JACQUE MAJOR AT THE STONE PONY
It wasn't as historically significant as Lee invading Pennsylvania, but there was a certain South Jersey contingent contributing to the goings on at the Stone Pony Sunday night (April 13), when Jacque Major made her Asbury Park debute and brought a crowd of fans from Somers Point with her.
Exit 100 on the Parkway isn't South Jersey so we all felt a little out of our element, up the Parkway and then riding down Route 66 east to the boardwalk and ocean, then one block north to the Stone Pony.
The Stone Pony is a dump of a bar situated in a what appears to be a bombed out quarter of Beriut. But it's a Glorious Dump, surrounded by vacant lots of concerete that feels a lot like a war zone. At least that's the case until once inside the Pony, which is similar to some other old rock & roll joints that I remember - Bay Shores, Tony Marts, Mothers, CBGBs et al...., dingy, dark and musty. The first familiar face I see, Rich Spurlock, whose been there before, says that they actually cleaned up the joint.
At least they've salvaged the place, so far, which had been tettering on the border of being "redevelloped" into condos, a fate that the crash of the housing market has apparently put off to a later date. The Stone Pony should be ground zero for the redevelopment of the entire area.
The Stone Pony is small, as expected, but it's really small. It reminds me most of the Ocean Pub beach bar in Margate in the 70s. There's a small 20 seat oval bar when you first walk in, a wall full of t-shirts, baseball hats, micro bikinis and memorabilia with the Stone Pony logo, and a cash register and credit card swipe machine next to the front door. Then there's rise with some small cabaret tables and seats, a nice, small dance floor, a hole in the wall they knocked out and set up a tent for the smokers. There's a small six seat bar that sets off a wall full of guitars signed by the high and mighty. And just past the restrooms there's another small, horse shoe bar and gas lit stove that makes you think you're at a ski resort. The walls are full of photos, articles and memorabilia, but the wall wraps abound to the stage door and stage, where all the important action takes place.
Opening for Jacque, Billy Walton is my new favorite guitarist of the moment, which is saying a lot since I've recently seen Santana and Billy Hector. Walton, at 32, is one of the youngest of the hot guitarists to come out of Asbury Park. He's a local guy, rooted in the blues and rock n' roll and leader of a power trio which he had expanded with sax and more for the Somers Point Beach concert last summer (that I have pix of). Walton also played JR's last winter, his first foray South of Atlantic City (further than Bruce got - See: End Notes), and he does JD's at Smithville on occassion, but he's basically an Asbury Park guy whose trying to break out of Jersey.
Walton, who could be a down home character out of the WaltonsTV show, is big as a football lineman, and could play power forward like his basketball namesake. This being his home turf, he's played the Stone Pony many times before, and opened for the Boss before 40,000 people at Giants Stadium two nights in a row and then played the Pony the next night. What a trooper. That says a lot, as Spurlock points out, when Bruce doesn't really have anybody open for him most of the time.
Packing a lot of puch in to one solid hour set, Walton wired the room and set up Jacque nicely. And he didn't get her in the Pony. "She did that herself," said Walton, who recognized some of the South Jersey Shore contingent in the house, including Spurlock, retired Somers Point Mayor Dan Reilly, one of the Pancoast girles, Carmen and Nancy Marotta of Tony Marts and Tom Major, Jacque's dad.
Jacque and her friends used to play every Sunday afternoon at the Bubba Mac Shack, where we'd all meet after church, and it was beginning to feel like the old Shack when in walks Herb Birch, making a full house.
Jacque showed off her new band, new name (Walking Wounded), and a new bass player, Michael Maiorano, a veteran journeyman, joining drummer Matt Curran, Wayne "Cuz" Scheller on keys, and standout guitarist Danny Eyer, who also plays in Herb's Bubba Mac Blues Band.
Opening with a unique arrangement of the Beatles' song, "Sexy Sadie"? with the refrain, "Won't you come out and play?," she took off on a hour and half set that kept a good pace and showed that she knows where she's going. There was no hesitation between songs and the band came across as well rehearsed and ready to rock & roll.
I started to keep a song list, but then forgot about it after getting into the music. Jacque's voice is strong, and she seemed to be having a real good time, belting out some of the tunes she sang every Sunday at the Shack, plus a few new ones.
One of the new ones is Randy Newman's "Guilty," which she recorded with the late Brian Trainor and posthumously released on his jazz anthem "Too Late to Change Me Now." (See: Brian Trainor RIP), which they take out of the jazz realm and make it rock.
Jacque gave each guy in the band a chance to shine, and Danny Eyer stood out special and showed the Asbury Park crowd that South Jersey also has a hot and heavy homegrown guitarist, ready to break out and who we can be really proud of.
The band's talents really came out on some cover tunes, like the Doors' "Break on Through," and they got people dancing.
When the band cut into "Born to Run," Spurlock said that it's something of a tradition for new bands to play at least one Springsteen cover, pointing out that Billy Walton also squeezed in a little recognized Boss number, keeping the tradition going. But even though it's an E-Street signature tune, Jacque had been doing "Born to Run" since back in her Bubba Mac Shack days, and played it straight up, no chaser, no fiddling with the arrangement, just rolling down highway nine, the same two lane blacktop, north or south. And she did it with balls.
Genuinely appreciated, they did a three song encore and left everybody satisfied.
It was a good night at the Stone Pony.
Jacque's dad, Tom Major took some photos, and promised to send me afew via email, but I haven't heard from him yet. Wll figure out how to post them when I get them.
Sharon Stabhley, a young, vivacious photogrpher from Ocean City [http://www.sharonstabley.com/] also took some pix, and promised to share.
I'll post the photos here as soon as I get them.
In addition, Jacque and the band recorded a live CD in Ventnor on April 6th that should be available soon. More to come on that.
Now that Jacque has a tight band together, she should get a few local South Jersey Shore gigs for this summer, one for a Sunday afternoon, where we can all meet her after church and jam.
End Notes: On an historical note, Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band never played the South Jersey Shore, south of Atlantic City. They played LBI, Burlington County College, Pemberton (outdoors) and Uncle Al's Earlton Lounge at the bowling alley on the Rt. 70 circle in Cherry Hill.
When I got a chance to talk to Herb "Bubba" Birch, he said that there won't be a Bubba Mac Blues Fest in Atlantic City this year, but maybe next year, if he can get a sponsor.
Then, as I was writing this, news came of death of Danny Federici, the keyboard/accordian player with the E Street Band. If you want to play some tunes in his honor, think of "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)" and "Hungry Heart," "I got a wife and kids in Baltimore Jack, went out for a ride and never went back,....," that's Danny on the circus accordian and keys. Danny is featured strongly on the 9/11 song "You're Missing."
A founding member of the E-Street Band, "Phantom Dan" was replaced in November 2007 with Charles Giordano (more on this guy later).
Bruce and the band postponed shows in Lauderdale and Orlando, Florida, and Bruce issued the statement: "Danny and I worked together for 40 years - he was the most wonderflly fluid keyboard player and pure natural musician. I loved him very much...we grew up together."
For a taste of Danny Federici's soul, listen to his solo CDs, "Flemington" (1997, as in Flemington, New Jersey, his hometown) and "Out of a Dream." (2005).