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Song premiere: The Bacon Brothers’ ‘Philly Thing’ teems with hometown pride

Featuring a gamut of local celebs including the Phillie Phanatic, the song benefits music education in the city.

"Philly Thing," the new song by the Bacon Brothers, Kevin (left) and Michael, benefits Philadelphia music education youth organization Rock to the Future.
"Philly Thing," the new song by the Bacon Brothers, Kevin (left) and Michael, benefits Philadelphia music education youth organization Rock to the Future.Read moreJeff Fasano

Kevin Bacon was thinking about all the times he’s attempted to explain to a non-Philadelphian just what it is that makes his hometown unique.

“Sometimes you try to describe something, or you act or talk in a certain way, and people look at you like they’re confused,” says the actor and musician, on the phone from Los Angeles. “And then you go, ‘Well, it’s a Philly thing.’”

From that thought came a song, “Philly Thing.” The new single by the Bacon Brothers, the band Bacon has led with his older brother, Michael, since 1995, will be released Friday. Through Kevin Bacon’s Six Degrees charity, the song will benefit Rock to the Future, which provides free music programs for Philly youth.

Today, The Inquirer is premiering “Philly Thing” and its video, which features an all-star cast of Philly musicians, including Kathy Sledge, John Oates, Jay Davidson, Charlie Ingui of Soul Survivors and Eric Bazilian, Rob Hyman, and David Uosikkenen of the Hooters. The video has cameo appearances by such notable Philadelphians as Jim Gardner, Patty Jackson, Brandon Graham, Schoolly D, Cindy Drue, John Kruk, Glenn “Hurricane” Schwartz, Ron Jaworski, and the Phillie Phanatic.

The song was produced by Joe Nicolo at his Joe’s Garage in Montgomery County and Miner Street Recordings in Fishtown.

“Philly Thing” includes contributions from Rock to the Future students, including rapper Naheim Gaymon-Hill, 12, a sixth grader at Girard Academic Music Program in South Philly, whose freestyle rap shouts out the Eagles, Sixers, Phillies, and Flyers.

“Philly Thing” is an ode to the music of the city the Bacon bros grew up listening to in the 1960s and 1970s, with verses that tout Philadelphia exceptionalism and cleverly name-drop local heroes.

“You can’t place the way I speak, but you know that it sounds wrong,” Kevin Bacon sings, over a breezy soul groove. “That might be because you don’t know the true meaning of jawn.”

He goes on to praise Jerry Blavat (“Water ice is tasting sweeter than the Geator with the Heater”), and rhymes “Coltrane, LaBelle, Jill Scott, the Roots” with “Boyz II Men in matching suits.” And, “if that wasn’t quite enough: Thom Bell, Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff.”

Besides spreading Philly soul vibes, the sons of Philadelphia city planner Edmund Bacon and teacher and activist Ruth Hilda Bacon wanted to use the song to boost music education.

“My main soapbox has always been that I remembered so clearly what it was like musically, growing up in Philadelphia public schools,” says Michael Bacon, 72, joining his brother on a conference call from New York, where he teaches music at Lehman College. “Everybody got an instrument, and from 4th grade on, you could be in an ensemble that would go all the way through high school,” says the film score composer and Central High School graduate.

“Being a music teacher and musician my whole life … when I heard about Rock to the Future, it seemed like a great opportunity to give them some publicity and to support them.”

Rock to the Future’s annual gala is scheduled for April 29 at World Cafe Live, with a “Philly Thing” performance planned.

Along with its performance video, “Philly Thing” comes with a making-of clip that spotlights RTTF music students Gaymon-Hill and Nia Collins Davenport.

“The goal isn’t to make them the next rock stars,” says the nonprofit’s chief music officer, Josh Craft, “but to make them feel like the next rock stars.” Jared Smith, who plays drums on the track, says, “to have an after-school program that I know I can go to and play all the time: It makes me feel really good.”

The value of what Rock to the Future is doing, Nicolo said Wednesday, is “these kids need to know that there’s a great big world out there that they can conquer. And for a lot of them, it doesn’t look that way. They need positive reinforcement.”

Affirmation from the Bacons helps, Nicolo said, not just because it comes from a famous actor who starred in Diner and Footloose, but because they’re serious artists.

“Kevin is as much of a singer-songwriter as anybody I’ve ever worked with, and certainly better than any actor-singer I’ve ever worked with,” Nicolo says. “Michael is more like a George Martin. He has the musicianship of somebody who’s used to scoring for pictures who can get into the details of the song.”

Both Bacons say their appreciation for the sounds of Philadelphia have grown over the years. They didn’t always find that “there’s water in my eye every time I hear the Stylistics sing,” as Kevin sings in “Philly Thing.”

“It’s funny, we didn’t think about how musically special Philadelphia was when we were growing up,” says Kevin, 64, who took lessons at Settlement Music School but said he was focused on acting “by about age 12,” on stages like Plays & Players Theatre and Theatre of Living Arts.

“I didn’t have anything to compare it to,” he says. “But then when you leave, you realize that the music that you’re still listening to, and has been so influential, comes from what really felt like a small town when you were there. And there are so many different types of music that come out of Philadelphia.”

That’s the thing about Philly, says Michael Bacon. It stays with you, wherever you go.