NJ Discover SPOTLIGHT: An Afternoon with Nancy Ryan. Let Me Count the Ways. Energy, Music, Radio Broadcaster-Ryan Rocks, Singer, Songwriter, Jersey Shore, Pop Culture. By Calvin Schwartz November 12, 2018
How and where? Seven plus years ago, new to journalism and the Jersey Shore music scene, not knowing a soul except my editor, and now TV co-host, Tara-Jean McDonald Vitale, suddenly, on a cold winter morning Nancy Ryan materialized in my life through the mechanics of social media. Facebook friends. A week later, face to face at America’s Cup, Asbury Park for coffee and our world has never been the same. Good friends.
Part of evolutionary friendship for years has been the notion of sitting down together for an interview and chatting about Nancy’s long winding road to success in music and broadcasting. A perfect autumnal noon time in Western Monmouth county. Caveat. Two hours into our chatting interview, I stopped Nancy and exclaimed, “There is so much to you, all the ingredients of your life, the people you’ve met, precipices of music, ups and downs, triumphs, life’s lessons, journeys, mountain tops, ocean views, family, friends; you really do need to tell your story in depth, so finish your book. I reckon this interview might just be a teaser.”
Early Nancy. Born at Monmouth Medical Center. Lived in Long Branch then moved to Asbury Park. After Asbury Park High School, she married her high school sweetheart. “I used to see Danny Devito performing on stage. He was a year ahead of me.” She came from a big family; seven brothers and sisters. “I was a red-headed Asbury Park girl with a lot of attitude… went to Holy Spirit Grammar School, called the Nuns, penguins, hated school, bored to death,”
“My father Bill built boats for 14 years. Ryan Sea Skiffs. He was a self-made man. The Old Man of the Sea. So, I went fishing all the time. My parents were together for 54 years.”
Music and Nancy. “When I was 11, I put music in my life. My brother Billy played guitar in the cellar.” I knew Billy used to hang with Bruce Springsteen, and that Billy is honored on a plaque near the boardwalk in Asbury Park, memorializing the Sounds of Asbury Park. (SOAP) “My mother was a singer at WLJK and at the Berkeley-Carteret. When I was 14, I was writing poetry. I was given a choice. Either piano or ice-skating lessons. I took the skating. But there was always music in my house… I did start singing in fifth grade shows and in choir.” Suddenly, Nancy broke out in her rendition of a ‘Surrey with a Fringe on Top’ from the musical ‘Oklahoma.’ She nailed it, right there at my kitchen table. A really wonderful voice. Her spontaneity and energy; I really like.
“When I was 16, Billy taught me the first four chords, then I started writing my own songs on guitar. The Beatles were mostly three chord songs. I’ve written over 100 songs. And I’ve sung at Christies, Pillow Talk, open Mics, cafes. I’m an authentic troubadour. Even sang on Asbury jetties as pictured on my album, ‘Ryan Rocks.’ Lance Larson asked me to sing with him at The Stone Pony.”
“Nancy, when and why did you leave New Jersey?” She went into a few moments of deep thought. “In my early 30’s, I was with a fast crowd. I was singing with Jonathan Mayes, who had a voice like Darius Rucker. We were offered a record deal with a well-known NYC record label. Our voices blended so well.” The deal never happened. Nancy’s partner got cold feet. Again, she was at the precipice. Interestingly, her father did not really support their music aspirations. Another record deal with a Texas label didn’t happen; turned down by Nancy.
Nancy left Jersey for San Diego, California where she’d live for 28 years. Once again, she lived in the fast crowd, partying too much. “But I was smart enough to want a better life.” She was engaged for five years, worked, partied, met some amazing people, even a billionaire.
“I was still singing, met lots of musicians, sang at the Burnt Tavern in San Diego, met BB King, and the drummer from Fleetwood Mac, started working in the mail room for a big nutrition company and became their office facilities manager for six years.” At several junctions sitting around the table, Nancy stressed her Roman Catholic upbringing. In California, she became involved with two ministries. One was the Presbyterian Church and then, she became a volunteer with Franciscan Monks, working the Stewardship Committee for six plus years. “I re-dedicated myself. I loved California.”
