Corrections or additions?
This article by Deb Cooperman was prepared for the February 9,
2005 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Lazlo: Homeward Bound Rock
What young man hasn't dreamed of making his living playing music?
Writing songs, inspiring crowds and selling CDs? And how many actually
make it happen? Lambertville resident Jon Thompson, of the band Lazlo,
is just a few steps away from making that dream a reality.
Lazlo performs on Friday, February 11, at John & Peter's, in New
Hope, to celebrate the release of their second CD, "Old Steel
Offering up a blend of immensely listenable alternate-country tunes,
the four members of Lazlo could easily be the offspring of Neil Young
and Emmy Lou Harris, Wilco and Lucinda Williams, or Shawn Colvin and
To write the songs for "Old Steel Company," Thompson digs into his own
experience to create eight catchy tunes with themes of family and
friends, love, loss, and longing. The upbeat tempo of "Thousand
Failures" belies the more thoughtful themes running through the
lyrics. "I was just taking a walk one day near where I live, and I was
walking by a stream," says Thompson. "I'm following the stream and
realizing how beautiful it is, and I was thinking about all the things
I've done wrong in my life. It's about goals and I'm working toward
that goal, but I keep falling." Still,Thompson is hopeful, as the
lyrics reveal: "My hands are tied, my tongue is twisted/but I know I
will go on/I hope I find the end of you until a thousand failures
"Pink and Blue" features Shannon Sanderson (who sounds like Edie
Brickell), sharing the lead vocals with Thompson. It is a loving look
at a summer day at the Jersey Shore, the lyrics playful and poetic:
"Tangerine, pleasant dreams/ barefoot on the boardwalk/Jersey girls
melt the sand/sugar love in their lotion/let's fly." The title of the
CD, "Old Steel Company," comes from a line in the song "Golden Age," a
tribute to Thompson's grandfather, a career Navy man who died a few
years ago - "Old Steel Company work the bladed saw/kept your hope in a
bottle and you threw it into the sea." "It's about him as a young man
and his hopes and dreams," says Thompson.
Thompson, 28, was raised in Titusville by his mother, a teacher's aide
in special education at Bear Tavern Elementary School, where Thompson
went as a child, and his father, who works in facilities management at
Princeton Day School. "My parents weren't big music lovers," he says.
"I had a best friend who lived down the street whose dad gave me a
bunch of albums and tapes."
But a visit to Thompson's elementary school by Hopewell Valley High
School's jazz ensemble was the thing that turned the then
nine-year-old's head toward a future in music. "They brought in a
bunch of instruments, and we got to try them all," he says. "And there
was this one guy who played a tenor sax, and he had this big afro. I
thought he was so cool." It wasn't long before Thompson was taking
saxophone lessons at school. Bear Tavern music teacher and band
director Gary Suabedissen saw something in the fledgling musician, and
gave Thompson a solo in the school concert his first year. "That
really inspired me," says Thompson.
When Thompson turned 14, another instrument caught his attention.
Influenced by Neil Young and Bob Dylan, Thompson got the guitar bug,
and learned to play. He began writing songs on his guitar at 17.
After graduating from Hopewell Valley High School in 1995, and
convinced that his future lay in music, Thompson went to the
University of the Arts in Philadelphia for two years, then transferred
to Temple, where he earned a degree in music performance. There he
concentrated on the saxophone, playing mostly what he calls "straight
jazz," but became proficient at flute and clarinet as well.
Thompson lived in Brooklyn after graduation, but soon moved back to
New Jersey where he has been building a career as a performer. But not
quite enough to give up his day job yet. Thompson teaches two days a
week for the Musical Arts Academy in Bucks County, and he also teaches
privately. "It's hard to make enough money just performing," he says,
but teaching music fills the gaps.
He used to teach for Westminster Conservatory, but it was constraining
on the schedule with all his performing. And he does a lot of
performing. Although Lazlo is Thompson's "baby," he also performs in
several other bands, including Ocean Exposition, which plays a fusion
of jazz and psychedelic rock; popular Princeton-area ska band Bigger
Thomas, and the Philadelphia-based Aerial Photograph.
Being back in the Lambertville music scene re-energized Thompson's
desire to write music. "I became really inspired by some songwriters
around here," he says, "and that really got me back into songwriting.
I wanted to write music that came from my roots, the music that
influenced me. I wanted to write songs that I really loved, like
alternative roots country." So while his date book was full from gigs
performing in other people's bands, Thompson was longing for more.
Thompson had been playing with guitar player Andy Keenan. "He was
playing lap steel guitar, and he turned me on to some country
roots-oriented stuff that he had been listening to - Ryan Adams, David
Van Ronk, who was a big influence on Dylan - and I started writing
songs geared to this new sound."
