It’s been nearly 16 years since the Salt City trio of singer, songwriter and guitarist Jamie Notarthomas, bassist Scott Schimpf and drummer Tony Carbone shared a stage. Then known as the Jamie Notarthomas Band, they released an independent debut album, Jamie Notarthomas, in 1990, having only played a few dozen live shows. But by the time they issued their 1995 follow-up, Heads or Tales (Soulamander Records), they had racked up nearly 1,000 shows and things took off in a whirlwind. They caught the edge of the jam-band movement, with Phish, the Spin Doctors and the Dave Matthews Band emerging and blowing up around them. Since the Notarthomas outfit played the same tour circuits, people like Trey Anastasio of Phish and Jon Popper of Blues Traveler started noticing them along the way.
But after about six years of heavy touring, the brakes came on when Notarthomas started hitting the studio more, resulting in the group touring less. Schimpf and the band’s roadie, Gooch, were asked to hop back on the road with the Smashing Pumpkins.
“I don’t think we had a fight or anything,” Notarthomas laughs as he tries to recall the split. “I think everybody just went their own way for a while.” Until now.
Schimpf owns the Liverpool venue Limp Lizard, 201 First St. While watching another band play the house one night in September, a waitress told him there were some diners looking to see him. Carbone and his wife had dropped by to surprise him.
“It was just like old times,” Carbone says. “Anyone who knows him knows how much fun he is to be around.”
While reminiscing over beers, the topic of booking bands for Halloween weekend came up. Schimpf asked for suggestions, but all of Carbone’s ideas for groups weren’t available. That’s when the idea of a reunion took shape. “He said, ‘Do you think we can still fill the place after all these years?’” Carbone remembers.
“He was apprehensive at first,” Schimpf says about Carbone. “But then he got into it. Now it’s like riding a bike. I think we play better now than ever.”
Schimpf, Carbone and Notarthomas will reunite for a free Limp Lizard show on Friday, Oct. 26, 9 p.m. The guys will also play a 9:30 p.m. show on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, Nov. 22, at Shifty’s, 1401 Burnet Ave.
Notarthomas, originally from Eastwood, has been a musician since he could walk. Born into a musical family (his brother Jon currently plays with Ian McLagan of The Faces), he says that by the time he was 4 he could sing almost every Beatles record. At age 48, Notarthomas has played more than 5,000 shows throughout his career. He’s played solo and with bands spanning three to nine members, songwriting and arranging for each group along the way.
The Jamie Notarthomas Band formed when Schimpf and Carbone shifted from brother Jon Notarthomas’ act, the Unholy Wives, to the new project. The band had a solid run and still has an active fan base nationwide. Notarthomas notes that many will travel considerable distances for this single show.
Since the trio’s disbanding in the mid-1990s, Notarthomas has released the LPs Climbing out of the 20th Century (Soulamander, 1999) and The Crow Convention (Soulamander, 2008). He also does solo gigs around the area and performs tributes to some of the artists he most admires, namely Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.
“I study all the great writers,” he says. “I think that music is really important. To me, it’s a sacred thing. I take it really seriously and I want to compete with, in the same realm, as the greats. To me the greatest people are like Van Morrison and Dylan, Neil Young, Springsteen, Elvis Costello, The Beatles. These people write songs that are timeless and even though some of them don’t get Top 10 hits, they just have this endurance. They never stop putting out music.”
Notarthomas’ music carries a similar timelessness to it. With lyrical themes and melodic lines that still make sense even though some were written two decades earlier, his albums remain fresh and relatable. Many of those songs as well as choice covers from his musical muses will make the Limp Lizard setlist.
“Right now we’re just trying to get through this one gig,” he says, “making sure we remember the songs and that we’re doing ’em good. That’s our goal right now. But we are having fun rehearsing. I do love these guys. I’d go in and make a record with these guys tomorrow.”
In the years since the band’s last show, children, jobs and other projects have cropped up, changing priorities and responsibilities among the men. Notarthomas notes, “I think raising a child, the energy you put into a child, you could put out 10 albums. It really does absorb everything.”
Notarthomas’ son, Riley, is 11, while Carbone’s son, Ben, just left for Fordham University, another factor that aided the reunion. “He’s at the point where he can invest some time,” Notarthomas explains.
Notarthomas is genuinely excited about rejoining his old bandmates, yet it’s also apparent that he believes in the importance of his art. “Music helped me,” he says with sincerity. “A lot of artistic, philosophical people feel like outcasts in this world. They feel like they don’t know where they fit in. Even though we never made a big record deal, never became hugely famous, I think we honored the art. And I think I still do honor the art as the highest art form. Music encapsulates poetry, it has social commentary in it, deep emotional reflections for what it means to be a human being and it becomes a kind of soundtrack, too. It can become inspirational and embody philosophical perspective or advice that helps people. I make sure that my music has some of that in it.”
Still, Notarthamas keeps his art and his accomplishments in perspective; even though music can be a hero and a savior for many, he has his own heroes. “I always tell those people, the healers, that they’re my heroes and that I look up to them for what they do. Those people are so important, the ones who help others, help injustice, help people misplaced in jails. I say, ‘Well, you guys are the healers, so you really do the important job.’ And they say, ‘Yeah, but you’re the healer’s healer.’ So my music helps them and helps inspire them. That’s what the music was really all about in the first place.”
And so the circle goes unbroken: As the healers heal, so too are they healed. And sometimes it’s by something as simple as three men with a bass, guitar and drums.For more information on Friday’s Limp Lizard show, call 451-9774. Details on the Thanksgiving gig at Shifty’s are available at 474-0048.