The early 1990s will forever be known as the Grunge Era, but one band managed to find its niche during that time by taking an almost polar opposite musical approach. The unlikely rise of Spin Doctors can partially be credited to the “jam band” movement that followed in the wake of the Grateful Dead’s late ‘80s revival but their punchy, funky and insanely catchy 1991 debut album, Pocket Full Of Kryptonite, turned out to be the perfect tonic for audiences and radio programmers, perhaps a little trepidatious to go all-in on what was happening in Seattle.
Few realized at the time that there was a Canadian connection to Spin Doctors. Guitarist Eric Schenkman grew up in Toronto before co-founding the band in New York City in the late ‘80s, remaining on board until 1994 when he abruptly left citing touring burnout and musical differences. He rejoined in 2001 as the band returned to active duty following singer Chris Barron overcoming a battle with vocal chord paralysis, but by then Schenkman had established his reputation through lending his guitar talents to other artists and returning to his first love, the blues.
He also returned to Toronto, and for the past decade has become a familiar face on the Ontario blues circuit, collaborating with artists such as singer/harmonica player Jerome Godboo and guitarist Shawn Kellerman, as well as holding a weekly Wednesday night residency at the legendary Grossman’s Tavern in Toronto’s Chinatown.
In late 2018, Schenkman released his first true solo album, Who Shot John?, which displays various shades of blues, from the raw juke joint boogie of Agent Orange to the slicker, Chicago-style Fortune Teller. A blending of the two is apparent on Salvation (Lincoln’s Feet), the album’s new single and first video showing some gritty New York street scenes. We recently caught up with Schenkman to talk about his past and future, and you can find out more at ericschenkman.com.
What makes Who Shot John? different from your past work?
The main difference is that I’m singing on all of it, which is something I haven’t done historically. I’ve been singing a lot over the last five years, so that’s been exciting for me—definitely a change from 90 percent of my work with Spin Doctors.
What songs on the album are you particularly proud of?
Really, I like them all, but at the moment the song I’m most excited about is Salvation (Lincoln's Feet) on account of the video for it that’s hot off the press!
What does being considered a blues artist give you, as compared to being in the mainstream rock world?
Being a familiar face in the Canadian blues world—and anywhere really—means that I am able to draw on some amazing talent in terms of performance and also inspiration. I’d put my close association with Shawn Kellerman, who I produced the record with, right at the top of that list. I wouldn't know Shawn if it weren't for my interactions within the Canadian blues scene.
What’s the current status of Spin Doctors?
Spin Doctors are still in full swing, and I think we sound better than ever. It's the original lineup, and we’ve been playing at least one gig every week almost exclusively in the States. There will be new music coming 2020!
What song in your catalogue means most to you and why?
It’s pretty easy to say, Two Princes. We wrote that tune back in the ‘80s, and it is so cool that it didn't even need a chorus. It's like an electric doo-wop progression with a great groove, and Chris wrote terrific lyrics. That song has made us all able to survive all these years doing our thing, as well as our various solo things. “Just go ahead now!”
PR: Eric Alper