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Back to roots: Dane Clark at Bluebird 

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As the engine the makes John Mellencamp's band rumble, Dane Clark sits behind a drum kit, driving the roots-rock sound. With his own band and album, he stands squarely in front, with a guitar and directing his own take on the heartland rock sound.

Clark and his band will team with another Indiana rock and roller, as they are joined by Larry Crane's band for a night of heartland rock on December 20 at the Bluebird in Bloomington.

"The seeds of the idea for this show came from a live acoustic show we did in the WTTS Sun King studio last summer with Larry and Jennie Devoe," Clark says. "I've been thinking about doing an Americana Review-style show, and this will be a good way to start.

"We will run the show with both bands set up to save time, and I will do a couple songs [and] he will do a couple songs," he says. We'll sit in with each other's band. We will do our own music, and so will he, and throw a few Mellencamp chestnuts in their too."

New sounds, unexpectedly made

"I think I did intend to go deeper into the Americana steel guitar and dobro sound," Clark says, as we talk about his new album. "Records don't ever turn into the one you envision as you go through the process."

That said, Clark's Songs from the Hard Road resonates with splashes of radio country and Mellencamp-inspired Lonesome Jubilee porch sounds. It's a record that solidly based in the sound of Middle America.

"You've got to be realistic in the music business," Clark says. "Nobody buys music anymore. You write songs so you can sing, get a band and go out and play. I love music. I have a great band that can pull it off.

He knows even the big guys don't have the same power.

"One has to realize the state of the music business in 2012. Bruce (Springsteen) can put out a record, and it doesn't sell like it did 20 years ago. What we make is modern music for adults. I hope people find a song that radiates - a lyric with a spark of truth."

Clark, who started playing piano when he was very young before moving to guitar and drums, realized that he "wasn't going to be Jimmy {age or Elton John" but that he "could play like Keith Moon and John Bonham."

"A drummer in a live setting is steering the ship. He's the engine. With my band, I trust my drummer to be that engine."

"I hope we can crack a little bigger audience," Clark says. "It's more about a few degrees of success - working to get to the next level."

Reconnections

One of the side trips Clark has taken with the record is a reconnection with the legendary late 1960s rock band Moby Grape. After being enthralled by the band's debut album ("It was life changing for me," he says) Clark had a chance - many years later - to meet guitarist Jerry Miller and do some recording and touring with the group.

Clark connected with Miller when he used his Mellencamp pass to get backstage at Pine Knob in Detroit in 2007 for a '60s-based Summer of Love show. It has led to the new album's closing track "Over It" featuring the band - a chance for Dane to finally get the group together for an album track.

"Anything bad that could have happened to the band, did," Clark says, of their history. "They only got the name back two years ago. There have been a lot of mishaps, but it was a great thing; five guys, and all five wrote and all five could sing. They were overloaded with talent.

It's a relationship to a band that Clark is especially proud of, and you can hear the warmth in his voice when he talks about the San Francisco rockers.

Sounds of home

"I don't know if there is an Indiana sound," Clark says, when I ask him if there is such a thing. "Though I believe there is, I still want to hear what someone closer to the heartbeat has to say about it.

"Rock music doesn't really exist as we knew it," Clark says. "What happened with rock is it became country music: Bob Seger with a fiddle. When John started using a fiddle in the '80s, and that would be country music now. My roots are Midwest influences. Anyone my age is influenced by The Stones, Dylan, Cash and Haggard."

"I want my record to catch on with people who think country radio is too cheesy for their tastes," he says. "I wanted to make a record that isn't appealing to the lowest common denominator."

With these shows this month, Clark - and the gutsy Telecaster-driven rock of Crane - will both get their chance to find that ground that exists between country and rock; a place both artists feel comfortable.

December 20
The Bluebird
Bloomington, Indiana
8:00pm
216 North Walnut Street (812) 336-3984.

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