Clubland: Back to the ’40s with Drew Paton’s ‘Hit Parade’ time machine
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Time machines usually come with complicated strings attached — don’t run into your former self, don’t try to change the future — but singer/guitarist Drew Paton has an easy, carefree way to transport fans of 1940s sounds right back to those days of swinging pop standards.
The 62-year-old musician does a one-man show called “1940s Hit Parade” in which he plays his hollow body electric guitar and sings the classics (tunes made famous by Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and others), but he goes one creative step further: His performance is presented like a live radio show, with recreations of vintage commercials and announcements, plus a slide show of photos and magazine ads of the time.
See Paton bring 1940s pop culture to life at the Luthiers Co-op in Easthampton Friday at 7 p.m.
Paton’s “Hit Parade” has been drawing a regular crowd for nearly two years at the Rendezvous in Turners Falls (the show happens there on the first Friday of every month). This will be his first time at the Co-op, where the intimate vibe and vintage instruments on the walls seem like a well-matched atmosphere for his old-time show.
The idea came to Paton six years ago while at his job at a health care center in western Massachusetts. He saw entertainers coming into the building to play Beatles and Elvis songs and thought the residents might prefer hearing “their oldies, not ours.”
Music of the 1940s was an inspiration to him. “Swing, baby; it’s in my blood,” he said in an interview earlier this week. He’s loved that era of music since his childhood days, when he would hear his mother singing and whistling her favorite tunes.
So, as a kind of tribute to his music-loving (and now deceased) parents, Paton decided to “play for these older folks and entertain the Greatest Generation with their own music.”
But he wasn’t interested in just singing songs; he brought some theatricality into his presentation. He dressed in clothes of the time, sang into the same model of Shure microphone used by the Andrews Sisters, assembled homemade recreations of vintage radio ads and jingles for products like Burma-Shave and Brylcreem (no samples, he speaks every line) and compiled a DVD of more than 300 photos of band leaders, movie stars and ads from publications like Look, Life and others, which are projected behind him as he plays.
It’s fitting that such a retro-minded act has zero clips on that modern thing called the Internet, but Paton is happy to set the scene for a typical show:
“Down go the lights ... the slide show is rolling ... the intro starts. ‘Welcome to this live broadcast from the beautiful Rendezvous Ballroom, here on WCBS NY. ... The ‘1940s Hit Parade,’ brought to you by our regular sponsors at Burma-Shave.’ I cock my fedora and launch into Ella’s ‘Cheek to Cheek,’ or Jo Stafford’s ‘Lets Get Away From It All.’ I always end with ‘As Time Goes By.’”
Paton also offers ’40s-related quips and trivia throughout the night, and uses the sounds of a newsroom (teletype machines hammering away, a Morse code key) to help him “do the news” of the period — “This Week in 1942,” for example.
He’s in the process of making a video of his show. For his June 7 performance at the Rendezvous, Paton plans to bill it as “Hollywood Hit Parade 1940” and encourages attendees to wear their best vintage threads and dress up as their favorite movie star or pop culture personality of that era. Footage will be shot that night for a DVD with an intended June release.
Paton says his regular ’Voo gigs draw some older fans “who just want to relax and chill” but that the audience at that venue is generally younger, “the 20 to 30 crowd,” and they seem to approve.
“They say, ‘Man you’re good, it’s great to hear this stuff being done so well, and I thought it was romantic and relaxing, and I could hear the words, and my girl and I are in love, and you are the best,’ and on and on. They are diggin’ it.”
In addition to Friday night’s debut Co-op show, Paton is slated to return to the Easthampton venue with his “1940s Hit Parade” show on Aug. 3 at 7 p.m.