Wednesday, November 1, 2023


A proper KISS goodbye 

Band’s final show, ever, should be on December 2 in New York. And not anywhere else.

November 1, 2023 

Exactly one month from today, KISS will play the first of the final two shows of its epic “End of The Road” tour, which began almost four years ago, in January of 2019. If it wasn’t for the pandemic, the tour would have ended long ago, but KISS wanted to say a proper farewell to every city and every country that had shown the band some love over the past 50 years, and so the tour – as originally planned – has circled the entire globe. The reviews have been amazing. The shows have been sold out. And KISS will pack it in as a touring unit while still sitting on the top of the world of rock. Which is exactly how it should be for the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers. They’ve earned it. And though it’s a bittersweet feeling to think that this is really it for the powerhouse band, I hope that when they step off the stage at Madison Square Garden on December 2, it is indeed their final show.

Since the December 2 show in New York is the final show of the final tour, you’d think that would be a given. But - because the wording that was first used to promote the show was, “The final show of the final tour,” there seemed to be a little wiggle room for more shows to come afterwards. Yes, I do believe that KISS is never going to tour the globe again, or even just the United States. And, over the past few years, when the band said it would be its last time playing in each city, I believed it to be true. They won’t be back to London, or Sydney, or Philly, or anywhere else. But still, I kept coming back to those words - “The final show of the final tour” – and I kept thinking, “Well, it is going to be the 'final show of the final tour.' But that doesn’t mean they still can’t do an occasional show without a tour.” Other fans picked up on this as well, suggesting that despite it being the "End of The Road," they could still do occasional one-off shows. And there was also some internet chat of the band possibly doing a residency in Las Vegas. That’s not a tour. Some have also called for KISS to do a show at the new Sphere in Vegas. KISS is perhaps the most visual live band of all-time, and some would like to see what they could do in a new state-of-the art venue designed for visuals. That, also, would not be a tour.

Please everyone, stop it.

The last KISS show, ever, should be on December 2, 2023, at Madison Square Garden. And there are a few reasons why …

First, that show has already become a destination concert for KISS fans from around the entire world. Diehard fans are emptying their bank accounts to get on airplanes, book hotels and pay steep prices for tickets, just so they can be there for what should be the band’s final concert. And if you’re KISS, isn’t that who you want to play your final concert for? Don’t you want to do your final show in your hometown, at the most iconic arena in the world, before not only some of your most diehard fans from your original homebase, but also people that traveled from all over the globe just to be there? The Hard Rock CafĂ© in New York is already promoting a big KISS party at their venue on December 1 and have indicated that people are coming from 20 different countries. Isn’t that who you'd want to play your final show for, not a bunch of high-rollers in Vegas who don’t know anything about the band but scored free tickets from a casino just because they spend way too much time and money on blackjack?

It's absurd.

Another reason KISS should never play live again after December 2 is because when they walk off that stage that night, it will be their decision and it will be on their own terms. How many great artists never got that opportunity? The last time artists such as Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, John Lennon, Tom Petty, David Bowie, Eddie Van Halen and Prince walked off the stage, they probably all assumed they’d be back. But they weren’t. No one ever really knows what tomorrow will bring. It is not guaranteed to anyone. Glenn Frey never did an announced final show with The Eagles. Freddie Mercury never did an announced final show with Queen. Aerosmith had just begun its final tour when it was totally derailed, and it now looks like the band might never play live again. There probably won’t be final show at the Boston Garden, which both the band and its fans deserve. KISS is being given that opportunity on December 2 at Madison Square Garden. And they should take it. When Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer walk off the stage that night, they should know it’s for the last time. Stanley and Simmons, who have held the band together for five decades, have said they may shed a few tears that night. Let them flow, gentlemen. You have given your audience 100% at every single show for 50 years. And your fans have been fiercely loyal to you. There should be a lot of emotion in the arena that night both on stage and in the audience. It will be very special. To do any type of show afterwards would diminish it.

I’ve seen KISS in concert 37 times. I haven’t missed a tour in 40 years. I’ve already caught three shows on the “End of The Road” tour (Philadelphia, Hershey and Allentown) and I have a ticket for December 2 in New York. And I am incredibly grateful that the band’s touring days didn’t end in 2001, with the first “Farewell Tour,” and with some show that no one ever talks about or even remembers. Sure, it was great to see Ace Frehley and Peter Criss back with the band from 1996-2001, but the fact is there was nothing significant about the final show of that final tour with the original lineup. And the tours that the band has done since that time with Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer have been fabulous. And if weren’t for those tours, my two kids would have never seen the band. I’m grateful, as a fan, that they marched on for 22 more years. But for all of the reasons I’ve stated here, I am also OK with December 2 being the true and final end of the road.

End it at home, in front of diehard, globetrotting fans. And do it on your own terms.

Thankfully, KISS – despite that original wording – seems to be leaning that way. When Stanley was recently asked about the possibility of doing shows at Sphere, he said he really can’t see it happening. And the band has changed the wordage in recent months when describing the December 2 show. The group’s official website is now simply calling it the “Final Show.”

