Mary Ramsey’s vast talent and varied taste should be enough to keep her musical career forever fresh and relevant.
A singer/songwriter who also plays the violin and the viola, Ramsey will be reprising her role as lead singer of the 10,000 Maniacs on Saturday night when the Buffalo-based group, now celebrating its 35th year, performs at the Cohoes Music Hall.
“We’ve done a lot of shows this year and we’re scheduled to play in Brazil and Winnipeg next year, so I guess we’re going international again,” said Ramsey, who has also performed as a member of the folk rock duo John and Mary with former 10,000 Maniacs band member John Lombardo.
“It really is thrilling. We’re playing for our own pleasure, but it’s great to be able to share our music with other people. As long as we stay healthy, we’ll probably keep playing.”
The 10,000 Maniacs were one of the top alternative rock bands of the 1980s and 1990s. The group used Ramsey on occasion as a background singer and as an accompanist on strings, and she has continued to perform on and off with the band since then.
The group’s original lead singer, Natalie Merchant, left to pursue a solo career in 1993 and was replaced by Oskar Saville. When she left in 2006, Ramsey officially became the group’s lead vocalist.
WHERE: Cohoes Music Hall, 58 Remsen St., Cohoes
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
HOW MUCH: $52-$32
MORE INFO: 1-800-745-3000, www.palacealbany.com
Among the original band members performing Saturday with Ramsey will be Steve Gustafson, Dennis Drew, Jerome Augustyniak and John Lombardo. Jeff Erickson, the lead guitarist, joined the group in 2001.
The group is promoting its latest release, “Playing Favorites,” which includes live renditions of some of their biggest hits, such as “Because The Night,” “These Are Days” and “Trouble Me.” They have sold over 10 million records worldwide, and while they no longer sell out stadium venues, they have a reliable and devoted following.
“Some of our audience is older than we are,” said Ramsey. “I think the people who come to listen to us appreciate that we are authentic. We’ve been playing a lot of 500- to 700-seat venues and some a bit smaller, but it’s also a lot of fun to play at festivals. It’s nice to have some versatility in the venues that we play, and if we ever got a stadium gig that would be fun, too. But I do like a more intimate setting. Stadiums are great, but we haven’t been on one of those stages in a while.”
Ramsey said she grew up listening to jazz singers like Billie Holiday and folk musicians such as Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell. Her father was a Beatles fan, and while she also enjoyed the Fab Four, she was drawn more toward people like Canadian folk and country music stars Ian and Sylvia Tyson, along with Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and the Clash.
Hard to categorize
As has been the case since the group was formed in the Buffalo area in 1981, pigeonholing the 10,000 Maniacs isn’t easy.
“We certainly do folk rock with a British Isles influence,” said Ramsey, who has also performed with the Erie Philharmonic, the Western New York Chamber Orchestra and the Lexington String Trio.
“But having a violin in the group and me with my viola certainly adds that kinetic country energy to our sound. And, between songs these days, I do some improvisation. I’ll do a classical piece, and I can do a range of styles. We’re still writing and still creating. That’s the signature style of our band. We are authentic.”
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]