April 10, 2003
“Movie-star bands – it’s a plague on society, or at least they’re perceived that way,” admitted actor Kevin Bacon.
Bacon knew he would face skepticism – and outright criticism – when he and his older brother, Emmy-winning composer Michael, put together the band now known as the Bacon Brothers. He was fully prepared for comparisons to laughable acts headed by the likes of Keanu Reeves, and for accusations that he was just another pretty-boy movie star with a hobby.
“When we put the band together, I said to Michael, `We’re going to get our asses kicked,'” Kevin said. “But what are you going to do? I like to play music, I like to play songs, I like to hang out with musicians and my brother.”
Kevin also likes to write music – tunes that helped the Bacon Brothers survive that initial “ass kicking” nearly a decade ago and graduate to the status of professional musicians.
Songsters since childhood
Michael was about 16 years old when he first enlisted Kevin in a song-writing project.
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Though Kevin was only 8 or so at the time, he and Michael were pleasantly surprised by the music they made together. The brothers continued to write in their spare time and soon amassed a respectable song collection that they played around their family’s Philadelphia home.
But the brothers eventually grew up, and their childhood act was put on hold.
Michael continued to pursue music in college, both through course work and extracurricular activities. He went on to tour the world with both rock and folk acts throughout the ’70s and ’80s but eventually settled down to begin writing songs full time.
He has penned everything from commercial jingles to rock anthems to classical film and television soundtracks. He earned his Emmy for the 1993 documentary “The Kennedys” and went on to capture a Television Music Award and a Chicago International Film Festival plaque.
“I think I was put on this earth to be a musician,” Michael said of his extensive resume.
The same might have been said of Kevin, but his career – as fans of “Footloose” know by now – was sidetracked in the early ’80s.
“Footloose,” Kevin’s first big film, became a quick hit and, frankly, elevated the actor to sex-symbol status. He devoted the next 20 years to a string of diverse films, as a quick game of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” can attest.
But even as their careers diverged, the Bacon brothers remained close.
“We would always get together for song writing, even when I was kind of off on movies,” Kevin said. “I guess I’d always thought about doing some kind of music, or the performance side of music.”
The Bacons eventually recorded a few of their compositions in Michael’s New York studio. When these recordings fell into the hands of a music industry friend, the brothers were invited to perform live at a charity event in their native Philadelphia.
“We thought, `Why not? We’ll go down and play – it’ll be funny,'” Michael recalled.
But the Bacons were surprised by how well their first concert was received.
“Kevin had never performed music in front of an audience before, but he liked it and was really good at it,” Michael said.
The brothers decided to try out their act in a few small clubs around the country.
“What we’ve tried to do is build this in a very grass-roots kind of way. It wasn’t like `Footloose’ came out and we went to Columbia Records and said, `OK, lets parlay this into a music thing,'” Kevin said.
For the record
The duo, in fact, was “turned down by all the major labels” when they finally decided to make a record, according to Kevin.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of skepticism,” Michael said.
But in 1997, the Bacon Brothers released their long-awaited (considering they had been playing together for more than 30 years) first album, Forosoco. This collection, like the band’s subsequent releases, is a mix of the pair’s major musical influences – a little Motown soul from their native Philadelphia, the rock ‘n’ roll and folk tunes of their childhood and the country Michael absorbed during the years he spent living in Nashville.
This first record was also a nod to Kevin’s mentor.
“I guess, for me, my biggest influence was my brother,” he said.
The reception from “Forosoco” audiences was enough to help the pair turn the act into a full business, with a manager, tour bus and all. The Bacons even became more comfortable with the notoriety that followed them from gig to gig.
“We took a big step forward. Our songs became more personal,” Kevin said.
Their next releases, “Getting There” and “Can’t Complain,” charted their growth. Kevin was able to inject aspects of his private life into his lyrics and even learned to poke fun at his fame – a recent concert saw the brothers performing their version of Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose” theme. Michael, on the other hand, brought his professional polish to the group’s recordings – “Can’t Complain” kicks off with a stirring string composition that gives way to a fast-and-loose rock song.
Loving it live
Though the Bacons enjoy recording, their focus has always been on the live show. The brothers employ a full band – they’ve invited bassist Paul Guzzone, drummer Denny McDermott and guitarist Ira Siegel along for their latest tour – to get the most out of concert performances. The band will take the stage of the Wheeler Opera House at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
“We just try to get the live show and our musicianship, keep it strong and keep it going,” Kevin said.
This love of live performances has led to the Bacons fourth album, a live recording and concert DVD they’ll release this spring. The idea for the new release – which will combine elements of the group’s first three albums – came from a recent performance for the television network Bravo, Michael said.
“When I heard the playback [from the concert], it had an energy that you just don’t hear very often,” he said. “I got interested in the idea of going back and revisiting all the stuff we’ve been playing for years, and kind of redefining our past.”
This album will help the Bacons “put the past behind us,” Michael said, and focus on a fifth album. Hopefully part of that forgotten past will be the comparison to those flash-in-the-pan celebrity music acts.
But, in the meantime, the Bacon Brothers will accept the skepticism that surrounds “movie-star bands.”
Kevin calls this practice “embracing the beast.”
“A certain amount of your professional life, if you’re an artist, is kind of out of your hands,” he laughed.
Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org