620 W Surf

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Fans Speak

I first saw him sometime in Chicago, mid 90's.. I was in a marriage that was crumbling but a career that was just taking off. I left that show with a strange introspective way of thinking. His music reminds me of me. The struggles, joys, happenstances... The second time I saw him was in Nashville, 2008. I was a cook at a club he played. Was amazing to hear him as he had grown so much as an artist. I was in tears during two of his songs, laughing and clapping during most. I had an horrific accident days later, and his music kept me focused to recover. If nothing else, his music saved my life. Without it, I may have sank into depresssion and not want to come out.


620 W. Surf swept through the rooms of my soul in profoundly terrifying and sublime ways. The transparency of such dark beauty, a hallmark of his music, captured me heart, mind, and soul upon first listen. Twenty years on, his music continues to wield incredible power speaking to me in the moment I'm in, and lending me wings in times of confusion and despair. Surely a soundtrack to my life...I don't believe one can ask much more of music than that.



Life was down, and out... I had "become a person I don't understand", then I found McD and he just "cast it in the in the air, sharp as a knife", and his music "Danced with me".... and I was back. Now his music is part of me.... forever.


My wife and I first saw Michael when he opened for Lowen & Navarro at St. Patrick's school back in 2000. We were stunned at the songwriting, the emotions, the raw honesty, the charm. I had really only heard "A Wall I Must Climb" at that point. We were hosting our first concert at our own theatre with Lowen & Navarro the following evening, and we looked at each other and said, "If this thing goes beyond one concert, we definitely have to book him.” We ended up booking him 5 times over the course of our series, and the friendship that developed not only enriched both of our lives, but is something we'll always treasure. Through the ups and downs, the good and the bad, there was always the music and always a good soul at the core. When he married Heather, it was as if God said, "OK, Michael. You've suffered enough. Here's an angel for you." We're proud to consider them our friends.

Paul and Sheri


I remember vividly driving south on Harlem Avenue just north of the North Riverside mall just after 620 W. Surf came out. I flipped to WXRT and they were playing "A Wall I Must Climb" as I tuned in.  I had never heard of Michael McDermott and the song just amazed me, profound lyrics, deep emotion and an amazingly catchy hook.  I had to find out who this was.  I pulled into the lot at the mall.  I parked and waited with the radio on until the DJ came on after a few songs and recapped what he had just planyed.  Upon learning about 620 W. Surf and Michael McDermott I went into the mall and bought the record.  I've been a fan ever since.



When I first heard 620 West Surf, I knew it was something very special.  I’d been listening to a lot of Springsteen and Dylan and I immediately knew that Michael McDermott was a true kindred talent.  I played “A Wall I Must Climb” over and over because it resonated perfectly with how I felt about my life at that time; as it still does 20 years later.  Because the songs on 620 West Surf meant so much to me, I decided to send Michael a fan letter.  To my surprise, I received an invitation to see him when he toured Texas and meet him backstage.  In September 1991, at the Back Room in Austin, I got a chance to tell Michael how important his first album was to me and I recall that he was genuinely gracious when I told him that I was a scientist.  We mused about how we were both in search of the truth in our own different ways.  We still are.  Ten years later, in 2001, I was attending a scientific conference in Chicago and I attended one of his shows.  When he greeted fans after the show, Michael remembered me even though he had not seen me in a decade.  Now another 10 years have passed and we are Facebook Friends.  I suspect we will remain friends for life.



I first heard about Michael from a friend of mine who gave me a copy of his "Noise from words" CD, probably 3 or 4 years ago. I knew immediately the music was different from the bulk of the music out there.The emotion of every song came pouring out of the speakers. There was no doubt that Mike wasn't just singing a song, he was sharing a little bit of his life with whoever was listening. Good or bad, no BS. I dug it immediately and knew that that album was just the beginning, and regretted that I hadn't heard of Michael Mcdermott 10 years earlier. Well, since then I have expanded my collection, tried to catch up on 10 years of top notch music, had a chance to see Michael in concert on any and all visits to the east coast, and even had the pleasure of hanging out with Michael on several occasions. Meeting Mike in person confirmed my opinion, no BS, just pure emotion and a God given talent to share it with others.



I love music, always have, and I search for music that moves me.. music that not only touches my heart but kicks in the door on the way in, words and the way they are arranged are a huge part of it, there are many different ways of writing but only certin writers understand how to correctly use phrasing and syllables and string everything together so it not only fits into the melody but creates the melody. Michael’s songs would still stand tall without any music, his words carry and become the melody, so there is a song before there is even music and thats amazing, it's beautiful on so many levels I can't even touch on it. I'm sure he won't remember this but I saw Michael in Lincolnshire many years ago and the show was akin to a religious experience for me, I got to talk to Michael and stumbling and stammering for the right words which I can never seem to find in situation like that I told him I loved his writing and that what he does doesn't come around all that often if at all and then I said please do everyone a favor, “stay away from drugs and small airplanes please” (Buddy Holly) I said this and very much meant it, as goofy as it may have sounded, I felt as though I had just been a witness to something so profound that it was just a matter of time before what Michael was doing would be heard by the rest of the world and as we all know only the good die young. Michael's name very much belongs right next to Dylan and Prine and Steve Earle as well as Robert Frost, Langston Hughes or Leonard Cohen. 