As it should be.

And, as we all know, it will be utterly spectacular.

Blow the roof of the joint, guys. And then take a very well-deserved final bow.

(Alan K. Stout has written about rock and pop music in Northeastern Pennsylvania since 1992. His weekly radio show, "Music On The Menu," airs every Sunday from 9-10 p.m. on 105 The River in Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, Hazleton, Bloomsburg.)

To read some of Alan’s other KISS-related articles, click the links:

KISS “End of The Road” tour a victory for the music:  

KISS and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:


Tuesday, July 25, 2023



WILKES-BARRE – The Badlees will perform at the third and final show of the 2023 Rockin’ The River music series on Friday, July 28. The free, all-ages concert will take place at the Millennium Circle at River Common in Wilkes-Barre. Gates open at 5 p.m. Music starts at 6 p.m. There will be food, beer and wine vendors. Also on the bill is special guests, Joe Burke & Co.

 The Badlees, a critically-acclaimed roots-rock band, spent its formative years playing in clubs throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania, including the former Jitterbugs, Market Street Square and The Staircase. In 1995, with a growing regional and state-wide following and with the release of its “River Songs” album, the band signed a national recording contract with Polydor/Atlas Records. Two tracks from the album, “Angeline is Coming Home” and “Fear of Falling,” hit the national charts. The band toured with Bob Seger and also shared the stage with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page and The Allman Brothers. The music video for “Angeline Is Coming Home,” which appeared on VH1, starred Emmy-Award winning actress Julianna Margulies and was directed by Anthony Edwards.

 “That was an amazing time, just to see everything that was happening around that band,” said Alan K. Stout, executive director of Visit Luzerne County, which presents the Rockin’ The River concerts. “I remember, in the spring and summer of ’95,  ‘Angeline’ being in rotation on four different commercial radio stations in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area, and that was before they even signed a record deal. It was unprecedented.”    

 By the mid-90s’s, in the Wilkes-Barre area, the band’s occasional homecoming shows had outgrown the clubs and were held at venues such as the Genetti’s Grand Ballroom, The Woodlands Grand Ballroom, the former Bud Light Amphitheater at Harveys Lake and The F.M. Kirby Center. In 1999, the band signed a second national recording contract with Ark 21 Records, which released the critically-acclaimed “Up There Down Here” album. Still, the group remained loyal to its Northeastern Pennsylvania roots and also appeared annually at the former “Concert For Karen/Concert For A Cause,” which raised nearly a quarter of a million dollars for local charities.

“As great as a band as they are, they’re just a great as people,” said Stout, who as a former newspaper reporter and columnist wrote more than 40 articles about The Badlees and its members side projects and, as a radio show host, produced seven radio specials spotlighting the group. “And, after all of these years, their fans still feel a deep connection to the music. The songwriting is in the same caliber as Springsteen, Petty and Mellencamp. Their most recent album is just as good as their first. But they’ve also really evolved as artists. You can ask anyone that’s followed them over the years and they’ll all tell you the same thing … the songwriting, the musicianship, the vocals, the harmonies, the live performances … it’s the whole package.”

 Today, The Badlees fan base continues to extend throughout Pennsylvania, from Harrisburg to Wilkes-Barre to every town in-between. In 2021, the band was inducted in the Central Pennsylvania Music Hall of Fame and in 2022, the group released its ninth full-length studio album, simply titled “The Badlees.” In the fall of 2023, the group will be inducted into the Luzerne County Arts & Entertainment Hall of Fame.

 Stout says Visit Luzerne County is proud to be bringing the band back home for this Friday’s Rockin’ The River event.

“The Badlees have been on our radar for a few years,” said Stout. “This year, it finally worked out. And it just feels right. The band first built its following in towns all along the Susquehanna River. The Susquehanna River is actually featured on the cover of the ‘River Songs’ album. And so to be bringing the band to Wilkes-Barre for a show right along the Susquehanna … I can’t think of anything more fitting.”

 Major sponsors of Rockin’ The River are Geisinger, DiscoverNEPA, the City of Wilkes-Barre and Mountain Productions. For more info about Rockin’ The River, visit

 (Badlees photo credit: Jim Gavenus)



Saturday, December 3, 2022

 Badlees still hold the cards

                                                                                                                                              Photo by Jim Gavenus

First album in nearly 10 years showcases band members' talents, flexes power of the unit

Music On The Menu
December 3, 2022 

If you were a betting man, you may have wagered that 2013's "Epiphones & Empty Rooms" might be the final album from The Badlees. And it would have been a pretty safe bet. Principal songwriter/guitarist Bret Alexander, who produced most of the band's albums, left the group shortly after its release. Bassist and fellow producer Paul Smith left as well. And though there were still some occasional live shows featuring new members, things never felt quite the same with the kings of Pennsylvania roots-rock and no new music was released by the band. And truthfully, if it were not for the group's induction into the Central Pennsylvania Music Hall of Fame last year, you very well may have collected on your wager. But when the band reunited for a few songs at that awards ceremony, which was held in Harrisburg, it wasn't just as though a spark was felt in the room. It was a lightning bolt. The kings were back. And in 2022, there is a new Badlees album. And with it they have laid down a royal flush.

