Bob Makin has been writing about the New Jersey Music scene since I was in high school (That's a long time). He got his "Makin Waves" column way back in 1988; and, since then, has gotten to interview the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt, Jon Bon Jovi, Garth Brooks, Wynton Marsalis, and many more. His passion, though, has always been the independent music coming out of the state of New Jersey; and Makin has dedicated column inches to everyone from Nudeswirl, Monster Magnet, and The Bouncing Souls to Screaming Females and Lowlight.
Banished to what he likes to call "journalistic purgatory" in the mid-aughties, Makin had the opportunity to bring Makin Waves back in 2016. Since then, he's thrown himself into the weekly column -- first through MyCentralJersey.com and now with NJArts.net and NewJerseyStage.com -- and covered dozens of New Jersey bands through reviews, show previews, interviews, and more.
Makin is kicking off a year-long celebration of the 30th anniversary of that first "Makin Waves" column this weekend with the return of his "Rock Circus" to Roxy & Dukes in Dunellen on Friday, April 21st. That one features our very good friends The Paper Jets, Lowlight, Yawn Mower, and Black Flamingos as well as between-set performances by Vivi Noir and Vertical Fixation. He follows that with a benefit show for Elijah's Promise at The Court Tavern in New Brunswick the very next night. That's a Hub City Music Festival Event with music provided by The RockNRoll HiFives, Lowlight, Disposable, Comb The Desert, and The Turnbucklers. In a rare turn, the downstairs of Court Tavern will be all-ages for the evening. There are a dizzying number of events planned for the rest of the year and you can see what's been announced so far below.
I had the chance to run a few questions by Bob Makin as he gets ready to kick-off a big year for "Makin Waves." Makin's got a lot of history writing about music in New Jersey, and his perspective on the changes to both music journalism and the music scene over the last 30 years is a valuable one. Bob is also extremely dedicated and runs "Makin Waves" as a complete labor of love at this point. He's given many bands their first bits of coverage over the years; and, through his anniversary series, he will be showcasing some of the most interesting music New Jersey has to offer.
So, simply, tell us how "Makin Waves" got its start?
After I handed in my first assignment to Jay Lustig at East Coast Rocker in early 1988, he called with an offer of a Jersey Shore club column called "Beachin' It." In the third column, I referred to Sutton Thomas Band as "makin' waves," inspired by the name of my grandfather's boat. With the fourth column, Jay changed the name to "Makin Waves" in early April 1988.
It's great that things have come full circle with Jay as a publisher of "Makin Waves" at www.NJArts.net during its 30th anniversary year and concert series, along with our good friend, Gary Wien of www.NewJerseyStage.com and www.njartsmag.com.
What have been some of the highlights of your time as an entertainment columnist working on "Makin Waves?"
The piece I'm most proud of is the four-part series, "The Sounds of Asbury Park: Are the Better Days in the Past, Present or Future," which East Coast Rocker published in April 1992 and for which I interviewed Jon Bon Jovi, Southside Johnny Lyon, Steven Van Zandt, and 50 other Asbury Park musicians, including nearly all of the members of the E Street Band. The piece led Bob Santelli to hand pick me as his replacement for the "Greetings from Asbury Park" column in the Backstreets Bruce Springsteen fanzine so that he could focus on running the education department of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I subsequently wrote "Greetings" for more than 12 years.
The world of journalism has moved from print to online. How has "Makin Waves" had to adapt to keep up with all the changes?
Fortunately for me, I have two old friends willing to post the column every week with lots of streams and links. The multimedia version of the column at New Jersey Stage magazine is a real treat because it brings the work to life.
As someone who also writes about music, I sometimes feel overwhelmed with the volume of submissions and just the amount of "good stuff" out there. How do you decide what things to cover in your column?
For interviews, I try to focus on bands who are releasing records and touring in support of them and independent filmmakers who are screening in theaters and well-respected film festivals. For reviews, I try to review everything submitted that I either can write about positively or at least constructively, especially if I can do so in time to preview a record release party. Briefs typically are things that could have been a feature or review, but just didn't for whatever reason.
