Tag Archives: Soundcheck

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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Filed under Features and Interviews, Music

Right Under You Nose?

For a couple of years, magic happened here.

For a couple of years, magic happened here.

You’ve heard the expression “right place, right time“? Well, in this crapshoot we call the music industry, luck and opportunity – or lack thereof – play as big a role as talent. (Think Seattle, 1990s…)

I spent a decade in Syracuse, New York and by luck and happenstance wound up being involved with not one, but two of the best live music clubs that town has ever seen. One was a gargantuan firehouse that was a hotspot for any traveling rock band on the Thruway circuit. It was also a test market for punk and pub bands crawling across from New York City or Detroit or Boston or braving their way across The Big Pond. Some, like The Andrew Pearson Band, never exploded and got the publicity they deserved. Others, like The Police, showed up in a station wagon on the road to global domination. Frequently a new hot band would play New York, Boston, Cleveland, Detroit…and Syracuse…like we were the poor sister in rock’s unholy pentagram. Worked for me. Both venues, sadly, are just memories today.

Famous musicians who played the theatres and arenas would often show up to jam or hang out; if I only had kept a diary, I could be living off the royalties today. But I didn’t, so I’m going to have to let those stories creep out within these virtual pages from time to time. (Like when Elvis Costello hung out behind the service bar window one night to avoid the crush of the crowd…several hunded people might have a great story to tell today if they only looked up when ordering their drink.)

But the reason these gigs succeeded in the first place was that this blue-collar town had a tremendous local music scene that supported a wealth of local talent as well as these “name” shows. Syracuse was loaded, but the spotlight never got there like it would for Athens or Seattle or Austin. MTV wasn’t even around when some of the artists breathed their last, the Internet and digital technology were years away, and even the fanzines and alternative papers had a hard time surviving. There were bands with big light shows and commercial setlists that most punters thought would be big, but almost to a band they died and faded away. It was the alternative artists – years before the word became kitsch – that persevered and endured and eventually succeeded, some in legacy, some on a grand scale.

Tomorrow, my TGIF column will pay tribute to that magic time I spent in The Little Town That Could. And like my good friend and stalwart of the scene always says, sometimes the best music is right in your backyard. Support your local music scene, folks – they need you now more than ever.

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Filed under Editorials, Music