Paul Janeway taps new kind of soul as frontman for St. Paul & the Broken Bones
By Mary Houlihan For Sun-Times Media February 25, 2014 6:08PM
St. Paul & the Broken Bones features Al Gamble (from left), Browan Lollar, Jesse Phillips, Allen Branstetter, Paul Janeway, Andrew Lee and Ben Griner. | PHOTO BY DAVE MCCLISTER
St. Paul & the Broken Bones, with Steelism; 9 p.m. March 1, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln. $14. (773) 525-2501; lincolnhallchicago.com
Updated: February 26, 2014 7:00PM
Beginning at the age of 10, Paul Janeway, the frontman for St. Paul & the Broken Bones, was groomed to be a preacher. Raised in a devout family, he attended a Pentecostal-leaning church in Chelsea, Ala., where he mastered a soul-stirring preacher act, never dreaming he would one day become a singer in a sizzling R&B band.
The transition began at 18 when he decided it was time to move on to something just as soulful.
“Looking back now I realize I liked the performance aspect of preaching,” Janeway says in an interview from his home in Birmingham, Ala., where the band is based. “And like anything, you get a little bit older, a little bit wiser and figure out the world is more complicated than what you learned in a church in a small town in Alabama.”
But Janeway found transitioning to music wasn’t all that easy. A first band (Led Zeppelin covers!) fizzled out, and he was working in a bank and finishing up a degree in accounting (“a big-boy career”) when he got a call from an old friend, Jesse Phillips, who had been in that earlier band and was now heading into the studio and wanted Janeway to sing on a few songs.
“We ended up writing the song ‘Broken Bones & Pocket Change,’ ” Janeway recalls, “and thought ‘oh-oh this might be something.’ ”
That reunion eventually morphed into St. Paul & the Broken Bones, which features Janeway (vocals), Phillips (bass), Browan Lollar (guitar), Andrew Lee (drums), Allen Branstetter (trumpet), Ben Griner (trombone) and Al Gamble (organ).
When the personable Janeway opens his mouth, he stuns a noisy room into silence. It happens over and over as the preacher in him comes out in a whole new way via soul-shaking vocals and flamboyant dance moves. It’s a high-voltage performance; he throws himself into the moment and people respond in a big way.
The band was signed to Single Lock Records, the Muscle Shoals-based label started by John Paul White of The Civil Wars and Alabama Shakes keyboardist Ben Tanner. St. Paul’s new album, “Half the City,” a collection of 12 original songs written collectively by the band, was produced by Tanner.
“John Paul’s been great about giving us advice,” Janeway says. “And Ben is just one of the hardest-working guys in the business. He gets off the road with the Shakes and heads right into the studio. They’ve both been really supportive and have helped us head in the right direction.”
A charismatic presence on stage, Janeway admits he came late to secular music. Growing up he was allowed to listen to gospel music with a little infiltration of songs by Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and the Stylistics. So it seems a natural that he was drawn to soul and R&B.
“That’s what I thought music was supposed to sound like,” Janeway explains. “Soul was kind of my ice cream as far as music goes. It was the only thing I could get that wasn’t supposedly good for me.” Digging into the deeper cuts of soul music history discovering artists such as Otis Redding, Ollie and the Nightingales, O.V. Wright and James Carr was “joyful and inspiring,” he says.
And have band members grown accustomed to his spontaneous ways on stage?
“There are times when I’m sure they’re wondering ‘Where the hell’s he going now?’,” Janeway says with a laugh. “But I think I’m good at reading a crowd, and figuring out how far I can go with something. I guess I kind of dictate the energy and the guys feed off of it. When I get up on stage, it’s time to pour it on.”