Corrections or additions?
This story by Richard Skelly was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper
on April 22, 1998. All rights reserved.
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
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
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
25, at 12:30 p.m.
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