Marshall Crenshaw, singer, songwriter, guitarist, actor and innovator, plays Saint Rocke on Wednesday, August 27.
Marshall Crenshaw was a 23-year old bar musician in suburban Michigan when he got pegged to play John Lennon in “Beatlemania,” the musical, off Broadway. It was a hell of an opportunity for a promising young musician in 1976. But by 1978, he wanted out.
“I knew I had to quit and that, if I didn’t quit, I was probably going to get fired,” said Crenshaw. “I wasn’t a very good fake Beatle. I got bored with it really quickly.”
“Beatlemania” brought Crenshaw east to Boston and New York for performances. It was in Boston that he decided it was time to go his own way.
“I was sitting in the Copley Plaza hotel,” he said. “I had given my two weeks notice to Beatlemania so I could leave and do my own thing. And then, I thought, ‘Well, I better start writing some more stuff.’”
That day Crenshaw wrote “Someday Someway,” a Billboard Top 40 pop hit that catapulted him into rock and roll relevancy. He has never regretted his time with “Beatlemania” nor doubted its impact on his life. That experience, like all he has done musically in the almost 40 years since, helped make Crenshaw what he is today: a 60-year old rock and roll singer, songwriter and guitarist at the top of his game.
Crenshaw has recorded 13 original albums and has written songs covered by stars like Bette Midler, Ronnie Spector and Kelly Willis. He helped the Gin Blossoms write “Til I Hear It From You,” a song for the “Empire Records” film soundtrack that was a Top 20 hit in 1996.
Crenshaw’s songs have appeared in movies like “Baby Mama,” “Mr. Deeds,” and “Safe Passage.” He wrote the title track for the comedy “Walk Hard: the Dewey Cox Movie” starring John C. Reilly; “Walk Hard” was nominated for a Golden Globe that year for best original song. He appeared in the movie “Peggy Sue Got Married” and in an episode of “The Adventures of Pete and Pete.” Most memorably, Crenshaw played Buddy Holly onscreen in “La Bamba,” the 1987 Ritchie Valens biopic.
“I’ve done a few things you could call acting but it was never by design,” he said. “I have always been a musician. But it’s a really exciting thing to be on a film set, and I’ve found those opportunities only helped and didn’t hurt. Over time it has really helped. I think it’s one of the reasons I’ve had longevity as a musician.”
Crenshaw’s loyal fan base, musical talent and ingenuity also helped with that longevity. He relied heavily on his fan base two years ago when he decided to rethink how to release his albums. Crenshaw began a Kickstarter campaign online for a new music distribution concept: a subscription service for a new kind of album.
“This was in lieu of making an album,” he said. “The album thing is getting outdated, I think, at least for me. But I can’t stop wanting to make records and I’m lucky that there are people who still want me to make records. I just wanted to rethink how albums were being made.”
The musician is now in the process of releasing a series of exclusive three-song, 10-inch, 45-rpm vinyl EPs. Subscribers get a new Marshall Crenshaw EP every six months. On each EP Crenshaw includes a new original song, a reimagined version of one of his old songs, and a new cover of a favorite song written by someone else. In addition to the vinyl discs, subscribers get a download card for high-quality digital versions of the EP tracks.
The concept, which launched in April 2012, has been very successful. The first four EPs are on their second or third reprinting, and digital sales are high.
“I love it,” said Crenshaw. “This is something that i just sort of thought up myself, and it is not exactly like anything anyone else is doing. It’s designed so there’s always something new out and something new coming along soon.”
Marshall Crenshaw is coming soon to Saint Rocke. He plays Wednesday, August 23 at 7 p.m. as part of the new “Boogaloo Presents” series, organized, in part, by Steve Roberts. The 21-and-over show is $23 at the door and $20 presale. For more information or to buy tickets, visit saintrocke.com.