Long Island may be the land of cover bands, but it’s safe to say that it’s never quite been host to anything along the lines of the Loser’s Lounge. Unlike myriad groups that stick with not only playing the music of one group, but go so far as to dress up like said act, the Loser’s Lounge instead turns that concept on its head. Spearheaded by bandleader Joe McGinty, it is a musical collective featuring a 13-piece ensemble that features a rotating crew of vocalists, whose involvement is dependent on what artist or theme is being highlighted.
Operating out of Joe’s Pub in Manhattan, this unique musical experience gets held every other month and will be marking its quarter century anniversary this December. What started out as an unabashed exercise in honoring pop craft from the likes of Burt Bacharach, Henry Mancini and Jimmy Webb expanded to honor a wide array of artists including Prince, David Bowie, The Band, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Donna Summer and The Bee Gees. For McGinty, who was coming out of a five-year stint of playing keyboards in the Psychedelic Furs until the band broke up in 1992, the Loser’s Lounge was a result of his looking for something musical to do.
“To put it in the context of when we started in the early ’90s, it was before Burt Bacharach had been re-appreciated. In New York, it was Sonic Youth, grunge and Nirvana. It was sort of the reaction against that. At that point, you might have been a little embarrassed about it. It might have even been a guilty pleasure—doing Bacharach, ABBA and stuff like that,” he said. “Of course, that stuff now is revered and rightfully so. It kind of started out of the East Village community where we thought it might be fun to do a night of Burt Bacharach. It was surprising that even back then, our first show was hugely popular. It was kind of a surprise because we didn’t know if it would be six friends who liked Burt Bacharach or more. But it was almost a sold-out show the first time. So we thought we were on to something. It was also around that time of that bachelor pad scene.”
The Loser’s Lounge got its start at the Pink Pony on Ludlow Street on the Lower East Side before moving to another Manhattan venue, Fez under Time Café, which lasted until the space closed in April 2005. Joe’s Pub has since been the Loser’s Lounge base of operations. The group will be making its first Long Island appearance at My Father’s Place, where Barry Manilow and Bette Midler: A Battle of the Bands will be staged. For McGinty, it’s a natural progression for his crew.
“We sometimes have sort of a battle of the bands, but it’s not really so much that as a tribute to both of them. They obviously have a connection. He was her music director for many years. So that’s kind of the idea behind it,” he said. “We’re going to do our best to recreate those incredible orchestrations. That music was done with a full orchestra. We make our own arrangements that are respectful and it usually comes across good. People appreciate that we have real strings and horns and not a keyboard player covering that stuff, because we want to make it as organic as possible.”
What truly distinguishes the Loser’s Lounge from your boiler-plate cover band is the type of preparation and mix of material that goes into the final product. McGinty’s research is thorough and he’s as focused on finding obscure material and little-known gems as he is on presenting hit songs everyone knows. Sets start to come together about a month out from the next show and by three weeks prior to a gig, rehearsals with the band and backing vocalists are in full swing. The week of the show, all involved take part in a lengthy rehearsal where all the singers come in. The variety Loser’s Lounge fans have come to expect will be no different in this Bette and Barry set.
“Like I said, we like to find little-known songs. There’s a song that Bette wrote with Carole Bayer Sager that I found that’s a really fun song that Carole Bayer Sager recorded before Bette did,” McGinty explained. “We also like to find different versions of the songs. I found an earlier version of ‘I Write the Songs,’ because Barry Manilow wasn’t the first person to record it. It was actually Bruce Johnston of The Beach Boys who wrote it. I don’t want to give too much of it away. We have a different version of that. Obviously, we play all the hits too. There are a lot of fans of the movie Beaches, so that will be well-represented as well.”
As a kid growing up in the Atlantic City area, McGinty cut his musical teeth buying 45s at Woolworth’s with his mom, listening to tons of AM radio and attending shows like The Cowsills at the Steel Pier. While he only started playing in high school, McGinty always had an unabashed love of pop that helped him during the two post-college years he spent playing in an Atlantic City casino band. While he’s had a self-described haphazard musical trip, the Loser’s Lounge has not only given him the opportunity to work with artists like Nada Surf and Joey Ramone, but also afforded him the opportunity to become the owner of Sid Gold’s Request Room, a piano karaoke bar located at 165 W. 26th St. in Manhattan. It all goes back to McGinty having access to a rich pool of artists that make the Loser’s Lounge an altar where pop and song craft are not only played, but revered.
“Burt Bacharach and The Band are not stylistically the same, but The Band also has a definite style of arranging and musicianship. I think that’s what people appreciate about the show because we work really hard on nailing the idiosyncrasies of these kinds of arrangements, records and even the production. I think that’s one of the things that people appreciate along with the variety of singers,” McGinty said. “It’s a huge talent pool in New York and I’m always meeting new and interesting people. There are a lot of regulars who have been doing the show for a long time. But the style of singers runs the gamut too. There are some people who are more comedic and there are others who are rockers and almost-Broadway type people. So that’s another thing that I think people appreciate—over the course of the evening, it’s not just the variety that’s in the catalog but also the variety of the singers and their personalities. That’s one of the great things about New York—there’s just so many great people here.”
The Loser’s Lounge will be appearing on Oct. 19 at My Father’s Place at the Roslyn Hotel, 1221 Old Northern Blvd., Roslyn. For more information, visit
www.myfathersplace.com or call 516-625-2700.