The Chesterfield Kings Stuck in the ’60s

The Chesterfield Kings Stuck in the ’60s – and proud of it

Byline: DAVID SIMONS

Every so often, a handful of acts invade the market with the look, sound, and style of a bygone era. Eventually the trend fades: band members get haircuts, and the guitars go back to sounding like chain saws. But for the Chesterfield Kings of Rochester, New York, every year is 1966 – whether it’s fashionable or not.

“Anyone who sees the cover of our most recent album Where the Action Is might think we dressed up like that just for the photo shoot. But that’s how we look all the time,” says Kings’ founding member Andy Babiuk, instrument dealer by day and author of the Fab Four guidebook Beatles Gear: All the Fab Four’s Instruments, from Stage to Studio (Backbeat Books, 2002). “I mean, a lot of bands have the Beatle boots and pants, but they’re just stage props. For me, that’s what I wear to work!”

Every few years, the Kings (Babiuk, guitar, bass, and vocals; Greg Provost, guitar; Paul Morabito, lead guitar; Mike Boise, drums) go into the studio and record a handful of covers – and authentic-sounding originals – from the heart of their most-favored era. Let’s Go Get Stoned, from 1994, was a dead-on Rolling Stones pastiche right down to the Aftermath-styled cover shot. Even better was 1999’s Where the Action Is, a smattering of choice pop that featured ex – Paul Revere and the Raiders front man Mark Lindsay. At press time, the Kings were getting ready to take another giant step backward with the release of The Mindbending Sounds of the Chesterfield Kings, recorded with the help of longtime Bruce Springsteen associate, current Sopranos star, and major Kings fan, Little Steven Van Zandt.

“The album was inspired by that part of the ’60s when bands were experimenting with different sounds but still writing good, tight pop songs,” says Babiuk of the all-original effort. “‘I Had Too Much to Dream,’ ‘See Emily Play’ – great songs that signaled a really different direction. That’s what we were after this time out.”

Getting the right sounds requires the right equipment. Not surprisingly, the Kings’ Living Eye Recording Studios is loaded with a mind-blowing array of choice vintage gear. “We’ve got about 60 guitars, and nearly every kind of amp imaginable – Marshall, Vox, Fender Twin, you name it,” says Babiuk. “I’ve tried all the different modelers at work and they’re okay; but once you’ve played through the real thing, you realize there’s no comparison.”

Capturing the vintage vibe in the studio is one thing; doing it on the road is quite another. “That’s what the Stones and the other bands from that time had to deal with once they started recording with different instrumentation,” says Babiuk. “I mean, it’s not like we’re going to haul a sitar around from place to place! So we tend to go with songs that work best onstage, using a representative mix from all the different albums. We also bring along a bunch of classic instruments, like the Vox organ and the Rickenbacker guitars. That’s a good part of the sound, right there!”

As it turns out, Lindsay and Van Zandt aren’t the only notables in the Kings’ legion of fans. “David Fricke from Rolling Stone has been into us for a long time,” notes Babiuk, “and so has Kurt Loder, who showed up at a sound check in the ’80s and has been coming to our shows ever since. They’re as passionate about the music as we are. Which is the whole point – obviously we’re not doing this to become millionaires, or we would’ve stopped a long time ago. We do it because we love the music; we’re obsessed with every aspect of it. It really is who we are.”

David Simons is a New England – based music journalist.

To hear an audio clip from the Chesterfield Kings, go to www.onstagemag.com and click on ONLINE EXTRAS

ESSENTIAL FACTS

The Chesterfield Kings

Home base: Rochester, New York

Selected recordings: The Berlin Wall of Sound (Mirror, 1989); Night of the Living Eyes (Mirror, 1989); Let’s Go Get Stoned (Mirror, 1994); Surfin’ Rampage (Mirror, 1997); Where the Action Is! (Sundazed, 1999); The Mindbending Sounds of the Chesterfield Kings (Sundazed, 2003)

Web sites: www.chesterfieldkings.com; www.sundazed.com/artists/chkings.html

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