Story by Thomas Dimopoulos
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Stephen Trombley was driving through Tennessee, where the roadways sprawl across the state for 94,000 miles. It is enough to circle the world three times.
“I’ll have to call you back in a few minutes,” Trombley bellowed, his voice rising over the symphonic rattle of gas-powered clunkers that seeped through his cellphone. “I’m just learning this highway system in Nashville,” he said. “And I am completely going in the wrong direction.”
Exploring the roadways of his new home state, there are worse things in life than getting lost in Music City for the musician, author and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker. The gigs have been immediate; the collaborations with fellow songwriters, plentiful. “You sit in a room together for two hours, and you come out with a song,” Trombley explained, after he solved the Tennessee highway riddle to eventually meet up with renowned Nashville songwriter Angela Kaset.
Ironically, their initial musical collaboration took place in 2011 when Trombley lived in Salem and Kaset in southern Vermont. With the Nashville skyline in their rear-view mirror, the songwriters are bringing their music to Fort Salem Theater in Salem on Friday & Saturday (July 27 & 28) for a pair of shows they are calling Hands Across the Mason-Dixon Jar: South Meets North.
For Trombley, the visit will provide an opportunity to catch up with old friends in the Salem community where he had lived for eight years. In Kaset, upstate New York is getting a rare view of one of Nashville’s premier songwriters, with a slew of popular songs rolling off her keyboard that reach back more than 30 years. A SESAC Country Songwriter of the Year winner, Kaset has penned dozens of tunes that have been covered by popular artists – from the signature Lorrie Morgan hit “Something In Red” to Wynonna Judd’s rendition of “Peace in this House,” a song which Judd said re-ignited her own musical passion and “gave me a reason to continue to sing.” The trick to Kaset’s songwriting success is she writes foremost for herself.
“I never sit down and say, ‘Today I’m going to write for another artist.’ I write with honesty, and on occasion a recording artist will like it and record it,” she said.
“She feels what she writes. She’s the total package. She writes with passion, warmth and understanding,” said Jay Kerr, who purchased the Fort Salem Theater in 2006, renovated the main stage and created the 60-seat cabaret where Trombley and Kaset will be performing this weekend.
“Angela is a terrific keyboard player, a wonderful singer, and she writes great songs. And Steve is a fine collaborator. He challenges you. He is a very bright guy. And he’s a very busy guy.”
Born in the Adirondack Mountains the year Bill Haley & the Comets recorded “Rock around the Clock,” Trombley grew up in Saratoga County but relocated to London, England in 1977, where he lived for more than a quarter-century. His creative body of work includes more than a dozen film documentaries – the most recent “Spitzer Uncut,” made for his independent film and television production company, Worldview Pictures.
A bibliography of his published non-fiction works is just as lengthy. His most recent – “Fifty Thinkers Who Shaped the Modern World” – was penned while he was performing double duty, playing with the band Psychoneedles (which also included Oliver Ray of Patti Smith’s band).
“I do a lot of stuff. That’s just a necessity if you want to make a living,” Trombley said. “I get up at 5am and start working. I go until I can’t stand it anymore. I try to write 1,000 words a day, and on days I can’t write, I read.
“Songwriting is the same discipline. With film, there is a longer incubation period, but they’re all related. They are all aspects of the same thing: rock ‘n’ roll,” he said.
“In Salem, it’s Angela’s show. I’m supporting – but I don’t really like saying I’m ‘supporting’ because it makes me think of a jock strap,” he said.
“He’s the instigator,” Kaset offered.
“OK, I’m the instigator.”