The 4th St. Niteowls are not your typical club cover band. The quartet of accomplished local musicians deviates from pop music that sells, to the forgotten genre of rockabilly swing, or what they call "washboard swing." They perform tunes from the early '30s era, perfectly reviving musical styles by musicians like Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong and Hoagy Carmichael.
Their debut self-titled album consists of 14 tracks. Recorded live by Jerry Fabris at Cole's Place Studio in West Orange last year, it features classic swing songs like "A Porter's Love Song to a Chambermaid," "Sweet Sue, Just You," "Louisiana Fairytale," and "I Wish I Were Twins."
Megan Burleyson, an Afro/Latin trained percussionist, sings and plays the not-so-common washboard in the band. The instrument was popular many decades ago in country and folk swing music in North America. The group decided to bring it back into the spotlight in order to accurately revive the genre they cover, according to Burleyson. Showcasing an extinct instrument at their performances has garnered attention from people, which the band enjoys.
Rounding up the 4th St. Niteowls are Dale Burleyson (guitar/vocals), Carl Baggaley (piano), and Jerry Fabris (bass). The group has performed at clubs throughout the region. On Jan. 22 they will perform at The Goldhawk in Hoboken.
The band came up with the name after following the tradition of early groups from the '20s and '30s who often had their hometown or street in their name.
"They had names like the 'Memphis Jug Band,' 'Mississippi Sheiks' and the 'Beale Street Washboard Band.' Most of the songs we play are from that period, so picking a name along those lines seemed to make sense," Burleyson said. "Three out of the four of us live on Fourth street in the back of Hoboken, and we're often up late playing music."
The band describes their music as "washboard swing." Most of the songs they perform include the use of a washboard, and they are early jazz tunes from before World War II. The songs are short, sweet and definitely swing.
"Some of the tunes have a hint of a country sound to them, because jazz and country had more in common with each other back then," Burleyson said.
The fascination for "washboard swing" music began six years ago when Dale Burleyson, Megan's husband, found a Fats Waller CD in a bargain bin in town. Despite recognizing the name of the artist, he was not familiar with the music. When he finally had a chance to give the album a listen, he was impressed, he said.
"The music Fats wrote with Andy Razaf gets pretty complicated from a technical point of view. At the same time, however, the lyrics are sweet and sincere," Burleyson said. "It's sophisticated, but very natural and accessible. The music they wrote together is definitely our biggest influence."
But the foursome admits they grew up listening to completely different types of music, and they each have their own take on what "washboard swing" is supposed to sound like. It's the diversity in styles that makes the 4th St. Niteowls sound unique.
After forming two and a half years ago, they have performed at venues in New York City, the Garden State, and throughout the East Coast. Last summer they performed regularly at the Jersey Shore, and they currently have a regular gig at Lounge 32 in Queens.
"We've been lucky enough to play a wide variety of places," Burleyson said.
Next month they will begin work on their second CD. And when the record is finished, they will return to performing live in front of audiences.
Their second album will be another compilation of traditional swing songs by musicians from the '30s and '40s.
"We recorded our first album live, no overdubs, in an attic just over a year ago. And since it's all live, all we need are our instruments, a few mics and a reel-to-reel," Burleyson said. "Once we get the recording out of the way, we can just go back out and play and have fun. We're really a live band, and are happiest being in front of an audience."
For the Niteowls, the county's music scene is plagued with lame bars and clubs that cater to nothing but rock cover bands re-hashing the same tunes. But a resurgence of talented musicians is allowing for quality rock, folk and alternative music to be heard through hard work and dedication.
"Sometimes it's hard to find them. Thank God for places like The Goldhawk
and the handful of others that really go out of their way to shake things up a bit," he said.
The band is keeping old country swing music alive through their entertaining live shows. The Goldhawk is located at 936 Park Ave. in Hoboken. The show will be held on Jan. 22 at 8 p.m. For more information on the show call the venue at (201) 420-7989 or visit the band's website at www.4thstreetniteowls.com. q
Photos by Lauren Grabelle (www.lgphoto.com)