Degrees from the Norm!
Hill Drive" contains forty-five minutes of finely crafted pop songs
centered around catchy melodic vocals and crunchy guitars with lots
of jangle. But there is more to this music than meets the ear on
the first listen. After about three listens I began to find my way
into this record and discovered a body of music with a great live
feel about it.
has a heart and a pulse. In my mind, the disk really takes off at
track number four, "Brakeshoes". I love the groove and think the
guitars are arranged really well. Next up is "My Way". The thumping
bass line catches me right away and I love the feel during the verses.
Again, great guitar sounds and cool arrangements. Track seven, "Driving
Days", may be my favorite. The floating feel and the drumming reminds
me of moments from "Dark Side Of The Moon". "Should've Slept In"
is another strong cut. Great writing, interesting sounds and another
thoughtful arrangement make this song a standout.
all "Forest Hill Drive" is a complete package of catchy songwriting,
curious grooves and brilliant arrangements. Johny Vegas is an American
success story in the making!
Cleveland Free Times:
Tuesday, March 23, 1999
Johny Vegas bets on the rock game
isn't the first word to come to mind when you hear the name Johny
Vegas. These days, a name like Johny Vegas is likely to make you
think swing. Or better yet, some goofy lounge lizard in a bad dinner
fooled. This quartet from Syracuse has been plying their trade in
rootsy, melodic rock since 1993, well before the advent of Jumpin'
This and Daddy-O That. For the record, there's no one in the band
named Johny Vegas. The name comes from guitarist/vocalist Keith
Calveric's old college buddy, Johny, who later picked up the nickname
Vegas. When Calveric and his three bandmates (guitarist Mike Shimshack,
bassist Mike Miller and drummer Alex Smolinski) assembled early
in the decade, they took the name on a lark and it stuck. Call it
the Jethro Tull Syndrome.
Hill Drive, JV's third release on their own Leprechaun label, hit
the streets just this week. The album is in some ways a combination
of the better elements of the band's first two efforts - Dog in
1995 and Super Cool American in 1996.
tried to do is combine what we learned from the first two records,"
says Calveric. "Our first record was really stripped down and really
acoustic. We tried to top that the next time by using more guitars
and having more stuff going on. I think we tried to find a happy
medium with this record."
medium" is something that sounds old and new at the same time. There's
an unmistakable element of classic rock about Forest Hill Drive,
with nods to a variety of pop predecessors - from the Doobie Brothers
guitar riff of "Favorite One," to the Billy Joel piano progression
of "See You Again." Along the way, expect to find shades of the
Allman Brothers, Jackson Browne, the Eagles and Randy Newman.
retro pop sensibility gradually gives way to the ironic fuzz of
the Squeeze-like "Should've Slept In," while "Temper," with its
carefully layered vocal harmonies and oddly repetitive refrain,
is a dead ringer for R.E.M. By the time "Beautiful Train" pulls
out, the album is heading for far more progressive territory than
the place where it started.
who still insists that a band called Johny Vegas should play swing
will appreciate the jump-blues backbeat of "When Will My Weed Be
Free," the goofy mystery track perhaps best described as "stoner
swing," complete with gurgling bong water in the background.
objective was to one-up ourselves, to put an album out that was
a solid record from top to bottom, with no holes in it," says Calveric.
"We didn't rush it this time. We took a lot of time in the studio
with multiple sessions."
studio sessions were easier this time than with previous albums,
he adds. "You learn that by the time you walk out of the studio
and put the record on your tape deck for the ride home, you already
feel like you could do something better than what you did. So you
kind of learn that it's a tiny little time capsule. We're a lot
better and more efficient in the studio than we used to be. We do
more on the pre-production end, and that helps a lot. Going in for
your third record, you know a lot more than you did on your first
more than their own home-grown label and indie status as their calling
card, Johny Vegas has moved more than 14,000 units of their first
two records, maintained an ambitious tour schedule that averages
20 shows in 20 cities every month, developed a hefty mailing list,
and landed consistent radio play in upstate New York. Calveric says
the band would still be willing to trade it all in for a record
deal that would improve their tour support and provide more backing
- but only when and if the time and the deal are right.
it was going to take a long time to do it the way we wanted to do
it," he says. "So many friends of ours, so many bands that we've
played with, have gotten their deals and have been dropped already.
