Last week, the historic London venue — currently celebrating its 150th anniversary, and host to (among others) Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, the Dalai Lama, Frank Sinatra, Jimi Hendrix, Adele, Eric Clapton (200 times) and the only Beatles/Rolling Stones shared billing ever — was the setting for a Michael Bolton concert.
The Westport-based artist has played there more than two dozen times. His longtime drummer — Staples High School Class of 2000 graduate Drew McKeon — made his 5th appearance on the hallowed stage.
Drew McKeon, before the Royal Albert Hall Show.
It never gets old. Drew is awed every time he steps onto it.
This time, before the show, he hung out backstage with Nile Rogers.
The singer/songwriter/producer/former Chic front man splits his time between Westport and his other homes in Miami, London, and Turks & Caicos.
But, he told Drew, “Westport will always be home.”
Michael Bolton still tours incessantly — a couple of hundred shows a year. Drew has played most of those gigs with him, for nearly a decade.
Michael Bolton, Drew McKeon and the band.
But the Royal Albert Hall never gets old.
Drew McKeon at work, on London. (Photos/Gregg Kozak
BONUS TRACK: Click here for a great Peter Blake mural of some of the performers from Royal Albert Hall’s long past.
Sally White was not an internet person. She much preferred interacting with people, face to face.
But when the longtime, much-loved owner of Sally’s Place — and before that, manager of Klein’s record department, and Melody House worker — died of cancer yesterday at 88, every online platform was filled with memories.
Generations of Fairfield County men and women (and teenagers) were Sally’s customers — and friends. She influenced literally tens of thousands of us. She opened our ears — and our minds and souls — to all kinds of music.
And she opened her heart to us.
Everyone has a Sally White story. Here are 2 of my favorites. The first is from Drew McKeon. A Staples High School class of 2000 graduate, he’s spent the past several years touring the world with fellow Westporter Michael Bolton. Sally is a big reason why.
So sad to say goodbye to my old friend, Sally White. I’ll never forget the hours spent sitting one on one, listening to her stories of seeing the greats live (Sinatra, Hendrix, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Coltrane, Dylan, Buddy Rich, Miles), and how much our town had changed since she came to Main Street in 1954.
The wonderful Sally White
She sold me the first jazz albums I ever bought (“Kind of Blue”, “Speak No Evil,” “The Real McCoy,” Jarrett Trio “Live at the Blue Note”), and shook her head every time I came in for the latest Zorn Tzadik release.
I bought my first copy of “Purple Rain” there, and Tom Waits’ “Mule Variations,” and “Bright Size Life,” as well as every album Bill Frisell, Alison Krauss and Belá Fleck released from 1995-2014. I got Nirvana “Unplugged” there too.
She told me the same story about the guy offering to buy her Sinatra poster for $1000 (even though she had 2!) every time I came in, and regaled me with childhood tales about a shy and gentle Horace Silver.
She felt so guilty about declining invites to my high school shows that she gave me a gig playing standards with a quartet outside the shop during the Memorial Day parade.
I cringed every time she cut open a CD so haphazardly, the X-acto knife lunging in towards her abdomen. I’d tell her not to rip the cellophane just so I could obsess over the Winter&Winter packaging. “Hey, they don’t call it Sally’s for nothing — my store, my rules!”
Sally doing what she loves most: interacting with one customer. Another browses behind her.
She sold me “Innervisions” and Maceo’s “Life on Planet Groove” and “Babylon By Bus,” and gave me “Appalachia Waltz” for my 15th birthday. She stuffed 2 copies of Downbeat in my bag with every purchase, and tuned in to every episode of the WWPT radio show I hosted with Ted Thompson. My obsessive love for Joni and Edgar Meyer was born and fostered at 190 Main Street.
I, like so many other local musicians, am so thankful to have had Sally recognize and encourage my unquenchable thirst for music of all styles at a young age. I always thought it was so cool that I got my first Miles record from the same badass lady that a young Scofield did, a couple decades before. (I got a shitload of Sco records from her, too.)
Perhaps more than anything, I’ll always remember skimming through her prized postcard collection from the great Adam Nussbaum. He, years prior, was one of “Sally’s Kids” too.
At the time, I couldn’t fathom ever actually going to places like Malta, Cairo or Shanghai — let alone, getting paid to play drums there. But I knew I wanted to more than anything, and she assured me I would “be out there soon enough.”
