Aztec Two-Step History

See it was like this...

After “lifting” their name from a poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Rex Fowler and Neal Shulman spent a lifetime making music together as the folk/rock duo, Aztec Two-Step until Neal’s retirement in 2018.  With four-plus decades as staples of progressive FM radio, major record deals, and non-stop touring, Rex and Neal impressed audiences with intelligent songwriting, dazzling acoustic lead guitar, and soaring two-part harmonies. The duo performed worldwide and was critically acclaimed in major U.S. newspapers, reviewed in Rolling Stone Magazine, and appeared on numerous radio and TV shows, including The King Biscuit Flour Hour and David Letterman.

Aztec Two-Step

The story of Aztec Two-Step is intertwined with the history of folk/rock music in America. Originating from a chance meeting at an “open mic night” in a Boston folk club in 1971, Rex & Neal’s first four albums on Elektra & RCA Records helped usher the music of the 60’s into the 1970’s and beyond, leaving an indelible mark on the musical genre. As their recording career continued, so did the critical acclaim. In 1986, their album “Living in America” was named in Billboard’s year-end critic’s poll. It also received the New York Music Award for the Best Folk Album.

Rex and Neal released their first live album, “Highway Signs” on the PRIME-CD folk label in 1996 in celebration of their 25th anniversary. In 1999 they were the subjects of the documentary, “No Hit Wonder,” which was aired on several PBS stations across America. To commemorate their 30th anniversary in 2001, they released a double CD compellation entitled, “Live & Rare” and in 2005, released their career-defining “Days of Horses” CD to rave reviews. The Boston Globe said, “Fans of the duo’s harmony-driven tunes and easygoing acoustic guitar riffs will recognize their James Taylor-meets-Simon & Garfunkel sound. What’s new is the mood. This album sits back on its haunches as Rex Fowler and Neal Shulman look back wistfully at American pop culture and their own ride through it.”

Rex Fowler & Neal Schulman

2007 saw several hallmark events for the duo. In June, Aztec Two-Step performed “The Persecution and Restoration of Dean Moriarty (On The Road)” at a very special Lowell Celebrates Kerouac Festival as the author’s hometown marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of On The Road. Also In June 2007, Real Simple, a popular national lifestyle magazine, named Aztec Two-Step’s debut album one of the all-time top five classic folk albums, along with works by Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Tom Rush and Phil Ochs. The article cites the duo as “surpass[ing] Simon and Garfunkel for exquisite harmonies, musicianship and emotion.”

Rhino Records released “Forever Changing-The Golden Age of Elektra Records 1963-1973,” a five-CD box set that tells the story of this landmark record label and the music that defined an era. The collection includes Aztec Two-Step’s “The Persecution and Restoration of Dean Moriarty (On The Road).”

Also in 2007 their “Live at TCAN” DVD was released, featuring a 35th anniversary concert at The Center for Arts in Natick, Massachusetts, a performance of the self-titled debut album in its entirety, plus other fan-favorites. The DVD also includes interviews with the duo and longtime Aztec Two-Step bassist Fred Holman, as well as comments recorded on the Aztec Two-Step “fan-cam.”

Aztec Two-Step 2021

In 2008, the duo teamed up with the late great WFUV and Satellite Radio host Pete Fornatale to record “Time It Was,” their live “Simon & Garfunkel Songbook” album. The S&G songbook show continues on along with the addition of their Classic Duos show which also features several seminal songs from the Everly Brothers musical canon. In 2009, the It’s About Music label issued a 44-song compilation entitled, “The Persecution and Restoration of Aztec Two-Step.” To commemorate their 40th Anniversary year, early 2012 brought the official release of Fowler & Shulman’s studio CD “Cause & Effect” (Red Engine Records). A stunning collection of songs of social significance, it was produced by Paul Guzzone and features long-time bassist Fred Holman. The album is a combination of re-worked previously recorded songs and newly mined material. From John Platt of WFUV in New York, “The secret of Aztec Two Step’s longevity isn’t just the harmony between Rex and Neal, it’s also the quality of the songs. On “Cause and Effect” they revisit a lot of their repertoire with crisp acoustic arrangements. And while the songs were mostly inspired by a specific moment in time (Reaganomics, apartheid, John Lennon’s assassination), they resonate anew today.”

Before Neal retired after his wife Karen’s passing in November 2017, ATS continued touring while writing and recording songs for “Naked,” their tenth studio album. They were also given The Long Island Music Hall of Fame Distinguished Musician Award “For your many years of stellar performances and contributions to the Long Island music community.”

“Naked” bookended what turned out to be fairly impressive first and last albums. Like their self-titled first, Aztec Two-Step, it featured eleven memorable songs, highlighted by Rex’s title-track composition (We’re all born ‘naked’ with wings to soar) and Neal’s poignant ode to his beloved New York City, “Long Black Lincoln” (And the bars still close at four in the morning, the way the good Lord meant it to be). It was quite a ride for two musicians from diverse ethnic and geographical backgrounds, who were nearly six years apart in age when they met by chance during an ‘open mic night’ in Boston that they parleyed into a pretty decent forty-seven year career.

Headliners in their own right, the duo also appeared in concert with such notable artists as The Beach Boys, The Band, Bruce Springsteen, Talking Heads, Michael Bolton, Bon Jovi, Randy Newman, Heart, Donovan, Judy Collins, Jose Feliciano, Carly Simon, Bonnie Raitt, Roger McGuinn, Tim Hardin, Bette Midler, Harry Chapin, Jim Croce, Steve Goodman, Laura Nyro, Allen Ginsberg, Richie Havens, Arlo Guthrie, Don McLean, Suzanne Vega, David Bromberg, Jesse Winchester, Jonathan Edwards, Dave Mason, Phoebe Snow, Shawn Colvin, Marshall Crenshaw, Michelle Shocked, John Sebastian, Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon, Renaissance, Richard Thompson, Al Stewart, America, Poco, Firefall, NRBQ, Orleans, John Cafferty, The Strawbs, Seals and Crofts, Loggins and Messina, Brewer and Shipley, Batdorf and Rodney, Peter Frampton, Joan Jett, Joe Ely, ShaNaNa, Papa John Creach, The Allman/Betts Band, Atlanta Rhythm Section, The Charlie Daniels Band, The Marshall Tucker Band, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Pure Prairie League, Jimmy Buffet, Eddie Rabbit, Trisha Yearwood, Earl Scruggs, Vassar Clemens, Jerry Jeff Walker, Rodney Crowell, Crystal Gayle, Melissa Manchester, David Clayton Thomas, Neil Sedaka, Kenny Rankin, Larry Coryell, Joan Armatrading, The Persuasions, Bill Cosby, Steve Landesberg, Steven Wright, Richard Belzer, Robert Klein and many more.

“Performing groups or songwriting pairs don’t often find themselves creatively collaborating after five or even ten years. Rock music has its success stories, such as the Rolling Stones and the writing partnership of Elton John and Bernie Taupin. In folk music there is Aztec Two-Step.”

– Sarah Cornelius, CtFolk

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