Highland Park piano man focuses on rock
Eric Stang, of Highland Park, plays Jerry Lee Lewis (left, with microphone) in "Million Dollar Quartet."
520 N. Dearborn St. Chicago
Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, (773) 281-4444
Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, (773) 489-3160
Updated: June 11, 2012 1:26PM
Eric Stang is going from playing Jerry Lee Lewis on Broadway in “Million Dollar Quartet” to performing with a female vocalist and a drummer every Wednesday and some Fridays in June at Chicago’s Mastro’s Steakhouse, to playing rock venues with his band Polarcode.
That may seem like a musically eclectic mix of gigs for the Highland Park native, but there’s a common element in all of it. The piano.
He’s been playing professionally since the age of 13, after hearing Lewis sing and bang out “Great Balls of Fire” on the piano.
“When I heard that song, I knew it was something special,” he said. “I used to run down the stairs and jump on the piano for my family and rock out to Jerry Lee Lewis, kick the bench out when I was a little kid.”
Stang landed the role of the highly-energetic rock pianist and singer in “Million Dollar Quartet,” the musical based on the 1956 recording sessions with Lewis, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins, in 2011 after being an understudy for six months.
But, Stang left the show in mid-May and is now concentrating more on music, both writing and performing, and less on acting.
He can next be heard June 8 at Mastro’s.
“We’re playing in the bar lounge area,” he said. “I’ll be singing and playing pop songs along with a female singer.”
He’s most excited about rejoining Polarcode, which he left when he landed the Jerry Lee Lewis role. They’ll be touring the Midwest this summer, with two shows in Chicago (June 16 at the Beat Kitchen and July 19 at Double Door), and the western states in the fall.
However, Stang is
bringing a little bit of The Killer’s influence with him in his approach to Polarcode, which has a vastly different sound than Lewis’. The band draws its inspiration from Coldplay, Radiohead, and Muse.
The way Stang sees it, Lewis pushed the rock ’n’ roll envelope as a piano player who took front and center stage. The guitar was the instrument most emphasized in rock, but Lewis put the spotlight on the piano by playing it much the same way Johnny Ramone would one day play the guitar in The Ramones. (Early in his career, record executives urged Lewis to switch to guitar.)
There are no guitars in Polarcode. It consists of Stang, on not one, but three keyboards; Rob Knapik, on vocals; Geoff Shell, on bass; and Mario Cerutti, on drums.
Guitar players came and went when Polarcode first formed, but Stang wanted to be a different kind of rock band.
“Let’s do something unique here,” Stang said. “Here’s the opportunity to show off my ability as a good keyboard player and it’s kind of a challenge to make us more innovative. We’re working with just keyboards but we have to make it sound as good as rock and it’s been a really fun challenge and I think it makes us stand out from other bands.”
Like Lewis, Stang and Polarcode are putting the piano and its cousin keyboards up front.
“He was the first guy to be the mainstream piano player that was challenging Elvis to be the king of rock,” Stang said. “He was very innovative in the sense that he was a crazy rock guy who was playing piano and he was doing something new. That, to me, is motivation. I’m doing something new, too. I’m playing without a guitar player, I’m playing three keyboards at the same time. So, for me I’m just trying to take what he did to the next step in the time I’m living.”