I remember thinking, 'I can't believe they got their big record
deal.' But a year and a half later, they're getting dropped, and
the story's over for them.
our body of work to speak for us now," he says, "instead of having
to put together a three-song demo and hiring an entertainment lawyer
to shop us around and get us a deal. We're basically going to wait
and make enough noise so that people can't ignore us anymore."
Vegas is a group with local connections. The Syracuse Band seems
on the verge of a major breakthrough with the release of a delightful
CD on an independent label.
features singer/guitarist Keith Calveric from Orchard Park. He is
joined by Mike Shimshack, guitar/vocals; Mike Miller, bass/vocals;
and Alex Smolinski on drums.
flaunts a pop-flavored sound. This is a band that sometimes sounds
like Hootie and the Blowfish, the Eagles and the Counting Crows
all rolled into one.
not meant as a knock. Vegas has a knack for producing tightly crafted,
original pop sounds. "Tea" is a slow, beguiling number
where Vegas hits its stride. "Good Day Henry" is a churning
rocker with an irresistible beat.
killer track, though, is "Thank You Ringo Starr." This
is a masterful pop song, the kind of number that you feel you know
by heart after one listen, sort of like when the Eagles sing "Take
Starr" track moves to the same infectious beat and has hit
single written all over it. If "Thank You Ringo Starr"
gets any radio play, Johny Vegas might become a household name.
The CD shows how much Vega has matured as a band.
varies from hard rock to softer digressions, but all the songs display
the band's compelling music and personality. "Super Cool American"
is a joy and stamps Vegas as a band to watch.
***1/2 (three and a half stars)
Musicians' Exchange: December
from the ever snowbound Upstate town of Syracuse NY, Johny Vegas
is trying to heat up the American music market with a AAA radio
songwriting sound that ranks up there with Bootie & The Ho Fish
and that band I really want to like, Counting Crows. For any insiders,
I'd say this band is even a little better than Todd Hobin. The band's
skill in the songwriting and vocal performance departments are clear
and they never go for anything they can' reach. The excellent lyrics
made me listen a little closer. I also like the fact that this band
is working hard, writing and touring and not waiting around for
success. My favorite tracks were "Something So Wrong,"
"Blue" and "Thank You Ringo Starr."
Album Network: January
Album: Super Cool American
Label: Leprechaun (002)
Members: Keith Calveric (vocals/guitar/keys); Mike Shimshack
(guitar/vocals/keys); Mike Miller (bass/vocals); Alex Smolinksi
Guest Artist: Ron Hirschberg (keys).
Producer: Johny Vegas
Origin: Syracuse, NY
Should Know: Keith Calveric and Mike Shimshack met over five years
ago while attending Oswego State College, where they performed as
an acoustic duo. Not much later, Mike Miller and Alex Smolinski
joined the band and Johny Vegas was born. Since then, they have
built a reputation as one of the Northeast's best live bands. Their
first album, DOG, released regionally, has sold several thousand
copies, prompting them to go back into the studio to record Super
Cool American. The disc contains 12 organic, vocally rich songs
that are not only enjoyable to listen to, but also sound like they
should be on the radio. Find out why The Syracuse New Times says,
"Johny Vegas has enough power to put its name in lights,: and
Rochester's Freetime describes the band as "solid, guitar-driven,
melodic guitar rock."
Songs: "Thank You Ringo Starr"; "Good Day Henry";
"Just One Trip."
