The one where I talk about The Empty Hearts

The coolest thing about the location of my old shop was that I was close enough to stop by Andy Babiuk’s Fab Gear. To the locals, the shop may have served as a convenience for musicians to pick up a pack of strings and ogle the Rickenbackers or Fenders adorning the walls. Not to mention the memorabilia. Records signed from Beatles members and other faces from the yesteryears of garage rock grace the walls. Atop a glass coffee table, are stacks of Babiuk’s published works: The Story Of Paul A. Bigsby: The Father Of The Modern Electric Solidbody Guitar, Beatles Gear and the latest Rolling Stones Gear. From the days of The Chesterfield Kings to being a published author and a consultant for the film Not Fade Away (it’s because of him, all the instruments in the film were sourced to show time period authenticity!), Babiuk is a good friend of Steven Van Zandt, so it only came natural that he’d offer what would be the band name for Babiuk’s next venture.

My brother would frequent Fab Gear more than I was able to—but either way—we would be regaled with tour stories, anecdotes about The Ramones and the writing process of his books. We heard about this new band he was putting together, but he was mum on the members. Of course, with the contacts Andy knew, it had to be good. At a later point, we did learn who was in the band and that they were in town recording the album nearby.

My brother and I flipped. Elliot Easton (The Cars), Clem Burke (Blondie) and Wally Palmar (The Romantics) are in town working on this album. Oh, and Ed Stasium (producer for The Ramones and many, many others) is producing.
It was not long after, I walked into Fab Gear, while my brother was already there. As I opened the door to the tiny space, I was blasted with music. When the song stopped, Andy replied, with a slightly annoyed face. “That was a rough cut,” he sighed and started making note of what needed to be changed.

I was shocked that THAT was a rough cut.

Andy was in and out of the shop after that, flying out to LA for promo photos and promoting Stones Gear throughout the country. The same day The Connection came to visit both of our shops in May, was the day the news was released about the band name and the who’s who in the band.

The Empty Hearts. From the sacred offering of Little Steven Van Zandt’s collection of unused band names.

Fast forward to last night. The band has been in town for about a week and rehearsing heavily before they hit a few eastern-US dates and Japan. A special show at Sticky Lips Juke Joint was promoted all over local radio and news outlets (and even front page news on Monday’s Democrat and Chronicle). A packed beer and barbecue crowd waited for a new rock ‘n’ roll Fab Four to come up on stage. When they did, an hour and a half of heavy, solid and tight rock ‘n’ roll hit us in the face. Opening with the first cut on the album “Driving 90 Miles an Hour Down a One-Way Street,” the crowd ate it up like the pulled pork they must have consumed earlier. Then, we were treated to the Car’s favorite, “Just What I Needed.” Tossing a couple Cars and Romantics tunes, including “What I Like About You” into the set was the perfect end to a Tuesday night.

The Empty Hearts hit the first date of their tour tomorrow night.




Photo from The Empty Hearts website


Not Fade Away

not-fade-away01I did not know about the film “Not Fade Away” until one evening in December at Andy Babiuk’s Fab Gear. Andy told me about his role as a consultant on finding all of the vintage gear that had to be accurate for the film. Steven van Zandt had gotten him the gig on the feature film project of Soprano’s creator, David Chase.

Just like any punk band today who has discovered religion through the Ramones, this story winds back to the previous decade, when the United States were introduced to four mop-tops and Cuban heel boots. In fact, the character, Douglas (played by John Magaro) catches the rock ‘n’ roll bug after seeing the Rolling Stones play their US televison debut on Dean Martin’s “Hollywood Palace” in 1964. After starting a band, the story continues to chronicle their ups and downs through the decade.

Now, back to Steven Van Zandt, who was the music supervisor and executive producer of the film, picked an excellent selection of songs to be showcased. He also worked the actors–not one a musician–to play from scratch and be able to play like a band. The movie takes place in one of the most pivotal moments in American history: Kennedy, Civil Rights, the Vietnam War…the references are there, but Chase stays clearly adhered to the music.

For the audience looking to see James Gandolfini doing anything but Tony Soprano, is a stretch. He’s old school, takes his anger out on his wife and son (tells him he looks like “he just got off the boat”), but is under the stress of small business ownership struggles.

For a coming-of-age tale, the film is shot using natural lighting and heavy shadow work to create a gloomy mood. It’s artsy-yet-fitting for a film encased with a range of emotions.

What is ironically refreshing at the end is the lack of seeing the band “make it.” There are too many happy endings or lessons learned where a band grows big and enter the turbulent world of drugs, sex, more drugs, death, spouses, children and every other “reality” of bands from the days of yore.