The album, fittingly titled "The Badlees," is the group's first release to feature all five original members since 2009's "Love is Rain" and the first that all five made full contributions since 2002's "Renew." For thousands of the band's fans scattered across the Keystone State, vocalist Pete Palladino, guitarist Jeff Feltenberger, drummer Ron Simasek, along with Alexander and Smith, are the Fab Five. And it is indeed quite fabulous to hear them making music together again.

The album opens with "1,000 Melodies Without Words," and right from the get-go, we are reminded of the band's gift of crafting memorable melodies matched, verse-for-verse, with gripping lyrics. It's got a thumpy gut-punch rhythm section, soaring vocals from Palladino, textured harmonies from Feltenberger and Alexander flexes his songwriting talents as only he can do. Bring it all together and it's Fab Five.

"My mind's an ambulance in traffic
My heart's a flock of birds
How do I navigate this static
Of a 1,000 melodies without words"

Somewhere, Bruce Springsteen just smiled.

"10 Ton Heart," sounds as though it was written while speeding down a highway at twilight. It's a driving track, both literally and figuratively, with just a touch of pop. More than anything, it creates a mood. Music, when at its best, has an actual ambience to it, and when Alexander picks up his mandolin, as he does on this track, you can count on that happening. But that's just part of what makes "10 Ton Heart' so gripping. Palladino's inflections and the ripping guitars also help shape the song ... a song that will likely have you stepping on the gas pedal a bit harder. "Face Under Glass," a breezy track about Americana and family, comes with a fun vocal breakdown and "Tear It Down" offers a quick bridge-section that only Alexander could write. A great bridge is something even the best of songwriters can struggle with, but Alexander has been with penning them for three decades. Palladino, beautifully backed up by Feltenberger, also shines on the powerful track, as does violinist Nyke Van Wyk.

The contemplative "What I've Wasted" has a chorus that pulls you in and won't let go and the thoughtful "Leaving Here," with Alexander on lead vocals, talks about making the difficult decision to move on from a place or situation -  a place or situation that was once important to you - simply because it doesn't feel the same as it once did. "Nasty Alcoholic" comes with a Warren Zevon vibe and longtime Badlees fans will take delight with hearing Palladino and Feltenberger trading off vocals on the insanely catchy "The Price You Pay." Though "The Badlees" is a very modern, very 2022-sounding album, this track offers an old-school Badlees moment that briefly takes the listener back to "Diamonds in The Coal."

Somewhere, 10,000 Badlees fans just smiled.

"These Days," with its stirring, cinematic, U2 feel, comes with a haunting chorus that sounds as if Palladino, Alexander and Feltenberger are all singing together. And considering some of the album was recorded remotely, it's also a fine testament to the unit's production skills. The album closes with the wonderful "My Friends," a brilliant country-inspired number with a surprisingly big/little moment that Johnny Cash and some of his buddies would have covered in a milli-second.

Nearly 30 years ago, I called The Badlees "Pennsylvania's Best Band." A few years later, when they released some of their music on a national record label and were touring the country with Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, I called them "America's Best Band." Both still apply. Even if it's only when the mood strikes them, they are still the kings. And "The Badlees," which will be released on December 23, is another creative album loaded, track-for-track, with very creative songs. It captures the special talents that have been dealt to each member, yet it also captures the special magic that only happens when they work together.

Fab five.

Royal flush.

(Alan K. Stout has written about rock and pop music in Northeastern Pennsylvania since 1992. His weekly radio show, "Music On The Menu," airs every Sunday from 9-10 p.m. on 105 The River in Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, Hazleton, Bloomsburg.)

Friday, July 10, 2020

Luzerne County Historical Society receives donation
of COVID-19 interviews from radio host 
The Luzerne County Historical Society receives a donation of 19 recorded interviews focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic. The interviews, which were conducted by radio show host Alan K. Stout, discussed how COVID-19 has affected the local arts, entertainment and musical community. Shown, from left: Mark J. Riccetti Jr., director of operations and programs, Luzerne County Historical Society; Alan K. Stout, radio host, The River; Mary Walsh, interim executive director, Luzerne County Historical Society.
WILKES-BARRE - The Luzerne County Historical Society, which is hoping to preserve the oral history of the COVID-19 crisis, recently received a donation of 19 recorded interviews focusing on the pandemic. The interviews, which were conducted by Alan K. Stout, discussed how COVID-19 has affected the local arts, entertainment and musical community. Stout is a radio show host with The River. (100.7-FM. 103.5-FM, 104.9-FM) 

Stout covered arts and entertainment for The Times Leader and The Weekender from 1992-2011. His weekly music column, "Music On The Menu" appeared in The Times Leader from 1994-2005 and in The Weekender from 2005-2011. He continues to contribute occasional stories to both publications as a freelance writer. Stout's weekly radio show, also called "Music On The Menu," has aired every Sunday night since 2004. The show was put on hiatus on March 29 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the closing of Mohegan Sun Pocono, from where the program is broadcast. Shortly thereafter, Stout began conducting phone interviews from home with various people involved in the music scene of Northeastern Pennsylvania. Titled the "Music On The Menu COVID-19 Podcast Interviews," the conversations were posted to the Music On The Menu channel on YouTube and posted to the Music On The Menu page on Facebook. 

