is a genial, casually humorous person onstage. He often warns his audience not to take anything he says---especially delivered deadpan---too seriously; until he has something serious to say, which is easy to spot.
There's a heart here, a funny bone, and these days some political anger.
His songs are made of narrative, monologue, and dialogue. Sounds like someone telling a story, or people talking. Very little didactic messaging goes on. His ear for vernacular is unerring. You won't catch anyone ordering a tonic and gin in a Dennis D'Asaro song!
Favorite songs to sing: Wild Horses, Ruby Tuesday, Stand By Me. Sense a torch theme? Oh, but he didn't write any of those. Favorite songs to belt: Fill Your Glasses High, Elvis on a Harley. He wrote those; but, aw, gee, you've never heard of them.
This Prussian-Jewish / Sicilian man has a strong minor in Irish music (Clancys informed by Silly Wizard.) His band is called "Shakespeare in the Alley," after a Bob Dylan line.
His performing objective is reduction of distance between stage and audience (sometimes literally.) You will not hear this guy say, "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen." Just, "Hi," or else something completely disconcerting (see above); and then he's there, and so are you.
If it's a formal performance, his objective is a journey; if casual, then whatever happens between performer and audience.
For someone this much fun and this warm and with this nice
a voice and who writes such good songs to have stayed unknown for 50 years
has taken special effort by his execrable management.
FILL YOUR GLASSES HIGH
[Liner Notes from 2001] 1974, give-or-take, I heard Rabbit McKay
a couple of times at the Hootenanny at the Troubadour, where I was the
janitor. Never one to let the grass grow around the telephone dial, in
1982, more-or-less, I called him up about this tune, the chorus of which
had stuck in my head for nine years. The gracious fellow said he would
send me a tape---and he actually did. (This was reel-to-reel, children.
It was a bunch more trouble than popping a blank into your dual cassette
deck and thence into a Priority Mail envelope.)
[Gawd, I've dated myself again----"It was a bunch more trouble than
e-mailing an MP3."]
FOR AS LONG AS SHE LASTS LET ME
LIVE IN THE LAND OF THE FREE
I write topical songs
kind of sideways. This, for instance, germinated as a fantasy of being
one of the Iran embassy hostages. I fancied that when I got out of there,
I would skip out on the debriefing in Germany, fly to New York, go immediately
to Port Authority and get a bus to somewhere in the middle of the country.
Ride out there hunched against the window with the American landscape
passing. Get off somewhere between Iowa and Kansas, find a job washing
dishes and an unfurnished apartment over a hardware store, and not talk
much to anyone for a year.
And, yeah, I learned later the word is pronounced “MWAYzins.”
I also write topical songs rather after the event. Then I make some small attempt to get them “out there,” get rebuffed by the big nasty world, and nobody ever finds out how affectingly I've pegged the human heart of the situation. My planned 9th CD (we're up to TWO so far) is going to be called Yesterday's Papers.
BY THE SHORES OF SAN CLEMENTE
One of my topical fantasies did however make a timely emergence in the long aftermath and living memory of an American historical event. Spilled onto some steno pages in nineteen hours of a long day traveling from Buffalo to D.C.
[To sing at the White House? Be recorded at the Library of Congress? Have a life mask made at the Smithsonian? Even to busk by the Reflecting Pool? Naw, just to visit family. But I got this lyric written, and a cousin I didn't know I had taught me “The Dutchman,” which was worth the trip in itself].
Lena Spencer liked this song, and when I showed up again after a lapse of years remembered who the hell I was (amazing lady!) and had me sing it again.
There is no usable recording of this song. Taped it once in a bar. Sounds like a bar, with someone singing in the background. Played at a college once where an offered perk was a session in the video studio. Couple of film students brought me in there. I started outlining a little sketch around the tune for them (stealing a gag from The Boob Tube, if you remember that flic.) The boys said they had to get to a class, started up the camera, told me to do whatever I wanted and that they'd pack up the tape for me later, and departed hurriedly. I soloed the song to no one. When I got that tape home and played it, it was blank.
Did a Gielgud-worthy performance of it for a ripe audience at an Oswego coffee house. Playback revealed that a woman in the back of the room had giggled after every single line. Unlistenable. Like that.
I did assemble a nice graphic for it in the website songbook, copied here. so if you will just proceed down the page you may see the lyric, and imagine it set a cappella to a trad-like melody.
BUT WAIT! Rediscovered another recording. Cherry Tree Coffee House in the 'Eighties. Fellow with the button was conserving tape, or something. Started it up once he was sure I was singing another song and not merely carrying on. Only missing the first line....
