Music Notes: Brad Wagner enjoying life of a barfly
August 15, 2013 4:00 AM
Brad Wagner says bar rock is "the soul underbelly of the music business."
By Scott Mervis Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The term "bar rock" is often used in a derogatory manner to refer to a homegrown music that's more gritty than it is adventurous. The notion is that there's a bunch of these bands in every city, especially in the Rust Belt, and their specialty is shot-n-beer songs for a Saturday night.
Brad Wagner, whose new album is "Barfly," doesn't mind if you tack that label on him. "I am proud to be associated with it," he says. "To me it's the soul underbelly of the music business."
Mr. Wagner has been at this for nearly 30 years, starting with the party band Critical and the more rough-and-tumble Boilermakers, with whom he released his first cassette, 1993's "Bootleg." Along with spending a lot of nights playing the front stage at Graffiti, he was a member of the Flashcats when the band was backing up soul man Bull Moose Jackson and later went on to sing with the Blues Junkies.
Three years ago, he formed Brad Wagner and the Barflys with guitarist Steven E. Adams, bassist Brad Grimm and drummer Jerry Coyne. For his first release in 19 years, the singer-songwriter has compiled new and old tracks into a 15-song album, "Barfly," that's centered around a character struggling through a lifelong rock 'n' roll dream.
The scuffed boots on the cover and titles like "Just Like Elvis," "Delivering Pizzas," "Regular Joe" and "Drinkin Smokin Gamblin" offer a sense of the greasy rock inside. The first song, "Little Julie," very much in the vein of the Iron City Houserockers, sets the stage for what is to come when he sings, "Well, there's just one club for every 1,000 bands/what is worth its weight in gold is a loyal fan/21 and over we play 10 to 2/cause we ain't found nothin' else better to do."
"I noticed there was a thread running through some of them from the perspective of the local rock troubadour," Mr. Wagner says. "Some of the experiences were firsthand, some observational. I felt a story emerging of a tale of The Barfly who whatever is going on in life finds the time and the drive to do what gives a feeling that can't be found anywhere else in the daily routine. Standing on a stage playing the songs that come from deep inside and songs of artists that have inspired so many."
Mr. Adams, who has worked with the singer on and off for 18 years, produced and mixed the record. "The rhythm tracks and some vocals were all recorded live in an abandoned jewelry store in Ellwood City that Steve procured for us," Mr. Wagner says, "and the overdubs at various nontraditional locations such as bathrooms and boiler rooms."
The Barflys will celebrate the release Saturday at Club Cafe, which might not have the ambiance of Pittsburgh's old home of rock 'n' roll, The Decade, but it is a still place where fans are practically on stage with the band -- in trademark bar-rock fashion.
"Obviously the goal is to have your music reach as many ears as possible," the singer says, "but you can go to small pubs and taverns all over the country on any given weekend and find musicians, who really feel it because it means so much to them and in turn the audience can find what they came for, a short respite, that feeling of freedom that music can give you when you open yourself up to it. That feels very magical to me, it always has."
Those plans for how to clean up the Heinz Field parking lot during and after a Kenny Chesney concert ... they can be put on hold.
The country star, whose No Shoes Nation tour drew 49,042 to the stadium in June, recently told the Hollywood Reporter that he's taking a break from touring next summer:
"I love touring more than anyone in the world. ... It's weird to not be looking at next year's stage design, but I shouldn't make albums to service the tour. So I'm going to put the music first, dial it back and do the strangest thing in the world: not hit the road next summer."
This summer's concert drew controversy for the mounds of garbage fans left in the parking lot -- 50,000 to 60,000 pounds of trash, according to one estimate, including half-eaten food, bottles, cans, broken furniture, portable pools, and buckets and boxes that were used as toilets.
There were also a number of fights and arrests for public intoxication, fights and disorderly conduct.
Before members of the "Ban Kenny Chesney" Facebook page rejoice, they should know that it's possible that one of his many peers -- Eric Church, Blake Shelton, Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan -- or even an old-timer like George Strait could step in and fill that void.
Mac Miller on Fader
Mac Miller is on the cover of The FADER's Fall Fashion issue, which hits stands Sept. 3. The magazine visits his LA mansion, where he talks, among other things, about his now-fading reputation as a frat-rapper: "That was never me. I never went to college, I was never in a frat, I was always uncomfortable at college parties. I didn't even go to parties!"
Miller, it should also be noted, gets a shout-out on the now infamous Kendrick Lamar verse on the new song "Control (HOF)," during which Lamar raps, "And that goes for Jermaine Cole, Big KRIT, Wale/Pusha T, Meek Mill, A$AP Rocky, Drake/Big Sean, Jay Electron', Tyler, Mac Miller/I got love for you all but I'm tryna murder you [expletives]/Tryna make sure your core fans never heard of you [expletives]/They don't wanna hear not one more noun or verb from you [expletives]."
Miller tweeted quite brilliantly, "If I can't do no more nouns or verbs ima start comin with the wildest adjective bars that anyone has ever heard."