"Initially, when we put radio the show on ice for a while, due to COVID-19, I thought I'd just take some time off from Music On The Menu," said Stout. "Between the newspaper column and the radio show, I'd been doing something with local music, every week, for 26 years. But after about two weeks, I guess the old newspaper reporter in me kicked in. I wanted to talk to people. I wanted to interview people. I wanted to see how they were doing, personally, and how all of this was affecting them professionally. Because we'd never seen anything like it." 

The first interview was posted on April 15 and the last on June 1. The series included conversations with Bret Alexander, Jimmy Harnen, A.J. Jump, Bill Kelly, Joe Nardone Jr., Will Beekman, Dustin Douglas, Richie Kossuth, Ellie Rose, Joe Wegleski, Patrick McGlynn, Chris Hludzik, Richard Briggs, Eddie Appnel, Loreen Bohannon, Tom Flannery, Mike "Miz" Mizwinski, Aaron Fink and Michael Cloeren, Most interviews ran 30-40 minutes in length. They have been donated to the Luzerne County Historical Society as a 10-CD set and also in mp3 form. 

"They are timepieces," said Stout. "Some of the first ones were done pretty early on when we were just getting into the stay-at-home orders and everything was shutting down. And, like everywhere else, the affect on the music industry was pretty devastating." 
The interviewees ranged in age from those in their twenties to sixties. Stout says his intent was to talk with not just working musicians, but with people from all walks of life working in the music industry. 
"Quite a few of those that I spoke with were working musicians, and with all of their gigs suddenly being cancelled, they certainly had a unique perspective on everything," said Stout. "Most of them got very creative right away and started doing live web streams from home on social media. But the series wasn't just about musicians. I also talked to people who produced records in local recording studios, and people that managed music venues, both large and small. And so you have A.J. Jump from Karl Hall talking about postponing about 40 shows and Will Beekman from Mohegan Sun Arena talking about postponing concerts and sporting events. Jimmy Harnen, a native of Plymouth, is the president of one of the largest record labels in Nashville, and he shared his perspective. Joe Nardone Jr. talked about the challenges of keeping his record stores in business. Richie Kossuth co-owns a music store and sound company and plays in a band, so he had thoughts on everything. Loreen Bohannon tours the country as a sound technician and all of her summer tours were canceled. Richard Briggs talked about canceling the Briggs Farm Blues Fest. Bret Alexander had played with The Badlees. Aaron Fink had played with Breaking Benjamin. Both were national recording artists and had seen a lot, but nothing like COVID-19." 

Stout says that some of the interviews were done shortly after the passing of Jerry Hludzik, a legendary local musician who had been a member of national acts The Buoys and Dakota. Thus several of the guests in the interview series who had known and worked with Hludzik also shared their thoughts on him. In early June, when most of Northeastern Pennsylvania began to enter the yellow and green phases of re-opening, he felt the series had covered every topic and thus decided to end it at #19. 
"Nineteen seemed like the appropriate number to wrap up the COVID-19 series," said Stout. "When we started, everyone was still a bit shell-shocked by everything that was happening and nobody really knew what direction things were heading. And about six weeks later, when we did the last one, Micheal Cloren, who manages the Penn's Peak concert venue, was talking about trying to put some shows back on the calendar for the fall. There was a light at the end of the tunnel which, hopefully, will remain bright. But there's still a lot of uncertainty." 
The Luzerne County Historical Society appreciates receiving the recordings. 
"This is great donation," said Mark J. Riccetti Jr., director of operations and programs at the Luzerne County Historical Society. "I think it will be a great impetus for future donations, and it also shows that you don't necessarily have to be what we call one of the 'front-line' workers. It doesn't have to be the stories that you see on TV. We're looking to collect any oral histories. We want to know how this affects every single person in the valley." 
Stout says that, through the interviews, he's grateful to have helped play a small role in helping preserve some local history. His weekly radio show will return to the airwaves on August 2. 
"I love the Historical Society," said Stout. "I've worked on some projects with them in the past. And when I saw a post on their Facebook page asking for people to contribute some oral history stories regarding COVID-19, I thought the interviews that I had done might interest them. Granted - they deal mostly with arts, entertainment and music - but their stories are also a part of the story. Everyone, no matter what your profession may be, has a story. And these people from our local music community talked about how the pandemic has affected people's creativity and their livelihoods. And I'm grateful that they took the time to share those stories. 
"Hopefully," he added, "more people from all walks of life will do the same. If you're a doctor or a nurse and you were, or still are, working in the ICU with COVID-19 patients, take 20-30 minutes some night and document your story. If you worked in a supermarket, do the same. If you had COVID-19, or someone close to you did, document it. You can record your thoughts and memories as a voice-memo right on your smart-phone and e-mail it right to the Historical Society. It's easy. And it's something that future generations will certainly be interested in. This has been one of the most significant historical events of our time." 

