Vocalist and guitarist John Strong considers the Stony Creek Band to be better live than in the studio. So it’s a bit surprising that it’s taken the band 40 years to release its first live album.
That CD, appropriately titled “Live!,” features 10 songs recorded at a concert in March at the Hudson River Music Hall in Hudson Falls. The career-spanning songs include traditional material — covers from Bob Dylan and Jimmie Rodgers, among others — and original songs by bassist Dave Maswick, lead guitarist Hank Soto and drummer Mike Lomaestro.
“We should have done it long, long, long ago,” Strong said recently while at his day job at the Lake George Arts Project. “We’re not a studio band. Some people are, and that’s great, but we always had this energy live. We just played better live, we sound better. It’s not easy to do a live recording, but we finally found the right room.”
Stony Creek Band 40th anniversary concert
WHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Caffe Lena, 47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs
HOW MUCH: $15, $12 members, $7.50 children and students
MORE INFO: 583-0022, www.caffelena.org
The album features a few studio overdubs — Strong admitted to forgetting the words to a few of the songs on the album and having to redo his vocals. But it still retains the energetic live feel that the band has become known for on the Adirondack music scene.
“That’s what sets it apart from the studio stuff — you go in and record, you do it again, do it again, and it kind of becomes a little dry; you lose the edge of excitement,” Strong said. “When you’re playing live for people, you get pumped.”
Although officially released earlier this year, “Live!” will get another release party at Caffe Lena on Sunday afternoon. The show will also be a celebration of the band’s 40th anniversary this year.
Over those four decades, the now five-piece band — also featuring mandolin and banjo player Fred Lantz — has become an institution on the upstate music scene, encompassing for many the “Adirondack sound.”
That mix of folk, rock, blues, country and bluegrass evolved from jam sessions between Strong and Soto in the early ’70s at the Stony Creek Inn, where the group is still considered the house band.
“Hank Soto, the guitar player, and myself — we started the band, and we remain the best of friends,” Strong said. “I think that’s the glue that really keeps things together. The same goes for the rest of the guys in the band — some band members have come and gone, but very few.”
In the early years, the band members actually lived at the Stony Creek Inn, while playing their mostly original music out on the Northeast’s folk coffeehouse circuit. At that time, the band was a trio, with original bassist Michael Roden. The group soon expanded with the additions of banjo and mandolin virtuoso Chan Goodnow and pedal steel player Randy Rollman.
“It went from two guitars and a bass, to two guitars, bass, banjo and pedal steel — so there’s a lot of strings in the mix here,” Strong said. “We had to get a drummer or percussionist to kind of pull it together.”
The Freihofer truck
By the time the band played its first bar gig at John Barleycorn’s in Lake George in the mid-’70s, Maswick had joined. The band played the venue regularly for the next four or five years, often playing there three or four nights a week in the summer.
“We were an instant hit; people were just ready for this combination of country, folk, rock kind of stuff, I guess,” Strong said.
“A lot of people would pack into this place, getting into it with lines out on the street. . . . You can imagine all the people that came in and out of that door, and that led to other gigs. During that time, in the mid-’70s, in the wintertime we’d do the ski lodge circuit, mostly in Vermont. We were playing all around Vermont and living at the Stony Creek Inn.”
The band was a seven-piece at this point, and would often tour up and down the East Coast in a converted Freihofer bread truck.
“We didn’t make any money, but it was pretty interesting to see seven guys traveling around in a Freihofer bread truck,” Strong said.
“We used to do gigs in Florida. We drove the bread truck down in Florida, and it was geared very low — they top out at like 55 miles per hour, and the engine on them sits right where the console is, so you’ve got a bucket seat and the engine in another bucket seat with these sliding doors. It’s the loudest thing ever made, and hot — we’re driving down I-95 in this thing that’s not meant to be on that road.”
Despite the band’s long tenure, very few lineup changes have occurred — Maswick has been with the band since 1978, while Lomaestro joined in the early ’80s.
The group has experienced its share of tragedy, most notably Goodnow’s sudden death in 2001. Lantz, a friend of Goodnow’s, was brought on board to keep the band going.
“They both grew up in the bluegrass world, and it was just a very logical fit to bring Fred in, in replacement of Chan,” Strong said. “It was just as smooth as can be, other than the shock of having lost a good friend and musician.”
Today the band sticks closer to home, playing a number of special events throughout the year in Lake George, as well as club dates like Caffe Lena, a longtime favorite for the group. Recent years have also brought some national notoriety — in 2009 the group was featured in a two-minute segment on “The Today Show.”
“I don’t think anyone would have expected it to go this far,” Strong said. “You don’t go around bragging about it. Yeah, we’re not young, but we still create a lot of energy, I can tell you that. We all know the old rockers that are still putting it out there. It’s been fun; it’s been wonderful.”