Glenn Alexander has been living in New Jersey for the last few decades. But as the Stetson hat he frequently wears onstage suggests, he grew up elsewhere: outside of Wichita, Kansas. And the name of his band, Shadowland, represents a tip of that hat to his Kansas roots.
“My formative years of playing were really in Wichita,” says Alexander, who has been the guitarist in Southside Johnny’s Asbury Jukes for eight years. “But I had no idea that back in the early ’30s, there was a guy named Gage Brewer, who had a roadhouse club there called Shadowland. And in 1932, (George) Beauchamp, who went on to found Rickenbacker Guitars, made the very first electric guitar on planet Earth. I think they called it the Frying Pan, at the time. Anyway, Gage Brewer, who owned that club, was a guitar player, and he debuted that in 1932.
“Which makes sense, when you start to look at Charlie Christian and Eddie Durham and T-Bone Walker — all those Midwest cats who played electric guitar long before other cats were doing it. Which I could never figure out when I was younger: Why were these guys in the Midwest doing it before the cats in New York and L.A.? It’s because of that.”
Alexander’s band’s new debut album, titled Glenn Alexander & Shadowland, is soulful and bluesy — in many ways, more akin to the music Alexander plays with the Jukes than the jazz fusion and progressive-rock he has sometimes played in other projects, over the years. The band’s lineup is even stocked with Jukes, with the band’s drummer (Tom Seguso), trumpeter (Chris Anderson), saxophonist (John Isley) and trombonist (Neil Pawley) joining singer-guitarist Alexander, singer Oria (Alexander’s daughter) and bassist Greg Novick.
“My previous CDs, which go all the way back to 1984, were all instrumental jazz, or jazz fusion rock,” Alexander says. “But I had always played this kind of music … I was working in La Bamba’s band (The Hubcaps) for years, and Mark Pender’s band, which was a little more of a funk-rock kind of thing. But even when I lived back in Kansas, I was always playing a lot of jazz stuff, but I was also playing a lot of rock and soul and R&B.
“Some of those tunes go back with me — I hate to say it — decades, and working with Southside for the last eight years kind of brought it out of me, I guess.”
The band has done some live performing and will do more, though no shows are currently scheduled.
At a Jukes concert, it is often Alexander — who lives in Scotch Plains, and teaches music at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y. — who takes the wildest, most adventurous solos, though he’ll also sometimes play with tasteful understatement.
“I have, I think, probably not total freedom, but I have a lot of freedom, and (Southside) does want you to bring what you do,” he says. ” There are certain solos on those tunes — like ‘Hearts of Stone,’ and others — which are just an integral part of the recording, and I will play those fairly close to how they were recorded. And other things, I stretch out and bring part of what I do. But yes, I think if I played, like, crazy jazz fusion solos on some of those tunes, it just wouldn’t fit.
“I don’t really think about it. I think my musical sensibilities keep me from doing that. But if I started to go too far out on a limb, I’m pretty sure Uncle South would be calling me and going, ‘Dude, what are you doing?’ ”
Alexander says when he first joined the band, “there was a lot of pressure on me. The fans loved (former Jukes guitarist) Bobby (Bandiera), and he had been in that band for 24 years, I think.”
He learned to deal with the pressure pretty quickly, though.
“It might have six or seven gigs in, or a dozen,” he says. “I wasn’t feeling super-comfortable being in that band, but a couple of the veteran guys who had been there, Chris Anderson and (keyboardist) Jeff Kazee, pulled me aside and said, ‘You bring something different to this band, that’s raising our game.’ I had to look at it like that and go, ‘Okay, I’m doing something different, but it’s okay.’ And now I’m really comfortable.
“Which scares me a little bit,” he adds, with a laugh. “That’s usually when you lose your gig.”
Alexander will play on the next Southside Johnny album, a collection of Billie Holiday songs arranged by Isley. It is due out in late spring.
“I’m excited about that,” says Alexander. “That was really an idea of John Isley, but he and I were kind of initially talking about that together. I just had my hands full, in terms of being involved in it. And John took the ball and ran with it, and did these amazing arrangements. He kind of worked that out with Johnny, and Johnny was definitely into it.
“It’s one of the things I love about Southside: He loves that kind of stuff, and he’s willing to jump off into it.”
For information about Glenn Alexander and Shadowland, visit glennalexander.com.
Alexander performs with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes at the Newton Theatre in Newton, Feb. 11 (visit thenewtontheatre.com), and at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, April 1 (visit statetheatrenj.org).
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