Playing the music of Bowie, Frey in Lehigh Valley, Philadelphia
2016 has already been a tough year for fans of classic rock ‘n’ roll.
Less than two months in, we have lost Maurice White, the founder and leader of Earth, Wind & Fire; two of the founding members of Jefferson Airplane, Paul Kantner and Signe Toly Anderson; and Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey.
But few deaths in the world of music generated the kind of shock, mourning and renewed public interest that came when David Bowie lost his battle with cancer on Jan. 10.
Across the world and in the Lehigh Valley, musicians and fans alike are channeling their grief with tribute concerts.
In New York, two star-studded Bowie tribute concerts are planned — one each at Carnegie Hall and Radio City Music Hall — featuring artists Michael Stipe, Laurie Anderson, Cat Power, The Roots and Jakob Dylan, among others.
The Boston Pops also will honor both Bowie and Frey in its “Beatles to Led Zeppelin” concerts May 10-11.
Writing and performing songs about outsiders and misfits, Bowie remained viable for decades by continually reinventing himself. Bowie was psychedelic, he was folk, he was glam-rock, he was heavy metal and he was punk.
Above all, he was experimental up until his last creative endeavor with a jazz quartet, the album “Blackstar,” released two days before he died. His music transcended sub-genres and generations and he influenced artists across the spectrum.
“I hadn’t really felt a personal loss in a very long time from hearing that a musician had died. Literally, I think the last one was Johnny Cash,” says Jon Braun, a Center Valley musician who will play the music of Bowie’s “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” Thursday at the Sellersville Theater.
Along with Don Henley, Frey formed the singing and songwriting core of the Eagles, which produced a hit parade of songs and albums in the 1970s. The band formed shortly after Henley and Frey were recruited to be part of the backup band for another future Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, singer Linda Ronstadt.
“It really was shocking,” says Jon Weiswasser, drummer for Eagles tribute band Eaglemania, which had a concert lined up at Musikfest Cafe in Bethlehem before Frey’s death. “We have mutual friends with the band who told us he had been ill, but we had no idea how sick he was. And when he died so suddenly, it’s tragic.”
The Eagles produced five No. 1 hit singles, six No. 1 albums and won six Grammy awards. The band’s “Greatest Hits (1971-1975)” was the best selling album of the 20th century in the United States.
Few bands dominated a decade the way the Eagles dominated the 1970s. The music still has a way of sneaking up on people, says Jon Weiswasser, drummer for Eagles tribute band Eaglemania, which will perform at the Musikfest Cafe in Bethlehem March 25.
“People who aren’t the biggest Eagles fans come to see us and one comment we get time and time again is, ‘It’s just incredible the number of hits and the number of great songs that they wrote that I’d just forgotten were attributed to them,'” Weiswasser says.
“Until you sit down and listen to their catalog of hits, it’s not until then that you really realize how many great songs that they wrote that everyone knows.”
That, Weiswasser says, is one of the main attractions of playing in a nationally touring band that strives to faithfully reproduce, note-for-note, the Eagles’ recorded music on stage.
In fact, the band of veteran musicians from the northern New Jersey and New York music scene came together more than four years ago for that specific purpose.
“The pleasure of being able to play for the audiences that we get to play to who just adore this music as we’ve developed a real following, there’s nothing like it,” he says. “It’s the most intoxicating drug around. It’s just a great feeling when you can get a crowd of people and get them on their feet.”
A typical set list will include the material on the greatest hits record, such as “Take It Easy,” “Desperado” and “Tequila Sunrise,” plus other hits, occasional deep cuts and some of the solo work of individual members.
In light of his “shocking” death, Glenn Frey’s work will get a special emphasis on some of the upcoming shows, Weiswasser says.
• Details: 7:30 p.m. March 25, Musikfest Café, ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks, 101 Founders Way, Bethlehem. Tickets: $25, steelstacks.org, 610-297-7100.
PHILADELPHIA BOWIE TRIBUTES
Though Holy Holy will play Bowie’s second album, “The Man Who Sold The World,” in its entirety, along with other early Starman classics when they visit the Tower Theater April 2, one would be well advised not to call the assembled musicians a “tribute band.”
That’s because Holy Holy includes the drummer and bassist who played on the record.
Mick “Woody” Woodmansey and Tony Visconti formed the rhythm section for the legendary Spiders From Mars band, which also backed up Bowie on “Hunky Dory,” “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars,” and “Aladdin Sane.”
Bassist Visconti, in particular, had a decades-long working relationship with the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. Visconti produced or co-produced a number of Bowie’s albums including “Blackstar,” his final album, released on Jan. 8, his 69th birthday.
The World Café Live will also host a Bowie tribute on March 6 when the Wham Bam Bowie Band visits from Asheville, N.C. The band aims to faithfully reproduce the music of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust era. Lead singer is Mark Casson.
•Details: Holy Holy, 8:30 p.m. April 2, Tower Theater, 59th and Ludlow streets, Upper Darby. Tickets: $39.50-$59.50. venue.thetowerphilly.com, 215-922-1011.
•Details: Wham Bam Bowie Band, 8 p.m. March 6, World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St., Philadelphia. Tickets: $12, adv.; $15, door. philly.worldcafelive.com, 215-222-1400.
Daryl Nerl is a freelance writer.
jodi Duckett, editor