By Ryan O’Connell
There is a house in the wilds of West Philly- a few blocks past the University City area. In that unassuming three-story, eleven bedroom house lives Kickin’ Bear. It is not the famous Native American. It is a six-piece rock band recently relocated to Philadelphia from sunny Ocean City, New Jersey. Their dog also lives there. So does a ghost.
Kicking Bear with a “g,” fought in the Battle of Little Big Horn and later rode with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show in the second half of the 1800’s. Kickin’ Bear, minus the “g,” came together with its current line up a year or two before making the move to the city two years ago. Yet they are old friends, all brothers in arms from the fun, yet dry little seaside town of Ocean City.
Once fully assembled, Ocean City grew too small for the band’s growing expectations. The demand for Lynard Skynard covers had started to wear on Kickin’ Bear. And no, the “bear” in their name does not mean they are any sort of Grateful Dead cover band. “We thought we had done everything we could do down there,” says Rob Swift, one of the band’s founders, guitarist, and vocalist. It was not a given that Kickin’ Bear would move on to Philadelphia, only a quick shot down the Atlantic City Expressway.
Initially, they were “packing it up and heading to Texas,” says Wayne Gallagher, founder, vocalist, and piano player. “Probably Austin.” Other options were the mechanical bulls and Broadway of Nashville or the rock clubs of Boston. Yet in Philadelphia, they found the giant old boarding house, played a show at The Fire and decided to make their move. Having immigrated, they’ve played multiple shows at the Fire, in addition to “every small bar, every dive bar,” says Swift. For a band looking to incorporate the sounds of the six members and the numerous musical instruments each one plays, those twenty to thirty minute sets can be pretty challenging and confining; not like the three hour shows they grew up playing back at the shore. But the shorter sets also don’t include the Skynard covers. So Kickin’ Bear has that going for them.
But they also allegedly have a ghost.
The ghost is not a ghost of Benjamin Franklin, which is surprising.
In addition to the two to four live shows the band plays each month, they are working on their second album out at a recording studio in Ardmore. Their deadline is March and their hope is to have it released this spring. The bonus with this album is the recording process. It’s increased professionalism and use of proper equipment is a giant step up from Kickin’ Bear’s first album, a product of “drunken, stupor” recording sessions.
“This album is more professional, sounds nicer,” says Gallagher.
The next album will not be an album of southern rock. Because it’s important to remember that Kickin’ Bear are not a southern rock band. They are a rock band from southern New Jersey and it’s not the other way around.
“A lot of people say we sound like southern rock,” says Swift, who himself is not a southern rock fan. “But I get it, because it’s guitar-orientated music.” Swift is a fan of flamenco, gypsy jazz, and world music; styles and elements he is incorporating into the new album. He envisions the band to be a melting pot of sounds and styles, “ultimately working towards a perfect meld of multiple styles.”
As for the ghost, Gallagher says that they have heard that it is an “eight foot tall night demon.” It lives in a crawl space at the top of the house; an area that only Swift has popped his head into. So far, there have been no problems between Kickin’ Bear, their dog, and the ghost. But if that ghost, the “eight foot tall night demon,” starts requesting Skynard tunes, there might be one.