On Stage: Bill Toms and Hard Rain make music, no matter what

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times 

Bill Toms and Hard Rain

If you’re a fan of jazz or blues, you should check out the schedule every week for the shows at Jamey’s House of Music (32 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, 215-477-9985,www.jameyshouseofmusic.com).

If you’re a fan of both jazz and blues, then you should know you’ll find a show to match your taste every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the comfortable venue in Delaware County.

The “Thursday Night Jazz Jam” and the “Sunday Blues Brunch & Jam” are regular features on Jamey’s calendar while Friday and Saturday night shows feature national and regional acts.

The only headline concert this weekend will take place on August 6 when Jamey’s hosts Bill Toms and Hard Rain.

Pittsburgh’s Bill Toms and Hard Rain have a mission – a mission to record and play music no matter what.

“Music is my passion,” said Toms, during a recent phone interview from his home in Pittsburgh.

The performing part of his passion was put on hold when the pandemic hit but he still continued making music.

In 2020, Toms and Hard Rain recorded their 10th studio album, “Keep Movin’ On.” Then, it was on released on Terraplane Records on April 30, 2021.

“We just started when the pandemic hit,” said Toms. “We had one session and then that was it.”

“Keep Movin’ On” was produced by music legend, Rick Witkowski (Crack the Sky, B.E. Taylor). It features contributions from The Soulville Horns, as well as award-winning instrumentalist/producer, Will Kimbrough, on a graceful blend of rock, soul, and rhythm & blues.

Like most collaborative efforts in 2020, the album is a product of distance, which of course provided an unprecedented hurdle in terms of capturing and honing Toms’ original songwriting vision, especially when considering such pandemic-unfriendly musical elements as wind instruments.

Nevertheless, they decided to take the plunge and see what they could do as a virtual ensemble.

“We recorded it during the pandemic and the band was never all together in the same building,” said Toms explains. “I recorded most guitars at home, as did the other players. A lot of songs flew back-and-forth.”
The initial track from the album, “Man’s Soul Is On Trial,” was released in October 2020.

“We’re still out in support of this record,” said Toms. “We’re catching up on shows that were cancelled because of the pandemic.

Toms’ musical career gained national recognition in the late 1980s as lead guitarist of Pittsburgh’s legendary band Joe Grushecky and The Houserockers.

While playing guitar, co-writing, and adding backup vocals for the Houserockers, Toms and the band recorded six studio albums and one live concert album. In 1995, The Houserockers released “American Babylon,” which was recorded and produced by Bruce Springsteen.

“I’ve been doing this for 42 years,” said Toms, a graduate of Chartiers Valley High in the Pittsburgh suburbs. “I started playing locally in Pittsburgh in 1980.

“I joined Joe Grushecky and The Houserockers in 1986 was with them for 20 years. I had put my own band together 10 years before and also did a lot of acoustic shows. We play a lot of summertime gigs and festivals. We did outdoor summer things last year.

“Usually, we play 70-80 gigs a year. The core of my band has been together 20 years. Our latest addition was a trumpet player in 2017.

There is a good reason for the band’s line-up stability.

“A few of the guys are actually retired,” said Toms. “Everybody else have jobs that allow them do music.

“I’ve had day jobs and also taught guitar. I did what I had to do to make money – including 10 years as a piping and welding inspector at a U.S. Steel plant. We’re never going to get rich but we’re happy.”

Music has always been in Toms’ life.

“My love of music goes back to when I was a kid,” said Toms. “I had a sister who was 10 years older, and I’d listen to her music – Motown, Stax, Aretha Franklin. My sister played piano, and my father played trumpet. Music has always been a big part of my life. Soul songs were a big influence.

“Around the time I graduated from high school, I was listening to Tom Petty’s ‘Damn the Torpedoes,’ The Clash’s ‘London Calling,’ and Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town.’ Those three albums gave me the desire to be a musician and play guitar. Then, I got into Graham Parker. He had the same kind of guitar-oriented energy.

“One of the things that always affected me were the lyrics. ‘Slow Train’ by Dylan – that got me into lyrics writing. Soul music and lyrics are my music – blues-based, rock-and-roll soul music.”

The band’s show at Jamey’s will feature a bunch of songs from “Keep Movin’ On,” a wide array of Toms-penned tunes from the past – and maybe a cover.  Bill Toms and Hard Rain’s discography includes “Paradise Avenue,” “My Own Eyes,” “This Old World,” “The West End Kid,”

“Spirits, Chaos, and a Troubadour Soul’,” “Live at Moondogs: Another Moonlight Mystery,” “Memphis,” “Deep In The Shadows,” “Good For My Soul,” “LIVE,” and “Keep Movin’ On” – along with one Bill Toms solo LP, “One Lonesome Moment.”

“Our live shows are almost all original songs,” said Toms. “I’ve only done two cover songs that I can remember – The Waterboys’ ‘Fisherman’s Blues’ and Dr. John’s ‘Let’s Make A Better World.’ I’ve done 12 albums all told and maybe will play four or five from the new record.”

