Back in the mid-to-late '80s it appeared that singer/songwriter Jimmer Podrasky and his band, the Rave-Ups, were on the verge of bigger things. "Town & Country," the band's 1985 full-length debut indie album, generated critical acclaim. They appeared in the film "Pretty in Pink," graduated to a major label, released two albums and had a guest spot on "Beverly Hills 90210," but then it all went south.
Epic Records couldn't figure out how market the band and Podrasky was dealing with the added pressure of becoming a single dad, so he put his musical career on hold to concentrate on raising his son.
More than two decades later, his son Chance is now a full-grown man and Podrasky, 56, is back making music. Late last year, he released "The Would-Be Plans," his solo debut under his first name, Jimmer. "It was what you'd call a soft release," Podrasky quips. "It was so soft, it was almost liquid."
With little money to promote the album, Podrasky tested the waters by sending copies of the CD to a select group of tastemakers that liked his earlier work with the Rave-Ups, a band that tread the line between rock 'n' roll, folk and country before that sound was branded Americana. After receiving positive feedback, Podrasky is jumping headfirst back into the game.
On Wednesday night at Lucy's 51 in Toluca Lake, he'll celebrate the digital release of the album through iTunes, Amazon and other digital retailers. Then, he'll set up shop at the nightspot on a biweekly basis, playing his own set and playing host to like-minded singer-songwriters and other bands, possibly even the Rave-Ups, who still play a few gigs every year. For Podrasky, the return to recording and performing live on a regular basis is a long time in coming.
Originally inspired to make music after catching a Ramones gig at a pizza joint while he was attending Carnegie Mellon University in the late '70s, the first version of the Rave-Ups was a punk band. But gradually, Podrasky learned to balance that punk energy with more literate influences such as Bob Dylan and John Prine.
After moving to Los Angeles and putting together a new version of the Rave-Ups, the band found acclaim on the local club scene and garnered spins at college radio. They were signed to Epic, but it turned out to be a bad match. "Epic really never knew what to do with us from the very start," he says. As fate would have it, the morning the band went in to start recording their major label debut, Podrasky found out that his girlfriend at the time, actress Molly Ringwald's older sister Beth, was pregnant with his child. That album, released in 1988, was called "Book of Your Regrets."
"We had the kid and that sort of colored an awful lot of our dealings with [the label]," Podrasky adds. The band's second Epic album, "Chance," named after his son, was released in 1990, and spawned the top 20 modern-rock hit "Respectfully King of Rain."
Still, while his early recording career fizzled out, Podrasky today is amazed that there's still interest in the Rave-Ups. "I know that people still seek out and download 'Town & Country,' the songs I wrote 30 years ago, which is amazing to me," he says. "I never made a lot of money, but that kind of stuff is priceless."
After years of trying to lure his bandmates in the Rave-Ups back to the recording studio, Podrasky was introduced by a mutual friend to drummer Mitch Marine, who's played with Smash Mouth and currently works with country star Dwight Yoakam. It was Marine who convinced Podrasky to try the solo route with the help of fellow Yoakam sideman, singer-songwriter Brian Whelan on guitar, and multi-instrumentalist Ted Russell Kamp. Others lending a hand on the album include pedal steel guitarist Marty Rifkin, who has played with Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty, and keyboardist Rami Jaffee, known for his work with the Wallflowers and Foo Fighters.
There's not a huge difference between the sound of the Rave-Ups and Jimmer's solo debut, which could be attributed to the fact that the band's recordings have held up well as has Podrasky's distinctive, well-preserved voice and literate songwriting. "The Rave-Ups was more of a rock 'n' roll thing with more of a guitar and band aesthetic," Podrasky explains. "This is not so much a band as it is a song thing. The songs or the most important thing." Those songs range from the bluesy, harmonica-tinged "Far Left Side of You," the pure pop celebration of "(She Has) Good Records" and the flamenco-accented bittersweet romanticism of "With This Ring."
With a new album to promote, Podrasky is getting back on stage again. In late January, he performed as part of the noted "Sings Like Hell" series of shows at the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara. Since Marine and Whelan had a gig with Yoakam, Podrasky performed with a pick-up band after just one two-hour rehearsal, which only added to his anxiety. "It was a great experience," He says. "People came out to hear music at this beautiful theater and it sounded great, but I was nervous as hell."
Part of the reason Podrasky was so nervous is the fact that the Lobero is a seated theater and it was dead quiet while he was performing, unlike the club environment he was used to performing in with the Rave-Ups. He'll be more at home at Lucy's 51, but whatever the case, he's enjoying his return. "Getting back to playing live has been great," he says. "I enjoy doing it and it's been an awfully long time."
Where: Lucy's 51, 10149 Riverside Dr., Toluca Lake
When: Wednesday, March 5
More info: (818) 763-5200
CRAIG ROSEN is a music journalist and regular contributor to Marquee.