(For information on submitting COVID-19 stories to the Luzerne County Historical Society, call (570) 823-6244)  

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Our friend, Bret

Bret Alexander is admired as a musician and loved as a friend

January 29, 2019

It was in Bearsville, New York, near Woodstock, in October of 1997 when I learned everything that I needed to know about Bret Alexander as a musician and as a songwriter. And that knowledge came from his answer to one simple question …

We were in the recording studio, late at night, listening to some tracks from the Badlees “Up There Down Here” album, which the band was recording at the time. I was there on assignment from The Times Leader. The paper had asked if I’d like to do a story about the recording of the album, which all of NEPA was eagerly awaiting. The band said they were fine with me hanging around for a few days, and so off I went.

The Catskills, as you’d imagine, are gorgeous in October, and the studio sat in a picturesque wooded area that I’ve always felt helped shape the sound of “Up There Down Here.”  It’s as though the surrounding ambiance actually bled into some of its tracks. And as Bret and I sat there in the studio listening to the music, I asked him if what we were doing – listening to a completed track, perfectly mixed, with all of its layers and instrumentation – was his favorite part of making music.

Bret in Bearsville, 1997

“No,” he said. “The best part is when you first write the song. I can kind of hear in my head what might become of it later - with the band and in the studio - but the best part is when you’re just sitting on your couch with a guitar and you know might have a good song.”

For Bret, it’s always been about the songs. Nothing more. And no one that I’ve known in my 28 years of writing about rock music has written better songs. I saw, in him, a very special talent back in 1993, when we first met, and between my former newspaper column and my radio show, there is no other artist that I’ve interviewed more. And that’s because his songs have always deserved the most attention.

Bret, it was revealed last week, has a genetic degenerative kidney condition that requires a kidney transplant. The operation will take place in February, and while he recovers, he will be unable to play shows and work in the recording studio, which is how he makes his living. And thus many of his friends here in NEPA have come together to present “BANDing together for BRET,” a benefit show that will help him out, financially, as he recovers from the surgery.

As mentioned, I’ve written a lot of stories about Bret, the musician. But today I’m writing about Bret, the musician, and Bret, my friend. I have never shared some of these stories before, and so you might want to grab a coffee or something and get yourself comfortable …

Last night of the "River Songs" tour.
Bud Light Amphitheater, Harveys Lake, 1996 
My review of the Badlees “River Songs” album was published on the day it was first released, independently, in February of 1995. I was absolutely floored by some of the songwriting, and in that review, I compared Bret Alexander to a young Springsteen or Mellencamp. That same week, at the band’s CD release party, he thanked me for the kind words and it was during that brief conversation that I told him, for the first time, how I felt about him:

“You,” I said, “are a very talented man.”

We didn’t know each other that well at the time. I’d only done a few stories on the group back then, but after reading the songwriting credits on “River Songs”  I realized it was Bret who was the creative force and the soul of The Badlees, and thus from then on I always made sure to chat with him a bit at the shows and to make sure that he was a part of any Badlees story that I was writing. To me, a band is all about its songs. And Bret was the songs.

In 1996, The Badlees held a video release party for “Angeline Is Coming Home” in The Woodlands Grand Ballroom. It was, to this day, one of the biggest crowds that I have ever seen there – probably about 1,500 people. The next day, the band was heading out to go on tour with Bob Seger, and so I asked Bret to give me a call in a few weeks, after they’d done some shows, to let me know how the tour was going. All of the group’s fans were excited about what was happening and I knew they would enjoy reading an update from the road. Bret said he would call and a few weeks later my phone in the newsroom rang. It was Bret. We did the story. And I also knew right then that he was not only a very talented man, but also a man of his word. Today, 25 years later, he has never shown otherwise.  
Bret performing at "We All Shine On."
River Street Jazz Cafe, 2005 

Years later, after our friendship began to develop, Bret would sometimes give me an early listen to some of the band’s new recordings. The fact that he valued my opinion meant a lot to me and I was very flattered. In 1998 he gave me an early and still unreleased copy of “Up There Down Here," and when I heard the song “Don’t Let Me Hide” for the first time, I once again realized what a brilliant songwriter he was.  And not just because it’s such a great tune, but because of the backstory behind it, which I don’t believe has ever been told …

