Shaw & Blades
Best known for his guitar playing and singing in the classic rock group Styx, Tommy Shaw in recent years has teamed with Night Ranger’s Jack Blades to record a couple of albums, compose songs with artists like Aerosmith and Ozzy Osbourne, and present occasional shows.
Shaw played Maui with Styx in 2008 and the enthusiastic reception back then prompted him to return on Feb. 23 for an acoustic show with Blades in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s McCoy Studio Theater.
“It was one of the coolest audiences we’ve ever played for,” Tommy Shaw reports. “They were so into it and dancing in the aisles.”
The duo first began performing together in 1989, when the hard rock supergroup Damn Yankees was formed with Ted Nugent.
“When we worked in Damn Yankees it was mostly me and Jack writing the songs and we’d take them to Ted and he would Nugetize them,” Shaw explains. “Then we made the decision to go out as just the two of us and (guitarist/singer) Will Evankovich became the third partner in Shaw Blades.”
On their most recent album, “Influence,” the duo pay tribute to some of the great ’60s and ’70s music that inspired them. It’s quite an extraordinary achievement as the musicians kind of morph into each artist they cover, whether the Hollies with “On a Carousel,” Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work” or Seals and Crofts’ “Summer Breeze.”
And it was not just fans and critics who raved about the venture, as they actually impressed a number of the musicians they interpreted.
“Jon Anderson was really nice (about their version of Yes’ ‘Your Move’),” he reveals. “And Michelle Phillips from the Mamas and the Papas gave us a big thumbs up for ‘California Dreaming,’ and Graham Nash gave us a big thumbs up for ‘On a Carousel.’ We felt really good about it after that.”
Of all the songs they covered, Shaw says he was most daunted by tackling the music of prog rock legends Yes.
“Jack came to me with ‘Your Move,’ and I thought it was an insane proposition. I still feel like a kid looking up to Yes. None of the songs were easy to do, and part if it was our reverence and respect for them to make sure they were done right.”
Aside from covering rock classics, most recently Shaw released a superb album of bluegrass music, “The Great Divide.”
“With ‘The Great Divide,’ Shaw convincingly shifts his singing and writing talents to the raw country and bluegrass music he grew up with,” noted a Country Standard Time review. And the Nashville Music Industry Examiner proclaimed: “Shaw takes to bluegrass like the proverbial duck to water, sounding so relaxed and at home in this genre that he instantly makes you forget all about Styx.”
“It was something that was always in me,” he explains. “I grew up in Montgomery, Alabama, and I’ve been hearing that music my whole life. It was a lot of fun to do and it really opened up the world of stringed instruments like the banjo, mandolin and dobro.”
Composing or co-writing all the songs on the record, Shaw surrounded himself with some of the best players in the genre including mandolinist Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas on dobro, plus Dwight Yoakam and Alison Krauss, who has been performing with Robert Plant.
“It was unbelievable to be in a room with them talking about playing with Johnny Cash and Bill Monroe,” he says. “I soaked it all up. It was like being 10 years old again. My mother said the album was her favorite of anything I’ve done.”
As a kid in the early 1960s, he grew up mesmerized by the Beatles and made his first public appearance playing “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” winning a 4-H talent contest. In time he performed in some popular regional bands and then one day he got a call inviting him to audition for Styx.
“I just thought of them as a successful local band, little did I know that the song ‘Lady’ had broken out all over the world,” he recalls. “As soon as I got to the audition they played ‘Midnight Ride’ from their new album ‘Equinox.’ It’s a blazing rock track with huge vocals and I was stunned. I had gone from being complacent to I’ve got to be in this band.”
In the next few years, Shaw composed some of Styx’s most beloved songs, such as “Too Much Time on My Hands,” “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” and “Renegade,” contributing to their multi-platinum success.
“I’m proud to have been on the whole ride,” he says. It’s been an amazing experience. So many bands didn’t survive or squandered their success, and we’re still back on the rise again, playing to generations of fans, seeing little kids on their parent’s shoulders singing the words to album tracks. There’s something that’s passed the test of time. Now it’s just about how do we keep this at as high a level as possible.”
