Every celebrity who isn’t one already wants to be a rock star or a country star. Sometimes the results are abysmal, such as when Eddie Murphy, as a lead vocalist, went on a national tour of small venues and nobody bought tickets. Or, remember heavyweight champs Joe Frazier and Larry Holmes, or quarterback Terry Bradshaw, or former Yankee outfielder Ruben Sierra, all of whom crashed and burned as singers.
Even big-time actors like Keanu Reeves, whose band Dogstar was thought of as just another. About the best celebrity vanity project out there was the Blues Brothers, from John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. They loved the blues, there was no doubt about that, and they were backed by blues heavyweights such as Steve “Colonel” Cropper and Donald “Duck” Dunn. And at least they were funny.
Enter Kevin Bacon. Why does a well-known, Oscar-nominated movie star spend so much time playing music, writing music, and singing with his brother, Michael, and a bunch of their friends?
The fact that Michael Bacon is an Emmy-winning composer — for the soundtrack to the 1992 documentary “The Kennedys” — does give the band credibility that other celebs don’t have. Still, as Kevin has said many times, before they hear the band, “most people think we’re gonna suck.”
The Bacon Brothers, as the band is presently constituted, has been performing together for 14 years and have released four CDs. They will perform on Saturday, September 13, at Princeton University’s Richardson Auditorium. The conert is a benefit for Princeton Young Achievers, an after-school program that helps children from low- and moderate-income neighbohoods improve their school performance and English language skills, offering homework support, enrichment activities, one on one tutoring, and literacy support. The Bacons will take questions after their performance.
In a joint phone interview with his brother, Kevin Bacon says he was asked to do the benefit by Jennifer Shue, a Princeton resident and PYA board member who used to be his agent in Los Angeles. (She is the owner of Spruce, a flower shop on Palmer Square; her husband, Andrew Shue, an actor, producer, and entrepreneur was profiled in the May 23, 2007, issue of U.S. 1.) “She left that business, and this is one of the things she has been involved in since,” says Kevin. The brothers have no other connection with the Princeton area, although they are from Philadelphia and love to play here. “Put it this way; neither of us went to Princeton University,” says Kevin. “You can probably tell by talking to us.”
The band, which plays a mixture of folk, rock, and country, includes Frank Vilardi on drums, Ira Siegel on guitar and other instruments, Joe Minnono on keyboards, and Paul Guzzone on bass. “Everybody kind of switches off a little bit on different instruments,” says Kevin. “My brother plays cello and guitar. I play guitar, cello, and some harmonica…Nah, I definitely don’t play cello,” says Kevin, who also does play percussion. “It’s a core group we’ve been using for several years. Sometimes we have different players depending on if the guys are or aren’t available. We’re working on a new record now, and the great thing is that the guys in the band are having a hand in producing it.”
“We’ve done every CD in a different way,” Michael says. “The first one, we were just trying to find our way, and we had very few sidemen. I did all the guitars. The next one we did, we used a lot of layering and production, a lot of different musicians, maybe 20 on the second one. The third one, we went after a more technological, machine-generated, loop-heavy sound. For this one, all six of us are working in our home studios, pretty much by ourselves, and the sounds and ideas are being downloaded into a system. We have only been in the studio, all of us together, one time so far.”
Michael Bacon is 59 years old; Kevin is 50. Their father, Edmund, who died in 2005, was an urban planner who, among other things, headed the Philadelphia Planning Commission for most of three decades. Their mother, Ruth Hilda Holmes, was a teacher and activist. The Bacons are two of six siblings. Michael is the eldest, and Kevin is the youngest.
Kevin married actress Kyra Sedgwick (star of the television series “The Closer”) in 1988 and the couple have two children, Travis and Sosie Ruth. Michael Bacon and his wife, Betsy, have a son, Neil. The brothers both live with their families on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, a few blocks away from each other. Two decades ago, when the brothers first started playing music together, they had apartments in the same building. “It made it easier for the Bacons to get together and collaborate,” says Michael.
The Bacons’ musical journey started with Michael. “Music is something I cannot remember ever being not fascinated by,” he says. “Our parents were very supportive of anything regarding the arts; painting, acting, music. They provided a rich cultural background to our childhood. I knew who all of the first-tier players were in the Philadelphia Orchestra.” As a child, Michael says he played cello intensely, but he also studied guitar and listened to the Beatles and Rolling Stones.
The father of Michael’s best friend happened to be Larry Magid, who owned the highly influential Electric Factory Concerts, which presented then, and still does, to this day (as Live Nation), some of the most high-level rock and pop acts in the Philadelphia area. Michael began taking a very underage Kevin to many of the EFC shows. “Kevin,” says Michael, “was always banging on something,” and he began teaching his younger brother guitar. A pattern emerged; Kevin would bring lyrical and conceptual ideas to Michael, and Michael would set up chords and build a tune. At first, Kevin deferred to Michael almost always, in a musical sense, but now Kevin writes almost half of the band’s tunes, while Michael does the rest.
“You never know where a song’s gonna come from,” says Kevin. “It could come from an experience or from listening to another song. It may come from something tragic, or something cathartic, or it could come from a lyric, or a hook, or even a title. Every time you write one, you think this could be the last one, but they just keep coming.”
Now Michael makes his living as a composer of musical scores for television and movies. Kevin’s high-profile movie career is always a way of getting his name mentioned as a musician, but his perception as a dilettante is actually a liability.
“I think the creative side of it just is what it is,” says Kevin. “You do the best you can with it, make it something people will remember. You try to replicate that in the studio as much as possible. But the other piece of it — that whole side of it, being an actor — just does not help. If anything, it is an albatross. There are a lot of preconceived ideas that people have of an actor in front of a band.”
Michael says that although he and his brother grew up in Philadelphia, the band hasn’t really had much musical success there. In New Jersey, however, the Bacon Brothers always fare very well. “One of the things about our band, we’ve always done really well in New Jersey. It’s really not something I can fully explain,” he says. “More than any other place we’ve played. What we put out, I feel like that’s really taken root here.”
The Bacon Brothers, Saturday, September 13, 8 p.m., Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University. Concert featuring Kevin and Michael Bacon to benefit Princeton Young Achievers, an after-school program. Q&A follows the show. $50 to $100. $175 includes pre-show reception and premium seating. 609-924-9777 or www.princetonyoungachievers.org.