that Im 58 it gets tough to go out there for fourteen, fifteen months. I want to see my kids. I want to see everybody elses kids!
True, but if we know one thing about you, it’s that you’re not one to rest on your laurels OR your ass. If you’re not busy organizing another big charity show, you’ll be sitting in with someone else’s fundraiser concert, and in between you’ll be jamming over in the corner at one of McLoone’s places.
Well, what can I say… I know what it’s like to have people in your life that need a little extra help, and at this point in my life I know that music opens the door to the left and the right, it gets things accomplished. While Im still walking, breathing, playing instruments, if I can help by doing what I love best, I will do the best that I can.
Tickets for the 8 p.m. show are priced from $25 to $49.50, and can be reserved right here.