The Home of John Train

The Home of John Train

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No 2 Unalike Preview by Dan Deluca from the Philadelphia Inquirer...
"Among the lesser known dependable pleasures of the Philadelphia music scene are the free Friday night happy hour shows with John Train, the rootsy sextet fronted by superb story telling singer-songwriter Jon Houlon, a prolific sort who is also the lead singer from the more garage-rock oriented band The Donuts."
Read more here!

The wayback machine...
Many thanks to Tommy T for sending us a DVD of something that he and Jeff DiBlasi shot back in 2004 while John Train was playing regularly at Jack's Firehouse. While the whole band wasn't there on this night, it still captures a time that was important to us. It's dedicated to Steve Demarest.

To the Trainarmy and musician compadres who played with us, thanks so much for making the January-through-March run of shows at Fergie's Pub a special time. We had a blast and without you being there, it simply wouldn't be possible to keep doing these shows the past 9 years. We truly appreciate your enthusiasm and the word of mouth helps.

Let's make it 10!

Isn't That So?
Jesse Winchester cover

Thanks to the Phantom Engineer for capturing the moment. Live from Fergie's Pub on 1/23/15 doing what we do.

Three for Lou

There's been so much great stuff written about Lou Reed since his passing. I'm not sure what I can add.

But here's my favorite three Lou Reed covers that perhaps you haven't heard before.

1. Go to Blazes, Underneath the Bottle
GTB always had great covers in their repertoire. They even made a sort of "covers" record called "and Other Crimes". It contains stellar versions of songs by Gordon Lightfoot, Gene Clark, Kinky Friedman, Lee Hazelwood and our late friend Bruce Langfeld. A few rockin' originals are thrown in for good measure. But my favorite track is their take on Lou Reed's "Underneath the Bottle". Lou's version on the Blue Mask is powerful but somehow GTB made this song about alcoholism even more visceral. We'll be doing GTB's version over at the World Cafe on Saturday night.

2. Tommy Keene, Kill Your Sons
Tommy is my hometown hero (a Bethesda/Rockville, Maryland guy). He cut this Lou Reed song on his debut album for Geffen called "Songs from the Film" produced by Sir George Martin. Yea, that George Martin! Here he is rocking out "Kill Your Sons" at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC. In addition to being a fine songwriter, Tommy is quite the guitar slinger. He brings a wild abandon to this song, one of Lou's most personal and saddest. Lou was given electro-shock as as young man due to his uh, irregular, behavior. Kill Your Sons, indeed. Same thing happened to Townes Van Zandt.

3. Howard Tate, How Do You Think It Feels?
Here's one by the late Philly/Camden soul singer Howard Tate. Howard cut some legendary sides with Jerry Ragovoy in the '60s but then disappeared. He struggled with addiction on the streets of Camden, eventually turned his life around and began his own ministry. About ten years before his death, he re-emerged to claim his position as one of the greatest soul singers of all time. His cut of this Lou Reed song from "Berlin" rings so true. Howard knew how it felt. Bonus: Lou plays guitar on the track!

Enjoy. Hope to see you on Saturday.

Happy Holidays, Jon

Boxcars roll: RIP John Train Bass Player Steve Demarest 1953-2013
It is with the heaviest of hearts that I inform you that John Train Bass Player Steve Demarest passed away yesterday (October 5th, 2013). Steve lost consciousness between John Train sets at Fergie's on Friday night. He was rushed by ambulance to Jefferson Hospital. He went down and never came back up. "Aortic dissection" led to various complications that could not be reversed. There was no sign, no nothing. It just suddenly occurred. Steve's exit was fast, painless, and peaceful. The last thing he did was the thing he enjoyed most: playing music. The last song we played together was Butch Hancock's "Boxcars."

Steve Demarest was born on May 1, 1953 in Camden, New Jersey. He was the first son and first born of William and Louise Demarest. He was raised in Kresson, New Jersey and graduated from Eastern High School. He attended Rutgers University where he earned a degree in Psychology. Steve is survived by his brother William David Demarest and his sister Cynthia Louise Kershaw as well as nephews Dakota and Bryce Kershaw and nieces Samantha Sumner, Avery Kershaw, and Charlotte Demarest.

Steve worked various jobs during his life, mostly in sales and insurance.

Steve's true passion, however, was playing music.

