Wednesday, July 27, 2011

5 Minutes with Joe McGinty of Loser's Lounge

Joe McGinty is a composer, keyboardist and arranger who is most widely known for his five years as the keyboardist for The Psychedelic Furs. McGinty has also worked with Ryan Adams, The Ramones, Nada Surf, Kevin Ayers, Martha Wainwright, Die Monster Die, Devendra Banhart, Ronnie Spector, Jesse Malin, Amy Rigby, Space Hog and others. He has composed music for independent films and TV shows, including HBO's G String Divas.

McGinty is also the founder and music director of the popular Loser's Lounge tribute series, where local talent pays homage to the pop icons of the past. Loser's Lounge made its debut in 1993 with a Burt Bacharach tribute at Fez, and has played to consistently sold-out rooms ever since. Now based at Joe's Pub, the Loser's Lounge has also performed at the Allen Room at Lincoln Center, Celebrate Brooklyn, Westbeth Theater Center, The Knitting Factory, Makor and the Jewish Museum.

McGinty and the Loser's Lounge Band have also played with Moby for Comedy Central's "Night Of Too Many Stars" benefit for autism education.

Loser's Lounge Documentary Trailer Pt. 1

Q1. What was the first record that you bought and how did it change your life?

I believe the first LP that I bought with my own money was "Cosmo's Factory" by Creedence Clearwater Revival. It was big deal making the jump from 45s to LPs, but "Cosmo's Factory" was a safe bet--there were so many hits on that record, so I was already familiar with a lot of the songs. The cover was fascinating to me, with a motorcycle, a bicycle and random instruments strewn about what was either a recording studio or the most awesome playroom in the world. It made me think, even as a kid, that being a musician was really "cool"!

Q2. What took you into a career in music?

I really had no other choice--it was always what I wanted to do. My first gigging opportunity was playing covers in an Atlantic City show band, "Franco and Mary Jane". I ended up on the road with them for 2 years. From there it was more cover bands, then a big break of sorts was getting a gig with Robert Hazard in Philadelphia. He wrote "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" and was huge in the Philadelphia area. From that I got a gig with the Psychedelic Furs in NYC, and the rest is history. Kind of a strange career path, but somehow it worked out!

Loser's Lounge - Bohemian Rhapsody

Q3. How did Loser's Lounge start?

After the Furs broke up, in the early nineties, my friends and I were rediscovering Burt Bacharach, Henry Mancini, Jimmy Webb and the like, courtesy of the 99 cent bin at the Princeton Record Exchange. We would sit around and think about how fun it would be to do a night at a club playing these songs. The idea was to celebrate the songs you could never openly admit to liking in public. Around the same time, I was doing a weekly piano and vocal gig with Nick Danger at the Pink Pony on Ludlow Street (which had just opened). Nick and I played a lot of "guilty pleasures" from the 70s, and singers from the local music scene would sit in. The Fez nightclub had just opened, and with it's gold lame curtain, it seemed like the perfect venue for the "Loser's Lounge". Fez eventually gave us a Monday night, and the first show was packed, which was a complete surprise. You have to remember, at the time, it was still the height of the grunge era, and downtown "noise-rock" was in vogue--Burt Bacharach (and "easy listening") hadn't had his "hipster" resurgence yet. Since that very first show, it's played pretty consistently to sold out rooms.

The Loser's Lounge members pictured are (left to right): Tricia Scotti, Sean Altman, Julian Maile, Connie Petruk, Joe McGinty, Eddie Zweiback, Jeremy Chatzky, David Terhune.

Q4. Can you tell me a little about your chamber pop project McGinty & White?

Ward White and I were at the point where we were taking a break from our own projects, and we each had some songs that didn't fit into our usual repertoire. We both had some free time, and wanted to make a record that reflected our chamber-pop influences (Bacharach, Jimmy Webb, etc.). We decided to work within the confines of my studio, so there are no drums--but lots of percussion and vintage keyboards.

Loser's Lounge - You Should Be Dancin'

Q5. You've performed with a wide range of famous solo artists and bands-any funny stories you can share?

Well, I've been lucky enough to work with some of my heros, which is always a thrill. I recently backed up Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Dionne Warwick, and Gladys Knight for a performance of "That's What Friends Are For" at AMFAR--that was a trip (2 of my keyboard heroes). Dionne was under the impression there would be a backing track. She was surprised to find a live band on stage. Needless to say, she gave us some serious attitude, which was intimidating to say the least. But in the end, she was happy with us. And to hear Stevie Wonder playing the harmonica less than a foot away from me was pretty incredible.

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