STORY WRITTEN BY FERN BRODKIN
For Digital First Media
JD McPherson has just released “Let the Good Times Roll” (Rounder, 2015), the follow up to his smash hit debut “Signs & Signifiers” (Rounder, 2012). And he returns to World Café Live in Philadelphia – a town where he and his band love to perform – on Feb. 26.
It all started with a video of “North Side Gal” that went viral on YouTube. And the middle school art teacher who never envisioned making a living by playing music was all of a sudden doing just that. Call it serendipity.
“I wasn’t going to quit teaching school to go play music,” said McPherson in a telephone interview from his home in Oklahoma. “And when I lost my job it just so happened that … some folks in Europe got their hands on (the record) and wanted to hear some live versions of it. So we went over there and did that, and didn’t realize that all of a sudden we’d be doing this for a living and touring all the time. So obviously it was a huge blessing.”
He added that getting laid off was “the best thing that ever happened to me. When I was informed that my contract was not renewed I didn’t feel panicked that much, I felt kind of calm about it. Sometimes things happen for a reason. I was very happy that it did.”
The success of “Signs & Signifiers” certainly put McPherson on the map, yet it also yielded a new kind of pressure when it was time to record the follow-up album. In fact, this time around he took the unusual route of secluding himself in order to work on the songs.
“On this record pretty much every single thing was thought out ahead of time by me. The new songs were developed in solitude. And it felt that way, too. It was a time when things were getting pretty stressful and maybe some of the songs reflect that. Nothing came easily, but I did have a very clear idea of what the stuff was gonna be.
“In fact, the band and the producer of the record hadn’t heard any of the songs until we got to the studio. So it was an unusual way to do it, but I would say that some of that has to do with taking a bit of a leap with some of the new material, and once I had a captive audience it was time to let the cat out of the bag. I can really rely on the guys I play with. I really trust their musical sensibility and their ability to play on anything I throw at them. So we’re very lucky.”
And so are McPherson’s fans, who should certainly be happy with the follow-up album. As the title suggests it is more rock ‘n roll music with influences of Little Richard, Chuck Berry and other early rock ‘n roll artists. But don’t be so quick to label it revivalist. In fact, McPherson says that among the artists he listened to while recording the album are David Bowie, Primal Scream and Marilyn McCoo singing “Marry Me, Bill.”
“I listen to so much music, not just early rock ‘n roll. I’ve really immersed myself into everything since I started getting into music. To be informed by everything that you can get your hands on is definitely an asset. I just really like everything and sometimes everything creeps in. My first love is rock ‘n roll music — everything from The Clash back to Little Richard is, to me, under that umbrella. And I think if you’re so into something your influences will naturally creep into your work.”
Philadelphia’s radio station WXPN has begun playing the album’s title track, “Let the Good Times Roll,” which is the first single. And despite the title it is an original song. WXPN is one of the first stations to have picked up McPherson’s debut album.
“They were huge supporters and early supporters and continued supporters,” says McPherson of WXPN. “And that’s really why Philadelphia is one of our strongest markets. Anytime we do anything remotely near the East Coast we always have Philly as an anchor because of the support we’ve received from the Philadelphia music community. I will give (WXPN) all the credit where credit is due for our success in that area. What a cool station and what a cool musical scene they have there. I’m eternally grateful to them for their support.”
He added: “I love playing Philly. Love it! The whole band does. We always look forward to it.”
IF YOU GO
What: JD McPherson with Dylan Pratt
When: Thursday, Feb. 26. 8 p.m. show; doors open at 7.
Where: World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St., Philadelphia.
Tickets: $20 – $23
Info.: For more information, check www.philly.worldcafelive.com or call (215) 222-1400. For more on JD McPherson, check www.jdmcpherson.com.