Longtime Valley Musician Susan Wojnar Releases New Album
Jo and Eddie’s Bar was a hole-in-the-wall place near the railroad tracks in East Palestine. It has been closed for years but still exists in memory – and in a song on Susan Wojnar & Company’s new album.
“I spent too much time there in my younger years,” said Wojnar, a Youngstown-based singer-songwriter who immortalizes the watering hole in “Jo and Eddie’s Bar.”
The song is on her new album, “Starz on the Water.” Like most of the 11 songs on the release, it has a story behind it.
“Back then, they called it ‘the land that time forgot,’” Wojnar said, referring to the bar. “It was always the same. There wasn’t much awareness or connectedness with what was going on in the world. We were just hiding away.”
East Palestine isn’t a forgotten place these days – funny what a train derailment can do. But it’s easy to imagine what it was like at Jo and Eddie’s Bar after one listen to the song.
Wojnar has been playing in bars around the region for the better part of four decades – in her later years as a solo act with an acoustic guitar and an anything but passive voice.
“Starz on the Water” is her third album, and her first since 2008. To record it, she assembled a backing band of music-scene veterans who imbue the songs with a folky rock flair.
The band consists of Tom Mechling on bass, Bill Fischer on guitar and Sam Orrico on drums.
Wojnar wrote all of the songs, some recently and a few as long ago as 15 years. One of them is “The Veteran’s Song,” which is also based on a true encounter in a bar.
“I was at Arnold’s Lounge near New Castle one night and I met a Vietnam veteran who only had one leg,” Wojnar said.
“He was very open about his war experience, which is rare for a war veteran. He told me part of his story, and I said, ‘I’m sorry for what you went through.’ He replied, ‘I don’t want your sympathy.’
“So I said, ‘I understand what you went through,’ and he said, ‘There’s no way you could understand what I’ve been through.’
Feeling uncomfortable and on the spot, Wojnar tried one more time.
“So, finally, I said, ‘I respect what you went through,’ and he said, ‘Honey, that’s all we ever really wanted.’”
The song is another example of Wojnar’s skill as a songwriter and storyteller.
She and her band will play a record release show at 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7, at Westside Bowl in Youngstown.
Wojnar, who is a counselor at Compass Family and Community Services, has been involved in music since the 1980s.
In her early days, she was in the bluesy duo PixE and Susan, the R&B band Sweat and two all-girl rock bands: The Pranksters and The Heartbeats.
She currently plays solo shows at area wineries and breweries, including The Vineyards at Pine Lake, Casual Pint, Mastropietro Winery, Birdfish Brewing and Woodland Cellars. She is also a regular at listening rooms, such as Akron’s Rialto Theatre and Cleveland’s The Bop Stop.
On Sunday, she performed at Brothers Lounge in Cleveland as part of the annual Breastfest benefit show for breast cancer patients.
Wojnar’s new album is not the only creative work she’s produced this year.
This summer, she published a book of her poems titled “White Darkness: Poetic Tales of the Schizophrenic Experience.”
She wrote the poems based on her own personal experience, in hopes of illuminating the struggle.
“Schizophrenia is so misunderstood and feared,” she said. “I want to help people understand people [who struggle with] this issue. They live in a different world.”
Her sparse poetry is every bit as direct and insightful as her lyrics. Wojnar hopes the poems “build bridges” by showing family and friends of the afflicted what they are going through. The book is available at major online booksellers.
Reaction to the book has been very positive, Wojnar said, and praise has been spreading by word of mouth.
“I wasn’t sure if people would get it, but they do,” she said. “And they’re moved.”
Pictured at top: Susan Wojnar sings in the studio during the recording of her new album.
Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.