Kool Kat of the Week: Oh, What a Night at the Fox!: Keith White Works His Way Back to Georgia With the Jersey Boys

Posted on: Oct 6th, 2015 By:
Keith White. Photo Credit: Jersey Boys.

Keith White. Photo Credit: Jersey Boys.

JERSEY BOYS, the rocking musical that chronicles the rise of The Four Seasons, is back at the Fabulous Fox Theatre Tuesday Oct. 6 through Sunday Oct. 11 presented by Fifth Third Bank Broadway Atlanta. This true story of how four blue-collar boys from the wrong side of the tracks has become one of the biggest American pop music sensations of all time. Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi wrote their own songs, invented their own sounds and sold 175 million records worldwide – all before they were 30. The show features all their hits including “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Oh What A Night,” “Walk Like A Man,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” and “Working My Way Back To You.”

ATLRetro caught up with Augusta, Georgia native Keith White, who has been performing in the ensemble for the past 13 months, to find out about what it’s like to tour with one of the longest running Broadway shows and why even though there’s been a movie, nothing beats seeing it live on stage.

ATLRetro: Did you grow up with a love for musical theater and/or retro rock n roll? What was your favorite retro band as a kid?

Keith: Both. I grew up with a love for imitating things. In fourth grade, I acted in my first play, and I kind of didn’t really stop. The retro rock ‘n’ roll thing happened in middle school when my dad gave me my first Led Zeppelin album. It was Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix and setting up a band in the garage with my friend. I played drums and he played guitar. We were all about that classic rock.

What parts do you play, and what roles did those characters play in the story of The Four Seasons?

I’m in the ensemble so I play multiple parts including recording artist Billy Dixon. I sing one of his songs, “Trance.” I also play some gangsters. One’s named Donnie, and he ‘s trying to swindle some money out of a young Frankie Valli, which really happened. These are real people. I also play a bouncer at a nightclub named Knuckles, who was a real person, too. And I play a music agent at 1619 Broadway, the Brill Building, which was the center of the music world in the 1960s. Songs like “Come Fly With Me” were recorded there, and a lot of Paul Simon and Carole King was recorded there. I’m also the understudy for Nick Massi, the bass player in the Four Seasons and Gyp DeCarlo, the organized crime/mob boss guy.

Photo credit: Jersey Boys.

Photo credit: Jersey Boys.

What’s your favorite scene that you perform in?

I really enjoy doing Billy Dixon because I get to sing. If you get to see the show, it’s funny because Billy Dixon gets to sing for only about 10 seconds, but I get to sing and do some really wild stuff in that time.

Any story about why you especially wanted to be part of JERSEY BOYS and/or your audition?

I saw JERSEY BOYS in 2007 when I was 16 or 17, and it was so good. I truly loved it. I went to the Boston Conservatory to train for theater, and I knew that JERSEY BOYS was still playing – it’s now one of longest running shows in Broadway history. I never thought I would I be in it until I went in for an audition. I didn’t know if I’d cut it. I went through four callbacks. To me, this is huge! The big gig. It was what I was working towards since I was a kid—a national tour of a Broadway musical.

How do the touring performances compare to the Broadway company?

The only difference is that the set has been made travelable so it’s a little condensed. Instead of three LED screens, we have one, but it tells the same story. Whereas on some other tours, you’ll just get a backdrop, you get all the spectacle that is JERSEY BOYS still when you see the tour.

Did you do anything special to prepare?

When first joined the tour, I had to play drums. That’s what really cool. There’s no orchestra pit. Some actors are musicians in the orchestra and they’re out there on stage. It was kind of full circle in that I started playing drums in the garage and now I got to play drums on stage. That’s been the most fun. I was playing Billy Dickson and Knuckles the bouncer and also I was playing the drums

f Walk Like a Man Sept 2015

“Walk Like A Man.” Photo credit: Jersey Boys.

Did the Four Seasons have to come from New Jersey? What’s your take after working on the show?

Did they have to come from Jersey? I think maybe they did. That was their destiny. I think that also was their appeal to the masses. They’re blue collar guys. The people are hard there in the best way. There’s a toughness. And being so close to New York, they knew about the hustle of NY. It’s authentic Jersey no doubt. The writers asked Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio a lot of questions. Yeah, maybe they did have to be from Jersey. They are the Jersey Boys.

Do you have anything special planned to do while you’re here in Georgia? Will you be visiting any old haunts?

It feels very cool to be back in Georgia but as a kid, I only went to Atlanta to go to the airport, and I went on a fieldtrip there once and I saw [The Center for Puppetry Arts] with its Jim Henson exhibit. I’m actually going to Augusta later in the tour, and that’ll be a little surreal. I grew up there until I was 10 and all of my extended family is there—my mom and dad’s side. My family will get to see what I’ve been doing.

