The first time Marshall Crenshaw performed out west was at the Keystone in San Francisco. It was June 4, 1982, and he burst onto the popular music scene with his self-titled debut album that had been released just a month or so before. His single “Someday Someway” was reverberating across the country, climbing the charts as it went.
“I remember that people liked us and got on board with us. That was a relief,” Crenshaw says. “It was our first time west of the Mississippi. It was our first night on tour. We were just venturing out into the world. We had no idea what was lying ahead.”
Crenshaw’s then-label Warner Bros. sent a full crew and sound truck to document the show. The idea was to send VHS tapes of the live performance to distributors as an introduction to Crenshaw, with his ’50s look and melodic rock sound.
But the tapes intended for in-house use turned widespread with the onset of music television. MTV aired the show and the formal music video for “Someday Someway” was culled from that San Francisco footage.
“I think back on it, and it’s really unusual for a band’s video to be just a live recording like that. I can’t think of too many other ones,” Crenshaw says. “It wasn’t us running around on the beach or any of that nonsense. It was just us playing live.”
Live Show Release Features 1st Album
Now, 35 years later, the multi-track tapes capturing that notable show have surfaced from Warner archives. With audio sourced from the original master reels and mixed by pop producer Chris Stamey, it’s all being pressed on vinyl. The live album, called Thank You, Rock Fans!!, will be released November 24, 2017 by Run Out Groove Records.
“I just love the fact that anybody is still interested in the music that we made back then. People still love that stuff. That is just really gratifying to me,” Crenshaw says. “This was just another thing from that time period that I thought people would get a kick out of.”
Cover of 1982 self-titled LP
With this marked release, fans will hear the singer, songwriter, and guitarist during the early days of his music career. At that time, the group was a trio with Crenshaw on guitar, his brother Robert Crenshaw on drums, and friend Chris Donato on bass.
“It’s all the songs on my first album, but since it’s just the three of us on stage, it’s kinda stripped of all the layers of instrumentation and production that is on the album. So these versions of those songs have a lot of immediacy to them,” Crenshaw says. “It’s three young guys who are very excited and we are just up there doing it. …The band was really super sharp. We sound really good. We just really had our shit together.”
Robert Crenshaw, Marshall Crenshaw, Chris Donato
Crenshaw recalls feeling at home in San Francisco, having been there before. While playing John Lennon in a touring company of the musical Beatlemania, he lived at Fox Plaza on Market Street circa 1980 and performed nightly for four months at the Orpheum Theatre.
“I felt a comfort level with San Francisco having lived there for part of the year and I was really jazzed about being there in particular,” he says. “I fell in love with San Francisco at that time.”
Sophomore Album Reissue
With the success of his first album, Crenshaw says he felt rushed to turn out a second album right away. Field Day was released a year later in May 1983, and was produced by Steve Lillywhite, who was brought into the project at Crenshaw’s insistence and has since become known for his work with U2.
“It’s strange but true. We did our second album really soon after the first, too soon,” Crenshaw says. “I had a couple songs already written. I had ‘Whenever You’re On My Mind’ in my back pocket. Then I just sort of quickly wrote the rest of them. They are mostly really good songs, particularly good, actually. Really beautiful.”
“Whenever You’re On My Mind” reached No. 23 on Billboard’s Rock Tracks chart and is regarded by many music historians as Crenshaw’s best work, but Field Day overall met mixed reviews.
“I love that album. That is an album that got dumped on a lot. A lot of people said strange things about it back in the day and I never understood. People’s take on it was completely inexplicable to me,” Crenshaw says. “But I figure the people who love it, they loved it for all this time. People still come up to me and tell me about their experiences with that album.”
Intervention Records is among those who love it. The label had been working on a vinyl reissue of Field Day before Crenshaw even knew the project was underway. It is due out in October 2017 and Crenshaw is pleased with the result.
“I got the test pressing from Intervention and I listened to the first side of the record. I hadn’t really listened to it at all since we first made it and I just said, ‘I don’t care what anybody ever said, this is a fucking great rock and roll record.’ And it is,” Crenshaw says. “This gives it another moment in the sun and I love that.”
