From Greenwich Village to Classic Chastain: Jonathan Beedle and AJ Swearingen Recreate the Sounds of Simon and Garfunkel with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

Posted on: Jun 2nd, 2013 By:

AJ Swearingen and Jonathan Beedle. Photo credit: David Leavett.

Musicians AJ Swearingen and Jonathan Beedle are bringing their unique tribute, Sounds of Simon & Garfunkel to Chastain Park Amphitheatre on Wed. June 5. The two musicians have earned a huge fan following on their own for their performances, often appearing alone on stage with an acoustic guitar recapturing the duo’s early years in Greenwich Village. However, this performance, part of the Classic Chastain series, will offer the extra special treat of hearing AJ’s warm baritone and Jonathan’s soaring tenor backed for part of the night by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, conducted by ASO Principal Pops Conductor Michael Krajewski.

ATLRetro caught up with Jonathan recently to find out more about how a chance meeting led to the creation of a memorable partnership that recaptures the magic of one of folk/acoustic rock’s most iconic partnerships.

ATLRetro: So it all started at a local club in Bethlehem, PA in 1991. What drew you both together and why Simon and Garfunkel personally?

Jonathan Beedle: I met AJ at a local club in Bethlehem, PA in 1991. He was doing a lot of tunes from the 70s and a few Paul Simon songs.  We started talking during a break and discovered we had a mutual interest in Simon and Garfunkel.  He invited me up to do a song with him, a Simon and Garfunkel song, and the blend was very nice right out of the gate… just effortless.  That’s how it all started.  Over the next few months we started to learn more of the songs, and before we knew it, we knew most of the S&G catalog.  We never planned on learning almost all of the material, but we enjoyed the music so much, it just happened.`

Did you grow up with Simon and Garfunkel? How did you first discover their music?

Yes, I grew up with their music. My older brother and sister had their records and the music was alway playing through the house… along with The Beatles and The Beach Boys. I loved the harmony parts – those parts I learned first. I don’t really know why, but that’s what interested me and that’s what I gravitated to.

You both concentrate on Simon and Garfunkel’s early years in Greenwich Village. Can you talk a little bit about what was special about that time and place and the duo’s early partnership/music? 

In our show without the symphony we try and deliver the music the way they did back in their Greenwich Village years – just one guitar and two voices. We love the sound striped down to it’s bare elements. The songs stand on their own. The words and the melodies are so powerful.

Jonathan Beedle and AJ Swearingen. Photo credit: David Leavitt.

Simon and Garfunkel are an acoustic duo, but you’ll be backed by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. How does they change/enhance the performance?

It is a different presentation of the music. The records they recorded were fully produced. It’s a thrill for us! It adds such a wonderful dimension to the music, the arrangements are beautiful, and the musicianship is remarkable.  It’s an honor to be standing on stage performing this music with such amazing talent.  When Michael Krajewski approached us with this idea both AJ and I thought it was a wonderful idea.  And to be able to do it, it’s really quite incredible. I feel very fortunate to be part of it.

What is your favorite Simon & Garfunkel hit and also a song that’s less well-known but which you personally like? Why these songs?

My favorites are constantly changing.  It depends on the audience, how you feel; so many things happen while performing the song, it’s hard to have a true favorite. Both AJ and I love the… I don’t want to call them obscure because once you hear the song it’s something you recall.  AJ likes to call them songs you forgot you remembered!

But there are a few that we love to perform:  “Flower’s Never Bend with the Rainfall,” “Bleeker Street,” “Blues Run the Game,” the list goes on and on. Now, the set list for the Symphony is more of the hits, but there are so many!  “Homeward Bound,” “Dangling Conversation,” “Mrs Robinson,” “Sounds of Silence,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water” – it’s endless.

Do audiences have certain expectations and how do you change things up to keep performances fresh?

The shows always feel a little different each time we perform because the audiences are different. We do the hits, of course, but it’s the lesser remembered songs audience members seem to talk about. Many times people will tell us they remembered a song and could sing all the words. Yet it was a song that had been forgotten in their memory. It’s amazing how powerful and timeless the music of Simon and Garfunkel is.

Jonathan Beedle and AJ Swearingen. Photo credit: David Leavitt.

Do you have any special plans for this tour/your Atlanta performance?

