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That old-tyme music soothes actor John C. Reilly's soul
Actor John C. Reilly has watched his music career "take on a life of its own" during the past few years.
But he still doesn't view his repertoire of old-timey Americana roots and bluegrass music in quite the same way as he does his "day job" in the film world.
"It's just kind of a labor of love," explains Reilly, 48, an Academy Award nominee for his supporting role in the film adaptation of "Chicago" as well as a Grammy nominee for the title song from "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story," in which he starred. "It's music I was really interested in and have been playing with friends. It's a really rewarding thing to do -- not to make money, certainly, or to get famous or whatever. It's just really moving music to play and share with people.
"And when I started to play out here in Los Angeles with some friends, people immediately started giving us positive feedback."
Among those people was Jack White, a friend "through social circles" who appeared in "Walk Hard." "We stayed in touch," Reilly says, "and he said, 'Well, if you ever want to do anything and want it to be recorded, you should come down to Nashville. I have this recording studio. You can stay at my house and we can have a record out in 24 hours.
"I thought, 'This is an opportunity I should not pass up.' "
White's Third Man Records has released two singles by Reilly & Friends (Tom Brosseau and Becky Stark) -- a version of Ray Price's "I'll Be There If You Want" and a cover of the Delmore Brothers' "Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar." Reilly also recorded a pair of songs for the 2006 compilation "Rogue's Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys as well as appearing in videos for the Beastie Boys ("Make Some Noise") and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion ("Talk About the Blues").
"I grew up listening to a lot of Irish folk music with my dad, and my mom listened to a lot of old Tin Pan Alley kind of music," says the Chicago native, who "was in a lot of musicals as a kid" but didn't start playing guitar in earnest until he was attending DePaul University. "I've always been attracted to music that was not of my time. I hear these songs and they stick with you, and I became more and more curious about them and started peeling back the layers of the onion.
"All of a sudden, I found myself with a band. If there's a personal imprint I put on the show it's the songs that get chosen, not so much the way we do it. We try to do them faithfully to the original intent and the original style of playing. I think they're melodies you hear one time and immediately can't forget them. I think you've got to keep these songs alive by playing them; the stuff just dies if it's left to recordings alone."
But Reilly -- who recently provided a the lead voice (and co-wrote) for the animated feature "Wreck-It Ralph" and appears in the forthcoming "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" -- has recording in mind as well. He has "a couple irons in the fire" for future acting projects, but he's putting some emphasis on the music right now, with plans to return to the studio this summer and perhaps cut an entire album.
"We hope to do that. We get asked about that a lot, especially at shows," he notes. "The songs aren't going anywhere. They're as old as the hills. It's almost like borrowing the music from the audience and playing it back for them, and it ends up being like a community experience.
"I'm not saying I'm as good as the people that came before me, but I'm still alive, and someone's gotta carry the torch."
John C. Reilly & Friends perform Wednesday, June 19, at the Magic Bag, 22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25. Call 2480544-3030 or visit www.themagicbag.com.
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