Lowen and Navarro stick together through thick and thick
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., April 28, 2003) – Eric Lowen and Dan Navarro have been working together for over 20 years, first as songwriting partners and since 1987 as a performing and recording duo. Somehow, in all that time, they have avoided the sort of bitterness and acrimony that has plagued so many similar musical relationships, from the Everly Brothers to Sam and Dave, from Lennon and McCartney to Jagger and Richards.

Their secret, suggested Eric Lowen in a phone interview earlier this week, is that they have to work hard on their relationship because they don’t really like each other all that much.

“My theory is that we never really got along very well, so we always had to work at it,” said Lowen, who performs with Navarro at Club Helsinki on Thursday night at 8.

“A lot of that involved stupid things like being polite to each other. And when we figure out a set list, making sure that each person is represented as far as who does the lead vocals.

“Dan initiated some of that stuff, and at first I thought it was kind of petty. But I realized over time that if you don’t do it, if you think that it’s too petty, then resentment can build up over time. So I’ve come around to his point of view. Why not try to keep things fair?”

The effort to get along with each other has paid off over the years. The duo co-wrote “We Belong,” a top 5 hit for Pat Benatar in 1984. The Bangles, the Four Tops, the Temptations and Dave Edmunds have also recorded songs by Lowen and Navarro. The duo’s own recordings and performances have garnered them a loyal audience that favors their easygoing, melodic folk-pop style that recalls the heyday of male duos like Crosby and Nash, Loggins and Messina, and England Dan and John Ford Coley.

It was the discovery of their natural affinity for harmonizing that first brought the two together. Lowen and Navarro were in a band together, and they didn’t particularly like each other.

“A few months into knowing each other from the band, we were at a party and we started singing an old song,” said Lowen. “We both joined in and realized we had an easy way to sing together. That was the inspiration for it.

“The writing followed the same course. We started writing together because we were tired of doing the same old songs in the band.”

Lowen had moved out to California from upstate New York to be a musician. Heavily influenced by Motown and Stax soul, he had no designs on being a songwriter. Navarro, a California native and cousin of rock guitarist Dave Navarro (Jane’s Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers), grew up on the smooth sounds of the Southern California rock as epitomized by singer-songwriters like Jackson Browne and groups like the Eagles.

“The reason we ended up getting together is that we had a big overlap in our taste for certain kind of Fifties, Sixties and Seventies music,” said Navarro, taking the phone from Lowen. “We both had this surprising love of bubblegum music. We appreciated the pop sensibility and lack of seriousness in it.

“I came from a classical music background. I was a conducting student in college for choruses, and grew up with jazz and saloon singers. But for both of us when the Beatles came along they bulldozed everything in sight.”

In 1988, the duo began a weekly performing residency at the Breakaway in Venice, Calif. Within a year, they had established a strong enough following to garner record company interest, and in 1990, their debut, “Walking on a Wire,” was released by Chameleon Records. Subsequent records, including “Broken Moon,” “Pendulum,” “Live Wire” and “Scratch at the Door,” emphasized the duo’s tight harmonies, blue-eyed soul and gentle appeal.

The group’s latest CD is “Live Radio,” taken from their appearances on Roz and Howard Larman’s “FolkScene” program, a weekly public radio show that has aired for more than 30 years in Los Angeles.

The duo’s approach to writing has evolved over time.

“When we first started we tended to write everything together,” said Navarro. “As time has gone on our lives have changed a lot. We both got married and got divorced, and we both have young children. As we focused on that, we’d begin songs on our own and bring them together to finish them up. And sometimes we work with other people and not the other one.

“At this point, it’s all a big melange. We’re capable of writing songs completely alone, but we tend to finish them up together after we’ve started them. I tend to get stuck towards the end of a song.”

In spite of the fact that other artists have taken some of their tunes to the pop charts, Navarro said none of the cover versions of their tunes have been recorded the way he would have liked to hear them. “I’ve never really heard another version of any of our songs that comes close to our vision,” he said.

[This article originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on April 30, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]

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