Richard Barone has traveled to the beats of many drummers. Bongos, particularly. But he’s done solo pop that reverberates with jazz and religious and classical references. He’s pals with garage gods The Fleshtones. He’s worked regularly with Bowie’s producer Tony Visconti. He’s respectfully covered songs by T. Rex (“Mambo Sun”) and The Velvet Underground (“I’ll Be Your Mirror”) in ways that make you respect the songs and don’t just evoke the personalities of their writers. And Barone helped create one of the most exhilarating drum sounds ever for The Bongo’s defining single “In the Congo.”
Eternally youthful, still driven by delirious beats and still a consummate pop craftsman, Richard Barone brings his exotic rhythmic work ethic to Café Nine Thursday, April 25, for a show that’s likely to be as much a revelation as it is a retrospective. He’s got a new album out, Glow, that’s rich with melody and power-pop smarts. He’s got recent reissues which have hipped new listeners to his acclaimed 1987 moodswinging solo masterpiece Cool Blue Halo. He’s maintained his versatility by working recently with Visconti again, not to mention producing and co-performing new material with the nonagenarian folk singer Pete Seeger. He’s a champion of experimental film and contributed to an all-star album benefiting the Occupy Wall Street movement.
“I do a lot of things. I always have,” Barone said in a phone interview last week. “Except when I was in The Bongos. That was the only time I did one thing. We’d be playing 300 shows a year.”
His touring schedule is much lighter now, as Barone must also find time for teaching (classes in “Stage Presence and the Art of Performance” at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts), writing and producing. Thursday’s Café Nine show is the start of a short tour touting his new solo album Glow, which was produced by Tony Visconti.
“I’m able to play a few shows out of town now,” the Florida native and longtime Greenwich Village resident relates. He has pleasant memories of his teenaged life on the road in the ‘80s: We were young musicians. We wanted to perform and were having fun with it. We were signed to a major label. Then, as you can see, we decided to do other things. I went solo in 1987.” Barone’s first solo album, Cool Blue Halo was released around the same time that the Bongos made the mutual decision to disband; the final Bongos album, Beat Hotel, had been released in 1985.
Barone’s solo work has a different feel than the beat-happy four album/one EP Bongo canon, distinctions he enjoys discussing. He’s a great believer in the idea that a band should be bigger than the sum of its parts. “Anytime you have a band, you should be aware of the contributions everyone can make. If a band is functioning properly, it has a unique property—a sound and a synergy that’s unique.”
All the Bongos material can now be found on iTunes and elsewhere online, their breakthrough 1982 album Drums Along the Hudson received an excellent remastered-with-bonus-tracks special edition in 2007, and the band reunited in 2010 for a disaster relief benefit.
“I don’t intentionally revisit the past,” Barone says, though it often gets done for him. Besides the Bongos reissues, he was approached over a year ago and asked what he was planning for the 25th anniversary of Cool Blue Halo. That request led to a live recreation of the album. Both the concert and a special edition of the original album were released on disk last year. “It wasn’t my idea to do it, but it was great and fun, especially bringing all the musicians back together again.
“I rarely regret saying yes,” Barone adds. “I tend to say yes a lot.” He like to keep up on new music, and when asks what he’s listening to these days reels off a diverse mix of pop, indie and hip-hop. He gets a lot of musical tips from his NYU students. He recently helped produce an album for one of those students, Chris Duggan, whose project goes by the name Plaid Brixx.
He’s not sure yet exactly what form the April 25 Café Nine show will take. He wants to do a bunch of songs from Glow, but respects that fans appreciate his old Bongos and Cool Blue Halo stuff and will be calling out for it.
The wild card is that Barone has musician friends in Connecticut who might want to sit in. “I’m traveling light—just me with my Gibson JC-160 guitar. I find I like to tell stories a bit now, make more of a show. What ends up happening is often as much of a surprise to me as to anyone else.”
You might learn a little more of what’s expected when Richard Barone is a guest on fellow ‘80s pop star Chris Frantz monthly radio show The Talking Head, April 25 (same day as the Café Nine concert) on WPKN 89.5FM.
You can download a four-song Richard Barone sampler at http://richardbarone.com/DownloadCafe Nine is at 250 State Street, New Haven, (203) 789-8281, www.cafenine.com. Thursday's show starts around 8 p.m. Tickets are $10, $8 in advance.