As an Augusta native, what might ATLRetro readers enjoy doing if they?

Augusta is where James Brown was born and raised, so that history runs rampant. There are statues of him on the Riverwalk downtown. The Soul Bar also is dedicated to James Brown. There’s obviously also the golf culture with the Masters. So you can feel all that. They’re very proud of their golf there.

Is there anything else that you’d like to tell people about JERSEY BOYS?

The show does a great job of making it feel like you’re watching one of those East Coast mob movies set in the 1950s. It captures that really well. It still holds up. It’s special.

All photos are provided by Broadway Atlanta and used with permission.

  

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From Greenwich Village to Classic Chastain: Jonathan Beedle and AJ Swearingen Recreate the Sounds of Simon and Garfunkel with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

Posted on: Jun 2nd, 2013 By:

AJ Swearingen and Jonathan Beedle. Photo credit: David Leavett.

Musicians AJ Swearingen and Jonathan Beedle are bringing their unique tribute, Sounds of Simon & Garfunkel to Chastain Park Amphitheatre on Wed. June 5. The two musicians have earned a huge fan following on their own for their performances, often appearing alone on stage with an acoustic guitar recapturing the duo’s early years in Greenwich Village. However, this performance, part of the Classic Chastain series, will offer the extra special treat of hearing AJ’s warm baritone and Jonathan’s soaring tenor backed for part of the night by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, conducted by ASO Principal Pops Conductor Michael Krajewski.

ATLRetro caught up with Jonathan recently to find out more about how a chance meeting led to the creation of a memorable partnership that recaptures the magic of one of folk/acoustic rock’s most iconic partnerships.

ATLRetro: So it all started at a local club in Bethlehem, PA in 1991. What drew you both together and why Simon and Garfunkel personally?

Jonathan Beedle: I met AJ at a local club in Bethlehem, PA in 1991. He was doing a lot of tunes from the 70s and a few Paul Simon songs.  We started talking during a break and discovered we had a mutual interest in Simon and Garfunkel.  He invited me up to do a song with him, a Simon and Garfunkel song, and the blend was very nice right out of the gate… just effortless.  That’s how it all started.  Over the next few months we started to learn more of the songs, and before we knew it, we knew most of the S&G catalog.  We never planned on learning almost all of the material, but we enjoyed the music so much, it just happened.`

Did you grow up with Simon and Garfunkel? How did you first discover their music?

Yes, I grew up with their music. My older brother and sister had their records and the music was alway playing through the house… along with The Beatles and The Beach Boys. I loved the harmony parts – those parts I learned first. I don’t really know why, but that’s what interested me and that’s what I gravitated to.

You both concentrate on Simon and Garfunkel’s early years in Greenwich Village. Can you talk a little bit about what was special about that time and place and the duo’s early partnership/music? 

In our show without the symphony we try and deliver the music the way they did back in their Greenwich Village years – just one guitar and two voices. We love the sound striped down to it’s bare elements. The songs stand on their own. The words and the melodies are so powerful.

Jonathan Beedle and AJ Swearingen. Photo credit: David Leavitt.

Simon and Garfunkel are an acoustic duo, but you’ll be backed by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. How does they change/enhance the performance?

It is a different presentation of the music. The records they recorded were fully produced. It’s a thrill for us! It adds such a wonderful dimension to the music, the arrangements are beautiful, and the musicianship is remarkable.  It’s an honor to be standing on stage performing this music with such amazing talent.  When Michael Krajewski approached us with this idea both AJ and I thought it was a wonderful idea.  And to be able to do it, it’s really quite incredible. I feel very fortunate to be part of it.

What is your favorite Simon & Garfunkel hit and also a song that’s less well-known but which you personally like? Why these songs?

My favorites are constantly changing.  It depends on the audience, how you feel; so many things happen while performing the song, it’s hard to have a true favorite. Both AJ and I love the… I don’t want to call them obscure because once you hear the song it’s something you recall.  AJ likes to call them songs you forgot you remembered!

But there are a few that we love to perform:  “Flower’s Never Bend with the Rainfall,” “Bleeker Street,” “Blues Run the Game,” the list goes on and on. Now, the set list for the Symphony is more of the hits, but there are so many!  “Homeward Bound,” “Dangling Conversation,” “Mrs Robinson,” “Sounds of Silence,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water” – it’s endless.

Do audiences have certain expectations and how do you change things up to keep performances fresh?