Now that I have to produce "Makin Waves" 20 hours a week in my free time for no pay, it is overwhelming and a definite labor of love to which I know you can relate. But I love it so much, I couldn't let it die again. Thankfully, Gary and Jay kept it going.
You took a bit of a hiatus from "Makin Waves" for several years. What were you up to during that time?
The column was killed by Gannett in October 2005 due to a shrinking news hole. It was the only thing they could cut from the Sunday entertainment section that wasn't jumping from the front page or being paid for to syndicate. Two years later, I was kicked to the curb as the Courier News' entertainment editor in the wake of a merger with the Home News Tribune, and I had several job titles while surviving nine layoffs over the next seven years. Most of that time was spent covering corrupt cops in Edison during a period of my career I describe as journalistic purgatory.
Thankfully, I was given the entertainment back in April 2014. A few months later, my son, Matthew, started playing out with his band The Strangers., which became the popular alternative hard rock band Experiment 34. Whenever folks at The Court Tavern, The Pattenburg House, The Saint, and The Brighton Bar saw me checking out the band, they would ask me to bring "Makin Waves" back. In early 2016, I was given the green light to do that, and then in March of this year, the column moved from MyCentralJersey.com to NJArts.net and NewJerseyStage.com, which is a better fit for the artist-friendly "Makin Waves." For Gannett, I now write a family-friendly weekend best bets column that better serves those readers.
Were you still paying attention to local, independent music?
Not really. I still occasionally wrote about national acts for Gannett NJ's entertainment tabs and for The Aquarian Weekly, but it was Experiment 34 that brought me back into the local music scene. Without them, "Makin Waves" wouldn't have come back. I never would have known that it was missed.
You're celebrating the 30th anniversary of "Makin Waves" all year long with a series of events. Can you tell us about some of the stuff you've got planned?
The series kicks off April 21 at Roxy & Dukes in Dunellen with the second of three "Makin Waves" Rock Circuses. This one will feature Lowlight, The Paper Jets, Black Flamingos, and Yawn Mower, as well as, once again, burlesque dancer Vivi Noir and the aerial troupe Vertical Fixation, who'll perform between sets.
|Brian Erickson of The Paper Jets|
|The RockNRoll HiFives|
The series will continue on April 29 with a 50th anniversary tribute to The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album and a 50th birthday tribute to Nirvana's Kurt Cobain with The Black Clouds, Experiment 34, Wicked Hollow, Yorkshire Tenth, and The Shovels, a band from Australia that was coming through Asbury at the same time. Each band either will play a Nirvana or Pepper song.
Then, we'll also pay tribute to Sgt. Pepper on the actual 50th anniversary off its release on June 1 at Pino's in Highland Park with The Paper Jets, Fun While You Wait, Kate Dressed Up, Anthony Carrera and the Sgt. Pepper Jersey All Star Band, featuring each of those acts and Brian Lawrence from Back Yard Superheroes.
The series will continue with at least two more shows at Roxy & Dukes, a Jam N Groove Fest in Hunterdon County, ROCK New Brunswick Sept. 8 to 10, a Film Feastival on Sept. 23 at Ria Mar in South River, a roots festival on Nov. 18 at Union County Performing Arts Center, the 30th anniversary concert at the Stone Pony next spring and possibly more shows to be announced in New Brunswick, Asbury Park, and Roxy & Dukes. More about the series can be found at www.facebook.com/makinwavescolumn/events.
How did you choose some of the bands and acts that you'll be working with throughout the year to help with the celebration?
I tried to go with bands that went best with the concept of each show, and I tried to make each show as much of a special event as I could. They're all bands I either have written about extensively and adore or want to write about, such as Waiting on Mongo, Hub City Stompers, Anthony Carrera, Jackson Pines, The Porchistas, Accidental Seabirds, and Brian Linden and the Black Spot Society; so previews with them will help me promote the shows.
