New Milford musician reflects on rise to big stage
Updated 5:03 pm, Friday, February 12, 2016
NEW MILFORD — The advent of MTV in 1981 inspired Joseph “Bearclaw” Burcaw in profound ways.
“Something resonated in my body, something that made me want to learn more about the bass,” Burcaw said of his experience when he saw the video.
“I couldn’t get enough….(and) it got me thinking about music and rhythm,” said Burcaw, who moved with his parents when he was 4 years old from Ohio to New Milford.
To feed his hunger for music, he took up the trumpet in school, where his innate talent and ear for rhythm and tempo caught the attention of the teacher who gave him the first chair for trumpet, a position he held for two years.
His focus shifted, though, once he discovered the Fender bass while in the concert band at Schaghticoke Middle School.
“The bass consumed my life,” Burcaw said, noting how at 13 he began taking bass lessons at the former New Milford Music Center on Bank Street.
At home, the aspiring musician turned up the volume and played the first three Duran Duran albums repeatedly in his room and taught himself the bass.
“As a youth, I knew (music) would impact my life in a positive way,” Burcaw said.
He surrounded himself with everything music. He was part of a band, Free Fall, alongside friends Michael Jones, Marco Passarelli and Shawn Shanks, in high school and for part of his college years at Salve Regina University.
Burcaw’s talent was so widespread at Salve that it landed him an audition for the college jazz band, an experience he said helped him “understand the fundamentals of musicality and chords and scales, which was all foreign to me until then.”
While in college, he continued playing with Free Fall, and fine-tuned his skills and built confidence while also playing with a cover band.
The Free Fall band members eventually moved to Boston in 1994 to gain more exposure. But a year later, Shanks died in a car accident in New Preston and the band regrouped under the name of Azurtech.
The pieces soon came together when Burcaw and a bandmate each had random encounters with Duran Duran’s John Taylor in Boston. Taylor took Azurtech under his wing and helped to promote and sell the band’s music.
The relationship opened doors for the band with gigs in the northeast and in Europe.
However, after a six-month residency in London touring and performing, band members decided to part ways in 2001 for personal projects.
Burcaw moved to New York, where he made a five-year plan to make it as a professional musician before re-evaluating his future.
While living in the city, he networked day and night, promoting himself and his talent to everyone — right down to band leaders and singers — in the downtown scene, played alongside numerous musicians in clubs, and brushed elbows with fellow aspiring artists like Stefani Germanotta, who eventually took the stage name of Lady Gaga.
As his five-year plan drew to a close in late summer of 2006, his world forever changed in the direction he had always dreamed.
He answered a classified ad seeking a bass player for a professional touring band, and he got the job.
Since that day, he has become known as “Bearclaw” — a play off his last name — and became the bass player for the New York City-based Irish rock band Black 47.
Getting the gig “kicked me in the butt,” Burcaw said.
“I had to step up to the plate….learn how to integrate” with a band that had been on the scene since 1989.
“I felt like I had been with the band from day one,” Burcaw said, expressing appreciation to the band’s co-founder, lead vocalist and guitarist Larry Kirwan and the rest of the band for taking him under their wings.
Burcaw was “heartbroken and distraught” in 2013 when the band announced it would amicably disband the following year.
“I’ve reached goals that most musicians aren’t able to reach,” Burcaw said humbly, relaying some of his accomplishments, such as performing in front of 22,000 people and playing alongside famous musicians on stage.
“It’s been a fairy tale dream come true,” he said.