Sometimes you find people in the entertainment business who like to support good causes because they're the hip thing to do and sometimes you find people who do it simply because they truly believe in the cause. Joe D'Urso is definitely of the latter. He's one of the good guys.
Joe D'Urso and his band Stone Caravan has been building their audience on stages from the Jersey Shore to venues around the world for the past decade. The band recently released their 10th record, the apt-titled "Cause."
On this disc, Joe D'Urso not only continues many of the messages that Harry Chapin instilled into him, but actually has Harry Chapin providing narration between the tracks.
"When most of the songs were done, I started coming up with this idea of having Harry Chapin's voice narrate the record," explained Joe D'Urso. "I had been listening to his Gold Medal Collection record, but I kind of wanted something more than that. Jason Dermer, who is on the Board of the Harry Chapin Foundation lent me ten cds of Harry Chapin interviews. What I did was spend the better part of Novemember and December listening to the interviews non-stop while on the road in England and Italy. And I found all of these different quotes and clips that matched the songs I was dealing with. That's when the idea of really trying to get the flow of a cohesive piece came into play.
"Here was a guy that was obviously very wise and had a lot of interesting things to say. He was outspoken and was a do-er. There's a lot of people who say the activism of the ,Aeo80s from ,AeoWe Are The World' to ,AeoHands Across America' and all that stuff was started by Harry Chapin. He was certainly not as high profile as George Harrison with the ,AeoConcert for Bangladesh' but he was someone who did it every day. Half of the shows he did he gave away his money. I've been in the entertainment business for a long time and I don't see that too often. It certainly made an impression on me."
The new record includes 16 songs divided into Side One and Side Two with topics ranging from friendship, war, marriage, oil, soul-searching, politics and lost love. D'Urso mixes his writing and music with full-out rockers and quiet observations. "Cause" was recorded with more of a live, garage rock feel than his previous releases. Besides 13 new originals, the record contains takes on John Stewart's 1979 Top 5 hit "Gold", Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" and Harry Chapin's legendary tune, "Taxi".
The idea of doing a record with narration between tracks may seem out of the norm, but Joe tends to push the boundaries with each record. For the band's last studio disc, they released "Both Sides Of Life" in 2003 - a double CD with one side featuring electric tunes and the other side containing acoustic numbers. Before that, they released "Rock and Roll Station" in 2000 which featured radio DJ's introducing the songs and gave the illusion that the listener was flipping through the stations on the radio - static included. These records are meant to be collections of songs more than just individual tracks.
"I knew that if I was saying things in between the record that I'd come off as pompous or soap box, but having someone with a proven track record - someone who's looked upon extremely kindly in history as being on the right track as a humanitarian - I knew I had a lot more leeway," said D'Urso.
In the New Jersey / New York area, his efforts to spread good karma to causes like World Hunger Year, the homeless, and Parkinson's Disease have let thousands of people know about his music and led to a tour around the country with Harley Davidson. In 2002, Joe D'Urso & Stone Caravan were chosen by House of Blues Concerts and The Harley Davidson Corporation to be the "official house band" for Harley's 100th Anniversary Open Road World Wide Tour. D'Urso was the only independent artist on the tour. He performed three day festivals in Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Los Angeles, Toronto, Sydney and Milwaukee with artists such as Bob Dylan, Aerosmith, Kid Rock, Tim McGraw, Elton John and many others. D'Urso co-wrote a thirty-minute musical production for Harley Davidson titled "Thunder" that was highlighted throughout the tour.
Around the world, the karma has reaped even better results as the band has developed into a premier name in certain areas. In some years, they play more shows in Europe than they do in America! In parts of the UK and Italy, they can easily book 10-15 dates for a mini-tour and then return in a few months.
"I'd be lying to say that I'm not tickled pink that we've become this small little cult band in certain areas," said D'Urso. "People fly in from different countries and take trains for six to eight hours... they tell me these stories and make my head spin! I know I used to do that for certain artists that I loved and the fact that someone thinks that much of us just blows me away! Maybe that's my karmic payoff for doing all these fundraisers!"
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.