I hope Blue Eyes is singing one for my gal Sal tonight!
And this, from Jim Motavalli. He graduated from Staples in 1970 — 30 years before Drew McKeon — but he too will remember Sally White forever.
With 2partners, I started a record store in Fairfield, circa 1975. It was called Trident, because there were 3 partners — one of whom was my twin brother. The 2 of us had just graduated from the University of Connecticut, where we took not one business course.
We had a plan — we would pioneer the sale of used records in Connecticut — but beyond that we didn’t have a clue how to set up and stock a store. Fortunately, we had a friend, Sally White, then running the record haven at the downtown Westport department store Klein’s. Far from stocking just the hits, Sally made sure that the store was bulging with jazz — including albums from players who lived in the area: Dave Brubeck, Gerry Mulligan (and, later, McCoy Tyner and Max Roach).
We called her, and she came over to talk business. Despite the fact we were planning to compete with her, Sally held forth all evening on all aspects of dealing with suppliers, getting credit, buying a cash register, handling returns, and was endlessly helpful.
I was thought of this episode on learning that Sally White died this week. She had closed her store, Sally’s Place (which succeeded her long stint at Klein’s) in 2013 — a victim of the digital revolution. I’m sure not being able to greet her many friends took something out of her — she’d sold records for 57 years!
After describing the recent revival of vinyl, Jim concludes:
Goodbye Sam Goody’s, Goodbye Tower Records. It’s not likely I’ll mourn the passing of these corporate superstores.
But I will shed a tear not so much for Sally’s Place, but for Sally herself. A real mensch.
(Click here to read Jim Motavalli’s full story, on his music blog Territorial Imperatives.)
Two of Westport’s favorite musicians — former Staples High School choral director Alice Lipson and drummer Drew McKeon — share a moment (and hair) at last night’s “Voices: A Concert for Unity.” The event at the Levitt Pavilion was a benefit for the Anti-Defamation League. Drew — who tours internationally with Michael Bolton — backed fellow Staples grad Alisan Porter at the concert.
Ben E King — who died yesterday in New Jersey at 76 — is being remembered for his smooth baritone, debonair style and classic love songs.
He was also, apparently, a really great man.
In 2013, Drew McKeon was a drummer with (coincidentally, fellow Westporter) Michael Bolton. They were booked for a charity gala at the Bushnell in Hartford.
King performed 2 songs with them: “Stand By Me” and “Save the Last Dance for Me.”
The legendary solo artist and former Drifters front man shook everyone’s hand with a smile, and repeated their names. “He was elegant and dapper,” recalls McKeon, a 2000 Staples grad. “We all immediately liked him.”
During a “Stand By Me” sound check, one of McKeon’s bandmates asked King which guitar part to play. “Whatever you’re doing sounds fantastic,” he replied. “Play whatever you feel. You’re a wonderful musician — all of you are.”
McKeon calls King “easily one of the sweetest and most humble people I’ve ever played with.”
The star told McKeon “the incredibly personal back story of wheelchair-bound Doc Pomus. He was inspired to write ‘Save the Last Dance For Me’ after watching his brother twirl Pomus’ newlywed wife from the sidelines at his own wedding.
“We’d done our homework on the tunes, so it went well,” recalls McKeon, a 2000 Staples grad. “But he acted as if it was better ‘service’ than he deserved. He was super gracious. He inspired me to play my best for him, like a true Little Drummer Boy.”
McKeon is not the only Staples alum with memories of King. Ryan O’Neill — who graduated in 1997 — did “Clash of the Choirs” with (again) Michael Bolton, and performed with the legendary artist.
“Mr. King was a generous and kind man,” O’Neill recalls. “He offered stories about his songs and his life. It was an honor to share the stage with such an icon.”
The 1999 Staples graduate — who also played Curly Sue in the movie of the same name, and performed on Broadway in “Footloose” and “A Chorus Line” — gave birth to her 2nd child, talked openly about her sobriety, and has just released her 1st solo album in 6 years.
After many years recording and performing with her band The Canyons, she felt the need to explore musically on her own. She spent time in Nashville writing, and — with friend and fellow Staples grad Drew McKeon — went into the studio. He co-wrote, co-produced and played on the album, called “Who We Are.”