Field Day reissue cover
Legacy of Songwriting
Detroit native Crenshaw cites influences from the Beatles to Buddy Holly, R&B to new wave. His music holds jazz chord progressions, pop sensibility, rockabilly bounce, and rock and roll at its heart. A master of his favored Stratocaster, Crenshaw has earned a reputation as a consistent craftsman of quality songs with emotionally fraught lyrics and affecting melodies.
“I had this sense in my mind of what this stuff should sound like and feel like and the songs were just tailored to that,” Crenshaw says. “I have only written maybe 150 songs, not a crazy high amount, but one thing I have said about it is that all of it was really to give myself a platform to be a guitar player.”
Crenshaw continued to write and record steadily since his 1980s heyday, building a catalog of more than a dozen albums. “’Til I Hear It From You,” sung by the Gin Blossoms and co-written by Crenshaw, reached No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1996. He wrote the title track for the 2007 film Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. The tune was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song.
His songs have been covered by diverse artists including Ronnie Spector, Bette Midler, America, Marti Jones, and Freedy Johnston. Many have covered “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time.”
“I created the song in my head when I was still at Beatlemania in 1979. I got to Pittsburgh for the opening of the show there and hung out at the theater the day before. That is when I put the song together in my head,” Crenshaw says. “I just thought the title was funny. It’s kinda tongue-in-cheek. It isn’t something you would really say to anybody, I don’t think.”
Renaissance Man of the Arts
Crenshaw proved to be a multi-talent throughout his diverse career. As an actor, he portrayed Buddy Holly in the 1987 movie La Bamba. As an author, he wrote the 1994 book Hollywood Rock: A Guide to Rock ’n’ Roll in the Movies. He played guitar for the hard rock band MC5 when members reunited in 2004. From 2012 to 2015, he released six EPs with new music.
Now 63 and living in upstate New York, Crenshaw is a DJ hosting a weekly radio show called The Bottomless Pit on WFUV. He plays music from his personal collection of 5,000 records, including downloads.
“I have a lot of music that I am enthusiastic about and that am knowledgeable about,” he says. “I really focus on stuff that I love. Very broad and diverse. All genres, all eras. Mostly rock and roll, but it’s just all over the place.”
He is also working on a documentary about record producer Tom Wilson for which he has conducted about 60 hours of interviews. Crenshaw calls Wilson’s life “an essential American story” and cited his contributions as discovering jazz artists Sun Ra and Cecil Taylor, producing Bob Dylan, and creating Simon and Garfunkel.
“He signed Frank Zappa when nobody else would. He signed the Velvet Underground when nobody else would,” Crenshaw says. “All these things sent huge ripples out and hugely influenced the history of popular music. There is a through line from Sun Ra to the Velvet Underground and Tom Wilson is the connecting thread to it all.”
Crenshaw is currently touring with Los Straitjackets, a surf-rock band out of Tennessee whose members wear wrestling masks while performing.
Los Straitjackets guitarist Eddie Angel and Crenshaw have been friends since the start of his career 35 years ago and have created this show with integrated material and musicians. “We have always been good pals so when the idea came up, I thought this could be a really great pairing and it has turned out to be,” Crenshaw says. “We are like-minded fellows, all of us about the same age, so there’s a lot of common ground musically. We play some rockabilly tunes and some old rock ’n’ roll, along with my stuff and their stuff. It just feels right. It kind of works.”
There are three Bay Area shows — the KRUSH Backyard BBQ in Santa Rosa September 21, the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco September 22, and Moe’s Alley in Santa Cruz September 23.
Marshall Crenshaw, Los Straitjackets
The KRUSH Backyard BBQ
September 21, 2017
Marshall Crenshaw, Los Straitjackets, RJ Bloke
Great American Music Hall
September 22, 2017
Marshall Crenshaw, Los Straitjackets, RJ Bloke
September 23, 2017