| by W.B. King |
He is an award-winning stage and film actor known for roles in classic movies like A Few Good Men, Apollo 13, Wild Things, Mystic River and Taking Chance. But when Kevin Bacon decided to pick up an acoustic guitar and sing original songs 20 years ago, he was standing on shaky ground.
“I was used to being on stage my whole life, but I wasn’t used to being on stage wearing my own clothes with a guitar singing a song I wrote. It was a giant adjustment—terrifying,” said Kevin Bacon, 56. “I have great admiration for stand-up comedians and singer-songwriters. It’s a frightening place to be—naked and vulnerable.”
The transition from thespian to musician was made easier, in part, by the support of Bacon’s older brother, Michael. Together they are the Bacon Brothers, a singer-songwriter team originally hailing from Philadelphia and backed by a four-piece band that complements their original sound—Americana fused with rocking, poppy, folky, bluesy undertones.
Brothers in Arms
Nine years Kevin’s senior, Michael Bacon is an accomplished singer-songwriter, musician and film score composer who won an Emmy for the PBS series The Kennedys. “The difference in what I do as a film composer and what I do as a Bacon Brother is 180 degrees,” said Michael Bacon.
The Bacon family home, complete with two boys and four girls, was filled with music and supportive parents who encouraged artistic pursuits. While Michael had designs on producing and turning his younger brother into a pop sensation at an early age, years and degrees of professional separation hindered a successful musical collaboration.
“I always wanted to make music with my brother,” said Michael Bacon. Kevin agreed; however his acting career juxtaposed with his brother’s musical career put that desire on hold. Their collective musical dream eventually took shape in 1995 when Kevin’s friend asked the brothers to perform at a one-off gig.
“What we do best is sing songs about ourselves and our lives,” Michael explained. “Our third gig came about because someone said our second gig wasn’t too bad. We started playing tiny clubs up and down the East Coast, were offered a record deal, and on and on it went.”
493 Miles and 36¢
When the Bacon Brothers pull into town June 20 for a show at the Tarrytown Music Hall they do so in support of their eighth album, and their first since 2008, 36¢. Due to busy schedules and geographic logistics, the recording and writing of the album was approached differently.
“For the first couple of records you rent a studio, the band gets together and you build the record,” said Kevin Bacon of the 12-track album on which he offers vocals, guitar, harmonica and percussion. “For the last two records, we have made use of the digital age. Everyone can record at home—some things are done together as a band but mostly individually. And the weird thing—some people have commented that this is our most live-sounding record.”
The album’s title track, penned by Michael, takes a sobering look at the life of a songsmith. The lyrics describe, in part, what a typical songwriter has in his or her pocket at the end of the day: 36 cents, a couple of Fender medium flat guitar picks and lyrics written on crumbled pieces of paper.
“It’s a way to define what a songwriter is, but it also has a component of mortality,” explained Michael Bacon, who sings, and plays guitar and cello on the album. “While the song does talk about death, I find it uplifting—how great it is to spend your life writing songs and being a musician.”
The genre-expansive album also features two covers. While in the past the brothers have paid tribute to artists such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, this time around they turned to Alanis Morissette’s “You Learn” and Paul Weller’s “Above the Clouds,” which features special guest Daryl Hall (of Hall and Oates fame). “I think our fans like to hear a cover once in a while, and they are fun songs to play,” said Michael Bacon.
Kevin Bacon’s song ‘493 Miles’ “explores realities parents of a certain age face. He and his fellow actor wife, Kyra Sedwick, have two children who recently moved out of their home. Resulting emotions gave rise to this introspective song. One lyric reads: “Just then it hits me, she’s still a mystery and we’ve never been down this highway before.”
“Kyra and I got in the car and drove from L.A. to Phoenix for a Bacon Brother’s show. We don’t road trip all that often, but every once in a while we do and really enjoy it,” said Kevin Bacon. “On ‘493,’ I was reflecting that our nest had recently become empty.”
The song also served as one of the first tunes that featured a collaboration from the backup band featuring Paul Guzzone on bass guitar and backing vocals, Joe Mennonna on keyboards and accordion, Frank Vilardi on drums, and Ira Siegel on lead guitar, mandolin and backing vocals.
“On this tour, I think we are doing seven shows in the first four days,” said Kevin Bacon, adding that he enjoys the touring life. “So it will be trial by fire.” Michael noted that the band has really “gelled” and looks forward to “letting go and having fun” on the 24-date tour that starts in Annapolis and ends in Las Vegas.
Following the Muse
Not unlike the famed mockumentary Spinal Tap, the Bacon Brothers have had their share of interesting mishaps on the road. “I was really busy orchestrating. We were set to play in the Catskills,” said Michael Bacon. “I worked straight through the entire drive there. We got to this beautiful place in the Catskills. I got up [on the stage] and said, “I just love the Poconos’.”
At another gig in Los Angeles at the Troubadour, the Bacon Brothers were jamming on stage. Kevin was so into the music that he hit his head hard on the microphone. He remained footloose, keeping the beat going.
“I was bopping along. Someone down in the audience, kind of this shy guy, looked up to me and said ‘Excuse me.’ I was thinking ‘Don’t bug me’ during the show. But he said again, ‘excuse me, sorry, but your head is bleeding,’” Kevin recalled with a laugh.
Bacon Brothers fans can rest assured that when the band arrives at the Tarrytown Music Hall later this month, they will know exactly where they are—and for good reason. Currently Kevin Bacon is starring in the last year of the television series, The Following, a degree separated from Tarrytown.
“We filmed scenes for The Following in Sleepy Hollow recently, and it was really great being there,” he said. “We had a good time filming and are looking forward to playing the show.”