It’s one thing to play the music scene, it’s another to have the staying power to keep at it, successfully, for 30 years.
Gene Casey, who formed his band The Lone Sharks after moving to the East End in 1988, had performed in the New York City area before heading east, but really hit his stride when his group became the house band at the former Wild Rose Café in Bridgehampton during the ’90s, where he developed a loyal fan base who adored his rockabilly rhythm and twang.
Casey’s music has been featured on the TV shows “Justified” and “Sons of Anarchy,” along with several feature films. His latest CD, Guitar In The Rain, released in 2017, features original tunes evoking the sounds of ’60s pop, country western, and early rock and roll.
But it’s the upcoming holiday show at the Suffolk Theater, Saturday, December 15, that is one of Casey’s favorite events.
“I believe this will be our fifth year running,” said Casey, who shares the bill with Prentiss McNeil and Jason D. Williams. “It’s the holiday spirit and the rock and roll spirit combined that makes for an exciting night. Prentiss McNeil is a pro, and Jason D. Williams is completely insane,” he said with a laugh. “He makes our show seem tame.”
What’s his favorite Christmas song to “Gene” up? “Everything we do we manage to ‘Gene’ up in one way or another, but I have a soft spot for rendering ‘Blue Christmas,’” he responded. “It was a favorite of my mom’s. We kind of do it Elvis-style but it has morphed into our own thing.”
Casey is his own manager, press person, and roadie, but he has no complaints, even with approximately 150 gigs a year. “That’s the high average, yes,” he acknowledged. “This year was a little less because Mr. Big Shot has been back and forth to Nashville, knocking on doors. Back in the day, guys like B.B. King and James Brown would play 300 nights a year, just traveling in the bus, zig-zagging. So what we do is moderate in comparison.”
It’s his latest work that has Casey traveling back and forth from his home on the North Fork to Nashville. “We are always working on something new,” he said. “We have a live album all set to go, but we are sort of waiting to see what is the best way to get the music out there. CDs are dead, I am told. Vinyl seems to me a tad impractical — I hope I am wrong, because I love LPs and 45s. I am active in Nashville with a publishing deal which requires me spending time there, co-writing with some of the 20,000 songwriters in that town,” Casey said.
But for now, Casey is concentrating on this weekend’s show in Riverhead. “The Lone Sharks that night will include my long-time mates, Paul Scher on saxophone, and Chris Ripley on drums. Pete Crugnale is the upright bassist, and we are delighted to have Tricia Scotti singing and playing guitar,” he said. “It’s a fun night to play and to just be there.”
Casey also acknowledges being a “completely, 100 percent over-the-top sentimentalist when it comes to Christmastime.”
He remembered his own upbringing during this season with fondness. “When the families would gather and the music would play constantly, from the old Perry Como albums to the siblings singing — this is the bedrock of my total absorption and dedication to being a musician. I am trying to tap into those earliest memories, when love and togetherness were woven into singing and plucking what few chords I knew on the guitar. In fact, that is exactly what I am still doing!”
Casey shared a happy holiday memory. “I will never forget the Christmas when Santa brought us a complete line of Emenee toy instruments, the ‘Polychord’ electric organ, ‘Big Bash’ drum, and the ‘Swingin’ Cat’ guitar. Plastic stuff that we bashed the hell out of and reduced to plastic shards by springtime,” he said, smiling. “Later, though, we got our first folk guitar that my brother and I learned to play on. You never forget those times,” he said.
WLNG’s Rockabilly Christmas 2018 is at the Suffolk Theater this weekend. For more information, visit www.suffolktheater.com. To learn more about Gene Casey and listen to some of his tunes, visit www.genecasey.com.