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June 01, 2004

Bill Chinnock

By ERIK PHILBROOK

Founding Member of the Jersey Shore Music Scene is Back with a New Album

ChinnockA short list of American music scenes that have played a seminal role in the development of rock and roll would most certainly include New York City’s Greenwich Village, San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district and L.A.’s Sunset Strip. But another scene that deserves its place in this pantheon is the Jersey Shore in the early 70’s. Before Bruce Springsteen became a household name and mythologized Asbury Park in his own songs, the Jersey shore was a hotbed of clubs with talented musicians and songwriters performing every night of the week.

Bill Chinnock forged his own sound in Jersey clubs playing with future members of Springsteen’s E Street Band, including Vini "Mad Dag" Lopez, David Sancious, Garry Tallent and Danny Federici. Guitarist/keyboardist and singer/songwriter Chinnock was one of the brightest lights on the scene and was eventually discovered by legendary producer John Hammond, Sr., who dubbed him "the real essence of American music" and helped set him off on a long career that has included touring, recording albums and producing and directing films.

Chinnock released his debut album, Blues, in 1975, followed by Alive at the Loft in 1976. Throughout the 80’s, he continued to put out albums of great American roots rock: 1980’s Dime Store Heroes; 1985’s Rock and Roll Cowboy and 1987’s Learning to Survive in the Modern Age. 1987 also brought Chinnock an Emmy Award for musical direction and composition for his song "Somewhere in the Night." In the early 90’s a duet he recorded with Roberta Flack was used as a theme song for the soap opera Guiding Light. This opened further doors for Chinnock as a writer of TV and film music.

Currently living in Maine, Chinnock continues to not only write music for TV and film projects, but to make his own films, including the full-length documentary The Forgotten Maine. He works out of his own recording and film editing studio where he runs his company, The Artist Group. Recently, Chinnock released a new album, Livin’ in the Promised Land (East Coast Records) which he calls "a celebration of American music." He talked to Playback about his early days and how it feels to return to his roots on his new album.


Describe to me your musical coming-of-age on the Jersey Shore.

Five or six years before Bruce appeared on the scene, I had put together a little band. It was a time of R&B music and bunny hops. All of us musicians jumped around from band to band, but most of the guys I played with ended up playing with Bruce.

Were you a songwriter from the start?

I always wrote songs. I think our first recording was at Hertz’s Studio in Newark in 1962.

Was it your intent early on to get a record deal?

The intent for me was to play rock and roll and to have fun. The Jersey Shore was kind of a carnival town with all sorts of rides and stuff going on 24 hours a day. At night you would walk down Kingsley Avenue and hear all the Harleys roaring away and the bands playing.

Was there any particular club you enjoyed the most?

There was a club called the Upstage Club. It was our equivalent of the Cavern Club in Liverpool. This was the place where Bruce, Miami, David Sancious, Danny, Garry, myself, Big Bob Williams hung out. This was the quintessential club where we all came together and played in our teens.

What music were you exposed to that most influenced your own writing?

I was born in Newark and the whole thing in Jersey for me in that era was Ray Charles. I used to listen to WNJR at night and I would listen to Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett, Sam and Dave, Albert King, Freddie King. The harmonica player James Cotton used to play down at the shore.

You moved to Maine fairly early on in your career. What prompted that decision?

John Hammond, who was a mentor to me, thought I really needed to work on my writing, my lyrics, my content. When I moved to Maine, I was 20 and I had recorded and toured a lot, so it was needed.

It must have been the right move because you still live there.

The people up here were wonderfully supportive. We were able to keep everybody working full-time, to buy houses, keep all the band members fed.

What inspired your new songs on Livin’ in the Promised Land?

We wanted to do something which was a kind of celebration of American roots music, but sort of a modern synthesis of all these styles I grew up listening to.

Your band has some incredible players in it.

My band is an extended family. Some of these guys I’ve played with since 1980. There’s Tony "Thunder" Smith on drums; John Kumnick, incredible bassist, who co-produced the album; and Harry King, who’s kind of a keyboard legend.

Now that you are dividing your time between the studio and stage, what do you prefer the most?

I love it all. I love combining music with film, bccause you’re dealing with these two art forms. But there’s a thing when you can bring the music to the people -- it’s so immediate. When you’re performing on stage and you have that magical bond with the audience, it’s a great thing.

For more information visit: www.artistgroup.com.

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