Pete Donnelly finds full musical plate satisfying
“There’s never enough time to do all the music,” lamented Pete Donnelly, who makes more music in less time than most — with four bands.
Tonight he plays with The Figgs at Valentine’s, opening for and accompanying veteran British pub-rocker Graham Parker. (That counts as two bands; he explains below how they’re different.) A string of shows with Parker falls amid a cluster of shows Donnelly played with NRBQ, and he’ll be playing Figgs’ shows all summer as well as shows with his own band, sometimes dubbed the Philadelphia Combo, supporting his new solo album. (The Figgs also have a new album, “The Day Gravity Stopped,” and so does NRBQ, “We Travel the Spaceways” — and Donnelly is on both, but I digress.) The Figgs auditioned to be Parker’s road band without even knowing it. They’d recorded his song “Passion is No Ordinary Word” on a Parker tribute album, “Piss and Vinegar.” He liked what he heard and sought them out in 1996.
“At times, the Figgs can work up to a frenzy, and with Graham you just have to focus in on the lyrics and what he’s doing, and then you supplement that,” said Donnelly, explaining how the Figgs play with Parker. “When you’re backing someone up, you have to be really in tune with the energy that they are giving and then you have to support that.”
Displaying the songs
Too young to have seen Parker with his great 1980s band The Rumour — they played a tremendous show at J.B. Scott’s about 1984 — Donnelly knows their music from Parker’s albums. “The Rumour was always a pretty fantastic band with a lot of room to show off what great players they were,” he said. “So I think inherently Graham’s music gives us some room to do that.” Both Parker and the Figgs’ Mike Gent play solos, but Donnelly pointed out, “Graham’s songs are what’s leading the show and we’re there to display the songs.”
The Figgs played on Parker’s 2005 album “Songs of No Consequence,” and they’ve released 20 albums of their own. (Parker has released 40 since 1976.) The first two Figgs’ albums were on cassette, in 1992 and 1993, several were on major labels, and “The Day the Gravity Stopped” hit just last week.
“As usual, a Figgs record sort of shows itself to us when its ready to come out,” said Donnelly, offering kudos to Figgs guitarist Mike Gent for final assembly. “Then we look at all this material that we have and we say, ‘Let’s finish these,’ and then we have a record; and this time it turned out to be a double record.”
(Gent lives in Boston, where much of the new album was recorded in multiple sessions. Donnelly, bassist-singer in the Figgs — with and without Parker — and with NRBQ, plus his own band — lives outside Philadelphia. Figgs drummer Pete Hayes lives in New York City.)
Four years ago, Donnelly joined the Terry Adams Rock and Roll Quartet after David Greenberger suggested Donnelly to Adams. Greenberger is major domo of many Duplex Planet spoken word projects and a longtime Adams collaborator as graphic designer and a onetime bassist himself. Adams’ Rock and Roll Quartet played its first-ever show at WAMC’s The Linda in May 2009, released on CD as “Crazy 8s.”
Donnelly explained: “It was just a natural progression from there, that it became NRBQ. As we [Donnelly, guitarist-singer Scott Ligon and drummer-singer Conrad Choucroun] started to contribute more, it naturally became more of a band, versus a Terry Adams Rock and Roll Quartet sort of thing.” Donnelly said, “Terry is an incredibly imposing front man, and he really wants a band and what that really means, which is a group of people contributing together.”
Donnelly also runs his own band: They played on his solo album “When You Come Home” and in live shows he squeezes in between Figgs, NRBQ and Graham Parker with the Figgs gigs. Sometimes it’s billed as the Philadelphia Combo but more often the band just bears Pete Donnelly’s name. “It’s a very personal kind of thing,” he said. “I’m not comparing myself to Graham Parker,” said Donnelly. “Graham Parker is Graham Parker, you know what I mean? What we do with him; it’s his songs and his personality, and this venture is more something like that for me than like the Figgs.”
Some of the songs on “When You Come Home” now pop up in NRBQ shows — and they deserve to. They’re varied enough and strong enough to fit the NRBQ mission of making music with fresh ingredients. Some of it cruises and struts like vintage soul, such as the zippy groove under “Can’t Talk at All,” some muses in sensitive singer-songwriter mode but with a pop bounce, and some of it rocks like NRBQ. “Certainly, plenty of that band is in me,” said Donnelly: “I love them.”
So, four bands, three new albums — also a wife and four children — Pete Donnelly has a busy life. He said: “I believe in a full life, you’ve got to do a lot to get anywhere.”
The Figgs open for Graham Parker tonight at 8 p.m. at Valentine’s (17 New Scotland Ave., Albany), then accompany Parker. Tickets are $17. Phone 432-6572 or visit www.valentinesalbany.com.
The Star Spangled Washboard Band was arguably our biggest hometown band between the Knickerbockers and Blotto — which some of its members became. Formed at the University at Albany, SSWB played many shows a day at Gaslight Village in Lake George. Then they played everywhere, from the NYC punk mecca Max’s Kansas City to the Kerrville (Texas) Folk Festival to the “Mike Douglas Show,” where Phyllis Diller sang with them.
When they split up in 1978, Sarge, Broadway and Bowtie found a rock rhythm section and became Blotto. And they didn’t reunite as SSWB until just once in 1997 at Steamer No. 10.
Now, they’re going to do it again: on Saturday, once again at Steamer No. 10, 500 Washington Ave., Albany.
And, for an added dose of Albany rock ’n’ roll history, Val Haynes and Todd Nelson of the Units and Fear of Strangers will open the 8 p.m. show.
This timely time capsule of a show is part of the Steamer No. 10 Eclectic Performance Series, which continues May 4 with Rosary Beard and Winterpills and wraps up on May 5 with Frank Jaklitsch & Friends.
Tickets are $13 in advance, $15 at the door. Phone 438-5503 or visit www.steamer10theatre.org.
This column isn’t big enough for all the music happening in the MoveMusicFestival on Saturday: 100 bands in 10 venues. Just one of them — Jillian’s (59 S. Pearl St., Albany) has the Spectacular Average Boys at 1 p.m., the Lucky Jukebox Brigade at 2, Ula Ruth at 3, True Apothecary at 4, Bern & the Brights at 5, Last One Out at 6, Echo & Drake at 7, the Aviation Orange at 8, the Tins at 9, headliners the Wombats at 10, Find Vienna at midnight and Designer Junkies at 1 a.m. Visit www.movemusicfest.com.
Reach Gazette columnist Michael Hochanadel at firstname.lastname@example.org.