In the mid-'Seventies, this piece actually stunned audiences. [Though not Sing Out!: “Oh, there are so many Nixon songs.”] I opened for Rosalie Sorrels once at SUNY Buffalo and had the hubris to wonder if it were professional of me to sock the audience so hard just before her entrance. That doughty lady took the stage and came right back with a talking blues about Eisenhower.
A: "Pretty deadly serious guy, eh?"
JACK'S OFF A-WHALING
AND COOKIES AROUND THE CAMPFIRE
And some additional songs. Heck, I dunno what to show you out of the disparate repertoire!
first half-hour spent with Dennis put my mind at ease regarding his capabilities
as a musician. After I sang a couple of songs for him, he quietly picked
up his guitar and began to play and sing for me.
2007, Averill Park
"I need to get the impression that the artist is familiar with American roots music, and that those old songs inspired the current work in some way. "
While I don't know that I know anyone who knows anyone who knows anyone who knows Kevin Bacon, I know exactly where I stand on this:
In 1955 (I was 8) my dad got his Ph.D. and started teaching at UCLA; and my mother's Uncle Sidney left her $50. The 'rents took this legacy down to Tijuana and bought Dad a nylon-string guitar with a neck like my (adult) upper arm, and he took an extension course in folk guitar and singing from Bess Lomax Hawes, once on-and-off member of the Almanac Singers and co-author of "MTA," about whom Wikipedia has this to say:
Bess developed her technique for teaching guitar to large groups of people simultaneously, a method for which she became well-known, and which accounts for the fact that over the years, especially after she moved to Los Angeles in 1951, she was able to teach so many people to play guitar. Many of her students, in turn, became guitar teachers, spreading her method - and her enthusiasm for music - which helped catalyze the folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s.
Thus folk singing came into our house. "Leatherwing Bat," "The Frozen Logger," Spanish songs about Chicken Hawks and Insurgent Generals. I loved singing this stuff. Couple years on, we acquired "The Kingston Trio" and "The Weavers at Carnegie Hall." My enthusiasm stepped up to folk-pop. In 1960 I finally got Dad to show me the chords to my favorite KT song, and three of us high school buddies started a folk trio called...
The Three Folksingers!
You believe we all proprietorialy
claimed to have thought of the name? I'm the one in the middle.
Now a complicated little thing happened. Bob Dylan, actually. That much wasn't complicated. He was my Ideel as much as L'il Abner aspired toward Fearless Fosdick. But eventually he released "Like A Rolling Stone," with (pretty awful, let's say it) drums. I actually stopped listening to him. Maybe for five years, till another of the (post-) high school gang was putting on a music show, "The History of Rock 'n' Roll." He wanted me to "be" Dylan. So I had to learn that infamous electric song, also "Baby Blue," and play them with a band. They were real good songs, once I paid attention. One of the eight dedications on my first CD reads
To Doug Carnahan, who brought this anal folkie back to post-Stratocaster Dylan."
And I guess we will say my heart became attuned to folk-rock. It's not all I do. I sing everything I can get away with. But I can claim and prove that I am two degrees of separation from the origin of the Folk Boom, and a member therof.
I would about kill for the notebook from that Bess Hawes class, but I'm pretty sure Dad gave it to some music friend 20 years ago. Dad got a better guitar and the original fell to me. Remembering how hard its action was, I can quantify how much I wanted to play. It was stolen from me at college and I moved to a Guild F-30 with bronze strings. That was stolen years later in Albany. Years after that, my D-35 was stolen by the crew of an impound lot after a car wreck. Years after that, Dad's better guitar was apparently stolen by one of the home health aids who assisted him during his final decline. I am one or two degrees of separation from a whole pack of thieves.
Never been exactly sure what "roots music" is, but possibly that extension course stuff. And it's in the mix. 1977, maybe, I played at Fiddler's Green in Toronto, and a woman asked for "The Frozen Logger." Dunno what I said, exactly, but she started arguing with me in the middle of my set that she'd heard me a few years before and I'd sung it then. A few years before I'd been the janitor at the Troubadour in L.A., and I knew danged well I'd never sung that song anywhere but a living room or a campfire in my life. But I knew it (see above.) I sang it for her. Haven't been asked for it since. I still know it. Just in case.
That stuff''s where I started.
OK, so lastly I observe your wonderfully
explicit parameters from the applicants' page of the Lena website. Lemme
see..."Experienced act yep!
with a following." nope! "Young
act nope! who is looking
to get on a real stage for the first time." hmpf!
I'm afraid I may categorize here as a fish up a tree.
I must leave it to you to decide whether
I fit on your stage, and, if so, how and when.
Website Home Page