On Wednesday September 8th in front of a very enthusiastic crowd, The Nancy Atlas Band, long considered, “The East End’s House Band,” played its last Wednesday night show of the 2021 season at the Surf Lodge in Montauk. It was well attended and the weather was Montauk beautiful!
The Nancy Atlas Project consist of lead guitarist Johnny Leitch who Nancy calls “Johnny Blood.” Mr. Leitch has phenomenal talent and technique. He is master guitarist and can play any style smoothly and wonderfully. Neil Thomas is the keyboardist along with doing some amazing accordion playing. An avid east end Gardiner’s Bay sailor, Mr. Thomas’s keyboard playing is always smooth sailing with many changing and soothing yet piercing sounds. Bass player Brett King has a distinguished bass playing style including the ability to do rifts that are as good as it gets on electric bass. Richard Rosch the drummer is like the late Rolling Stones drummer, Charlie Watts, a type of glue that holds it all together.
Then there is the mega force of nature that is singer/songwriter/guitarist Nancy Atlas. This night she was playing her new “Taylor” acoustic guitar and singing out with her heart and soul. Beatle George Harrison once said, “We musicians sacrifice our nervous systems every time we play,” he could have been speaking about Nancy Atlas.
When asked to say something about the origins of the band, founder Nancy Atlas said, “When I first had the band (over 20 years ago) it was without Neil (Neil Thomas) who was my dream keyboardist… but he was with another band. Then he came to us and we have built up the band over the years and now we are a family for sure.” Nancy mentioned the many consecutive years when, “We were the last band to play at the Stephen Talkhouse on Friday and Saturday nights sometimes playing from 10 P.M. to 4 A.M. Then the next afternoon I would go to my waitress job at the Corner Bar (in Sag Harbor)!”
When asked how did the band get the first gig at Surf Lodge years back? Nancy Atlas said, “I had a baby, my son Cash and I was looking for something to build weekly, that was a little bit at a higher level that I could really develop. So, I reached out to Nick Kraus, who was working in tantum with both the Talkhouse and here at the Surf Lodge with the wonderful Surf Lodge owner Jayma Cardoso and I said give us your worst night. It was Wednesday, but now our Wednesdays here are huge, actually bigger than their Friday nights.”
Ms. Atlas was then asked to share what has been her biggest personal highlight playing at the Surf Lodge over the years? She said, “It has to be the night we played with Lucas Nelson (Willie Nelson’s son) and Jimmy Buffett. I am going to say that was our biggest highlight at the Surf Lodge ever. That was a magical night. There was a tornado watch! Therefore, the show was on again then off again and just all over the place. It was the end of the season, a night just kind of like tonight. There were lots of people but it was the end of the season show, the actual last show like tonight, and the tornado missed us, it blew through, and it was just this really memorable magical show.”
Lead guitarist Johnny Leitch also had some thoughts about playing 2021 at the Surf Lodge. He said, “It was a great Summer, great to back at work.” When asked what was one of the highlights? He said, “That’s hard to say, actually right at the very beginning any job was, but this one at the Surf Lodge in particular, it was ‘hey wait a minute I am actually performing again.’ It was unbelievable. It was great.” Johnny Leitch offered up some of his personal history saying, “My first guitar was a Harmony that had a ‘singing cowboy’ stenciled on it, it was a $20 item. It had theses cowboys stenciled on it singing around a campfire. I thought that was horrible, I wanted to look cool back in 1965, so I didn’t like that guitar because it wasn’t cool enough so it wound up in the closet and it ended up becoming a dobro and all these horrible things, I did to it. Wouldn’t you know years later I was in a music store and found it in a catalogue and it’s worth about $3500! First Electric guitar? (Johnny) It was a Japanese thing called, Fiama it had an ‘F’ that looked like Fender but it wasn’t a Fender but I did get a Fender soon after that. Now I have this new guitar it is a PRS, I am giving it a try tonight, I usually play my Stratocaster, it’s not really a Fender it’s sort of a ‘Frankenstein strat’ very customized, I built it. I have a bunch like that. “How many guitars does Johnny have? He said, “I have a lot, more than 20, and I have a recording studio, I have a lot of equipment, I think I am a ‘gearhead,’ I use everything I have.”
Brett King: The summer was great. It was unbelievable just the faithful and love that was coming from both sides both the stage and the audience. We wanted to play again they wanted to be out again. It was a very symbiotic relationship between the audience and the band it was just great.” How did Brett become a Bass player? “I am a guitar player originally and then just more gigs came up my way playing bass and that was it. My first Bass was a Rickenbacker 2001 and my first Bass amp was a ‘Custom.”
Very talented and friendly Neil Thomas the keyboardist also chimed in when he said, “Not only is it good to be playing live again, it’s like being alive again.” Then he told a story about his keyboard origins. Neil said, “It was definitely on the piano, it was on Todd Eisenhower’s electric piano which his father bought for him but we quickly usurped but then his dad came and took it back a month later. This was in the mid-seventies in Sea Isle City, New Jersey. Truly this was a wonderful summer playing here at the Surf Lodge and everywhere else we played. It is good to be alive again!”
Drummer Richard Rosch added his thoughts. He said, “The summer here went really well the attendance here was excellent for all our Surf Lodge shows. It was really good; people were very anxious to get going and so were we and that was exciting. It actually started off a little weird/cautious but then it got really good, especially towards the end of the summer. Playing live again was a lot fun.” When asked Richard Rosch recalled his first Drum set? He said, “That was a Ludwig Marine Pearl probably from the 1950’s! I got the set when I fourteen off a friend of mine around 1978!”
The last song of the 2021 season of Wednesdays Nights at Surf Lodge was, “The Ballad of Johnny Loads.” The song is about a voyage of the Anna Mary with only Johnny “Load” Aldridge and Anthony Sosinski aboard. The events of the voyage became their best-selling book, A Spec in the Sea. Anthony Sosinski was in attendance. He summed up the night by saying, “I have been listening to Nancy Play since she started over 20 years ago. Tonight, was a night for all to unwind!”
Check out the Nancy Atlas Project at www.nancyatlas.com.