New Jersey Stage

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Jersey Shore Musicians Helping One of Their Own: The Concert For Kevin Kavanaugh

by Lee Mrowicki

(ASBURY PARK, NJ -- SUNDAY, MAY 1, 2011) -- It's something that comes very natural to performers at the Jersey Shore...helping out a fellow human being in a desperate situation. But this time was a little different....it was for one of their own... renown keyboard player and one of the founders of the music scene at the Jersey Shore, Kevin Kavanaugh.

Kevin has had a tough time of it lately. The sad part of it, like many musicians, Kevin has no health insurance. So, going to the doctor is not something that's done on a regular basis. Ask all of Kevin's compadres and you'll mostly get the same answer...no health insurance.

Well, what happens where something serious comes, like in Kevin's case. The first thing someone says is '"let's do a benefit'".

After that, people get together and find a venue and sell some tickets and raise a few dollars. In my own experience, it was always a worthwhile and rewarding act of kindness to organize and produce a benefit for someone less fortunate.

But it's not often that a musician himself, like Kevin Kavanaugh, needs to be the beneficiary of the kindness of his talented friends.

Kevin Kavanaugh grew up in Middletown, NJ and early on became friendly with a guitar player who lived in the area named Steven Van Zandt, later to become his boss when Steven put together the original Asbury Jukes.

It wasn't until he ventured into Asbury Park and took the stairs upward to the infamous Upstage Club and became one of the early participants in the weekly jam sessions that became an integral and important part of  Asbury's growing music scene. The Upstage was the place to be---as a musician as well as a serious music fan. The Upstage was history in the making, especially when a guitar player and singer with long curly hair named Springsteen got up to play.

A lot of people look for Kevin to play, then and currently...first of all there weren't many around and his instrument was a definite in forming a band and important in playing the blues and R&B that was popular with the musicians who frequented the Upstage. And secondly, Kevin was solid and bluesy. In other words, he could play.

When a keyboard player was needed for his new musical entity called the Asbury Jukes, the then E Street Band member Van Zandt didn't look very far for the player he needed.  And because everyone in Asbury was given a nickname by either Van Zandt, who was now nicknamed Miami Steve (later extending that to Sugar Miami Steve), Kevin was called '"Close-out'"---you're gonna have to ask '"Miami'" the reasoning and the meaning.

Fast forward to current events with Kevin now suffering in a coma at Riverview Hospital...and his friends coming to the rescue.

And so was the case yesterday at the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, NJ, located on the beloved '"Circuit'"---a route traveled by many a teenager in the 60's and 70's in whatever vehicle could be mustered to go driving and searching for fun and maybe some romance.

The line-up was what we in Asbury Park call the '"usual suspects'".

By that we mean the most talented people NJ ever saw...and all are graduates of the Stone Pony College of Musical Knowledge... or how to play  hundreds of different songs with four or five different chord progressions and similar bass lines and horn charts. All led by a guy who has the mind of a jukebox and knows more songs from the past 40 years than anyone you'd ever know.

So the afternoon began with a group of talented musicians who once called themselves Cold Blast & Steel and a crowd of about 100, about half of the expected sold-out crowd at the moderately sized and ultra-cool Wonder Bar. Throughout the afternoon into the evening, it was cozy...not overly crowded, just nice and comfortable.

The breeze coming off the ocean was cool----but the music inside was hot...from the first note to the last, including the announcement towards the end that Bin Laden had gone to meet the Grim Reaper.

Cold Blast & Steel played good old rock'n roll with horns---nothing more-nothing less, it was pure. With as many as 12 talented musicians on stage, it was a great way to start what was going to be a very special evening of great music.

CB&S featured local legends Lance Larsen, John Oeser, former  Juke Tony Palligrossi, drummer Steve Schraeger, Mike Scialfa, and the CB&S horns featuring saxman extraordinaire Tommy '"Taco'" LaBella, trumpeter John Berry, and '"bone'" master  Tom Mearas...plus one of the unsung guitar heroes at the Shore, Ricky '"D'" DeSarno---some of the fastest fingers in the East. They were joined by members of the Blackberry Blues Band and you had a great start to a rockin' day for a good cause.

The next act was singer/songwriters Bob Burger and Lisa Bouchelle, two of the most talented and beautiful voices in NJ rock'n'roll playing songs from their catalog of recently released CD's--- a collaboration that showcased remarkable songwriting skills and voices that match and blend so well... not unlike other famous duos like Hall and Oates. They received rousing applause often during their set and deservedly so.

Following them was the band Chik-a-Boom, with whom Kevin had played with often in the past, as well as a reunion of old bandmates in the Shore's  80's favorites Joey & the Works, featuring members of ‘Boom. There were so many highlights during this show that they are too numerous to mention but one of the surprises was the resurrection of a
couple of Joey& the Works originals that were certainly crowd pleasers.


Up next was the first of the day's surprises... a brief but satisfying performance by one of the Shore's adopted sons, John Eddie, accompanied by PK Lavengood. Evidence that John has cultivated an audience throughout the US with his cool country, tongue-in-cheek
songs, some of which have been covered by the likes of Kid Rock and others.

It was one group of talented performers after another... next with a combination of great Shore bands Holme, Cats on a Smooth Surface, and Diamonds, featuring the vocal talents of Joel Krauss, Harry Filkin, Billy Morris and Peter Schulle. One song better than the next. Two highlights were the unbelievable version of '"Suite:Judy Blues Eyes'" which sounded so much like the original, as well as Joel Krauss' stirring soulful version of '"Kiss and Say Goodbye'". Words couldn't describe how good it was. The crowd, now about 200, just looked at each other and said, '"wow'"!

Just when you thought it couldn't get any better, Joel brings out fellow Holme member Marc Ribler, who did a couple of Hendrix songs as if Jimi was right there inside of Marc.

How much better could the show get... well, you bring on Bobby Bandiera, now getting deserved international recognition as a fulltime member of Bon Jovi. Kevin has played with Bandiera probably more than any other performer. When Bobby brings his friends along, count on great music and a lot of surprises...first, he warmed up the crowd with his rendition of Traffic's '"Dear Mr. Fantasy. Then Bobby turned on the faucet of friends with former Cats bandmates Vinnie Danielle and Ray Anderson taking lead on '"Gimme Some Lovin''" and the Doors' '"Touch Me'".

Bandiera never ceases to please--- he was then joined by his and Kevin's former boss in the Jukes, Southside Johnny, as well as the evening's surprise guest and an infamous character in his own right, Gary US Bonds.

So for more than 7 hours, you got a menu of Jersey Shore rock'n'roll that showcased as much talent and virtuosity as you would have ever seen on one stage in a small venue. Combine that with an auction that featured bongos autographed by Ringo Starr, the Darkness compilation signed by Bruce Springsteen, a Philadelphia Soul jersey signed by team owner John Bongiovi or Jon Bon Jovi, however you want to spell it.

Whatever you wanted to call this show... for Kevin Kavanugh, it was '"With A Little Help From My Friends'". They all came out... they sang...they played...they all hope and pray that he miraculously wakes up and comes back to be the Kevin they all know and love.

And yes... a good, no...a great time was had by all, on stage and in the crowd as well. Yes, here at the Jersey Shore, it just doesn't get any better than this.