Eric Ambel likes to say that he just got started in the music business; he’s only been doing it for about 43 years. Ambel, who acquired the nickname “Roscoe” somewhere along the way, first came to the attention of the rock ‘n’ roll world as the original guitarist in Joan Jett’s Blackhearts. He’s been making music, and helping others make music, ever since.
A formidable guitar player and a multi-instrumentalist, he’s been a member of seminal New York rock band the Del-Lords, of roots super group the Yayhoos, and of Steve Earle’s band; he’s also made a couple of records with his own outfit, Roscoe’s Gang. He has produced a lengthy procession of bands whose names will be familiar to anyone partial to the muscular roots/rock/country melange that Ambel specializes in, including the Bottle Rockets, the Blood Oranges, and Jimbo Mathus. Recently, he’s been working with a couple of names familiar to Boston audiences in Ward Hayden and Sarah Borges. And he’s owned and operated a recording studio in New York as well as a bar/music venue.
Ambel just released a new album, “You Asked For It: The Shut In Singles Series,” and is currently out on tour with Borges. They’ll be making a stop at Atwood’s Tavern in Cambridge Saturday.
Not surprisingly, all those endeavors have kept the man plenty busy. And not surprisingly, he was suddenly less busy as of March 2020. But he didn’t expect the pandemic to last as long as it did.
“In New York City, it was really serious right from the get-go,” Ambel says during a recent Zoom conversation. “I thought that people would do what was asked of them to help their fellow man, and it might be over quickly.”
It wasn’t, and as time went on, he started posting songs to Bandcamp periodically. “Every few weeks or so, I looked in my list of tracks. I’ve owned a recording studio for 22 years, and I’ve always had a home recording rig of some sort. So there’s tracks laying around.” The postings included early recordings (“How About It,” a rocking instrumental recorded in 1984), unreleased songs (a take on the Stones’ “All Down the Line”), and covers recorded for various obscure tribute compilations (Nick Lowe’s “12 Step Program,” Neil Young’s “Cocaine Eyes,” Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Run Through the Jungle”).
He wasn’t following any real plan; another month would go by, and he’d look at his iTunes folder and say, “Well, how about this one?” Then, once live music had returned and he was preparing to go out on tour with Borges, he realized that, as he puts it, “I needed a new item for the souvenir table. So I thought, I guess I’ll press this up.”
He added one song that he hadn’t posted in the Bandcamp series — what he labels a “honky-tonk version” of “Honky Tonk Women” — and “How About It?” was born.
To the extent that he could, Ambel was still working on other people’s music during the shutdown, including what became the latest album from Borges, “Together Alone.” That required a lot of what he calls “MacGyvering.”
“Sarah said, ‘I’m writing some songs. What can we do?’ She had no Pro Tools, no GarageBand even, so we had to think about it. She would send me a song, and then I would figure out what the sort of natural drumbeat for that song would be, and I’d send her four minutes or so of that drumbeat. Then she would resend me the guitar; she would listen to that drumbeat with her headphones plugged into her laptop, and then record the guitar into her phone while she played with the click.” Ambel would in turn send the recording on to other players to add their parts. It was, he says, an interesting way to make a record.
Ambel has been working with Borges for several years, both as producer of her three most recent releases and playing live. The collaboration was sparked by his work on a record with Hayden and his group, then known as Girls, Guns and Glory. He produced their 2014 release, “Good Luck,” and came to Boston for their record release party.
“I sat in with them, and Sarah was on the show. I’d never met her or seen her play. At the end of the show, we had one of those all-hands-on-deck encore things. Sarah just sort of took the reins in a really, really nice way, but she clearly was leading, you know? I’ll never forget it. As soon as we got off stage, I said ‘I love it when you drive.’ That was the start of it.”
It led to Ambel producing her 2016 “Good and Dirty” EP and then, after Borges invited him to play some gigs with her, some live dates together. At first, each would play separate sets with their own bands. Then it occurred to them to combine forces: “Why don’t we just do this like one band, just do one set? If it’s my gig, we’ll do some of your songs, if it’s your gig, we’ll do a few of mine.” That’s the script they’ll be following when they play Saturday night.
ERIC AMBEL AND SARAH BORGES
At Atwood’s Tavern, 877 Cambridge St., Cambridge. Oct. 1 at 10 p.m. $18. 617-864-2792, www.atwoodstavern.com
Stuart Munro can be reached at email@example.com.