Corrections or additions?

This story by Richard Skelly was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper

on April 22, 1998. All rights reserved.

The Shaxe

Ask any veteran, club-playing rock musician, and he

or she will tell you, these are tough times for original music. Club

owners, feeling the strain of competing forms of entertainment —

video rentals, five new movies at theaters each weekend, the Internet

— want bands that will bring crowds in to their establishments.

What’s more, they’re not likely to advertise that your band is playing

their club. That’s commonly thought of as the band’s responsibility.

The Shaxe (sounds like "shakes"), a six-piece band whose members

hail from Lambertville, Princeton, and Montgomery, has been managing

to play original music and bring crowds in to clubs in recent months.

The group leads off the entertainment at the Lambertville Shad Fest

on Saturday, April 25, with an appearance, just after noon, on the

outdoor stage.

Shaxe’s debut album, "Walkin’ Out My Soul," consists of 13

original compositions bursting with promise through carefully arranged

harmonies, dueling guitar solos, and inventive lyrics. The cover art

that shows 1960s kids walking in the rain and the miles-long traffic

jam at Woodstock, says a lot about this free-spirited sound. But until

recently, the Shaxe were playing mostly cover songs — out of necessity

— because that’s what club owners and managers were demanding.

Until they proved themselves to the club managers by bringing in their

respective audiences, the band played "covers," tunes by the

Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers, Elvin Bishop, and other well-known

artists and groups.

"Some bars are paying you based on the number of people you bring

in," explains Dan Coffey, 30, of Lambertville, a co-founder. Coffey

plays bass and sings lead vocals. "What enabled us to eventually

draw larger crowds is that the variety of music we play appeals to

different age groups," he says. Coffey, who works as a computer

graphics specialist at Bloomberg News in Skillman, says the band has

now developed a loyal following that insists on the band’s original

material. If only all the blues and rock bands could be so lucky.

The band has been packing them in during recent months at places like

John and Peter’s and Havana’s in New Hope, Jersey Jim’s Microbrewery

in Hillsborough, and other area venues. Coffey and the others began

playing out in 1992. Other members include Doug Drake, 36, lead and

rhythm guitar and vocals, Mike Liskowitz, 27, lead and rhythm guitar

and vocals, Brian Impellizeri, 30, drums, percussion and vocals, Sam

Simmons, 40, percussion and keyboards, and Tom Stange, 41, saxophones.

Not surprisingly, the band members bring a wide range of influences

to the rehearsal studio. However, all enjoy the kind of improvisational,

two guitar blues-rock with harmonies performed by groups like the

Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers, and Elvin Bishop.

Saxophonist Stange, born and raised in Princeton Borough, is an office

leasing specialist and member of the Princeton volunteer fire department.

At 41, he’s the elder in the group. Over the years, Stange has seen

the club scene between New Brunswick and Trenton and New Hope fluctuate

from a wealth of clubs that would showcase original bands to today’s

considerably tighter situation, with too many bands and not enough

clubs.

Stange is a veteran of several bands, including Cheater

Jones, the Whitewalls, the Down To Earth Band, and the VooDudes. As

a freelance saxophonist, he’s worked with a variety of nationally

known acts, including Chicago blues pianist Joe Willie "Pinetop"

Perkins from the Muddy Waters Band, harmonica player Sugar Blue, pianist

Roscoe Gordon, Texas soul blues vocalist Frankie Lee, Little Mike

and the Tornadoes, and other bands, including the Castle Browne Band.

"They’re the most exciting band in the Princeton area at this

time," says Stange, the father of two young sons. "The nice

thing is that they enjoy my playing with them but they don’t absolutely

insist upon it. They can play quite well without my sax, so I’m something

of an adjunct member," he says.

For Stange, the band is a refreshing change of pace from the straighter-edged

blues bands he’s used to performing with, although he admits good

blues music is very difficult to play. "They’re more rocking and

more rock guitar oriented," he says.

Coffey grew up in the Belle Mead. He and Mike Liskowitz and Doug Drake

all knew one another from Montgomery, he says. Coffey admits the band’s

diversity in age shows through in the material they write and perform.

"What’s unique is the influences we bring to one another from

having different people of different ages in the band," Coffey

explains. "We play music that’s based in the roots rock of the

late 1970s — like Elvin Bishop — but we also touch the younger

crowd, the Dave Matthews and the Phish crowd."

On "Phat Cat Blues," their debut CD, Drake and Liskowitz trade

driving, fierce guitar solos while Simmons’ keyboard treatments and

Impellizeri’s drums give the blues percussive punch.

Although the Shaxe still play the occasional Elvin Bishop or familiar

Allman Brothers fare at their live shows, what they’ve been concentrating

on most is putting on strong live shows showcasing their original

tunes in order to build that all-important, word-of-mouth reputation.

Their strategy appears to be succeeding.

"Our guitarists Doug and Mike are so influenced by the Allmans

and groups like the Allmans that they just use their natural good

sense of harmony to do a lot of jamming and improvising on stage,"

Coffey explains. "Whereas most bands usually have one good

lead guitarist and one good rhythm guitarist, we have two guitarists

who are really good at playing both lead and rhythm guitar."

— Richard J. Skelly

The Shaxe, Lambertville Shad Fest, Saturday, April

25, at 12:30 p.m.


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