J. Lyon Layden has a lot of irons in the fire, but so far, he hasn’t been burned. That’s because he’s good at all the things he does.
The son of a cabinet maker and a Ayur Vedic therapist, Layden — along with his younger brother, Eric — operates Layden Brothers Custom Cabinetry in Richmond Hill.
Layden — call him Joe — is also a poet, a journalist, the author of a successful children’s book and the lead singer and lead guitarist of the blues, funk and rock band the Looters.
The band, which includes Eric Layden on bass and vocals, the brothers’ longtime pal Kenny Savage on rhythm guitar and vocals, and drummer John Tomaszewski, performs Saturday at Live Wire Music Hall.
The drummer slot changes according to the gig; sometimes the brothers and Savage perform as an acoustic trio.
Although they play a lot of covers — everything from the Stones to Phoebe Snow — many of the Looters’ tunes are written by one Laydon or the other.
Music, for Joe Layden, “is real therapeutic. I don’t feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be when I’m not playing music. I stopped playing for about five years, when I was in a serious relationship, and a lot of the good blessings in life stopped happening to me.”
They began messing around with bands in the early 1990s, although things started to slow down after a year or two, and by mid–decade the Looters would only play at Caf Loco, on Tybee Island, every once in a blue moon.
“When he forgot to book somebody, he would call us at the last minute,” Layden laughs.
For a while, the band — expanded — was called Ciaxa.
They landed steady gigs with Dutch trumpeter Saskia Laroo, and Georgia–born Netherlands resident Rosa King, a sax player.
“When we were on tour in Europe with Saskia and Rosa, we would take off from the cabinet business for three months,” Layden recalls. “We were kind of seasonal. We used to be just a backing band for people who played on both sides of the Atlantic.”
They also had a lead singer for their Georgia shows — a young woman named Kristina Beaty, who would go on to jazz fame under her married name, Kristina Train.
Savage also happens to be a gifted visual artist, and it was a series of fantasy drawings he came up with that led to the 2004 publication of The Other Side of Yore, a children’s book with Layden’s narration.
“Kenny drew a bunch of pictures of a frog riding around on a tortoise–shell boat, and I just thought it was a cool concept,” Layden says. “So I started writing a story. Initially it was just going to be like a 30–pager for children, but we got inspired and ended up making it 160 pages.”
Writing, in fact, may well be Layden’s first love. “I was a writer since I was 10 years old, and I took music lessons when I was 11 and 12,” he says. “I didn’t really get serious about music till I was about 18.
“I started leaning more towards music because I figured out that when you get poetry published, you get like five dollars. And with short stores, you might get three hundred dollars, but it’s so hard to get ‘em.”
The Layden/Savage team has just published a “prequel,” available on amazon.com’s digital–only book service, called Adventures in Yore for Bedtime Reading. The story is written using a technique called NLP (neuro–linguistic programming).
“It’s a bedtime story that’s actually designed to help you put your kids to sleep, with good dreams and everything,” Laydon explains. “It uses yoga–type verbiage in order to get them in a real relaxed state towards the end of the story.
“Basically, it becomes an exciting story so that they’re amped up for a second, but then soothes them down so that by the end of the story they’re ready to sleep and not ‘Can we read another one?’”
Out in a month or two will be the Looters’ first full–length CD. The band members are attacking this music thing full–frontal this time.
Add this to J. Lyon Layden’s busy plate: The brothers are preparing to embark on a short northeastern tour with Mark Coates, one of their former drummers, who owns and operates Bebe’s Barbeque in South Philadelphia.
Coates is famous in the Cradle of Liberty for his southern cooking – those Pennsylvanians just eat it up – and his restaurant was recently named “Best in Philly.”
Coates and the Looters will be filmed by the Learning Channel for an upcoming documentary on the Carolina–born chef.
The tour, Layden says, will go like this:
“We’re turning it into a blues and country and barbeque show. We’ll come out and play for an hour, he’ll come up with some cooking utensils, and we’ll sing in the background while he’s cooking stuff.
“And for the last three or four songs, he’ll sing country and we’ll turn from a blues band into a country backup band.”
Where: Live Wire Music Hall, 307 W. River St.
When: At 10 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 26
Artist’s Web site: www.laydenbrothers.com/thelooters.html