Chain of rock

Willie Nile, who came along in 1980 with a debut album that prompted Pete Townshend to put him on tour with The Who, returns to Club Cafe, South Side, tonight.

This time, the New York singer-songwriter is supporting his 10th album, “If I Was a River,” that is something of a departure, being a set of thoughtful, reflective piano songs.

Last month, Mr. Nile was part of the Light of Day marathon in the New Jersey/New York area, where he was joined on stage by Bruce Springsteen. It’s a favor Mr. Nile is known to pass along.

Says Pittsburgh rocker Brad Wagner, who opens tonight’s show, “In 2013 he called me up on stage during his encore to take a bow with his band and Joe Grushecky. When I thanked Willie after the show he said that’s what Springsteen does for me. It felt pretty cool to be a small link in the chain of rock royalty.”

It begins at 8 p.m. Cover is $15; www.clubcafelive.com.

 

Music Notes: Brad Wagner enjoying life of a barfly
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."



Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/ae/music/music-notes-brad-wagner-enjoying-life-of-a-barfly-699300/#ixzz2c4z0pYmv

 


PITTSBURGH -- His name-dropping of Arnold Horshack from "Welcome Back Kotter" and Anita Ekberg in "La Dolce Vita" is reason alone to like songwriter Brad Wagner.

Though it's Wagner's deeper, more wry observations that make his new album, "Barfly," a worth-your-time listen.

Hailing from two local Mounts -- Washington and Lebanon -- Wagner and his bar-rock band will introduce the album Saturday with a CD release show at Club Cafe on Pittsburgh's South Side.

On his website, Wagner characterizes the album as a 15-song journey through the "glorious transmissions of freedom that a guttural howl and three chords produce from the rickety stages of taverns and watering holes where the weary go to shed their problems for a few hours and lose themselves in rock 'n' roll."

He gleaned wisdom like that perched on erratically lit stages for 10 to 2 sets at neighborhood saloons.

The album's lead-off line: "In the town I live I play in a band/20 bucks a head for a one-night stand/if the owner is cool and the van don't break/maybe meet a girl and buy her a steak."

On "Just Like Elvis" he looks down upon songwriters who focus on the fatter, white jumpsuit-era Presley, adding "the Elvis I remember/Kissed Ann-Margret on the lips/Held a country up for ransom/By the way he moved his hips."

Along the way, Wagner blasts politicians ("Lyin' to the masses/divide them into classes/rose colored glasses economy") touts his stature as a regular ol' Joe ("live on a dead-end street, not a cul-de-sac"), and sets a scene where a barfly takes a last-ditch shot at romance at a quarter 'til closing time ("If you're looking for some company/And you ain't fussy about quality/If you're looking for a stranger/There ain't nobody stranger than me.")

Bandmates Steven Adams (lead guitar), Brad Grimm (bass) and Jerry Coyne (drums) supply the tight, rugged sound complementing the storytelling that's as straight-ahead as plopping four quarters on a pool table for dibs on next game.

Wagner takes his Randy Newman influences for a spin on "Volvo" ("She wants a Volvo so she can look real cool/For all the Yuppies in Hush Puppies/Fresh out business school."

Yes, Yuppies seems an outdated reference -- though not as flagrant as his song "Hula Hoop."

Though Wagner also slips in a Justin Bieber reference, and there is something appealing to him not trying too hard to be hip; like one of those musty, neon-lit watering holes populated by his "Barfly" characters.

Maybe more so than those characters, Wagner has the motivation and talent to reach his career goals.

"I would like the songs to reach as many ears as possible," he said via email. "I think we are in a very exciting and liberating time, accessing the Internet and using the DIY process of spreading the news. I have at least three whole albums of songs written and looking forward to recording with this band that has brought so much life and feeling to my songs."

 

 

Brad Wagner releases a new concept album

Barfly is a de-glamorized, disillusioned description of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle from someone who has been in it a long time

 | August 14, 2013

"She wears tight pants / says she's gonna be a star," sings Brad Wagner about a fictional young wannabe Florence Welch, on "Little Julie," from his album Barfly. "But there's a guy in my band who's 43 / Been sayin' that same damn thing since he was 17."

A concept album, Barfly is a de-glamorized, disillusioned description of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle from someone who has been in it long enough to see dreams shatter, youths misspent and, occasionally, spirits endure.

Wagner, 51, has gigged at Pittsburgh bars since the mid '80s and has played in a variety of party bands and Springsteen-esque working-class ensembles — all while holding a variety of day jobs. (He currently drives a truck for the post office.) Though there is a heady dose of humor, Barfly echoes with the jaundiced view one only earns through putting in that many years in a hardscrabble career. "I bounce around from job to job / Never gettin' one done / We just sit around and mumble / 'Bout our insecure state / And we blame politicians / As we commiserate," he sings of a group of pub musicians reaching the half-century mark without serious résumés.

Wagner says he isn't exactly speaking in his own voice but that of a made-up character from a similar background. "I wouldn't say it's totally autobiographical," he says. "I have embellished to make the character more dramatic."

A concept album is an unexpected endeavor for an everyman rocker like Wagner. He says the project came about organically: "I had a few songs with these sentiments and wrote about a few more to flush it out." The end result "shouldn't be read as one storyline, like a play, but there is a thread running through it."

Despite his obvious anxiety about a creative life, Wagner says he'll probably keep it up until he's gigging in the community room of his nursing home. "If you can't be discouraged enough to stop after a few decades of playing to 100-person rooms, you can't be discouraged by anything."

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