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Dennis Quaid’s Got Range: Actor, Rocker and Podcast Narrator Wows L.A. Crowd

The movie star's slate also includes a doc on the Bakersfield sound and backing vocals on Tanya Tucker's new album.

Dennis Quaid’s career is bustin’ out all over. The actor-turned-rocker demonstrated his range Saturday night, taking the stage at Los Angeles music club the Mint with his band The Sharks. The group delivered a raucous set that had the audience of more than 200 on its feet as Quaid danced through the crowd, belted like a Delta bluesman and briefly abandoned his acoustic guitar to tackle the keyboard with flying fingers, his denim-clad derriere, his chest and the heels of his cowboy boots. The over-the-the top physical display – a nod to Jerry Lee Lewis, who Quaid portrayed in 1989’s “Great Balls of Fire!” – was an apt metaphor for a guy whose debut album is “Out of the Box.”

Quaid’s unboxed activities include narrating iHeart Media’s new “Bear and a Banjo” podcast, announced Sunday,  March 10, at SXSW. “I’m really excited about it, because podcasting is a new medium the creative potential of which is only beginning,” Quaid, who executive produces the pod, tells Variety. The eight-part anthology series sees Quaid playing Dr. Q, a music historian tracing the roots of American music through the career of a Zelig-like troubadour called Mr. Bear and his promoter J. Banjo. The pod is apparently the first to leverage an album release. Its storylines will be based on the songs from the “Bear and a Banjo” album by “Jingle” Jared Gutstadt and Jason “Poo Bear” Boyd (with lyric contribution by Bob Dylan and production by T Bone Burnett).

Quaid, who appears to be making a run at the title “busiest man in show biz,” hopes the podcast will spin-off a visual component (like Wondery’s “Dirty John,” which became a limited series on Bravo). Quaid adds podcast voicing to a busy feature slate that includes a pair of May releases – Universal’s “A Dog’s Journey” and Sony’s psych drama “The Intruder” – as well as Roland Emmerich’s historical “Midway” for Lionsgate, out Nov. 8. “I used to wrap my music around my movie career, but now I’ve scheduled my movie career around my music career,” says Quaid. “I’m at the time in my life where I’m doing the thing I wanted to do in my 20s,” the 64-year-old added.

Quaid’s existing TV projects include Netflix’s “Merry, Happy, Whatever,” in which he plays the lead character, and a recurring role on Amazon’s “Goliath” opposite Billy Bob Thornton. Thornton was in attendance at the Mint on Saturday on the heels of his own Billy Bob Thornton & the Boxmasters show.

DQ and the Sharks’ repertoire ranged from originals like the poppy “I’m in Love” and reggae-inflected “You’re So Fine” to covers of “Gloria” and The Doors’ “L.A. Woman” and “Riders on the Storm” – all from “Out of the Box,” released by Omnivore Recordings in November and coming out on vinyl April 13. Quaid describes his sound as “a junkyard of American music,” which is “what it was before they started calling it Americana.” His website describes it as “rock ‘n’ roll country soul.”

Quaid clearly enjoys playing cover songs too much to give them up (the set also included “I Walk the Line,” “Not Fade Away,” “Should I Stay or Should I Go” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”) despite the fact that he has more than enough original material to fill a show. Quaid is committed to songwriting. Tanya Tucker recorded his “On My Way to Heaven” on her upcoming album, produced by Brandi Carlile (with Quaid joining Kris Kristofferson on backing vocals). Quaid also contributed two songs to the next album from country music legend Johnny Rodriguez, who recorded them earlier this month at a studio in Bakersfield. Quaid duets with him on “Montana Hills” and the other, “The Game That I Can’t Win,” pairs Rodriguez with Tucker. Quaid also plans to produce a documentary on “the Bakersfield sound.”

Says Quaid: “It’s a dream come true. My ultimate goal is to be a songwriter with other people doing my songs. Maybe if I live to 130.”

Dennis Quaid
CREDIT: Courtesy of Donna Balancia

As far back as the 1981, a then-25-year-old Quaid got three songs onto the soundtrack of “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia.” The project was decisive in setting Quaid on a professional music path. “We shot in Chattanooga Tennessee,” says Quaid, who was born and raised in Houston and started playing guitar at age 14, inspired by Elvis. “Out of the blue there was a knock at my hotel room door and the man standing there said, ‘How would you like to be a country and western star?’,” Quaid intones in a suave southern voice. “Just like that! It turned out to be Jack Clement,” the original engineer at Sam Phillips’ Sun Studios who later became a producer at RCA Records. “He moved into the adjacent room and became my mentor.”

Quaid also lists among his mentors T Bone Burnett, whom he met in 1975, “the week I arrived in L.A., when my brother [Randy Quaid] was auditioning for ‘The Buddy Holly Story’ and T Bone was giving him vocal lessons.” By 1978 Quaid was married to actress P.J. Soles, who starred in 1979’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School,” featuring The Ramones. “The Ramones were at our house for Thanksgiving dinner – all four of them,” he remembers. “I’ve been really lucky. My education in music has been lived.”

Foremost among Quaid’s musical influences is the late actor and musician Harry Dean Stanton, who died in 2017 at age 91. The two became friends on the set of Randy Quaid’s 1976 film “The Missouri Breaks,” and Stanton invited Quaid to see him perform at the Mint in 2002, a performance that baited the Sharks. “Harry invited me up onstage, and his backup band was basically the Sharks” – Jamie James on lead guitar, Ken Strange on keyboard, Tom Mancillas on bass and Tom Wash on drums. “We made a really strong connection, and with Harry’s blessing we formed a band,” says Quaid. “But we couldn’t come up with a name. So my son Jack [Quaid, ‘The Hunger Games,’ Amazon’s upcoming series ‘The Boys’], who was nine years old at the time, named us the Sharks, because it was ‘Shark Week’ on TV. I always say I’m glad it wasn’t dinosaur week!”

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