Not only does Larry Crane bring a new solo record back to Indiana this week, the former John Mellencamp guitar player may soon be prepping a return to the studio with John and the band.
Saturday night’s show at Bloomington’s Buskirk-Chumley Theater promotes the Florida-living Crane’s new album Tropical Depression, and is a chance for reconnection for those who might have lost track of Crane, either when he left Mellencamp, or eventually, the state.
“The show will be a storyteller’s-type vibe,” Larry says. “I will have my guitar player Tony Burton, with me. And then I’ll throw in a few surprises towards the end.”
Back with Mellencamp
As he talks from his Sarasota home, Crane also says the old Mellencamp band may take a stab at creating music as a unit again, 20 years after they ceased making together — other than the subdued Big Daddy record – shortly after the 1987 Lonesome Jubilee tour ended.
If not the creator or co-creator, Crane is at the very least the man who helped form Mellencamp’s snarling, rootsy, aggressive guitar attack, on record and on stage.
“When we did Uh-Huh (in 1983), we did it really quickly,” Larry says. “John is thinking about going back to that vibe.”
At the core of the band was Larry, Mike Wanchic, Kenny Aronoff and Toby Myers. They ripped, rocked and toured with John through his transformation from John Cougar to Mellencamp, playing the songs of American Fool, Uh-Huh, Scarecrow, and Lonesome Jubilee, the four career-defining records of Mellencamp’s catalog.
“I had mixed emotions about it when they first asked me”, Larry says about getting back together. “But I got to thinking about it, and thought ‘Wow. You know what? It might be time'”.
Going into the Studio for Uh-Huh
What probably won’t happen is a creation of a copy of the studio setup they used to make the in-your-face, rootsy rock of Uh-Huh.
“We did it in a temporary studio. We brought this mobile sound track from Miami, took all the stuff out of it, put it in a house, recorded the album, then put all the stuff back in the truck and it went back to Miami,” Crane laughs. “It was pretty much a nightmare for (producer) Don Gehman.
“We started talking at the beginning of this year, and John’s been busy so it’s a matter of getting it slotted in,” Crane says of talks to get everyone back into a studio. “Kenny keeps a pretty busy schedule. The easiest guys to corral would be Mike and Toby. They both still live right there in Bloomington. And Kenny lives in Bloomington but he’s all over the place all the time.”
If you listen back to those records cut with these guys, especially on Uh-Huh, it’s a Stones screw-ya attitude, and just plain ol’ baddass snarling guitars and cracking, slamming drums. Could magic remain for a group – other than bandleader Wanchic – that went different directions as the 90’s dawned?
“Right around the time between American Fool and the Uh-Huh album, me and Kenny really sort of started clicking as a pair, because I’m mainly a rhythm guitar player – obviously not one of these acrobatic soloist guys,” Crane admits. “That was a great time, because that’s when the band really started the gel.
Using a Legend to Make Sure their Shit Works
Just before the band recorded Uh-Huh, Larry remembers they did a record with Mitch Ryder with the same studio setup, for his Never Kick A Sleeping Dog album.
It was a record that benefited from Mellecamp (and the band’s) status at the time, if not helping it sell albums (which it didn’t much), at least aiding in getting a 60’s rock legend to make a rock and roll record in Indiana.
“When we set up that studio, we did two albums. We started to use (Mitch) to see if the studio worked,” Larry chuckles. “We have Mitch Ryder and all these wonderful musicians coming in and out of this house that’s just outside of Brownstown.
“His bass player is on it. And his keyboard player came. We’d go down to Brock’s Diner, this little place where everybody has breakfast and lunch.”
Recording Tropical Depression
Crane’s new album contains bouts of solid roots rock – similar to the sounds and songs Crane released in the ’90s. “What Billy Wants” is one of the album’s best, an Americana anthem that dates back to older live shows, while the opening cut “Once You Love” was a song Crane originally wrote with Steve Earle.
Crane flew back to Indiana to record the new album, a Telecaster-driven, Middle America slice of rock, a sound he’s mined since his Eye for an Eye debut 20 years ago.
His two most recent records, Wire and Wood and the Tropical Depression, have been built with an addition of acoustic and country influences.
“Everything that I’ve ever recorded solo has been done at what used to be called TRC Studios, with Alan Johnson. Now it’s called Static Shack, owned by (Bob & Tom’s) Tom Griswold.
“I did pretty much all the guitars – it was a quick album. We knocked it out in like ten days. Turns out it was the ten coldest days in January in Indiana,” Crane says. “I said, ‘Hey guys, you didn’t have to do this for my benefit. I remember what winter feels like.’ But it was a fun record to make – we had a great time.”
Living in the Sunshine
Crane, who started going to Florida with his current wife, has settled into his southern life and neighborhood.
“I’m very interested in boats and fishing and I was coming down here quite a bit,” he says of Florida. “We wanted to move down here while I’m still young enough to enjoy it – get out fish and all that.
“We’re just in a ‘Leave it to Beaver’ sort of neighborhood,” Larry says. “I like the peace and quiet – ‘Oh, we got a rock and roll guitar player moved in next door’ they might say. Well, I’m like the quietest neighbor you could ever have.”
After initially moving a decade ago, Crane was still commuting back to Indiana on a monthly basis. He’d put together two weeks of band gigs and fly home, leaving a complete set of gear in Indiana so he didn’t have to fly any equipment back and forth.
“Over time, I started meeting musicians down here,” Larry says. “There was a club called the 5 O’Clock Club here in town and they have an open mic – kind of a blues jam every Monday night. Guys were stopping by: Brian Johnson from AC/DC. There was a guy who was Freddie King’s guitar player. And Dickie Betts.
It’s led to Crane booking solo shows in Florida, including regular trips to the Florida Keys.
Beyond any Mellencamp band reformation travels, Crane will be also coming back to Indiana this fall for shows booked at the Monroe County Fall Festival and Hope Festival.
How A (Punk) Band Returned
We start talking about Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes’ new album Pills and Ammo, and then the virtues of an old punk band that came back around with a recent album.
“The New York Dolls had a really good album a year or so ago,” Larry says. “It’s a little slicker than the old stuff, but I’ve always been a big fan of David Johansen and all those guys,” he says. “They were some of my idols when I was growing up – Johnny Thunders and all that.
“I got to see them play in New York where we first started with John, and were going to New York quite a bit. And I’d always go down to the CBGB’s or Max’s Kansas City and check those guys out, because that’s whose licks I grew up playing.”
Larry likes a new album by an old punk band?
“Me and John had a punk band when I was still in high school and John was just out of college,” Crane remembers. ““Those were the days – I was like 16 and John was five years older than me. We rented this big farmhouse outside of Seymour and I got there after school and we’d practice. I played a lot of old New York Dolls stuff. It’s a wonder I can still hear at all”.
Putting John and Larry back together would bring it full circle. The glitter punk rock kids (their early band Trash was named after a New York Dolls song) one more time? Why not?
WFHB Welcomes Larry Crane w/ special guest Tim Grimm / Friday, June 18 – 08:00 PM / Buskirk – Chumley Theater / $12 advance, $15 DOS / 114 E. Kirkwood Ave., Bloomington, IN / PHONE: (812) 323 3020