Pop ’N Hiss: Marshall Crenshaw’s Field Day

Jangle All the Way
Pop ’N Hiss: Marshall Crenshaw’s Field Day
Marshall Crenshaw with his 12-string Epiphone Wilshire onstage in New York City, June ’83.

Marshall Crenshaw’s brief chart run remains a bright spot of 1980s rock – effectively, the final blast of New Wave before the genre was buried by Thriller, Purple Rain, and other Big ’80s production jobs. During that span, Marshall wrote and recorded a number of cassette classics, notably “Someday, Someway” and the extra-jangly “Whenever You’re On My Mind.”

Prior to going solo, Crenshaw was in the cast of Beatlemania, playing John Lennon on Broadway and touring with the smash musical. The singer/guitarist later formed a trio with his brother, Robert, on drums, and bassist Chris Donato, recording a self-titled debut in 1982 and producing a mid-sized hit with “Someday, Someway” striking #36 on the charts. He followed with 1983’s Field Day, which didn’t chart as high but contained his Byrds-tinged gem “Whenever You’re on My Mind.” This fine album has just been reissued, with bonus tracks, as Field Day: 40th Anniversary Expanded Edition.

Crenshaw notes that ’60s pop singer Jackie DeShannon was the main inspiration for “Whenever You’re On My Mind.”

“Jackie’s ‘When You Walk In the Room’ came out in late ’63 and was a monster smash hit single in the Detroit area, where I grew up,” he said. “It’s still a favorite of mine, and now sounds well ahead of its time with the dominant electric 12-string; in fact, Jackie was an influence on The Byrds, and friends with them. I also put my own Byrds reference into the song – at the end of the choruses, I played a guitar countermelody that’s a quote from Roger McGuinn’s solo on ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’.”

Part of the allure of Field Day was its live-in-the-studio vibe, which Crenshaw notes was intentional.

“On most tracks, there’s just one electric rhythm guitar and perhaps an overdub or two. The drums and bass were done in layers, but when I cut my main rhythm-guitar part, I’d always go for a complete take in one pass, like I was playing the song onstage. If I made a mistake, I’d start over again from the top. That’s partly where the live energy comes from; plus, we were young guys who were high on life.”

On “For Her Love,” Crenshaw takes a lead using double-stops, a stylistic nod to Buddy Holly’s rock and roll (Marshall later played Holly in the 1987 hit film La Bamba). Crenshaw agrees with the comparison: “It does sound like something that [guitarist] Tommy Allsup might’ve played on one of Buddy’s records, and I probably had that in mind at the time. Onstage, I sometimes mention that I saw Buddy Holly on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ when I was four years old, but he was blurry because I needed glasses and nobody knew it yet. At the time of Field Day, I would’ve also been listening to Nile Rodgers, Jody Harris, Robert Quine, and maybe some Andy Summers, because I occasionally used a chorus pedal. I was friends with Danny Gatton and invited him to play a solo on ‘One Day With You.’ He didn’t show up at the session, so I tried to play something like I thought Danny might’ve played.”

Another memorable aspect of the album is its honest, vintage-studio sound, as if Crenshaw and his band time-traveled back to Sun Studios in the mid ’50s. For gear, he recalls, “About 60 percent of the time, I played a Stratocaster through a Vox AC30. I also had an Epiphone Coronet with a P-90, and had just gotten a ’55 Gretsch Jet Firebird; I’d wanted one of those since I first saw Bo Diddley on the cover of Go Bo Diddley. I used two electric 12-strings – an Epiphone Wilshire and a Carvin – as well as a ’63 Tele during the Field Day sessions, but only used it for the solo on ‘One Day With You.’ I tried acoustic guitar on one song, but got rid of it; it’s electric guitars only on the album. Other amps were a Dual Showman and a Music Man paired with that black Carvin 12-string for ‘All I Know Right Now.’”

Field Day was helmed by a new producer on the scene, Steve Lillywhite, then just becoming known for his work with an Irish band called U2. Engineering was handled by another rising heavyweight, Scott Litt, who went on to produce six R.E.M. albums. For the luminous studio tone, Marshall says, “If I remember correctly, there’s very little reverb on the album. Normally, I didn’t use reverb on guitar, but in ’74 I got three albums that really spun my head around – The World Is Waiting For the Sunrise by Les Paul & Mary Ford, The Bop That Just Won’t Stop by Gene Vincent, and The Sun Collection by Elvis Presley. After that, I always wanted to use slap-echo. By the time of Field Day, I was using a Boss Analog Delay, then straight to the amp.”

“Whenever You’re On My Mind” remains a critical track of the early decade, just before such stripped-down rock was steamrolled by drum machines, synthesizers, and over-the-top production. Reflecting on his musical legacy, Crenshaw muses, “Popular music is always moving forward, plus the music business is fast-paced and competitive. If you have a chunk of time where things are working reasonably well for you, you should be grateful for that – and I am. From late ’81, when [rockabilly singer] Robert Gordon’s version of “Someday, Someway” was in the Billboard Hot 100, up to late ’87, when the La Bamba soundtrack album was #1, there was always something, somewhere in the charts that had my name on it. And I’ve never stopped working since.

“As far as Field Day goes, I love it. It’s my second album – but it’s the first one where you can tell I’m a guitar player.”

This article originally appeared in VG’s September 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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