A Blues Singer Finds Rock & Roll
I started playing music with my friends in upstate NY. We rehearsed in family living rooms, cellars, and garages. At one point we were practicing in the local firehouse and at one time, a local church basement. The first gig, I recall was at a local church dance in Floyd, NY. where I sang “Let’s Get Together” written by Chet Powers. The crowd really liked it and I was hooked on gigging! I was also obsessed with becoming a serious guitar player. By the age of 17, I was taking gigs where ever I could get them and chasing the dream of playing the blues.
At that time, there weren’t a lot of blues clubs around the Adirondacks so I was “treading water” a bit, musically speaking. Some of the guys from my school were starting a “50’s” revival band and asked me to join. I knew Chuck Berry. I knew Buddy Holly. I could “ooh” like Little Richard so, I said, “Why not”.
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Rock & Roll and Real Live Jive
The band called, “Real Live Jive”, was a fun mix of Rock & Roll, football players, and adolescent energy. There were a few musicians thrown in for good measure! We played local clubs, though many of us were underage. We played parties and high school dances.
Our rehearsals were as much parties as anything else. We slicked our hair back and stayed, “in character” until we washed it out. We played mostly around Utica, NY but did play Syracuse, NY (The Firehouse, I think) and either Plattsburgh or Potsdam (help me out if you recall…). I do remember that someone went crashing through a big window, later, in the evening… In the Fall, after I graduated High School, about everyone but me, headed off for college…
Coffee Houses, Bars, & Red Hot Rockets
… I did a few gigs around central NY as a folk-singer in the early 1970’s, playing the coffee house in Barneveld and Jake’s in Holland Patent. I saw myself as a singer-songwriter cross between Bob Dylan and Lightnin’ Hopkins. At one point, a group of us put together a smokin’ hot little band for Jake’s called “Rudy and the Red Hot Rockets”. It was Joe Allard’s drumming debut, Dave Ossont on bass, and featured Dan Axt on the Blues Harp. None of us were named Rudy; whenever we mentioned our band name we would add, “Rudy couldn’t make it tonight…” Nothing but fun.
From the Hills of NY to an Island in Maine
In the Spring of ’75, my friends Joe and Thon took me to Islesboro, Maine. Now I had lived my entire life in rural, central New York state. I’d seen lots of cow farms, woods, and a few vintage automobiles.
My idea of a boat was the row boat we used to cross Eighth lake. My idea of an island was the island in Eighth Lake a group of us went to, camping in Adirondack lean-tos, built I believe, by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s.
When we drove on to the Governor Muskie, which was the ferry boat, at the time, to cross over to Islesboro, my mind was already blown! By May, Joe had talked me into riding to the Island to look for work and play music for the summer.
The narrow island is about 14 miles long and about 3 miles east of Lincolnville Beach, in the Penobscot Bay. There are many summer houses, belonging to the rich and famous and, at that time (1975), there was an establishment called “The Island Pub”, featuring beer, wine, and (hopefully!) music.
Life at the Island Pub
The Island Pub, has since become legendary for the music and the characters that passed through there. In ‘75 I lived upstairs, in the room over the jukebox. I didn’t sleep much that summer but I did play in the “house band” which was Joe Allard, Thon Christiana, and myself, along with any number of musicians, from God knows where, sitting in.
People would fill that little place to the point that the floor would be bending under the weight of people drinking, dancing, and carrying on. As we played, we could feel the floor moving in sync with the music. Speakers, on tables, would be waving back and forth, threatening to come crashing down at any minute.
At times there were so many people playing, it was hard to tell where the musicians stopped and the listeners started. So many people from the crowd sang along that they started their own singing groups called, “The Turtle Head Boys Choir” and “The Slut-Ons”!
Through the windows and doors, we could see teenagers, at the time, like Susan Reidy, who became a fine singer-songwriter, standing outside, listening from the parking lot. “Kids” who would grow up to be the proprietors of the Newcastle Publick House, would be playing games or watching from across the road. It seemed like some nights everyone on the Island would be hanging around that building, somewhere.
The time I lived on Islesboro, gave me some of the best memories I have. It was really the beginning of me being who I am today. I think a piece of me will always be on that island…
- Were you a player in a high school band?
- Were you part of the Central NY State music scene?
- What can you remember (and tell) about the Island Pub?
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