As a songwriter, I've always enjoyed writing in a wide variety of musical genres but the rock & roll genre has always been my favorite genre. More often than not, rock & roll music has always been there to help me regain an optimistic outlook on things. So, it was in the middle of having to deal with ongoing medical issues over the past 5 months that I decided that the only thing that would help me regain my sanity was to write and record a genuine lo-fi rock & roll album. Of course, as soon as I started working on the album (which would be called Rock & Roll is a State of Mind), my imagination drifted back to how big a role rock & roll music has played in my life. Every once and awhile during the recording sessions, I would suddenly get lost in the memories of all of the countless bands that I had played in when I was growing up.
In 1965 I was an army brat living in Verdun, France. I have a vivid memory of the first night when I arrived in France. I was watching that old tv show Gunsmoke on television and it was disconcerting to see Matt Dillon exclaim, "Zoot Alors!" I quickly changed the channel and stumbled upon a music show (it might have been Beat Club, a show out of Germany). Suddenly the explosive sound of The Who was blasting out of the television set as the band roared through "My Generation". Zowie! I was hooked! I got even more excited when, during the song's finale, Pete Townshend (Guitar) and Keith Moon (Drums) destroyed their instruments. Shortly after this big event in my life, I managed to convince my parents that I needed an electric guitar in order to survive living in Europe. Much to their credit, they saw the wisdom of this and soon enough I was playing in various garage bands. Over the course of posting on this blog over the past several years, I've chronicled some parts of my rock & roll life blog; most notably on a post called MY FIRST GIG which detailed the start of my life in rock & roll in 1966.
After my disastrous first gig, I ended up as the lead singer in a band called (what else?) US (the band name was due to the influence of band names like The Who and Them). We had somehow managed to wrangle a series of gigs at various Canadian Air Force bases where we would play at the NCO club. Our first gig at one of those joints was (what else?) a real disaster. When we set up our equipment at the club we had forgotten that in Europe that had a different electrical circuit system and our amps were wired for the US electrical system. When we turned on our amps to start the show a huge cloud of smoke filled the club! Our audience was a crowd of drunk Canadian Air Force Sergeants. As the smoke drifted around the club, some of these servicemen began cursing in French and one or two empty beer cans flew through the air. What happened next pretty much made me see that I was born to do this. I quickly told the drummer to start playing a military beat and then started singing an Acapella version of The Beatles "Yellow Submarine". As luck would have it, this delighted the inebriated Canadians to no end and the entire club stood up and sang along for the better part of 20 minutes or so as the Dad of the bass guitarist (who just happened to be an Army electrician) quickly set up two spare amps we had in the van and hooked them up to work with the European electrical current. Along with my disastrous first gig, this gig was yet another fine introduction to the art of show business!
Brian & Michael Pinkey
By the time I moved to Pennsylvania in 1967, I was doing some recording sessions with my friends Brian and Michael Pinkey. Michael Pinkey was the first musician I'd met who actually wrote his own songs. Michael had a big influence on my decision to get serious about songwriting.
The Solo Years
In 1967, I also started performing at various coffeehouses in Carlisle, PA at this time. This was a new experience for me as I had never played a gig as a solo ist and it was a real learning curve for me.
By 1970, I was in Ohio attending The University of Dayton and besides showing up at campus parties and playing solo, I had joined up with a blues combo called Leftover Blues which enabled me to celebrate my love of Howlin Wolf and other great Chess Records artists.
Ray, John & Chuck
1972 to 1973 was spent performing in coffeehouses with a popular folk rock outfit called Chuck, Ray, John & Jim. Besides performing some of the popular folk rock material of the day, we also were known for playing our own material which, at the time, was considered an unusual thing to do. During this point of my college "career", I was an Anthropology major and at one point I was offered the chance to go on an anthropological dig in the Bahamas and I turned down that offer while saying to my professor, "Gosh, I can't go on that dig, I got some gigs to play!" Turning my back on a potential career in academia pretty much made me see the writing on the wall: making music had claimed my soul once and for all.
