Saugerties has provided a great deal of inspiration to musicians from far and wide. Many have been taken by its majestic beauty, its small town charm and artistic undercurrent. Others, like Brian Krumm, have been inspired by Saugerties without ever having actually visited.
Krumm is the lead singer of a Chicago-based rock band called the Great Crusades. Along with Brian Leach, Krumm also shares in the guitar duties. Perhaps more importantly, he’s the band’s principal songwriter, penning deep rollicking anthems about heartache and love, both lost and found. He’s covered a lot of territory over the Great Crusades’ six albums; back in 2002, on Never Go Home, Krumm penned a song called “Saugerties, New York.”
But before we get to Saugerties, let’s start in a town that sounds a bit like it.
“We grew up in Collinsville, Illinois,” said Krumm in a telephone interview from Chicago, where his band was on a short rest between a European tour and work on the early stages of their next album. “It’s down by St. Louis. Brian Hunt, the bass player, and Chris Moder, the drummer, we actually went to grade school together. We played our first gig at our sixth grade graduation ceremony.”
Krumm and Huff met Leach at the University of Illinois, Champaign, and eventually the three Brians wound up playing with Moder in the Great Crusades, a band which draws inspiration from a number of musical heroes.
“I was very into the rock band KISS,” Krumm said. “I thought Gene Simmons was just the greatest thing ever. I wanted to get that giant axe bass and be on the stage.”
Later, deeper and introspective influences, like Nick Cave, Tom Waits and Paul Westerberg, entered the picture. “I figured I’d give songwriting a shot…I’m always drawn to songs where it feels like the songwriter is telling you a real story.”
With a gut-wrenching backing track and vocal delivery carried in part by a lush slide guitar, “Saugerties, New York” is a song about a former relationship from the perspective of a guy who’s ex-girlfriend has pulled up roots and joined the Army.
“A lot of that song is from personal experience,” said Krumm. “Though I have to tell you, I’ve never been to Saugerties. I’ve heard a lot of great things about it, and I’ve looked at pictures.”
Though the setting was still unvisited by Krumm at the time, the subject matter was all too real.
“When I was working on that song, it was based on a relationship I was in with a young lady,” he said. “I don’t know if you would call her a girlfriend or not. But she had sort of had some personal problems that she decided that the step that made the most sense to her was that she was going to join the Navy [though] the song is more about someone who joins the Army. But the whole song doesn’t make much sense anyway, because I think there’s only a Coast Guard base in Saugerties anyway.”
Krumm wasn’t too far off: an Army Reserve Center opened in Saugerties earlier this year.
Krumm picked up the narrative on the Great Crusades’ song.
“It was thinking about her, thinking about the steps she was taking next in her life,” he said. “At that point I hadn’t talked to her in many years, but I would still get these occasional letters that would explain what was going on in her life. I feel kind of bad, I never wrote back. But I always was interested in making sure she was okay. I tried to keep in touch other ways.”
Choosing the setting of the song was somewhat serendipitous for Krumm.
“When I was starting to write on the song, I sort of was looking at a map of the East Coast and trying to imagine where she ended up,” he said. “Saugerties, New York just popped out as a melodic name. And I was really drawn to that.”
The song’s mournful slide guitar was played by a fellow musician, with a predictable first name.
“It was played by Brian Wilkie, a longtime friend of ours that we know from being in Champaign, Illinois,” Krumm said. “And his name is Brian; it just made the most sense.”
Like many of the songs from within the deep Great Crusades canon, “Saugerties, New York” is occasionally requested by the band’s fans, even though they haven’t given it a live airing in a while.
“I’m always fascinated when people find those older songs,” Krumm said. “We try to do a mix, but there are a lot of last-minute requests; some of them we just haven’t played the song for so long. Maybe we can do one verse and one chorus. But sometimes it will work out that someone will call out a song on stage and we’ll spontaneously play it.”
“Saugerties, New York” is one such number.
“I think we only played it on the tour after we put out Never Go Home,” Krumm said. “It’s probably been seven or eight years since we’ve played the song. I still love it.”
As for playing a show in Saugerties, it’s something Krumm said he would love to do. If nothing else, he’d at least like to finally visit.
“I’ve been tempted,” he said. “I’ve been up the East Coast all the way to Maine. I’ve never gotten to upstate without driving through. But it’s definitely on my list of places to visit in the near future.”
For the time being, their Midwest and European faithful are still too into the band to give them much time to tour anywhere else. Their strongest following is actually across the Atlantic. “I think this was our 12th tour of Europe.”
“Saugerties, New York” and Never Go Home are both available to download on iTunes, as is other music by the Great Crusades. To listen to the song, check out the Web version of this story on Saugertiesx.com.