“We basically sat in her kitchen in California with a guitar and a laptop and started writing a song,” he says, recalling the project’s genesis. “Twenty minutes later we had a demo for a tune.”
They went out and got all-star musicians, veterans of bands for Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Eric Clapton.
In a People magazine story written by yet another Staples grad — Jennifer Garcia — Porter describes her work as a recording artist, mother of 2 (ages 2 1/2 and 6 months), and blogger (“The Lil’ Mamas” is a no-holds-barred, tell-all, not-your- grandmother’s look at motherhood).
“Motherhood always comes first,” she says. “But I knew I wasn’t going to be a good mother if I didn’t continue to do what I love! Music is a part of me and I had to express myself, especially now that I’m a mom. That inspired a lot of the album. My own growing up and watching my children do the same.”
That’s happening in California now. But you can’t take the Westport out of Curly Sue Alison Porter.
But when you walk through the airport with him in a place like Shanghai — with people “crying, freaking out” — you realize he’s an international sensation.
Michael Bolton and Drew McKeon in Singapore.
Drew has walked through plenty of airports with Bolton. They’ve just finished a 9-month world tour. From Copenhagen, Warsaw, Bucharest, Kiev and Minsk through Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur and Seoul’s Olympic Stadium, the Staples Class of 2000 graduate — and NYU religion and history major — has served as Bolton’s drummer. It’s been an awesome, rewarding — and eye-opening — experience.
In Japan, Drew says, “people tried to break into our dressing room. They passed old records and t-shirts through the window to sign. It was crazy.”
It’s no coincidence that Bolton hired a fellow Westporter. His daughters knew Drew when he played with Ryan O’Neill at local spots like Viva’s. They brought their dad; he liked when he heard.
When Bolton’s drummer left abruptly last May, he called Drew. The drummer — who’d cut his touring chops with Hall & Oates — had a week to learn 40 songs.
Drew McKeon in action.
The past year has been a whirlwind of experiences. They played a billionaire’s wedding in Nice. They wore tuxes at Monaco’s Sporting Club, where a velvet curtain opened and the prince walked in. In Belarus, they performed with the Presidential Orchestra at the Imperial Palace.
On travel days, if the 15 to 20 band members and crew got to a city early, Drew took the rest of the day to explore. “Whether it’s Wheeling, West Virginia or Paris, I try to get out,” he says. “There’s not a lot of time, but you learn to be efficient. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved to travel. To do it on someone else’s dime is cool.”
The traveling party — a mixture of ages — got along well. “Everyone is so nice,” Drew says. “I’ve toured with bands that have real ego clashes. It’s not easy being together 24 hours a day.”
Drew McKeon backing up Michael Bolton.
After almost a year on the road, Drew got another gig. He and singer Darian Cunning have performed on St. Barts since 2005, building a Bolton-like fanatic following. They play 3 hours a night, 6 nights a week — and spend the rest of the time on the beach.
“It’s like summer camp, with Victoria’s Secret models and billionaires,” Drew says.
The Westport calendar is filled with little events that should be big ones.
They’re the ones you vaguely hear about before they happen. Afterward, someone tells you how great it was to be there. You vow you’ll go next year — but don’t.
The Westport Arts Awards is one of those you-really-shouldn’t-miss events. This year’s 18th annual ceremony is Sunday, October 23 (2 p.m., Town Hall). If you want to see all that’s right with this town — its long-time residents, its young people, its support of creativity and achievement — save the date right now.
The event honors artists in 4 disciplines — music, film/theater, visual arts and literature — as well as 3 young people, 2 Westporters who work quietly in the background, and 6 local artists who died this year.
You should go to the ceremony if for no other reason than to pay tribute to Miggs Burroughs. For 4 decades, the 1963 Staples grad has shared his graphic design talents — often gratis — with countless area organizations.
The Westport town flag; Levitt Pavilion, Westport Historical Society, Westport Y, Project Return logos; every First Night button; t-shirts for local races — all are Miggs’ creations.
That’s in addition to his postage stamps, Time Magazine covers, lenticular images, cable TV show… No wonder Miggs has earned the “Mollie Award,” named for the indefatigable arts advocate Mollie Donovan.
Speaking of the Levitt Pavilion, Mimi Levitt will receive the “Champion of the Arts” award. The Austrian native — who served as a translator at the Nuremberg war trials — was, with her husband, a major benefactor of the outdoor performing arts center when it was founded on the Saugatuck River in 1973. She still serves on its governing committee.
