I am a New York born-and-bred musician. I arrived in upper
Manhattan during a blizzard in January of 1957. My Dad was a
working, traveling musician in those days, playing sax, clarinet, and
flute with different post-big-band-era outfits, most notably Louis
Prima, and his partner Keeley Smith.
In The Heights
I grew up in a small one-bedroom apartment in the Washington Heights
section of upper Manhattan — a tiny place, but it had a spectacular
view of the northern portion of New York City. I'd hang out those
windows with Bill and gaze at The Cloisters in Fort Tyron Park, the
Hudson River, complete with the 'Circle Line' floating by every few
hours; behind the river were the New Jersey Palisades, the light tower
in Alpine, NJ.
The First Next Big Thing
I was seven years old in February of '64 when, thankfully, my grandmother announced to Mom, Bill and I, "The Beatles are coming … you have to watch The Beatles!" I don't know what made her so adamant, but clearly she was in sync with the moment, and she knew what we all had to do: 'watch The Beatles!" Within a matter of weeks, I, like a lot of other kids, had a guitar and was getting blisters and calluses on my novice fingers, and was playing along to those records as I began to teach myself by trial and error how to play the guitar. A couple of years into it, I sent away for a classical guitar book that went along with a PBS TV show hosted by Fredrick Noad, and got pretty good at that style as well … good enough to play a mean version of Classical Gas by the time I was eleven.
The Mothers of Detention
Nobody in the hierarchy of the Catholic school system would ever tell a kid like me about a place like New York's High School of the Performing Arts, which is where I would have gone in my alternate reality. Instead, I went to another Catholic school, this one in the Bronx. I went to Cardinal Spellman HS simply because there were girls there … none of this all-boys school bullshit which I was hearing about! My first high school band was called BMT [for our initials … sort of like ELP, we thought.] My longtime collaborator, Russ Velasquez, came in the band later, but never got his own letter. I learned piano in the practice rooms of the school which had a tiny music department which was headed by Victor Tallarico, who also happened to be the Dad of fledgling rocker Steven Tyler. 'Uncle Vic' was a fantastic musician who encouraged me and Velazquez in our Zappa-inspired troupe, Chalice. Tallarico brought in his son's first LP to show to the class … and I remember that she had crossed-out with a marker a section of the liner notes which mentioned Steven's first drug bust! I was accepted to Mannes School of Music in 1975 based on my piano compositions (see "Three Pieces for Piano" in the ARCHIVES), but after the inevitable crossing of paths with the High School of Performing Arts musician crowd, a new band evolved out of it and I chose not to attend Mannes in favor of pushing ahead with the resulting prog-rock outfit, Jester (check out Love In My Dreams in the ARCHIVES).
Have a Good Day Job to Fall Back On
That's what my mother would say to me, but I never believed in it. My
thought was that, without something to fall back on, it would force me to
succeed to some degree in music.
The band Jester never performed except one showcase performance for
Sid Bernstein or somebody like that, and the group disbanded by
1977, at which point I got married to Gigi Hageman, the keyboard
player and singer in the band — admittedly not so genius a
decision at 20 years old, and, predictably, it lasted barely two
years [we got remarried in 1984].
New Wave Haircuts
At the end of its run, Beatlemania fizzled out dramatically, almost comically and by October of 1979 it shut its doors. Inspired by acts like Elvis Costello, The Police and Joe Jackson, I quickly put together a 'New Wave' band, really just a short haircut band, with old pal from Chalice, Russ Velazquez, Spellman alumn Robert Miller and brother Bill. The band The Metromen were a great power-pop quartet (see YouTube videos in the ARCHIVES). We recorded an album for Genya Ravan's indie label, but it never had a commercial release, and we managed to develop a strong New York club following by the time we broke up in 1982. Too bad … for I believe we would have broken through given another year together.
Second Time Around
Dick Clark was producing a Beatlemania-style Broadway show called 'Rock and Roll, the First 5000 Years,' and in the summer of 1982 I auditioned and was cast in the show as various rock luminaries like Lennon, Harrison, Hendrix, Jerry Lee Lewis, and a bunch of others. Madonna was one one the unknowns who auditioned and got hired, but at role-call on the first day of rehearsals she was a no-show: she had bailed out in favor of starting her first record … good choice, I'd say. I walked down Eighth Avenue after a performance, with Dick Clark, and as I remember, he was very short — and so was the run of the show: less than a couple of weeks.
The Big Deal
I parted ways with the record company in spring of '85 and started
working with other artists and friends as a 'hired gun' for sessions
and tours, which took the sting out of not being on a label. My old
Beatlemania alumn pal Marshall Crenshaw was the first to knock on my
door with a tour and even a movie cameo for his band in a Coppola
film "Peggy Sue got Married." Coppola singled me out from the band to
play the 'boyfriend ' of Helen Hunt for an improv scene which not
surprisingly ended up on the cutting room floor. I should mention here
that this was my second movie experience, as there was a movie version
in 1981 of 'Beatlemania' — that one proved to be a real schlocky piece
of junk and I don't even own a copy of it.
Collaborating with other writers always seemed to me a better way
to get a cover-able song that someone else might want to record.
In 1985 I began to write frequently with Tommy James, and we ended
up having The Monkees do one of our tunes. I had an Alice Cooper
cover with 'This Maniac's in Love With You,' a collaboration as
well … and Marshall Crenshaw and I finally sat down at a point when
we were both living in Woodstock NY, and knocked out a couple of
tunes for his 'Life's Too Short' record in 1991.
I tried a number of different style mutations during those years for my own solo artist project, but nothing really gelled as unique or different for me until 1996 when I began working on the WORM music. I went back to some old idea tapes from 20+ years earlier, and decided to build a whole group of new songs around these old jazz-fusion era themes. I envisioned it as as band called WORM, and the album title was 'Pagan Holiday Favorites.' The project was done by 2000, and I had preliminary discussions with Steve Vai about it being released on his new indie label. While busy relocating myself and family to the more bucolic and affordable hills of Massachusetts, the climate at the label changed and the deal never happened. I shelved the project, and focused on performing and bill-paying, and spent the remainder of the zeroes traveling the world with the top touring Beatle-trib shows. I also did some scripting and directing of TV ads during this period as part of The Insanity Corporation. Some of the spots were pretty freakin' funny, but the world of ad execs was not for me.
These Days I Don't Worry about Tomorrow
Feeling somewhat disgruntled by the business of music, at the point
which I shelved WORM, I stopped producing music actively, although
I continued, as ever, cataloging themes and ideas for future songs