One would think that Chicago’s rich and deep-rooted Irish heritage would propagate songwriters and bands celebrating it, but strangely that hasn’t been the case – at least not those writing original tunes. This realization was the catalyst for producer/musician Andy Gerber to put on his Dr. Frankenstein hat and create the big green monster that became Kevin Flynn & The Avondale Ramblers.
Gerber has a long history in Chicago’s music scene, both as a musician and as a producer/engineer at his Million Yen Studios. He and former bandmate Sean Mulroney (from the band of the same name as the studio) got together with drummer Fred Frey (The Maybenauts) and former Urge Overkill guitarist Nils St. Cyr to form The Avondale Ramblers back in 2007. For a moment, Gerber thought a cute, young countrified female frontperson was the ticket. But fate sent her packing. It had something else in mind, and it rang a bell (more like a “cha-ching”) in Dr. Gerber-stein’s head. Having worked with local Irish rockers The Tossers, he knew few bands filling that niche here in Chicago – plenty of room for more. He knew March was a month of Christmases for the Irish and that gigs abounded. Well-paying gigs entertaining bar crowds, corporate partygoers, and anyone else officially sanctioning the wearin’ o’ the green and drinkin’ o’ the whiskey – especially in Chicago. In fact, according to 2010 data, Irish ancestry is the second most common heritage behind German nationwide, and Chicago has the highest number of Irish-Americans outside of New York.
Appearing: 3/16 at Metro (3730 N. Clark) Chicago with The Tossers.
So Gerber called former Kiss ‘N’ Ride frontman Kevin Flynn. He had the right sounding name, after all. And he could write songs. The two met while working in the studio on songs for Kiss ‘N’ Ride, which disbanded in 2005. “Lead guy” Flynn suffered through a revolving door of lineup changes before calling it quits. “Seems like a lot of people end a band after three or five or seven years, and maybe that’s a good thing. It’s kind of like, you get perspective,” he says. “After Kiss ‘N’ Ride ended, it was like I opened the door and a big tidal wave came in and it was like, ‘Whoa! This is what was going on these past 10 years while you were going at it, going at it, going at it . . . ‘”
When asked to clarify what he means by “perspective,” Flynn elaborates: “I guess all the things you should learn right away about what goes on [in a band], how much of a salesman you end up being in this business. I thought because I was a talented songwriter and because the press in Chicago was recognizing me as such that that would really go a long way, but it didn’t. I thought the band members would respect that and they didn’t. I thought people would want to support what was going on. And, understandably so, I think there are certain people who want to get certain things out of a band; they’re in a band just to have a good time or just play their instrument or what have you. I really thought just being talented was going to be enough. And that wasn’t it. On every level.”
After a couple years off, during which he gained the aforementioned perspective, he got the call from Gerber. “I guess everybody assumes that with my name being in the band that it’s my band. But The Avondale Ramblers is Andy’s band,” Flynn admits. “He just called me one day and said, ‘I want to start an Irish band.’ I said, ‘O.K.’ He said, ‘I’ve got all the people ready. Your job is to write the songs and do the singing.’ And I said, ‘How about this: I like the idea and all, but I never felt Irish compared to the rest of the kids in the neighborhood! I’m a Chicagoan. We’re Americans. We should be an Irish band, but this is our home and heritage, so I should be doing folk songs about the city.’ And Andy said, ‘That sounds great.'”
So, Kevin Flynn & The Avondale Ramblers was born – just in time for Irish Christmas. “One of the first gigs we did was for a Japanese law firm or something,” Flynn recalls. “Celtic music is massive in Japan. We had to fill up the set. They’ll ask us to do three 45-minute sets. So we have to play covers. We do stuff we’ve heard The Pogues do, The Clancy Brothers, The Dubliners. ‘Minstrel Boy’ is a traditional tune, but we put our own twist on it. One day I’m like, ‘You know what would fit? That song ‘Friggin’ In The Riggin’,’ [sic] that Sex Pistols pirate song.’ Or ‘Show Me The Way To Go Home.’ That stuff fits in with what we’re doing. Then it started getting to the point where the set was half and half [covers and originals].”
True to his word, Flynn began researching Chicago history for inspiration for his songwriting.
For the full feature, click on the issue cover or grab a copy of Illinois Entertainer, available free throughout Chicagoland.
— Penelope Biver