- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Musician Joziah Longo once turned down offers from several major labels to sign his hard-rocking outfit the Ancestors.

Now his current band, Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams, is drawing the attention of a big-time label.

Mr. Longo still isn’t interested.

Who needs all those strings attached when Mr. Longo’s Circus is drawing the kind of fan devotion that inspires concertgoers to hand over the keys to their cars?

Come Saturday, locals will have a chance to demonstrate that sort of loyalty when the group arrives for an 8 p.m. concert at Jammin’ Java in Vienna, where it will join One Horse Town for a night of acoustic retro rock.

Mr. Longo, the group’s vocalist and songwriter, says he began playing music, in part, to re-create the musical vibe his father and grandfather established years ago in the family basement, where his dad would invite a small throng to jam.

“They were working-class guys who played bars on the weekends,” the South Philly native says of his musical kin. “I saw how it could bring a lot of different kinds of people together.”

Hewing to tradition, Gandalf Murphy proved a better release for that connective impulse than the Ancestors.

The band, which began in 1998, took root following an open-mike performance in the band’s home state of New York. Disc jockey Meg Griffin heard the group and invited the musicians to visit her radio show in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

The group also has local roots. Mr. Longo’s wife, fellow Gandalf Murphy musician Tink Lloyd, hails from Falls Church.

Gandalf’s members — Mr. Longo; Miss Lloyd on accordion, cello and flute; Sharkey McEwen on electric, acoustic and slide guitar; and Tony Zuzulo on drums — describe their sound as “hillbilly Floyd.”

The compact moniker is a quick way to dispense with all the labels. Yet Gandalf’s music is far more complex.

The songs blend Mr. Longo’s Tom Petty-esque pipes with spiritual yearnings that sound as though they’re rooted in the 1960s.

Moreover, the decade’s communal feeling seems to have found new life in Gandalf’s fans.

While plenty of up-and-coming bands boast loyal followings, Mr. Longo says Gandalf Murphy’s faithful serve up pancakes — in honor of their new double CD “Flapjacks From the Sky” — and some donate cars to the group either during or after shows.

When the band’s car broke down after one gig, a fan offered to give the musicians a used Volvo.

That sort of passion convinces Gandalf’s members that they don’t need a big label to keep them afloat.

“I think so much of the record industry is built on disloyalty,” Mr. Longo says. “It’s not faithful to its people.”

Recently, when a record executive began chatting him up after attending a series of shows, Mr. Longo responded to the offers with a polite “no thank you.”

“We said, ‘We’re interested in being your friend, but not a record deal,’” Mr. Longo explains.

Besides, the emergence of the Internet and satellite radio gives his band a heady double dose of exposure.

“There’s a lot of potential in it, but the model hasn’t fully developed,” he says of the new media.

Satellite radio alone assures that his band’s music will receive national airplay. In concert, however, things don’t always go according to plan. Strings break. Sound systems squeak and howl.

Mr. Longo says his fans are more than forgiving.

“There’s a built-in cushion that allows us to fumble around,” he says. “I try to get that feeling that happened in my father’s basement on a Friday night. That’s family.”

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