T.G.I.F. – Ten Syracuse Summers

We Gotta Get Out Of This Place...

We Gotta Get Out Of This Place...

As a follow-up to yesterday’s reminiscent jourmey, I want to use this week’s TGIF entry to clue you in to just ten of the many great artists and bands that came out of that smowy little hellhole known as Syracuse, NY. This list is by no means complete – none of my TGIF entries are – but this is but my small way to pay respect to The Little Town That Could…and Did.

So keep your eyes and ears open. Like my very good friend Dave always says, sometimes the best music is right in your own backyard.

Not the puffy shirt

The Flashcubes – If they had only been in a bigger market, their records would sit in every collection next to The Romantics and The Ramones and Cheap Trick. They were lightning in a bottle and dominated the pop scene but somehow didn’t make the jump. Ironically, a career resurgence over the past decade finds them more popular than ever, and the albums they should have been able to release then are available now. Gary Frenay and Artie Lenin still play as The Neverly Brothers (and in other configurations), Tommy Allen enjoys a great career as producer and drummer and Paul Armstrong still kicks ass (see below)

Screen TestGary Frenay, Artie Lenin and Tommy Allen mining a more melodic pop sound after the demise of The Flashcubes. Equally laden with hooks (Frenay is a vastly underrated songwriter) they have also seen a career resurgence and an anthology is being released in a few weeks. Like with the ‘Cubes material, I am still gobsmacked that songs like “Nothing Really Matters Whan You’re Young” did not become massive hits. Maybe now?

1.4.5. – When Gary, Artie and Tommy formed Screen Test, Paul Armstrong hooked up with Ducky Carlisle and Dave DeVoe to form this trio and spearhead a Pink Invasion (don’t ask). Both Dave (Rochester NY) and Ducky (Boston) are successful producers; Ducky has been popping up on scads of albums (Bleu, Mike Viola, Mandy Moore, etc.) and Paul still rocks out with his…oh, you know what I mean.

Masters of Reality – Although the original band split in two, with guitar whiz Tim Harrington going on to The Bogeymen (with another great Syracuse musician, George Rossi) and Creepjoint , Chris Goss is still kicking ass both as an artist and a producer. It’s a long way from sitting on the curbs sharing beers and war stories at 4am, Chris.

Hamell On Trial Ed Hamell, like most, started out playing in cover bands until he realized that he’d be playing in local bars forever unless he started writing his own music. The Works were one of the hardest working rock bands trolling the East Coast, but it wasn’t until Greg Spencer and Blue Wave Records allowed him to record his solo vision that things really clicked. Fans around the globe are thankful.

Elf – (OK…technically Cortland, but that’s almost a suburb.) So you want to know what Ronnie James Dio was doing before he became a heavy metal legend in his own time? The rest of the band was the embryo of Blackmore’s Rainbow (no one played piano like Mickey Lee Soule) and you might also want to check guitarist Dave Feinstein’s other band, The Rods.

The Kingsnakes – From the ashes of The Sandy Bigtree Band (a Firebarn mainstay) came one of the great blues and boogie bands that featured great musicians over the years like axeman Terry Mulhauser and Pete McMahon (later of Savoy Brown) on vocals and harp. Another Blue Wave artist.

The Penetrators – Self-proclaimed Kings of Basement Rock, they took a lot of shit for being sloppy, loud and abrasive, traits that played well for straight punk bands…so since when do garage bands sound perfect in their embryonic years? I am one of those who didn’t get it at first listen but have come to appreciate some of the great nuggets over time.

Joe Whiting – Still one of the greatest vocalists the Salt City has ever produced. Jukin’ Bone, his first band with Mark Doyle, got to release albums on Epic and the Doyle-Whiting Band shows are legend. Joe can sing anything with soul, fire and passion.

Mark Doyle – If it looks like a rock star and plays like a rock star, it is a rock star. Doyle is one of the most in-demand guitarists around and – like Jeff Beck – looks remarkably the same today as he did in his youth. Carrot juice or a deal with Satan? I’m not telling.

