THE NORTH STAR BAND
We're in the process of song selections
for our 2023 North Star Band Project
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The Band That Time Forgot
Welcome back to KICK-ASS COUNTRY!
1976-1982: Return with us now to those thrilling days of yester-year, when the horrors of late 70s disco, and the ravages of early punk rock, had left hard-core music fans stranded. When long-haired freaky people still roamed the earth, an endangered species. At a time when country music’s traditional forms had grown stale, and rock had lost its roll, country rockers stepped into the void. Some were outlaws, some were hippies, but all were keepers of the flame of authenticity, and when they came together, the heavens opened up!
Look, up in the sky, it’s not Elton, it’s not Travolta…
It’s The North Star Band!
Polaris, the North Star, has always guided ships at sea, runaways, and night travelers, steering lost wanderers toward new shorelines and safe havens, and providing a beacon for kindred spirits. Times will change, but the North Star shines on through it all, and with the release of Then and Now, we see that one thing remains constant in the crazy mixed-up confusion we call life on earth.
2022: Fast forward, bringing blazing guitars, searing pedal steel, a pounding beat of thunder, and three-part howling harmonies to drive hearts into an eighty-beats-a-minute ecstasy of fun, these guys have kept the fire burning.
Five – count ‘em FIVE — accomplished songwriters in one band. Led by rhythm guitarist Al Johnson, a wayward vagabond of Georgetown Law, and two-time Grammy Award winner (nine nominations), bassist Jim Robeson, along with east coast guitar phenom Gantt Mann Kushner, the wizardry of Jay Jessup’s sweet pedal steel (plus mandolin, electric guitar, and banjo), Lou Hager’s soulful honky tonk piano, and Dave Besley’s thumping bass riffs, their music is driven home by the insane poundings of Paul Goldstein’s flawless beat. The North Star Band returns our hearts and souls to the epicenter of a place that was once known as Kick-Ass Country!
THEN: Four decades ago, NSB fans piled into dance halls and honky-tonks across the country to hear them play their original music. In venues long faded to dust — Desperados, The Lone Star Café, The Carolina Opry House, County Line, Exit Inn, 117 South Main, to name a few, they played more than 300 nights a year. Lou with his soulful ballads of love and loss, Jimmy with his velvety voice, Dave with his rich vocals and incredible story-songs, Al with his offbeat look at rednecks, hippies and Wild Turkey, and Paul with his soul-searching laments, the boys offered fans a band of many colors. Records were vinyl and spun at 45 and 33 rpm.
It was Jimmy Carter’s Washington, DC, a lodestar in and of itself. There, for a diamond-like moment, it was okay for the South to meet and shake its ass with the North. Fancy French restaurants became beer-soaked honky-tonks. Office workers stayed out late and called in sick the next day. Ears were ringing and everyone was singing!
Back in the days of analogue, the NSB recorded their 3rd album in the summer of 1982, but it was never released. A recession, hard times, and life’s imperatives intervened. THEN is here, remastered and ready to be heard for the first time.
NOW: Fast-forward 40 years. A reunion show to a packed house at the Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia, gave birth to NOW, a collection of newly recorded material. Surprising even themselves, the band came together in the studio to record 10 new songs that not only capture the sound & soul they delivered back in the day, but offer a fresh bold look at the country rock genre they left behind. The playing is sharp and crisp, and the vocals retain that ‘round the campfire’ feel. Their music is timeless, and the quality of the songwriting and performance seems effortless. These guys are the real deal.
A tip of the hat is due to other players who passed through this band, legends in and of themselves: Danny Gatton, Steuart Smith, Bruce Bouton, Mike Melchione, Dave Elliot, Bobby Spates, Jim (Ratzo) Silman, Chad Bruce, Johnny Castle, and more.
Yes, the earth has turned since those days, and yes, times have changed, but with the release of Then and Now, you’ll hear a rebirth of the roadhouse groove. These recordings, old and new, capture the excitement of years spent on the road, telling stories about life and love with a troubadour’s voice and an authentic sound. Then and Now, the feeling is the same, and perhaps that alone can help restore our faith in the way things ought to be.