Times, Long Island: November
lost my lunch money and all my school books to a guy named Johny
Vegas. Carrying on the tradition, Syracuse's Johny Vegas are holding
the best poker face I can remember. If Gordon Lightfoot and Hootie
had a mind meld Vulcan-style they would have come out with Super
Cool American. Containing more hooks than an ejected Islander's
water-logged mascot, these boys are in it for the long run. They
band out one great melodic song after another, including standouts
like "Just One Trip" and "Waving," then just
as I'm fixin my tie and leaving the money on the dresser, I get
hit with a mushroom cloud this way of Sponge Avenue, Detroit City
Called "Run," it's the whole enchilada topped off with
wah-wah distortion and tougher than a naked Iggy Pop stage-roll,
I'm betting the mother-lode on Johny Vegas, these boys are on a
The National College Magazine: Winter
For those of you who always wished the Barenaked Ladies would just
be a little less goofy and a lot more serious, we have a secret
for you: Johny Vegas.
is packed with sunny, organized rhythms. It doesn't tweak your adrenaline,
but rather your ability to crack a smile. But lacking depression
or euphoria doesn't leave this record substanceless. The band is
just straightforward in their approach to lyrics and pop rock. The
lyrics are something to relate to and the music is something to
Too Much," they sing, "those feelings, here they come
again... it hits me like a brother, like a hurricane / It's in my
mind, it's headed for the door / You're a mother of a lover, can
I have some more?" Your response will be "yes" --
as long as they continue to back up the great song-writing with
their not-too-grassy acoustic gu000000itar.
Magazine (Rochester, NY): January
forming is Oswego NY and now based in Syracuse, Johny Vegas is a
band on the rise. At least that's what you'd hear if you were to
ask any of the devoted fans that make up their impressive grassroots
following, routing these guys on from one level to the next. Johny
Vegas current release has a title that sums up the record, Super
roots-rock (American) mentality and in a Hootie sort of way, Johny
Vegas create easy-listening alternative and pleasing pop. The stand-out
track especially reflective of this is "Good Day Henry"
which reminds me of a lighter (low-cal) Goo Goo Dolls with memorable
hooks and melodious vocals. This song is my choice for a big radio
hit! Johny Vegas sets itself apart by adding some groove and funk,
spawning an infectious vibe. And this is all fortunate for the friend
of this band was named after, a guy nicknamed Johny Vegas, whose
namesake band is pretty cool.
Post (Morgantown, WV): October
on Johny Vegas
prejudiced, but I can't help but like a band photo in which one
of the members wears a cow hat and another sports a bathrobe. Add
to that the patriotic popsicle on the cover, and it really just
makes me want to like the CD even more.
Luckily, such was the case with Johny Vegas and its latest effort
"Super Cool American."
"Super Cool" was actually fun to listen to; I found my
head bobbing back and forth while walking around my home. But the
tunes aren't bubble-gum catchy (you know, those sickening sweet
songs that should be ad jingles). Instead, they're more sophisticated,
and hard to peg as one distinct style.
Listening to the CD, I found myself thinking of Counting Crows,
Jackson Browne, Tom Petty and a bunch of other singer.songwriters.
Mike Shimshack (lovingly referred to as "Shack" by fans
and friends) said, indirectly, that was the goal.
"Each of us is really into a different style of music,"
he said. "But it was the singer / songwriter quality of say,
the mid 1970's to now that we were really looking for."
The quartet -- which includes Shack on guitar and vocals, Keith
Calveric on guitar and lead vocals, Mike Miller on bass and vocals
and Alex Smolinski on drums and percussion -- dates back about three
years, but Johny Vegas (You guessed it! It's the band's name and
not a real person. Catchy, huh?) has a much longer history than
that. After Calveric, Shack and Miller formed the core, Johny Vegas
went through a Spinal Tap period with drummers.
"Nobody spontaneously combusted or anything like that, but
we kind of wished some of them had." joked Shack.
"Dog" was released shortly after the band got its bearings.
Shack describes the first production as "very innocent. That
was when we were in college and everything was carefree and happy-go-lucky."