Video link for Bill Toms and Hard Rain — https://youtu.be/ciiVr2hY_YU.

The show on August 6 will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door.

Earlier this year, Jamey’s started a popular “Guest Singer Series” featuring many of the best singers in the region performing a set from 7-8 p.m. with the backing of the Dave Reiter Trio and occasional guest musicians.

Wendy Simon

This week’s featured performer will be Wendy Simon (Sinkler) on August 4. Actress, professor of music and internationally touring jazz singer, Simon has been performing jazz music for decades.

“Back in 1985, I had an album with the band 52nd Street,” said Simon, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon from her home in Glenside. “We recorded it for Inner City Records and played the Village Vanguard every night for an entire week in May 1985.”

52nd Street was a vocal team featuring Simon and the late pianist/vocalist Eric Shaw. That album with its sly Philly/New York title was “Scrapple to the Apple.”

The well-received LP featured jazz renditions of songs from a wide variety of genres, including the Rogers & Hammerstein tune “My Favorite Things” from “Sound of Music,” Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Coconut Grove,” which was penned by the band’s John Sebastian and Zal Yanovsky, and the Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn classic, “Take the A Train.”

“I’ve performed at Jamey’s several times,” said Simon, who went to school in New Jersey (Nutley High, Montclair State) and followed with a master’s degree from nearby Arcadia University.

“I did a show there in April and also performed there with a lot of other great artists in a benefit for Jamey and his club. It’s a wonderful venue and I look forward to playing there again.

“I initially heard about Jamey’s through Facebook and from some of the people who had performed there. Maci Miller first tole me about it. She was the one who sponsored the fundraiser in the spring.

“I’m really grateful that Jamey’s has incorporated a jazz program. It’s really a great jazz room with its intimacy.”

For an area as big as Philadelphia and its suburbs, there are relatively few places for jazz artists to perform live.

“When rock and R&B came out in the 60s and 70s, people weren’t listening to jazz very much anymore,” said Simon, who spent 18 years teaching in the Springfield (Montco) School District.

“Some of the few venues for jazz in recent years have been South in Philly, Paris Bistro in Chestnut Hill, and Thyme in Center City.  Isang at South several times. Lately, I’ve been playing a lot at Shere-E-Punjab in Media.”

Simon has also recently performed at the Blue Bell Inn in Montgomery County, Bowman’s Tavern in Bucks County, Troubles End Brewing in Collegeville and The Vault Brewery in Yardley.

“I’ve been doing shows with a lot of great musicians – Aaron Graves, Lee Smith, Dave Posmontier, Steve Varner, Kevin MacConnell, Steve Beskrone – am my husband George Sinkler, who plays piano,” said Simon, whose son Andrew Sinkler is a musician and recording studio owner living in West Chester.

“I’m a singer who uses my voice to tell stories through the art of jazz. I do a lot of different styles of jazz – including bossa nova and scat singing.”

The Dave Reiter Trio lays down the backing for some out of this world jazz to happen, and you never know who might show up to join in. Reiter is a long-time jazz pro who plays seven-string guitar, Nord keyboard and Hammond organ. Bill Marconi is an internationally acclaimed drummer and George Livanos is an in-demand session bass player.

Video link for Wendy Simon Sinkler – www.wendysimonmusic.com/press-kit.html.

Other upcoming shows are Lorraine Barrett on August 11, Greg Farnese on August 18 and Maci Miller on August 25.

There is a $10 cover charge at the door for the “Thursday Night Jazz Jam.” The show will feature the guest singer from 7-8 p.m. and a jazz jam from 8-10 p.m. The evening will get underway with a “Crooked Eye Brewery Happy Hour” from 6-7 p.m. featuring two dollars off draft beers and hard ciders, one dollar off wines, and 10 per cent off menu items.

“Sunday Blues Brunch & Jam” is a favorite of Jamey’s regulars because Reilly and his band the Philly Blues Kings (www.phillyblueskings.com) are the performers each week.

The Philly Blues King are a veteran outfit comprised of David Reiter on guitar, keyboards and vocals, Maci Miller on vocals, Bill Marconi on drums and vocals and Reilly on bass guitar. They have performed together for 15 years (except for Miller) and are the house band for Jamey’s House of Music. They are well known for tight, jazz inflected classic blues.

Reiter performs on a seven-string guitar and Reilly plays a fretless five string bass and that sets the group above the ordinary. The three veteran musicians have each spent decades playing the blues professionally and have backed many well-known national artists. Maci Miller, an internationally recognized jazz singer based in Philadelphia, joined the Blues Kings and quickly established herself as a top-flight front woman.

Video link for Philly Blues Kings — https://youtu.be/bAnBVLc7Wsg.

The show at Jamey’s House of Music on August 7 will start at noon. Admission is free.

“Big Spender” and “If My Friends Could See Me Now” are just two of the standout tunes in the award-winning musical, “Sweet Charity.”