I know, I was there. And we’re still here.
Prezident, Baker Street, LTD.
vocals - guitar - harmonica
Al formed the band after a brief stint as Big Buck’s Flea Bitten Dog Band, in 1975, on a road trip to Ocean City, Maryland, Pete Evans (destined to become a judge down in Florida) came up with the name, the North Star Band, a nod to my Brooklyn roots.
After a year of performing with side musicians including Bruce Bouton, Mike Melchione and Danny Gatton along with many others, the band solidified around Jim, Jay, Paul, Lou and Chris Sonnenberg. Gantt and Dave eventually joined the band in 1979-1980.
In the early years the band played everywhere and anywhere; Seven days a week, twelve months a year if we could. In 1977 we played 364 gigs; sometimes to crowds, sometimes to tables and chairs. It did not matter. As long as we could play our music, we were happy. We wrote songs and dreamed of record contracts and sold out shows. Eternally trusting that hard work would pay off, and we worked hard. We played roadhouse diners, honky tonks, upscale clubs and low-down holes in the wall. From the Crossroads in Bladensburg, Maryland to the Annandale Grille in Annandale, VA and Desperado’s in Georgetown, the band started to draw local crowds.
We began recording an album of our songs and signed on with Baker Street Ltd., a management company run by Jimmy Patterson and Don Score. By 1978 we had a Nashville producer working with us on our first project. Tonight the North Star Band was released on Adelphi Records and we were getting serious radio play. We began to tour and Gantt joined the band in time to play the Exit Inn in Nashville, TN. When we pulled up to the venue, on came one of Jimmy’s songs on the largest country radio station in Nashville. It was a sight to behold, all of us crowded around the van listening to our record.
In the next several years we continued to tour across the country. Eventually, Jimmy left the band to become an engineer and producer at Bias Recording Studios and Dave joined us. Gantt moved on and Jaybird became a master at guitar, pedal steel and banjo. We continued to play 330-350 dates a year and released our second album, Burning It Up Live at Eskimo Nells (a favorite nightclub that actually did burn down after we recorded a live album there),
By this time we were performing across the eastern seaboard and Midwest along with frequent shows at the Lone Star Café in NYC. We had a large, devoted following and enjoyed every mile, every minute and every show.
The band recorded a third album that was never released. By late 1982, we all agreed that it was time to call it quits and the band broke up. We kept in touch over the years, and kept playing with other bands, either full or part-time. Then in 2019, out of the blue some fans arranged a reunion gig at one of our favorite venues from back in the day, the Birchmere in Arlington, VA. Holy smokes, we packed the place. After the gig, Gantt talked about coming home and recording a new album. After 40 years here we are; new songs, new energy and raring to go back on the road again. I’m proud of our new old band and can’t wait for our double album (1982 and 2021), Then and Now, to start streaming across the globe.
drummer - vocals - songwriter
Paul was born in Washington DC and has lived in the DMV (District, Maryland, Virginia) area all his life. Although he has traveled around playing music everywhere, he never left the DMV. He started out playing guitar but quickly changed to drums. He has played all types of Music from Rock to Jazz Standards.
Through the years he has played with a diverse stable of Artists such as Charlie Thomas from the Drifters, to Country Star Gene Watson. Locally he has played with such notable musicians as Danny Gatton, Ron Hollowayand and played in many Roots Rock and Americana bands. He also tends to compose songs in that Genre which is what drew him to the North Star Band to begin with.
When he first started playing with the North Star Band, they were a four piece country band playing a few original songs. They consisted of guitar, acoustic guitar, bass, and drums. Not to long after Paul joined, they added a piano player, Lou.
They played a place called the Annandale Bar and Grill every Tuesday. As time went on the grill got more and more crowded. It was then decided to charge a cover and the place was still packed. Eventually a move to a bigger place was necessary.