We are here for such a short time, it will be difficult to venture out and see the sites. I am bringing my two daughters, Hannah and Chelsea, with me to see the show.  They haven’t seen the show with an orchestra so I’m really looking forward to getting their reaction.

To purchase tickets or for more information, click here.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Caroline Hull Engel Keeps on Ramblin’ with a New Album and CD Release Party Saturday at the Star Bar

Posted on: Jul 19th, 2012 By:

By James Kelly
Contributing Music Editor

(Full disclosure – Caroline recorded one of my songs on her new album, but I loved her music long before that happened)

It’s been a long time coming, but after almost 20 years, fans are FINALLY getting a full length album from the amazing Caroline & the Ramblers! They’ll be celebrating RED HOT MAMA with a record release party Sat. July 21 at the Star Bar, also featuring the Billygoats from Nashville, Whiskey Belt and Rockbridge Heights. Showtime is 9 p.m.

This “Red Hot Mama” is well known to the folks who frequent the Redneck Underground and rockabilly shows in town as one of the best singers around. She was even selected as Creative Loafing’s “Best Female Vocalist” in 2009. Keeping the spirit of the classic ’50s and early ’60s alive is her goal, and with an amazing mix of terrific original tunes and classy covers, Caroline & the Ramblers never disappoint.

We will let this week’s “Kool Kat” tell her own story…

ATLRetro: How did you first get involved in performing music? Please tell us about your former bands and how they developed over time.
Caroline Hull Engel: I have been singing and performing since I was little. I performed at many school and church functions from a very young age. And then later as an adult I would sing with different friends’ bands at house parties and such, but really hadn’t found “my tribe” yet. Not until one fateful night in the early ’90s at the Dark Horse Tavern in Virginia-Highlands where my best friend and I stumbled across a band called the Diggers. That changed everything for me. Once I saw those guys, I knew I had found “my people.”

After seeing the Diggers that night we found out when they would be playing their next gig. Turned out they were playing at a new bar called the Star Community Bar. One visit to the Star Bar and we were hooked. My friends and I started going there regularly. Night after night there were amazing roots rock bands playing rockabilly, country, hillbilly, garage, surf! We could always count on hearing great live music there. We were like kids in a candy store! It was an amazing time.

After that I was getting to know some of the bands and other regulars at the Star Bar, and one night I got up and sang a Patsy Cline song at an open mike night. This guy came running out after me as I was leaving the bar and he introduced himself as James, aka Slim Chance of Slim Chance and the Convicts. He asked if I would be interested in singing at a Patsy Cline tribute show he was putting together. I knew it was time to start my own band. Trail of Tears was primarily a country band with a hint of rockabilly. We did a lot of Patsy Cline and Brenda Lee covers – and a great Pogues song called “Haunted.”

Then I formed a new band called the Ramblers. This new band was geared more towards a combination of originals and obscure covers and was heavier on the rockabilly stylings of Wanda Jackson, Janis Martin and Gene Vincent with some torchy stuff mixed in. I had gone through a tumultuous relationship and breakup which gave me a lot of inspiration to write some songs that are finally ending up on my new record. Probably the best example of this time in my life is the song “Wasn’t Ready for the Heartache,” which is on the new record. Of course, a little time passing and meeting the love of my life – my husband Robert – helped a lot, too! In 1999 at the first Drive Invasion, I changed the name of the band to Caroline & the Ramblers. We’ve been playing as C&R ever since. There have been some lineup changes over the past 15 years, but I have been very fortunate to play with some of the best players in Atlanta.

Having lived in Atlanta all your life, what are your observations and impressions of the local roots music scene?
Like a lot of things in life, there are ebbs and flows, genres of music that are more popular at one time or another, and that is no exception for the local roots music scene. I think for Atlanta – the roots music scene was probably at its height from the mid-’90s to the early 2000s with a few of the original players maintaining a presence all the way through, but it definitely slacked off in the mid 2000s. Bands break up, people move, and some people aren’t with us anymore. There have always been bands and players who have consistently performed over the years, but there seems to be a resurgence as of late of some new roots rock bands. It is exciting to see this happening!