The first time I heard Michael McDermott was the day the 620 W Surf CD was released. I was working in a record store at the time and we all took turns playing things on the stereo. When my turn came around, I decided I wanted to hear something new so I dug through a box of promotional cds that we had received that day from the record company. I picked up Michael McDermott 620 W Surf, the cover had a picture of just a guy and a guitar and I thought it looked like something I might like. I put it on the stereo and was completely blown away...the first 5 words of A Wall I Must Climb had come out (Things were moving so fast) and I literally yelled out loud "I LOVE THIS" :) Everyone in the store looked up!!! :) Michael McDermott has been my favorite singer/musician/artist since that day and he always will be! He is amazing!



I remember hearing Wall for the first time on WMMR out of Philly and being totally blown away. When the song ended and heard that Michael was the artist, I went out and bought it right away. I fell in love with the album and to this day listen to it often. After some research, I couldn't believe that a guy so young could write such great songs. What was Michael at the time? 18? Wow. I love the entire album, but being from NY, I love NO. 49. Still one of my favorites til this day. As with all of Michaels songs, he paints a landscape with his words and takes you for that ride. Just hold on cause it's gonna be good!


Reflecting on 620 W Surf

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We checked in with Michael McDermott on the day of the show to get his thoughts on the big day

It's been awhile since you've played some of the songs you will be playing on Saturday night. Is this a bit like looking back at a high school yearbook -I
 remember a good bit of it......i'm very eager to sing these songs again.....it will be a very different man than the one who wrote these songs.....i will be very curious to see how connected to them.....i think i will feel as connected as when i wrote them. 

620 W. Surf was recorded in LA. Was that your first trip to LA and what are some of your thoughts about when you first left Chicago to make the record

I'd been there a few times leading up to the recording.....but i was very sad leaving chicago that day.....i knew i was leaving it all behind.....friends, family, my girlfriend.....i know that wasn't true but i knew nothing that i knew would ever be the same....and i was right about that

Were the songs on 620 W. Surf mostly finished before hitting the studio or did they go through alot of changes while recording?
Most were written.....i think " sacred ground" was the only song written during the recording of the record 

Quite a change in sound from your first record to Gethsemane? Was that simply a result of your experiences and growth as an artist or something you intentionally focused on?

Yeah, a lot of it was because i'd been touring with a band and playing with them every night for months and months really pushed me in some different directions 

A cast of characters pop up in the lyrics of the second record. Detroit Junior, Connie, Conner - did those songs and stories come easily for you or were there a lot of drafts, versions of the stories you tell on the record?

Conner and des were real guys.....detroit junior....earl....they're all people on halsted.....so those songs came real easy..... 

Where in the world did "Idler" come from?

It started out as a funk song.....brian koppelman told me to take the lyrics which he thought were good and sit at a piano and come at it from a different direction.....i did and the rest as they say...... 


Still have that scepter that's on the cover of Gethsemane?
No i broke it on a tree on sheridan road when i tried to club a friend of mine who had really made me mad....i missed his head.....hit the tree

Looking back, what's one moment you always hold on to from those years and say "now that was cool"?

Playing my first industry gig to all of warner bros in san fran.......i killed it..... 

Saturday's show should be quite a workout for you and the band. Nervous about this show or just ready to hit the stage?
Really ready......a little nervous......more excited then nervous......but i'm gonna lay it all out there.....won't be nothing but sweat left of me after the show.... 


Catching Up With Denny

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 Denny Fongheiser - the man behind the kit on 620 W Surf talks

Tell us a little about your musical upbringing and background

I started playing as a kid following my big brother Rich's footsteps.

I studied privately from Rich and his teacher Bill Nawrochi as well as Paul Yonemura, and Narada Michael Walden. Started playing gigs at age 15 throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Dreamed of moving to Los Angeles to pursue a career of playing on different artists recordings and touring.... I moved to LA at the age of 20.

Early influences?

I was exposed to a lot of different music. I liked good songs. A lot of influences came from R&B and Rock music. Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone, Tower of Power and Led Zeppelin.

How do you become involved in the recording of 620 W.Surf?

I got a call from producer Don Gehman whom I had been working with. I also new Brian Koppelman who found Michael from Tracy Chapman.

What was your first impression of Michael McDermott and was working with him in the studio your first meeting?

We got together and played first to see if we had a musical connection. I was really impressed by his songs and lyrics. We seemed to really hit it off.

Prior to recording with Michael, had you performed on other records?

Yes, I had been recording with artists like Tracy Chapman, Brian Setzer and Marc Cohen.

What were the challenge, if any, of working on someone's debut record?

The main goal is to help them bring their songs alive. Hopefully give them something that represents them as an artist. Just get into the center of their music.

