Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers pay tribute to late UMass band director at Northampton Show

Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers (Photo courtesy of Megan Baker)

When word first broke that UMass marching band director George Parks had died unexpectedly during a school trip to Michigan, one of those affected by the news was singer/ songwriter Stephen Kellogg.

While most popularly known as the lead singer of pop/ rock group Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers, Kellogg is also a former UMass student and marching band veteran.

During his time in Amherst, Mass. Kellogg not only got the chance to know Parks personally, but had also recently been negotiating with him to incorporate the school’s marchers into a concert to be played at the nearby Calvin Theatre in Northampton. Now, that show has been turned into a tribute to Parks with the marching band appearing as a special honor to their former leader.

The Underground recently got the chance to speak with Kellogg, and asked him about his thoughts on playing this special show, writing songs about girls, and what he remembers most about George Parks.

Q. Since the story of the Sixers first began in Western Massachusetts, do you feel any special kinship to the area?

A. Western Massachusetts has always felt like the home of the band and in many ways home to me. I haven’t lived there in some years, but I still recognize folks on the streets when I go to these places. A great deal of my family has its roots there too and some of the band still lives in the area, so no doubt it’s a special place.

Q. What are your feelings on playing a show where the group first met?

A. Excited!

Q. What if any influence do you have from your time spent at UMass?

A. Well in recent years UMass has influenced us by being supportive of us. I think I felt officially “old” when we were in Dallas last month and a big group of UMass alumni came out as part of the “alumni association.” It was the place where I made up my mind to throw in with the music career lot and it’s where I met two of the three Sixers whom have forever altered the course of my life…so I’d say it was a pretty influential place.

Q. Speaking of UMass, your upcoming show in Northampton will involve the participation of the school’s marching band as part of a tribute honoring the late George Parks. What memories do you specifically have of George, and how did the idea for this special show come about?

A. This idea was really Georges. When we shot the music video for “Shady Esperanto and the Young Hearts” last summer, it was George who pushed through the red tape to make it happen. After that he said ‘what else?’ he was that sort of guy, not one to rest on his laurels…so we started dreaming up a show, the where, the when, the how…one night John Sanders and Eric Suher suggested that the Calvin would be great and I was an intern at iheg when the Calvin re-opened in the late ‘90s, so that sounded like a thrill to me. I hit up George with the idea and he loved it. I still have a bunch of emails from George on my computer saying things like ‘this will be great…but we’ll talk later about the details.” I can’t yet bring myself to delete them.

Q. Music on television has certainly changed from the days when MTV was in its infancy. Now many listeners hear songs for the first time when they are played on their favorite television shows. What are your thoughts on this new way to hear/ expose fans to music?

A. I think it is what it is. Maybe I’m being nostalgic, but I prefer radio and even MTV, where it’s more about the music (as a way to consume the music I listen to). When there is a dramatic TV show cutting the song in and out it’s not exactly “ideal,” but hey this is what’s going on and I’m not about to say that it’s bad- it just is.

Q. And what are your feelings on having your song “Shady” used as part of the promotional campaign for TNT’s show “Men of a Certain Age”?

A. My previous answer notwithstanding, I’m totally thrilled to have the song being used here. I think it’s a great fit for a great show and I’m honored by the opportunity.

Q. Like many other bands, you have spent time performing for the troops overseas. What was that experience like?

A. It’s amazing to see the job our military has, amazing to meet those people and to be running across each other all over the globe…pretty wild. It only ups my appreciation for all that we have in America. It makes me want to be less cynical about problems and more focused on problem solving-helping the situation rather than always tearing down.

Q. And how was it performing in front of the Prime Minister of Israel?

A. I don’t think I could say Netanyahu is a SK6ERS fan in good conscience as I’m not sure we had his full attention, but he was certainly there and it was a day well spent.

Sixers (Photo courtesy of Megan Baker)

Q. How important is charity work not only to you, but also to the band? What is like having such a close relationship with the children of St. Jude’s Hospital?

A. The bottom line is that it needs to be even more important than it is. We have this amazing job and ability to reach people who nine times out of 10 would love to “make a difference.” St. Jude is one of the finest hospitals in the country and an inspiration to our band, so they are a logical place for us to focus our efforts, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed by one’s own concerns and fears…staying involved with the charity branch of what SK6ERS do helps keep our perspective.

Q. Also on the subject of charity, the members of fellow New England band State Radio are frequently noted for their pre-show activism. For example, the 5k the group runs before their annual Halloween show in Northampton is a fundraiser that raises money for a variety of charitable causes. Have you or your band ever thought about doing something similar? What are some ways you get your fans involved in charity work?

A. Chad (of State Radio) is one of my favorite people and a total inspiration to me and our guys. State Radio is amazing with their ability to bring their fans to action, and when you speak with them it’s evident that it all starts with the initiative of the band. “SK6ERS” causes tend to be a bit more domestic then international, but we’ve actually been involved in a number of “Calling All Crows” events and modeled our “Rellogg Foundation” after theirs…I’m not sure I could run five miles though, so we’ll have to find some other outreach ideas (joking…kind of).

Q. You seem to have a penchant for titling songs after women’s names? Is there any particular reason for this, or do you just naturally turn to songwriting when thinking “About a Girl”?

A. It’s funny you called me out on this! I noticed that for the first time this tour because a lot of the songs we have been playing this tour are the ones with girls names in the chorus. There are usually only one or two a record, but together, it can feel like I’m going through a black book or something. Even since the last record I’ve written a few more…I guess it’s one of ‘my things, but I will say this…the songs aren’t all love songs about ladies. “Mabeline” is about an undercover cop that busted one of my uncles for drug dealing, “Oh Adeline” is about faith, a (with love) teenage pregnancy and the family wheel…so if the name theme is consistent, they are pretty different tunes…do I sound defensive yet? Well played.

Q. Life on tour is a constant rollercoaster, full of ups and downs. How do you cope with that particular lifestyle?

A. I work with some of the best friends I’ve ever had. I mail postcards home several times a week. Eight years ago I hired my cousin Jessica to tour manage our band and it’s one of the best business decisions I’ve ever made-she’s been known to rub Bager balm on the guys temples to help us sleep. There’s no substitute for TLC.

Q. While on the road, do you ever feel like the situation you describe in the song “Lonely in Columbus”?

A. I do sometimes feel that way. I felt that way when i wrote that song-like the world is just not a safe place to be and too exposed-like a turtle with no shell. Thank goodness it’s not all the time.

Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers with openers Hoots and Hellmouth, and a special appearance by the UMass marching band, October 28, 8 p.m., $20, The Calvin Theatre, 19 King St., Northampton, (413) 586-8686, www.iheg.com/calvin_theater_main.asp.

For more information and tour dates please visit www.stephenkellogg.com.

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