Growing up in McLean, Michael Clem found musical prowess with both the guitar and trombone in school, and became so distracted by his love for music, that he never had time to think about what he wanted to be when he “grew up.”
Thankfully, he was proficient enough and determined enough to make it in the music biz, and he’s spent the greater part of the last three decades playing bass, singing and writing songs for Eddie from Ohio, a band he cofounded with longtime friend Robbie Schaefer.
Those in our area are well familiar with the band as its recorded nine CDs and collected numerous Washington Area Music Association Awards, playing most of the top venues in Virginia and Washington, D.C.
About a dozen years ago, Clem left Northern Virginia and moved to Charlottesville, and has remained plenty busy with session work, playing bluegrass gigs and forming his own acoustic trio. Though he still plays with his old bandmates when Eddie From Ohio gets together as well.
“We actually had a pretty strong calendar for last year, but it was wiped out with most of our dates moved to 2021,” he said. “I’m fortunate to be down in Charlottesville now because a lot of wineries have kept things going with outdoor shows. With winter, now I’m just waiting for things to warm up or for everyone to be vaccinated.”
Over the years, Clem has released two solo albums and an EP will be released soon, as he found plenty of time to write during the pandemic.
“This new EP was born out of the shutdown, both as therapy and necessity,” Clem said. “I’ve written more this past year than I have the last 10 years.”
He took the month of April to write a song a day, and though all weren’t keepers, he was happy to get back to a normal rhythm.
Clem doesn’t consider himself a topical songwriter, so the pandemic hasn’t really become a subject of many of his songs, but COVID did creep in a bit.
“I’ve been in the folk world for a long time, and there’s already a wealth of that type of approach,” he said. “I try to approach more personal accounts, and I’m known for my silly songs as well. There were some somber songs that came out of this, so I guess COVID did influence those. I wrote a tune about the crippling loneliness people feel with isolation and I wrote a funny song about social distancing.”
On Saturday, Jan. 9, Clem will be performing at Jammin Java, a place he returns to yearly, to celebrate his birthday, as the singer turns 55 three days earlier.
“Since 2006, the good folks at Jammin Java has allowed me to come and do an annual birthday show,” Clem said. “It started with my first CD release, and then I had a second one that I released 10 years later in 2016. But I decided not to wait another 10 years, and I’ll have an EP coming out this year.”
He’s thankful that the venue is practicing social distancing and offering limited capacity seating so live performances can go on.
“I won’t be doing a full band, as I might normally do, but I’m bringing my buddy, Rusty Speidel,” Clem said. “It will be a smaller, intimate show and I’m treating it as an EP release date.”
Everyone who comes to the Jammin Java show will get a free EP as well.
During the pandemic, Clem has performed in a series of fundraising shows online to raise money for the small venues and restaurants that he has played through the years.
“I feel for those restaurants right now and it’s sad to see the closures happening,” he said. “I still champion that cause when I can, and maybe after this release date, I will do another online thing if there’s support.”
He’s also stayed busy lately teaching a songwriting course through a music academy, and that’s allowed him to expand his student reach to people all over the country.
“I’m looking forward to playing live more in 2021 when things are opened up,” Clem said. “I just want to maintain my own little niche audience and enjoy that. I love the house concert experience and I’m looking forward to doing some Eddie From Ohio shows. I look forward to a restoration of sanity for everyone going forward.”