Guitarist John Lilley has proven that it’s never too late to strike out on your own.
The openly gay guitarist is best known for his work with rock band The Hooters, who rose to fame in the early 1980s in the U.S. and exported that success to Europe in the early ’90s before taking a break in 1995. The group reformed in 2001 and still performs to large audiences internationally.
“We played to 130,000 people,” Lilley said of a recent festival date in Germany. “We’ll go over there and we’ll play clubs to 2,000 or 3,000 people.”
There weren’t too many out members of mainstream rock bands back in the 1980s, but Lilley said his sexuality was never a big deal to him or the other band members.
“Everyone that knew me knew that I was gay,” he said. “To me, it’s like so what now, who cares? I’m totally out. I just celebrated 30 years with my partner, Bob Lohrmann. It’s not an issue to me.”
Over the last three years, between commitments with The Hooters, Lilley found time to record and produce his first solo effort, “A Lucky Kind of Guy,” in his West Chester studio. It’s more of a roots-rock record than anything he’s done with The Hooters (recall “And We Danced”?) and puts Lilley in the spotlight for the first time in his musical career as he sings and plays guitar, mandolin, piano, harmonica and a number of other instruments.
“I really tried to make it my own, and I never sang with The Hooters,” he said. “Using my voice is a whole new thing even for me. I had nothing to say and, all of the sudden, I turned 50 and things kind of change. This is what my life is about and I have to sing about it.”
One of the things the now-55-year-old guitarist has to sing about is how lucky he feels about his life, hence the title.
“I’ve had a lot of really good things come to me in my life,” he said. “It’s just being in the right place at the right time and having the things that you want to happen somehow manifest. Making this record is a cathartic thing for me. It’s kind of a culmination of things that I’ve experienced in my life. I just realized I am a lucky kind of guy and I wrote this song. And that’s what I feel like I am.”
Lilley will celebrate the release of “A Lucky Kind of Guy” with his first-ever show as a frontman and bandleader — though the show will be on a smaller scale than what he’s used to with The Hooters.
“I love doing that,” he said of his upcoming small-club dates. “It’s like having people in my living room. I’m going slow. I’m just doing local shows in the Philadelphia area and waiting for the radio to kick in. I want to do small and intimate shows. We’ll see what happens. It’s a brave new world now in the music business. You can make up all your own rules.”
But his show won’t be the only one he performs this month. He’ll also be performing with The Hooters on a bill that includes Hall & Oates and Todd Rundgren at a special “Last Call” concert Oct. 23 at the Spectrum.
Lilley is no stranger to the soon-to-be-demolished venue and has fond memories of performing there.
“We did a Thanksgiving concert that was broadcast on MTV and simulcast with MMR,” he said. “That was pretty exciting. In 2001, Pierre Robert, a very dear friend, invited us to play at his 20th-anniversary concert for MMR. We hadn’t played together in a number of years and I thought it was over. It got The Hooters back together. [The Spectrum is] a Philly institution.”
“A Lucky Kind of Guy” is due out Oct. 6. Lilley performs with his band at 9 p.m. Oct. 3 at World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St. For more information, visit www.johnlilley.com or call (215) 222-1400.