Music without compromise
● By J. Chambless
Adam Beck in his home recording studio, where his debut EP was recorded late last year.
By John Chambless
Adam Beck's decades of musical
experience come shining through in every moment of his first solo
album. The five-track EP, which was finished last winter and made
available in February 2018, is a polished, mature effort that blends
1970s rock, close-knit harmonies and a dash of progressive rock. With
another five tracks ready to be mixed and added to the ones that have
been released, Beck is poised to make a major statement as a solo
artist after decades of chasing fame as a member of various local
But first he has to negotiate his way through a business landscape that looks very different from the music business of two decades ago.
Settling into a comfortable chair in his home recording studio in Landenberg, Beck was beaming about the new project and eager to share his new music with the world – however he can manage it.
Beck grew up in Newark, Del., and said his grandfather on his mother's side has some jazz musical experience, but his mom didn't pursue her guitar playing past college. “We always had a piano in the house,” he recalled. “My brother studied piano and went to Boston Conservatory for music. My mother was a nurse and my father worked in a sheet metal local, so I got a lot of, 'You need to go to college.' College didn't last too long for me,” Beck added, smiling.
By the age of 12, he had been taking music lessons and discovering the classic music of the Beatles and Beach Boys. Now 44, Beck recalls the day he went to a friend's house, and his friend's older brother was jamming along to Led Zeppelin's 'Black Dog.' “I thought 'This is really cool.' They gave me 'Led Zeppelin IV' and I knew this was what I wanted to do. It was a pivotal moment in my life,” he said.
His parents indulged him with an electric guitar and he started writing his own songs right away. By his late teens, he had joined his first band, Daydream, a trio. That led to a constant succession of open mic nights and bar gigs with a blues band, Adam Beck and the Feel, that played up and down the busy Main Street of Newark and surrounding area, but eventually imploded, Beck said, possibly because the members were trying to live together and too much togetherness was not a good thing.
Then Beck formed The Rising as a showcase for his originals, then Modern Exile in 2010, which played regionally but again never quite solidified for the long term.
“I can't keep track of all the bands,” Beck said. “A band would break up and within a couple of months I'd have a new lineup. We'd always played cover songs for people, but they'd be the B-sides, the things we liked to play. I never got into the cover-band thing, where you play the music the way people want to hear it. I didn't set out to just placate the crowd, which might not have been the smartest thing to do when you think about the business side of things,” he added, smiling.
During the happier years of 10 to 20 years ago, Beck was busy most weekends. He has a few stories to tell, such as the time a drunk woman bit him on the leg while he was on stage in Newark. But the Deer Park gigs – in the days before the restaurant was cleaned up as much as it is now – stand out in his memory as a great bond between audience and band. “Man, those were some good times,” he said.
Beck, who now works full-time as a mechanic at Winterthur, gets a beautiful workplace, and his home, which sits on a wooded cul-de-sac, is ideal for having recording sessions. Beck and his wife, Carol, have a 3-year-old daughter, Charlotte.
With all the connections Beck has formed in the regional music business, he has sat in as a bassist for Fat Daddy Has Been, as well as the Elktones, touring with the latter band from Florida to Boston. Then there's Old Baltimore Speedway, a country band that Beck is part of that's “More palatable to a bar crowd,” he said. “We were playing alt-country or old-school stuff.”
While Beck has been the nominal leader of all of his bands, the EP release came about after his wife encouraged him to step out and put his own name forward for the project. “I looked around for the right players. I've played with a lot of great musicians. Brett Kull, the guitarist on the new album, was with a band called Echolyn that was signed to Sony. It's been wonderful working with him and the rhythm section – Steve Politowski on drums and Dustin Samples on bass. It's blessing to get these guys together. That rhythm section is like lightning in a bottle. Matt Urban and Paul Ramsey played drums on the songs 'To You' and 'Plateau,' respectively.”
The musicians share a common bond of progressive music, exemplified in Beck's list of favorite artists – 1970s Genesis, Yes, Rush, Peter Gabriel, but also Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd, along with jazz. The blend can be heard in his new music, delivered with a crisp tenor voice that has just the right edge of rasp. The deep harmonies, ringing guitar and meticulous musicianship are front and center, and the progressive influence is heard in Beck's lyrical phrasing. The guitars are interlaced – not showy, but given room to breathe. All five tracks are immediately likeable and leave you wanting to hear more.
Beck, however, is facing a dwindling number of clubs that book live music, the collapse of the traditional record label system that he grew up with, and the world's dependence on downloads that don't pay artists enough to live on. Today, every artist is his own recording engineer and distributor, but that means that too many people are trying to do just that.
“It's impossible for a musician on my level to get any traction,” Beck said with a sigh. “Anybody can record a song now and put it out. The system is so flooded.”
People don't go out to hear music in clubs like they used to, “and they don't want CDs either. People are going to digital. But streaming doesn't pay anything. You get like a fraction of a cent,” Beck said.
Beck had two previous albums with Modern Exile and two with Old Baltimore Speedway, and he's comfortable with the way things used to be: People came to a club, heard the music they liked, and bought a CD or record to take home. Today, people expect their music to be free. “It's very weird,” he said.
For now, Beck's new material is hosted on Bandcamp.com. Beck is committed to playing as many shows as possible, but the new material is too complex for the solo guitarist format he's accustomed to playing in clubs.
So he's getting ready “to go out there and do it the old-school way. You have to get out and play if people are going to see you. I do have a repertoire of singer-songwriter stuff. If I do a cover song, though, I do it my way, like I wrote it. It's great when you can find a room where people are listening,” he said, instead of a bar where people are shouting over each other.
“When you're part of a band, it's just a matter of leaning over and turning up the amps,” Beck said with a grin. “But playing with a band in a good room, with attentive listeners, is really inspiring and engaging.”
For now, Beck is proud of the EP and is looking forward to sharing it with audiences however he can. His daughter Charlotte is already a fan. “She loves the EP,” he said. “It's all she wants to hear in the car. She knows all the words, and has started to sing them with me.”
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.