Volume 17 • Issue 26 | Nov. 19 - 25, 2004

Trina Taylor sings one at A & M Roadhouse.

Live band adds twist to Friday night karaoke

By Leigh Devine

The dark-haired young woman shyly approached the stage when her name was called out by the bandleader. She looked nervous as she took the microphone and greeted the band with a gentle smile. But within seconds of starting the song, a solid and confident voice exploded into the familiar rock hit, “Counting Blue Cars,” by Dishwalla.

“I was so scared my hands were shaking,” said Iszellyn David, an accountant who lives in Westchester. This was her second visit to the Live Karaoke Night at the A&M Roadhouse on Murray St., and the first time singing the Dishwalla song in front of an audience. “But the band is so supportive,” she said, “and everyone’s rooting for you.” Indeed, the audience cheers and sings along with every singer. The band helps the singers get through the song when they’re unsure of where to stop, sing another chorus or when to go to a bridge.

Along with the thrill of performing live on stage, it may also be this supportive atmosphere that brings the singers, pretenders, and American Idol wannabes to the Roadhouse on certain Friday nights. The serious folks arrive by around 8 p.m. to get a seat, review the song list and sign up before the band is even ready.

When the names are called out, the singers head up to the stage — sometimes alone, sometimes with a friend, or even a group. With printed lyrics on a music stand, each serenades the audience with tunes from the Beatles to Sinatra to Alanis Morrisette, and to the ever-popular karaoke staple, “I Will Survive,” by Gloria Gaynor.

“I fell flat on my face on ‘Just My Imagination,’” said John Pinto, an executive at MetLife, and a near baritone who attends regularly. “But my attitude was like, it’s about having fun,” he said. Pinto tries new songs every week and has attempted everything from “Hotel California” to “Pink Cadillac” to his favorite, “Stray Cat Strut.”

The brainchild of several musicians from The Off Wall Street Jam, a music club next door on Murray St., the A&M Live Karaoke Night has grown steadily since its beginning last March, according to Marty Bender, the bass and keyboard player as well as unofficial conductor and cheerleader. “We worked really hard” to come up with 350 popular songs that a lot of people would know, said Bender.

“At first, nobody knew what to expect,” he said. Most of the early participants were Off Wall Street Jam members who were not afraid to sing with a live band, while others looked on, and perhaps emboldened by a few beers, might venture to the stage later in the evening.

But the bar’s owner, Arthur Gregory, was less skeptical. “I knew it would be big,” he said. “People are starting to really like karaoke.” In response, he says, they’ll be holding Live Karaoke three out of four Fridays in December, and perhaps even more after the New Year. The band sometimes plays till 1:30 a.m., and there’s no cover charge or song fee.

For the three musicians, it’s a big challenge. “We never know what they’re going to pick,” said songmeister Bender, who works in real life for the Department of Homeland Security in Newark, N.J. Guitar player, Tony Navarro works for the Social Security Administration, and Fernando Mendendez is a computer systems analyst. They’re too busy with their regular jobs to rehearse regularly, said Bender, and find themselves alternating throughout the night from classic rock to Motown to country, as well as pop and grunge. They cannot play everything though, and kindly discourage any surprise requests. But they do try to add new songs each week, and Bender regularly sends out an e-mail to those on his list with the new songs.

“Karaoke Night,” as it’s come to be called, has developed a core following where some well-known regulars are bound to show up. “My favorite is the guy who does Mick Jagger,” said Gregory. He believes the man is actually an Englishman, and loves how he struts on the stage like Mick.

Bender even has nicknames for some of the others including, “Don Juan,” the mystery man who dedicates every song to the ladies and won’t tell people his real name, Lisa, “The Rock and Roll Chick,” “DooWop” Rich and “Stray Cat” John (Pinto).

The key thing, says Bender, is that it’s not a competition. “Everyone’s here to have a great time,” he said. The audience is sympathetic with cheering encouragement for everyone, no matter how tone deaf the performer. “I’d say about 20 percent are really good, 60 percent are okay, and, well, the rest stink,” said Gregory. But he adds, the point is that no matter what, they all have fun. Asked if as the owner, he has ever given it a shot, he replied, “Honey, when I sing in the shower, the water goes off.”

The next Live Karaoke Nights at A & M Roadhouse, 57 Murray St., will be Nov. 26, Dec. 17, Dec. 24, free, and Dec. 31($75 - $100). For a copy of the song list, e-mail Marty Bender, mb11354@aol.com. 212-385-9005.

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