Now that he doesn’t have to worry about the city’s finances, Matt McCabe can face the music again.
McCabe, 49, the owner of Saratoga Guitar who served two terms as the city’s elected finance commissioner, wants to get back to writing, singing and playing songs now that he’s no longer a public servant. He decided not to run for re-election last year.
“It certainly frees my mind up that way,” McCabe said.
He hopes to play at a few festivals and maybe a benefit concert here and there. He has played a regular gig in past summers at the Olde Bryan Inn on Maple Avenue.
“I don’t do the bars much,” he said. “I just couldn’t stay up all night.”
McCabe sponsored a stage at the city’s First Night celebration and strummed some tunes with George Fletcher. He’s also played locally with Rick Bolton.
“They make me look better and sound better.”
Even though he may have wider name recognition now, McCabe said, his four-year political career hasn’t helped his music.
“You have a lot of musicians that turn politicians,” he said. “With one more job on your mind, it kind of encumbers on the creative force, if you will.”
McCabe was born in Rockland County but moved to Elizabethtown in the Adirondacks when he was a child.
He played gigs in North Country bars and colleges as a young man and also traveled during the ’70s to Austin, Texas, Nashville, Tenn., the Florida Keys and Cape Cod, getting gigs where he could.
“It was pretty hand-to-mouth,” he said of his 10 months in the Keys.
He and other musicians lived in little trailers crowded together. “You barely made enough money so you could say you lived there.”
One April morning, he awoke to a 94-degree day. “I said, ‘Man, this is not for me,’” McCabe recalled.
So he headed north to Cape Cod for a few months.
Unlike hard-core successful bar musicians, McCabe didn’t learn all the Top 40 hits that people want to hear when they’re out drinking.
“I played the worst versions of ‘American Pie’ you ever heard,” he said, adding he would insert made-up lyrics for the ones he forgot and make a joke out of it.
McCabe’s advantage over other musicians was his singing voice, he said.
“A good singer who could play guitar OK would do better than a good guitar player who could sing OK.”
McCabe said he also showed up on time, and always started his gigs sober, which helped him get hired back.
But it was a tough way to live.
“If you do all your own booking, you spend all your time convincing people how good you are.”
He spoke modestly of his own talent, noting other local musicians who are more skilled and have produced albums more than the one, “These Adirondacks,” McCabe did locally with Junior Barber in 1993.
“In this town alone, you’ve got guys who are head and shoulders above anything I’ve ever done.”
After working a regular job at an advertising agency in northern New Jersey, McCabe moved to Saratoga Springs and opened his own store in 1994 with 48 used guitars in a tiny shop on Caroline Street.
He opened at his current location on Broadway three years ago.
McCabe said he might have a few dozen finished songs of his own to play, plus “hundreds of one-liners that I haven’t turned into songs yet.”
As a single man, McCabe used to write music every morning. Now he’s married with three children.
“Now it’s like, ‘Wow, I got an idea.’ I pull the car over to write it down.”
He’d also like to go back and rewrite some of his older songs that he views through the lens of experience now.