Are JD & The Straight Shot the new kings of New Nork?
JD & The Straight Shot tell us about flying with the Eagles, hanging with Clapton and breaking records with kazoos...
Once upon a time, if you wanted to bestow greatness on an artist, you would say they were “the chairman of the board”. It was one of those good old-fashioned phrases journalists used to drag out whenever they were running low on inspiration and desperate to file their story so they could head off to the nearest pub.
For years, the phrase languished in obscurity, mainly due to rampant overuse, but today The Blues can safely say with a clean conscience that Jim Dolan, lead singer of Americana outfit JD & The Straight Shot, really is the chairman of the board. In fact, he’s the chairman of several boards. You might not have heard of him, but you will be familiar with his day job – and it’s quite impressive.
Dolan is the executive chairman of Madison Square Garden in New York, one of the most iconic and successful venues in the world. Yes, that Madison Square Garden. He’s also chief executive officer of one of the largest media and telecommunications companies in the United States, Cablevision Systems, and oversees three sports groups, including the New York Knicks basketball team.
“I don’t actually shoot baskets,” he tells The Blues during a recent visit to London to promote his band’s new album, Ballyhoo!. “Well, I do, but I suck at it! My business life is manipulating very large companies and entities and working them. There are a lot of other businesses that we own and operate, but none where I create a product per se.
“I don’t own a furniture store or a factory, but I do make furniture – beautiful furniture,” he adds, pointing to the rest of the band, who are all sitting in on the interview. “It’s what we do.”
Interviewing highly successful businessmen is not a risk-free venture. A cursory glance at the internet reveals all kinds of subjects that might bring proceedings to a grinding halt, mostly around the sports teams Dolan runs. It’s tempting to ask him if a British team will ever play in the baseball Word Series, but in the end we decide to stick to the music.
Despite wanting to form a band for most of his life, and hanging around with some pretty famous names at Madison Square Garden, Dolan only got really serious about music in 2001. “The first iteration of this band was just a group of buddies from work, messing around,” he recalls. “I had been racing sailboats up until that point but I’ve always kept a guitar with me, wherever I’ve been.”
Dolan actually once won one of the toughest challenges in yachting, the Fastnet, but tells us that those days are over, and the band is now his sole focus, even if they didn’t start off with big ambitions.
“We originally got together to play for a social thing, just for fun. After we were done, I said, ‘I really love this,’ and then it kept going. There have been four or five iterations since then. [Musical director and guitarist] Marc Copely’s been here for at least three of them.”
Copely is sitting across from us and nods. With a CV that reads like a who’s who of Americana and country, including stints with Rosanne Cash, the McCrary Sisters and Billy Squier, he helped put together the current version of JD & The Straight Shot.