With its listless seasons and deepÂ artistic roots, the north shore hasÂ become a haven for rock’s old guard,Â and a new one, too, who each callÂ this place at ocean’s edge their own. Text by Alexandra Pecci. Photo essay by Jared Charney
One hundred years ago, Willie Alexander’s Gloucester home was a Baptist parsonage, “which was perfect for me as a Baptist minister’s son,” he says. This rock ‘n’ roll vagabond and former member of the Velvet Underground has written “like, 10 billion songs” about his hometown, and he’s working on getting them all on one album. That Gloucester provides endless inspiration for Alexander’s music and art-which includes a recent collage exhibition in New York City-seems obvious. “I think it’s the ocean and the smell of the place. The fish and the ocean, it just becomes a part of you,” he says. “I’m stumbling over the things. I’m just writing about what I’m tripping over.”
Â Hugo Burnham
Hugo Burnham doesn’t flaunt his past life as drummer for the celebrated British rock group Gang of Four to his students at Endicott College and New England Institute of Art, but they seem to find out eventually, thanks to Google and Wikipedia. “I don’t look like a rock star,” says the Gloucester resident, adding that he always covers his tattoos during the first three weeks of classes. That ink-a Rolling Stones logo, a dragon, and his mother’s family crest-gives a glimpse into a rock ‘n’ roll past, which also included stints as an A&R exec at Island Records and Qwest Records. “The money’s not as good,” he says of teaching. “But I’m still on stage.
Born John Lincoln Coughlin on Abe Lincoln’s birthday, Salem’s Preacher Jack has been dubbed a “rock ‘n’ roll Billy Graham” for his love of boogie-woogie and the good gospel of the Lord. “I preach the word of God, and my love has always been deep in my heart. It’s Jesus that I love,” he says. “It’s a simple Christian faith; I don’t belong to one church; I belong to God.” That love is amplified through his piano-pounding, soul-lifting, deep-throated music, which seems to radiate from his heart and straight through his fingers as he plays. “What I feel is the love of God while I’m playing,” he says. “Jesus saves! Amen.”
What Time Is It, Mr. Fox?
Steampunk meets storybook with What Time Is It, Mr. Fox?, an eclectic, playful, genre-bending band that’s a little soul, a little Medieval France, and all rock ‘n’ roll. “There’s so many different instruments and vocals that ‘cinematic pop’ might be a good description,” says vocalist, guitarist, and pianist 3rian King (and no, that’s not a typo). The band loves to play around with costumes, theatrics, and trapeze. “I like that idea of a dark circus,” King says. What Time Is It, Mr. Fox? is preparing for a February release of a new album, marking another chapter of music that is, as King puts it, “darkly tinged without being morose.”
Dan King is what you might callÂ musically promiscuous. Says the Gloucester native: “I’m in about five bands,” including the reggae group the Glostafarians, the folk-rock outfit KBMG, and the alt country/rock/pop band The Bandit Kings. Rock ‘n’ roll might pay the bills-King plays about 200 gigs a year-but after 20 yearsÂ of making music for a living, KingÂ still finds freedom and excitement on stage. “It’s a thrill; its magic,” he says. “When you get to play with the right peopleÂ…when you have that chemistry, there’s that magic that happens.”
Dave Mattacks, a former member of the legendary British folk-rock band Fairport Convention and drummer for artists like Paul McCartney and Elton John, is a master studio drummer, producer, solo artist, and teacher whose discography reads like a Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame who’s who. So what’s the secret to the Marblehead resident’s success? “While some players have a tendency to over-exhibit their skills, I just like playing songs in most genres-especially well-written ones, old or new,” is his modest answer via email from his native UK. “That, and always trying to make a musical sound and to play in-time helps!”
“Long winters and beachside communities have a big influence on us,” says guitarist Calvin Joss, a member of the Beverly-based band Caspian, which was born out of friendships made at Gordon College. The band’s latest album,Â Waking Season, infuses feelings of spring and summer on the North Shore into Caspian’s brand of “atmospheric, instrumental rock,” says Joss. “It kind of has a natural warmth to it.” The band has come a long way since it recorded its first demo at a house in Annisquam; Caspian is now in the midst of an American and European tour.