Drummer J.P. Wasicko joined forces with Thompson and Keenan and a band
was born. Originally they called themselves Lazlo Toth - after one of
comedian Don Novello's alter ego's (Novello is best known as Father
Guido Sarducci from Saturday Night Live).
Thompson says the band started seriously rehearsing about two years
ago, and it didn't take long for the regular gigs to start coming.
"Our first CD came out in January, 2003, and we have been playing
pretty consistently since."
Bassist Keith Snyder joined the band in 2004, replacing Michael Taylor
(who replaced Todd Lanka). Former part-time backing vocalist (and
full-time architect) Shannon Sanderson left the group six months ago.
Featured on one song on the "Old Steel Company" CD, Sanderson sounds
eerily like Natalie Merchant. After her husband got into Harvard,
Sanderson moved. Snyder is taking up the vocal slack in her absence.
For the "Old Steel Company," the band pulled out all the stops. "We
put all our money together from all the gigs we did to make the CD,"
Thompson says. And even so, there is still some debt after the
recording sessions and the manufacturing. "We made 1,000 CDs," he
says. "If we sell half of them we will make our money back." The CD is
available for $10 at their performances and for $13 on their website,
www.lazlomusic.com and also on www.CDbaby.com.
Thompson says that the other half of the CDs, the ones not earmarked
for sale, are being sent out to radio stations in the hopes of getting
reviewed and put into rotation. The band is also sending CDs to record
labels, but Thompson says he doesn't actually want to be "discovered"
by a big label. "Maybe a small one, if they could help with
distribution," he says, "But the larger record companies? I don't
really have faith in them. You can get burned by the industry."
The big dream for the band, he says, is "to be able to write and
perform and really concentrate on that and not have to worry about
money. Tour the country, have great audiences with fans all over. And
have our stuff on some reputable stations like XPN (WXPN, 88.5 FM, the
independent radio station that is affiliated with the University of
Pennsylvania)." But for now, Thompson and his band mates stuff
envelopes with sample CDs.
A cousin of Thompson's is a piano player and a sound man for Grammy
Award Winning singer/ songwriter Sarah McLaughlin, and even though
connections can't hurt, Thompson knows they are no guarantee. He
wouldn't mind giving up the day job in the future and taking Lazlo on
the road, but for now, he is happy to be making his living making
Lazlo, CD Release Party, Friday, February 11, 9:30 p.m.
John & Peter's, 96 South Main Street, New Hope. $5 cover charge.
Opening act: One Star Hotel. 215-862-5981.
Top Of PageOpportunities
Middlesex County College has auditions for "Laughter on the 23rd
Floor" on Tuesday, February 15, 4 to 7 p.m. and Wednesday, February
16, 6 to 9 p.m. at the studio theater on the Edison campus. The show
will be to be presented April 15 to 17. For information call
New Jersey Performing Arts Center announces auditions for the Young
Artist Talent Search. Application deadline is Tuesday, March 1. $20
fee. Visit www.njpac.org or call 973-353-8009 for information.
Villagers Theater has auditions for Martin McDonah's dramedy "A Skull
in Connemara" on Tuesday and Thursday, March 1 and 3, 7:30 p.m. 415
DeMott Lane, Somerset. Three men and one woman with Irish accents are
needed. Readings will be from the script. Visit
The Arts Council of Princeton is accepting submissions for its 17th
annual "Small Works" show on Saturday, March 5, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The
juried exhibition is open to all artists, high school age and above,
and encompasses painting, drawing, mixed media, printing, photography,
clay, and sculpture. Works cannot exceed 15 inches in any dimension.
Artists may submit up to three pieces at $10 entry fee per piece.
Visit www.artscouncilofprinceton.org for application or call Maria
Evans at 609-924-8777.
Junior League of Greater Princeton seeks scholarship applications for
two $1,000 scholarships to students planning to college or vocational
school. Applicants must be female and live in Mercer or Bucks
counties. Visit www.jlgp.org. Deadline is Friday, March 18.
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) seeks volunteers for the
non-profit organization committed to speaking up in court for the best
interests of abused and neglected children who have been removed from
their homes. There is an informational session on Tuesday, February
15, 7 p.m. The 30-hour training begins in March. Call 609-636-4910 or
Central Jersey Dragon Boat Club seeks men, women, and young adult
members for the new season. On the water practice begins in April.
E-mail email@example.com or call 732-329-0888 for
Wild Oats Natural Marketplace requests prom dresses for girls in need.
Dresses may be brought to Wild Oats or Princeton YWCA. Deadline is
Thursday, March 24. For information visit www.wildoats.com.
Amateur Baseball Association of New Jersey seeks players and teams,
ages 18 and up, for the spring season. Visit
www.allstarteamstats.com/aba or call Jason at 201-873-3349.
Princeton Family YMCA seeks girls in grades 3 through 8 interested in
spring lacrosse. Practices in March with games on weekdays and
weekends beginning in April. Y provides uniforms. Call 609-497-9622.
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