The Badlees told their fans on stage several times in 1997 that the follow-up to “River Songs” was going to be titled “Up There Down Here.” The reason, they said, was because, sonically, it contained some of their heaviest songs and some of their softest songs. (Examples: “Middle of The Busiest Road” and “Running Up That Hill.”) But on another occasion, I’d heard that the name of the album came from the sessions themselves, as most of the recordings were done “up there” in Bearsville, while some tweaking to the tracks was done “down here” in Pennsylvania. I was told that “up there, down here” was a phrase that the band often used during the sessions - ”We’ll do that up there. We can do that down here” – and thus the name of the album. It was also about the journey of being on stage for so long and then finding yourself back in the audience, right where you started. The fact that there were a few stories floating around about how the album got its title didn’t really matter. They all made sense and it was a cool title. But there’s a much better part to the story …

Bret performing at "Concert For Karen."
Voodoo Lounge, 2000.
“Don’t Let Me Hide,” which would later become the album’s first single, was not recorded in Bearsville. In fact, it wasn’t even written yet when the Bearsville sessions ended and when it was initially thought that the “Up There Down Here” album was complete. But after hearing the final Bearsville sessions, the group’s label, Atlas/A&M, told the band they wanted a few more songs. What was it that Tom Petty sang? “Their A&R man said, “We don’t hear a single.” That was the deal. And so Bret wrote some more songs. But I remember him telling me that he wasn’t too happy about it. He thought the record was done. And he really didn’t like having someone else tell him that it wasn’t. Still, he got to work. And he wrote “Don’t Let Me Hide.” And if you listen to it -  now that you know this story - you can see that parts of the lyrics are actually about writing a song that you don’t really want to write. It’s about toiling away in the basement, working on the song, while his wife was upstairs. That’s where the line in the pre-chorus of song comes from … “You’re up there, and I’m down here.” It's about facing adversity, and not losing yourself in the process, and asking your loved ones for strength. That's what Bret wrote about. And in doing so, he not only delivered another fantastic song, but he also brilliantly tied it into the name of the album – an album which had already been named several months prior.  

“Don’t Let Me Hide,” which was recorded in Los Angeles, several months after Bearsville,  was the lead single from “Up There Down Here.” Ironically, one of Tom Petty’s Heartbrteakers played on it. And, now that you know the story behind it, you know that even back then Bret was already starting to flip the music business the bird.

“You want another song? How about THIS.”

Once “Up There Down Here” was completed and Bret gave me that early version of it, I fell in love with it. The songs were incredible: “Luther’s Windows,”  “Thinking In Ways,” “34 Winters,” “Silly Little Man,” “Middle of The Busiest Road,” “Running Up That Hill,” “Don’t Let Me Hide” … I thought it was even better than “River Songs.” But just as the album was completed also came the $10 billion dollar Polygram/Seagram sale, which later led to the formation of the Universal Music Group. And for well over a year, no one heard the album. It, like the Badlees and hundreds of other bands, was tangled up in corporate limbo. And as a fan and friend of the band, it was killing me. I felt the album needed to be heard. I felt it must be heard. But whenever I talked to Bret about it, he seemed totally unconcerned. He said he enjoyed writing the songs and recording them, but if no one ever got to hear them, it didn’t really bother him. He’d just write more songs.

Bret at "Concert for A Cause"
The Woodlands, 2007
And that’s what he did. And that’s what he’s continued to do. But how he handled that turbulent time in his career told me so much about him as an artist. He wasn’t about to mourn the loss of those songs. He’d already gotten all that he could out of them and he was moving on to new creative projects and new tunes. And like he told me in the studio that night, the best part is always when you first write them.

Eventually, in 1999, The Badlees, tired of the ongoing delays, asked to be released from Polygram. And as soon they were freed, they dropped a new album, “Amazing Grace.”  Of course it contained some of Bret’s best songs, including “Amazing Grace To You,” “Time Turns Around” and “Poison Ivy.” All were done at his home studio. A few months later, another label signed the Badlees, acquired the rights to “Up There Sown Here” and finally released it. And so, within just a few months, fans of the band got two great albums.

I guess Bret was right when he told me not to worry about it.

One of the things that has meant the most to me throughout my career in journalism and in radio is my friendship with Bret and the fact that he has at times considered me a confidante. Trusting me with an early copy of “Up There Down Here” was an early example, and I remember a year or so later, when The Badlees released the “The Days Parade” EP, he told me the band was thinking of including a cover tune on the record and he asked me which song I thought they should record. I suggested Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” because I loved they way he sang it at the band’s shows. It ended up on the record. In 2002, he came over to my old apartment one night and gave me an early listen to the “Renew” album, which was the first Badlees record in three years. As we sat there listing to the tracks, I was particularly captured by the song “Too Many Changes” and I told him that it didn’t sound like anything the band had done before. He told me he was going for a bit of a Motown vibe on the tune, and that he kind of imagined guys from the ‘70s with old-school long skinny microphones and polyester suits singing along to the bridge section. Once again, he nailed it. I think it’s one of his best songs. And I am grateful to have had been able to have had such conversations with him about his music.

