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Author Topic: Mike Wanchic Davenport Pre-Show Interview  (Read 4486 times)
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« on: April 04, 2016, 12:25:28 am »

Mellencamp guitarist looks back on 40 good years

By Jonathan Turner

Living the lyrics of his hit songs, John Mellencamp still lives in a small town, and he still fights authority. But for years now, he's been the one who wins.

The gritty, 64-year-old poet of the heartland will bring his impressive, plain-spoken catalog of songs to Davenport's Adler Theatre for a Tuesday-night concert.

A Cleveland Plain Dealer review last year called Mr. Mellencamp "the absolute master of songwriting," with a voice "able to emote and evoke with equal skill. It's like the rasp of Tom Waits, but with the power of Placido Domingo. That combination turns songs like 'If I Die Sudden' and 'Minutes to Memories' into heartland arias."

2016 is a special year for the former Johnny Cougar and his musical partner Mike Wanchic -- 40 years since they met and recorded the first album.

"I can remember when we were much younger, saying, 'If we can just make it 'til we're 40 ...' When you're 25, 24 years old, it seemed like an eternity," said Mr. Wanchic, guitarist and the band's musical director, in a recent interview.

"We're hyper-aware of the great fortune we have to be able to do this for 40 years, make 23 albums," he said. "We're one of the most anomalous bands. The business has changed so dramatically. It was radio-driven, record-sale-driven. It's a totally different climate."

Mr. Mellencamp grew up in Seymour, Ind., and Mr. Wanchic in Lexington, Ky., but both listened to the same gospel radio station in Nashville during their high-school years. Both of them now live outside Bloomington, Ind., an hour from Seymour.

Their hits include "I Need A Lover," "Hurts So Good," "Jack & Diane," "Crumblin' Down," "Pink Houses," "Lonely Ol' Night," "Small Town," "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.," "Paper in Fire," and "Cherry Bomb."

Mr. Mellencamp is a Grammy winner who has been nominated 11 times; a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; and the winner of the 2001 Billboard Century Award, John Steinbeck Award, ASCAP Foundation’s Champion Award, Woody Guthrie Award, and Americana Music Association's Lifetime Achievement Award.

The social activism reflected in his songs inspired Farm Aid, the concert series and organization that has addressed the struggle of American family farmers for 25-plus years.

His new tour includes songs from his latest album, "Plain Spoken," which Billboard called “stark, soul-baring." It addresses timely themes like political and social injustice.

Compared to many other artists today, Mr. Mellencamp doesn't care if his new stuff is played on the radio, Mr. Wanchic said. "Certainly, hits are no longer the motivation we have. It hasn't been for over a decade. That's outside of our realm of reality. No longer are we driven to try and please anybody except our own artistic sensibilities. We don't answer to anyone."

"That takes you to a whole new freedom making records," he added. "At this point, our legacy is set -- 30 top 10 singles. But there's something much bigger than that from an artistic standpoint."

In concert, the group tries to please fans with many of the big hits that are meaningful to so many, but the non-singles are a key part of the set list, Mr. Wanchic said.

"In a two-hour concert, it's impossible to play everything for everyone. I think the more banal, juvenile songs we drop off," he said, citing the early hit "Hurts So Good" as an example. "Sometimes we do them, but it doesn't make a lot of sense. That doesn't mean we don't like it."

Those classic sing-along tunes are a treasured part of Mr. Wanchic's career. "Thank God for the hits, or my kids never would have gone to college," he said.

Mr. Mellencamp and his band have expanded musically from a straight-ahead rock band to one that features fiddle, banjo, dobro, mandolin and other rootsy sounds.

"It's a perfect meld of rock music mixed with primitive Woody Guthrie, and splash of Johnny Cash," Mr. Wanchic said. "We feel that is very home to us."

In concert, the band works "to raise the level of energy even if it's a really subdued song," Mr. Wanchic said. "You have to bring it home. I think we're masters of live shows."

He said he appreciates making a lasting impact on fans. "Memories are the strongest things," he said. "I like when a fan comes up reminding you of why you do this; it's very touching."

In concert, Mr. Wanchic plays mandolin and electric and acoustic guitars.

Tuesday's concert will open with Carlene Carter, 60-year-old daughter of June Carter Cash.

If you go

-- What: John Mellencamp, with opening act Carlene Carter

-- When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 5

-- Where: Adler Theatre, 136 E. 3rd St., Davenport

-- Tickets: $39.50, $59.50, $79.50, $115 at the Adler box office,, 800-745-3000 and Ticketmaster outlets
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