The Arts Awards span all ages, from 90-year-old Mimi Levitt to a trio who are just beginning what will be spectacular careers.
“Horizon Awards” — to emerging artists under 32 — will be presented to drummer Drew McKeon (he’s toured with Hall & Oates and Jimmy Buffett, and played off-Broadway); filmmaker Nick Ordway (whose “God of Love” earned an Oscar for Best Live-Action Short), and dancer Katrina Gould (she’s performed with the Boston and Los Angeles Ballet companies).
Lifetime Achievement Awards will go to Naiad Einsel (art), Hans Wilhelm (literature), Millette Alexander (music), and Maureen Anderman and Frank Converse (theater/film).
Six names will be added to the Heritage Honor Roll. Sculptor Stanley Bleifeld, violist Keith Conant, artist Tony Marino, architect Abe Rothenberg, author Max Wilk — and of course uber-volunteer Mollie Donovan — all passed away recently.
If you think the Westport Arts Awards are a dull, stand-up-and-give-a-speech affair: think again.
These are creative people. There are short videos, along with brief dance and music presentations.
And, of course, a reception afterward.
The Westport Arts Awards are Westport at its best.
Its artistic, musical, theatrical, literary — and very, very talented — best.
In 1985 they played the most-famous non-concert ever “held” here. For the town’s 150th birthday celebration, an Inn at Longshore employee “arranged” for the pop stars to perform. Nearly 5,000 people paid $20 a ticket — but the whole thing was a scam. The duo never appeared, the employee vanished — fortunately, most Westporters were in a forgiving mood.
Jeff Southworth — now a Westporter, still involved in music — was the lead guitarist on the mega-hit “Kiss on My List.”
Now Drew McKeon — born the same year “Maneater” reached #1 — has joined the band. He’s replacing their longtime drummer (recovering from sciatica) on upcoming tour and party dates.
Drew McKeon (Photo by Chelsea Dee)
Drew — Staples Class of 2000 — has always been a musician. After graduating from NYU as a religion and history major (don’t ask), he hooked up with fellow Stapleite Justin Paul on projects like “Broadway Boys” and “Altar Boys.”
He did the Warped Tour in 2005 — playing 50 cities in 60 days, with artists like Billy Idol and Fallout Boy — and in St. Bart’s, Jimmy Buffett sat in with Drew’s band.
Versatile local musician Eliot Lewis — formerly of the Average White Band, now with Hall & Oates — recommended Drew. He helped open for the duo last year in Trumbull, so when the regular drummer couldn’t make this tour, Drew was a natural.
There’s a free show this Friday in Hamden, then concerts in Chicago and Iowa (plus private parties).
The singers — and their backup band — are all “first-rate musicians,” Drew says.
“Their live versions are much more nuanced than their recordings. There’s lots of improvisation and extended solos. I thought I knew the songs” — he’d played them at club gigs and weddings for years — “but I really have to get up to speed.”
Drew cleared his schedule to work on the music.
He also headed to the studio to talk to Daryl Hall, as he recorded his new album. They talked about mutual influences like Stevie Wonder.
So what’s Drew’s favorite Hall & Oates song?
“I’m liking ‘Say It Isn’t So,'” he says.
In Drew McKeon’s case, touring with 2 pop legends just happens to be so.
The Broadway Boys are “the hottest male voices currently working on the New York stage.” And 3 of the Broadway Boys — okay, they’re actually in the band — are Westport natives.
Broadway Boys musicians (from left): Dan Asher, Justin Paul, Drew McKeon.
Justin Paul is the musical director and accompanist. Dan Asher is the bassist. Drew McKeon plays drums.
All 3 grew up in Westport — and got their musical chops at Staples.
Justin currently serves as musical director/conductor for the off-Broadway hit “Altar Boyz.” Dan has performed at legendary jazz venues like Birdland and the Blue Note, while Drew tours internationally.
The upcoming concert repertoire includes holiday songs and show tunes.
This is musical entertainment at its best. You can go to Broadway — or you can stay in town and see Westport’s special Broadway Boys, in Westport’s own special theater.
(Tickets are $35, and can be purchased by calling 203-227-4177; visiting the box office, or clicking here.)
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