Monday, August 23, 2010

Hear My Song. People Won't You Listen Now... (Songs 'n' The Hoods Part 5)



I played in a band or three. I was and still am, a drummer. And of course, there was a band or two in each borough. We had basements and garages beneath and behind the houses on East 19th Street in Sheepshead Bay. In Manhattan, there were phone booth-sized studios in midtown, and basements with phone-booth sized rats on The Bowery. It didn't matter where I played, it always felt as if I was one step away from the big time.

If the two boroughs produced a half-dozen bands out of our group, Mike, Al, Marco and I seemed to be in all of them at one time or another. The rotating singers and material kept us on our feet. The most impressive was Night Flight, a band whose main function was to recreate Led Zeppelin's live show of 1977, with a few adjustments, the most obvious being the addition of non-Zep material.








Marco had the Sunburst Les Paul like Jimmy Page. Mike, who usually played guitar was on bass. Ziggy was on drums and hairbrush. (I'm pretty sure I witnessed him brushing his hair right in the middle of "Rebel, Rebel"). And then there was Bob, whose one and only stint on East 19th was as the singer in Night Flight. He also managed to talk relentlessly about Chuck Berry and his influence on the Stones. It became creepy, and enough to make us all hate rock and roll while we were around him. That quirk aside, Bob was a good guy and possessed the courage that was needed to stand out front and work the crowd.

What Night Flight pulled off in December of 1978 was unprecedented. This wasn't a 30 minute, 7 song set at some "Battle Of The Bands." This band of teenagers with brass ones pieced together an epic, 3 hour set, with guitar solos, drum solos, and even some dead-on mimicry of the bands who inspired its members, with Marco strutting across the stage, step for step, the way Jimmy Page did in the film "The Song Remains The Same."


The gym at the St. Marks School on Avenue Z took on the aura of the big rock concerts we had been attending. It felt like the holy ground that was Madison Square Garden. It was filled with screaming kids, and this band delivered, impossibly, a mostly Zep repertoire, with some Queen, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath and even some Be Bop Deluxe thrown in, to prove they were indeed cooler than you.



I had two duties this evening. The first was running back and forth, pretending I was some important sound guy, throwing up thumb and finger signs throughout the set to indicate when something was "too loud," or if there was "too much bass," or simply to let Ziggy know he should "lose the hairbrush." None of these directives were paid any mind, but I sure felt cool. The second part of my job was to get on stage, take the mic as special guest, and sing the Sid Vicious version of "My Way." (I guess I could sing pretty well, too. I think I did okay. That felt cooler.)


I am little out of focus in this picture, but you can recognize me on the lower right by my Keely Smith haircut and my very rock and roll, lime green, down vest. To my left, dressed like Stanley Kowalski, is my buddy, the other, more popular Sal, a mighty fine musician who did go on to work with many greats, including Peter Frampton and Ringo Starr.








(There was a third Sal, and the three of us we were affectionately known as "The Sals." Somewhere along Nostrand Avenue is some graffiti to prove that. Sal #3 rarely if ever made it to 19th Street.)



Night Flight begat Eruption with Mike back on guitar, Anthony on drums and the other Sal on bass. Eruption begat Black Dog, or was it Whirlwind, with Al on bass, Mike on guitar and me on drums. Then there was a short-lived band with Marco on guitar, Al on bass, me on drums, and Fran on vocals. (This is starting to sound like a Jackie Vernon bit.) Fran lived on East 19th Street and had a powerful singing voice with a personality to match. She challenged us right out of the garage. I don't think this line-up stayed together long enough for a name, but boy did she sing the shit out of Heart's "Barracuda."


Across the river, I was trying something else---original music. First there was The Bandits with Frank on guitar and vocals, and Janet, who gave up a law practice to learn the bass and make it as a punk. Our rehearsal space, lovingly referred to as "The Pit," was shared with many of downtown New York's semi-legends, including John Spacely, Michael O'Donoghue and Cheetah Chrome. We managed a few well-received, if under-attended gigs at CBGBs and Max's Kansas City, playing revved up versions of Elvis, The Searchers, Gerry & The Pacemakers and Gary Lewis & the Playboys, as well as Frank's originals... before the implosion.




Frank & I had gotten to "The Pit" early one evening, poised to discuss and proceed with the termination of Janet. Unfortunately for us, she wasn't too far behind us and with great stealth, remained within earshot as we laughed like idiots and spoke inappropriately about someone who just a few days earlier was our friend. (We learn the hard way when we are young and stupid.) After a tantrum that borrowed sounds and visuals from Regan Macneil, Janet stormed out. The next night I found a broken chair over my drum rack, with little crosses made from the shattered wood, placed upon each drum. (Janet was upset.) I didn't sleep for a week, expecting a dead chicken under my pillow at any time. I would have deserved it, though I still don't know why Frank got off scot-free. (Story of my life.)

