Pay attention dancers, music lovers, dive bar connoisseurs.
The long running Americana Mondays hosted by the redoubtable Greg Klyma is about to end its quixotic 2 ½ year run at PA’s Lounge in Somerville.
The man is a high wire act with no need for a net. He’s funny, quick witted, delightfully goofy, and a deeply accomplished troubadour all in one.
Americana Mondays is vintage Greg Klyma. He wanted to develop a local audience, found PA’s Lounge in Somerville (a town filled with live music venues), booked Monday nights and set up shop. Talented musicians sign up to play with him for what patrons fork over into the tip basket. They know the audience is really listening and that Klyma shares the stage generously. Over time, Americana Mondays has developed a loyal following. During the evening’s three sets they’re tapping their feet or twirling around the dance floor. And Klyma, to quote one of his original songs, is “Livin’ The Life.”
Tonight’s band configuration:
Greg Klyma, telecaster guitar, harmonica, vocals
Andy Santospago, resonator guitar, banjo, laptop steel, vocals
Rob Megna, drums
Paul Chase, standup bass
LaDawn Sheffield, vocals
Set lists? Forget it. Part of what makes his shows so damn appealing is that he wings it. And it works. He’s good at reading a room, connecting with an audience, and somehow manages week after week to string together set after set of satisfying music from honky-tonk to country swing, ballads, waltzes, and rock that can groove hard or slink slow.
A partial list of Greg Klyma’s Americana songbook ranges from Hank Williams (whose portrait Klyma will occasionally hang on the stage), to Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Ernest Tubb, Merle Haggard, Steve Earle, Neil Young, George Jones, Buck Owens, Jerry Reed, The Band, Bob Dylan, Webb Pierce, Charley Walker. (see titles below) Kylma originals are often sandwiched in between.
Klyma’s singing is supple, sort of Neil Young with a sense of humor and wider vocal range. I’ve heard him do spellbinding one-man shows but his musicianship is amped up when jamming with a group of equally talented musicians, especially if they don’t mind not having a clue what the next song is going to be. Klyma’s shows are certified organic and unfold with a canny sense of sequence of covers and original material.
Klyma brings it whether there’s an audience of a dozen or standing room only. Exhibit A: last Monday, a rainy, cold March night.
“Welcome to Americana Mondays at Somerville’s premier dive bar, PA’s Lounge!” Klyma chirps to a sparse group of regulars.
“What shall we open with?” he asks the four men who make up his band tonight. Johnny Cash’s 1958 “Big River” gets chosen and off we go into another night in the weekly diamond-in-the-rough music travelogue.
There are a dozen people in the bar including the bartender/owner Stacy but you’d never know if from what’s being belted out on stage. No one in Boston is better than Klyma at stage patter connecting with his audience. “Good ol’ Johnny Cash… Johnny Cash Bar… Johnny Direct Deposit…and Johnny Paycheck…” he muses. “Johnny Dollar!” someone shouts from an audience always ready to join in the singer’s antics.
Next up is “On The Highway Tonight,” an obscure song from Citizen Slim, a favorite side project he founded with his pal Ryan Fitzsimmons. He’s all over it, a lilting swing beat, saucy swagger and the guys he’s playing with are loosening up. You have to when you play with this man.
Every night is an unscripted piece of performance art. You can almost see the wheels turning in his head as he picks one of the hundreds of songs in his repertoire to sing next.
Tall, long limbed, sporting a tiny fedora atop his mop of black hair, Klyma can kick the bejesus out of finger picking solos or launch into chord thrashers with body language flourishes that underscore the song’s energy. The beauty of every Greg Klyma show is its utter lack of self-consciousness, it’s bodacious off the wall showmanship, and original music stylings.
Part of the fun is listening to the song’s intro. You get the title, the name of the composer or artist who covered it memorably, and usually a humorous back story... an Americana Seminar, Klyma style.
“Bastard Son,” penned by Klyma, is a full out country two-step, more patrons begin showing up, and the dance floor gets some traffic.
“You Got The Money, I’ve Got The Time,” A Lefty Frizzell song, we’re told, is another quick-step tempo that by now has dancers establishing travel lanes on the PA’s fine hardwood dance floor.
