Musician Michael Eck has never been the lead singer in a heavy metal band, which stands out as one of the few things he’s yet to try in his 40-year career.
A longtime fixture on the Capital Region music scene, Eck has been in an impressive number of bands over the years, performing an equally impressive variety of genres. To name a few, he’s performed with punk rockers The Plague, alternative country outfit Chefs of the Future, American roots-rockers Ramblin Jug Stompers and acoustic Americana group Lost Radio Rounders.
Beyond that, the multi-instrumentalist has had a busy 20-year solo acoustic career, written hundreds of songs and appeared on dozens of albums. A recent Capital Region Thomas Edison Music Hall of Fame inductee, Eck is a cultural critic and a voter for the national Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
On Sunday, he’ll celebrate the four decades he’s been performing with a show at Caffe Lena, where he serves as a board member.
It won’t be a true retrospective show; he’ll perform some older songs, but the focus will be on his latest record “your turn to shine — new songs, live at WEXT.” It’s the first he’s released in a dozen years and it features a sampling of the 150-or-so songs he’s written in recent years. Half were written during the pandemic, including the title track, which was the last song Eck wrote before he had a stroke in 2021.
“I thought it was about a friend of mine who passed. It was a song to me and I think it’s the only time I ever felt that . . . so now when I sing that song it feels very different,” Eck said.
A variety of health issues have cropped up since the stroke. However, Eck takes things one day at a time and keeps in mind a notion he picked up from Lenny Kaye (a guitarist who has long played with Patti Smith): “Every day you get to play your guitar is a day you got to play your guitar.”
“Do you become more philosophical? How can you not be more philosophical? When I turned 50, I said ‘I want to be more empathic. I want to have more empathy for the world around me.’ Then, when all this other stuff happened to me, it just amplified that,” Eck said.
He’s continued to put his energy into songwriting with help from workshops and sessions offered online and at Caffe Lena School of Music and Beacon Music Factory. He still draws inspiration from fiction and from people in his life, though his songwriting process has changed recently.
“Since my stroke, I’ve been doing these classes [and] I find now as often as not, now I’m writing full sets of lyrics,” Eck said. “What I tend to do now is I’ll write a full set of lyrics, then I’ll apply music to it, the harmony, the melody … then I go back and I do the editing.”
Some of those songs are on “your turn to shine,” which fell into place earlier this year thanks in part to WEXT DJ Chris Wienk. Eck had done an interview with Wienk and performed a few of his new songs at the station. Later in the year, when Eck got the idea for “your turn to shine,” Wienk invited him back to perform a few more new tunes.
It was a completely different process from his previous album, “In My Shoes,” which was also recorded at WEXT, though that was in sessions of six to eight songs at a time and Eck had carefully considered the running order and themes in each song beforehand.
This time around, there’s not necessarily thematic connective tissue between songs. Instead, they’re some of the most recent songs he’s completed and Sunday’s show will be the first time he’s performed some of them outside of WEXT.
The show will see another first when his adult children join him on stage for a few closing songs. Lakota Ruby-Eck will perform on guitar and Lillierose Ruby-Eck on violin. It’ll mark the first time they’ve performed together and Lakota’s debut performance.
“We had a rehearsal the other night and at the end of it, I just gave him this big hug. I said, Dude, if we never do anything else, if the world explodes and we don’t do this gig, we played guitar together and it felt so special,” Eck said.
Sarah Craig, the executive director of Caffe Lena, praised Eck’s writing and noted that his love and understanding of music across nearly every genre comes through in his music.
“There’s just so much that goes into his songs, there’s history, there’s many styles, there’s a passion for humanity. All of it goes into his songs so there’s a wonderful sincerity to his performances,” Craig said.
Sunday’s show is just a few days shy of the anniversary of Eck’s first performance, which was Oct. 1, 1982, when he played electric guitar with the hardcore punk band Deaf Zone in a Battle of the Bands at Bethlehem Central High School.
Looking back on his music career isn’t something Eck does all that often; he tends to focus on what he’s working on now rather than what he’s already accomplished. However, during a recent interview with The Gazette, he noted “I’ve never been in the big band of the day. That doesn’t matter to me. Forty years on, I’m still playing music and it’s still making me happy.
“Everybody can choose to pursue some crazy idea. Just do it. If you still want to do it when you get old, keep doing it. Keep changing the goal . . . If it makes you happy, do it,” he added.
Michael Eck 40th Anniversary show
WHEN: 7 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Caffe Lena, 47 Phila Street, Saratoga Springs
TICKETS: $22.63 for general admission
MORE INFO: Caffelena.org