During that time the band was changing personnel. Jim Robeson on Bass and Jay Jessop on steel guitar, guitar, and banjo. Eventually Gantt Kushner was added on guitar and that was the line-up when the first album was recorded. Later, Dave Besley was added on Bass when Jimmy left. Now they are both in the band
Over time, three albums were recorded but only two were released. The third album is now on the new CD. It is the one titled “Then”
Paul played with many different people over the years but eventually he returned to the North Star Band along with everyone else to make the current CD. Recording with all the guys after all those years was a musical privilege and adventure that no one ever thought would happen again, but it did. You can hear in the music what a good time was had by all recording the new album.
keyboards - vocals = songwriter
Lou fell in love with playing the piano when he was about 10 years old. A friend of his was taking piano lessons and playing a song one day on the piano and Lou thought it was magical how someone could play the piano without looking at his hands. Lou’s father bought an upright piano and Lou started teaching himself how to play by buying popular 45 rpm singles by whoever had the number one song on AM radio at the time and playing a little of the record on the record player and lifting the needle and figuring out the notes until he learned that part. Not long after that, he started coming up with some original song ideas.
When Lou got to Junior High School all he wanted to do was be in a band playing at the school dances. Lou got his hands on a Farfisa Mini-Compact Organ and was in a few bands throughout Junior and Senior High school. He also played clarinet and oboe in the orchestra and symphonic/marching band in high school. After High School, Lou was actually enrolled to go to Shenandoah Conservatory of Music in Winchester VA. He ended up getting drafted into the Army and went to Vietnam. After the Army, he jumped right back into music. Lou went to a local community college in Virginia and took all the music theory, appreciation, composition, and history classes he could for a couple of years. At the same time, he played with a few rock bands but they were only playing covers as Lou wrote more songs, Lou’s main influencers were Jackson Browne/Eagles/Poco/Buffalo Springfield/Gram Parsons/etc.
In 1975 Lou was looking to join a new band and answered Al’s ad in the local paper looking for a piano player. He went and heard the band and auditioned the next day at the NSB’s lead guitar player, Mike Melchione’s house where he lived with Dave Elliot (Danny Gatton and the Fat Boys drummer) and Tommy Hannum (The Rosslyn MountainBoys/Ricky Van Shelton pedal steel player). Lou was impressed at how well Mike played his old beat-up Telecaster and excited about playing some of his original songs with a real band. Annandale Bar and Grill was home to the NSB at the time as they paid their dues for $40 a night getting tight.
After the North Star Band originally broke up in 1982, Lou moved to Southern California, met and married his wife of 36 years, had two daughters, and continued playing in the Praise Band at his church. After his mother passed, Lou played old hymns in Retirement Homes until COVID shut the doors.
One of Lou’s most favorite and memorable gigs back then was when the NSB played The Cellar Door in Georgetown. It was the premier club in the DC area and if you played there it was a pretty big deal.
pedal steel - mandolin - banjo
Jay’s Mama got him started on music at a young age with piano and trombone lessons but finally gave up trying to get him to practice. Even a guitar for Christmas when he was 12 didn’t do the trick. The light bulb finally went off a year later while biking through a nearby neighborhood looking for friends to hang out with and finding them at a band rehearsal, three guitars and a drummer. They agreed if he got a bass guitar he could play with them. With his birthday approaching his kindly Aunt Irva took him to Sears and they emerged with a Silvertone bass and amp so he was now a member of a band with the very appropriate name of The Ragged Edge. Having fun playing music with his friends remained a central theme in Jay’s life for the next 16 years. His main musical influences in that era was whatever was hot on the pop and rock charts along with anything on the Stax label out of Memphis.
