By Leah Scalzadonna
Self-proclaimed rock ‘n’ roller Glenn Alexander has played with Bruce Springsteen and on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” but his biggest accomplishments are his personal relationships, he said.
This July, Alexander released a new album, “Glenn Alexander & Shadowland,” which he describes as “rock and blues with a hand of country.” The album, in addition to the requisite drums and guitars, features trombones, saxophones and even a flugelhorn, played by Alexander’s close friends as the Shadowland band. Alexander himself recorded with his Music Man guitar and sings on the album with his daughter, Oria.
“My daughter has not had an easy life,” Alexander said of Oria, citing mental health complications and learning disabilities. “It’s a good way for us to connect. If I can’t help her through music, what’s the point?”
Alexander speaks on the phone with a relaxed, easy tone, calling his friends “cats” and laughing at his own anecdotes. He is unendingly friendly, quick to compliment others and cracking jokes throughout the interview. According to Alexander’s Facebook page, he often sports sunglasses and a straw hat atop his long hair, which rests beneath his shoulders.
To celebrate “Glenn Alexander & Shadowland,” Alexander held his annual “pig gig,” a barbecue and performance that he hosts for friends and guests in his current town, Scotch Plains, N.J.
“It was a great show with a full range of barbecue,” Alexander’s neighbor, Craig Stock, said. “Everything he does is just top-notch.”
Alexander, whose age is left out at his request, grew up on a small farm in Kansas. His parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends were all rural, hardworking people. By the time he was 18, Alexander was proficient in bailing and stacking hay as well as saxophone, piano and guitar.
“I can’t complain,” Alexander said of his childhood. “Growing up in Kansas, all my jobs were labor jobs. I know what it’s like to work hard to make a living.”
After attending community college, Alexander was awarded Wichita State University’s first-ever guitar scholarship, according to his website biography. Alexander became a full-time music professor at the university following his graduation, teaching guitar majors, ensembles and more. But Alexander had bigger dreams.
“New York seemed like the place to be,” Alexander said. “So I packed up everything I had in a van and moved in with a buddy in Jersey City.”
Days after arriving in Jersey City, Alexander’s friend moved out, leaving him alone in a state where he knew no one. So he packed up again and moved throughout New Jersey, going from Union to Westfield, where he stayed for years with his now ex-wife, before moving to Scotch Plains, his current hometown, to be close to his daughter. During those years, Alexander made connections and friendships that led him to Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, a renowned New Jersey band that, according to NJ.com, was acknowledged as Jon Bon Jovi’s reason for singing.
Two members of the Asbury Jukes, Mark Pender and Richie “La Bamba” Rosenberg, played regularly with the Max Weinberg 7, the house band for “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.” Through them, Alexander was able to substitute on the show at least five times. Max Weinberg, the namesake for the band, also drums for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, according to “Rolling Stone.” He invited Alexander to play a few gigs with Springsteen himself.
“They’re cats that I’ve worked with for years,” Alexander said of La Bamba and Pender. “We still play gigs together now.”
With both friendships and music, Alexander touts his honesty as his key to success.
“Simple. Honest,” Alexander said of himself. “It’s the way I try to live my life. Being a country hick, there’s a level of honesty in the things that I do. I like to feel like music is honest.”
Stock spoke to Alexander’s attributes, describing how he met the musician through landscape work and mentioning Alexander’s live Internet shows, in which he plays concerts in his basement and broadcasts it online.
“Glenn is just a good guy,” Stock said. “He’s interesting, well rounded and funny. He’s really cool.”
Currently, Alexander teaches and runs the jazz department at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. On November 11, the Shadowland band will play The Laundromat Bar in Morristown, N.J., Alexander’s last New Jersey show for the foreseeable future.
“I’m extremely thankful for everyone on the recording, everyone who’s helped me make the album,” Alexander said. “They all worked extremely hard to make it happen. That’s what makes me lucky.”