This year marks the 21st anniversary of starry-eyed Michael McDermott releasing his major label debut album and finding fleeting fame when “620 W. Surf,” for Warner Bros./Giant Records, spawned a national Top 40 hit single, “A Wall I Must Climb.”
The video landed the then 20-year-old Chicago singer/songwriter in the MTV “Buzz Bin” and suggested the “climb” would be one to major rock stardom, as flattering comparisons to Springsteen, Dylan and other musical storytellers were drawn by critics.
Just as his star was rising, Seattle grunge exploded and McDermott was suddenly out of favor after just weeks after being heralded “the next big thing.” His personal and musical journey since then has been a long one that has included – Chicago Cubs games with horror author Stephen King (a fan who has used McDermott lyrics in some of his novels), other record deals, strong releases failing to live up the first album’s promise of commercial greatness, and some very dark and destructive years plagued by a variety of personal demons.
In 2007, came newfound success in Europe and “a bright light at the end of the tunnel,” as McDermott described it. That “light” being Heather Horton, an amazing writer and musician in her own right. McDermott was smitten and the two have since married, collaborating to create music and a baby daughter, Rain (nicknamed “Willie”), now just over a year old.
His latest CD, “Hit Me Back,” finds McDermott coming to Front Porch Music (505 East Lincolnway) in Valparaiso for an intimate all-ages concert at 8 p.m. today with Horton accompanying. Cost: $15
McDermott explains the stories behind some of the songs from the new 12-track CD.
“It’s fairly well-documented I frequented watering holes,” said McDermott of the song, “I Know A Place.” “In not too distant a day, I was what people refer to as ‘a bar fly,’ and stories about the places I would frequent are peppered in songs from throughout my career. But I had never written a good old-fashioned ‘bar song.’ Now I have, so perhaps this is my ‘bar song’ swan song.”
“Scars From Another Life” is McDermott leaving behind the darkness.
“At some point you gotta stop carrying around that which weighs you down. The scars of your past should be left there. They are scars from another life,”he said.
“I’ve always lived near train tracks my whole life, so trains are part of my makeup,” McDermott said about “Dreams About Trains.” “(I saw) a clip from after Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, where they took his body cross-country via train and thousands came out of their homes all along the journey to salute him in his casket. This very powerful footage sparked the song.”
The story behind “The Silent Will Soon Be Singing” is sure to inspire as the holiday season grows closer.
McDermott and Horton often pass an assisted living home in their neighborhood and see elderly people outside in their wheelchairs. “As we waited by the stoplight near our home we’d comment on how sad it was (being old and so alone),” explained McDermott. “Last Christmas Eve, Heather told me she had a gift for me and that I should put on something nice and that she had gotten a sitter. I was excited, not knowing what was in store. A half mile into our trip, she pulled over and parked. We were in front of the nursing home. We went in and sang some songs and after we finished, I walked outside and cried. Heather is the best.”
That pop music stardom eluded McDermott two decades ago seems a blessing in hindsight. For the much rockier road this amazing troubadour instead traveled afforded him the necessary tools and experiences to create a body of soul-stirring novellas put to song, enabling McDermott to finally live up to those early comparisons to Springsteen, Dylan and other great songwriters and storytellers.
“Hit Me Back” is one of McDermott’s finest collections yet. His performances are always moving and emotive as the characters in the songs come to life, making the opportunity to see McDermott in such an intimate venue as Front Porch Music, one not to miss. More: MICHAEL-MCDERMOTT.COM