While Shaw continues touring with Styx, and Blades with Night Ranger, the two musicians have over time co-composed songs with Aerosmith (“Shut Up and Dance,” “Can’t Stop Messin”) and Ozzy Osbourne (“Whole World’s Fallin’ Down”) and even worked with Cher (“Whenever You’re Near”).
On his own, Shaw was part of the British Rock Symphony project joining Alice Cooper singing a medley of Stones, Beatles and Who songs; and he’s contributed to tribute albums to Aerosmith, Queen, Pink Floyd and Kiss.
This year, in between busy schedules with their respective bands, Shaw and Blades are putting together songs for a follow-up to “Influence.”
“We’ve got one about half way done and it’s a lot of big songs,” he says. “We’ve done ‘Tiny Dancer’ by Elton John and ‘Carry On’ by Crosby, Stills and Nash, and we’re working on ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.'”
So what does he enjoy most about playing with his Night Ranger buddy in an acoustic context?
“There’s a kind of freedom and nakedness about it,” he says. “You’re just right out there, there’s no hiding in the mix. It’s just a nice adjunct to what we do. For the fans, it’s a very up close and personal thing. It’s an opportunity to play the songs we wrote and some of our favorite songs that had a big influence on us growing up.”
* Tommy Shaw & Jack Blades perform at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 23 in a Solo Sessions show at the MACC’s McCoy Studio Theater. Tickets are $45 standard, and $65 for premium seating.
It’s a big weekend for entertainment with Kumu Hula Keali’i Reichel presenting the 2013 Kukahi concerts on Saturday and Sunday at the MACC, and the 33rd annual World Whale Day celebration on Saturday at Kihei’s Kalama Park.
Renowned as one of Hawaii’s most popular recording artists, Reichel’s music, chant and hula represent the best of Hawaiian traditional and contemporary poetry and dance today. In 2011, he was inducted into the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame for his lifetime achievements.
The annual concerts will help raise funds for Halau Ke’alaokamaile to build a permanent hula school and cultural center in Central Maui. The new facility will support and inspire its mission “to perpetuate the Hawaiian tradition, culture and heritage through its arts, beliefs, dance and language.”
* Tickets are $35, $45 and $55 for adults, and $17.50, $22.50 and $27.50 for keiki 12 years and younger.
Pacific Whale Foundation’s celebration attracts thousands to Kihei every year. Free entertainment will be presented throughout the day on two stages, with one of Hawaii’s most popular bands, Kalapana, headlining. The line-up of musical talent will also include Willie K, Ekolu, Marty Dread, Erin Smith and the Throwdowns, plus hula with Manute’a Nui E. And the KPOA Maui Allstar Band will perform featuring Ekolu Kalama, joined by KPOA DJs and musicians Alaka’i Paleka, Kaena Brown and Shane Kahalehau.
A second stage will feature entertainment for the keiki, including a performance by the award-winning Banana Slug String Band from Santa Cruz, Calif., whose music is designed to inspire young people and their families to learn about and care for the ocean.
“This is an opportunity to see and hear some of Hawaii’s greatest musicians, all in one place for free,” says Pacific Whale Foundation’s Executive Director Greg Kaufman.
* The festival takes place from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Kalama Park. Admission is free.
Coming up on Feb. 22 we’ll see the return of Broadway star Lea Salonga to the MACC’s Castle Theater. This Filipina singer/actress is renowned for originating the lead role of Kim in “Miss Saigon,” for which she won Olivier and Tony awards. She also provided the singing voice of two Disney princesses, Jasmine in “Aladdin” and Fa Mulan in “Mulan.” In 2011, Salonga was named a Disney Legend for her work.
* Tickets are $35, $45, $55, and $125 for VIP which includes post-show meet and greet. For tickets and more information, call the MACC box office at 242-7469.