If it wasn’t for a call from a regional music hall of fame, an end-of-year flurry of activity for The Badlees would be just another relaxing holiday season. The Central Pennsylvania Music Hall of Fame’s induction of the band in 2021 included a reunion performance of the original lineup, which led to more performances, which led to a booking at the FM Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre on Dec. 21, which led to a new, self-titled album.
Songwriter and guitarist Bret Alexander said the hall of fame “wanted us to perform as the original band, which we hadn’t been doing with the five of us since 2002 or even longer. We didn’t want to not show up. Certainly we wanted to go there and do that.”
“There was no plan to do anything after that,” he said, but it wasn’t a shock when opportunities came. “I knew [the hall of fame performance] would be livestreamed, and I knew we wouldn’t come out the other side without offers.”
The new album, released earlier this month, is the first since 2002’s “Renew” to feature all of the original members: Alexander, Pete Palladino (vocals), Paul Smith (bass), Ron Simasek (drums) and Jeff Feltenberger (guitar).
Feltenberger had left the band in 2004 and Alexander and Smith left in 2014.
“It kind of got to the point where we were getting a lot of offers to do things, and I’m a musician and I do things, and I work in a studio, and I play, and I produce and all these things. It’s my living,” Alexander said of his decision to quit. “And it just got to the point where our singer Pete probably could take 30 percent of the opportunities that we got, and that caused a lot of tension over time. And it just got to the point where I didn’t want to be beholden to that. I got to go out and establish myself a little better than whatever I am so I don’t have to worry about that. Perhaps, certainly it could have been handled better. But it caused a lot of tension.
“A band gets older, some people want to tour, some people don’t. That’s why you have five different versions of several bands.”
Palladino works full time in the hospitality business in New Jersey, limiting his availability. He and the remaining Badlees played shows after Alexander and Smith left the band.
While seven years passed between the quasi breakup and the reunion, the new album came quickly.
The recording of “The Badlees” was “the opposite of baby steps,” Alexander said.
“What we’ve been doing over the course of our shows so far is trying on some level to make each show special. One show in Harrisburg, we did ‘River Songs,’ the whole album. The last show we did, we re-released the ‘Diamonds in the Coal’ record. It was kind of just a conversation, we were going to do the show at the Kirby and part of me wanted to make a record. Two days before Christmas is a weird day to [release] a record. We recorded and mixed and mastered the thing in under six months.
“Pete sang in New Jersey, he lives in [Long Beach Island]. He did all of his vocals there. Paul has a studio, SI, he recorded some of the basic tracks, some of the overdubs, and I did all of the mixing. I have my little bunker [Saturation Acres in Dupont] that we probably did half the record there.”
Alexander wrote all of the songs, besides one.
“Maybe it wouldn’t be that one-sided in years past. We were never like kind of everyone gets together and gets high and jams out things until it becomes a song. We are more like songwriters with a band, which I think would probably be similar to the process of someone like the Eagles with multiple songwriters. Lots of groups do that, as opposed to bands like U2 or REM.”
Calling the album “The Badlees” might seem like a grand, career-defining statement, but like most things Badlees these days, it was a case of timing.
“It’s a very boring answer,” Alexander said. “Our drummer Ronnie has been lobbying for a self-titled album for many years, and we kind of ran out of time and said ‘This is your chance.’ Nobody had a better idea.”
Friday’s show at the Kirby will be a return to a market that has been good to the band, which was formed not too far away in central Pennsylvania.
“We used to play all the places up here,” said Alexander, who also noted a memorable Chris Cornell show he saw at the Kirby. “Market Street Square. Jitterbugs was like a mainstay, we played there all the time. We have played the Kirby before. Then up into Scranton and Tink’s.
“When we were starting out — one of us [Simasek] is from McAdoo, he said if you can get established here in northeastern Pa. … Back in the ’90s you could go hear a live band play six nights a week, seven probably, somewhere. It’s not the case as much now. But back then as a band that wanted to work all the time, it’s like a good, working-class, rock ‘n’ roll kind of area. Not all areas are like that. Pittsburgh is similar to northeastern Pa. Those are the soils that we thrive in.”
The Badlees, with special guests Joe Burke & Co and Dustin Douglas & the Electric Gentlemen, will perform at the FM Kirby Center (71 Public Square, Wilkes-Barre, Pa., 18701) at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 23. www.kirbycenter.org
Photo by Jim Gavenus
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