Frank's original tunes were quick and melodic, and just a small step ahead of what we had been hearing in clubs. Inevitably, the boroughs collided. Al from Brooklyn, with me and Frank, and now Carl, formed Pep In The Cat, based mostly around Carl's Todd Rundgren-inspired originals, some of Frank's better Bandits leftovers, and some choice covers. We were good, but we needed a lead guitarist, and found one in an East New Yorker named Mike. This guy had the chops.




This was serious stuff. Two rehearsals a week, a budget for recording, regular gigs, t-shirts and a mailing list. Even Marco got into the act, by engineering our first demos at Eras Studios where he had just finished working with Joan Jett and Al Dimeola. Pep In The Cat was, in the words of Lou Canova, "starting to make a little noise." Gigs were plenty, and the fan base was growing. This "noise" lasted for about 3 years before the proverbial band shit hit the fan.

Al got sick of Mike. Carl got sick of Al. Sal got sick of Carl. Carl got sick of Frank. Frank somehow managed to not mind anyone. Al finally handed in his pick. One of the more uncomfortable moments of Pep In The Cat's career was Al's last gig. He agreed to fulfill one last scheduled show at S.N.A.F.U. on 6th Avenue and 21st Street in Manhattan. Mike invited Al's replacement, his old friend and bass player Richie to the show. Richie introduced himself to Al by extending his hand and asking, "What size shoe do you wear?" (I probably shouldn't have laughed. It's not easy being in a band.)


(Pep In The Cat Redux)



Pep In The Cat continued, making more demos, getting more gigs and even getting that cherished showcase at the legendary Trax on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.






The feuding continued. Carl was getting more serious about his songwriting and in turn, less pleased with what the band was offering. Rehearsals were always work, but now had become the job you hated going to. I had had enough. By the end, Carl was writing my drum parts, hoping to create what he was hearing in his head. I, in turn, starting pounding the kit harder so I could drown out the voices telling me to kill Carl. Finally, I quit, but not before throwing a drumstick with the velocity of a Bob Gibson fastball, right at Carl. I missed, and instead, pierced Frank's Fender Twin Reverb amp. (Story of my life.)


We are almost all talking to each other these days, and fortunately, some of the music still holds up nicely. We could have been contenders. The problem was, everyone of us proved, you don't have to be 5 years old to not know how to play nice.


Here's part of a video that survived from 12/23/83. Pep In The Cat live at S.N.A.F.U..



Here are two demos from 1983 and 1984. You will hear plenty of Todd Rundgren, especially in "Inspiration," which is, as my friend Chris pointed out just the other day,"exactly like Todd's Healing Part 3, only slower."

TOO BAD BABY



INSPIRATION



PREVIOUS INSTALLMENTS:


PART ONE:
PEOPLE & THINGS THAT WENT BEFORE
http://burnwoodtonite.blogspot.com/2010/07/people-and-things-that-went-before.html

PART TWO:
THEY DROVE YOU OR YOU DROVE THEM CRAZY
http://burnwoodtonite.blogspot.com/2010/07/they-drove-you-or-you-drove-them-crazy.html

PART THREE:
EAST 19TH STREET, BROOKLYN
http://burnwoodtonite.blogspot.com/2010/08/east-19th-street-brooklyn-it-goes-into.html

PART FOUR:
I SAW LED ZEPPELIN TWICE. THEY SUCKED ONCE
http://burnwoodtonite.blogspot.com/2010/08/i-saw-led-zeppelin-twice-they-sucked.html

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

too bad baby sounds like roy wood circa Mustard trying to be Springsteen-esque.

cmealha said...

So many things went through my mind when I saw this...

-What have you done!

-Ahh, good times!

-You were right. The keyboard was too loud.

-Where’s Al?

-Whew! I’m glad he took it easy on me.

-I thought dinner had taken care of all the emotional wreckage.

-No hard feelings, except that I’m going to strangle you next time I see you.


Love ya.......Keep it up.

Anonymous said...

Yes, "Inspiration" gave me a grin.
It's TR written all over it.
Nice job.

Sal Nunziato said...

"too bad baby sounds like roy wood circa Mustard trying to be Springsteen-esque."

That's one of the nicest things anyone has ever said. I sure hope that wasn't you, Carl.

Thanks, Anon.

itsok2beright said...

Excellent story, well written as usual. I believe an honorable mention goes to Chrissy singing a song at the Night Flight concert at St. Marks. I can still hear Bob screaming "Ziggy", and Marco accenting to sound exactly like Plant screaming "John Bonham" and Page accenting. Oh, and let's not forgot who came on stage to introduce the band. None other than the Brooklyn Republican Chairman!

