Doors 7:00pm • Music 7:30pm
OUR OWN WORST ENEMY
In the days before a kid could disappear into a personal iPhone playlist and tune out his parents’ world, there was a thing called the car dashboard radio. And the driver was usually in charge of it. That was just kind of an unwritten rule. So on those long drives from Rochester and back to visit his mother’s family in West Virginia, young Steve Lyons got the full hoedown.
“My dad was a big Johnny Cash fan, still is,” Lyons says. “Of course, I hated that stuff when I was a kid, but I remember hearing it a lot.”
Country tunes from tinny AM radio percolating around in his skull appears to be the genesis of Our Own Worst Enemy. For hyperbole purposes, we’ll call it Rochester’s new country super group, debuting Saturday at Abilene Bar & Lounge, although neither of its two co-founders is really considered a part of the country scene here.
Lyons is a blues guitarist and singer. He spent 23 years with The Legendary Dukes, which actually lasted much longer than the band that it sprang from, the 2015 Rochester Music Hall of Fame inductees Wilmer & the Dukes. And Lyons played with or is still playing with The LPs, Mitty & the Followers and The Beale Street Band. He does solo shows as well. All blues.
Don Christiano is the other co-founder. He’s had his rock bands over the years, as well as being the organizer behind the annual Bob Dylan Birthday Bash. He and his significant other, the singer Rita Coulter, have been performing together recently. But Christiano’s highest-profile gig these days is at Abilene, “With a Little Help From My Friends,” at which he invites one or two local musicians every other Tuesday night to play Beatles songs.
“We met back in the ’80s outside of Scorgie's,” Lyons says of Christiano. “He had a band, The Meteors, I had a band, King Juke, and we had some gigs together. So we knew each other, but we weren’t really that close. When he started doing the Beatles thing, I went in and asked if I could do one. He said, ‘Oh, sure,’ and we hit it off.”
The Beatles. Everyone knows the songs. But because of those long driving trips with his dad in control of the radio, “I’ve always had an affinity for country music, before I had this blues thing or that other stuff,” Lyons says. “It comes back to roost. Old country. Cash, Haggard, Lefty Frizzell, stuff like that. It’s been incubating for a long time, I’ve been thinking about doing it for a while. I finally asked Don. And he immediately said yes. And after we began rehearsing, we found two more sympaticos.
That’s bassist Paul Lindsley, who plays with JB & Company and often showed up at the jam session at The Beale. And drummer Mike Tutino, most recently of The Jane Mutiny.
Lyons was born in Rochester, and was just 2 or 3 years old when his family started making those family trips to Summersville, a small town in West Virginia. This was the late 1950s and early ’60s, when you could easily find a tent revival in those mountain communities. Not everything beneath those tents was good ol’ time religion.
“KKK meetings,” Lyons says. “I remember Klansmen walking down the street in Summersville.”
It was a part of the culture, but not something that Lyons associates with country music. “There were nut cases even back then, I knew that when I was a little kid,” he says. “I even saw them walking down the street in Salem, Mass.achusetts, in the mid ’70s when I moved there.”
Country music, when done properly, smells of country. And racism isn’t a part of it, not when you consider how tightly connected it is to rock and the blues, music that black people helped create. Guy like Lyons and Christiano move easily between them because they get that.
“Don calls it honky tonk, which is pretty apt,” Lyons says. “I wouldn’t call it country rock, it’s not. It’s country music that’s been electrified a little bit more.
“We do some modern stuff, too. Neil Young’s country stuff, like ‘Everybody Knows This is Nowhere.’ The Mavericks. Some obscure B-side type things, and some originals.”
Christiano has a few originals, as does Lyons.
“I’ve been writing songs since I was probably 16 or so, and I realized a lot of what I’m writing is real country, and it would fit with the blues bands,” Lyons says. “I wrote them with steel guitar in mind, but they didn’t fit my other bands. I realized this would be a good outlet for that.”
There’s another influence as well. Names from Rochester’s past. Our Own Worst Enemy does a truck-driving song by Craig Rogers, who used to be a country-folk singer of some popularity around here. And more recently, the late Dave Donnelly, who was as authentic old country as Rochester’s ever been. “I used to go see Dave all the time and I used to play with him, first playing bass and then guitar,” Lyons says. “That was a huge connection between the two of us.” Lyons also thinks of Our Own Worst Enemy as filling the same niche as Old Salt, a band from around here in the late 1980s, early ’90s.
“I used to go see Old Salt and sit in,” Lyons says. “I feel like this is kind of carrying on that tradition, as well as Donnelly’s.”
Our Own Worst Enemy is that Rochester tradition, as well as pulling songs from scratchy, 48-year-old, 45 rpm records.
“I still got my dad’s Don Gibson ‘Blue, Blue Day,’” Lyons says. “In fact, I put it on last week so I could refresh my memory.”