Logically, I now had to ask what was the energy and motivation that brought her back to New Jersey. Response was rapid and at first, I didn’t process. “Margaret Agnes McGovern Ryan.” She often said this to her mother, “Mommy, if you ever need me to come home, then I will.” Her father died from cancer at 73. She gave up California living in a five-bedroom house with two 20-pound cats and her Green Cheek Conure (parrot).
Nancy has been back in the Garden State for the last 16 years. She took care of her mother for eight. “And the music scene here in Jersey. When did you come back to it?” “Eight years ago, I was back to music, singing in clubs in Asbury, open Mics, boardwalk. Yes, a real troubadour.” She was so prideful calling herself a troubadour. Nancy is refreshingly spontaneous. All of a sudden she’s singing ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ at my versatile kitchen table. She mentioned singing it with Willie Nile at the Supper Club, four years ago.
“And the album Nancy?” “It came out seven years ago.” I asked about her hit song, ‘Indecision.’ “I recorded it a long time ago. Vocals were done in West Virginia. It’s been on ReverbNation Top Ten for seven years in the Country category. Number two almost always.” After the release of three songs, she got a phone call from Myra Channing, producer of ‘All Night with Joey Reynolds.’ She sang ‘Indecision’ live on the show.
Birth of Ryan Rocks Radio Show. “Credit Rock N Tommy. He told me I was a natural and to do my own show. He planted the seed for Ryan Rocks. So, I started Blog Talk Radio. http://www.blogtalkradio.com/ryan-rocks-it-asbury-park-style Then, Danny Coleman from Rock on Radio pushed me again. And even you, Cal Schwartz, inspired me. Along the way, Gene Pierro from Hamilton Radio sent me a public message to join him. I did an early Not for Profit with Minister Steve Brigham from Tent City homeless. And you Cal gave me a ticket to see the documentary, ‘Destiny’s Bridge’ which raised my awareness of homelessness. I spent 2 ½ years at Hamilton Radio.”
Some of Nancy’s guests at Hamilton Radio included Nick Clemons, Vini Lopez, Eddie Testa, Cal Schwartz (me), Tara-Jean McDonald Vitale from NJ Discover, Danny Coleman, JT Bowen and Michelle Moore from the E-Street Band. Then, Nancy returned to Blog Talk Radio where she continues to electrify with her diverse range of accomplished guests. A certifiable Who’s Who in Jersey Pop Culture including, Willie Nile, Mike Appel, Johnny Pisano, Danny Clinch, Taylor Tote, Frank Stefanko, Mike Marino, Sunda Croonquist, Arlan Feiles, Nikki Briar, Layonne Holmes, and Anngeannette Pinkston
“My purpose is to give back to the community. That’s why I do ‘Not for Profits.’ The most recent was anti-bullying with Nick Clemons and Tim McCloone from Holiday Express. Her other causes include The Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, Hometown Heroes with Michael Schwartz, New Jersey Rescue Mission.
Future Think. She was offered to have a documentary filmed about her life. She is working on her tell all book. I nudged her again to really dedicate herself to that project. Like the movie, Nancy has lived a ‘Wonderful Life.’ She wants to continue to act. Her film with a speaking part, ‘That’s Life’ by local filmmaker Sean Guess is due out in March. “Maybe a TV show for me one day.” After all, she is a singer, songwriter, guitar player, record producer, broadcaster, actor.
Interview was winding down corresponding to a lowering sun (sunset). We began at noon. This is an NJ Discover interview. Despite knowing Nancy for seven years, our time this day was so much discovery for me; her depth, range, sensitivity, intellect, talent and full life.
“Now for some Calvin questions. Living or Dead, who would you like to have dinner with?”
“Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett. Liza Minelli. Judy Garland.”
“Five things you can’t live without?”
God. Spiritual connection. My music. Creativity. Family, My children, grandchildren and two great grandsons and one on the way.”
“Wizard of Oz.”
“Before I leave this earth I won’t be satisfied until I ………………? “
“Find the last love of my life.”
Funny thing, I’ve known Nancy over seven years. We’ve hung out in the Jersey Shore music world. Talked. Laughed. Partied. Shared commonality and synchronicity, But, this day in a real interview, I discovered Nancy Ryan and I like what I found. We shared a great hug to say goodbye.
TUNE IN TO NANCY’S RADIO SHOW: Blog Talk Radio. http://www.blogtalkradio.com/ryan-rocks-it-asbury-park-style