The shows always feel a little different each time we perform because the audiences are different. We do the hits, of course, but it’s the lesser remembered songs audience members seem to talk about. Many times people will tell us they remembered a song and could sing all the words. Yet it was a song that had been forgotten in their memory. It’s amazing how powerful and timeless the music of Simon and Garfunkel is.

Jonathan Beedle and AJ Swearingen. Photo credit: David Leavitt.

Do you have any special plans for this tour/your Atlanta performance?

We are here for such a short time, it will be difficult to venture out and see the sites. I am bringing my two daughters, Hannah and Chelsea, with me to see the show.  They haven’t seen the show with an orchestra so I’m really looking forward to getting their reaction.

To purchase tickets or for more information, click here.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Down By The River: Ruby Velle and the Soulphonics Add Some Soul to a Good Cause

Posted on: May 3rd, 2012 By:

By James Kelly
Contributing Music Editor

The recent splash of international attention for retro soul music in the mainstream with artists such as Adele, Duffy, and Bruno Mars has been a welcome event. However, it should be no surprise that there has been a thriving deep soul underground that features artists who are just as good, if not better, than a lot of the major label acts. For about five years Atlanta has been the home for the amazing Soulphonics and Ruby Velle. This coming Friday they are performing at the 16th annual River Revival, a fundraiser for Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. The event is May 4 at Park Tavern in Piedmont Park starting at 6:30 p.m. and also featuring Burnt Bacon, Julia Haltigan and Ben Sollee.

ATLRetro.com caught up with the lovely Miss Velle this week, and she was kind enough to answer a lot of questions. We officially declare Ruby Velle (and the Soulphonics) the Kool Kats of the Week.

ATLRetro: What inspired you to become a singer, and how did you find your “voice” in such a commercially underappreciated genre?

Ruby Velle: I’ve been singing since I was 8, with early hand-me-down inspiration from my aunt and uncles musical influences. They were constantly providing me with vinyl listening parties, live jams with friends and creating an environment where I could perform at a young age. They were great friends with the late Luther Allison, [an] amazing blues artist.

Growing older, my parents and friends along the way were all very into soul, so I soaked up the greats and some of the lesser known artists through auditory osmosis. However, I don’t see the genre itself as commercially under-appreciated; it just will never gross as much as other genres such as pop or country. But there are some great acts out there making a good living from playing soul. I think the commercial factor is less relevant in the genre than the emotion portrayed in the music itself.

How and when did you and the Soulphonics end up in Atlanta, and why?

I had just graduated from college and wanted to study graphic design in Atlanta because I knew it was a career that could be useful to being a recording artist. The band’s creator, Spencer Garn (also the band’s leader, keyboardist, co-writer, producer and engineer), wanted to expose our music to a new audience, as we had a pretty good hold on the market in Florida. I moved, then Spencer, then Scott Clayton, the original guitarist/co-writer.  Atlanta seemed like a great next step and has proven to be a great place to call home. Our music has been able to evolve here into something Atlantans are proud to call their own, and since we’ve been here we have been voted Atlanta’s Best Soul Band by Creative Loafing, two years in a row! So Atlanta has quickly become home to us.

You have often mentioned Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Otis Redding as big early influences, who are some of your favorite contemporary artists, and why?

Oooo… there’s such a long list. I always say my music is a collection of inspirations from all types of artists and genres, so it’s hard to just name a few. The biggest influences for songwriting lyrics have been Paul Simon, Fiona Apple and even Ani DiFranco. These artists are storytellers and their writings speak to me in a deeper more intellectual way. That is what I aim to do with the soul music we’ve been creating. Sure, anyone can write a soul ballad, but can it be deep and introspective? Can soul music make you move and make you think? I believe the answer is yes. I think my need to offer a new take on soulful lyrics is a result of the influences from these writers.

As far as musical influences that are contemporary, I’ve really been enjoying Alex Clare’s music lately. He just released his album to the states; he is originally from the UK. I love his soulful voice, and I can tell that he, like me, has been pulling pieces of styles, inflections, and vibe from the greats, but he makes it his own. I recommend his album because it mixes genres well with some soul, electro and dub-step (with credit to Diplo and members of Major Lazer). I think the melding of these genres is intoxicating.

Lastly, as far as contemporary artists go it doesn’t get much better for me than the Black Keys. I really admire Dan Auerbach’s talent and his ability to carry the torch for the blues and blues rock. I’m always impressed by whatever they put out, so soulful and simply genius.

What do you think brought about the re-emergence of deep soul and classic R&B over the last several years? 

