Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Rowan Brothers


From MetroWest

Rowan through time: Brothers from Wayland are back on the musical trail after three decadesBy Chris Bergeron / Daily News StaffSunday, July 17, 2005
More than 30 years after Chris and Lorin Rowan followed dreams of rock glory to the West Coast, the Wayland natives are making a musical homecoming with a career-rejuvenating album.
In 1971 they had been perched on the brink of stardom playing with the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia who predicted the Rowan boys could be "like the Beatles."
Instead their careers bogged down in contractual hassles, disappointing records sales and the workaday demands of supporting their families.
Three decades later Chris and Lorin Rowan are back on stage with "Now & Then," a double disc that is winning new fans and reminding old ones about two guys with sweet voices who could really play.
The Rowan Brothers will perform at The Center for Arts in Natick Friday, July 29, at 8 p.m. Guitarist Mark Erelli will open for them.
"We never gave up. Our new stuff has got a sound and focus we've been striving for all our lives," Lorin Rowan said recently. "The great thing about music is you never stop learning. It's a passion for us. If you love what you do, it breeds life."
In 34 tracks, the Rowans' "Now & Then" looks back and ahead through their signature sensitive lyrics and acoustic harmonies.
The first disc features songs from the 1970s when the Rowans were part of the classic San Francisco scene and includes guest appearances by Garcia, Dead guitarist Phil Lesh and drummer Bill Kreutzmann and others. The 17-cut "Now" portion consists of new songs that are earning critical praise for their sophisticated music and honest spirituality.
In a telephone interview from Lake Tahoe, Lorin Rowan said, "I think our new stuff on 'Now' really works because we've grown as lyricists and storytellers. Our vocals have become clearer."
He described their music as a mix of Everly Brothers-style rock and country mixed with bluegrass-flavored folk.
TCAN Executive Director David Lavalley said he is "absolutely excited" the Rowans will be playing their new album not far from their home town.
"I've heard their material and it's great," he said. "They've been on a roller-coaster ride through the music industry. This new album shows they've always had what it takes to move an audience."
Lavalley described Erelli as a "great vocalist with bluegrass roots whose opened for several national performers."
The Rowans' new album refutes author F. Scott Fitzgerald's claim: "There are no second acts in America."
Chris and Lorin Rowan took off like Roman candles in the 1960s and '70s, faded from view and are now setting off sparks.
They grew up on Draper Road in bucolic Wayland listening to their parents play "My Fair Lady" at cocktail parties while their older, wilder brother, Peter, learned bluegrass guitar while venturing to the Hill Billy Lounge in Boston.
Eldest brother Peter Rowan has grown into one of the nation's best known and most respected bluegrass musicians.
His four-decade romance with bluegrass carried Peter Rowan from Boston dive bars to the Grand Ol' Opry. Now in his late 50s, he has released numerous albums including "Earth Opera" and "Sea Train." He played with Garcia in an album titled "Old and in the Way" and even provided a mandolin accompaniment to the late Alan Ginsberg on a poetry reading. Last year Peter Rowan recorded "Reggae-Billy!" which fuses bluegrass with Caribbean reggae.
Chris and Lorin Rowan credit their older brother for introducing them as kids to a stimulating stew of musical influences from Howling Wolf to the Kingston Trio, from Buddy Holly and the Crickets to the Weavers.
Lorin Rowan said he "got the musical bug" from his older brother and remembers strumming a tennis racket at family parties when the Everly Brothers were playing on the radio.
He recalled making the local music scene with his brother Chris, performing in then-popular clubs playing with the J. Geils Band and opening for Garcia when he came to Boston.
Chris and Lorin signed a contract with Columbia Records' then-president Clive Davis, who encouraged them to move to California in 1970 to catch the momentum of the surging San Francisco music scene.
Rolling Stone magazine wrote an article about them. Garcia dug their "sparkly, brand new, shiny" sound and predicted big things for the kids from Wayland.
"California was a real loose vibe. Chris and I loved it. We played with Garcia and really liked him," he remembered. "We got caught up in the generational pull. We came out playing the Everly Brothers and were turned on by the Beatles, Dylan, the whole jamming thing."
But their California dreams hit a sour note.
Davis was fired. The Rowans' first album sold 30,000 copies and a planned second album never got recorded. Their careers skidded into a long, quiescent period.
"When you're younger, you're naive," Lorin Rowan said. "In the '60s we wanted to conquer the world and make hit records but we didn't know what it meant." In the ensuing years, the Rowans remained close as their careers took different directions.
Chris Rowan, 55, has been married for 19 years, raised a daughter and lives in Novato, Calif., where he owns a high-end house painting business. Over the years, he has performed intermittently with his brothers and other bands.
Married for 20 years, Lorin, 52, lives in Mill Valley, Calif. He has spent most of his adult life as a professional musician and started a popular reggae band, Edge.
The brothers kept their guitars tuned, playing intermittently with Peter who had emerged as a luminary in the bluegrass revival. The trio released an acoustic swing album titled "Crazy People." A couple of years ago country singer Ricky Skaggs used Lorin's song "Soldier of the Cross" as the title cut on a Grammy-winning album.
The Rowan brothers' serendipitous comeback began five years ago when a British company released tapes of the three Rowans playing together, and some earlier reissues. Then BOS Music, an independent label in Maryland, decided to combine Chris and Lorin's new material with recorded numbers from the Rowans' personal archives of their work in the 1970s.
The Rowan Brothers played in Boston's Zeitgeist Gallery and opened a show for the Steve Miller Band over the Fourth of July weekend. They have played several shows throughout California and have booked appearances in New York this summer.
Lorin Rowan is not bitter about the past.
"There's a learning curve. You can always say 'should've, would've, could've.' We never tried, intentionally, to screw up. We always tried our best. I always felt we owed it to ourselves. We're glad we finally got this record," he said.
Even when their careers took different turns, Lorin remained close to Chris through their shared love of music.
"We've always been brothers. Through experience, you gain knowledge," he said. "Some dreams don't happen the way you expect them to."
For the time being, the Rowan brothers are writing new songs and waiting to see where their new album takes them in the era of independent labels and word-of-mouth Internet promotions.
"It's an evolving thing. We're going to build on it. We kind of brought the past into the future," Lorin Rowan said. "There's a lot to explore. We just want to go out and play. If you love it, the reward is there."
THE ESSENTIALS:
The Center for Arts in Natick is located at 14 Summer St.
Tickets for the Rowan Brothers and opener Mark Erelli are $18 general admission and $16 for TCAN members. Students and seniors get a $1 discount.
For information, call 508-647-0097, or visit www.natickarts.org.
For more information about the Rowan Brothers, visit www.Rowanbrothers.com.
For information about Mark Erelli, visit
www.markerelli.com.

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