Bret and I have also gone to see some pretty good shows together. We caught U2 in Philly, Springsteen at State College and B.B. King at The Kirby Center. Bret loved the late B.B. King. He always plays that black Gibson guitar because of B.B. And being able to meet B.B. with Bret after the show at The Kirby was a lot of fun. I don’t know if I’d ever seen him so happy. When we went to see U2 do a big stadium show, Bret took in the whole concert in silence. Anyone that knows him knows he’s not going to be standing on his chair, singing along to every song or waiving a lighter in the air. That’s just not his way. And so I had no idea what he was thinking. After the show, when we were walking back to the car, I asked him if he liked it.

Bret at Montage Mountain in front
 of the Saturation Acres stage.
 Anti-bullying benefit, 2012.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “I thought it was great. I don’t think most people have any idea how hard it is to pull something like that off, on that scale, and do what those guys do.”

I think if U2 ever heard some of Bret’s music they’d say the same about him.

Like everyone that knows him, I also have some funny Bret stories. And the better you get to know him, the more of his humor you’ll see. For 12 years, from 1999-2011, I worked on a benefit show called “Concert for Karen/Concert For A Cause.”  And at a few of the first few shows, I played bass with The Badlees on the song “Laugh To Keep From Crying.” I am nowhere near the musician that those guys are, but the song had a lot of meaning to us, regarding “Concert For Karen,” and so I played it with them. The first few times that I did it, I played pretty well. It sounded good. But by 2002, the show had grown so much in size that we moved it to The Woodlands Grand Ballroom. We had two stages and twice as many bands on the bill, and as one of the show’s organizers, I guess you could say that I was a bit too busy to spend enough time with my bass in the days leading up to the show, and on stage, during “Laugh To Keep From Crying’” I briefly lost my way. It probably wasn’t even noticeable to those at the show, and I soon got back on track with the band, but musicians notice these things.

“Well, that was a (expletive) train wreck,” I said to Bret with a smile after the set.

“Well, you had a (expletive) year to practice,” he said with laugh.

We still laugh about that one.

I’ve also recorded with Bret at his studio, Saturation Acres, many times. Sometimes it’s been a song that I’ve written and sometimes it’s been a cover song, just for fun. Those days in the studio with him are always among my favorite days of the year because it also gives us the chance to catch up on things. And as anyone that has ever recorded with him knows, you are working with the best. And on one special occasion, Bret went the extra mile for me. I’d written a song called “Summer Days” that I thought was OK and that I wanted to record, but I knew it needed something more. I knew it needed Bret. At that point, I’d already recorded with him before, but for this song, I asked him if he would help me finish writing the tune. I know that I can’t write a good bridge to save my life and that I needed some help with the arrangement. And though we were already pretty good friends by then, I idolized him as a songwriter, and I was still a bit nervous about asking him to help me write a song.

“Sure, man,” he said. “You know me. I love that stuff.”

A week or so later, Bret came over to my place and I gave him a tape of what I had. He took it home and then came back a week or two later with some ideas. He felt the chorus was strong and that the song should begin with its chorus, which is something the Beatles would sometimes do. He also, of course, had a bridge. And we sat at my kitchen table and finished it. I still have a recording of it, which was done on an old boom-box, and it is one of my favorite things. To me, it was no different than if Springsteen was sitting in my house helping me write a song.  A few weeks later, I went to Saturation Acers to properly record it, and it later received airplay on 14 radio stations throughout Pennsylvania and hit No. 5 of the NEPA singles chart.

I don’t have the talent nor the ability to write and record a song that could become a regional hit on the radio. But working with Bret, that’s what happened.

Most of my sessions with Bret have been fun and seamless. But there was one, when recording a cover of John Lennon’s “Watching The Wheels,” that was not. I was excited about the session all week, and the night before, I had total insomnia. Still, I drove to Danville, where the studio was located at the time, and Bret spent all day laying down the tracks for the song. Finally, after a long day in the studio, it was time for me to sing. And I sucked. We could not get a good take on the vocals. I tried a few times, but Bret finally told me to just go home and come back again another day.  I lobbied him to try again, but he was done. He said it was his daughter’s birthday and that he was going home. I came back a few days later to take another shot at it and got it right in no time, but we still laugh about the day he kicked me out and sent me home.  

There have been lots of good times and laughs at Saturation Acres. In 2010, on the night we recorded a final song for the “Concert For a Cause 9” album – a cover of U2’s “Walk On” - Bret began doing an imitation of me, adlibbing a tirade of lyrics about why we were no longer going to do the annual charity concert. Eddie Appnel, John Smith, Dustin Douglas, Tim Farley, Paul Young … we were all laughing so hard we were in tears. It was honestly one of the best laughs that I’ve ever had. 

