Bass players around the world got to know Joe Burcaw, the four-string maestro of Black 47, through a profile in the latest issue of Bass Player. It is the rag to read when you are working the bottom end of the mix, and being the aspiring bassist that I am I was insanely jealous.
Of course, those of us following Black 47 these last few years know the rhythmic thrills that Burcaw has been bringing to the green melodies of Larry Kirwan.
His last name has been twisted into “Bearclaw” by the band, and the name is appropriate. His heavy hand thumps out the funk on tracks like “Rockin’ the Bronx” in a way that gives new meaning to the word “Shamrock Shake.” For Bearclaw, this is a dream come true.
“I was a big fan of Black 47. I always caught their show when they came around Boston, where I used to live,” he explains. “I actually answered an ad on Craigslist. They didn’t mention the band’s name.
“I really didn’t think anything of it. Thomas Hamlin (drummer) called me and interviewed me over the phone; Hammie even used a pseudonym, so this was a top secret mission!”
“I left the finding of a new bass player to Hammie,” says Kirwan. “A bass player has to literally dream about the drummer's kick. If the bass and bass drum are in sync, you can put anything on top of them.
“Bearclaw seemed to get that concept from the get-go. And so he got the job.”
Burcaw had been knocking around the Village singer/songwriter scene since 2001. He moved to New York at that time, giving himself five years to make it as a musician.
When Hammie caught Burcaw live at a sparsely attended show at the Cutting Room, his dream came true. As he tells it, there was little time to celebrate.
“A week into the gig we were filming a New Year’s Eve DVD, then we were playing Madison Square Garden in March and then before you know it, we were at Chicago’s Gaelic Park in front of 10,000 people.
“Just when that was winding down we were in a studio recording an album! That was a whirlwind for someone who never travelled on the road much and never recorded music.”
Black 47 is known for its strong political views and hard partying shows, but Burcaw says there is a different side of the band he sees as he stands between the amplifiers and Kirwan.
“I’ve never been surrounded by such talent,” he says. “They’ve been together for years and they have tons of road experience.
“I have learned so much and it is an honor to be onstage with them. It’s not just goofing off and drinking, though there is some of that as well. They are deadly serious when it comes to performing.”
Burcaw says he had to get used to playing Irish music, a genre he had little experience with.
“Trying to get the grasp on jigs and reels, with that music, everything coincides with the dance,” he reasons. “The challenge also is to integrate the Irish dance feel to the other types of music we play.
“This band mixes reggae, punk, pop, Springsteen, and everything else with that Irish music, so you really have to have a dictionary knowledge of these genres. It keeps you on your toes and allows for a lot of creativity, which I love.”
He also has great things to say about his boss, which, of course, is a wise career move.
“Larry is very open to me coming up with my own bass lines. If I am overplaying he will encourage me to do another take that’s less hectic. He always says less is more when it comes to rhythm, and I had a hard time at first with that.
“I think sometimes the bass players that jam notes in like that probably lack confidence to an extent. You really boost your confidence by not playing.
“So, Larry gives me that confidence. He will suggest fills and things like that but for the most part, he allows me to be creative.”
“He learns something new from the sax, trombone and pipes every night -- as do I,” says Kirwan. “He is very enthusiastic, has great energy and stage charisma and has the stamina and curiosity to go through the performance that the songs of Black 47 call for.
“And he has a sense of humor -- something really essential for this band. Even more importantly, he doesn't hog the Jameson or snore!”
Burcaw is itching to get into the studio this month to lay down the new tracks that the band has been experimenting with onstage. I recently caught “Celtic Rocker,” a great new alt-rock tune that stands up to the band’s best work.
Burcaw believes tracks like the waltz “Gates of Joyce,” the funky pop of “Summer Dress,” and the “Wedding Reel” are among the crowd pleasers that will likely make it on the album.
“IRAQ, our last album, was recorded quickly, and while it was a great album, we didn’t get much time to go through the material,” he says.
“With these songs, we are able to road test and feel the songs out. On the last album, I was a new player and we were getting to know one another. Now, we are so solid and a force to be reckoned with.”
Burcaw will be playing with Black 47 this Saturday, September 12, at the Rocks Off Cruise. Check it out on rocksoff.com/concertcruise.html.
For a full schedule, log onto www.black47.com.