Annie Golden at the Cutting Room (photo: DavyMackNYC)
“I live at 54 Below!” says Annie Golden, and it would sure seem that way for the Brooklyn native, who rose to prominence in the 1970s fronting the CBGB’s/punk-era pop band The Shirts, but has become a Broadway/cabaret mainstay in recent years.
Also known for her television (Norma Romano in Orange Is the New Black), theater (she was the original Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme in Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's musical Assassins) and film work (discovered by the late Milos Forman while singing in The Shirts, she starred in his 1979 film version of Hair and sang selections from it at his memorial last month in Prague), Golden in recent weeks has performed regularly at Midtown Manhattan’s 54 Below, most notably at a cast reunion of the musical Xanadu (she played Calliope and Aphrodite on Broadway in 2007), Sondheim Unplugged and 54 Sings P!nk.
“They think I’m part of the staff there!” laughs Golden, but this afternoon, at least, she’s at the West Bank Café restaurant/cabaret, where after greeting Cherry Jones and Bobby Cannavale—themselves now playing 54 Below with Daniel Radcliffe in The Lifespan of a Fact--she talks about her latest music achievement, one forever in the making.
For just-released is Golden’s first-ever solo recording, a four-song EP entitled Annie Golden: Friends and Family, Live at The Cutting Room, NYC—Friends and Family being pretty much what it says.
“It’s a multi-generational band--young and the old playing together,” says Golden, naming her nephew Mick Golden on drums, friend Paul McKenzie on guitar and vocals, and friends Sal Maida on bass and Lisa Burns backup vocals--and their son Dylan Maida on piano.
“Our mission statement is to entertain and delight,” Golden continues. “I’ve recorded with bands and duos or on original cast albums, but I’ve never had anything mine insofar as my own music project.”
One song on Friends and Family, “Clara Bow,” derives from her Golden-Carillo 1990s songwriting/performing partnership with Frank Carillo. Two, “Second Story” and “Skeletons in the Closet,” are by Burns and Sal Maida. Golden co-wrote “Impossible Spring” with theater composer Steve Marzullo.
“I always say it’s ‘Friends and Family,’ because that was the original concept,” says Golden of her group, which formed after Golden-Carillo split up in 1996.
“I loved all those songs we did [in Golden-Carillo]--and still do all of them. So I started playing them when I performed at friends’ galleries and events, and started writing new ones with Artie [Shirts’ guitarist Art LaMonica] and Steve [Marzullo]. We played our first gig in 1999 and started doing CBGB’s regularly—any time I wanted a gig [The Shirts had been managed by late CBGB’s owner Hilly Kristal].”
But tragedy struck in 2006 when Golden’s brother and drummer Michael Golden—father of Mick—suffered a traumatic brain injury in a motorcycle accident.
“I was always determined that he’d play again,” says Golden, but it would be many years before Michael would be able to do so. During that time she kept busy with acting and non-band gigs.
“We’ve actually done maybe eight Family and Friends gigs in 18 years,” she continues, noting that in addition to other acting gigs like stage concerts for composer Joe Iconis, whose musical Broadway Bounty Hunter about a down-and-out actress was inspired by and written for her (and for whom she played the designated “Annie Golden type” role in his college theatrical project The Black Suits after he approached her), she’s been singing at venues like Joe’s Pub, where she debuted her cabaret act Annie Golden’s Velvet Prison in 2001 while starring on Broadway in The Full Monte.
“Another heartbreaking thing is that Paul [McKenzie] had done all the work to get Michael ready to come back and was getting ready to do the gig—and had a terrible work accident of his own with a traumatic head injury and was not able to play with Michael on his comeback gig.”
That comeback gig, sadly, would turn out to be Michael’s last.
“Paul got hurt in April, 2014,” Golden recalls. “I was in Violet on Broadway with Sutton Foster. CB’s had closed and [other famed downtown club] The Bottom Line had closed, and I figured I should play the Cutting Room, where [co-owner] Steve Walter was a friend of my brother’s. So I booked a gig for Sunday of Pride Week, June 2014, as his comeback gig.”
Art LaMonica stepped in to sub for McKenzie, even though he had blood clots in one leg and had to play while seated and with a compression device applied to it.
“I wondered, Does the universe not want me to do this gig? and Lisa said, ‘The universe wants you to do this gig no matter what!”
The gig did take place, with Foster and members of the Orange Is the New Black cast in attendance.
“I hadn’t played a gig with my band in eight years and people didn’t know I did this,” says Golden, “and it was Dylan’s first gig with us—and it was a real triumph.”
So she booked another Friends and Family gig at the Cutting Room for November, with McKenzie recovered and set to return. But Michael still had problems with balance, and in October, he fell and broke his neck. He died a month before the November show.
“I lost Michael and didn’t know if I’d ever play again, and then Mick stepped up learned the set and started playing with us to honor his father’s legacy,” says Golden
The current lineup of Annie Golden Friends and Family has now played a handful of gigs, “but we’ve got some momentum going,” she says, noting that while they all have their own music projects and commitments, her Friends and Family remain dedicated to the concept and each other. In fact, while her debut EP is now available via online retailers, digital music services and her Facebook page, she’s already working on a second one—Like Father Like Son--a live four-song EP featuring two cuts with Michael and two with Mick.
Golden is also updating her Velvet Prison cabaret act and is immersed in other activities outside of 54 Below.
“I sang ‘A Fire in New Town’ [a Golden-Carillo gem that will appear on Like Father Like Son] for a Democratic party event before I went to Prague—where I sang with the Prague Symphony Orchestra and with Meteor, a popular local rock band. Also in September, I performed songs from Sweeney Todd and A Little Night Music at the Madison Theatre presentation of Give Our Regards to Broadway: 1970s at Molloy College in Rockville Center, and Max Vernon [award-winning off-Broadway composer/lyricist of The View Upstairs and KPOP] reached out to me to perform at his Existential Life Crisis Lullaby residency at Joe’s Pub.”
Meanwhile, Golden reports that a new character has been written for her for next year’s third season of the HBO comedy-drama series High Maintenance. And glancing at her ever-active cell phone, she sees that she’s just received two messages inquiring about guest soloist gigs.
Clearly it’s time to return calls.
Annie Golden Friends and Family perform the Golden Carillo classic "A Fire in New Town"