To folks of refined taste, Marshall Crenshaw is nothing less than a pop-rock icon. The Detroit-bred singer / songwriter penned some of the most memorable hooks of the early ‘80s on his self-titled debut and acclaimed follow-up, Field Day (“Someday, Someway,” “Cynical Girl,” “There She Goes Again”).
Looking every bit the intellectual in geeky glasses and skinny-ties, Crenshaw purloined the best bits of rock’s great forefathers—including The Beatles and Buddy Holly—and furthered their melodic, folk-rock style with his own indelible chops and refrain-writing. So convincing was Crenshaw’s roots-rock verve that he was tapped to portray The Crickets frontman in the 1987 Ritchie Valens flick La Bamba and John Lennon in the off-Broadway musical Beatlemania.
Crenshaw forged into the 90s, writing hits for the Gin Blossoms and others, lending his infectious tunes to T.V. commercials and movies, like the 2010 John C. Reilly musical comedy Walk Hard.
2009’s Jaggedland boasted twelve original gems that reminded fans why they dug the Crenshaw in the first place. The melodies were sharp, the rhythms alluring, the turns of phrase as sticky-sweet as candy. Songs like “Never Coming Down” and “Long Hard Road” will continue to charm and haunt listeners come twenty, thirty, fifty years—just as “Cynical Girl” and “Mary Ann” still pack their pop-rock wallop today.
Capturing magic moments in bow-dressed bottles of rich soul-blues has always been Crenshaw’s forte, setting (and resetting) standards for himself instead of riding trends (which, given his considerable talent, might’ve been an easier, more lucrative—but less scenic—road).
So instead of cutting another full-length follow-up to Jaggedland, Crenshaw launched a Kickstarter campaign whereby fans could subscribe to a year’s worth of staggered-release singles on 45 rpm vinyl. The first, “I Don’t See You Laughing Now,” arrived in November 2012 and features a B-Side cover of The Move’s “No Time” and a live version of Crenshaw’s own “There She Goes Again.” The most recent, “Stranger and Stranger,” dropped May 7, 2013.
The vinyl EPs are also available a la carte via Crenshaw’s website, and each is accompanied by a digital download.
Crenshaw returns to Beachland Ballroom on Friday, May 31st. The Bottle Rockets will once again serve as both his opener and backing band. We caught up with Marshall last week to discuss his Kickstarter campaign and radio show “The Bottomless Pit,” which he hosts on WFUV every Saturday night at 10:00pm (with archives online at the link below).
CLEVELAND MUSIC EXAMINER: Jaggedland was one of my favorite albums of 2009. But instead of doing another studio album, you decided to offer fans a “subscription” to a series of singles to be issued over the next year or so, starting with “I Don’t See You Laughing” and continuing with the 10” for “Stranger and Stranger.” It’s a neat new concept a few other artists are adopting, like John Oates, and offers one-shot doses of music to distracted listeners in a digital age. Anything in particular make you decide to go that route? What factors were considered, etc?
MARSHALL CRENSHAW: Thanks for the comments about Jaggedland. With this new project it’s simply a different way of going forward with record making, which I can’t help but want to do, and in a really fresh way, for my money.
CME: You’ve been touring with The Bottle Rockets as a backup band for a while now. I had the fortune of seeing you with them live a couple time at the Beachland in Cleveland, and you’ll be doing it again in May. How’d you meet up with the band and start this terrific collaboration?
MC: I’ve really enjoyed working with them, they’re great people, a great rock band. We have the same booking agent; he was the one who suggested that we try working together. It’s a really good deal for people who come to the shows, a multi-dimensional bunch of great songs, etc.
CME: You also do your own thing on The Move’s “No Time.” Any thoughts on Jeff Lynne? I always thought of you both as consummate songwriters and producers who seem to know precisely what every song needs, or doesn’t.
MC: Thanks. “No Time,” as far as being a Jeff Lynne song goes, doesn’t adhere to any formula, doesn’t remind me of any other Rock songs, his or anybody’s. It really intrigued the hell out of me when I first heard it as a kid, took my mind on a trip, etc.
CME: I’m aware you helped the great Ronnie Spector cover some of your music a couple years back—I saw her at the Beachland in 2009 as well and it was remarkable. How’d you team up with her?
MC: That came about because of the late Alan Betrock; I think it was a dream come true of Alan’s to produce those tracks for her, and she chose those songs out of all the ones he played for her.
CME: How long have you hosted your “Bottomless Pit” show on WFUV? The show’s getting great reviews for the eclectic, educational mix of tunes you play (apparently from your own library?). Being from Detroit, do you have other ties to Fordham / New York that resulted in your doing the show there, as opposed to some other channel / outlet?
MC: I’ve had a great relationship with the station forever; some of the DJs there are veterans of the old WNEW-FM, which, again, was a friendly place for me. The show before mine is Vin Scelza’s; he’s one of the all-time great Rock radio DJs. I love having the show on WFUV, I think it’s the perfect place.
CME: Any favorite guitar players? I’ve always known you knew your way around the fret board by listening to your music, but seeing you live really drives home how versatile you are on the instrument.
MC: Some of my favorites are people that I play with, like Andy York, who’s on the first EP, Wayne Kramer—who’s on Jaggedland—and John and Brian from the Bottle Rockets. One player whose style I like, and have always liked, is Peter Frampton. And then there’s Mark Ribot, Nels Kline, Richard Lloyd, hundreds more I could name.
Tickets for Marshall Crenshaw and The Bottle Rockets. Friday, May 31 at Beachland Ballroom (15711 Waterloo Road, Cleveland, Ohio). Showtime is 8:30pm. Tickets are $20 at this link: http://www.ticketweb.com/t3/sale/SaleEventDetail?dispatch=loadSelectionD…