Who are some of your favorite local and national artists, and why?
JD McPherson’s SIGNS & SIGNIFIERS has not left my CD player since I got it a couple of months ago. Before that was The Bellfuries’ JUST PLAIN LONESOME. Both are truly fabulous records. My all-time favorite touring band is Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys. I love how how pure they are and how they stick to the roots of rock ‘n’ roll. “No fuss, no fanfare,” as my husband would say. They don’t try to conform to popular conventions; they just do their thing and they do it really well.

I’m very lucky to be in Atlanta where there are so many great local bands of varying styles – like Tiger, Tiger, Anna Kramer and the Lost Cause, Slim Chance and the Convicts, the Serenaders, Villain Family and Ghost Riders Car Club (GRCC), but everyone who knows me knows that my favorite local band is The Blacktop Rockets. BTR doesn’t play as frequently as they used to,  but it is always a thrill to hear them live. They are the best!

What were some of the challenges you faced in the process of making this new CD?
Time and money – but doesn’t that seems to be a challenge regarding a lot of things in life?

Since it was recorded, you have made some major changes in the band. Can you tell us a bit about that?
The original players on the CD THE RAMBLERSChad Proctor, Matt Spaugh and Rodney Bell and I – are not currently playing together. They are very busy with family commitments, other music opportunities and their own band. They are amazing musicians, and they did such a fabulous job on the record. It is unfortunate that we could not promote the CD together as a group, but the timing wasn’t right for it. Everyone is going in different directions and I wish them all the very best.

For many months I have been working with new “Ramblers”: Danny Arana – guitar/vocals; Big Joel G – bass/vocals; and Mike Z – drums. The new line-up is awesome! We are having a great time, and they seem to really dig this new sound we are creating. Danny’s harmonies will absolutely blow you away! This new chapter of the Ramblers has turned out better than I could have hoped for.

How do you go about selecting songs to perform? What is it that pulls you to cover a tune?
I’ve been listening to “old school” country and rockabilly since I was a little kid. My Dad had an old jukebox, and I would play it for hours and hours. A lot of the 45s he had on the jukebox like Gene Vincent, Elvis, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins and the Beatles were influential in the kind of music I play today. I listen to a lot of compilations of stuff from the ’40s and ’50s, too, and I keep lists of potential covers. I am all about things that are vocally appealing to me and either move me emotionally or make me want to get up and dance. I just know a cover song that will work for us when I hear it.

How interested/involved in music and performance are your two lovely daughters, Ava Bonner and Ella?
We get performances on a daily basis at our house. My prediction is that I have one future Vocal Star and one future Rock Star! The joke is that in a few years they will form a band with some of our other musician friends’ children, and then we’ll be the ones in the audience!

What would be your “dream gig”?
Nationally I would have to say the real dream gig would be to play at the Ryman in Nashville. To perform on the stage where so many of my musical heroes have played would be amazing! Locally I think it would be really cool to play Chastain Park and open for someone like Chris Isaak, Loretta Lynn or Brian Setzer. Of course, it would be great to open for my hero Wanda Jackson again!

What are your plans for the band now that the album is completed and released?
We have several shows on the calendar to promote the CD and are working on more for the Fall. Currently we are playing our CD Release party at the Star Bar on Saturday July 21, a show at Twain’s in Decatur on Thursday August 2, a live in-store at Decatur CD on Friday August 10 and a show at Big Tex Cantina in Decatur on Friday August 24. We also plan to play a few out of town shows this fall and winter. You can find out more about our music and show dates on our ReverbNation page.

You do a benefit every year for people with Down’s syndrome. How did you get involved in that, and why? When is the next one, and who is the featured artist?
Yes, I have two different childhood friends whose children were born with Down syndrome, and I started this to honor these beautiful kids and to help each of them with their effort to raise money for the Down Syndrome Association of Atlanta’s yearly Buddy Walk. This all started in 2010 with a show called “A Tribute.” Each year I pick a musical legend to honor, and I ask local bands to do a few songs by that artist. The first year we did Patsy Cline, and last year to coincide with his 80th birthday we did an evening of George Jones’ music. This year we will do a tribute to Ray Price! This year’s show will be on Saturday October 13 at the Star Bar.

RED HOT MAMA can be purchased on www.cdbaby.com and locally at Decatur CD. All photographs are courtesy of Caroline and the Ramblers.

 

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