Midwestern west coast musician…
Few Nebraska musicians or songwriters have attained the level of success, international notoriety, or musical abilities as Max Carl (Gronenthal). Raised in rural Nebraska near Humphrey, NE and graduating from high school in nearby Norfolk, NE in 1968, Max developed his love of Rhythm & Blues music by being a key member of Norfolk’s “New Breed Blues Band” in 1967-68.
Following in the footsteps of great Norfolk bands like Don Sohl & The Roadrunners, Ron Thompson & The Broughams, Little Joe & The Ramrods, The Strollers, The Drifters & The Smoke Ring, Max quickly became the front man for “The New Breed” moving from saxophone to Hammond B-3 organ & lead vocalist, almost overnight.
By 1969 he moved to the Lincoln, NE based “Chancellors” – another Rhythm & Blues “horn band” that included some of the finest musicians regionally. Their RB sound and stage show rivaled that of The Smoke Ring & The Fabulous Flippers – both legendary RB bands in the Midwest. By the early 1970’s – Max joined one of the bands that were an early inspiration to him – The Fabulous Flippers – on lead vocals.
Another Midwest rock legend – Tommy Bolin – was born and raised in Sioux City, IA – about 75 miles northeast of Norfolk, NE. Before attaining national acclaim in The James Gang, Deep Purple & The Tommy Bolin Band – Bolin ventured to Colorado in the early 1970’s to form Gangbusters & Energy. Max performed with Bolin in both of these early 70’s Jazz/Rock Fusion groups.
Moving to Oklahoma City, OK during the mid-70’s to study piano and hone his songwriting skills, Max again joined Bolin in November 1976 who was on a tour with his band and Jeff Beck. Max was playing with Bolin in Miami, Florida on December 4, 1976 when Bolin met his untimely death.
During the latter part of the 1970’s Max performed on recordings with The DFK Band including Mike Finnegan, and performed on recordings by Rod Stewart and Molly Hatchett.
He recorded his first solo album ‘ “Whistlin’ in the Dark” as Max Gronenthal in 1979. A second solo album, entitled “Max” was released in 1980 – both on national labels.
From 1981 through 1988 he provided either backup vocals or instrumental support on albums by Dan Fogelberg, Don Henley, Elton John, Kenny Loggins, Dave Mason, Molly Hatchet, Timothy B. Schmidt, Glen Frey, Bonnie Raitt & Bette Midler.
Around 1982, Max and a group of professional studio musicians in Los Angeles, CA put together a “jam band” to perform at local clubs to play covers of their true love – 60’s Rhythm & Blues tunes & to also showcase a number of classic original RB tunes Max had composed.
Approached by Glen Frey, former lead vocalist with The Eagles, after hearing them perform, he immediately proposed a record deal and promptly signed them to Full Moon Records, a subsidiary of Warner Brothers. Dubbed “Jack Mack & The Heart Attack” they promptly laid down an album of Max Carl originals – & the rest is history. “Cardiac Party” immediately became a best seller and the band toured extensively throughout the country – attaining the status of not only one of the best RB bands ever to lay down tracks on vinyl but also one of the best “Live Shows” ever to hit the circuit.
Jack Mack & The Heart Attack, featuring Max on lead vocals and keys, performing his original recordings, appeared on many regional and national television shows and movies. These included a special episode of “Laverne & Shirley” as well as spots on Saturday Night Live, and sound tracks of Police Academy, Porky’s Revenge, Spring Break, Back to the Future, Miami Vice, and Beverly Hills Cop-2.
Anyone who purchased “Cardiac Party” or saw Jack Mack & The Heart Attack “LIVE” will never forget this legendary band. Jack Mack treated Nebraskans to “Live Performances” during a tour that included classic performances in Omaha and Columbus, NE (“Wishbones”) during this time. Max paid homage to several “Smoke Ring” members in the crowd at the Columbus show, by having them join “Jack Mack” on stage during the final encore.
The group continues to perform some 20 years later, and although personnel changes have occurred, still continues to be one of the best and most popular “party bands” in the country. The group recently reissued “Cardiac Party” on CD to the delight of their many fans.
