“Kevin definitely had stage fright when we played our first shows,” recalls Michael Bacon, 57, the other half of the Bacon Brothers band. “Despite all his film work, he still had nerves.” “I was just shaking,” says Kevin, who is nine years younger than his brother, recalling that at their first performance he turned to Michael and said, “I’m terrified.”
You might be thinking at this point that stepping out in front of a crowd of thousands at your first gig would be nerve-wracking even for a movie actor. But the Bacon Brothers’ first bookings weren’t those of a Hollywood star’s vanity project. Like any other small act testing the waters of live performance, these were modest gigs.
In 1994, a friend of Michael’s heard some of the brothers’ demo recordings, which they had made in the early ’90s. He liked them, and persuaded the brothers to play a gig at his club in their hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Before that concert, the band, which brought on drummer Frank Vilardi and bassist Paul Guzzone, played two warm-ups: on stage at a club in Pawling, New York, and on the air at WKZE, a radio station in Sharon, Connecticut.
According to his big brother, Kevin did just fine at the warm-ups. “The question is always: how do you deal with stage fright?” explains Michael. “Well, you have to turn that nervous energy into positive energy, and for Kevin, those butterflies became an inspiration. Still, after our first performance, he admitted that he was relieved.”
Starting small helped the band hone its chops and garner respect from audiences and critics skeptical that the act was anything but a game of “let’s pretend” for Kevin. Eleven years, four studio albums, and many gigs later, the band has established itself on its own terms, gaining respect both for its musicianship and for its original songs, the majority written by Kevin.
“A lot of times people assume I write the songs,” observes Michael, “and that Kevin is up there as a puppet. In fact, he writes 60% of them. He doesn’t need me to write with anymore.”
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Kevin and Michael play well together. Actually, you might say they’ve been working on their act a lot longer than 11 years. They first started jamming together the way many kids of their generation did, in the garage, with Michael playing an electric Fender Jazzmaster guitar and Kevin on, as his brother puts it, “some low-end model drum kit.”
Both brothers went on to master more than just their original instruments. Today, in addition to guitar, Michael plays keyboards and cello. Percussionist Kevin also learned guitar, thanks again to help from his sibling.
“All my heroes were guys with guitars,” Kevin recalls. “All my spare change was spent on music. When I saw my brother playing out, I could see how powerful music could be. But in the mid-’70s I took my first acting class and I fell in love with it, and my life took a different direction.”
“He says I first taught him to play ‘Hey Jude’ on guitar, although I can’t remember that,” says Michael, who worked as a road musician before settling into a career as a TV and film score composer. “Actually, Kevin played some backup for my bands in the ’70s and made some great solo demos after that. Although when we formed the band, he had to work hard to learn how to sing and play at the same time, which isn’t the easiest thing to do.”
Kevin’s acting career didn’t mean he ever gave up music altogether. “We’ve written songs for a long time together, including some commercial numbers, such as a novelty hit ‘8 Wheel Boogie’ during the ’70s roller disco craze,” explains his brother, admitting that both find it challenging to fit a part-time music project around their full-time careers. “These days finding the time to practice and play seems ridiculous. We just assume that somehow we will make it work.”
The band usually gets together to jam, write, and rehearse either at Michael’s studio or in a rehearsal space they rent in New York City. That’s a better place for Kevin to pursue his hobby, says his brother, because aside from a few autograph requests, Kevin is left alone by fans and photographers.
Actually, explains Michael, if their project became as demanding as their full-time careers, they would probably call an end to it. “The project is definitely fun,” he says. “It has to be fun, otherwise it’s not worth it, although 11 years on, it is getting more complex.”
Michael continues: “We started out driving around in my station wagon, and we paid for all our food. Now the band has become a business, and when you take it more seriously and add an economic factor, stress can creep in.”
On stage is where all the time juggling and late night sessions make playing in the band worth it. “That’s where the payback occurs,” says Michael. “It’s great to be able to share the experience with your brother. I think sharing music with a family member counteracts the stress. If something negative happens, we can circle the wagons against it.”
For the moment, Kevin and Michael are happy to fit their music project in between their other commitments. Says Kevin, “It’s hard to play my songs just for myself or my wife. I love to play, and I play to live. The gigs are always fun, even if the hotels suck!”
“I find there’s no reason to stop. As long as the Bacon Brothers keeps getting better, we’ll keep going,” Michael concludes. “After all, I’d had the dream of playing with my little brother since I was 12 years old.”
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