By Pat Ivory
Its been a long trip for singer/songwriter Charlie Loesel, from playing next to the salad bar at Blondies roadhouse diner out on Chums Corner in Traverse City years ago, to releasing his own recording with session musicians from bands that backed Bob Dylan, James Taylor and Paul Simon.
Loesel, who now lives in Seattle, will make it a full circle with a homecoming performance as Sleders Tavern in TC on Sunday, November 28, at 4 p.m.
Loesel grew up in Traverse City and graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in electrical engineering. After working a couple of years as a computer programmer in Chicago, he joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in Africa.
When Loesel returned he got a job working as recording engineer for Sony Classical in New York City. It involved recording symphonies with people like Wynton Marsalis and Yo Yo Ma at the Lincoln Center.
Being around some great musicians, I realized I wanted to set my compass for something in music, Loesel says. And it wasnt being a recording engineer for 20 years. I really wanted to perform. I lived in West Africa with the Peace Corps with essentially nothing, and I was just as happy. I realized the most important thing to do is what I have passion for.
When the recording job ended in New York City, Loesel then moved back to Traverse City and started taking lessons from local jazz pro Ron Getz. Loesel explored a wide variety of musical styles. In addition to his initial gig at Blondies, he played jazz at Windows Restaurant and Chateau Chantal. He also started a Celtic band called Smash the Windows and played in blues and rock bands at Lil Bo and Union Street Station.
Loesel had a clearer sense of direction after he attended a master class taught by guitarist extraordinaire Leo Kottke at Northwestern Michigan College.
He played so wonderfully and was so damn funny, Loesel recalls. He wasnt too sappy, he wasnt asking too much of the audience. He was the first person I had seen doing a singer/songwriter thing that I wanted to emulate.
After developing considerable chops on the guitar in a short period of time, Loesel began playing and moving all over the country in his Volkswagen Westfalia van. Over a six-year period he played over 150 shows a year. He spent a year in Virginia, and a few months in Fort Lauderdale, Florida,Austin and Nashville along the way. He eventually settled down in Seattle in 2002 where he is now married and has an eight-month-old son.
In Seattle, Loesel continued to perform regularly, but wanted to move beyond playing cover songs at bars and restaurants and began recording his own music.
Id like to play 80 to 100 concert shows a year, Loesel says. I began to see the key was to have a CD to promote.
Through a friend from his days at Sony Classical, the recording process took Loesel back to New York City. There Loesel worked with producer Alan Zahn, who brought in several top-notch session players such as Larry Campbell of Bob Dylans band on Dobro and fiddle and Clifford Carter from James Taylors band on the B-3 organ to round out the sound.
The CD Westfalia includes songs written when Loesel was traveling across the country in the VW van that it is named after. The titles of the songs, Jack Daniels and Johnny Cash, Nothing to Lose and Too Late to Die Young might give the impression that is a country/folky recording. The sound though, with artfully arranged horns and keyboard fills is more akin to urban folk rockers such as Lyle Lovett and Ray LaMontagne.
Early on, Loesel remembers being on the road and imagining his triumphant return to his hometown. He now sounds more like an established performer in town to visit his family and play a show.
The last two or three years there has been a more settled feel with the music, Loesel says. When I left town 12 years ago, I played cover songs and a few of my own. The show Ill do at Sleders will be all my own material.