This time, Chera’s record, “My Tribute to the King,” takes a new look at a number of Elvis classics, the music that he says played the biggest role in sparking his love for music.
After spending decades of working endless hours in the family retail business, Chera decided that it was time to seek out his desire for the classics in rock and his early life musical influences like Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra.
However it was the music from the Tennessee great what helped this NYC-based singer develop an uncanny resemblance to “The King,” something that quickly becomes apparent with his rendition of Elvis classics like “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You,” “That’s Alright Mama” and “Suspicious Minds.”
I spoke with Chera earlier this week about his newly released album and his the road that took him from the retail shelves to center stage at some of NYC’s biggest cabarets and nightclub venues.
What did you find your musical influences while growing up in Brooklyn?
When I was in my early teens I was listening to what it today known as classic rock; The Doors, The Beatles, The Stones, Cream, The Who, and that was what was happening in those days – the late 60s. Today it’s just known as the classics of rock and roll.
What brought you back to music later in life?
It was something that I never had time for until the last 12 or 13 years. I was in the retail business my whole life. I worked in clothing stores in the urban streets of New York - in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens. My whole life was in retail. I worked 15 hours a day, just living retail to stay in the game.
That also was a very big change in how things were and how they became. Now it’s practically impossible to be in that business, so I got out of it and then I had time for my passion, which is music. I had more time to dedicate to it, so it has become a much bigger part of me.
I’ve been going and changing the old standards in American songbook and putting them into my own style, maybe updating them a little bit, but these are all classics from the 30s and 40s. Then, of course, the oldies tracks from the 50s and the 60s, and then the classic rock of the late 60s into the mid-70s.
That was really the best time for rock-and-roll. It was just at a different level. They made the whole sound of that era. These are songs or standards and classics that I love.
What was it that inspired you to get involved in making music?
I always liked performing, I always liked singing – singing in front of an audience, since I was 12 or 13 years old. I was also into putting groups together and changing things around. I’ve been in bands on and off in the last 30 years.
Was there a pivotal moment that made you want to start playing music?
Yeah. It was Elvis. The first time I was really introduced to Elvis was when I was 10 or 11 years old and I’ve been watching him very carefully ever since, and he inspired me. What I play today is a lot of what I heard from Elvis.
I think I saw something in him very early in my life, when I was a little guy. I don’t think many people were interested in Elvis in that time. This is not when he was in his peak, so he wasn’t the coolest guy out there – this was when he was at his lowest point in his career. This was the mid-60s.
Where are you performing now?
I do usually the cabaret rooms in New York like Don’t Tell Mama (343 W. 46th St., in Manhattan) or the Metropolitan Room (34 W. 22nd St. in Manhattan); and I have more shows coming up here in the fall.
What is it like performing the songs you grew up with?
It is like a dream come true. These are the songs that I want to sing, and that I feel are just great songs. I want to share it with everyone else and I want them to feel what I feel with these songs, and to enjoy the song like I do. I think that’s my greatest pleasure.
How have you seen music change since you first got involved?
Well I think music has changed a lot. It became a lot more about the beat and it’s wonderful. It’s very different and just really a different feeling from the music we listened to in the 50s, 60s and 70s. I like to sing a love song and a lot of what happened back then was love songs.
There was an intimacy about music in those days. You could feel it. It flows through you and it’s something that pushes your buttons and gets your spirit going. The music today, it’s very inspiring but it doesn’t really do that.
I’m seeing this music being passed on to the next generation, and that never really happened in music. It never happened that a range in music goes through generations of a whole 40-years later, and it’s still hot. These kids hear it and they say, wow. My son is 23, and he likes classic rock and listens to the Beatles, the Stones and Zeppelin a lot. So that tells you something.
Can you imagine someone in 1970, and they’re going to listen to something from 1930? I don’t think so. Today the kids get a chance to listen to that music, they know it, they feel it and I think anyone into music feels that way.
How have you seen it the music change in Brooklyn?
It’s really amazing how Brooklyn is really flying. It was completely different. Now places around Brooklyn are looking like Manhattan – the East Village or Tribeca – and it became cool. But then again Brooklyn is a very big place.
Where did you record your new album?
Well it comes out in two weeks on August 16; the day that Elvis died. Someone said that was a good time to have this album come out and I said yeah, that makes a lot of sense.
Where did you find your band?
The guys I recorded “My Tribute to the King” are in fact awesome musicians -- the best you'll find of this true rock and roll sound.
About 18 months ago I was in the studio rehearsing with my trio so I took a break, headed to couch in the hallway. As I'm sitting down I hear this voice that was very familiar to me. I said to my self, that's Robert Gordon. I'd know that voice anywhere. Now Mr. Gordon is a true rockabilly cat from the 70s, and I really loved his sound. I immediately went to see Dave, the owner of the studio, and after a minute he realized I was impressed, so he says Steven would you like to meet Robert? I said yeah, I'd love to.
So we walk into his room and Dave introduced me to him. We spoke a few minutes and before you know it, I'm singing “Don't be Cruel,” an Elvis classic. I just loved the energy. It really had my blood going. We said our goodbyes and I made sure I connected with the back up musicians.
They are, Benny Landa on lead and rhythm guitar, Phil Cimino on drums and Rob Stoner on bass -- who also has been on the road with Bob Dylan in the 70s. Amazing musicians. I believe working with them brought out the best in me. It brings the level of satisfaction all the way up.
Look for Steven Chera’s “My Tribute to the King” on August 16 and listen to his single “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You,” on his SoundCloud page (soundcloud.com/stevenchera).