Great piece by my colleague Gary Stern today on singer/songwriter Jack Grace and his band. Grace, a local product from Armonk, N.Y., has been quietly making waves in the music business and may be poised to break out.
Check out Gary’s piece, which ran today in The Journal News/LoHud.com
Meet the Jack Grace Band
By Gary Stern
Armonk might not seem to be a natural stomping ground for a future country music singer partial to songs about drinking and gambling and longing for happiness in an unforgiving world.
But Jack Grace says the Armonk he grew up in during the ’70s and ’80s was mostly woods. His friends had working-class parents from Brooklyn. AP classes were not yet an obsession.
“I grew up riding dirt bikes in the woods, getting chased by the police,” he says. “I have endless country-bumpkin stories from Armonk. I guess we were the last of a breed.”
So Grace, who was still known as John Pancaldo when he graduated from Byram Hills High School in 1986, had at least some of the material he needed to become a smart, funny and lyrical songwriter. He’s been leading the Jack Grace Band for a decade, mostly in and around New York City, building a small, devoted audience that he hopes will become less intimate.
The band is playing at Towne Crier Cafe in Pawling on Friday and at Beacon Riverfest on Saturday.
Grace has a deep and versatile voice — “People call it a velvety baritone,” he says with his steady mischievous smile — that recalls many shouters and crooners from the country and rock pantheons. In fact, he’s been offered several gigs to front Johnny Cash cover bands.
“I do Cash too well,” he said last week at The Turning Point in Piermont before opening up for hefty bluesman Papa Chubby. “I got one life to live. It’s not going to be somebody else’s.”
The most recent of Grace’s five CDs was last year’s “Drinking Songs for Lovers,” a collection of songs in which alcohol is a revealing and shady supporting character. In “If You’re Gonna Raise a Drunk,” Grace advises the guardian of a future drinker on how to make the best of it: “Teach him how to laugh and how to always be polite/Make people smile and have a beautiful night/If you’re gonna raise a drunk, you might as well do it right.”
It’s a bouncy toe-tapper that, like Grace’s best songs, is funny and terribly sad at the same time. When he suggests teaching the drunk “to shut his mouth so he doesn’t look like a fool,” the character becomes all too recognizable.
Grace, who called his previous album “The Martini Cowboy,” took some time off from songwriting to let all the drinking puns in his head dissolve like Alka-Seltzer tablets. He says his next album, nearly done, will include several, for lack of a better term, “protest songs.”
“Things (aren’t good) right now,” he said. “There’s greed, hard times, things looking bleak, the end of the middle class, people losing their right to age with dignity.”
“And there are love songs,” added his wife, Daria, who plays bass in Grace’s bands and often sings duets with him.
She said Grace’s humor is still there: “Each song has a bit of a wink.”
The next album, Grace says, will be less country and more rock, with a lot of the Latin flavorings that have spiced up previous records.
“Jack has this lyrical sense and delivery that is pretty unique, whether he does country or Latin or whatever,” says Bruce Martin, one of Grace’s drummers who also plays with Tom Tom Club, the band of former Talking Heads Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz.
Grace has built some serious credibility in the music world. Beloved New York DJ Vin Scelsa last year called Grace’s song “It’s Been a Really Bad Year,” which features mariachi horns, one of his songs of the year. “Kind of an anthem, kind of a mantra,” Scelsa said.
Legendary country pianist Earl Poole Ball, who backed Cash for decades and played with the Byrds on the landmark “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” album, has crossed paths with Grace.
“He’s a great songwriter and fella, such an authentic guy,” Ball said. “He puts on a great show. Daria is so talented. New York is lucky to have them.”
Michael Blitzer, the long-time manager of Jerry Lee Lewis, hired Grace to open for Lewis a couple of years ago in New York City. Blitzer says that Grace won over a packed house.
“Jack did his thing and just slayed ’em,” he says. “The variety of songs, the lyrics, his stage presence, his leadership and the great band, just knocked them out.”
Lewis later told Grace that he reminded him of his pal Cash. “Jerry Lee doesn’t say things he doesn’t mean,” Blitzer says.
Grace grew up hoping to become a motor-cross racer and didn’t pick up a guitar until he was 18. Like all the Armonk kids, he was into the “whole Floyd-Zep thing” and it was a big deal to see Rush at the Garden.
He got into country and roots music through Neil Young, the Grateful Dead and finally Merle Haggard.
Grace graduated from Burlington College in Vermont with a degree in music and theater. He considers himself an entertainer and takes pride in avoiding schtick or canned jokes on stage.
“People who come to my shows say they’re always different,” he says, pulling at a scraggly goatee that compliments bushy sideburns stretching to his jawbone.
At the Turning Point, he played a song that he said he wrote the day he and Daria “got engaged at a Kentucky Derby party.” It’s called “What I Drink and Who I Meet at the Track (is My Business).”
What a romantic.
He and Daria, who has her own band, the Pre-War Ponies, now live in Woodstock. Grace describes it as beautiful but boring, overstocked with “I smoked a joint with Jimi Hendrix” stories.
It says a lot about Grace that two of his main influences are Woody Allen and the late satirical writer Richard Brautigan. Grace’s high school yearbook picture features a quote from Brautigan: “Two guys get out of a car/They stand beside it/They don’t know what else to do.”
“And that,” Grace says, “was growing up in Westchester.”
seeing the jack grace band
June 24: 8:30 p.m., at Towne Crier Cafe, 130 Route 22, Pawling. For information or tickets, go to townecrier.com or call 845-855-1300.
June 25: 3 p.m., at Beacon Riverfest 2011, Riverfront Park, Beacon. For information, go to beaconriverfest.com.
July 8, 10 p.m., Rodeo Bar, 375 3rd Ave., New York. For information, go to rodeobar.com.
For more dates or to hear Grace’s music, go to jackgrace.com.
Follow us on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LHListeningRoom