Sean Hurley: Hometown boy gets lucky in stereo

by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., September 20, 2001) -- What do you do after your band hits the top of the pop charts, appears on Jay Leno, MTV, VH-1 and all the big TV shows, score a gold and then platinum album (sales in excess of two million), and tour and hang out with bands like Dave Matthews and Third Eye Blind?

If you’re Pittfield native Sean Hurley, bassist for pop-rock quartet Vertical Horizon, you come home as soon as possible, spend time with your family and friends, and get together with old musician friends to perform in a local nightclub, as Hurley will do on Friday night, September 21, with his not-so-famous other band, Lucky Stereo, at Club Helsinki in Great Barrington (528-3394).

“I don’t have to tour until the next record, so I get to check in with what it’s like to live at home,” said Hurley, in a phone interview from his home in Los Angeles. “It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been here at home for more than a few weeks at a time. So now I get to work with new people and take some gigs here and there.”

Joining Hurley for tomorrow night’s gig will be Vertical Horizon drummer Ed Toth. The two will back Bobby B. Keyes, whose guitar melodies are the centerpiece of the Lucky Stereo sound, a combination of jazz, swing, blues, lounge, country and pre-rock pop music.

Before joining Vertical Horizon in 1997, Hurley, a 1992 Pittsfield High graduate, gigged regularly with Keyes, whom he met while playing in Boston, where he attended Berklee College of Music. Hurley did session work with Keyes, who owns his own recording studio, and the two decided to form a group that could gig regularly as an instrumental, jazz-based guitar trio.

“We knew that an instrumental band could play anywhere any day of the week, and it would not be as hard to book an instrumental band as a rock band,” said Hurley.

“We thought to keep it streamlined as a guitar trio – guitar, bass and drums. So we
found styles and music, songs that would work with just a basic guitar taking the melody.

“Because we had done a lot of blues and a lot of jazz, we were going to be essentially a jazz band, with a little more edge to it. I didn’t want to just play standards and have the guitar soloing all night long. Bobby started pulling out all these tunes that he’d learned years ago, tunes by Chet Atkins and Duke Ellington. In the earlier days it wasn’t so rare to have instrumentals be hits.

“But then Bobby really took it over from there and we did a lot of writing of our own, so now we probably do seventy-percent original stuff and a smaller percentage of covers. Sometimes rhythm-wise the drummer and I are thinking Medeski, Martin and Wood, and it gets funky. And you have a guy who grew up with Chet Atkins on top. It sounds different; it doesn’t sound like all the groups I played with years ago. It doesn’t sound like the groups at Berklee or when I was playing jazz in Pittsfield.”

Hurley is a veteran of local rock bands, including Xavier, which he joined in 1990 at age 16, and with whom he toured backing up Arlo Guthrie. Later on he performed with the Barnyard Blues Project. The bassist also played with local jazz musicians including drummer Randy Kaye, keyboardist John Sauer, and guitarist John Myers.

Vertical Horizon’s breakthrough hit was “Everything You Want,” which climbed the charts in the spring of 2000 and wound up as one of the top singles of last year. The band also scored big with follow-up hits “You’re a God” and “Best I Ever Had.”

After three-and-a-half years on the road, Hurley says he’s looking forward to the next half-year off before Vertical Horizon makes its next record and the whole cycle of touring begins again.

But he’s not packing away his bass for long. “I don’t want to stop playing,” he said. “Every time I get off the road I look for an opportunity to play. I’m not in this to be famous or wealthy. I do want to pay the bills, but the most important thing is to play music with people I like.”

Also this weekend, Tom Tom Club – featuring Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, the husband-and-wife rhythm section that powered Talking Heads -- returns to Club Helsinki on Saturday night, September 22.

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on September 20, 2001. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2001. All rights reserved.]

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