His sister, Cindy, told me that their late mother Louise Demarest recalled Steve and his teenage cohorts blowing the roof off their junior high school auditorium with a performance of Roger Miller's "King of the Road."

In 1979, Steve formed the Hens with Dave White and other South Jersey musicians. They built up a following and played legendary clubs such as the Evergreen, the Galaxy, and JC Dobbs. They also performed twice at CBGBs before disbanding in 1983.

In 1993, Steve musically resurfaced with Philadelphia's Leisure Kings with whom he played until 2000. On a personal note, the Leisure Kings are how I got to know Steve. My friend Chris Payne and I saw them open for Go To Blazes in the early 90s at Silk City. We were blown away by front man Louis Gribaudo's songwriting, guitar playing, and singing. Steve and drummer Greg DiSabatino were a great rhythm section: almost a combination of Bill Wyman and Keith Moon. Steve never over did it; Greg always did.But, somehow, they made a tremendous and coherent sound. A great under-acknowledged band!

From 1994 to 2000, Steve played bass with Burn Witch Burn. BWB was fronted by Philly punk rock legend Rodney Anonymous who founded and continues to make brilliant music with the Dead Milkmen (who were on hiatus during the Witch years but have since returned to the fold). The Witch also included mandolin/bouzouki player extraordinaire Bill Fergusson (who was Steve's closest friend and next door neighbor), Vienna Linderman and Todd Yoder. The Witch recorded one album but were best known for their riotous live performances blending Celtic music with punk rock energy. I will never forget Rodney standing on a table during a gig at Fergie's and drinking an entire bottle of ketchup. I remember Steve chuckling when I asked him about it years later.

In 1999, Steve joined Slo-Mo featuring Mic Wrecka and, of course, Mike "Slo-Mo" Brenner. With Slo-Mo, Steve recorded four cds including 'XPN favorite, "My Buzz Comes Back." In addition to building up a strong local following, Steve enjoyed Slo-Mo's annual summer performances before enormous and appreciative crowds at the Great Blue Heron Festival in upstate New York. He also played gigs with Slo-Mo supporting national acts such as India Arie and Robert Randolph. In addition to Mike, Steve, and the Wreck, Slo-Mo included Stargazer Lily alumni Steph Hayes and Susan Rosetti, Mark Schreiber, Hoagy Wing, and Darryl Hirsch.

Over the years, Steve also held down the bass chair for Kevin Monko, Kenn Kweder, Chet Delcampo, and, most recently, Bunny Savage.

Steve's longest musical association was with my band, John Train. Mike Brenner and I started playing as a duo around Philly in 1995. In early 1996, we opened a show for Burn Witch Burn. Bill, Steve, Mike and I got to talking after the gig and decided to join forces. One of my best and earliest memories of John Train is the four of us rehearsing at Bill's place on Brown Street with Bill's dogs sleeping on the floor next to us (or acting like tough guys on occasion!). If you go to the "photo gallery" page of, you can find many wonderful pictures of Steve including ones of our early rehearsals at Bill's house (click on "Miscellaneous 1995-2002") and, please, disregard my moustache!

John Train's lineup was filled out in due time with Low Road alum Mark Schreiber on drums and Rolling Hayseed alum Mark Tucker on Steel and Electric Guitar. We've played hundreds of gigs together over the years. Mostly around Philly but also as far as Holland and on the stage of New York City's late great Bottom Line (I know that meant a ton to Steve). We played many support gigs as well for artists as diverse as Robert Earl Keen and Buckwheat Zydeco. Of course, our favorite gigs were at Fergie's, our "home club" where we played every Friday from 6-8 PM. Two sets. Steve was warmly regarded by Fergie, Niall Murphy, and the entire Fergie's staff.

Steve recorded six critically acclaimed cds with John Train which received airplay nationally and internationally. Steve was a gifted photographer whose work is featured on several of our cds, including this year's "A Wig and A Wonder." Take a look at the "Haircut" picture on the "Wig and a Wonder" disc itself. Steve shot that on Cottman Avenue in the Northeast. He was always looking for a good shot.

Bass players are a funny lot. The best ones remain in the shadows. Their presence is not seen in any flashy way but rather profoundly and DEEPLY felt and heard. A real bass player -- and Steve Demarest was a real bass player -- adds the "roll" to the music. Otherwise, it's just rock and it doesn't roll and that's no good, right?