While Super Cool is a little more serious, many songs deal with
the theme of relationships, it still has an upbeat tone. "Good
Day Henry" is a borderline rocker, but some of the best cuts
are "Sweet Haley" and "Thank You Ringo Starr."
While "Ringo" has lyrics very similar to Geggy Tah's release
"I Want To Thank You," -- "I want to thank you Ringo
Starr / I want to thank you wherever you are / I want to thank you
Ringo Starr / I want to thank you for driving my car" as opposed
to "All I want to do is thank you even though I don't know
who you are / Because you let me change lanes while I was driving
in my care" -- Johny Vegas is nowhere near as stupid.
All of "Super Cool" is tight, a quality production, making
it that much easier to listen to -- there are no tell-tale signs
that this is for the most part a regional band from Syracuse NY,
like fuzzy guitars and dropping equipment in the background.
While I highly recommend "Super Cool American," it's not
readily available around here yet. But wait! You're in luck! Johny
Vegas will bring plenty of copies along when the band performs at
the Stone Pony Pub on High Street. The show begins at 9:30 pm.
New Times (Syracuse, NY): November
by Larry Hoyt
Despite two CD releases and a recent win at the local level of the
Ticketmaster Music Showcase, Johny Vegas remains one of the best
kept secrets of the Syracuse music scene.
as an acoustic cover band in Oswego five years ago, the group released
its first all-original rock CD, Dog (Leprechaun Records), two years
ago and promptly relocated to Boston. Earlier this year, this polished
pop-alternative quartet moved back to upstate New York, using the
Salt City as home base for touring club and college venues throughout
the Northeast, playing some 150 dates a year. While little know
among Syracuse rock fans, Johny Vegas impressed judges at the Ticketmaster
Music Showcase at Styleen's Rhythm Palace in September, winning
the right to represent upstate New York at the regional showcase
in Cleveland Nov 1, one of 22 bands out of 10,000 entrants nationwide
tapped to compete in the regionals.
no band from the Cleveland showcase advanced to the national finals
in Los Angeles, Johny Vegas is still riding high. The quartet works
steadily to fan support with a lively mix of pop melodies and tight
arrangements, which often give way in live performance to expansive
but attention-getting jams. The band's latest CD, Super Cool American
(Leprechaun Records), recorded at Rochester's Dajhelon Productions,
delivers ample proof of Johny's potential, displaying the high level
of musicianship and imaginative songwriting needed to attract a
plus for this band, in addition to a gift for creating accessible
melodies, is an acute sense of musical dynamics. Almost every one
of the 12 tracks here (11 listed songs plus one jazzy bonus track
and a borderline bonus snippet) pulls the listener in with an appealing
rhythm, only to shake things up with a tempo shift that emphasizes
the song's complexity without losing the basic groove.
So Wrong," with its starts and stops, entertains with rhythmic
surprises, while the moodier "Tea" intrigues with a spooky
vocal harmony and it mystifying chorus of "I'm the one with
rose colored gun." Guitarist and lead singer Keith Calveric
often mixes in a laid back sense of cool admist his wailing, as
he does on the opening track "Just One Trip," while lead
guitarist and backing vocalist Mike Shimshack shows a wide array
of distorted guitar sound that catch the ear without over-powering
rhythm section of bassist Mike Miller and drummer Alex Smolinski
add momentum to every track, from the subdued "Much Too Much"
to the quirky, almost country-ish "Thank You Ringo Starr"
to the swirling, feedback-laced instrumental "Boat Song."
The band's electric and driving version of "Waving" (previously
released in a more mellow arrangement on Dog), shows the stylistic
progress Johny Vegas has made, while the panting energy of "Run"
provides and endorphin rush of psychedelic funk.
this disc's excellent songs and production with the group's serious
commitment to touring, and the result is a real shot at reaching
a national audience. Now if they can only get the attention of rock
fans here in Central New York.
