Tommy Keene

LOS ANGELES, Calif./NEW YORK, N.Y. — After a false start four decades ago, Tommy Keene and Ivan Julian are joining forces.

Rock ’n’ roll aficionados need no introduction to pop songwriter Tommy Keene and pioneer punk guitarist Ivan Julian. However, what even the most dedicated listener might not know is these two Washington D.C.-area natives need no introduction to each other. In fact, the two were briefly in a band together in New York in 1980. While that partnership was not destined to last, Tommy and Ivan are now about to embark on a dynamite double-bill acoustic tour, playing solo and together.

To get to the roots of this relationship, we have to go all the way back to 1978. Ivan was playing guitar with the seminal New York punk outfit Richard Hell and the Voidoids. Tommy was working in D.C. with the Razz, a legendary local rock ’n’ rock outfit. One night, along with Razz bassist Ted Niceley, Tommy drove up to NYC to see Cheap Trick at the Bottom Line. Arriving to find out that the show had been cancelled, the two headed to Max’s Kansas City, where Ted introduced Tommy to his friend Ivan.

The two hit it off. A couple years later, Tommy was invited to come to New York to join Ivan’s new group, ultimately called the Outsets. Tommy rehearsed and hung out with Ivan in the early part of 1980, taking in the whole New York East Village scene, including such historic haunts as CBGB’s and the Mudd Club.

Tommy, however, was not destined to remain an Outset. Instead, he formed his own group and in the ensuing decades has released acclaimed albums on the Dolphin, Geffen and Matador labels, while occasionally playing sideman for Paul Westerberg and Robert Pollard. Ivan continued the Outsets for a few years, worked with the Clash and Shriekback, and later played extensively with Matthew Sweet before releasing his own solo album in 2011.

Having headed their separate ways at the dawn of the ’80s, this current Keene-Julian pairing is, to say the least, an unexpected surprise. But when you also consider that only a short time ago, Ivan fought his way back to good health after nearly succumbing to cancer, then this 10-city tour is nothing short of miraculous.

Ivan Julian

Ivan Julian has been one of rock’s most celebrated players and most in-demand collaborators for more than three decades.

Indeed, Ivan Julian has spent his life soaking up a wealth of experiences, musical and otherwise. The son of a Navy officer, he grew up in such exotic locales as Cuba, nurturing a sensitive, creative streak that quickly manifested itself musically. At the age of 13, while living in Washington, D.C., he became the singer in a Led Zeppelin cover band; the following year, he began playing guitar. Having already studied bassoon and saxophone, Julian spent his high school years studying music theory as a part-time student in a college program. At 19, his wanderlust led him to London, where he joined U.K. R&B hitmakers The Foundations, (Build Me Up Buttercup) with whom he toured throughout Great Britain and Europe.

Then Julian returned to the U.S. and settled in New York, just in time to become part of the emerging punk rock movement. A founding member of the seminal Richard Hell and the Voidoids, he was now playing alongside trend-setting punk poet Hell, fabled guitarist Robert Quine and drummer Marc Bell (a.k.a. Marky Ramone). Julian’s instrumental and songwriting contributions to the band’s classic album Blank Generation established him as one of the scene’s most acclaimed and influential axemen.

After the Voidoids disbanded in 1980, Julian stepped out to form the Outsets as a vehicle for his own vocal and songwriting efforts. Incorporating rock, funk and African rhythms, the Outsets became a beloved fixture on New York’s burgeoning club scene, winning considerable critical acclaim for such releases as the debut single “I’m Searchin’ for You”/”Fever,” a self-titled EP produced by Garland Jeffreys and the posthumously released The Punk/Funk Voodoo Collection. Teaming up with Bush Tetras singer Cynthia Sley Julian’s next band, the Lovelies, won substantial attention with the release of the Mad Orphan LP. Also, during this time he regrouped with former bandmate Richard Hell to do an extensive tour of Japan.

By this point, Julian’s abilities as a collaborator had become sought after by a wide array of acts. He plays on “The Call Up” and “Ivan Meets GI Joe” with The Clash (on their Sandinista album), collaborated with Afrika Bambaataa and Bernie Worrell of Parliament/Funkadelic. He also joined England’s Shriekback for two tours of North America and Europe. Julian spent much of the 1990s touring and recording with Matthew Sweet.

In recent years, Ivan has concentrated mainly on studio work, producing and/or recording artist such as Sean Lennon and producing three albums by The Fleshtones. He’s also developed his recording studio into one of New York’s hottest new recording facilities, working with numerous local, national and international bands. His solo LP, The Naked Flame was named one of the best records of the year by several trade magazines. Julian’s latest release, The Fauntleroys EP, Below the Pink Pony, was a collaboration with Alejandro Escovedo, Nick Tremulis and Linda Pittman.

This Spring, Julian will be bringing the songs he’s played over the years, plus a few new ones, to a live acoustic format on a tour with Tommy Keene. He is currently working on a book and the new record.

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