Singer John Marshall has seen a lot of changes on the local music scene since he first formed his group, Psycho Bettie, back in 1994. He’s seen bands come and go, clubs come and go, musical trends come and go, and even band members come and go. But through it all, he keeps the ship sailing as the unit keeps a busy schedule and continues to move forward.
“I started the band, and I have a passion for it,” says Marshall. “It’s just what I do. I’ve been doing it for so long, I really don’t know what I would do if I had a weekend off. On the rare occasion when we do take a Saturday off, I’m usually sitting around bored out of my mind. It’s just something that becomes a part of your life after all of these years.”
Psycho Bettie, based out of Hazleton, also features Robb Justofin on lead guitar, Benny Lang on rhythm guitar and vocals, Troy Ritter on drums and Tim Frank on bass. Though Marshall is the only remaining original member, he says personnel changes have been infrequent and have come not because of strained friendships, but simply due to increased family or work commitments from past members. All changes, he says, have worked out well for the band.
“Most have been people that I’ve known, which helps, because I’ve at least had some kind of personal relationship with anyone that’s ever come through the doors – whether it was just to fill in for a little bit or if it was a permanent position.”
Psycho Bettie has played more than 2,000 shows, including gigs in NEPA, State College, Harrisburg, the Jersey shore and Ocean City, Md. Once billed as the region’s first grunge cover band, its set now ranges from tunes by Breaking Benjamin, Pearl Jam, The Killers and Sublime to Rick Springfield and Guns N’ Roses.
“We’ve been kind of forced into doing a little bit of everything, just because the live music scene is so much thinner than it was years ago,” says Marshall, who admits that even for a cover band, frequent changes in the nation’s musical climate — as well as the fact that a new group of 21-25 year olds hit the clubs every few years — can make staying popular and busy quite difficult. Still, he says he’s always enjoyed those challenges.
“It’s very cyclical, and it’s something that I’ve always been aware of, and I’ve done my damndest to try to keep things fresh and stay on top of things. It’s a fine line between keeping your fans that have been following you for years, while at the same time, you have to have a youth movement. We’ve covered hundreds and hundreds of songs over the years. Sometimes, a new song will come out and we’ll learn it, and it lasts three of four months. It just loses its fire, and we’ll move on to the next one. And then you have songs like ‘Jessie’s Girl’ that if I don’t do it, people still yell and scream and carry on. There are just some songs that just won’t die.
“We’re very fortunate,” he adds, saying that over the years, several generations of club-hoppers have become followers of the band. “It’s funny, you’ll see the same people that you saw when they were single, and then you saw them when they met their girlfriends at a show, and then they’re out for their bachelor party, and then sometimes you’ll run into them and it’s like, ‘Yeah, I just got divorced.’
“We’ve been a big part of a lot of people’s lives, for better or for worse,” he says with a chuckle.
Marshall says one of the main reasons the band has been able to endure for 13 years is that it listens. It listens to new music. It listens to requests. It talks to people at shows while on break, finding out what people are listening to and what they want to hear.
“I always strive to do the best show that we can and try to be as professional as possible. We’re sticklers, as far as being a cover band, of covering the songs note for note. We have a reputation of sounding like the original artists, which is kind of the ultimate goal of the cover band. We want people to leave feeling entertained and saying ‘Wow. That was a really good band.’”
Marshall says the group has been busy this summer. They’re writing some originals, they just played two Pocono NASCAR races at Long Pond and both Marshall and Ritter recently appeared on “The Rock Life,” a reality show on VH1 that features the band’s former guitarist, Rainbow Jeramy. He says their performance on Saturday at Nightcaps in Edwardsville will be the band’s first in the valley in two years.
“Wilkes-Barre and the Wyoming Valley still have a lot of a live music buzz going on, which is cool,” he says. “We’re looking forward to coming back.”
• Live @ Nightcaps in Edwardsville on Saturday, Sept. 29
• On the Web: www.psychobettie.com