Photo by Bryan Lasky
A message flashed across my iPhone one evening.
“Heard u did a thing with Sly. Good guy.”
It was Bryan Lasky, a photographer whose work is omnipresent in the local music scene. Any picture of a band who calls the Capital District home likely has his stylized BDL watermark on it. He’s in front of the stage for more than 100 shows a year and is often hired to take promotional shots. He’s tasked with capturing the character and spirit of each musician that crosses his lens. The “good guy” comment was in reference to Sly Fox. Coming from Bryan, it carries weight.
Of course that’s not his real name, but call Fox by what’s on his birth certificate and he’ll think he’s in trouble.
“Nobody knows me as Gary,” said the local promoter and frontman of Sly Fox and the Hustlers. “Except my mom. My mom and the cops. That’s what I always say, are the only ones who call me Gary.”
So, everyone sticks to calling him Sly. Something about the name adds to a presence that leads people into believing he’s not from around here. It’s not out of intimidation that keeps people from calling him Gary. Though, the long hair, thick beard and dark sunglasses could play a factor in someone’s first impression. That impression often segues to the oft-asked question, “where ya from?” The band’s soulful sound of blues rock has a Southern feel to it. Because of which, Fox said it’s common for people to think he’s some sort of wayward carpetbagger who traveled north of the Mason-Dixon line here to Albany.
“I do get that all the time,” said Fox. “I don’t know. I guess that’s what I gravitate towards. But, people think that all the time. They ask me when I moved here.” Seven years after dropping “The Low-life,” featuring “Rough Patch of Road,” he still seems confused by it. “I don’t have an accent or anything.”
Not for nothing Fox carries the respect of the people who make up the local music scene. He helps shape that scene, having a hand in booking music acts at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Troy and the Putnam Den in Saratoga Springs, each of which a magnet for the best area talent. “The Dino,” and its waterfront property on the banks of the Hudson, has a long-standing history that dates back to its Castaways days of the ‘90s. The Putnam Den, nestled off Broadway on Saratoga Spring’s Putnam Street, continuously draws bands with regional pull through its doors. That’s with Fox’s help.
“He seems to always know about the newest bands on the scene,” said Melanie Krahmer of SIRSY. “He’s ready to listen and help them grow. He’s a huge asset to our local scene.”
This past summer, SIRSY played at Troy’s annual concert series Rockin’ on the River. The powerhouse duo of Melanie Krahmer and Richard Libutti shared the summer evening with Sly Fox and the Hustlers. Krahmer said she and Libutti “love Sly as a person.”
“We love Sly as a person, as a musician, as a sound guy and as a music booker,” said Krahmer. “It’s rare that someone can do all those things well — but, he can…. He’s also a really kind and decent human.
And, [you] can quote me on all of that.”
Fox is in the middle of making arrangements to the Putnam Den when his cell phone rings. Scheduling conflicts have him looking for a sound guy to step in for a big show. He’s booked shows there for two years, but the venue only just finished an overhaul. A larger stage was installed and a new sound system was put into place. He’s getting things set to host Particle + Lespecial. He anticipates a couple of hundred people through the door. A quick introduction from the other end of the phone is followed by a friendly, “what’s up, brother?” And the impromptu interview begins.
“When I was in second grade, the teacher told my parents that she was sure I was going to end up being a poet,” said Fox. “But, I’ve always been a big lyric guy.” It’s a love he attributes to time spent reading the jacket covers off of his CDs, diving back through the messages of who the band thanked for influencing them. Traveling back to the 60s and 70s. He and Sean Rowe picked up on the blues and names no one head on the radio.
“In reading stories about those bands, they were always mentioning Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson,” said Fox. Then, once I got into that stuff, I felt like I went as far back as I could go. That stuff… it’s hard to describe it, but it kind of speaks into your soul. It’s timeless. That old blues and stuff is heartfelt.”
“Been down a rough patch of road.
All the lies I’ve told.
Been down a rough patch of road.
All the things I’ve stole.
Been down a rough patch of road.
Never ratted, ‘cause that’s the code.
Been down a rough patch of road.”
— Rough Patch of Road
The Low Life
Fox turns the tables on the interview. He genuinely asks what bands the reporter is into, which starts a meandering road of memories shared over one-cent mail order CDs through Columbia House, jacket notes off of “Born in the U.S.A. and a funk band out of Boston’s Berklee College called Lettuce. The interview’s now a conversation between music lovers.
On top of the work he has before him that day, Fox and his band are preparing to hit the road this month for a tour that launches from Troy and takes them through the Northeast with stops in New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, Burlington and Buffalo. Then, the band hits points they’ve never been, down in the South to Memphis and Nashville. The band also has a new album queued for release, a free fan album featuring a live performance captured from The Egg. A wholly new studio album is already in the works, and should be recorded next January.
“We’ve been lucky enough, we’ve played at The Egg for the last four summers,” said Fox. When the band last played there earlier this year, the staff already had the soundboard calibrated based off their previous shows. “We’ve got some really good recording from a sold out show we did there with Kenny Wayne Shepherd. It came out fantastic, so we decided to release it.”
Another reason the band decided to release the live CD was to express their gratitude towards the staff at The Egg.
“What you hear up front is never what you hear on stage,” said Fox. “But [at The Egg], on stage, you hear the room because of the shape of it. It’s the best sound, ever, versus anywhere else. … The guys that run it there are perfect at what they do, and the design of the room. Another reason why we wanted to release it was because we have such a good relationship there with the staff. The way it sounds there is so amazing.”
“Live at The Egg” will be free and available online through the band’s website, iTunes and more during the first week of November.
Dustin Alexander is on the road when his phone buzzes alive. The Saratoga Springs native is on his way to a hike when a message across his screen asks for his thoughts on Sly Fox. Alexander’s Jesus Christ and the Hallucinogenic Allstars once took residency at the Putnam Den. He still takes the stage there with his current band, Angels on the Fourth.
“I respect that dude a lot.”
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.