Today’s Guest: Glen Burtnik, New Jersey musician, songwriter, “Beatlemania” Paul McCartney, Cats on a Smooth Surface, Hammer, John Waite, Patty Smythe, Styx, ELO/The Orchestra
Watch this exclusive Mr. Media interview with Glen Burtnik by clicking on the video player above!
Mr. Media is recorded live before a studio audience that includes Southside Johnny, John Eddie, Phil Garland and a bunch of other guys briefly pronounced to be the next big thing from the Jersey Shore… in the NEW new media capital of the world… St. Petersburg, Florida!
There aren’t many people, besides my mom, whom I could introduce by saying I’ve known them all my life. But that’s true of Glen Burtnik.
But don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting we know each other well or have ever hung out.
It’s just that in the early 1960s, our families were neighbors in a low-rent apartment complex in Somerset, New Jersey. Our moms were friends and remained so for many years to come, even as both families separately relocated to more suburban digs in North Brunswick.
Glen was the first person to ever attempt to teach me how to play the guitar – the first of many to fail at that task, but the only one who went on to play Paul McCartney onstage in “Beatlemania.”
GLEN BURTNIK podcast excerpt: “Sometimes we would know ahead if Bruce Springsteen was going to show up and play with us (Cats on a Smooth Surface) on stage at The Stone Pony. But usually he would just hang. Often I would know he was in the bar because the audience would suddenly change. They would come to the edge of the stage and just stand there staring at us. And we’d realize, ‘They’re not really watching us — they’re waiting for something…’ One time, Bruce was at the bar, but he didn’t do anything. We finished our set and it was encore time. I walked out the stage, the audience was clapping to bring us back on, and there was Bruce walking away on the sidewalk. I said, ‘Hey, Bruce — you wanna play?’ He said, ‘I don’t know…’ I said, ‘C’mon!’ and he said, ‘Aw, alright!'”
He also married Rosemary, a beautiful girl down the street from me, so I saw him in passing from time to time.
The only time I believe we were in the same room together in the last 40 years was probably around 1987 when my wife and I went to The Stone Pony in Asbury Park on a Sunday night to wait with the faithful to see if Bruce Springsteen would show up and play a set with the club’s house band, Cats on a Smooth Surface. Their guitarist? Glen Burtnik.
Music has been very good to Glen over the years. During his “Beatlemania” run, he built a lasting friendship with the performer cast as John Lennon – Marshall Crenshaw. During that same period of time, he was hired by Jan Hammer to be the singer in his band, Hammer. That’s how he met his friend and future Santana and Journey player Neal Schon.
(An aside: During his time with Cats on a Smooth Surface, he became friendly with a guy named Jon Bongiovi, who invited him to join his new band. Glen declined and Bon Jovi went on without him.)
GLEN BURTNIK podcast excerpt: “I did not initially approve of ‘Beatlemania,.’ I thought it was a cheap imitation kind of thing. But as a young musician, looking for breaks, I auditioned. When I passed the audition, I still wasn’t sure I wanted to do this. The musical director said, ‘Have you ever seen the show? Come with me.’ It completely got me. I always wanted to be a Beatle and there it was: four guys on stage in this beautiful theater, playing songs I grew up with — how could I say no?”
Glen recorded two solo albums for A&M Records, Heroes and Zeroes and Talking in Code. When going out on his own didn’t work out as hoped, he received a phone message one day from Dennis DeYoung asking if he would consider auditioning for his band – Styx. Tommy Shaw had moved on to tour with Damn Yankees and the band needed a second guitarist and another songwriter.
If you didn’t know Glen before, you’ve certain got good reason to get to know my old neighbor now.
By the way, you can see Glen Burtnik live in concert with The Orchestra –featuring former members of the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO and ELO II) – at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Florida on Friday, January 31. Get tickets online at RuthEckerdHall.com.
Glen Burtnik’s view of The Stone Pony crowd at the Cats on a Smooth Surface reunion (January 2014)
The audience’s view of Glen Burtnik and Cats on a Smooth Surface reunion the same night as above.
Bruce Springsteen performing with Cats on a Smooth Surface at The Stone Pony, Asbury Park, NJ (1982)
Glen Burtnik with The Orchestra, consisting of members of Electric Light Orchestra and ELO II, in Prague, Czech Republic (2013)