Oh, for a video of The Machine and Hummerwho had the man/beatbox thing down cold a decade before anyone scratched a turntable – or a CD release from The Ohms (“Teenage Alcoholic” remains my favorite single from that era). And the list of great bands who burned brightly but too early for an Internet footnote – Dress Code, Steve Neat and The Chances, Midnight Oil, Boss Tweed, The Natives… – could go on for days. Ditto volumes about those who were just as important off the stage (Dave Frisina, Mike Greenstein, Chuck Chao and Dave Rezak, just to name a few) in making this scene work. More tales for another day.

I guess you had to be there. Glad I was.


Filed under Features and Interviews, Music

19 responses to “T.G.I.F. – Ten Syracuse Summers

  1. Wow! What a lagniappe for a sleepy Friday morning. Great trip down memory lane, Dr. Bristol. Wish I had more of these great moments in digital format (left all my vinyl and turntables in the ‘Cuse) but I love the ones I do have. As Paul Armstrong keeps saying on the Cubes Live in Japan…Arigato!

  2. Dennis McGough

    What’ s with the picture of Martina Navratilova after the second graph?

  3. drbristol

    You mean Graf, don’t you Chrissie? You lawnmuncher, you can’t fool me with that shitty attempt at an Irish name.

    No more doubles with you if you know what I mean and I think you do.

    – M.N.

  4. PF Twanger

    Now, Dr. B, you seem to have mentally blotted out the weirdly talented country-rock/bluegrass scene that was going on in the mid-late 70’s in many SYR locations, including that lamented Firebarn.

    So let me rattle some bones with these names: Above all was the mighty Cross Creek who moved smoothly form the Band to Bakersfield and everything in between. John Cadley’s Sunshower showcased his Gordon Lightfoot-meets-Buck Owens songwriting style, and later, the Moss Back Mule Band mined the Charlie Daniels/All things Southern Rock Beat.

    On the bluegrass side, the irregular Band called the Downstate (or Upstate depending on the day) ramblers usually featured Tony Trischka and Tom Hosmer among many luminaries. I seem to remember The Buffalo Chips (a great all-woman bluegrass band) being Syracuse based, despite the name. And the Ithaca-based Country Cooking, with Pete Wernick and a rotating cast of future bluegrass stars, played both Jabberwocky and the Fifrebarn frequently.

    Finally, as a parallel to your Elvis-at-the- service bar story, for two consecutive nights in 1975 I saw the unbelievably great and important inventor of the Jazz style of violin, Joe Venuti, at a *motor lodge* in Syracuse. This is the guy that Stephan Grapelli modeled himself after. Although Venuti was not young at that point, he was astoundingly brilliant. I’ve since read quite a bit about him. His humor and talent are legendary.

    The second night he actually came over and sat at the table with us for a few minutes. He was amused and a little curious that two very longhaired and bearded hippie-types were hanging on every note for two nights in a row. When he found out that we played in a guitar-and-fiddle duo, he played an up-tempo swing version of Wabash Cannonball for us in his next set. It’s one of the great memories of my life.

    Thanks to Jonathan and Ron Levine for getting me to go, and thanks to Syracuse for being the kind of place where that could happen.

    Oh, that RnR stuff you remember was pretty cool too! 😉

    Given that you said your list wasn’t intended to be complete, I’ll let it slide this time. Nice trip down memory lane, Dr. B!

  5. drbristol

    Actually, I blot out nothing, but I do limit the TGIF to ten…and my memories to those two clubs…and I certainly don’t want to shoot the moon all in one column. I could spin more yarns about the wonderful Mark Hoffman and Pete Heitzman, two of the best guitarists that ever graced the scene…Bruce Tetley’s great voice leading Homegrown…Solid Oak, some of the nicest guys ever who partied harder than Led Zeppelin…Skip Murphy’s magnificent Out of the Blue…even a little known but spunky collection of misfits known as Two Bucks and Change.

    But alas, ten is the number and the number shall be ten. Eleven will be too many and nine not enough. Good day, sir!

