The Hartford Courant
Marshall Crenshaw still can remember his artistic awakening, the moment he shed the clothing of his rock 'n' roll apprenticeship and decided to strike out on his own. It was February 1980, and a 26-year-old Crenshaw was playing John Lennon in a touring production of "Beatlemania," a Broadway show based on the music of the Fab Four.
"We were in Boston, and it was a five- or six-week run," Crenshaw says by phone, days before tonight's scheduled tour stop in Connecticut. "I'd given my notice and by that time, I had some songs. I was in such a great frame of mind. It was a time in my life I just had a great deal of faith in the future, and I thought all of a sudden I had a personal style of self-expression."
Two years later, having ditched his mop-top wig and honed his act in the New York City club scene, Crenshaw released his self-titled debut. Buddy Holly breezy and early-Beatles melodic, the album yielded the hit "Someday, Someway," still his signature tune.
Although he lacked the punkish aggression of Elvis Costello, sarcastic wit of Nick Lowe and cartoon flash of the Stray Cats, Crenshaw felt a kinship with the day's retro-minded New Wave artists. He says his throwback songwriting style was, at least in part, a reaction to the dreadful state of mainstream rock.
"I was on that page for sure," Crenshaw says. "There was school of thought a lot of people picked up on. It had to do with looking backward and looking forward."
Crenshaw had developed his taste for early rock 'n' roll as a teenager growing up in Detroit. While local FM stations were blaring Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, he was listening to WABX, a freeform AM station whose DJs dug deeper into the vaults.
"When I got into '50s rock, it was a rediscovery for me, because I'd heard all those records as a child," he says. "I heard them after the fact and thought, 'There's something beautiful about this stuff. It makes me feel good to hear it.'"
Three decades later, Crenshaw hasn't lost the feeling. While by no means a '50s revival record, his most recent effort, 2009's "Jaggedland," is filled with the same warmly echoing vocals and twangy guitars he fell for in his youth and has gone back to throughout his career.
"I'm not really trying to adhere to any particular set of rules and regulations," Crenshaw says. "I'm just letting the stuff kind of flow as it will."
Marshall Crenshaw with guest Frank Manzi performs Friday, February 11th at 7PM at the Iron Horse in Northampton. Tickets are $15 at Northampton Box Office: 413-586-8686 or online at IHEG.com