From a press release:
“Songwriters are more important than artists,” said Mike Fleming, the West Coast Songwriters’ Association manager for Berkeley and host of the monthly songwriters’ competition at Freight and Salvage. “Without good songwriters, artists have nothing good to sing. You have to celebrate the songwriter, maybe more than the singer.”
Four of the East Bay’s most innovative songwriters — all Alameda residents and natives — will perform original music on Sept. 15 at . The Alameda Songwriters’ Circle showcases music and performances by Earl Rivard, Steve Witt, Jamey Pyke and Guy Smith. They will play their original music, tell you the song’s back stories and describe their songwriting process.
“We auditioned dozens of local songwriters and area legends,” said Cheryl Mannix, co-organizer of the event. “We still have a stack of CDs, and had a tough time choosing who we felt was creating the most original, thoughtful or thought provoking music. We ended-up with an eclectic mix of styles and some songs that will leave people laughing, crying and stunned.”
The styles these four songwriters bring are broad, shaped by their early musical influences as well as their life experiences and cultural perspective. While Steve Witt and Earl Rivard are true West Coast originals, Jamey Pyke migrated from the North East and Guy Smith from the Deep South. Together the four songwriters will cover genres including Latin, Americana, blues, country and reggae-infused rock.
“You have to admire this mix,” said Smith. “Earl is mesmerizing, with a voice that is equal parts Pavarotti and Bocephus. Jamey’s little addiction to putting reggae tones and beats under rock has its own energy. And Steve … well, you can hear a lot of life and road miles in his songs.”
“It doesn’t surprise me that Guy is anchoring the Alameda Songwriters’ Circle,” said Fleming. “He and his wife started the weekly songwriters open mic at the Fireside Lounge, and it is still the first and one of the best songwriters’ open mics in the East Bay. Guy’s been in the West Coast Songwriters Association for years. He gets it … what it takes to craft memorable tunes.”
The on Webster Street is one many Songwriters’ Circle sponsors. is also a sponsor and is contributing video and audio recording to produce CDs and videos from the event.
“I'm really excited about this show,” said Steve Witt. “The caliber of my fellow songwriters is off the charts and I can't think of a better venue.” Earl Rivard agrees. “The Alameda Songwriters’ circle will be magical. Each songwriter has a set of stories to tell that couldn't be told by anybody else in the whole world. Our styles and experiences may differ, but the same profound sharing of the heart underlies the craft of every songwriter.”
What: Alameda Songwriters’ Circle
Where: Rhythmix Cultural Works, 2513 Blanding Ave.
When: Sept. 15 at 8 p.m.
Cost: $18 in advance, $22 at the door
Earl J. Rivard is Alameda’s home-grown troubadour. Nearly every Alamedan knows Earl, as he regularly performs at any number of venues from street festivals, coffee houses, clubs and churches. Rivard has two albums to his credit — Troubadour Blue (2006) and Underground Railroad (2010), in addition to vocal and instrumental contributions to nearly a dozen other recordings in a variety of genres and configurations. Rivard mesmerizes audiences, whether performing alone with his guitar or fronting his spectacular band. He spans a range from the sweetest ballads and the roughest rockers. Rivard has been known to compose and sing in English, Spanish, and Italian and confidently blends influences from Latin, jazz, Americana and dirty blues.
Born in Manhattan, Jamey Pyke migrated to New Jersey, coming of age in the dawn of East Coast rock 'n roll. Jamey’s older brother submerged him with the entire rock/folk collection from Beatles to Springsteen to Dylan, with Miles Davis and Herb Albert tossed in for variety. Jamey grabbed a guitar and beat drums through high school, but hung his hat on six strings and writing songs after hearing Dylan’s Desire album. Tired of the cold weather, Jamey flew into SFO and never looked back, landing and staying in Alameda. After fronting an original rock band (that, like most bands, broke up way too soon), Jamey switched to solo guitar work and blowing the harp. He fronts Alameda’s own Beer Detectives.
Music has always been at the center of Steve Witt’s life. Despite a detour to the clarinet in first grade, it was as a teenager and because of his best friend’s band that Witt’s music went into high gear. Although he didn’t play guitar, bass or drums, he longed to be in that band. So he did what many songwriters did in their early days — he bought a cheap pawn shop electric guitar and taught himself to play it in three weeks. With sore and blistered fingers, and over the objection of the other band members, Steve joined The Tyrants.
Witt’s early songwriter influences included Marty Stuart, Roy Orbison and Townes Van Zandt, They inspired Witt’s songs, giving them a definite country feel. More recently Steve has been seduced by Kelly Joe Phelps, Steve Earle and especially California’s own Dave Alvin. Alvin's visual story telling approach along with his varied musical styles has slightly shifted Witt away from country to the Americana genre and draws from his southern family roots.
After seven years of playing in rock bands and performing professionally in Bay Area night clubs, Witt finally got a day job. With limited time but a greater opportunity for musical experimentation, Witt started playing solo classical guitar. As a musician Steve also plays bass, mandolin, banjo and cello. He began writing and recording his own songs, performing wherever a live mic could be found, then dragging the tunes into the studio. Witt has recorded over 100 songs and assembled Grimey Blue, a trio to take those tunes on the road.
Guy Smith grew-up herding cattle and surfing in Florida, claiming to be the only long-haired cowboy to walk out alive from the Kissimmee livestock auction (they didn’t know what to think). Thanks to an older sister who listed to classic Beatles, Joplin and Hendrix at very high volume, and Smith’s three musical awakenings (Tina Turner, Allman Brothers and Jethro Tull), Smith has yet to settle on any musical style and happily bounces from one genre to the next while composing.
Despite being raised in agriculture, Georgia born and landlocked in central Virginia for too long, his rock roots were permanently stained with country blues, paying perpetual homage to the likes of Ray Wylie Hubbard, Johnny Cash and songwriters that are even more disreputable. During Smith’s Alameda days, he has (dis)graced such bands as the Beer Detective and Gutter Smoke, turning them toward the sacred twanging light. Smith also launched Alameda’s first songwriter’s open mic at the Fireside Lounge.
If Smith can be said to settle musically, he is of late squarely in the country/blues fusion. His tunes reek of Tom Waits beautiful malady story lines and Uncle Tupelo’s delta tragedy. Recent works cover bases from a soldiers lament (rock) to death by alcohol (blues) and redneck romance (country). Smith has had the odd and rare honor of having his name and songs mentioned in verse by Bay Area songwriters.