The next stage of Jay’s musical education started with his arrival at a small southern college in the fall of 1969 attended by students from all over the country bringing with them a wide variety of musical tastes. This resulted in him being introduced to many different musical styles and artists that he may never have been exposed to otherwise. Jay’s musical efforts ran the gamut from trying to be the next Duane Allman or Mike Bloomfield to trying to learn Josh Graves and Mike Auldridge dobro licks while having fun playing Jimmie Rodgers songs with a few friends at the school coffeehouse. The sound of the pedal steel guitar as heard on the Byrds Sweethart of the Rodeo album along with Merle Haggard’s tribute albums to Bob Wills and Jimmie Rodgers was taking root with Jay and his move to Richmond VA after college allowed him to pursue that interest. Soon he was playing four nights a week in smoky Southside Richmond bars and a full time music career was off and running. 1977 found Jay in the DC area looking for more musical opportunities and it was about the same time The North Star Band needed a new pedal steel guitar and banjo player. So began the most fruitful period of Jay’s music career and the phase of his life he looks back on with the most pride.
Jay moved back to his home town of Charlottesville VA after the bands farewell gig on Labor Day weekend of 1982. His father’s untimely passing a short while later found he and his sister in charge of running the family’s Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co of Central Virginia business which they are still doing 38 years later. Started in 1908 by their Grandfather it is the oldest Pepsi bottler in the world owned by the original family. Business commitments along with family responsibilities minimized the time available for seriously pursuing any musical interests in the ensuing years but these days Jay can be found most Sunday mornings playing bass in the praise band at First Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville.
Jay would like to acknowledge the late, great Buddy Charleton who’s guidance gave him a great start learning pedal steel guitar the right way. Everyone Jay played music with through the years also deserves a lot of credit for helping shape his musical identity. Finally all the North Star Band friends and fans who supported the band by attending their shows and enjoying the music all those years ago get a lot of credit for what the band was able to achieve. It’s those memories and the desire and ability to create more good music which has been the inspiration for this new project.
gantt mann kushner
guitar - vocals - engineer
Gantt began playing music at the tender age of 5 when his parents signed him up for music class in which all the kids played “Tonettes” - little recorder-like plastic flutes. Soon after they bought a baby grand piano and lessons began. Around age 12 the Beatles landed, the rock’n’roll bug bit, and Gantt got his first guitar. The Ventures were a huge early influence, then The Beatles and the British Invasion bands, then the Holy Quadrinity of Modern Rock Guitar - Clapton, Page, Beck, and, of course, Jimi Hendrix. The Beatles and the Byrds led Gantt to country-western music, where he discovered great guitar players like the legendary Clarence White. Then, at age 17 Gantt discovered some amazing music in his backyard. Roy Buchanan was playing clubs around the Washington, DC area and Gantt was there - first illegally (had to be 18 to get into DC bars), then legally. After spending a couple of years absorbing Roy he discovered Danny Gatton and the rest, as they say, was history. Roy and Danny continue to be the cornerstones of Gantt’s musical development, enhanced by jazz, country, rock, bluegrass - you name it, he loves it. With the exceptions of Heavy Metal and Hip-Hop, Gantt has played pretty much every genre of American popular music. Before playing with the North Star Band, Gantt played with many local DC area bands, playing every style of music there was to be played. In 1988 he founded Gizmo Recording Company and added recording and producing music to his resume. In 2018 the members of the North Star Band - who were scattered across the country, but still all alive and well! - were asked to play at a tribute to Desperado’s. The band sounded so great and had so much fun that they decided to record another album’s worth of brand new music and to release tracks that had been recorded in 1982. The North Star Band is back, and ready to rock!
bass - guitar - vocals
David Watt Besley is a Virginia born songwriter, performer and sometimes a truth embellisher; he is a hard working, no frills, sit down and do it, kind of guy. In 1968 he began his musical adventure at 14 years old. Until 2010, he spent most of his career playing in bands; Saucer I’m Flying/Thank You a single, The North Star Band LIVE at Eskimo Nells, The Bob Margolin Band, Gary Miller and the Southern Review, Ludwell Newton, one tour with APB (Artimus Pyle Band), The Seiners My Bird Still Ain’t Talking and Keepin’ It Real, The Hackers, The Big Lonesome soon to be released The Big Lonesome Rides Again and Those Guys Those Guys, Those Guys 2, Smile For The Camera, and Complicated World.
