Some things are definitely worth the wait. That's what I thought when I first listened to Ken Shane's debut CD, "South Ridgeway Avenue". The record, which was released in 2003, is simply a remarkable ode to spending summers growing up in Atlantic City. That once proud city now fallen in decay serves as a wonderful metaphor for loss of innocence and days gone by. With a voice that evokes memories of Warren Zevon and songwriting that has been compared to Jackson Browne, the record may have taken Shane decades to make but it's a story that was worth the wait. Ken may have always lived in North Jersey but his heart clearly remains with the summers he spent along the Shore. His lyrics evoke comparisons to Bruce Springsteen largely because both artists grew up around the same time and both fell in love with seashore towns on the decline.
"That's why I enjoy Asbury Park so much," explained Shane. "I think it is much the same story on a somewhat different scale. Asbury and Atlantic City certainly had their day. Somehow, oddly enough, I get more of a feeling of hope about Asbury Park when I'm there because there's still an opportunity... I don't want to say erase the past but to start over in a way. Atlantic City had that opportunity and they blew it in my estimation by creating these monster casinos and creating a city that basically has no middle class. It's either the have nots or the haves and nothing in the middle. They've driven the middle class, which I was part of, completely out of Atlantic City."
Summers in Atlantic City for Shane meant spending time with his Grandmother (who Shane says was the closest person to him in his life) and Grandfather along with the rest of his family and his cousins. One song on the CD, "My Grandmother's Hands" tells the story about their closeness and the record is dedicated to her. Unfortunately, much of what he grew up with is nothing but memories now.
"Other people may have had summer places or other places where they grew up," said Shane. "But they can go back there now and there's some semblance left of what they remember. Atlantic City has very little of that left and it's a very frustrating feeling that you cannot recapture a lot of that feeling. There's a song on my CD called "Disappeared" that really says the most about Atlantic City and it's all about what has disappeared from the city. I've thought many times that there's no other place that I've seen that engenders the kind of reaction that the old Atlantic City does. It's pretty amazing."
Even though his name may sound unfamiliar, Ken's been in the music business for quite some time. He started out in bands in Junior High and High School then got involved with a nationally touring band called the Stanky Brown Group back in the 70s. He was the road manager for that group for about 8 years. After that he did some engineering and producing. He worked with Billy Hector with the band Hot Romance and worked with Lance Larson for a while. Shane then took a break from music and didn't get back into it until six or seven years ago.
As if it's not tough enough to get noticed in the music business these days with radio being controlled by a few corporations and clubs throughout Jersey highlighting cover bands, Shane has run into the famous shadow of Bruce Springsteen largely due to lyrics about the Jersey Shore.
"It you tell somebody you're a singer-songwriter from New Jersey they'll immediately say Bruce Springsteen," explains Shane. "Even if they haven't heard your music, that's what they're going to think. Of course when you start writing about Jersey Shore locales, as I did, it intensifies the situation a bit more."
Shane thinks that the honesty of his words and the fact that he literally did spend his first 20 summers in Atlantic City lends him credibility that others may not have. "If I was just a guy who had lived in North Jersey and started writing about the Jersey Shore, I don't think that would make me eligible. "
Ken has been busy working on his follow-up CD, which he hopes to have out by the end of the year. This next record will move away somewhat from the singersongwriter sound of "South Ridgeway Avenue" to a fuller band sound that incorporates more of his R& B and soul influences – something he knows will bring about even more Springsteen comparisons.
"I think that by putting more soul and R&B-oriented music on my second CD, the Bruce thing may get even more intense because obviously that's where he comes from too. But, we grew up on the same kind of music. That's what influenced me and I'm not going to shy away from that. I'm a huge fan of Bruce's, but I never consciously sat down and said I'm going to make this one sound like Bruce. That's certainly never been my intention.
"Rock and roll only has a certain number of melodies, a certain number of chords on the guitar, and usually the less the better. If you're writing what you know and using those rock and roll chords, well, you have as much right to it as everybody else."
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.