At least once a year the Bacon Brothers — comprised of Kevin and Michael — visit South Jersey. Both Ocean City and Atlantic City have hosted their energetic performances, but this time they head to the famed Levoy Theater in Millville. In fact, their Shaky Ground Tour kicks off there at 8 p.m. Saturday, July 13, fresh off the heels of releasing their latest single, “Play,” late last month.
The brothers each have successful careers outside of the band that keep them busy. Older bro Michael, 69, is a singer/songwriter, film score composer and associate professor at Lehman College and Mannes College of Music. Younger sib Kevin, who turned 61 earlier this week, is, of course, one of Hollywood’s elite, having gained early success in the teen hit movie “Footloose,” and who by now — and this is purely a guess — surely must cringe every time a TV announcer says, “Next up is Kevin Bacon, who ‘danced’ his way into our hearts back in 1984 …”
I had the chance to speak with the Philly-born brothers recently about music, touring, Philly and, naturally, bacon.
Pamela Dollak: (Directed to Kevin) Going from actor to musician could be tough — think Don Johnson, Patrick Swayze, Eddie Murphy. Was it an uphill battle to get taken seriously?
Kevin Bacon: Look, we’ve had the band for a long time. We’ve made a lot of music … we’ve never had a monster success with the band. And it would be easy to say it’s because I’m an actor. My point is, I don’t think it’s a great help. It’s not a giant plus. We got a chance to play really early in front of people because they knew who I was — and the first time you stand in front of someone with a guitar is terrifying. You need to get over that. Just like an actor on stage. (Anyway) we got that — and we got more than an un-famous band would. But that’s where the advantages end. But all that said, it’s so out of our control.
PD: The name the Bacon Brothers — has it affected the band positively or negatively? Does it just bring attention to the fact that Kevin’s in it? Does that bring in the right fans?
KB: I never really thought about that. The music biz is a tricky thing. I think that, for the most part, while you would assume that having an actor in the band would be a big plus — and it is when you think of having people come to shows — but in terms of record labels and radio … it’s really more of an albatross. “Well that’s an ‘actor band.’” There’s no real precedent of that being successful. There are times what we recorded has had some value, and we thought of putting it out under a pseudonym.
You know, we didn’t come up with the name — shockingly. A friend did.
Michael Bacon: For me, being brought up with name of Bacon — in the ‘50s — I considered having the name Bacon a curse. I was a little overweight. So I used to fantasize of having a different name. Then about 20 years ago Kevin started really embracing it — he had little pigs all over his house. So we made it our mascot. And in last 10 years, bacon has become something everyone loves — they adore it! In a funny way, if our name was Smith — and we changed to Bacon — it would have been good marketing.
PD: Michael, as far as music goes, what’s the writing process for the band? Are you like the Gershwin brothers — one does lyrics while the other composes?
MB: I think that most people assume that I write the music — I mean, I’ve been making a living at it since 1969 — but that’s not the case. I realized Kevin had a songwriting talent. We started writing songs when he was 11 — I would put chords to it and help him arrange it. When we had the ability to play live, he was playing good guitar. When we started making records — he played demos and had a studio in his house. And then we went through a long period of not writing together. (Now) Kevin writes a song, he sings; I write, I sing …
PD: Let’s face it, neither of you guys have to tour. You both have other successful gigs to rely on to pay the bills. And touring, from what I’ve heard, can be pretty grueling. So … why do you do it?
KB: I’ll say this. When we first started it was new to me — fresh and fun. Like, this is so cool! That fascination has worn off … I can’t say I love going to a hotel room for a night and jumping on a bus the next morning. It’s gotten old. Like me. But the playing is it. You tour so you can play. If somebody said, “Hey, can you do a residency?” Great! That would be amazing! Why does Elton (John) do a residency? The reason you do it is that you want to play and share the song — but the audience comes to you.
MB: You just gotta keep your voice in shape — to me that’s the hardest part of touring. We’re getting better at it. We had a different tour last summer. We’re getting sensible as to what is good for us. I’m feeling very good about this tour and the songs.
PD: Do you have a pre-show ritual? Something you do for good luck — like a hockey player?
KB: No, not really. The only thing I could say is there’s this strange thing that ... right before you go on, you really don’t want someone who isn’t part of the show (backstage). You just kind of want to look and connect your energy into the other players and crew. It’s definitely the right thing to do. Look, we don’t get in a circle and pray. We just don’t have people who aren’t part of the band back there.
PD: As a Philly girl, born and bred, I love Philly. It’s my favorite city. And my love and appreciation for my favorite city is in good thanks to your father (urban planner Edmund Bacon).
MB: Thank you! He was an amazing guy. What he did … people have not forgotten. His legacy is stronger than ever. It’s great still having a connection there — it’s a great place.