  6. PF Twanger

    My hand to God, Mark Hoffman was going to be in my second paragraph, but he was more blues or jazz than bluegrass and I didn’t want to make him sound like an afterthought. I vividly remember his sharp playing and the even sharper cutaway on his Gibson!

  7. GiGiGo

    Hey, I’m lobbying for a return to “Arty”. While Artie has become fairly common when others are writing about him, it seems so benign, even banal, and far too removed from the reason he was so anointed. Remember, the inspiration for that adjective was his fondness for and encyclopedic knowledge of -ahem- art magazines (see “Taking Inventory”). Along with his very artistic approach to playing, of course. I was the only one who called him Arthur, and would never have considered the diminutive “Artie”.
    Mark Doyle and the Maniacs pairs Jack Lipton of the Penetrators with Mr. D for dynamite “Shake ‘Em on Down” CD; see them live in Auburn this month, also Shifty’s Sunday for 9/20 Soundcheck. Thrilling!
    Glad we all were there.
    Darling photo, btw.

  8. drbristol

    “I was the only one who called him Arthur, and would never have considered the diminutive “Artie”.”

    Which is why I didn’t blame it on you, dearest. 🙂

    A blindfolded Flashcube groupie once proclaimed that nothing about Artie/Arty was diminutive. Unless he was standing next to Paul.

  9. Thanks for the “secondary” mention for Homegrown. Since we started the ball rolling at the Firebarn it would have been nice to be on the first ten list. Maybe Gary and “STEVE” didn’t have to be in THREE of them. Just saying.

    Love and xxx,

  10. Nice pic. I remember that guy. I remember him standing BEHIND me when our neighbor came to the door holding a 9mm by his side. Good times!


  11. drbristol

    Actually that guy was sitting on the floor behind you with his back to you…wondering why his larger than life roomie started apologizing profusely to the idiot banging down the door. Your ghost white face told the story. That was a complete buzzkill for our lady guests, too, as I remember. NMC (Nine Millimeter Cockblock!)

  12. drbristol

    You’ll notice that all ten of those bands have videos or CDs for sale or some speck of dust in Al Gore’s Interwebby that I can point people towards to confirm my tale of their existence. Where’s that Homegrown anthology?

    Homegrown and Midnight Oil and Solid Oak and Tall Dogs and dozens of others are just as vibrant in my head (which amazingly is still attached)

    love backatcha

  13. THE MACHINE AND HUMMER! Used to see them at The Jabberwocky at SU back in ’82. Wow. I wonder if my friend still has his M&H 45rpm? I think this blog post may be the only mention of M&H on the internet. Sad. Very sad.

  14. drbristol

    “Angel In Rags”, baby – Hummer was 15 years ahead of his time. But I still have nightmares where I am wandering through the cellophane room of The Insomniac.

  15. I see my buddy Dan stumbled on to this post a couple of months ago. Ah well, always behind the times.

    Our pal Tommy G said that the joke going around town was the Hummer was bummed because Machine had gone solo… (see, it can’t go solo, it’s a DRUM MACHINE…ah, you had to be there…)

  16. boffoyuxdudes

    Ahh. The Jab, and Machine & Hummer. I had forgotten about that joke from 30 years ago. I think we did manage to get the 45 on WAER a few times – but couldn’t sneak it on to WJPZ’s playlist.

    I thought another band – ‘The Natives’ was decent local band from that time period. Wazmo Nimrod ‘the world’s only laundromat band’ also deserves a mention.

  17. drbristol

    Scott, I always loved that Hummer gave The Machine top billing. (Not to mention having the stones to have a stage name of Dick Hummer).

    And Boffo, agree on the Natives (mentioned in the main post). Penny has done quite well for herself and Scott is still ripping it up on guitar when he’s not twirling knobs at the Dino. Never heard of Wazmo, but then again I didn’t rock the laundromat.

  18. bfstroganoff

    Awesome article. Being there was a life highlight. Chances to relive it are rare, but always fun. Thank you, Dr. Bristol!

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