Sal Nunziato said...

Really? You announced the band? Damn! I wish I'd remembered that.

itsok2beright said...

That's funny. It must be early, since I didn't even see that coming.

I assume you know Craig's current position in life. And if I remember correctly, he announced the band that night.

Sal Nunziato said...

Yes, I do. And I think he refers to himself in third person.

FD13NYC said...

Great post yet again. It's hard to comment having lived through it. I'm pretty sure I was there at the St. Marks Night Flight show.

Yes, the Janet thing was a little scary (her having been into black magic) but we moved on with no incident.

I'm not sure I have the studio version of Too Bad Baby and Inspiration I totally forgot all about. They both sound terrific after all these years, even Ginny was impressed.

Oh, by the way, you still owe me 50 bucks for the grill and punctured right speaker.

Good friends and (mostly) good memories should never forgotten, now everybody knows about our business. Keep up the good work!

steve simels said...

"Lose the hairbrush" may be my favorite line of all time.

Great story, Sal, beautifully written, and I think I can safely say on behalf of forty odd years of what I usual refer to as my fantasy life -- I know the feeling.

Christine said...

"Ziggy was on drums and hairbrush" may be MY favorite line of all time. Seems like only yesterday I got to hear My Way in Marco's garage, except you were on drums and you were singing. (Another thing I've been told didn't happen--but YES it did.)

Fran also did a mean Roberta Flack (she'll kill me for that) and who can forget the famous St. Mark's Folk Group--nobody sang the hell out of The Our Father like we did!

Amazing writing as always Sal. You're the bomb, dog! (I know you hate that--sorry--I'm in one of those moods today.)

Will the real Craig Eaton please stand up!

Sal Nunziato said...

Great comment Christine. And thank you.

Really? Roberta Flack?

As for "My Way" in Marco's garage...I don't know.

michele-with-pug said...

Sal, I remain, to this day, one of your biggest fans for Pep In The Cat! I believed then and still believe now that you guys had what it took to make it! Of course i do have significant emotional attachments to several songs, especially "Too Bad Baby"
I remember Carl singing that song and sticking his tongue out at me hahahaha ....

cmealha said...

;-P

michele-with-pug said...

lmaorotf! you got me AGAIN! --27 years later....

misospecial said...

too bad baby has a spector thing going on that i really like.

very funny, sal, another scene written so i can see it.... course it helps to have been in some of those midtown studios and downtown clubs with other aspiring bands that made it out of the garage but not to the academy of music.

and did i mention that it's awful damned funny? in this case, you didn't have to be there.

on to chapter six!

steve simels said...

Oh, and BTW -- "Inspiration" definitely had, as they say, commercial potential. Nice job.

Mozenator said...

I SWEAR that song on the YouTube clip is almost note for note "Why you Wanna Treat Me So Bad" by Prince from his 1979 self-titled sophomore album. I say SUE him up the wazoo.

FRANCIE said...

Hi Sal, THANKS FOR YOUR WEALTH OF MUSICAL KNOWLEDGE.I ENJOY READING YOUR POSTS VERY MUCH.
LOVE READING,THIS PIECE IS MY FAVE SO FAR, BUT KNOW YOU WILL TOP IT!!
I LISTENED TO YOUR OFFERINGS,AND BEING A "PHILLY" GIRL I REALLY BELIEVE IF YOUR BANDS WEWE DOING THE "PHILLY"SCENE YOU WOULD HAVE MADE IT!!!!. I WAS GOING TO PHILLY CLUBS AND SAW A LOT OF BANDS BEFORE FAME AND YOUR BANDS HAD WHAT IT TOOK. REMINDS ME OF PHILLY "BLUE EYED SOUL",R&B EARLY "BRUCE","MR.TODD" "SPECTOR'S SOUND BUT NO ONE MENTIONED THE STRENGTH IN MELODIES LIKE "HALL & OATES". REALLY ENJOYABLE!
THANKS, KEEP ON KEEPIN' ON.

Sal Nunziato said...

Hey Moze,

I never noticed that. You really think so?

Francie,

Thanks as always.

anythingshouldhappen said...

Great article again Sal, really enjoying this series.

Enjoyed the songs too, the seventies solo Roy Wood comparison on Too Bad Baby is spot on.

Not sure about your stage jacket though.

I'm sure you've kept it for future use.

Sal Nunziato said...

Haha! That baby was lime green spandex! (And a huge mistake!)

Anonymous said...

great article.....brings back fun, old memories....thanks for the barracuda comment, u r too kind.....roberta flack was in a st. marks talent show, if i remember correctly, not with the band, christine remembers EVERYTHING!!

Sal Nunziato said...

Yes! I know! Christine remembers EVERYTHING!