This current collection is a compilation of songs mostly written over the past thirty years. One exception is “Spring Fever” which goes back about forty years. Conversely, I wrote “River Rise” during the year I spent recording this album.
Some reflections on my life and times:
I remember the world of my childhood. Some of my earliest memories are of Patty Page, Tony Bennet, The Mills Brothers, Johnny Ray, Nat King Cole, Gene Autry, Tex Ritter, Spike Jones, Art Van Damme and Dick Contino. These were among my earliest musical influences.
Just as post war progress, (WWII) effected the lives of unprecedented numbers of citizens, the musicians of the time were jumping ahead creatively in a changed world and having to deal in a highly competitive market. The big dance halls of the thirties and forties were closing, those 'kids' who were their major audience were getting married, having babies, going to school and or building homes.
From the end of WW2 until the summer of 1956 the music, just like everything else, was in a state of transition. Though record sales were up, dance halls and like venues for big bands were failing. Mean while, Insightful Jazz veterans like Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman were already working less with big bands and more with small combos. This little noted era laid a lot of the groundwork for everything that has happened since. It was the time when Willie Nelson, John Lee Hooker, Clifton Cheniere, Myles Davis, Ray Charles, Tito Puente, and Dizzy Gillespie, were young bucks, still building their portfolios and reputations. Not yet understood as prime innovators to but a few.
I grew up in a rapidly changing, multi-ethnic New England town, in that time. Many of the old farms and estates (some on the market since the late 30’s.) had been sold off for major housing developments. (Suburbia Massiva).
With old ethnic communities and so many people moving into town from other places, it was easy to get different perspectives. The live music I heard at the time was mostly local bands playing at weddings and picnics or brass bands, not just on parade, but more importantly, at old fashioned band concerts. So at the age of seven I began taking accordion lessons. I studied (belligerently) for five years with one teacher and I must have learned something, but I’ve reached an age where I can understand forgetting more than some will ever know.
The summer of 56 changed everything. Elvis Presley’s appearance on “The Dorsey Brothers Show”, (The summer replacement for Jackie Gleason), opened the floodgates, Rock & Roll had arrived. Overnight, Bill Haley, Buddy Holly, Huey Smith, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino went from regional or limited circuit acts to living legends. This era lasted until around 1960. By that point, the pop charts were dominated by vanilla bubblegum trash.
Around 1960, at the age of twelve I changed teachers and that changed everything for me. Jim DiCroce was a local accordionist who I had seen play in different bands since I could remember. It didn’t matter whether they we’re playing polkas, pop/swing, old Irish songs, “Greek” or “Belly Dance”, hey this guy could play jazz. Studying with Jim was a very different experience. He taught me first through example, then by rote (The more you play it, the better you know it.) how to play music, not just notes.
Meanwhile, the music underground was being born. With it’s origins in a mix of earlier roots music, it is most notably marked by the concept that what you sang was more important than how good a singer or showman you are. (It became more of a question of, “ Can you get your point across".) It was also unprecedented in modern music, that the genre thus the venue became an open channel for social commentary to such a degree that it was, and still is not unusual, for folk artists to enjoy the same deference as reporters and journalists. (truly a return to earlier times, before news papers & magazines, never mind cable TV & The Web, where the bard was the carrier of news from the outside world.) Woody Guthrie, Phil Ochs, Dave VanRonk, The Weavers (including Pete Seager), Jackie Washington, and a skinny kid with no voice (Bob Dylan) were shaking it up at coffee houses, protests’ and rallies. The Kingston Trio and the Chad Mitchell Trio spawned The Limelighters and Peter Paul & Mary, (who played Bob Dylan’s’ songs). (I count these as notable influences in my formative years) The effects of all this were multifold, among them was the influence in and on rock music. For one thing, there was a major “return to roots” movement, nothing formal, just one of those moments of synchronicity in the middle of total anarchy. Long lost folk and blues legends were being re-discovered.
At the same time my own musical tastes were developing, and I started plunking around on the piano.
So at fourteen, after studying accordion with Jim D. for two years, I switched over and took a few piano lessons from another local musician. This one I had been listening to in church every week where she played the organ. Mrs. Mahoney was wonderful. I remember she asked me what I wanted to learn. I told her that I wanted to learn chord structure and to play jazz. She quickly assessed what I knew and what I needed. So much so that it allowed me to surge forward. Though I probably could have used more lessons.
The other thing that drew my attention away was that I joined a Drum & Bugle Corps. For those not familiar with that world, it was a social phenomenon in the early sixties. It seemed that every Veterans organization or Knights of Columbus sponsored these programs. It got a lot of kids off the street, especially in the summer with practice three nights a week and traveling to competitions most weekends.It was an amazing experience, given that most of these players could not read music. We learned to play by ear, we learned to listen. If you’ve never taken the time to listen, check it out the next time you come across it on cable TV. I took away a new appreciation for brass and the power of unified sound.
At sixteen I started jamming with other kids I had met at school and eventually hooked up a band.
This time I was the singer and for a year or so went through “the band thing” with “The Bushmen”. We did covers of The Animals, The Stones, Herman’s Hermits & The Trogs
The next notable phase, musically, was when I moved out of my family home and found myself without a piano to bang on. So I got my old accordion out of storage, where it had sat for about six years.
It was 1967 and I was listening to Hendrix, Santana, Joplin, The Doors, Dylan (electrified), Lovin Spoonful, Buffalo Springfield and Jefferson Airplane etc. etc. .
The first thing I played on the accordion after a six year layoff was not anything I had learned from a teacher; instead I played an old Elvis Presley song “One Night with You”. In re-exploring the accordion I soon became aware of what a natural instrument it was for playing the blues. Everything I had learned from different experiences along the way, started falling into place, though for the next few years I found myself being categorized as neither fish nor fowl. I was more of an anomaly, this accordion player who plays blues, folk and some jazz. For me, it didn’t really matter; I was too busy living life. Music was an escape into my own world. It was in that time that I started to write. I had written a couple of songs and some poems in my teens but now I was looking at life from a whole different place. As a young adult, a parent, a working class citizen of a small town in the late 60’s. Some friends were going off to war others were eating acid, some were coming back from other places with strange ideas some were coming back changed or broken or not at all.
The next few years contained all the classic situations, home family, career, owning a small business, bankruptcy, divorce, existential crisis, re-inventing myself several times, coming to Cambridge. Unlike the stereotype, I didn’t come here to attend either Harvard or MIT; Instead, I came in through the back door. My first introductions to Cambridge were through the “Arts & Music Scene” through a group then known as The Artists Co-op or “Tribal Rhythms”, later becoming Co-operative Artists Institute. What a totally unique experience it was to play with seven drummers, a bass, a sax and me, in long sessions of improvisation. (It’s not something you can be taught, It can only be learned through experience.) Once again re-affirming (The more you play it, the better you know it.)
Over the next twenty years I Played “in the street” in Harvard Sq., at parties and gatherings up & down the East Coast, In the subways, coffee houses, at protests & rallies, … solo, duo, trio, quartet, large bands, small bands, at open mic’s, structured and unstructured jam sessions. I made the leap to synthsizers in the early eighties …and over the years, gained a lot of experience in the studio & on location, as both artist and engineer, in recording & live sound.
For the past ten years I've been concentrating on sharpening my skills as a producer, (This is not my first attempt at creating this album.) and attempting to keep up with or at least, not be run over by “The Brave New World”.