Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Nome that tune

Musicians find success in many different ways, but how Athol's Derek Drowne parlayed a stint as a popular performer in Alaska into having one of his songs placed in a high-profile daytime soap opera is one of the more interesting versions of career connect-the-dots.

Drowne had been playing in various rock bands around Central Mass and working at radio station WAAF when an opportunity arose in 1990 to head to Alaska where his sister was starting an entertainment company.

"I brought karaoke to the Aleutian Peninsula," he jokes. But more importantly, Drowne met a lot of musicians, some who specialized in the region's native folk music, others who were simply good players.

"In Alaska, I was a sponge that took it all in. Native drumming, throat singing, you name it. It really opened me up as a musician," he says. "I even built an electric guitar because I was bored."

Drowne makes his first appearance at the Coppertop on Friday playing from 3 to 5 p.m. during the Pass Holder Appreciation activities slated for the mountain that day.

His time in Alaska led Drowne to Nome, where he played six nights a week with a band that held down the house gig in a trading post saloon.

"In Nome, you can play music, drink, and go to church," Drowne says. "I didn't go to church."

But he became a pretty skilled musician.

While in Alaska, Drowne recorded two CDs of original material. The song "Breakfast in Paris" caught on as a regional hit. Drowne performed around the state and opened for members of the Beach Boys when they toured in the region.

Through a series of connections the singer-songwriter made touring and working with radio stations, Drowne's songs came to the attention of the music director for a few of ABC's soap operas, who flew the singer to New York to see what they could work out. That's how "Breakfast in Paris" landed in a scene of "All My Children" in 1998.

In 2001, Drowne moved back to Massachusetts. He developed a solo-acoustic show that mainly features his interpretation of popular songs. He is also writing material for another CD.

"When people go out to a club show, I think they like to hear songs that they know. But I've learned a bunch of songs from all different genres and put my own spin on them," Drowne says. "For me, if the song has a good hook, I'll usually love it and learn it."

He even surprises himself sometimes with songs that find their way into his set.

"I hated Bon Jovi's  'Dead or Alive.' When I worked at 'AAF, the song was so overplayed that I just got sick of it," he says. "But now I love playing it live. And when you hear me, it's definitely my own version."

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