Jerry Kopychuk and Andy Fediw were bitten by the country-rock bug as young musicians — and decades later, they still are infected. That much is clear from listening to Kinderhook’s new, self-titled album, which is a fun romp of Americana, roots and good-time music.
Kopychuk (guitar, vocals) and Fediw (bass, vocals) team up with fellow Kinderhook Creek alum Craig Barry (drums, vocals) and three relatively new band members on the 10-song effort, which is available here. It’s the band’s first studio album, ever, and they will celebrate the release with a Feb. 17 show at Tim McLoone’s Supper Club in Asbury Park.
“When we got back together in 2010, we were overwhelmed with how many people still remembered the band (from its ’70s and ’80s heyday) and kept coming to our shows. It still blows our minds,” said Fediw, a Newark native who was childhood pals with Kopychuk, of Irvington. “We finally decided that we owed it to them and to ourselves to record an album.”
On the new release, the three original members are joined by Jimmy Ryan (pedal and lap steel, dobro, vocals), Gary Oleyar (lead guitar, violin, banjo, vocals) and Jack Kurlansik (lead guitar). Fediw and Oleyar produced the music, which was recorded at Sonoma Beach Studios in Clark; the latter also engineered and mastered.
Fediw said the newer members bring to the table “fresh ideas, versatility and continuity. Jimmy Ryan and Gary Oleyar are incredibly talented multi-instrumentalists and vocalists. That gives us incredible versatility in the recording studio. Jack Kurlansik anchors our sound with that blues-based rock guitar that was so much a part of our sound with (original member) Joe Breitenbach,” who guests on “Let’s Go.” Also making a guest appearance is original member John Korba (piano on “It’s Not the Same”), who will sit in at McLoone’s. Stan Taylor, who played pedal steel with Kinderhook back in the day, contributes to the new disc with writing (“Good Guys Wear Black”).
The new songs bring to mind Dickey Betts’ 1974 solo album, Highway Call and the bluegrass supergroup Old & In the Way’s self-titled 1975 debut album. Kinderhook smartly opens with the uptempo “Let’s Go” and puts the pedal to the metal from there.
There’s plenty of country-style vocals of the kind that typically emanate from south of the Mason-Dixon line, and the stellar singing is backed by catchy arrangements, pep-in-your-step rhythms and tons of Nashville licks with a few Bakersfield and Allman-style ones thrown in. The solo, background and harmony vocals are crisp and clear. The songs, which are mostly originals, usually started in the hands of an individual writer before becoming collaborative efforts.
In all, it’s a fun ride on a Sunday afternoon through parts of the Garden State that are far from what is seen on the trip from Newark Airport to New York. Kinderhook does not offer any socioeconomic or geopolitical takes; song topics include roadhouses, being close with a favorite dog, riding motorcycles, falling in and out of love and getting in and out of trouble.
One of the best cuts — and the one that provides the biggest grin — is “Unfriended,” which pushes back on the self-absorption of today’s social media with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Think of a hybrid of country and doo-wop: Nashville meets the Bronx (of the old days).
“I had a concept and basic outline for the tune,” said Kopychuk. “I was messing around with it in the studio, and Gary Oleyar liked it and basically made me finish it on the spot. The next day I get an email from him with these insane background vocals. Basically a whole other song interwoven into my vocal track.”
Kinderhook’s New Jersey, as evoked in song, is worlds apart from the malls, highways and subdivisions that have covered the landscape since the first version of the group came together in the 1970s. It was during that decade when country-flavored rock — a cousin of which was dubbed Southern Rock — began to move toward what is at times referred to, today, as Americana. This included Willie Nelson escaping the formula-driven music coming out of Nashville and becoming part of the Outlaw Country movement. The emphasis on roots music also came about in part as a reaction to the synthesizer-driven music and disco of that time.
The desire to get back to basics, and to matters close to home and heart, is what is behind Kinderhook’s music — both then and now. It’s no wonder that the group holds a special fondness and respect for bands such as Poco, The Eagles, The Band and The Byrds. Funny, though, how two guys from Essex County wound up being part of the country/roots scene.
