Tag Archives: Masters Of Reality

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.

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Blast From The Past: Masters of Reality

Bunnytime, a decade before Donnie Darko

Bunnytime, a decade before Donnie Darko

Although often described as stoner-rock (that was an redundant statement back in the day), Masters of Reality have proven to be an inventive, morphing amoeba of cool over the years. But yeah, they’re trippy, bluesy, psychedelic, fragile and rocking. Sometimes all on the same record.

The original Masters of Reality, a powerhouse band from Syracuse, NY, had an acrimonious split which led to Chris Goss and bassist Googe keeping the moniker while guitar wizard Tim Harrington and drummer Vinnie Ludovico formed The Bogeymen. I remember that Goss took a lot of shots that the Masters were just aping Cream, so he probably figured “fine…why not“?

You could drop the figurative needle on this album in a room full of blindfolded people, and by the tenth second of  “She Got Me (When She Got Her Dress On)” I guarantee you anyone with a brain would recognize that Ginger Baker is pounding the skins. (The rest of them will probably incorrectly yell out “Radar Love“!!).  That slide-step, that tom-thump, that goddamned swing that so few drummers posess these days is Baker incarnate, and he levitates this band to great heights throughout Sufferbus. He even reanimates the oddball Cream track  “Pressed Rat and Warthog” with “T.U.S.A.”, a lament that Americans can’t follow the simplest instructions to make his daily brew (“pour boiling water/over the tea/how simple and clear/can instructions be?”)

But it’s a democratic effort –  Goss’s vocals are stellar, whether rocking out on “Tilt-A-Whirl” or chanelling Ram-era Paul McCartney on “Jody Sings” and the brief but hilarious “Madonna”. He and Googe easily lock into a groove with Baker, with hybrid jazz rock (“Ants In The Kitchen”), trippy musings (“J.B.Witchdance”, “Rabbit One”) or the self-described “blues acrobatics” of “Gimme Water” and the Black Sabbath-sounding “V.H.V.”.  And much like The Bogeymen saved their best moment for last with “Damn The Safety Nets“, the Masters saved “Moon In Your Pocket” for last to put the bow on the package.

The album title reportedly comes from Goss and Baker’s insomnia on the tour bus, although the cover art seems to predate Donnie Darko by a decade. (Or…did…Donnie…time-travel?). But whatever the inspiration, it was lightning in a bottle, at least with this band configuration; Baker moved on after this. Both their careers are definitely worth tracking before and since, but this crossroads produced a real gem of an album.

New album Pine/Dover due from Chris and the Masters this August, so bide your time until then with Sufferbus. It’s sixteen years old and still sounds as fresh as a morning muffin (and nothing like gnat’s pee).

Masters of Reality website, MySpace and Wikipedia.

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Under The Radar: Jack Lipton

Jack Lipton is holding fast to his original gameplan, and it looks like the rest of the planet might be coming around full circle. You might remember Jack from The Penetrators, a Syracuse-area garage band that struggled to make its mark in a market more focused on the seedlings of hair metal. Of course, karma is a bitch – none of those spandexy preeners lasted while The Flashcubes, Hamell On Trial and Masters Of Reality are still writing and recording music thirty years later for a global audience. (Oh, Syracuse…”you coulda been a contender“).

Although The Pentetrators took a bit of abuse at the time – count me among the original naysayers – garage fans around the country thought otherwise and treasured their worn tapes of “Scandalizer” and “Drive Me Crazy”. And while they might not have hit the level of The Chesterfield Kings or The Oblivians, their recorded legacy is available for your own ears to judge.

Lipton’s most recent appearance is with Mark Doyle as part of his latest project Mark Doyle and the Maniacs  (more on that soon). But you can be certain that wherever Jack is, there will be rocking.

Cult of personality

Cult of personality

(Here’s the review of Bad Boy that ran on Pop Culture Press not long ago – the EP was later expanded into Bad Woman)

Bad boy Jack Lipton first warped ears with his classic garage band The Penetrators while trying to claw his was out of dead-end Syracuse New York. Not much has changed in Jack’s attitude – older, yes, mellower, never. Instead, garage rock has come full circle and pulled up to Jack’s stop once again. Passionate but straightforward rocking covers of “Search And Destroy” and “Dirty Water” feature fellow Syracusans turned Beantowners Ducky Carlisle, Paul Armstrong and Mark Doyle.

More impressive are the other two tracks, collaborations with producer and multi-instrumentalist John Fannon. “Get Off That Corner” is Lipton’s take on urban gospel, while “Trouble” boasts a great hook, melody and harp-driven chorus – great, gritty pop soul by way of latter-day Ian Hunter. Dare I say a commercial garage sound? Too few tracks to proclaim the second coming, but interesting enough to hope for a full length. 

Visit Jack’s website.

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