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This article by Richard Skelly was prepared for the November 24,
2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Beatles Inspired Songwriter
Had it not been for the arrival of the Beatles in February 1964 and
the influence of his two older brothers, Glen Burtnik might have never
pursued a career in music. The North Brunswick-raised Burtnik, long a
struggling singer-songwriter, saw international success as a
songwriter in the early 1990s with Patty Smyth’s hit, "Sometimes Love
Just Ain’t Enough." Recorded with Don Henley of the Eagles, the tune
was a pop radio hit in the U.S., Europe, Canada, and in other parts of
the world. More recently, Burtnik wrote the theme song for John
McEnroe’s new show on the Fort Lee-based cable news channel CNBC.
Burtnik, who appears this Wednesday, November 24, at the Court Tavern
in New Brunswick, felt validated by his success in the early 1990s
with "Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough," which reached No. 1 on radio
pop charts. Yet the road hasn’t always been easy.
"My getting started in music had to do with the Beatles and having two
older brothers who would bring home instruments," Burtnik explains,
"and I just kind of never gave it up." He was nine when the Beatles
appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in February, 1964.
"I started with drums and took lessons on drums for many years. But
one day my brother Brian brought home a guitar, and I started with
that immediately," he says, recalling he was 11 at the time. "By the
time I was 12, I was getting into Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix.
Ultimately, it was the Beatles and Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix that got
me going, and I often look back on those three," he says.
"To this day," he adds, "I move around on a number of different
instruments, including piano, drums, bass and guitar. But I’ve never
really mastered any of them."
What Burtnik has mastered is the art of songwriting. Raised by a
postman father and foreign editor mother who worked at McGraw-Hill in
Hightstown, he led or was part of a procession of local bands through
the late 1960s and 1970s. His first break was joining the West Coast
cast of "Beatlemania" in 1978 after answering an ad in the Village
"I’m not so sure I ever had any big break, but certainly a landmark
for me was in 1978 when I auditioned for ‘Beatlemania,’" he says. "The
ad in the Voice was looking for Beatles impersonators. That’s kind of
what got me into music in the first place.
"I got the job (impersonating) Paul McCartney and it was good for me.
The standards were high with the show, so I had to study. I studied
from the masters. It was good to sing his songs while playing his bass
lines, which were always quite melodic. I’ve always said, ‘I didn’t go
to college, I went to Beatlemania.’ The West Coast production of
‘Beatlemania’ certainly wasn’t anything to make me rich, but it was a
steady check, and for a musician, a steady income is a blessing."
The West Coast production of the show brought Burtnik into a new
circle of music business friends in San Francisco, San Diego, and
primarily, Los Angeles. Hoboken-based Marshall Crenshaw, another
respected singer-songwriter and rock ‘n’ roll star who rose to
prominence in the 1980s, was also part of the cast.
After a year of "Beatlemania," he spent a year working in the mailroom
at Johnson & Johnson, where he cemented a relationship with a woman
he’d known in high school, Rose. They got married in 1980.
Burtnik toured with keyboardist Jan Hammer in the early 1980s. Then he
began focusing on leading his own band. He landed a deal with A&M
Records, then a major internationally distributed record company, in
1986. Burtnik’s two albums, "Talking in Code" and "Heroes and Zeroes,"
in 1987 and 1988, gained him a foothold as a touring musician in the
U.S. His videos were played on a then-fledgling MTV.
In the late 1980s Burtnik was a frequent performer at the Stone Pony
in Asbury Park, Club Bene in Sayreville, and other Shore-area clubs.
He spent a small fortune on postage to let his fans know of his
upcoming shows. Through the 1990s he remained accessible, always
meeting with his audience after his shows to pose for pictures or sign
The Slaves of New Brunswick grew out of a loose jam session that used
to be held on Wednesday nights at the Melody Bar on French Street in
New Brunswick in the early 1990s. These days all of the core musicians
in the group get together once a year on the night before
The atmosphere at the Court Tavern Wednesday night will be
celebratory, somewhat formalized, and yet loose. Vocalists and other
guest musicians will jump on stage for a tune or two, creating a "jam
session" atmosphere. "For the Thanksgiving Eve show, we typically go
in with some kind of set list, but we always change it," says Burtnik.
"On a good year we try to touch on all the talents in the band. It’s
also imperative that we do songs from ‘The Slaves of New Brunswick’
The "Slaves" album was released locally in 1992. While it was very
successful in New Jersey, what surprised many of the 60-odd musicians
involved in the project was how wide-reaching was the airplay in other
parts of the country. The album featured songs like Burtnik’s own
"Exit Number 9," and "Riding the Avenue," a song written by Patti
Smith band guitarist Lenny Kaye. Kaye, a few years older than Burtnik,
was also raised in North Brunswick and attended New Brunswick High
School. The high school is still situated on Livingston Avenue, the
street referenced in the song about cruising around in cars in 1960s
New Brunswick. The album was distributed nationally through
Performance Distributors in New Brunswick in 1992 and 1993.