“I guess it started when Andy, myself and some old high school chums went to see The Byrds at Seton Hall and somehow ended up hangin’ with them,” Kopychuk recalled. “(Roger) McGuinn gave Andy his guitar cord, which he later used. We were high school punks then. Anyway, that started a renewed interest in country rock. My mom listened to a (country-and-western) station when I was a kid and we would sing along. I guess that was a seed.”
Kopychuk, Fediw and Taylor coalesced while studying at Rutgers and started gigging around the state, including going from table to table as “mariachis” at a taco joint along Route 22 in Central Jersey.
“On a break we listened to Poco’s Deliverin’ album, and that was it,” said Kopychuk. “We knew what we wanted to do.”
Soon they connected with fiddler Yuri Turchyn and passed an audition at Widow Brown’s Inn in Madison (the venue site now is home to a strip mall).
“All of a sudden, we were drawing crowds. Then from one bar to a larger one, and in the wink of an eye, regular gigs” at notable venues, recalled Kopychuk, who named — among many — the Stone Pony, Tradewinds, The Royal Manor North and South, Art Stock’s Playpen, Dodd’s in Orange and The Beach House (where condos now sit) in Point Pleasant.
From there, the band then known as Kinderhook Creek played The Capitol Theatre in Passaic and The Palladium in New York, and made a memorable 1975 appearance at the big green spot in Manhattan.
“All of a sudden these high school (friends) are opening for their heroes, Poco, at the Schaefer Music Festival in Central Park,” Kopychuk said. “Wow, what happened? Country rock in Jersey? Wish I could say it was a savvy marketing plan, but it was just dumb luck.”
Along with opening for Poco, the band has shared the stage with The Byrds, Alabama, Betts, Joan Jett, New Riders of the Purple Sage, David Bromberg and Commander Cody, among others. It was about 1976, Fediw said, when the band dropped the “Creek” and became known simply as Kinderhook, which is a town in New York where some members went to camp as kids.
However, despite the big gigs and positive reviews from national publications, the band hit a career crossroad — as is the case with many an accomplished group as the years begin to unfold.
“It was a mad scramble for all of us,” Fediw said. “There has never been a game plan other than making it as recording artists. All of us were in survival mode, trying to figure out what the next move was. Jerry was waiting tables for a while, I got into the car business and hated it, Craig tried his hand at commercials. We were just trying to pay the rent. It was not an easy time for any of us.
“Ultimately, we all sorted things out as far as jobs and such, and we always stayed in touch. Hell, these guys are the closest thing to war buddies I’ve got.”
In the 1980s, Kinderhook finally unplugged following years of gigging. But more than two decades later, the band was called back to the stage and began its career encore.
“We had gotten together a couple of times for a one-time thing,” said Kopychuk, and then “we were contacted about opening for the New Riders. Again, to be a one-night deal. The reception we got was so overwhelming and warm, we said, ‘Well that was fun! Let’s do it again and again!’
“I guess we’ll keep playing as long as we can. One of our attributes has always been flying by the seat of our pants, and somehow landing on our feet.”
For information, visit reverbnation.com/kinderhook.
Tom Skevin is an award-winning journalist and music publicist who resides in Sussex County. He can be emailed at email@example.com.
Kinderhook, in 2014, playing “Run, Boy, Run” at The Stone Pony:
A 1977 Kinderhook Creek set at the Capitol Theatre:
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Me and my posse saw these guys a lot in the 70s after they played our high school once, primarily at the Wooden Nickel in North Brunswick.
STILL HAVE MY CRAIG BARRY DRUM STICKS WHEN THEY APPEARED AT THE MEADOWLANDS RACE TRACK IN N.J.1980’s
Saw them regularly at Royal Manor North Brunswick late 70s/early 80s and enjoyed a reunion show a couple years back at Stanhope House.