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This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the February 11, 2004 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
‘Yesterday’ Plus 40, Still Under the Influence
It was 40 years ago this week, on February 9, 1964, that the Beatles first appeared on American television on the Ed Sullivan Show. A few days before, they landed in New York, brimming with questions about Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry — two top American music icons.
Like so many other live music venues celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Beatles’ arrival in the U.S., Concerts at the Crossing will mark the occasion this Saturday, February 14, with a concert that includes Pete and Maura Kennedy, a folk duo from New York City, banjo maven Tony Trischka, singer-songwriter Jim Boggia, and Philadelphia singer-songwriter Patti Shea. All four musicians have a good working knowledge of both the classic and more obscure Beatles tunes, but Saturday night’s show will also include some of their own Beatles-inspired compositions.
“The first records I ever listened to were ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ and ‘Hey, Jude.’ I played them, again and again, on my first stereo,” says Patti Shea, in an interview from her home in Philadelphia.
“I was about 10 years old at that point, and my aunt gave them to me for my birthday, because I’d said I wanted records by the Beatles and Joe Cocker,” Shea recalls. “I’m really happy to be included in this show and I feel like everyone on the bill can do great Beatles tunes — especially the Kennedys and Jim Boggia.”
Shea released her first full-length CD, “Comets Collide,” in 1996. Her new composition, “What She Misses Most,” appears on her recent EP. It is a true-to-life story about the trials and tribulations her mother went through in caring for Shea’s father, who was afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. (Her father died two months ago.)
As an only child, Shea was raised in Millville by doting parents. Her father was an accountant and her mother did quality control work. Patti began taking piano lessons at age five and continued through her high school years. “I started taking voice lessons at 14 and started taking guitar lessons at 15,” she says, noting that, during a stretch in high school, she was simultaneously taking guitar, vocal, and piano lessons.
In the early 1980s, after she graduated magna cum laude with a BFA from Beaver College in Glenside, Pennsylvania, Shea began writing her own songs.
“I wasn’t a folkie at all, initially,” she explains, “but I’d been paying attention to Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and certainly to the Beatles and Carole King and Janis Ian. I knew every song going way back.” An early college project at Beaver College involved finding a gig, so Shea landed a show at a small bar in Glenside, “and I later found out it was the same place where Julie Gold [a Grammy-winnig songwriter] got started.”
After college, Shea continued working on her performance skills, but also segued right into a job as a graphic artist at an advertising agency in Philadelphia.
Of her earliest performances in bars around Philadelphia, Shea recalls “you’d be doing four sets of material, sometimes four nights a week, and then going in to work during the day.” At that time, she played cover tunes, accompanying herself on guitar. After two years, she stared to burn out. “I made the conscious decision to stop. I started writing my own originals in 1983 and then just pursued work as a keyboardist with a bunch of bands from around Philadelphia.” Playing in post-punk-pop bands, she was relieved of the larger responsibilities of being a solo performer; she focused all her efforts on her songwriting.
Shea has had some good breaks as an up-and-coming singer-songwriter. But she hasn’t had enough good breaks. Although she’s well known around Philadelphia, in 1994 she was voted one of the best new songwriters in the Kerrville Folk Festival songwriting competition, held in conjunction with the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas.
In recent years, Shea has appeared many times on Gene Shay’s popular Sunday evening “Folk Show” radio program on WXPN (88.5 FM). She’s also opened for many national touring acts at the Keswick Theater. Shay the DJ describes Shea as an artist whose “voice shimmers and soars, ever so tastefully, from one fine song to the next.”
In recent years, Shea has opened for Boz Scaggs, Dan Fogelberg, Kathy Mattea, and America at the Keswick. She’s also performed at the Concerts Under the Stars in King of Prussia and opened for Livingston Taylor and Catie Curtis at the Painted Bride Arts Center.
Most recently, she recorded a three-song demo with Crit Harmon in Massachusetts. Harmon has worked with Susan Werner and produced Martin Sexton’s hit album, “Black Sheep.” Harmon has also worked with Catie Curtis and Caroline Aiken, both songwriters Shea admires. But her project with Harmon came to a halt last year during the last stages of her father’s Alzheimer’s, as she shuttled back and forth between Philadelphia and Millville, assisting her mother.
For the Titusville celebratory Beatles show, Shea says she’s ready to sing a version of “Yesterday” with a 6/8 tempo. She’ll also perform a few of her recent songs including “All These Angels” and “What She Misses Most.”
Even without the big breaks that every musician hopes for, Shea says she is enjoying a series of small forward steps. She is guardedly optimistic about where her career is going. Self-managed and self-booked, she’s attempting to secure a music publishing deal, so that a representative can pitch her compositions to well-known artists such as Mattea or Fogelberg.
“I’m trying to get some songs out there to bigger artists,” Shea confides, “it’s just going a little slow. I’m getting my songs to bigger artists via people who are being kind. I mean, someone heard me play ‘All These Angels’ and immediately asked for a copy of the CD to hand to Mel Tillis.”
As for Saturday’s concert, “We’ll all be choosing songs that will have some connection, whether subliminal or direct,” she explains. “I think it’s going to be the kind of show that’s just done on the fly, which will be really great. I don’t know much about Tony Trischka, but banjo will give the show a whole other dimension. It’s going to be one giant cohesive adventure, and even if you don’t even think you’ve been influenced, you’ve been influenced by the Beatles, in some way.”
— Richard J. Skelly
“Under The Influence of The Beatles,” with the Kennedys, Patti Shea, Jim Boggia, and Tony Trischka. Unitarian Church at Washington Crossing, Titusville. 609-406-1424. Www.crossingconcerts.com. $17. Saturday, February 14, 8 p.m.
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