Magazine (Cleveland OH): January
Vegas Gamble on Pop With Staying Power
by John C. Bruening
Vegas maintain that there is such a thing a sophisticated
pop. With the release of SUPER COOL AMERICAN just a few months ago,
guitarist/vocalist Keith Calveric and his three bandmates from Syracuse
have added a few layers of texture and subtlety to their sound since
DOG, their 1993 debut.
album is definitely different from this one. DOG was way more acoustic,"
says Calveric. "It's a lot poppier and a lot more straightforward
that SUPER COOL AMERICAN. This album has an eclectic side to it
that definitely wasn't part of the first one. It's something that
people who really dug the first album weren't expecting, but that's
going to happen with any band."
behind SUPER COOL AMERICAN was to bring the live aspects of the
band to the forefront as much as possible, says Calveric. Perhaps
more than any other track on the new album, "Waving" provides
a benchmark of the band's evolution over the past three-and-a-half
years. The song is actually a rearrangement of a track originally
recorded on DOG.
versions are similar in their arrangements, but the feel of the
new version just definitely seems more like us," Calveric explains.
"Somebody somewhere - a promoter or a label or somebody - really
dug the song, and wanted to hear it more like we are than what we
were. When we recorded our first album, we were still just a baby
band, and the studio were were in was pretty cheap - 150 bucks a
day versus 150 bucks an hour, like we had with the new album. So
the difference in quality is just incredible."
bands, Johny Vegas can generally conjure up more energy in a live
setting than on a recorded disc. But it's an energy borne of strong
lyrics and tight arrangements rather than lengthy instrumental jams
and other self-indulgences.
definitely not a hippie sort of jam band," says Calveric. "But
we do find the spots, and I thinks if you listen to the album, you
can hear the spots where it lends itself to opening up a little
bit and experimenting. We like to do that live, more for our sake
than anything else."
the band produced both of its releases on its own Leprechaun label,
Calveric would welcome the opportunity to hand the production chores
over to someone else, allowing him and his bandmates more room to
concentrate on the music and the songwriting.
hard being in the middle of writing it, and the song being so much
a part of you and your band, to take that step outside and say,
"Now, wait a minute, what parts aren't going to work, and what's
someone else going to think when they hear it?" he says. "Because
you have this idea of what you want it to sound like, and sometimes
that comes across and sometimes it doesn't. We not the best people
to notice whether it's coming across or not. So I'm definitely looking
forward to working with someone else on our next album."
time being, though, the band is content to take a grassroots approach
to marketing and distributing its product. In addition to their
regular mailing list, they've established a monthly newsletter,
an Internet web page and an 800 telephone line.
done it like this from the start, and we've never been in any hurry
to really shop our stuff and try to get a record deal," says
Calveric. "We've been concentrating way more on building our
grass roots following, and working the markets that we play, and
we've had a lot of success doing it that way. We definitely have
the autonomy. Other than our management, we really don't have anyone
to answer to, who tells us to be here or there. We can handle it
the way we want to handle it. We can spend the money where we want
to spend it."
a fan base on show at a time and one city at a time, Calveric says,
is the best defense against the potential trap of getting too big
lot of bands spread themselves too thin too soon," he says.
"They head out to all these different markets really far away,
and they just don't have the time to get back there fast enough
to make a difference. You go there once, then five or six months
later you get back there, and no one remembers who the hell you
are. So we've tried to expand our circle of shows slowly, at a pace
that we can keep up with and not lose people along the way."
promoting SUPER COOL AMERICAN is Johny Vegas's immediate focus,
the band is keeping a collective eye on the horizon, says Calveric.
Ideally, the foundation they're building now will give them a better
position in the long run than the legion of bands that fold after
one hit single.
think this band has the ability to write a song right now that could
hit," he says. "We could just put one down, shop it, hit
it and be done with it, and just go away. But that's not what anyone
of us really wants We're definitely more career minded. We want
to have staying power. We want to be able to do this for years to
come, and the only way to that is to have that loyal fan base -
the people who will be at every show and buy every album, regardless
of what the radio tells them to buy."