Steve was a soulful and tasteful player with as warm a tone as any I've heard. As a songwriter and singer, I appreciated the fact that Steve never overplayed. He supported me and my songs for 18 years. That is a gift and an honor that I will never forget.

John Train's remaining Fall gigs (i.e. the rest of October) are CANCELLED. However, there will be a memorial/celebration of Steve's life for family, musicians, friends, and fans on Friday, October 18th at Fergie's (1214Sansom Street in Philly) 6-8PM. More information on this later.


A Wig and a Wonder available on Chapter 7 Records

After releasing two concept albums, The Sugar Ditch (centered around a murder in a septic run-off ditch in Mississippi) and Mesopotamia Blues (centered around an unpopular war), John Train returns to action without a unifying theme. Jon Houlon, singer-songwriter for the band, claims that he came to the realization that songs about murder and war – arguably, the same topic, he winces – may not be commercially viable. “I’m back to gazing at my own navel!,” Houlon quips.

Still, John Train’s new Chapter 7 release, A Wig and a Wonder, contains more than your usual singer-songwriter fare. Song topics range from a visit to the Rothko Chapel in Houston (the title track), adultery informed by Houlon’s fascination with John Updike (“Lord Baltimore”), a divorcing couple who buries a religious idol in their front yard to help sell their house (“Praying to St. Joe”), and the craft of songwriting itself (“Who Needs the Muse?”). Houlon, who works in the field of child welfare, for the first time in John Train’s 18 year history, offers up a song about the death of a child (“Las Galares”). “I’ve tried to keep work and music separate,” he says, “but there was just something about this particular story that I had to tell.”

Devoted followers of John Train (known as the “Train Army”) have been asking for a new Train album for several years. Why the recording hiatus? Houlon says there are two reasons: “One, I figure that considering that between John Train and my other band, the Donuts, I’ve got 10 cds already floating around out there, if someone wanted to hear what I had to say, there was plenty to dig into. Two, in a world where many people seem satisfied listening to music recorded on a phone and posted on You-Tube, the idea of putting out another disc seemed quaint and maybe even irrelevant.”

What changed? Legendary Philadelphia engineer, John Anthony (formerly of Sigma and Maja, now of Philly Post) began recording some of John Train’s weekly gigs at Fergie’s Pub. Anthony, a great supporter of John Train, felt that “what the band is doing over there was too good not to be documented.” A couple of the songs recorded at Fergie’s are actually included on A Wig and a Wonder (“Lord Baltimore” and the title track).

Anthony was so enthused by the Fergie’s recordings that he invited the band into Philly Post to do some more work. Houlon indicates: “We basically set up the same way we do at Ferg’s and spent a couple weekends laying down my new songs that we’ve been playing for the past few years. I looked up and realized we had another album on our hands.”

As usual, Houlon’s songwriting is strongly supported by his bandmates Mike “Slo-Mo Brenner (dobro), Bill Fergusson (mandolin), Mark Tucker (steel and electric guitar), Steve Demarest (bass), and Mark Schreiber (drums). Houlon says, “I feel blessed to have worked with these guys for this long. They are all fantastic musicians who know how to listen to a song and support it. And after 18 years, we still get along and still have a great time playing together.”

Radio Play: WXPN (Philadelphia, PA), Vin Scelsa's Idiot's Delight (WFUV, Sirius) Semi-Twang (Sacramento, CA), WVUD (Newark, DE), WWUH (West Hartford, CT), WVIA (Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton PA), KindaMuzik (Netherlands), Alt.Country Cooking [Radiogirl] (Netherlands), EuroAmericana Chart (Netherlands), Vara (Netherlands), RCF Network (France), American Music, (Belgium), Flying Shoes, (UK), KRCB: Freight Train Boogie (Santa Rosa, CA), WMBR (Cambridge, MA), WICN (Worcester, MA), Insurgent Country (Germany), Hillbilly Rockhouse (Germany), BayFM (Australia), Hogtown/Mojo Dreams:Radio ZRO (Belgium),American Music Radio Shows (Belgium), ISA Radio (France), KSJD (Mancos, CO), WRUV (Burlington, VT), WMNF (Tampa, FL)

Select CD images to listen to clips


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