Jack Woodward and Chris Satterlee could have been any acoustic duo busking the streets during the Great Depression.
Of course, they might not have been playing songs by Ke$ha or Nirvana back then.
Stand-up bassist Woodward and acoustic guitarist Satterlee, better known as Jack and Chris, have been influenced by the current economic downturn in more ways than one. Both 22 and recent college graduates, the longtime friends and musical collaborators decided in the spring to strip things down to this simple setup, busk throughout the region and hopefully make some money.
As the duo began preparing material, they realized old Depression-era songs were very appropriate to today’s situation — and that songs such as “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime” can coexist peacefully with modern material done in the same style.
Jack and Chris
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: Moon & River Cafe, 115 S. Ferry St., Schenectady
How Much: Free
More Info: 382-1938, www.moonandrivercafe.com
“I don’t think it’s a question of influence; I think it’s just more that we’re trying to play tunes that we think are culturally representative,” Woodward said recently from the Moon & River Cafe, where the duo have a monthly show on the first Friday of every month — the next of these is this Friday.
“And a lot of the older stuff, especially the Depression-era songs that we’re doing, translate really well now. And I think what’s popular now, the whole hipster subculture, is kind of like a hearkening back to vintage sort of clothing and attitudes, and that’s musically kind of what we’re trying to do — do organic stuff after growing up in the 2000s with Britney [Spears] and ’NSYNC and all those guys.”
“But we also kind of find that a lot of the themes from songs from the ’20s and ’30s are universal,” Satterlee added. “So people are still — people are going out and getting messed up and acting like fools at the bar today, and they were doing it in 1920s, and people were singing about it.”
With Woodward’s baritone and Satterlee’s tenor, the two trade off lead and harmony vocals, while instrumentally covering all of the bases that a full band with drums might cover.
And after spending this past summer busking, mostly on Jay Street in Schenectady, the duo have developed a muscular rhythmic approach that doesn’t require microphones or amplification.
Like a full band
“We figured, we just got out of school, neither of us are gonna make a lot of money, so let’s play on the streets and make money,” Woodward said. “And so we’ve only got two guys, and if we can replicate to the best of our ability the sound of a full band, then that’s more money between two people, as opposed to splitting between three or four. And I think we do a decent job of replicating the full band sound as much as we can — I mean, the bass kind of is a kick drum, and [Chris] can either hit the guitar on two and four to get the snare, or I can slap my fretboard to do that.”
At this point, it’s a bit cold for busking, but the duo managed to build quite a following on the streets with both their cover material and original numbers, even garnering some “return customers.”
“We judged a good day by whether or not we could afford Pizza King and still have money left over,” Satterlee said. “At the height of the summer, [that was] every time we went down.”
Their traditional sound, coupled with not-so-traditional song choices, quickly caught attention at the Moon & River open mic nights on Sundays as well. Woodward had already been a regular at the open mic for a few years before Satterlee began joining him in May.
“I heard them one time and I offered them a monthly show,” Richard Genest, Moon & River owner, said.
The two both grew up in the Capital Region, and first met in fifth grade. By that point, Woodward had already been playing music for a number of years — he got his start on piano at age 5, moving to cello, bass and guitar in subsequent years. Satterlee began playing guitar at age 13. “We’ve been recording songs here and there for a few years,” Satterlee said.
After college — Woodward attended Hofstra University on Long Island, while Satterlee went to Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, Mass. — the two returned to the area again and began playing together.
But they might not be here for too much longer. Right now, they are reaching even further back musically, working up what they’re calling a “cocktail set” — standards from the Great American Songbook — with the hopes of landing gigs at places like The Stockade Inn and The Van Dyck. Eventually, they hope to end up in New York City, playing the bar scene.
“If we can get this cocktail set off the ground here, hopefully we’ll have a bit of a reputation built up before we start looking to play down there,” Satterlee said. “But there’s probably more bars in a square mile in the city than there are in the Capital District.”