How has the music scene around New Jersey changed over the course of the last 30 years?
People are not going to like my answer, but many young bands seem to think they're entitled and are rather stuck up, and both bands and club owners have become lazy, relying too much on social media and a digital presence instead of also more greatly utilizing good, old-fashioned flyers and posters, and, most importantly, handshaking. The bands, clubs and promoters who do the handshaking and flyers are the most successful.
There also are too many bands, many of which make and release records before they're ready. The East Coast music industry for rock has moved to Nashville and L.A., so it's ironic that it was easier in 1989 for a band with a rare, hard-to-make vinyl album to showcase the Cat Club or the Limelight and get a record deal out of New York City, than it is now with the hundreds of bands who have digital releases.
That said, because of the ease of digital technology, there are more good bands from New Jersey now than there ever have been. But the opportunity for them to make a living with their music appears to be less than years past.
There also is a lack of all-ages venues, especially in New Brunswick, a situation that has turned its basement scene into an international phenomenon. While they haven't sold nearly as many records as Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi, New Brunswick has produced more national acts than Asbury Park and Hoboken combined and most of them have come out of the basement scene. Yet, instead of embracing that rich music history, the cold, corporate climate of New Brunswick chooses to make the basement scene illegal and, for the most part, shuns its rock music scene in favor of the fine arts. Hub City Music Festival and ROCK New Brunswick are exceptions, and that's why I work with them. But New Brunswick needs to start focusing on legitimate all-ages venues, such as bringing Flemington DIY to town and retracting the seats in the forthcoming $215 million performing arts center so it can present all-ages shows where Screaming Females, Thursday, and other national acts can play in their own hometown.
New Brunswick once was the heartbeat of the New Jersey music scene, like Hoboken and Asbury Park before it and Asbury Park now is again. There's a perfect example of a city that embraces its music history as part of its economic plan. Since New Brunswick claims to be a city that utilizes the arts as an economic driver, it should do the same, and there should be references to The Smithereens, Nudeswirl, Buzzkill, Bouncing Souls, Lifetime, Thursday, The Ergs!, Screaming Females, and others everywhere you turn. Hopefully, these changes can take place, and we can make the New Brunswick music scene great again.
That said, I truly appreciate the city making the April 22 show at The Court Tavern all-ages, and I hope that model can bring the club great success in the future so that it can remain artistically valuable and economically viable.
|The Bouncing Souls|
With all of the changes -- to journalism, to "the scene" -- what keeps you wanting to work on the column after 30 years?
Passion and compassion for the underdog. And, at this point, that includes "Makin Waves." I've gotten to interview Bruce Springsteen, the man who made me want to be a music writer, as well as Bon Jovi, Garth Brooks, Wynton Marsalis, Gregg Allman, Sheryl Crow, nearly all of the members of the E Street Band, Grateful Dead, and Phish; but, other than my family, nothing brings me more pride and joy than "Makin Waves" because it's so much about nurturing and guiding talent. When that talent blossoms into a national act, to have played a small part is euphoric.
What's been the most satisfying aspect of covering music in New Jersey for the last 30 years?
Getting to write about it, and in some cases, having an impact on an act's career, such as giving Monster Magnet, Bouncing Souls, Mr. Reality, Godspeed, Nudeswirl, White Zombie, Blues Traveler, Spin Doctors, Phish and many more their first magazine covers, and helping to get some record and / or management deals. I'm sure you feel the same way about Dentist, RocknRoll HiFives and others.
Where can people find "Makin Waves" these days?
8 a.m. every Thursday at www.NJArts.net, www.NewJerseyStage.com, and www.njartsmag.com.
What do you have planned for the next 30 years?
I'm really looking forward to being a grandfather someday both to my kids' kids and to the New Jersey music scene. If I ever can afford a beach shack in the Keys or even Asbury Park, that would be great. I prefer a climate where I can wear my Hawaiian shirts and sandals all year long.