For seven years now, Saratoga Springs native Justin Joyner has led the band Gravity, forging his musical reputation on cover songs.
Catch the band at one of its club dates throughout the Capital Region, and you’ll get an earful of songs ranging from classic rock, blues, pop and modern rock — Joyner even belts out the occasional Madonna or Britney Spears song. Joyner’s acoustic duo The Play Doughs, with Matt Pirog of The Audiostars, likewise tackles cover material, albeit in a sparse acoustic setting.
In his third musical incarnation, Joyner performs solo, and in this setting the 28-year-old singer and guitarist can branch out. Although he’ll still tackle cover songs in his solo sets, it’s the only gig where he gets to perform his own material. But even then, there’s a time and a place for original songs amid the covers.
“I kind of sprinkle them into the set a little bit, and I always make an announcement before I do [play an original song],” he said. “Although I don’t — it’s kind of strategic, because if it’s at a point in the night where a lot of people are into the cover tunes, I will not bring out an original song. There’s a time and a place for it, but I do sprinkle them in. If the audience is sitting down and listening and watching, that is the appropriate time to bring out an original song.”
When: 9 tonight
Where: Bailey’s Cafe, 37 Phila St., Saratoga Springs
How Much: Free
More Info: 583-6060, www.baileyscafe.com
Originals on tap
Joyner’s blues-and-rock-based originals will be on display when he performs at Bailey’s Cafe tonight. It’s not the only way he experiments during his solo sets. He likes to get creative with his song choices, adapting songs more suited to the full-band treatment into a sparse acoustic setting.
“When you’re doing a solo show, it’s kind of hard because you don’t have that backup behind you, so you kind of have to really fill in the spaces,” he said. “I like that challenge. . . . I like the creativity of the solo show; I like to try to take songs that you don’t normally hear on acoustic guitar, solo, and make it work. I’ve done songs by The Killers, Jimi Hendrix — oh my gosh, I don’t know. I hit a lot of different artists.”
This eclecticism stems from Joyner’s own musical background. Early on, his father introduced him to classic rock and blues artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Van Halen and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
“It was basically when I was about 4 years old, watching videos of Jimi Hendrix, and also watching the movie ‘Back to the Future’ and thinking, Michael J. Fox is my hero because he’s up there playing ‘Johnny B. Goode,’ ” Joyner said. “No one in my family is particularly musical, but it was just kind of something that always interested me, so I pursued it.”
By age 5, he was singing in talent competitions in the area. He also sat in a few times at gigs with Saratoga musicians Jeff Walton and Rick Bolton.
“That was my first exposure to entertaining, and it was really just me strumming a toy guitar and singing,” Joyner said. “I didn’t know how to play yet, but I was up there singing and performing. Shortly thereafter, I started private lessons for vocals and guitar.”
In high school, Joyner played with a number of bands, including a group called Shades of Blues. Later on, he played lead guitar in the band Rhythm Method, led by his guitar teacher, the late Bob Zabinski. That group ended up opening shows for Eddie Money and Blue Oyster Cult at Northern Lights in Clifton Park.
In late 2005, Joyner reconnected with high school friend and drummer Will Railton, and the two put together Gravity. In addition to performing club dates, Gravity is also an in-demand wedding band in the area. Last year the group released a 17-track live album, “Live in Saratoga,” recorded at eight different Saratoga venues over two years.
Throughout all these projects, Joyner also honed his songwriting chops. He wrote his first songs at age 8. By the time he was a senior in high school, he had recorded his first full-length album, “Walks Away.” Another album, “Colorful Conversations,” came out in 2005.
Any original material found in his solo shows comes from those two albums. Although he has new material ready to go, he hasn’t had time to record anything new yet, although he is hoping to in the future.
For now, the focus, as always, is on playing gigs and learning new songs for those gigs.
“With all three individual groups — solo, duo and band — the one thing I’m able to bring to the table is versatility,” he said. “Given my background in blues, plus I’ve done lots of musical theater as well growing up — I have a versatile background, so I’m able to jump from blues to rock to pop even.”