Mellencamp ready to strike a chord with Penticton

John Mellencamp guitarist Andy York talks about Thursday's show in Penticton at the South Okanagan Events Centre.

Andy York  (above left)

Andy York (above left)

Long-time guitarist for John Mellencamp, Andy York, said to expect a full out rock show when the band hit the stage on Thursday at the South Okanagan Events Centre.

“I think people are going to be pleased and will like the set list,” said York, which he said kicks off with rockabilly set and then moves to an acoustic set. “Then we go to the balls out rock ’n’ roll show for the final set and just kick everybody’s ass.”

Mellencamp is kicking off the No Better Than This tour in Penticton for a cross-Canada trek with opening act Cowboy Junkies. York is part of Mellencamp’s long-time touring band and came upon the opportunity with a bit of luck. While recording with another band in 1989 with Mellencamp’s guitarist working as the producer, York had a chance to meet his current frontman.

“I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time you know,” said York.

And, it couldn’t have happened at a better time.

“I was just about to have to make a choice as whether I was going to continue playing music, so it was a very timely event getting a phone call to come out to Indiana,” he admits, adding he was weighing his other options before the call to join Mellencamp came. “Something horrible like legal proof reading, that is how I used to pay the bills. Dying a slow death.”

He also would have missed out stepping into music history for Mellencamp’s 2010 album No Better Than This, the critically acclaimed album produced by T Bone Burnett. They captured the sound on reel-to-reel tape at the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia, a stop on the underground railroad for runaway slaves. Sessions were documented on a 55-year-old mono tape recorder using just one vintage microphone at Room 414 of San Antonio’s Gunter Hotel where Robert Johnson recorded in 1936 and at the famous Sun Studio which is now a museum.

“That was pretty magical,” said York. “It felt like there was spirits in the room. It was ethereal and spiritual. It felt like there was the spirits of Johnny (Cash), Elvis, Carl (Perkins) and all those guys there.”

Sitting across from Mellencamp, playing acoustic guitar while he sang in one take, was a moment that York said was unforgettable.

“It’s very immediate and in the moment. It just captures the whole vibe, you can really capture lightning in a bottle sometimes,” said York.

The whole thing was captured on Super 8 for a documentary called It’s About You that was released last year. The film combines Mellencamp’s songs with the images of nation wracked  by malaise and decline. Mellencamp is known for telling stories of the common man and will receive the prestigious John Steinbeck Award on July 30 for his work. Previous recipients include Bruce Springsteen, Arthur Miller, Joan Baez and Sean Penn.

“I think John just continues to grow and move forward as a songwriter. He knows how to capture the imaginations of listeners. He has always been a very tuned-in songwriter to what is happening around him. He just knows how to strike a chord with people,” said York adding that getting in touch with blues and folk this past decade has opened up a new avenue. “I can’t speak for him, but he has had a renaissance I think in the last five years where these songs just pour out of him. I’ve watched him write a song in five minutes. he gets inspired then we get inspired and it turns into a piece of work that we are proud of.”

And that has resulted in some of York’s favourite songs, including the rockabilly tune No One Cares About Me, which was captured at Sun Studio and Longest Days, which came from the 2008 album Life, Death, Love and Freedom, named to the Rolling Stone 50 best albums of the year list.

“It is a story about getting old and how did I get here. I think it is a beautiful song and that was one we did in one take, just John and myself. It really does speak to me and a lot of people,” said York.

While there is much ground to cover over Mellencamp’s career that put him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008 expect to hear some of his best on Thursday.

“We will play some newer stuff, but I think we are really going to concentrate on more of the hits,” said York. “I hope everyone is ready for it because they are going to get it.”

Tickets are still available for Thursday’s show at www.valleyfirsttix.com, by phone at 1-877-763-2849 or in person at the SOEC box office and the Wine Country Visitor Centre.

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