Marshall Crenshaw burst onto the national music scene in 1982 with his self-titled debut album and its irresistible single, “Someday, Someway.” Though both the album and single charted, Crenshaw’s brand of melodic, classic pop would never again experience sales figures comparable to those releases. But the quality of his subsequent work speaks for itself: across more than a dozen albums, the Detroit native has turned out a consistently appealing body of work that has earned him a relatively small but dedicated fan base.
And along the way, Crenshaw has done much of note beyond writing and recording his original music. Even before he made his first album, he toured as John Lennon in the traveling stage show Beatlemania. An accomplished rock scholar and writer, he has curated several album compilations including Hillbilly Music … Thank God, Vol. 1, and written a book, Hollywood Rock: A Guide to Rock ‘n’ Roll in the Movies. And lest fans think his musical styles are confined to chiming, hooky power pop, in 2004 Crenshaw toured as second guitarist in a reformed lineup of famed Detroit hard rockers MC5.
In recent years, Crenshaw has alternated between touring as a solo singer-guitarist and playing dates backed by Midwestern roots rockers the Bottle Rockets. For his current tour, Crenshaw has joined forces with surf-rock instrumental combo Los Straitjackets. And in between concert dates Crenshaw continues work on a pet project, producing a documentary film about record producer Tom Wilson.
Crenshaw says that his goal for the tour – which includes a June 21 date at the Capital Ale House – is to focus on rocking. “I’ve known [Los Straitjackets lead guitarist] Eddie Angel forever,” he says, “and I know what his taste is. So I thought to myself, ‘This would be a really cool opportunity to do a bunch of old rock ‘n’ roll songs.’” He characterizes the set list for the tour as an imaginative mix of left-field songs.
“Eddie’s definition of a good show is one where something changes every 10 minutes,” Crenshaw says. “So there will be a lot of dynamics.” Crenshaw will play some songs on his own; he’ll be backed by Los Straitjackets on others, and the Mexican wrestling-masked rockers will play an assortment of songs from their deep catalog as well.
The focus on live performance is a bit of a switch for Crenshaw; in recent years he’s released a steady stream of recordings. Between 2012 and 2015, there were no less than six EPs of new music from the guitarist. But for now, making albums is “on the back burner,” Crenshaw says. “I’m not writing any songs right now.” Instead he’s focusing his energies on the live dates and the Tom Wilson documentary.
Crenshaw recalls how he became involved in the Wilson project. “I got pulled down a rabbit hole by a website put together by a friend of mine, musicologist Irwin Chusid.” Crenshaw was familiar with Wilson’s work; Tom Wilson had produced Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sounds of Silence,” and produced two albums each by Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention and the Velvet Underground. “None of those would exist at all without Tom Wilson,” Crenshaw says, noting that most record labels had turned away Zappa and the Velvets. “Wilson is an absolute giant in terms of his legacy in popular music. And his biography is a real, essential American story.”
A great deal of effort is going into the documentary, which is being funded in part by a Kickstarter campaign. “Irwin’s research was the catalyst for the whole thing,” Crenshaw says, noting that he himself has already conducted over 60 hours of interviews for the film. That helps explain why he hasn’t been making records lately.
Still, fans of Crenshaw’s work will have some new record-buying opportunities in the coming months. Crenshaw’s second album, 1983’s Field Day is scheduled for a deluxe reissue in Fall 2017, and a recently-discovered recording of a very early live show will be released as well. That 1982 San Francisco performance was Crenshaw’s first gig west of the Mississippi, “a show that we did just as my first album was being released.”
Many of the songs from that era – “Someday, Someway,” “There She Goes Again,” and a cover of the rock ‘n’ roll chestnut “Soldier of Love” remain fan favorites, and still appear in Marshall Crenshaw’s live sets today. He sums up the character of his show with Los Straitjackets in simple terms: “It’s just going to be a night of rock and roll music, basically.”