STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
Montgomery County’s Work Release went head to head with fellow cover bands from Bristol, Media and Drexel Hill at Parx Casino to win the finals of the WMGK Houseband Competition.
The six-piece group — regular entertainers at the Bridgeport Rib House and The Water Tower in Oaks, with more than 800 Facebook likes — are gearing up to take even bigger stages representing the Philadelphia classic rock radio station. They’re scheduled to play between 1 and 5 p.m. Sept. 6 at the WMGK Battleship Brew Blast beer tasting event on board the Battleship New Jersey on the Camden, N.J. waterfront, and 5 to 9 p.m. Oct. 18 for the station’s Halloween-themed “Big Bad Bonfire” at Spring Mountain Ski Area in Upper Salford.
“That’s a hometown thing for us,” said guitarist and saxophonist Tom Najarian of the Big Bad Bonfire, noting that four members of Work Release live in the Collegeville area.
Playing together for the last five years, their fan base — “a huge network of friends, really,” Najarian said — is affectionately known as the Work Release Chain Gang.
“They’re a part of the show. We know them on a first-name basis,” he said.
Formed after Najarian and guitarist Brandon Weinstock were called upon years ago to entertain their sons’ Cub Scout Pack, the time came to choose a name for the band. Taking poetic license with the name for a program that allows incarcerated individuals time away from a correctional facility, Najarian pointed out that Work Release describes how the band members, and the audiences, view their time playing music together.
“We’re not a bunch of bad-asses, we’re just a bunch of working stiffs,” he said, noting that one of the singers, Suzanne Moore, is an accounts manager at a Center City law firm, that drummer Mark Daniels is a retired teacher working part-time as a tennis instructor, and lead guitarist Jeff Larson is an instructor in guitar, bass and drums.
Larson’s chops on harmonica and Najarian’s ability to play saxophone allows the band to faithfully perform songs that other bands might not be able to execute as well, said Najarian, naming “Long Train Runnin’” by The Doobie Brothers, “Middle of the Road” by The Pretenders and “Radar Love” by Golden Earring as examples.
According to Najarian, Work Release’s three-guitar attack means true-to-the-record readings of “Layla” by Derek and the Dominos and “Runnin’ Down a Dream” by Tom Petty.
Moore and Najarian can sometimes be seen performing as a duo called Singles Going Steady.
“You can’t put a price on those on-air mentions,” he said of being the WMGK Houseband for the next year. The band’s prize package also includes studio recording time to devote to their original songs, plus the opening slot at the station’s Let Freedom Rock concert in July at the Susquehanna Bank Center.
Other upcoming shows include 9 p.m. Sept. 5 at the Water Tower, and 8 p.m. Oct. 3 at Twenty9 Restaurant and Bar in Malvern — the site of the band’s victory in the Houseband Competition semifinal rounds.