Many Vineyarders plan ambitious projects for the off-season. Not all complete those projects before the arrival of spring and the realization that any intensive creative or scholastic effort must be shelved in deference to the demands of the busy summer season.
Not so for musician Ernie Dewing of Chappaquiddick. The 52-year-old Chappaquiddick resident threw himself into a long dreamed-of project this winter and has released his first solo CD, Thru the Glass, that he describes as pure blues-rooted rock and roll.
Mr. Dewing has been making music all his life. Before he moved to the Island, the singer/keyboardist performed around Boston with his band at the time, “Propergander,” playing at popular clubs that included the Middle East and the Paradise on a regular basis. At the time, Mr. Dewing lived on the Cape.
About 10 years ago, Mr. Dewing moved to his current home he shares with his parents on Chappaquiddick and left the world of clubs behind.
He remained involved on the outskirts of the music world while working at a variety of jobs. Mr. Dewing surrounded himself with all the trappings of a musician including a baby grand piano that he’s been playing since he was a kid and a collection of vintage guitars and keyboards. He also built a 32-track studio.
But his use of the equipment was limited to making recordings for his five musician children and others. “It would break my heart to go up there and see all the gear and not be doing anything myself.” he said.
A reunion with his former bandmate, guitarist Joseph Skladzien for a weekend provided the spark that ignited the singer/songwriter’s musical inspiration. Mr. Dewing started writing music and, once he got going, he quickly had a handful of songs.
“He [Joe Skladzien] came over one day and it was like someone turned on the faucet,” he said. “The songs just started flowing. It’s almost like the songs wrote themselves.”
Mr. Dewing said his musical hiatus provided a new well. “I needed some life experience to draw from,” he said.
Mr. Dewing describes Mr. Skladzien as his “50/50 musical partner.” Joe had just signed on with a touring band called “Dead Reckoning” and Mr. Dewing was determined to start recording with his partner while he was still available.
“Losing him was an impetus to start getting something going before he left,” he said. The two men, along with their former band, had previously recorded a few CDs of original music, but this time around Mr. Dewing decided to try his hand at some cover tunes as well as originals. The two spent three months recording. Mr. Skladzien spent time on Chappy. The musicians were joined at times by a handful of other musicians who added their talents to various tracks.
Mr. Dewing describes his early style as being in the Pink Floyd vein. The upstate New York native spent his youth immersed in the world of rock. He describes hanging out with hero Tom Petty when the latter first started touring. “I was friends with promoters in Albany where I grew up.” he said. “I was backstage at shows all the time. I met him [Petty] and he was just a really nice guy.”
Mr. Dewing describes the rock icon as a “huge influence” and one can detect a bit of Petty’s distinctive nasal warble/whine in many of the CD’s songs. At other points, the vocals have a little of a Bob Dylan drawl. However, Mr. Dewing is never imitative when covering other’s material and his vocals are clear, strong, and clearly his own.
Three songs by one of Mr. Dewing’s favorite bands, “Cracker” are included on the CD, along with one song each by Tom Petty, Robert Johnson, Ian Hunter, Lucinda Williams, Johnny Hickman, and Ben Gibbard. The rest are originals and they hold their own among the tunes by established singer/songwriters on the CD.
Mr. Dewing’s songs are a nice variety — each unique — that reveal a number of influences but are clearly still his own. The songs are soulful and hook-laden and display the work of a professional with years of both musical and life experience.
Standouts include the pretty ballad “Seven Stars” that hints at one of Mr. Dewing’s early influences, David Bowie, and the back-to-back tunes “Mexico” and “Pass Me By,” which have a little of the bittersweet feel of a Beck song. All of the originals have depth and multiple layers and could have sustained themselves as longer cuts.
Mr. Dewing said that he has gotten a lot of positive feedback on the CD from, among others, David Bowie’s ex-wife Angela Bowie and the members of Cracker. He says that the latter are considering including him on a projected CD that would feature other artists’ recordings of their music. Mr. Dewing hopes to put a band together to play live this summer and at least one CD release party and a slot on MVTV are in the works.
Still under the influence of his newly discovered muse, Mr. Dewing said, “I’m already starting on another one. I can’t write them [new songs] fast enough.”
With the cautiously optimistic, rooted to earthbound reality of a bluesman, Mr. Dewing said, “If nothing else happens but this, I’m happy. It captures a little fraction of time that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
Thru the Glass is available at aboveground records, in Edgartown, for $10.
Gwyn McAllister, who lives in Oak Bluffs, is a frequent contributor to The Times.