By 1985, Max had moved on, to again pursue his solo career, and released “The Circle”, this time under his current stage name “Max Carl”, again on a national label. During this time frame, he also was involved as a writer and performer in several movies “Short Circuit” & “Doing Time”.
In late 1985, Max was asked to join the legendary Southern Rock Band – “38 Special” both as lead singer and songwriter. By 1988, Max’s Rhythm & Blues influence on the band had blended with their Southern Rock roots to release the classic album “Rock & Roll Strategy”.
This album featured “Second Chance” both written and sung by Max that became a million- seller and 38 Special’s only #1 Hit. They toured extensively touting both the single and album to huge crowds, including a “home town” performance in Omaha, NE at Ak-Sar-Ben to a sell-out crowd. A second 38-Special album (“Bone on Steel”) again featuring the Rhythm & Blues based vocals and songwriting of Max was released in 1991. Shortly thereafter, Max left 38-Special and moved from Atlanta, GA to Nashville, TN.
During the early 1990’s, while in Nashville, Max continued to write songs for or perform on recordings with Joe Cocker, Bad Company, Rodney Crowell, Charlie Daniels, Wynonna Judd, Richard Marx and Bryan White.
While in Nashville, Max became aware of and sought out a very special “family” of black musicians in the heart of Mississippi that performed a very original, highly local and historic form of music, not found anywhere else in the world. Featuring the family patriarch “keeping the sound alive” and preserving the music of their roots, this very special form of music of highly localized & unique sounds, featured the heavy rhythm of Civil War marching band drum cadences blended with southern funk, cane reed flautists & field calls. Max was fascinated with this “new sound” and after literally living with “the family” and joining in easily – found a new musical challenge and outlet for his original writing.
He took their unique sound and developed a musical stage presentation, combining their sound blended with his original compositions. The “show” was performed to rave reviews throughout the country and led to Max’s release of his latest album “One Planet – One Groove”. Forming “Max Carl & Big Dance” and releasing a superb CD on Glen Frey’s Mission Records – this group, which frequently performed LIVE with a stage band exceeding 10 players – proved to be another exciting adventure in the life of Max Carl.
The CD, featuring both Max Carl original compositions blended with this new found “Mississippi-Sound, featured the single “One More River” – another Max Carl original that charted in 1998. The album features not only Max Carl original cuts that appeal to rock music fans of all ages, but several exciting remakes of classic 60’s hits such as “Land of 1000 Dances” and “Baby-Now That I Found You”. Once you heard this amazing CD or are lucky enough to catch “Max Carl & Big Dance” LIVE – you will never forget it.
One of the last performances of “Max Carl & Big Dance” was in Spencer, IA opening for The Doobie Brothers – long time friends of Max. With the covered race-track grandstands filled to capacity, “Big Dance” led by Max on a marching band bass drum and following by the rest of the band equipped with an array of marching band drums – they entered the grandstands pounding on their drum Army to a funky rhythm that drove the crowd wild. Reaching the stage via a catwalk, the sound escalated as the massive PA picked up the acoustic rhythms.
“Big Dance” then performed a complete set of some of the funkiest sounds ever performed live to the delight of the crowd.
Max then joined The Doobie Brothers during their encore to close the show.
In 1999, Max relocated to California to pursue continued “musical adventures” and continue his fine writing.
Words from Midwest Music Masters.
Chrysalis Records 1980
Tracks: I’ve Got Something Here, For You, Rockin’ Chair, Shana, Have A Good Time, Where Do You Go, Say It Again, Here We Go Again, Love Shows & Roll Home.
Musicians on the Max album: Max Gronenthal and others.
Whistling In The Dark
Chrysalis Records 1979
Tracks: Sailfish, Still I Wonder, You, Lookin’ For A Girl, Get It Straight, I Know You’re In There, Sonya, I Can’t Leave The City, All The Time & Faded Satin Lady.
Musicians on the Whistling In The Dark album: Max Gronenthal, Tim Goodman, Will McFarlane, Michael O’Neill, Trey Thompson, James Newton Howard, Billy Meeker, Michael James Jackson, Rocke Grace, Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald, Gerard McMahon & Patrick Simmon.