For Dennis Quaid, singing solo is like going ‘to the edge of the cliff’
Band stays home for concert by the actor-musician, who has been focusing on spiritual sounds — and filming a movie as Ronald Reagan.
Music legend Jerry Lee Lewis once famously sang “I’m really nervous, but it sure is fun.” And while actor Dennis Quaid says he’s not nervous in the least about his latest endeavor, he is sure having fun thanks to music — that of Lewis and other industry icons, as well as his own.
Quaid portrayed Lewis in the 1989 biopic “Great Balls of Fire,” a dream come true for the kid from Texas who idolized the rock ’n’ roll pioneer. He counts country icons Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Willie Nelson and a host of other legends including fellow Texan Buddy Holly, the Beatles and the Doors as his musical influences.
“It’s the music I grew up with,” Quaid says, calling on a recent November morning. And it’s the music of these greats along with original material that Quaid is presenting in his new solo concert, which arrives at City Winery on Wednesday night. (Quaid and his band the Sharks have performed across the country for the past 20 years, releasing their debut album in 2018.)
When: 8 p.m Nov. 10
Where: City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph
NOTE: For COVID safety protocols, visit the venue website.
But a solo, “intimate evening” is something new for his fans, whom he invites to just “come and have a good time.”
“It is just me. It’s the first time I’ve been doing music on stage by myself since I was 19 years old. ... [Laughs] You have to go to the edge of the cliff and just jump off. I find that it’s very much like theater without a fourth wall.”
Breaking that fourth wall has its challenges.
“I realize it’s like any relationship. When you meet it’s always a little awkward at first,” Quaid muses. “Sometimes I identify someone sitting out there who has this ‘show me’ attitude and I will focus on them. [Laughs] People are people; they paid their hard-earned money to come there and they want to be there, or the other person they’re with dragged them there.”
In recent years, Quaid’s music has turned to the realm of inspirational. He released “On My Way to Heaven” in 2018 (produced by T Bone Burnett) for the soundtrack of “I Can Only Imagine,” in which he also starred. A gospel/inspirational album is due next year. It may surprise more than a few folks to learn the actor is a man of deep faith.
“I’ve always been spiritual. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church, became disillusioned with it as a teenager. I turned to Eastern religions and philosophies,” he says. “I read the Bible twice, read the Koran, went to India nine times. Along the way I came back to Christianity, and well, finding that it’s really the same all throughout the world. People are people with the same sort of yearnings. We’re all spiritual beings whether we know it or not. So that’s what I speak to: one’s relationship with God or non-relationship with God.”
The album will feature traditional, “spiritual songs I grew up with in church,” as well as original material. Billy Ray Cyrus joins Quaid on a new tune, “Fallen,” while Tanya Tucker, Kris Kristofferson and Brandi Carlisle join him for a new take on “On My Way to Heaven.”
A self-described “baritone at best,” Quaid says the first song he tried to learn (he’s a self-taught guitarist/pianist ) was “Light My Fire,” which, he admits, is not a good song for a beginner. “So I found myself gravitating toward Johnny Cash because he had simple chords and story songs and that really affected me as a kid. He probably still remains my top role model when it comes to songwriting.”
When it comes to acting, Quaid, whose film work includes “The Day After Tomorrow,” “Vantage Point,” “The Parent Trap,” “The Right Stuff,” “Breaking Away” and “Midway,” has a penchant for bringing real-life characters to the big screen. In his latest film, he stars as Ronald Reagan in “Reagan,” due out next year. Penelope Ann Miller co-stars as Nancy Reagan. (In addition to Lewis, he’s starred as Sam Houston in “The Alamo,” Doc Holliday in “Wyatt Earp” and President Bill Clinton in “The Special Relationship.”
“I like to play people who are real because you have a template, but I try not to approach it like an impersonation. I like to find out what makes people tick and you can do that with real people.”
The movie was filmed, in part, at the Reagans’ 688-acre ranch in Santa Barbara, California, which was fascinating and a little eerie at the same time, he says.
“In a way he was sort of unknowable, even to those who were close to him. … Filming at the house was a special experience. Penelope and I had to pinch ourselves at times because we were doing these scenes in that house in the very place where they took place. You could really feel both of them there. They left that house exactly as they had left it. Their clothes are in the closet, everything is exactly as it was.”