The Candlelight Theatre (2208 Millers Road, Arden, Delaware, www.candlelighttheatredelaware.org) is presenting the all-time classic musical as its fourth production run of 2022. The lively comedy “Sweet Charity” is running now through August 28.

“Sweet Charity” is a musical with music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields and book by Neil Simon. It was directed and choreographed for Broadway by Bob Fosse starring his wife and muse Gwen Verdon alongside John McMartin.

It is based on the screenplay for Federico Fellini’s 1957 Italian film, “Nights of Cabiria.”

Besides the obvious major change of resetting the story from Rome to New York, the biggest change is Cabiria/Charity’s occupation. Cabiria is a “hooker with a heart of gold.” This had to be softened for American musical audiences in 1966, so Charity works instead as a taxi dancer at the Fandango Ballroom.

In the early 20th century, men could go to dance halls and pay to dance with the woman of their choice, usually for 10 cents a song (thus the famous Rodgers & Hart song “Ten Cents a Dance.”) However, by the1960s, taxi dance halls were not nearly as common. It’s suggested, at least in “Sweet Charity,” that most of the women who were still taxi dancers were willing to do more than just dance, if the price is right.

The musical premiered on Broadway in 1966, where it was nominated for nine Tony Awards, winning the Tony Award for Best Choreography. The production also ran in London’s West End as well as having revivals and international productions.

The musical was adapted for the screen in 1969 with Shirley MacLaine as Charity and John McMartin recreating his Broadway role as Oscar Lindquist. For Bob Fosse, who directed and choreographed, the film was his feature-film directorial debut.

The production at the Candlelight features stellar performances by Phoebe Gavula on the title role of Charity Hope Valentine. The other main character — Oscar Lindquist – is performed admirably by Jared Calhoun.

Other key performers are Gabrielle Impriano as Helene, Beth Dugan as Nickie, Tess Sinatra as Carmen, JJ Vavrik as Herman, Joe Falcone as Vittorio Vidal, and Rebecca Schall as Ursula March.

The production at the Candlelight Dinner Theatre is directed by Jessica Bostock with choreography by Jody Anderson and musical direction by Christopher Tolomeo.

“Sweet Charity” is running now through August 28.

Tickets, which include dinner, non-alcoholic beverages and free parking, are $65.50 for adults and $33 for children (ages 4-12).

On August 7, the West Goshen Community Park (1023 Fern Hill Road, West Chester, www.westgoshen.org/201/Summer-Concert-Series) will be the site of the latest offering in the West Goshen Summer Concert Series.

At 6:30 p.m., there will be an outdoor concert by Blue Philly Magic. The band, which is a favorite of area fans, features classic Motown music.

The West Goshen Summer Concert Series offers free performances, a summer tradition on Sunday evenings in West Goshen Community Park. The final show will be on August 21 with Irish music by The Malarkey Brothers, Irish Rock Concert

Video link for Blue Philly Magic — https://youtu.be/U-wLtLbVawI.

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) is presenting Sharon Bousquet with Tom Glenn on August 5, Ellis Paul on August 11, Tret Fure and Heather Mae on August 19, Sugar Lime Blue on August 20, and The Real Diamond on August 27.

The Sound Bank (119 South Main Street, Phoenixville, www.soundbankphx.com) will have Pure Jerry on August 5, Night of the Leos 2022 on August 6.

Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) will have Leftover Salmon on August 4, Splintered Sunlight on August 6 and Jon Anderson (of Yes) on August 7.

Bryn Mawr Twilight Concerts (9 South Bryn Mawr Avenue, Bryn Mawr, brynmawrtwilightconcerts.com) will present Christine Havrilla Duo with Colleen Clark on August 6, Livingston Taylor on August 13, Cris Jacobs Band on August 19, Trout Fishing in America on August 24, and The Dirty Grass Players on August 28.

The Rose Tree Summer Festival (Rose Tree Park, Route 252, Media, www.delcopa.gov/departments/parks) will host Zydeco-A-Go-Go on August 4, The Core: Clapton on August 5, Ben Singleton & Chameleon on August 6, Blackbird Society Orchestra on August 7, The Six-String Soldiers on August 10, Twelfth Night on August 11, Basic Cable on August 12, Lonnie Shields Band & Jesse Loewy on August 13, and Land of Ozz on August 14.

The schedule for “Concerts Under the Stars” (Upper Merion Township Building Park, King of Prussia, concertsunderthestarskop.com)

features Hezekiah Jones and Carsie Blanton on August 4, Dave Hause & The Mermaid on August 14, Steal Your Peach on August 19, Devon Gilfillian on August 25, Brett Dennen on September 14, David Bromberg on September 23, and The Wailers on September 30.

Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center (226 North High Street, West Chester, www.uptownwestchester.org) is presenting AM Radio Tribute Show on August 12, Hollywood Nights on August 13, One Alternative on August 18, Sarah Diamond and the Soul Miners on August 20, and Best Friend’s Girl on August 27.

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