Monday, July 28, 2014

Ronnie Wells — Not Your Typical Front Man

Courtesy of Ronnie Wells

On the surface, Ronnie Wells’ story seems typical. Born and raised in Jersey City, New Jersey, Wells became interested in music while he was still in high school. After playing drums in his high school band and the local junior drum corps, soon a friend was asking him if he would step in front of the kit. 

As Wells recalled in a recent one-on-one interview, “I stopped playing drums and started fronting the group, singing only. And it went from there, I had a couple of groups in the meantime and picked up other instruments such as keyboards and bass.”

Like many musicians, Wells started to juggle multiple groups and studio work. “New York City was very close to North Jersey, where we were. It’s just over the bridge. So I was able to get a lot of work over in New York, as well as in New Jersey, in studios and clubs.”

Oh, and he was also a Physician Assistant and Therapist. That’s where the story becomes a little more unusual. “I had a dual career going on — during the day with the white lab coat and at night with the big hair and bell bottoms of the time. It was a little bit of contrast there.”

Wells said he handled the pressures of juggling two such disparate lives “very difficultly.” The doctor/rock star, conceded, “It was quite a switch. Especially because in music in those days you got done at three or four in the morning and sometimes I’d have to be in the hospital during early hours. So you’d work on a little bit of sleep. It became a challenge during those times.”

But Wells is quick to point out, “It worked out. Most of the patients understood what I was doing being young at the time. So they went along with it and had an interest in it. They asked me questions about it while I was seeing them. It was a fun time.”

And it was a long time. Wells led this double life until 2010, when he finally retired from medicine and started devoting his energy to music full time. He started writing and recording his own songs. His debut album My Bad is peppered with his own compositions and tunes from the Great American Songbook.

It was a major accomplishment that was a long time coming. “I’d always wanted to do it but once you’re doing so many nights a week in the clubs, you never seem to have time to want to do it. And I didn’t have the time balancing two careers,” acknowledged Wells. “So when I finally was ready to retire from the medical end, I finally had the time to do what I really wanted to do. And that was to record. I was a late bloomer as far as that was concerned.”

But Wells didn’t rest on his laurels after the 2013 release. He’s been busy working on a follow-up, which he plans to call “Say It With a Song.” Wells will say more of his own words, as he continues to pen original tunes, and he’ll balance it out with some of his favorite standards. 

In addition, Wells is producing a major show of ‘60s stars in the Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood, New Jersey on September 11 of this year. And he's been honing a new live scalable show to accommodate various sized venues and types of audiences. That, too, is a mix of originals, Sinatra-type classics and soft rock hits from the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s — a nod to his early days in the New York clubs. Plus there’s a bit of comedy mixed in.

According to Wells, “I thought that was a good mixture because you get a good age range of audience to cover. Also there’s some country in there as well. I try to cover all areas and please as many people as I can.”

There was even one big name star that Wells pleased during his career was a certain late night talk show host. Years ago, Well’s friend Bruce Oliver approached him to write usic and record a song with lyrics Bruce had written. 

As Wells recalled, “Bruce calls me about six months later and says, ‘I got a call from Conan O’Brien. He wants to go down and do a remote at my trailer driving school and a skit about him wanting to be a truck driver. He wants to do our song.’ So I said, ‘Go for it, kiddo. You don’t need me there.’”

Wells continued, “Conan did an interview with Bruce and then he made up this whole thing that he wanted to be a truck driver. Of course he drove a station wagon and he felt he was qualified. He does a whole bit like that… And then he said, ‘Let me see that song you wrote, you and your friend.’ And so Bruce showed him the music for the song and Conan got his guitar out and started singing the song but repeating the same verse over and over. It was a skit. He was goofing on it. It was a funny bit.”

Taking the good natured ribbing in stride, Wells says, “I put it on the website just to show the skit that he did about it. It didn’t make me rich it all but it was fun to have it out there.”

To learn more about Ronnie Wells, his upcoming record and his live shows visit his official website.

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