Any good stories or recollections of the recording?

I just remember it being a great time! It still stands out as one of the most enjoyable experiences for me.Great Music, Great People. I Love Michael’s songs. His lyrics are so well put together. As well as thought provoking. 

Have you stayed in touch with Michael over the years?

Yes, when I would go through Chicago on tour we got together a few times. I was able to catch one of his shows. I was also lucky enough to record for him again a few years ago. We recorded in Santa Monica at 4th street recording as well as my home studio..... He's a great guy and a great talent.

Any message to Michael as prepared for the anniversary show?

Michael, thank you for letting me participate in the making of your records along with your friendship. It' is all quite an honor!! Keep sharing the gift of music. I know you continue to touch many!!!!

Brian Koppelman Talks 620 W Surf

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 Picture One - Brian and Michael
Picture Two - David Levien, Michael Douglas and Brian

Checking in with Brian Koppelman, writer, producer, movie maker and the man behind Michael McDermott's first three records

Tell us about your initial meeting with Michael and what drew you to his music


I first saw Michael play at the Metro in Chicago. Thought his songs were astonishing, especially for someone so young (he was 19).

June 25 will be the anniversary celebration of 620 W. Surf? If you were listening to that record today, what would be your first thoughts?
Well, I am still so attached to the album so my reaction is a very personal one. I remember how we recorded each track, who played on them, how Michael sang, all of it. But if I could somehow listen without all of that, I still think I would find the album touching and sad with a dark beauty running through it. And at the corners, hope, light, possibility.


There was a big change in sound from the first to second record - what were some of the reasons behind that? or was that just a natural progression?
I think Michael can best answer. But from my perch it felt like Michael was afraid of being just a singer/songwriter. he wanted to rock. But, you know, plenty of the songs on there still feel like vintage McDermott. Lantern, Moonlit Prayer (which is one of my all time favorites), Idler...

Michael has stated "Idler" was originally a funk-based song? Do you recall that and any memories of how that song came together

Here's what I remember: Michael had sent me a song with the Turn and Turn chorus. And then, a few weeks later, he sent the verses for Idler, only they were, as he says, in a funk/rock kind of song. It didn't make sense to me. And then I remembered that other chorus. And the mood of that other song and asked Michael if he thought he could attack it another way and maybe combine the things. Turned out he could. In a pretty amazing way.

You have been a great influence on Michael's career and writing. Has he influenced your writing?
Yes. Because he has influenced my outlook on life, my world view.

When you look back at your time with Michael - what was the most poignant/memorable moment?

That's unanswerable. Because we were in our early twenties when we were spending time together on a daily basis. And that whole period is poignant. I guess those first months in LA when we were hanging with David Levien as we made 620 W. Surf.

What's Brian up to these days?
I am married and my wife Amy and I have two kids. Live in New York. David Levien and I write and direct movies together. Some of our films are Solitary Man, Rounders, Ocean's Thirteen and The Girlfriend Experience. I also write songs.

Are you Michael looking to work together in the future?
We work together all the time writing songs.

Any thoughts to share with Michael as he prepares for the anniversary show?
Crush it, my brother.

A Chat with Don Teschner

Who took my guitar
 As the June 25 show approaches, we had a quick chat with Don Teschner, who played the fiddle and mandolin on 620 W. Surf 

What have you been up to since the 620 W. Surf sessions?
From 1990 - 1995 toured the world three times and recorded three records with Rod Stewart. I got the gig directly as a result of meeting and recording with Michael McDermott. Kevin Savagar came in to do some last minute Hammond B3 parts on the record and I believe it was just after I had finished my last parts. Shortly thereafter, I believe it was the same day, Kevin went to do a recording session with Rod and Rod just happened to ask him if he knew anyone who plays fiddle and mandolin. Kevin said " well yes I just worked with someone " ... the rest is historical

Tell us a little about your musical upbringing and background
I am a self taught multi - instrumentalist ... I started on guitar at 18, fiddle at 19 and mandolin at 20 years old

Early influences?
My early influences were Stephan Grapelli & Django Reinheart and the hot club of France, David Grisman, David Bromberg, Vassar Clements, John Hartford

How do you become involved in the recording of 620 W.Surf
I believe I heard about the gig through Billy Stienberg ... who wrote "Like A Virgin", 
"I Touch Myself ", So Emotional " among many other hit songs.

What was your first impression of Michael McDermott and was working with him in the studio your first meeting?
I thought Michael was a gifted songwriter as well as a great performer ... we could all tell right away at the first rehearsal

Prior to recording with Michael, had you performed on other records?
I recorded on many recordings but only one real "Label" record. It was with the Irish band In-Tua-Nua, who toured with U2 in the early 90s

What were the challenge, if any, of working on someone's debut record?
Don Gehman is such a confident and legendary producer that we all knew we were in good hands. The songs on the record are timeless

Have you stayed in touch with Michael over the years?
I just recently ran into Michael at Genghis Cohen after one of his LA shows. We really had a great time hanging out and catching up