Singer Brian Hogan is an old-school showman, an entertainer who blends hard-charging retro rock 'n' roll with broad theatrical flair. The Burbank native, who appears at Joe's Great American Bar & Grill on Wednesday, has developed a striking physical presentation, brandishing his guitar like a tribal standard and frequently leaving the stage, mid-song, to infiltrate and engage the crowd with a fast-paced series of unusual face-to-face exchanges.
Hogan's demonstrable involvement and almost confrontational audience participation have an invariably electrifying effect. The 6-foot-4 singer is a natural-born charmer with a rich, lustrous set of baritone pipes, and his signature forays onto the dance floor routinely elicit squeals of delight from his female listeners.
"I like getting the music that I've written over the years out there, but you've got to have that connection with the audience," Hogan said. "I played the Fox & Hounds in Studio City for so long — every weekend for what felt like 40 years — and there's no stage, everyone's right in front of you. So I just started going into the crowd, walking right through the audience. It makes me feel comfortable, to really connect with the people and enjoy myself."
His compositions run a wide thematic spectrum, from the dark and brooding (sample lyric: "she's a woman built to wreck your soul") to playful and frankly sentimental originals like "Lust Struck Fool" and "Here I Wait." As a vocalist and writer, he's anchored in American music's elemental bedrock.
"Johnny Cash taught me honesty, Elvis Presley taught me how to sing melodically, and Sinatra taught me how to live the word," Hogan said. "And I love Bing Crosby, that's an influence that came to me from my uncle, [actor-singer] Johnny Crawford."
"He used to make me mix tapes when I was a kid, and when I was about 16, he gave me one of Bing. I was immediately drawn to it, really loved it. I just soaked it up. In fact, I still have that cassette."
Crawford (know for "The Rifleman," "Village of the Giants" and as a mid-'60s singing teen idol with a string of Top 40 hits) represents one only aspect of Hogan's notable Hollywood heritage. "My Dad, Pat Hogan, of the Oneida Indian nation, was an actor in the 1950s and '60s," Hogan said. "Along with Jay Silverheels, he was the go-to guy when they needed an Indian Chief to wrestle — Charlton Heston killed him twice. But he passed away when I was very young, so it's weird to see him on TV now, kind of like home movies — only he's getting shot by Brian Keith!"
Hogan sprang from a fertile Hollywood gene pool, one that reaches back, past his father and uncle, to his great grandfather, the Belgian violinist Alfred Megerlin (concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, Minneapolis Symphony and the L.A. Philharmonic circa 1918-29). This legacy of artistic forebears affords Hogan a natural-fact basis for his own creative expression, one that he doesn't take lightly.
"For me, songwriting is a very organic process, it just happens," he said. "You can't force it, inspiration has to be a part of it. And that always comes from my own life. If I force it, I'm never happy with the result. It has to be genuine."
Hogan's almost solemn emphasis on the genuine doesn't detract from the good times. "At Joe's, we will rock and we will roll," he said. "I've got a good set of guys on the show, Bebo Garcia, a great upright bassist, Jack Johnson on drums, Mike Sobieski on lead guitar, and I may even bring in a sax player for a few of the new tunes I've written."
"It's really about fun, fun for the people in the crowd and for me, that's what drives me. That is why I do this."
Where: Joe's Great American Bar & Grill, 4311 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank.
When: Wednesday, Jan. 15, 8:30 p.m.
Cost: No cover, two-drink minimum.
JONNY WHITESIDE is a veteran music journalist based in Burbank and author of "Ramblin' Rose: the Life & Career of Rose Maddox" and "Cry: the Johnnie Ray Story."