It takes confidence, if not also wry humor to title your new CD Untrained—especially when you’ve been rolling out R&B and C&W for 25 years—but Gene Casey is that kind of singer-songwriter. After years leading his band The Lone Sharks, Casey decided to go it mostly alone on his new album and underscore the self-taught, instinctive, “untamed” musicality that has always informed his ballads and Elvis-influenced, slightly Johnny Cash-resonant smooth, seductive bass baritone sound. The tracks were laid down at electric bassist Johnny Blood’s House of Ill Repute studio in Springs, and although other voices can be heard on the album, they’re all Casey. “I’m a one-man Jordanaires.”
Now matured at 52, that sound, those lyrics, the new arrangements of older songs (“Cadillac for Sale” and “I Thought You Were Somebody Else”) evince a darker, bluesy quality—been there, done that, no regrets. He may still “Think About Elvis Every Day”—the opening track on Untrained—but it’s clear that Casey expresses sentiments in his own particular way, including defying expectations of rhyme in lyrics that pulse against a regular rockabilly beat.
Despite repeatedly being voted Dan’s Papers‘ “Best of the Best” in voice and composing, Casey’s hardly just a regional guy, even if he is associated mainly with Amagansett’s The Stephen Talkhouse. He also performs at various venues from Manhattan to Montauk, including Rodeo Bar restaurant at 27th and 3rd in the city and the Grey Horse Tavern in Bayport, but the local roadhouse and bar scene claims his heart. He came out to the “Wild West East End” in the ’80s and was surprised—and pleased—to discover that unlike the city, bands out here could get decent pay.
Casey appreciates his Lone Sharks fans and the standards they often request, but he also revisits favorites, hearing new complexities. And he mellows as an evening goes on. At the Talkhouse he and the band typically do three one-hour sets. Casey relies on his guys’ “telepathy,” their sensitivity to him and the mood of the room, so set lists don’t work—he’s too intuitive, “untrained”—for that.
Casey’s reach extends beyond live performance. The internet has given him a wider fan base, and his songs have been picked up by television (Justified and Sons of Anarchy on FX) and movies. “With the recording industry in flux, having songs placed in films is a great source of airplay and revenue,” Casey said. “It Should Rain” will be heard on the forthcoming film The Killing Season with Robert De Niro and John Travolta. “It’s nice to know your songs are out there working for you. It makes the long drive home at 3 a.m. from a bar gig a little easier!” Casey lives on the North Fork and, yes, “the schlepping, the late hours” get harder as you get older, but he feels he has shown he can stay the course. With age, you learn what to leave out, like an older baseball player, he analogizes, who yields to restrictions but knows the game better.
He loves what he does, and what he does—live music—is increasingly rare. People don’t go out that much anymore. They’re home with computers, watching Dancing with the Stars, maybe, but not out actually dancing, at least not like the old days of swing or even the early ’80s. Still, original fans can prove loyal. Every now and then forty-something fans come in with their own children. Casey himself has a lot of history, having started out as a 9-year-old kid drummer in a garage band.
He’s proud of The Lone Sharks’ expertise and experience. Today, too many groups know little about music because they’re impatient or lazy. The Beatles made it, but only after years of hard days’ nights. Swing era guys played all the time before catching on. He owns—and plays—about 10 guitars (he’s “whittling down”) but Casey favors an acoustic G400 Synchromatic Archtop based on a 1940s jazz guitar, because of its bright sound. “I assume the G is for Gretsch and not Gene, but who knows!” Untrained mixes it up—songs that are naughty, nostalgic, depressing, but also seasonal. “Christmas Lights” is a first for Casey and the song reflects a long-standing peeve that Christmas lights go up and come down too early. How about leaving ’em till January 8, “the day baby Elvis was born?” Vintage Casey.
Gene Casey will perform at The Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett on January 12 and at 230 Elm in Southampton on January 19. Stay tuned for a Lone Sharks’ 25th anniversary celebration and listen to and/or buy songs from Gene Casey‘s Untrained below, courtesy of www.reverbnation.com.