It was also at Saturation Acres where I got a great glimpse of Bret’s humility. He’s accomplished a lot with his music. He had two national record deals. He’s done shows Bob Seger, the Allman Brothers and Plant/Page. Gregg Allman liked his tunes so much that he once asked Bret if he’d like to write with him. NBC-TV used “Fear of Falling” during the 1996 Winter Olympics. I once heard The Badlees on Muzak in the supermarket and The Badlees were once the answer to a question on “Jeopardy.” Here in NEPA, they headlined amphitheaters and the F.M. Kirby Center. It’s cool stuff. But you’d never know about any of it from just talking to Bret. He is too modest. He is too unassuming. And on one occasion, about 20 years ago, when I was recording a song with Bret and his partner Paul Smith at the studio, I got to see just how much.

At some point during the day, I started talking to an intern, who had been there for a few months.

“It must be pretty cool for you to be working here with these guys,” I said. “They’ve done some great stuff.”

He looked at me with look of confusion on his face.

“What do you mean?” he said.

“Well, you know … working in the studio with a few guys from The Badlees … that’s pretty cool,” I said. “These guys are great.”

“I know The Badlees,” he said, as he rattled off the names of a few of their hit songs. “What do you mean … I’m working with The Badlees?”

Bret mixing a song at Saturation Acres

Bret and Paul were behind the studio glass at the time and could not hear the conversation.

“Those guys right there are Badlees,” I said, pointing to them through the glass.

I thought the kid was going to fall right over. You’d think that at some point, it might have come up in conversation. But not with Bret and Paul. There was not one thing in that studio that would give any indication of some of the things they had accomplished. 

Want another example of his humility? At one point, about 10 years ago, Bret told me that he didn’t even own copies of most of his own records. Usually, he said, if someone asked him about one of his albums, he’d just give them his only copy. I burned him a whole bunch of his best songs onto a couple of CDs and gave them to him. “Someday,” I said, “Your daughters are going to want to have these.”

In regards to the upcoming “BANDing together for BRET” concert, there is something else about Bret that I’d like to share …

Over the past 21 years, I have personally been involved with 16 different charity events that have involved music. From 1999-2011, there were 13 “Concert For Karen/Concert For A Cause” shows, which aided numerous local charities, ranging from children's programs to homeless shelters to programs for veterans. There was a "We All Shine On" John Lennon tribute show, which took place in 2005, on the 25th anniversary of Lennon’s death, with proceeds benefiting the John Lennon Scholarship Fund. There was “Music, Motors & More,” which took place in 2012 at Montage Mountain, with proceeds benefiting local anti-bullying programs. In 2016, there was “Maximum Respect: A Tribute to George Wesley” and in 2017 there was “Jane Jam.”

Bret performed at every single one of them.

And he has donated his time and talents to countless other such benefits. He has always been there, sharing his time and talents, to help others. Even the former “Concert for A Cause” albums, which helped raised thousands of dollars for local charities, are totally linked to Bret. It was Bret, in 2002, that suggested a companion CD to accompany the annual “Concert For Karen.” And what he offered was extraordinary. He offered an EP that featured the first new Badlees music in three years. The band’s fans were clamoring for something new, and the first time they heard the songs “Renew” and “See Me As A Picture,” it was on the “Concert for A Karen” EP. And all of the money went to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of America.

The “Concert For Karen” EP was such a success that we decided to do a companion CD, to accompany the show, every year. It soon evolved into the “Concert For A Cause” compilation CD, featuring songs from some of the region’s best bands. For 10 years, every spring, those albums would often spend several weeks at No. 1 on the local album chart. They helped countless people and numerous charities and they were great exposure for local talent. And it all started with Bret.
"Concert For Karen 4," The Woodlands, 2002

I am proud to call Bret Alexander a friend and I am grateful for it. I recall, when my mother passed away a few years ago, seeing him walk into the viewing and being so appreciative of that kind gesture. I also recall the good time that was had at his wedding reception, some 20 years ago, and I’m glad that he still has a strong woman like his wife, Kelly, in his life. And I enjoy hearing him boast about his daughters.

I also love how, even today, he always tells me, “The only time I drink gin is when I’m with you.” This is usually towards the end of one of our recording sessions. I bring the gin. And we always have a good time. I can also recall, from 2015, what a privilege it was to write the presentation speech when he received the “Lifetime Achievement Award” at The Electric City Music Conference and to be there for him that night. And I recall how, 10 years ago, when my daughter was only three years old, the first song she ever sang was "Drive Back Home." And I recall how, for the last few tunes that I’ve recorded with him, I brought my bass to the studio even though I didn’t know the bass-lines to the songs. Bret taught them to me on the spot. It just happened, again, just two months ago.

Bret, as I said in 1995, is a very talented man. And he is always the coolest guy in the room. And for all of these years, he has been the heart, the soul and the center of this musical community. From The Badlees, to his great solo work, to The Cellarbirds, to Gentleman East, he has given us some of the best music that we have ever heard. And as a producer, he has helped hundreds of other artists. And when it comes to charity events, he has always been there.

To say we owe him one would be an understatement.

We’ve all owed him one for a long time.

See you at The Woodlands on April 11.

For information about “BANDing together for BRET,” visit