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Pat McLaughlin right at home at FitzGerald’s

PMcLaughlbrings his bFitzGerald’s Oct. 19 for special birthday concert for club owner Bill FitzGerald.

Pat McLaughlin brings his band to FitzGerald’s on Oct. 19 for a special birthday concert for club owner Bill FitzGerald.

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♦ 9 p.m. Oct. 19

♦Tickets, $15

♦ FitzGerald’s, 6615 W. Roosevelt Rd., Berwyn

♦ (708) 788-2118;

Updated: November 20, 2012 10:48AM

Singer-songwriter extraordinaire Pat McLaughlin has lived in Nashville, Tenn., for 34 years.

He was around for the late 1980s Garth Brooks “big hat” explosion, which was followed in the late 1990s by labels trying to find the next Dixie Chicks.

There’s your trouble.

The tide has finally turned in McLaughlin’s way.

With soulful rockers such as the Black Keys and Jack White recently opening studios in Nashville, McLaughlin has his groove on. His rhythm ‘n’ blues’/‘n’ country is building momentum, whether it is other artists finding his songs (two McLaughlin compositions are on the upcoming Garry Allan album as well as his “Punching Bag” title track on the new Josh Turner record) or his new side project, the World Famous Headliners (besides McLaughlin, the all-star pop-rock band consists of former NRBQ guitarist Al Anderson, bluegrass guitarist Shawn Camp, bassist Michael Rhodes and drummer Greg Morrow).

McLaughlin and his other all-star Nashville band, which includes Rhodes (Bob Dylan, Neil Young), guitarist Kenny Greenberg (Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney) and drummer Chad Cromwell (Neil Young, Boz Scaggs) appears at 9 p.m. Oct. 19 at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn. The night should be memorable as the roadhouse celebrates the 60th birthday of club owner Bill FitzGerald. McLaughlin is one of FitzGerald’s favoriteperformers.

“Nashville and rock ‘n’ roll are an odd marriage,” McLaughlin explained last week from his home outside of Nashville. “But it does happen. It is a great thing that the Black Keys and Jack White have studios here. I’m not saying it spills over into mainstream country but it doesn’t hurt it. I’m getting cuts. You can’t deny Taylor Swift didn’t do something. And she didn’t do it by singing about getting drunk on a boat. She did it about relationships and stuff that real people write songs about. It’s moving to Americana and rock right now and I see alternative acts getting the interest of publishers and record labels. That’s cool because it opens up a lot of writing possibilities.”

The World Famous Headliners are starting to stop the presses. They just appeared at the prestigious Hardly Strictly bluegrass festival in San Francisco and their self-titled debut is climbing the Americana charts. The songwriting pedigree of the band is impeccable: McLaughlin’s “Lynda” was a number one hit for Steve Wariner, and the Tanya Tucker-Delbert McClinton duet helped McLaughlin win a BMI award for “Tell Me About It.” Anderson was the ace guitarist for the pop-rock band NRBQ before relocating to Nashville and writing hits like “The Cowboy In Me” (Tim McGraw) and “License to Chill” (Jimmy Buffett.) Bluegrass-tinged guitarist Camp co-wrote and played guitar on the Garth Brooks hit “Two Pina Coladas,” and he co-wrote the Brooks and Dunn smash “How Long Gone.”

So, how did McLaughlin’s own songwriting evolve after his recent collaborations with present-day Nashville icons?

“Al is a very interesting character,” McLaughlin answered. “He has a sense of humor in his playing and writing that I had not worked with before. I saw something that was quite different. Al and even Shawn would say, ‘We got it just stupid enough, this is really good.’ Well to me, it isn’t that stupid [Laughs] but I understand what they mean. And Al’s soloing (on guitar) is sensational. He can play like big jazz player. Both those guys write around guitar riffs.”

McLaughlin’s guitar playing is cut from the Cowboy Jack Clement (Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis) minimalist school, enchanting spacious arrangements with bluesy, strumming rhythms.

McLaughlin will not cover any World Famous Headliner material at FitzGerald’s, but his own well of songs runs soul-deep. Fans can expect anything from “Taking a Walk,” the noble ballad he wrote with John Prine, to the hard-driving rhythm and roots anthem “Two Lights in the Night Time,” recently covered by Bonnie Raitt.

The World Famous Headliners are not McLaughlin’s first go around with an Americana “super group.” In the late 1990s he formed Tiny Town with Subdudes singer Tommy Malone and Subdudes/John Hiatt drummer Kenneth Blevins.

“These projects are pretty similar,” he said. “I listened to that Tiny Town record a couple months ago and I was surprised how much I liked it. A different character runs in these songs from one to the next and actually this writing might be a little more polished. The three of us (headliners) were encouraged by this publisher we were all writing for at the time to write some songs together and see what happened.

“Publishers just want more songs no matter how they can get them. It was very nice for me, because I wasn’t working with Al and Shawn regularly. (John) Prine came to see us and really liked it. There’s a lot of unison singing. It’s three Telecasters, bass and drums.”

In the last 15 years McLaughlin has found a comfortable Chicago outlet at FitzGerald’s for his soulful rock n’ roll that once had him pegged as “the Nashville Van Morrison.”

“Maybe the feel of the club is suited towards my music,” he said. “The family thing with Bill (FitzGerald) and (Bill’s wife) Kate and nephews and brothers. When I think of going to Chicago it has a lot to do with going to FitzGerald’s. It is no secret Chicago is a great place to play music.”

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