Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Interview with John Pazdan and John Ivan from Off Broadway USA

Critical Mass: Thanks for taking the time to talk with Critical Mass guys. I know you have a lot going on so we'll get right to it. Off Broadway are celebrating 35 years of rocking the Midwest, and the world. Can you give us some insight as to how the band formed initially?

John Pazdan: Back in the summer of 1977 I was playing with guitarist Dan Santercola and drummer Paul McDermott in a band put together by saxophonist Tom Webb called “The TS Henry Webb Group”. After a short while the band dissolved, but Dan, Paul and I stuck together and added keyboardist Paul Darrow to play what we called “instrumental mayhem”.  We did a bunch of shows at a dive in Chicago called There Is No Name and started to really work out what the band would evidently become, and began to look for a singer that would fit. The girl I was dating, Deborah McManus, wanted to promote the band and suggested I talk to Cliff because D’Thumbs had just broken up and he was living near me in Oak Park.  He started coming to rehearsals and after a few sessions we asked him to join. Deborah is actually the one who came up with the name “Off Broadway”- we were sitting around one night talking about our “anti-rock star” formula for the band and trying to come up with a name that made sense, and she said “you know, it sounds like if you were in the theater, you'd be Off Broadway.” Then Paul Darrow came up with the idea of the five bare bulbs on a piece of cord (one over each member of the band) as our big “light show”, we decided on simple bowling shirts with our names on ‘em for stage wear and we were all set.

CM: In 1979 the bands debut album, the now legendary set "On" was released on Atlantic Records. And you guys got a ton of airplay here in Chicago with "Stay In Time". What was it like to actually hear your music on the radio for the first time?

JP: Anti-climatic. ;)

John Ivan: We were so busy working and touring it didn’t really register.  We were always first and foremost a live band, that’s where the power came from- the album was a very L.A. studio polished version of what we actually did, and in my opinion didn’t really capture the essence of the band.  When the songs were enjoying heavy radio saturation on the Loop and other stations here in the Midwest we were out traipsing around the country with everybody from The Babys to UFO and didn’t really have time to sit back and let it sink in.
CM: After the albums release you guys hit the road to promote the album. Are there any stories, good or bad, of being on the road for the first time that you wanna share?

JP:  The first time we played in New York City we were opening for UFO.  The people that came out to see UFO had zero interest in Off Broadway, and we were literally booed off the stage.  To top it off, the elevator at the venue was broken (or maybe the guys just shut it off because they hated us that much), and we had to climb three flights of stairs to get to our dressing rooms.  So we make this long haul up there after being rejected by the audience, and there’s this big sign that says ATLANTIC RECORDS WELCOMES OFF BROADWAY TO NEW YORK CITY…

CM: The bands second album "Quick Turns" was released in 1980 and it wasn't the big follow up you guys were expecting. It was, in my opinion, just as good as "On". But it just didn't hit at that time. And the band split up. John and John, what were you guys up to musically when the band split up? Did you guys play with anyone else or record any music?

JP: When I left the band, I lived between LA and Chicago for a few years. In LA I auditioned for Warner Brothers act Code Blue… didn't get that… also Arista act Elton Duck (great band, but I decided not to join).  On returning to Chicago in 1983, I co-founded The Insiders with Jeff Thomas, John Siegle and Gary Yerkins (Jeff and I left before they signed to Epic). After that I took a gig as house bassist at The Kingston Mines/Chicago where I played every Friday and Saturday for a year, backing up people like Hubert Sumlin, Val Wellington, Sugar Blue, etc, etc, ect. Next up was Chicago's first alt country group Big Guitars from Memphis with John Ivan- we toured Europe, the US, had a good run. After that I produced singer/songwriter Steve Laxton who was to be signed to Capitol by Bruce Lundvall, but the deal fell through. Then I played a gig with Chuck Berry, and after that I worked playing with MCA artist Suzanne Palmer for a bit. I then concentrated on writing and producing music for soundtracks, websites, documentaries, etc (which I still do). In 2006 I reformed Pezband with Demitrios Betninis and Mike Ruane, we recorded, went to the UK, but in the end it didn't work out.  In the fall of 2011 we re-started OBusa, and I am also now working with Delmark recording artist Dave Specter… so I guess I kinda did a few things?  Also add countless sessions, including working with David Sanborn and Fareed Haque to the resume and it’s been a pretty full few decades...

JI: I worked with a ton of artists including Josie Aiello (That Thing You Do, South Park) and John Hammond (Bruce Springstein, Streisand, etc.) and played on a lot of recordings, produced a few bands (Club of Rome) and then formed Big Guitars in 1988, which continues and will be celebrating it’s 25th anniversary next year.
CM: There was a third Off Broadway album that was recorded, I believe with Rick Nielsen producing, that was never released. But it has been bootlegged over the years. Will this album ever see the light of day?

JI:  Never was finished- the few songs floating around are demos.  We are actually re-working some of those tunes now for the 35th Anniversary concerts and possibly for release.  You’ll have to keep checking our Facebook page and website, and come out to the shows to find out exactly what we’re up to!

CM: In the 90's the band got back together with Cliff Johnson and Rob Harding as the sole original members from the "On" era, with Ken Harck playing occasionally. And the band played locally in places like Fitzgerald's in Berwyn. Then that version of the band called it a day a few years ago. Now Off Broadway is back with founding members John Ivan and John Pazdan back in their rightful places. How does the current version of the band compare to the original line-up?

JP:  Gee, let’s see- we’re on “Off Broadway USA Mach 9” at this point, right?  Comparing this line-up to the preceding 8 line-ups, I’d be confident in saying it’s as good as any and definitely better than more than a few of ‘em.

CM: I've heard Brian sing those old tunes, and it sounds like Cliff so much it's almost scary!

JP: Though he can easily cop the tone and flavor of the recordings, Brian has a much bigger and more diverse range as you’ll see in the coming months as we explore “new territory” both in the studio and on stage.

CM: The current line-up with Brian, Scott Licina and Sal Monaco is a pretty solid and tight outfit. The new guys really do the old tunes justice. Can we expect any new material in the near future?

JP:  Brian, Scott and Sal are phenomenal musicians and consummate professionals, and do more than just “do justice” to the old music.  Come out to a concert and see for yourself.

JI: Yes.  Like I said earlier, we’re going back to our roots and re-working some of the older unreleased material (ala the new Van Halen album), and also crafting some new tunes as well.
CM: Will the band be hitting the road in 2012, or will you guys be sticking around the Chicagoland area first?

JI: Midwest, first and foremost.  Again, watch our online presences for news and updates.

CM: Is there a website you guys wanna plug where we can get up to date news on possible new releases, shows and merch?

JP: You can “like” us on Facebook at, follow us on Twitter at and go to the official website at for news, merch and F-U-N!

CM: Gentlemen, I can't thank you enough for talking with me and Critical Mass. I've been a fan for more years than I can remember. I hope to see you guys live real soon. All the best to you in 2012 and beyond! Thanks again guys.

John & John: Thank you!  Hope to see you all at a show soon!

And don't forget to see Off broadway USA when they play at Tailgaters in Bollingbrook on June 16th! You can get all the info HERE! Critical Mass will be there, and you should too!


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