The idea for a group of songs about New Brunswick and central New
Jersey in general came to Burtnik while he was on the road, playing
bass for the pop-rock group Styx. While out touring with that
Midwest-based band around the U.S. and Canada, he began writing songs
Once he got off the road, he began assembling all manner of New
Brunswick-area blues, jazz, and rock ‘n’ roll musicians. Included on
the sessions were harmonica player Nancy Wertheim, jazz pianist Ernie
Scott, and even a throwback to the early 1970s, Sid Gottlieb, who led
a popular New Jersey rock band called Heavy Trucking. As a result of
all his research, the album took nearly eight months to record.
The project became a musical celebration of New Brunswick. It even
included a parody of Elvis Presley’s tune, written by Doc Pomus, "Viva
Las Vegas," only it was called "Viva New Brunswick." It was even
chosen as ‘Album of the Month’ in Guitar World magazine."
Featured players on the "Slaves of New Brunswick" album who will be at
the Court Tavern show include South Plainfield-based guitarist and
guitar teacher, Bernie Brausewetter; bassist Tony Shanahan, now with
Patti Smith’s group; drummer Mark Sacco; and vocalists Patty Moloney
and Barbara Hahn. Lenny Kaye, Smith’s longtime guitarist, is also
known to pop his head in to the annual Thanksgiving Eve show.
Asked about current and future projects, Burtnik, who’s released two
albums independently since "Slaves of New Brunswick" in 1992, says
he’s working on a DVD to "Welcome to Hollywood," his most recent
album, but one that’s still available only in Europe.
"We want to make the DVD for `Welcome to Hollywood’ available in the
U.S. I’m always writing new songs and doing a little bit of performing
with my own band," he says.
Show, Wednesday, November 24, 10 p.m., Court Tavern, 124 Church
Street, New Brunswick. $5. Call 732-545-7265.
Food Bank of
New Brunswick, Friday, December 10, 8 p.m., State Theater. Call
Villagers Theater seeks actors for "And the World Goes Round," opening
February 25. Audition dates are November 29 and 30 at 415 Demott Lane,
Somerset. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stars in the Park at Kelsey Theater seeks female actors for
"Nunsense." Auditions are Saturday, December 11, from 11 a.m. to 3
p.m. at Kelsey Theater. Call Lorraine Wargo at 609-530-0912 for
appointment and information.
Ritz Theater seeks African-American actors for "Fences," opening March
3. Auditions are December 13 at 915 White Horse Pike, Oaklyn. Call
856-858-5230 for appointment.
The Academy Theater seeks actors for "Cabaret." Auditions are January
8 and 9, 1 to 5 p.m. All parts are open except Sally Bowles. 146 Route
130, Bordentown. Visit www.theacademytheatre.com or call 609-291-9000
Mercer County School of Performing Arts holds auditions on Wednesday,
December 1, at 3 p.m., and Saturday, December 4, at 8:30 a.m. The
program, located at Mercer County College, seeks high school junior
and seniors interested in pursuing a career in drama, dance, or vocal
music. There is an open house on Thursday, December 9, to tour the
school and see student performances. Another round of auditions will
take place in February. Call 609-586-3550 for information.
Trenton Film Society seeks local amateur and professional filmmakers
for "Films of the Trenton Film Society II" competition. Selected films
will be screened on Saturday, January 22 in Trenton. All submitted
films must be under 30 minutes in categories narrative, experimental,
animation, documentary, or foreign. Visit www.trentonfilmsociety.org
for application and information. Deadline is December 10.
Middlesex County Improvement Authority reminds golfers that the four
Middlesex County golf courses are open dawn to dusk, seven days a week
year-round. Starting December 1, golfers may register for 2005. $35
for county residents, $30 for senior and students, and $45 for
non-county residents. Visit www.mciauth.com for information.
Stony Brook Millstone Watershed seeks volunteers for StreamWatchers to
monitor water quality at sites within the Millstone Watershed.
Volunteers are also needed for Chemical Actions teams. Volunteers must
be 14 or older. There are sites in West Windsor, Plainsboro,
Princeton, Montgomery, Franklin, and Hopewell. Visit
www.thewatershed.org or call 609-737-3735 for information.
HomeFront offers suggestions on how to help a homeless family this
holiday season and all year long. Donate gifts, turn your holiday
party into a rent party by raising funds to help a homeless family
with a security deposit on an apartment of their own, provide a meal
for a HomeFront program, send your holiday greetings with a HomeFront
Tribute Card, throw a party for homeless kids at your facility, have a
linen drive for twin and full size sheets, blankets, pillows, and
towels for the shelters and traditional housing, and visit
www.homefrontnj.org for more ideas and information.
Bristol Riverside Theater seeks donations for the Robert M. Kelly
Family Center of Bristol Township. Requested items include tickets for
family recreations, gift certificate to restaurants and stores,
dishes, glassware, utensils, dish towels, pillows, blankets, beauty
products, disposable diapers, baby food, car seats, toys, board games,
books, and holiday wrapping supplies. Bring to the theater, 120
Radcliffe Street, Bristol, Pennsylvania. Call David Abers at
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