Sheep have been bred around the world for thousands of years, and there are actually over 40 sheep breeders in the state of New Jersey. Of course, sheep breeding and herding have little to do with music, but one Monmouth county-based band has found a connection.
While painstakingly deliberating over a name for a new group in 1996, local residents Steve Warendorf, Scott Burton, Craig Smith and Kyle Spendiff learned that herders in Morocco often carried musical instruments with them. The nomad herders in Morocco are free spirits, living on the land, and every musician ever born is a free spirit in some way, so the decision was made. Steve, Scott, Craig and Kyle began their music journey together, to be known officially as The Moroccan Sheepherders.
The Sheepherders, as they are known to their legions of fans, are not your average Jersey shore cover band. The boys began by writing and recording their own songs from 1996 to 2008, but in a slightly different fashion than most other bands. Their songs were “improvisational jams,” where the composition had a defined basic groove, but then the members instilled their own spirit to create what they saw fit. There were no “verse/chorus/verse/chorus” restraints here; each musician flourished through each song, sometimes reaching 10 to 12 minutes in length. This type of music arrangement brings back memories of the Grateful Dead, where Jerry and company would often turn a 4-minute song into a 20-minute jam session.
It is very difficult to describe the Sheepherders sound as it applies to their original music. There is a hint of almost every popular music genre over the past 50 years in their recordings. If one can imagine a mix of Pink Floyd, Rush, Joe Satriani, Santana and Led Zeppelin, then that may get you close. A better way to experience them is to explore their two CD releases available on Cdbaby.com: “Everyone Needs To Be Herd” from 2002, and “Waves” from 2007. Many of the instrumental pieces have been described as New Age, mystical and ethereal.
Smith and Spendiff provide some amazing drum and percussion tracks alongside Burton’s steady bass lines, and Warendorf’s excellent guitar work, frequently through a myriad of electronic effects, create a robust and rhythmic milieu that will take the listener to far-off places. Of course there are more “standard” selections from the CDs; from the first album, the very cool free-form vocal on “A Moving Violation,” somewhat reminiscent of the popular 1980 song “Rapture” from Blondie, and a straight Blues selection entitled “On The Vine.” The album “Waves” features a fantastic melodic instrumental called “Strategerie,” and “Social Insecurity,” which, interestingly enough, has a hip-hop flavor to it.
In 2008, Warendorf decided to test the always popular cover band market, as this would bring the band more local work and exposure. The Sheepherders didn’t miss a beat, mainly due to the fact that every member was extremely proficient in their craft. Adding popular tunes like “LA Woman,” “25 or 6 to 4” and “Black Magic Woman” catapulted them to the “A-list” of local groups, leading to work in prominent shore clubs like The Stone Pony and The Saint.
As the years progressed, The Sheepherders have added a musician or two to the lineup. A Berklee College of Music education is not necessary to join, but keyboardists Kendall Scott and Adam Glenn both have that on their resumes. Current drummer Mike Sakowski is a 30-year veteran of the local music scene, and any one night will feature one or more of the stellar vocal talents of Herbi Freeman, Darren Johnson, Pat Murphy, Laura Johnson (also of Strumberry Pie), and Alan Manzo.
The Sheepherders recently threw their 20th anniversary party on the Seastreak beach in Highlands, as part of the Taste of Highlands event. Under a deep blue sky, Warendorf presented nearly every member of The Moroccan Sheepherders of the last 20 years, and put together a 4-hour extravaganza showcasing their history. The aforementioned artists were joined by Rob Puciarello and Arne Wendt on keys, the horn section of Jeff Starr, Kenny Rubenstein, Jesse Ribyat and Chris Allen, and bassist Lou Perillo and vocalist Glenn Taglieri. After four hours of superb music by some of New Jersey’s finest musicians, I think it’s safe to say that Steve Warendorf and crew won’t be herding sheep anytime soon; they have more important things on their agenda.
Chris Spiewak is currently the bassist for Rock/Blues cover band VyntEdge. Read more of his published columns from the Two River Times here.
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