This was the first time I interviewed Homer City native Scott Bender for The Indiana Gazette, as a preview of a July 3, 1991, show in Pittsburgh.
It wasn’t the last time though. Scott is a great musician and a great friend. Here’s the story:
HOMER CITY — Question: What do Los Angeles, Baton Rouge and Homer City all have in common?
Answer: Scott Bender.
The 28-year-old bassist for the Los Angeles-based rock band Baton Rouge is the son of Nick and Helen Bender of Homer City.
While still living in Homer City, Bender said he’d played bass in various bands including the regionally known 18 Names.
Nearly three and a half years ago, he decided to leave the now-defunct 18 Names and take a chance in California.
“That’s where the (music) industry is,” he explained, during a phone conversation prior to the band’s recent show in Washington D.C. “It’s easier to get a record deal on either the West Coast or in New York. 18 Names did well, but I felt I was stuck in a rut.”
The move to Los Angeles was a culture shock for the rural musician.
“At first I didn’t like Los Angeles. It’s really strange,” he said. “Life is faster and the people are a lot different. You have to be more defensive — you learn to be more defensive because in Los Angeles, everyone is out for themselves. Nice people get trampled.”
Determined not to get trampled and return home, Bender played with various bands in Los Angeles before hooking up with Baton Rouge.
After roughly six months of prodding from fellow band members vocalist Kelly Keeling, lead guitarist Lance Bulen, drummer Corky McClellan and ex-guitarist David Cremin (who has since been replaced by guitarist Tony Palmucci), Bender joined the group and in 1989 Baton Rouge’s debut album, “Shake Your Soul,” sold more than 300,000 copies.
Their follow-up release, “Lights Out On The Playground,” recorded at Ocean Recording in Ocean Gate, N.J., was recorded and mixed in a scant four months.
“By the time we went into the studio, we had close to 30 songs to choose from,” Bender explained. “We went a different direction with this album. A few of the songs are heavier, bluesier, with stronger Southern influences which highlight Kelly’s voice. But we are still the same old Baton Rouge.”
Bender laughs as he explains what he means by “the same old Baton Rouge.”
“People have this misconception that all rock star are rich — we aren’t. We drive around in Volkswagens just like everyone else.”
While they may not be rich, they are becoming recognizable to fans in certain parts of the country, including Boston, Pittsburgh and Chicago, where, during a layover in a recent flight from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles, Bender says several fans recognized him.
“Being a musician and having long hair, I tend to be paranoid about people staring. I was in the airport in Chicago and these people were staring at me. One of them finally came up to me and asked, ‘Are you Scott Bender from Baton Rouge?’ I couldn’t believe anyone actually knew who I was.”
While Bender is enjoying life in Los Angeles, there is one thing he misses about Western Pennsylvania.
“Trees,” he says with a laugh. “I just love the woods. Pennsylvania is a beautiful state. I try to get home as often as possible. Someday I’d like to move back here.”
While the band was in New Jersey recording the second album, Bender said he frequently took the seven-hour drive back to Homer City to visit his family and his girlfriend.
Baton Rouge has recently finished lensing a video for the first single, “The Price of Love” and has started a two-month-plus tour of small clubs around the country. They will make an appearance in Pittsburgh on July 3 with a show at the Melody Tent at Station Square.
After they finish this short tour, Bender said they may hook up as the opener for another band, and their record company is hoping to have Baton Rouge tour Europe and Japan.
“Response to the new album and tour has been real good. ‘The Price of Love’ has been getting lots of airplay. Pittsburgh’s radio station WDVE is working it into their rotation schedule and it should be in heavy rotation by the time we perform there,” he explained.
The Baton Rouge stage show is described by Bender as “intense. We’ve been changing it around according to crowd reaction. We play a good set — a great mix of tunes from both albums.”
Tickets for the July 3 show, which also includes the Pittsburgh area bands Slit Skirt, High Voltage and Dr. No, are available now.
The band reunited for several shows in 2013 (including a Pittsburgh show to be featured soon!) and members continue to work independently.
Keeling has recorded an album with Foundry, has just played several dates in South America, and “Mind Radio,” a solo album, written and produced in collaboration with Alessandro Del Vecchio (Hardline, Revolution Saints, Rated X).
Bulen has also worked with various artists, eventually forming Kingbaby, his current band.
McClellan still plays and gives drum lessons.
Bender took a different route. For several years after Baton Rouge, he played the Pittsburgh circuit with Triple X and now he runs a construction company and still plays occasionally.