Jonny Rosch is both talented and one of the nicest guys in show business, and, as a result, has a lot of talented friends. Four of them joined Rosch for a one-two punch: the early show at the The Paramount Hudson Valley Theater, where they opened for Southside Johnny, and a 10 PM gig at The Hudson Room, a swingin’ supper club next door. This reviewer’s night began at 8 PM and ended after 3 AM: I sure wasn’t bailing early on this one.
Heavy into keyboards, vocals and harmonica, Rosch has played with some of the biggest names in rock, including Joe Walsh, Southside Johnny, Alice Cooper and the recently unemployed Paul Shaffer. Along the way, he joined with guitarist John Putnam (Madonna, Jimmy Cliff, Darlene Love, Cher, and he appears on Broadway in Kinky Boots), drummer Shawn Pelton (SNL Band, Sheryl Crow, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Johnny Cash) and bassist Neil Jason (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Michael Jackson) for a formal show at the 85-year-old theater. (Rosch mentioned that his 88-year-old mother had played on the same stage, at the age of three.)
Rosch, who sometimes slyly describes himself as “the son of a poor black sharecropper” (he is white and a physician’s son) has powerful, husky vocals which deliver funk, blues and soul so smoothly it’s like cool hand on a hot throat—it makes you shiver, and you’re so grateful as it slides right on down. The band opened with “Tobacco Road,” heavy on the beat and guitar, ran through another couple of hard-hitting, funky rockers, including “Compared To What” (which I’ve heard at every Rosch performance but never comparable versions—more later), but took it down for what Rosch described as a song that’s “always pertinent,” Sam Cooke’s classic “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Slow and soulful, Rosch knocked thelyrics out of the park, and threw in a wonderful, extended harp solo like a victory lap. The crowd whooped and hollered until the last few soft and sincere minutes, which brought a hush upon us all. If the objective of music is to touch our hearts, that song succeeded.
At 10 PM in the sleek bar and club next door, Danny Louis (organ and trombone), joined the foursome for another three- or four-hours of free music. A founding member of the Cars, Louis plays with Gov’t Mule and Gregg Allman, and fit right in. The Stones perform “Backstreet Girl” as a harsh, belittling tune, a predator’s siren song, but Rosch & Friends’ version conveys a sense of loss and, aided by a powerful turn on organ by Louis, becomes a moving plea for intimacy. The band reprised “Compared To What,” every member in turn jamming together and soloing for a total 30 minutes on this centerpiece of Rosch’s performances. Genesis’ “That’s All” got funkier than ever, and two Procol Harum tunes, “A Salty Dog” and “A Whiter Shade of Pale” bled one into the other, the former given an operatic aura, and “Pale” ending up with a great deal more soul (and harmonica) than the psychedelic original—and perhaps being the better for it.
Rosch is all about fun, and the evening wound up with an extended love story starting with Springsteen’s “Jersey Girl” and weaving in and out of tunes like “Santa Claus incoming to Town,” but the refrain went all punk and rockabilly with, “What the fuck were we thinking when we said ‘I do’?” Another twist, and another pertinent question from the Jonny Rosch & Friends setlist. Stay tuned, see ‘em if you can.