Just in case you’d mistake New York Times Best Seller author Ken Sharp with just another rock writer looking to branch out into rock stardom, he’d like to remind you that it was the other way around. He’s always been a music fanatic and has been writing songs since he got his first Red Electra (a Gibson SG copy) guitar at age 13. Mr. Sharp has been on Music Connection’s radar since he first submitted his 4-song demo to us back in 1993. Paul Stanley of KISS mentioned that very demo review when Sharp interviewed him for another publication around that time. “Swear to God he brought that up!” Sharp recalls. Paul Stanley reading our Demo reviews? Why not? Perhaps he was looking for some new talent to review. If he was smart he would have produced Sharp back then, as in that review from ’93 our scribe commented that “Ken Sharp put together four original tunes that are as fresh sounding as they are pleasant to listen to. In addition to being very well produced, an extra mention has to be made about the excellent arrangement of the background vocals; they really kill! The songs are all pop flavored with slight R&B overtones, so we know this kid’s got soul, too.”
All these years later and not much has changed, except a lot. Sharp’s only gotten sharper as a songsmith, and his soul has gotten deeper. And five albums later, Music Connection is still impressed with the singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, as are Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees and legends Ace Frehley and John Oates. And they’re not just paying lip service to his latest, Beauty in the Backseat (Jetfighter Records), well maybe a little, as both, along with Utopia’s Kasim Sulton, make guest appearances on the record, with Oates providing some Brotherly Love via background vocals on a song called “Philly Kind of Night.” Sharp tells us about the collab: “Growing up in the Philly suburbs in the '70s with my ear permanently glued to the radio, it’s no wonder that soul music is such a huge part of my DNA. Combining sweet soul music with a keen pop songwriting sensibility, killer arrangements and musicianship and wondrous vocals, Daryl Hall & John Oates led me to the promised land with every magic album/single release. The song “Philly Kind Of Night” is a loving 70s throwback paying loving tribute to Hall & Oates, as well as wonderful artists like The Stylistics and The Spinners and the life changing music released on the Philadelphia International label (The O'Jays, MFSB, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, Billy Paul, The Intruders, The Three Degrees, et al). Singing falsetto on my track along with John Oates, a hero since I was a teenager, is so insanely cool, it’s a bucket list dream that can now be checked off, and it’s still hard to get my head around it!
Then there’s the “Space” Ace Frehley. Sharp is a legend in KISS Army fandom for being the most ubiquitous writer on the band, from his articles in Goldmine, liner notes, and for authorized books, including the New York Times Best Seller Nothin’ to Lose: The Making of KISS (1972-1975). But writing about the band is different than playing with the band. “I had finished the song ‘Rock Show,’ the lead-off track on my album, but it felt like it was still missing something,” Sharp tells us. “I’d run into Ace at a Gene Simmons Vault [Sharp also wrote the book that comes with the Vault] event in Los Angeles and hung out with him and his lovely fiancé Rachael Gordon in the green room for hours. I told him about my record in the works and then it hit me, Ace is the missing ingredient, the epitome of a real ROCK STAR with swagger. I asked if he’d consider playing on a song about a big rock show and he graciously agreed.
Fast forward a few months later and my co-producer Fernando Perdomo and I were at Ace’s ‘Ace In The Hole’ studio in San Diego. It's after 10PM and I’m playing the chord changes to my song ‘Rock Show’ on one of Ace’s guitars while Ace is getting familiar with the song and trying out solos. So surreal and so mind blowing. Flashes of the kid who hid his Circus magazine/KISS cover story inside his junior high school English text book, flashes of the kid whose bedroom was plastered with KISS posters gamely figuring out KISS songs on his Gibson Flying V (the same model that Paul Stanley used) and flashes of the kid who was berated in junior and senior high school and called a ‘KISS freak’ because of his deep devotion to that band. This is definitely one of those, ‘if my friends (and tormentors) could see me now moment.’ It was such a joy and a full circle moment to be sitting in the studio playing guitar with one of my childhood heroes and later watching him lay down a series of ear-splitting solos on a song I wrote.
Where his last album New Mourning was an edgy dive into 60s/70s hard power pop (more like The Who meets Raspberries), Beauty in the Backseat is a much more eclectic album, but reminiscent of a flashback to the days in the family station wagon listening to what all those various hits affectionately summarized as AM Gold. There’s certainly some darkness to be found, but as opposed to the dour disposition of Mourning, backseat is happy-go-lucky, as the first single [which Ken has agreed to give away to our readers] and video off the record, “Lemons to Lemonade,” is a sun kissed soul pop throwback to the days when The Spinners and The Partridge Family could be played back to back! “I think I've always felt I needed to release songs that fit the stylistic constraints of power pop,” Sharp reflects on his current more eclectic direction. “Not anymore. Digging everything from Elvis Presley to The Beatles to Stevie Wonder to Hall & Oates to Todd Rundgren to Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons to The Sex Pistols to The Partridge Family, I'm feeling more confident and assured to allow my diverse roots to come out, whether it's Philly soul, bubblegum, power pop, glam, baroque pop, garage rock. I'm trying to be the best ‘me’ and working hard as a songwriter and record maker with hopes of getting better and better at my craft.”
And then there’s the elephant in the room, that we already addressed at the top, but we’ll bring it up again for Ken to address. Why should people take a rock writer’s rock songs seriously, when it’s so easy to be cynical and pass it off as just a side-hobby or ego project to satisfy his inner rock star? To that Sharp concludes: “The ‘inner rock’ star has always been there. (laughs) Writing, playing and recording music came long before my work as music writer/book author. That said, I've been pushing myself to write more and record more in the studio as the clock is tickin' and I'm feeling the urgency that there'll be a time when I'm no longer here to do it. But it's also about the deep joy and soul affirmation of doing something you love and working really hard at trying to deliver the goods.
Check out the new video for the first single "Lemons To Lemonade" here:
Ordering info: ken-sharp.com/backseat/index.html