“Let’s do Whiskey River. Willie Nelson begins all his concerts with Whiskey River, I was in the audience during one of his shows,” Klyma says. In the midst of the bluesy cover, he reels off a riff of robust fingerpicking that would make Willie nod with appreciation.
“Speaking of whiskey, I’m not doing anything else before I have a taste of my Maker’s Mark,” he says for no reason in particular, citing the merits of bourbon as an elixir - then adds, “Be sure to tip Stacy at the bar.”
Classic Klyma. “St. Patrick’s Day is Thursday, you guys know ‘Dirty Old Town’ by the Pogues?” Unfazed at the uncertain response from his bandmates, he gets into a musical Esperanto conversation that any good musician understands, tells them the key and tempo, does a little sample and damn, they go and play he daylights out of it.
“Eastbound and Down,” the rambunctious 1977 Jerry Reed song that was featured in the film Smoky and The Bandit, gives Klyma a chance to showboat his considerable Telecaster chops, slams an exclamation mark on the first set and gives dancers a rousing tempo to animate the mustang in every one of them.
The next two sets keep patrons tapping their feet as dancers from beginners to the Fred and Gingers flood the floor. I am too busy dancing to take notes.
There’s probably a teenager lurking in most of us, long dormant but capable of reconstitution with the right stimulus. Riding shotgun on an errand with his mother in Buffalo, NY, 13 year-old Greg Klyma pressed a button on the car radio and heard “Guitar Town” by Steve Earle. It wouldn’t be overstatement to say it changed his life.
He may not have known it but his career began the moment he began memorizing the lyrics and licks of that song and every other that he loved and imagined performing them on stage. He’s the most comfortable in his own skin musician I’ve ever heard...funny, quick on his feet, thriving on spontaneity, feeding off audience reaction.
Giddyup! You’ve got two more weeks to take in this fabulous slice of Americana Mondays.
I’d be remiss not to note the duets Klyma sings with LaDawn Sheffield in the second set:
“Killing The Blues” Lyrics sung sweetly by LaDawn Sheffield and Greg Klyma show Klyma’s ability to harmonize and feature Andy Santospago’s gorgeous slinky solos on laptop steel. Blues dancers improvise with panache.
LaDawn Sheffield joins Greg Klyma to sing "Killing The Blues"...actually they set it on fire.
PARTIAL CATALOG OF AMERICANA MONDAYS SONGS FROM GREG
Fred Eaglesmith (Freight Train); Johnny Cash (Big River, Folsom Prison Blues); Hank Williams (many songs); Merle Haggard (Mama Tried, The Bottle Let Me Down, Working Man's Blues, The Fugitive); Ernest Tubb (Thanks a Lot, Two Glasses Joe); Flatt and Scruggs (Rollin’ Inn My Sweet Baby’s Arms); Waylon and Willie (Good Hearted Woman, Mammas/Babies/Cowboys); Willie Nelson (Whiskey River, Angel Flying too Close to the Ground, On the Road Again); Waylon Jennings (Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line, Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way); Steve Earle (Now She's Gone and others); Neil Young (Out on a Weekend); The Band (Up on Cripple Creek, Ophelia, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down); Bob Dylan (It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry; You Ain't Goin' Nowhere; others); The Jayhawks (I'd Run Away).
We play Jerry Reed's "East Bound and Down." We sometimes play "Streets of Baltimore." We've played "There Stands the Glass" by Webb Pierce, "Close Up the Honky Tonks" by Buck Owens and "You're Still on My Mind" by George Jones. Charlie Walker's "Pick Me Up on Your Way Down" (written by Harlan Howard, as was "Streets of Baltimore" and others).
Lani Cromwell will join us sometime to sing "Walking After Midnight" by Patsy Cline, "Passionate Kisses" by Lucinda Williams, "Stand By Your Man" by Tammy Wynette and "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" by Stevie Nicks.
Ladawn Sheffield sings Lucinda's "Crescent City," "Price to Pay," and "The Night's Too Long." She does "Those Memories of You" by Trio, "Annabelle" by Gillian Welch, and a fabulous rendering of "Killing the Blues" written by Rowland Salley.
iPhone photo by Paul A. Tamburello, Jr.
Photos and videos https://www.facebook.com/AmericanaMondays/