To say Marshall Crenshaw is a rock and roll enthusiast with a deep and broad appreciation of the genre is an understatement. Casual fans may remember the bespectacled singer-songwriter from his early-1980s earworms “Someday, Some Way” and “Whenever You’re On My Mind,” when he was in fairly regular rotation on MTV. Or for his cameo playing 1950s legend Buddy Holly in the 1987 biopic La Bamba.
But the Michigan native’s passions have had him pop up in far more corners of the music industry. In addition to hosting The Bottomless Pit, a radio show that airs on New York’s WFUV 90.7 FM on Saturday nights and streams nationwide, he has maintained a healthy recording and touring career while occasionally being pulled into myriad musical projects.
Not only did he pen the Golden Globe-nominated title track for the 2007 biopic spoof Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, he was hired to curate a collection of 1950s and 1960s country music (1990’s Hillbilly Music…Thank God, Vol. 1) and wrote a book about Hollywood’s rock music connection (Hollywood Rock: A Guide to Rock ’n’ Roll in the Movies).
Currently in Crenshaw’s creative crosshairs are a documentary and musical tribute to African-American record producer Tom Wilson, who worked with Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel and The Velvet Underground, among others. Not bad for a guy who got his start playing John Lennon in the late 1970s national touring company of Beatlemania.
“I’m trying to make a documentary about a record producer named Tom Wilson. So I’m working on that. Simultaneously with that, I just started working on a Live at Lincoln Center salute to Tom Wilson,” Crenshaw said. “We’ve already gotten yeses from a lot of great people. I’m not going to name any names, but that’s a thing that is really starting to take shape. I hope it doesn’t fall off the face of the earth, but the whole thing is looking pretty good.”
The seeds for Crenshaw’s latter-day birth as a radio DJ were planted after appearing on a show hosted by Steve Earle on the late Air America. Later, a conversation with friend and Dictators frontman Handsome Dick Manitoba revealed the latter was about to take a job as a DJ on Little Steven’s Underground Garage channel on Sirius/XM.
“When Handsome Dick said [he was getting a show], I found myself being a little envious,” said Crenshaw. “I thought I’d get myself a radio show and that was it. I started doing it. I knew somebody in my neighborhood that owned a radio station and I asked if I could go on the air. I was terrible, but I kept doing it until I got comfortable at it. . . . I look at it as being another kind of artistic exercise.”
The Bottomless Pit (currently on hiatus while Crenshaw works on the Wilson documentary) is a self-described weekly roundup of items from Crenshaw’s personal record collection that numbers at about 3,000 records. With about 75 percent of it being material that he has a personal connection to, some of the sources date back to the music enthusiast’s childhood, including Bo Diddley’s 16 All-Time Greatest Hits and an extremely rare 45 of John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” on a blue and silver Atlantic Records label. It’s this kind of passion that flows through Crenshaw’s performances, whether he’s playing solo with nothing but his two guitars, a foot-stomp board and his imagination or teaming up with instrumental garage rockers Los Straitjackets or the Bottle Rockets. Currently, he’s touring as the guest vocalist for The Smithereens, performing tonight at the Canyon Club.
“I never make up a set list. I just walk up there, start playing one song and then try to figure out what would go well afterwards. I just try to wing it and go with the spur of the moment,” he said.
Marshall Crenshaw joins The Smithereens on Thursday, Feb. 7, at 7 p.m. at the Canyon Club, 28912 Roadside Drive, Agoura Hills. For tickets and more information, call 888-645-5006 or wheremusicmeetsthesoul.com/canyon-agoura-hills.