An article on Stevie Coyle of The Waybacks!
Paul Liberatore: Waybacks' funny guy
The Waybacks are doing way good. After years of local acclaim, the rootsy acoustic quintet is suddenly attracting national attention with a sparkling new album, "From the Pasture to the Future," and a triumphant performance at a major music festival with the Grateful Dead's Bob Weir.
As a measure of the high regard in which the band is held by upper-echelon Americana musicians, the brilliant folk duo of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, plus bluegrass mandolin virtuoso Sam Bush, joined the Waybacks and Weir on stage for what was a momentous appearance in late April before a crowd of 7,000 at the prestigious Merlefest, Doc Watson's annual gathering in North Carolina.
Guitarist/singer/songwriter Stevie Coyle, the Marin member of the band, recalls the set with the reverence of someone reliving a mystical experience.
"Something happened there," he says. "The muse descended on us. It was one of those transcendent moments, in no small part due to the fact we had such spectacular guests. It was really a very special event."
With the wind of Merlefest in their sails, the Waybacks play at the 142 Throckmorton Theater in Mill Valley on Wednesday night before embarking on their summer touring season.
Coyle, who lives in an old logger's cabin in Larkspur's Baltimore Canyon, describes himself as "the folky, Celtic guy" in the band, a genre-defying group whose music was once defined as "runaway eclecticism."
A former circus performer, comedian and actor, Coyle is the designated funny guy in the group. He wrote "The Petrified Man," a clever, catchy, crisply produced song that opens the new album.
"Stevie's got a very dry sense of humor," says Larry Carlin, who produces bluegrass and acoustic music shows in Marin and has been a Waybacks fan for years. "He writes the band's newsletter, which I read just for his writing. He's hilarious."
Coyle, who just turned 50, has a self-effacing aw-shucks manner (he actually sprinkles his conversation with "golly") and an engaging stage persona. He's been playing guitar and singing since he got turned on by the classic "Alvin and the Chipmunks Play the Beatles" album when he was 8.
Since then, his performing career has been as diverse as a Waybacks' set list.
Fresh out Santa Clara University, where he studied theater and theology, he joined the satirical political comedy troupe the Royal Lichtenstein Circus. His act involved a trio of house cats that he trained himself in a garage in Santa Barbara.
"That was the best show business training I ever had," he says of his circus experience. "I got sawdust in my shoes."
While touring the United States with the three-man circus, his trained cats in tow, he taught himself to fingerpick, and jammed with various acoustic groups and musicians along the way.
Blessed with a deep radio voice, he went on to emcee killer whale shows at Marine World. He also acted and stage managed at San Jose Rep, sang novelty songs with the Reagan Brothers comedy duo at the Improv and Comedy Store in Los Angeles and appeared in national TV commercials for Mars candy bars, McDonald's and Chi Chi Salsa.
In the '90s, he did some picking in local clubs with the acoustic groups the Foremen and the Frontmen. In 1998, the Waybacks emerged from
a loose jam scene at the Plough and the Stars, a traditional Irish music pub in San Francisco.
"It all sort of happened there," Coyle recalls. "We'd never get together and rehearse. We'd just show up and play."
In coming up with a band name, the musicians realized that Waybacks has a number of pop cultural connotations. The Wayback Machine on the "Rocky & Friends" cartoon show comes to mind. But there are others.
"In film, the waybacks are those extras who are way out there on the horizon," Coyle says. "You can't even tell who they are, but they're getting their $62 a day. The assistant director yells, 'Action, principals! Action, atmosphere!,' which are the medium range extras. And then, 'Action waybacks!'"
The Waybacks' first three albums, "Way Live," "Devolver" and "Burger After Church," were self-produced efforts.
The new CD, "From the Pasture to the Future," on the Nashville-based indie label Compass Records, was produced by Grammy-winner Lloyd Maines, father of the Dixie Chicks' controversial singer Natalie Maines.
Maines, who produced the Dixie Chicks' album "Home," added some (gasp) tasteful electric guitar work and a bit of studio polish to the Waybacks sound on several original songs as well as covers of tunes by the likes of Chick Corea and the Kinks' Ray Davies.
"Lloyd told us, 'This is a chance for you guys to break out and do something with more depth, to do some multitracking, to take advantage of what a studio can do,'" Coyle says.
Coyle has been in the band from the beginning, but the group has gone through various personnel changes over the years. He is joined in the current lineup by lead guitarist/mandolin player James Nash, Joe Kyle Jr. on standup bass, drummer/percussionist Chuck Hamilton and the recently added 23-year-old Austin fiddle sensation Warren Hood.
The Waybacks play some 165 dates a year, but their career is accelerating with the new album and with the new jam band following that comes with playing with Bob Weir.
Coyle, who's footloose and single, has always spent a good deal of his life on the road, but he feels more at home in Marin than he's ever felt anywhere.
"What a life," he sighs. "I wake up in the morning and walk through the redwoods for a mile to have the best damn coffee in the world at Emporio Rulli. I watch the cafe society for a while, then stroll back through the redwoods to go home and play guitar. I'm just a very lucky guy."
If You Go
Who: The Waybacks with Marley's Ghost opening
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Where: 142 Throckmorton Theatre, downtown Mill Valley
Tickets: $20 to $30
Information: 383-9600 or go to www.142throckmortontheatre.com
Paul Liberatore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bonnoroo 2004 will be shown on the Sundance Channel on Monday! The Dead were part of that show, so be sure to watch it!
Does this link to the Don Jackson Harmony fest pix work yet?
And here this This other Harmony pix link may work now too!
It's not just a concert-it's history, Baby!
Here's Pozo's Saloon!!
We'll (Kemmie & I) be going down (South of here) sometime tomorrow!
It's been a while since I've seen Ratdog in play in sun light.
Sausalito Arts & wine fest perhaps?
I'm afraid there is going to be an abundance of that sun light too- Reports have Pozo's temperature expected to be between 90 and over 100 degrees!
The things we do for love!
and you know, I do love that Ratdog.
Off to pack- sealed water, sunscreen, gauzy mu-mu like caftan?
Did I leave my Tevas on the cruise ship?
yeeesh! and it's gonna be how HOT in Phoenix on Wednesday??
SCI talks about the upcoming tour with Ratdog.in today's SLO Tribune.
32 minutes ago