His audience can relate to the songs he writes, from the real life experience of love and heartbreak to fishing, drinking and dreaming; some will even make you laugh. He has been a part of the St. Augustine Florida music scene since 1988 where he’s lived since leaving Jekyll Island, GA. He has been inducted to the Saint Augustine Music Hall of Fame twice, once as a member of The Seiners and once as a member of Those Guys.
In 2010 he decided that it was now or never to go it alone. While touring up and down the east coast and Canada he released several solo CDs; Believe These Eyes, Hopeless Romantic and Mr. Song to Evil People It was something he had to do, he says: “The band scene at the time wasn't working out.”
Fast forward to early 2019 as Dave successfully continued a solo career, he once again found himself surrounded by some of the best musicians around and he began to transition his solo gigs into a duo, trio and eventually The Carpetbaggers were a working, traveling and recording band. The Carpetbaggers released Don’t Stare At The Sun in December 2019, a compilation of songs written by Dave and George Reeves. With #2 Back Again just released (December 2021), The Carpetbaggers are back in the studio again working on #3 Say Grace. As The Carpetbaggers continue to perform around Florida and Georgia, Dave has also released his 4th solo effort Live And A Little Touched (2021) 10 videos and audio tracks. and he’s working on his #5 Poor-Dum. He has also been working with his old group, The North Star Band on a double release Then and Now which is 10 original tracks from 1982 and 10 original tracks recorded in 2019 with all its original members. Looks like early 2022 is going to be the release date.
He continues to write music and perform locally in and around St. Augustine. “If I’m in town you’ll find me and my guitar playing somewhere“
“I’ve done the best with the gift I was given. It’s a dream come true to share my songs. “Making music is my life and life is good.”
bass - vocals - accordion
engineer - producer
Jim remembers going with his parents to the Saxonburg Firehall where there was a Polka band every Saturday night that his parents would dance to. When hIs dad opened the door to the "club", he heard a live band for the first time. A real live band! Jim's path was set. He bought an accordion with help from his parents.
Later, Jim's dad bought him an "Airline" (Montgomery Ward) guitar for Christmas, and soon he and his brother Kenny, started a band. They cut their first 45, "It's The Way She" in a studio in Franklin, PA. From then on, Jim was hooked on the process and started recording as much as he could on little 3-inch tape reels. Jim continued to play guitar in high school, but soon found a new love in playing bass.
Just after high school, Jim was drafted into the Army. He served his country during a tour of duty in Vietnam, where, aside from his duties, he would sing American songs weekly on TV in Hue City.
When he returned home, he got a job working for Xerox, yet music remained his true passion. He soon helped form another band, Newington Station, whom recorded almost everything they played focused on original music. Not many gigs but, a lot of fun.
Al came in to do some recording. at Jim's. At the end of one of the sessions, Al and Jim were hanging and talking. Jim played Al a couple of his tunes that he had been working on. A while later, Al asked Jim if he’d be interested in trying out to play bass for the NSB so, Jim went to play with them at The Annandale Bar & Grill where they had a steady gig with BIG $ ($20/night). The thoughts of being able to play originals in a band sparked a whole new fire in Jim. He eventually joined the band, quit Xerox, got divorced, sold his house and went on to be a fairly longstanding member of the band. Yup, much fun!
Jim decided to leave NSB after being offered an engineering position at Bias Studios, where they recorded "Tonite The North Star Band. After a number of years, Jim started playing in local DC bands, All Night Long, The Dynettes, Pete Kennedy and Good Rockin' Tonight, The Chasers, Pressure Drop and a number of other bands.
He left Bias and started his own video/audio production company, Jim Robeson Productions, LLC in 2014.
In 2018 The North Star Band, had a reunion at the Birchmere in VA. The show was like they never stopped playing together as a band. The guys decided to record some songs and put out a current album. "Then and Now" to be released in Spring 2022.
Jim has won 2 Grammy Awards, worked on 11 Grammy-nominated projects, was nominated for a Grammy for best engineered album, is a 4-time Washington-Area Music Association (WAMA) Engineer of the Year, and 2-time WAMA Producer of the Year