When you meet local musician Kurt Baker or see him perform live, you don’t forget it.
If his ’50s, ’60s, ’70s pop/rock-influenced music doesn’t somehow stick in your mind, certainly the man himself will. I guarantee you have never heard anyone use the word, “party” more in your life. (Yes, he might even give Andrew WK a run for his money). He is one of the more upbeat, positive dudes you’ll ever meet on the music scene. Powered by pizza, beer, gummy bears, and high fives, Baker is built on good things. He ain’t trying to mess with nobody. He just wants to play music, have fun and … you guessed it. Think David Lee Roth meets Jeff Spicoli (from Fast Times at Ridgemont High) meets American Graffiti with a smile as big as Back Bay.
From 2002-2010, Baker fronted the Portland pop-punk band the Leftovers. Like a true punk band, they were always in the van, always touring. They toured overseas and all around America many times. This not only built up Baker’s credit limit at In-and-Out Burger and Sonic locations around the country, but the touring sharpened his chops and thickened his skin to take on just about anything.
Unfortunately, after many tours and a bunch of releases with various independent record labels; the Leftovers decided to call it a day and drift into other projects. Bummer too, that band was outstanding. Baker’s “Hey everyone, let’s party” frontman style, paired with the band’s super-tight playing made for one kick-ass offering from Portland. (Check out On The Move, one of my favorite local records of all time).
Post-Leftovers, Baker kept the beat and instantly put out material. Over the past six years he’s released a slew of singles, EPs and albums. Think less Ramones fueled and more Dave Edmunds and The Knack. The biggest shift though came when he moved to Madrid in 2013. Spain was an area Baker knew well thanks to some Leftovers tours and a few solo tours. It’s an area that embraces the fun rock Baker holds close to his heart. With his latest band, The Kurt Baker Combo and their full-length debut, they’re doing big things overseas. Back here in the US, the album got its official release last fall.
In my on-going series that I’m still kind of calling, “I Once Caught a Fish Thissss Big!” or “You’re Not Going to Believe This One…” Baker didn’t have to dig too deep into the memory bank for this story about a special audience at a recent New York show.
"Heading out on the road and playing music with your band, your friends, there’s always fun to be had and lots of funny stories. I wouldn't trade this life for the world. I'm so thankful to be able to do what I do.
I was recently visiting back home here in Portland. (I currently live and operate my current band, The Kurt Baker Combo out of Spain) and had scheduled a quick 24-hour trip down to New York City. I made it down in the morning for a meeting with the staff of my new record label, Wicked Cool Records. The label is owned by musician/actor Little Steven Van Zandt (Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band/ The Sopranos) We discussed plans for the release of my latest album, In Orbit.
Van Zandt's office is a full floor filled with rock n' roll and vintage film memorabilia. The whole place is painted purple! I also stopped by the office of Wicked Cool's distribution partner — The Orchard founded by Richard Gottehrer — who produced albums for The Go-Go's, Blondie, Dr. Feelgood, Richard Hell, and more. I even did a little in-office acoustic show for all the folks that work there and to my surprise my power pop pal, the legendary Paul Collins stopped by to say hello!
Now to make the most out of this trip, I had arranged to play an evening show at a little bar in the Lower East Side. It was a Monday night, so I wasn't expecting much, but it would be one of the most memorable shows of my life!
The gig turned out to be great. Lots of Maine transplants to the big apple showed up. Even folks from where I now live in Spain! I even think I became an honorary member of a street gang! However, the real surprise was yet to come.
After the gig was over, we hung out at the club. After a few hours, I stepped outside to say goodbye to a few friends. When I returned to the bar to order a beer, the bartender said "Hey Kurt, I'd like to introduce you to my friend, Jimmy". Jimmy, who was standing right beside me turned around and shook my hand very kindly. Holy crap, I thought, that's Jimmy Fallon!.
He began to tell me all about this band that was on the show that day. It was a good group who reminded us both of 60' and 70's pop/rock. The bartender then said, "Hey Jimmy, Kurt played a show here tonight". He then turned to me and said "Kurt, play some songs!". At first I was kinda skeptical, but how could I pass up this offer to play a second gig? Now, there were only about 7-8 people in that bar at that point, but we went into a full on sing a long jam session that lasted about an hour. Lots of old ’60s classics like the Turtles, The Beach Boys, and the Beatles. Jimmy said he would tell his friend and author of some of those songs by the name Paul, all about the little impromptu session we just had. (I'm sure he forgot). It was a total good time party, with everybody singing and laughing.
At that point it was about 3 am and a few people that had come into the bar had started to realize we were in the midst of a celebrity and in an instant, he was out of there and into his limo. "Did that really just happen?". When Little Steven called me on the phone the next morning to ask how the show went, I had quite the story to tell him!
Latest from Mark Curdo
- Release It Already: Local Albums Dropping This Summer
- Tired Mosh Pits: Should punk bands keep playing 40 years later?
- Your ultimate summer music playlist
- Radio Loses a Legend: Rodney Bingenheimer, after four decades on air, hosts his last show
- Looking back on a special recording time with Spencer Albee