Scene & Heard - Rocker targets Saratoga
THOMAS DIMOPOULOS 03/19/2004
SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Torey Adler was sitting in a coffeehouse on Broadway one afternoon before a gig. He recalled the first time he came here.
'The local scene was much different in 1991,' said Torey, as in Torey and The Roughs, a musical trio that includes bass player Tony Markellis and drummer Zak Trojano. 'I had a very pop-oriented sensibility when I first came here and I didn't know anything about the area (musically).'
It was Skidmore College that originally brought Torey to the region. In short order, both his days and nights were filled with learning experiences.
'Caffè Lena was where I learned about songwriting and about music that works one-on-one,' he said, fidgeting with a burgundy twine strung with miniature Tibetan carvings that is slung around his wrist. 'I started learning about artists like Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly and that led me to the blues players -- guys like Robert Johnson, Son House and Skip James.
'I started seeing the continuum from the blues through the Rolling Stones and realizing that it wasn't wholly independent from Bob Dylan-type of songwriting. It was all drawn from the same vein,' Torey said.
'You can call it blues; you can call it soul, but you know it when you hear it. It's like Duke Ellington said: 'There's only two kinds of music -- the good music and the other kind.' I started tapping into the good music when I was up here.'
Torey was born in New York City, 'in the dead-center of Manhattan.' He grew up, put out an album called 'Freedom Highway,' and then hit the road.
'I went out to San Francisco for six years with this half-baked notion of 'Let me see if I can make it in the music business.' I ended up being a lead guitar player for a number of different bands,' he said.
Those included stints with The Counting Crows and Sheryl Crow's band, appearances in support of legends like Chuck Berry and shows at hallowed rock 'n' roll palaces like The Fillmore Theatre.
'It was great, and I played some big shows with some major figures. But after six years out there, I realized I was missing certain elements of the music scene back in Saratoga,' Torey said. 'I started thinking about what my role should be. I realized that what I do best is writing songs and communicating my (musical) vision.'
He returned to the East Coast last year with a handful of tracks that were started in San Francisco. Torey headed to Boston to record with friend and drummer Mike Migliozzi, then returned to Saratoga Springs, where bass player Tony Markellis got involved.
'Tony was excited enough to offer some bass playing, and I wasn't going to turn a musician of that caliber down. Tony brought it up to where I realized that it wasn't just a side project, it became a record,' Torey said.
The result was the 10-song CD, 'Earthed,' that captures Torey the songwriter and Torey the musician. He is a savvy stylist on the six-string, the music coiling around his acoustic anthems and swings to countrified rhythms, all the while tinged with the hint of a bluesy sorrow or bursting in an outright celebration of grooves.
With just the right amount of road weariness to a voice that is both calm and lyrically frenetic, the words spill from his mouth to fit the tumbling pace: 'A rhythm like a rain dance puts him in a trance, his sunglasses reflect the light/ there's a ghost of an old juke joint in Mississippi, rising up in California tonight.'
He wears his influences on his sleeve, running the gamut of 20th century music, particularly onstage.
'You'll hear it all in a show. We'll do a Johnny Cash cover, and we'll do a Ramones' song. We'll do another by Otis Redding. Most of the songs are originals, but you know we mix it up,' he said.
To Torey, it's about being knowledgeable about musical culture.
'It's important to me to understand where it comes from. I want to create a new music that moves people. If you're cooking the stew, you need to know what goes into the stew -- you can't just throw things at it.
'Music didn't just come into being with the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin,' he says. 'I love those bands, but that's not where music started.'
It is, ironically, where Torey first caught the music bug, when his parents took the then- 8-year-old to see the Rolling Stones tour film 'Let's Spend the Night Together' in the early 1980s.
'Then I pretty much spent the next 10 years trying to get a guitar to sound like Keith Richards',' he laughs.
Early ill-fated attempts included stringing rubber bands over a wooden board and strumming away on a small, child-sized classical guitar. One day it dawned on him.
'I realized what I needed was an electric guitar. It was then that I started understanding about things like distortion and about using tube amps.'
With his own music, he feels that he is straddling both sides of the acoustic/electric fence.
'This is a rock band -- guitar, bass and drums. I feel with the Roughs, that I am reconciling myself as both a songwriter and guitar player and really showcasing the guitar. I'm speaking to people with that medium and with this band it all feels like it all comes together,' he says.
But as far as any warring factions between acoustic and electric players, he says: 'It's just machinery. I think people are more drawn to performers on the folk circuit because they're writing intelligent songs and crafting them well. You don't get a pre-fab artist on the folk stage that's lip-syncing their stuff,' he said, laughing at the image he conjured. 'It's somebody up there actually playing songs. Their performances are real.
'I want to wake people up a little bit. I want to put on a show that people can't treat as background music. And I did that at the (Original Saratoga Springs) Brew Pub,' he says of the Roughs, who are completing an extended Thursday night engagement at the Phila Street venue on March 25 and April 1. 'People were shouting and cheering after every song; people were dancing. That's what I want to do.'
Torey will also be appearing at Caffè Lena's Local-Thon Sunday and on a number of dates with Kevin Mullaney through the summer. A new CD is also slated for release later in 2004 and future performances for Torey and the Roughs are in process of being secured and posted on the Web site www.torey.com.
Among his long-term goals is to become a catalyst on the Saratoga scene that he feels should be at least as well known as musical communities in Austin, Texas; Seattle; and San Francisco.
'There are some really great acts in town, and I want the talent here to become visible throughout the world,' Torey said.
He has seen the other side of the musical continent and found, after all, that the Freedom Highway leads to Saratoga Springs. It's a journey he wants to share with the rest of the world.
Thomas Dimopoulos is a feature writer at The Saratogian. Scene & Heard is published every Friday in the Life section. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
©The Saratogian 2004