Well, I’m glad you said “re-emergence” instead of “resurrection” because I hold the belief that soul never really died; it’s just become an evolving genre because the context has shifted so much from the days it originated.  I think more than anything people were craving that old sound made by new artists, so new interpretations have been born  a la Sharon Jones & The DapKings, Amy Winehouse, Adele and The Dynamites featuring Charles Walker. I’m grateful these artists have fueled the re-emergence because we have been doing soul music for almost 10 years as a underground act. It’s great to know that the genre itself has growing appeal to all ages on a wider scale.

What sort of crowd comes to see Ruby Velle and the Soulphonics? Does the age range surprise you?

ALL TYPES and ALL AGES. I’ve seen gay, straight, black, white, Indian, Chinese – you name it, they have been in the front row dancing till the last song ends. I’m very fortunate that our music resonates with all ages; it really has a way of bringing the community together when we play shows or benefit festivals. I’m not particularly surprised because the music is about emotion and feeling. And everyone of all ages can relate to certain emotions.

How challenging is it to maintain a band and keep things fresh and exciting in the Atlanta music scene?

Well, maintaining an eight-piece band can be hectic and can bring you to your knees if you begin to focus on logistically how hard it is, but I certainly can’t take credit for great management to date. We’ve become a tight knit team of multi-taskers and multi-talented folk. Spencer Garn, for example, manages the band, owns a record label [Element Records], and also records and mixes our music. I’ve had the band as my graphic design client for the past seven years, creating merch and posters to album art and vinyl labels. I also work as a creative director with stylists and designers, such as Bill Hallman, to maintain our dapper image and keep up looking sharp. Our guitar player and co-writer Scott Clayton is also an expert with sound equipment and repeatedly has the band sounding great. I’m very fortunate to work with some amazing people that believe in what we do.

In the Atlanta music scene, if you did not put out a song yesterday, you are pretty much obsolete. You have to really create here on a large scale and frequently to be recognized. I think Atlanta has prepared us well to deliver on a larger scale. Luckily we’ve been playing shows in Atlanta for the last five years at a pretty constant rate so we are seeing some of the fruits of that labor. The fans here, though, are incredibly supportive, more so than I’ve seen anywhere else. Sometimes I wish they would let go, lose it all and dance a bit more, but I came from a hippie town in Florida so it’s been a little adjustment for me to see the more refined fans here.

You and the band have put out a few great singles, which have whetted the appetites of your fans. Was this a strategic plan, or simply a business decision?

This has been a little of both. Just internally, we’ve had some of these songs written and recorded for a while, but we are very particular about what gets heard when. We love to build suspense around our releases, which is why we’ve been putting out a steady stream of singles since 2010. Our fans are losing their minds in anticipation of the album, and I’d like to think the singles have had something to do with that hype.  We are just as excited for the release of our debut album IT’S ABOUT TIME.

When will we finally see a full-length recording of the band?

This Summer we will FINALLY release the full-length debut album. Keep an eye out for our album release party in early August. The street date for the release will be around July 24. And we will party till the sun comes up. It’s been a very long road to put out the album, but we are pleased with it and are looking forward to the reviews and press to help it grow legs.

You are playing a benefit for the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeepers this coming weekend, so how important are the environment and other social causes to you?

Environmental and civil rights issues are a huge cornerstone for the Soulphonics and myself. A lot of the lyrics in our songs are about inspiring change, in ourselves as well as in others. We are just a group of folk that feel a need to use our musical influence to bring about change. In addition to working with the Riverkeepers to promote their benefit, we will be working with a number of nonprofit organizations dealing with sustainability, economic recovery in struggling regions and environmental causes. Although some of these plans are just getting going, we are partnering with CTC International in Kenya on some sustainability efforts for the communities there. We’ve also made an impact here in Atlanta with benefit shows and song donations for the Atlanta Humane Society and the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, and are always looking for more opportunities to promote social and environmental causes.

What does the future hold for Ruby Velle and the Soulphonics?

Positive change on a mass scale. With the release of the album and planning a tour, we will be able to bring our music to more ears than ever before. We are thrilled to be on the road soon touring and spreading the word about this little soul outfit with a big sound from Atlanta. There is a lot going on over the next year, but I look forward to being more involved in social causes as well as continuing to write for the follow-up album. IT’S ABOUT TIME chronicles our struggles and setbacks since we were established in 2007, but now that it’s releasing soon I guarantee there is no stopping this soul machine. The future, for all of us, is as bright as we think it to be.

All photos courtesy of Element Records and Ruby Velle and the Soulphonics and used with permission. For more information and to purchase tickets for the River Revival on May 4 at Park Tavern, go to their website at: https://www.xorbia.com/e/ucr/rr2012

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