Billy "The Mountain" Cairns
In 1974, I met my all-time favorite rock & roll drummer, the one and only Billy "The Mountain" Cairns. I was at a party at one of the off-campus houses and went upstairs to use the bathroom. When I came out of the bathroom, Billy leaped out of the shadows, grabbed me by the shoulders and (what else?) threw me down the stairs! Apparently, Billy had seen me playing around at various places on the college campus and wanted to do some gigs with me. After throwing me down the stairs, Billy shouted, "Hey! I could play with you!" As I lay in a heap at the bottom of the stars, the only response I could think of was, "You're Hired!" and thus a great friendship was born!
Freelance Vandals 1974 Lineup
In 1974, Billy and I formed the first lineup of the Freelance Vandals. The band also included Paul Polanski who brought a definite free jazz influence into the material we were doing. Our repertoire was an oddball collection of some Van Morrison and Bruce Springsteen songs, cajun music, original songs, some Broadway show tunes (say what?!) and jazz material by Sun Ra and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
During my last year at the University of Dayton, I also started participating in the school's theater program. In retrospect, I can see how getting involved in various theatrical productions ended up having a big impact on my rock & roll life later on. I learned a lot about using my physicality while performing along with learning how to achieve a presence onstage; all of which I was to use to great effect during my years with the Freelance Vandals.
The day after I graduated from college, my buddy Ray and I got in his car and drove to Maryland where we were part of a rock band called Mama's Boys (which included future members of the 3rd lineup of Freelance Vandals). To this day, I still can't figure out why this band managed to only play one gig in that entire year!
In 1976, I returned to Dayton and played in a 2nd lineup of Freelance Vandals. This lineup included Joe "Lipper" Lipinski on bass, Billy Cairns on (what else?) drums, Bob Silk (lead guitar), George Hallett (keyboards) and myself. The drum chair was taken over by Jeff Keating when Billy returned to the Long Island area of New York to pursue his rock & roll dreams in a punk rock combo called The Magnets.
The 1976 Freelance Vandals lineup played one gig that still pops up in my memory box every now and then. One of my college buddies, a wild Irishman by the name of Chris Kerwin, was living outside of town on a farm and he staged a party that was sponsored by a fictitious organization called "The Sexual Congress". The band set up and played in the living room of the farmhouse. During our last number, which was a bizarre cover version of (what else?) "Sing This All Together" (from the Rolling Stones Santanic Majesties Request album), the large crowd began jumping up and down to the music. We could all feel the floorboards starting to give away. Attempting to avoid a total collapse of the floor we abruptly ended the song which brought forth a chorus of boos and flying beer cans. Sweet mystery of life at last I've found you!
By 1977, I was trying to find a way to get a break in the music business. I ended up moving to Long Island to be part of the 3rd lineup of Freelance Vandals. This lineup immediately proved to be a popular band on the Island. This lineup of the band consisted of Garry Pritchett (Bass / Vocals), Jack Finch (Keyboards), "Diamond" Ray Finch (Lead Guitar / Vocals), Billy Cairns (Drums / Vocals) and myself (Lead Vocals / Rhythm Guitar). This lineup was steeped in a meat & potatoes style of rock & roll a la the Rolling Stones and The Faces. In 1978 we recorded an album for RCA records which subsequently got shelved due to some shady practices by our producer with whom we had signed a production contract. The producer broke the contract with RCA which subsequently got the album shelved and the band got tagged with a rep for breaking contracts. Overnight, we became persona non grata to every major record label. This was a real eye opener. Welcome to the Music Business! This 3rd lineup of the Freelance Vandals is the lineup that appears on some of the tracks on the band's VANDALOGY album.
In 1979, the band persevered by starting their own record label called Dog Records and releasing a double 45 set called the DOUBLE DOG PAK! We had a strange gig at a Long Island amusement park called Adventure Land which was booked to promote the Dog Pak. Unfortunately, the band was set up right in front of the roller coaster ride and so every couple of minutes there was a big WHOOSH! as the roller coaster ride sailed on by leaving the sound of the band non-existent in mid-song! Our reaction to this was to end our set with a rousing LOUD version of the Rolling Stones song "Star Star" (aka "Starfucker"). I remember looking out into the crowd as we blasted through the song and seeing the look of horror on some of the faces of the parents who had placed their hands over the ears of their kids.
This 4th lineup of the Freelance Vandals had more of a pop influence as the band reflected some of the current new wave music styles that were popular at the time. The addition of Mike Adams on bass whose playing emulated the style John Entwistle of the Who gave the band more punch and Chuck Ciany's vocals and saxophone work opened up the band's sound quite a bit. I remember thinking, "This is a long way from the old garage days!" This lineup appears on some of the tracks on the aforementioned VANDALOGY album.
