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Local songwriter returns for intimate show

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POTSDAM — “I’m better than I’ve been in a while, with a ways to go; makes me feel like home,” sang rocker Philip D. Hurley to a crowd of about 30 at Half Ton’s Bar & Grill last week. The Potsdam native, best known for his work with the Boston-based band the Gigolo Aunts, was in town July 24 to share a diverse mix of original material and favorite covers with family, friends and the larger community.

It was his first time playing the venue, having last appeared in Potsdam at the summer festival in 2013.

Many who came to the show recognized him on sight, welcoming him as if he’d never been away. Some even danced as they passed through. For each he had a smile and welcoming word. He said later that it was people like these that had given him his start, and he was there to return the favor.

“All my mentors and all my friends, they gave me so much that it’s always been important to me to give some back,” said Mr. Hurley, “whether anybody really cares or not, it matters to me.”

Growing up, he said he often wished music acts would visit Potsdam. Now a professional himself, he plans to share his talents with his hometown.

“Every time I come I want to share music,” he said.

Now 44, Mr. Hurley has lived in Boston, Amsterdam, Seattle, Los Angeles, Austin, and Nashville, but to him Potsdam has always been home.

“I know where I’m from,” said Mr. Hurley, who noted that many of his friends, due to divorce or frequent moves growing up, had no place to call home. His parents are still together and still live in the same house he knew as a child.

“I feel like I have to be grateful and take advantage of that while I still have it,” Mr. Hurley said.

He says he has often fantasized about staying a summer in the north country, but life has never afforded him more than 10 days here.

Mr. Hurley was born on Leroy Street, just down the street from Canton-Potsdam Hospital and Potsdam High School. He started playing events at the age of 8, and along with his brother, Stephen J. Hurley, and friends, David R. Gibbs and Paul S. Brouwer, he formed the Gigolo Aunts in 1986. At the time, the local music scene was populated by cover bands with cover songs, so club owners weren’t receptive when the Gigolo Aunts proposed to play a set of entirely original work for their first gig.

“We broke the mold,” said Mr. Hurley, “The clubs didn’t know what to do with us, they didn’t want to book us. But ... we filled the room.”

Eventually they were allowed to play at north country and other venues, and as they did, their notoriety grew. After opening for Soul Asylum in New York City the following year, they had a deal with indie label Coyote Records and were off to Boston.

And the rest ... well you know the words.

Nearly 30 years later, with his Gigolo Aunts career behind him, Phil is still making music, even if sometimes he’s all by himself.

For the first hour last Thursday, he did just that, performing a set of originals, including “There is Light” and “Feels Like Home.” At 9 p.m. his brother joined him for covers of Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May,” The Smiths’ “Ask,” and “Where I Found My Heaven,” among others.

More than anything, Mr. Hurley was there for the music. He said writing and performing songs has always made him feel better, from the very moment he introduces them to the world.

“If you want to take it to that next step, you’ve got to start to find your own voice,” he said, a lesson he learned from someone he still considers a great songwriter — his brother.

Mr. Hurley has toured with the Wallflowers, the Cranberries and Counting Crows.

This summer, Mr. Hurley is busy touring with Stonehoney, a country rock band based in Austin, Texas. More information about him and his exploits can be found at the Phil Hurley Music Page on Facebook.

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