This final and 5th lineup of the Freelance Vandals, which came together in 1983, was a different kind of animal altogether. Our newest band members, saxophonist Tommy Yamasaki, brought some cool jazz influence into the group and Al Speed provided a unique approach when playing his keyboards.
The 1983 lineup of the Freelance Vandals appears on the band's 1984 live album, YER MONEY OR YER EARS. Shortly after the release of the live album, the band announced that it was disbanding. Over the next several years, the band would perform at some reunion shows from time to time.
By the end of my tenure with the Freelance Vandals, I had to quit playing live due to having polyps on my vocal chords; the only way I would get my singing voice back was to stop playing live for awhile. During this time of my life, many changes took place; I got married after which I became a Dad with the arrival of my beautiful daughter Even though I couldn't play any gigs, I kept on concentrating on my songwriting. To make ends meet, I somehow managed to wrangle a career for myself in the restaurant business as a chef and later part owner of several restaurants that featured the Cajun/Creole cuisine of Louisiana. I always loved cooking but it never was as passionate a thing as music was. I do have say, though, that working as a Chef actually had some impact on my songwriting. What I learned as I was cooking was that if you add too much of something, your dish is going to be a disaster. Economy and deliberation is what's called for and the same philosophy can be applied to writing songs. As to be expected, It wasn't long before I found myself missing the energy of playing live music.
By the mid-80's, I started playing gigs at my restaurants with a new band called The Mighty Young Fish. The Fish were a rowdy combo that had a definite Robert Johnson Meets The Rolling Stones type of vibe. The band included Jeff Goldstein on bass (who I currently play with in the Biscuit Kings), Peter Conway on lead guitar and tomfoolery, Billy Cairns on (what else?) drums, Mark Mancini on keyboards and myself on lead vocals and rhythm guitar. It was around this time that I suddenly realized that one of the benefits of owning my own restaurant was that I had a gig whenever I wanted one!
In the 90's, I was also part of a rock & roll combo called The Helpless Bovines which included Tommy Martin (Lead Guitar/vocals) and three members of the Freelance Vandals; Mike Adams on bass, Billy Cairns on (what else?) drums and myself. The most memorable thing that The Helpless Bovines played was Mr. Quasimodo, a rock opera about the Hunchback of Notre Dame which was based on a Freelance Vandals song that was called (what else?) Mr. Quasimodo. We only performed the entire rock opera twice. I can recall after one of those shows, I heard an audience member say, "What's next...Brigadoon?"
Around 1995, I also started playing with the first lineup of the Biscuit Kings, an Americana Blues combo, which was put together by myself and my favorite bass player, Jeff Goldstein. Currently, we have Dave Filloramo on lead guitar for our trio gigs and once in a blue moon we get to do a show as a full 5 piece combo.
In 2007, the Freelance Vandals played their last show with our immortal drummer Billy Cairn. Billy passed away due to cancer in 2008. I still wish he was around to throw me down the stairs one more time!
Shortly after playing my last Vandals gig with Billy, I decided to start my own record label, Mind Smoke Records. The impetus behind this move was to not only achieve some visibility as a songwriter but to also keep the musical legacy of the Freelance Vandals alive by releasing some of the band's archive recordings. To this day, when it comes to music, I'm still a prisoner of my imagination.
So here I am 53 years later...
releasing a new rock & roll album
Time flies when you're having a good time, eh?
ALBUM SESSION CREDITS
Special Thanks to all the players
who participated in the making of this album!
Johnny Pierre – Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Bass, Bass Synthesizer
“Diamond” Ray Finch – Intro Guitar Riff (Track 1), Lead Guitar (Track 3)
Chris James – 1st Guitar solo (Track 1), Lead Guitar (Track 7)
Dave Filloramo – 2nd Guitar Solo (Track 1), Lead Guitar (Track 12)
Jeff “Shadow Groove” Goldstein – Bass Guitar (Tracks 1, 3, 10, 12)
Rusty Walker – Keyboards (Tracks 2,4, 6, 7, 8,)
Jim Treutlein – Acoustic Guitar & Backing Vocal (Track 1)
Rudy Schnee – Acoustic drums, Drum machine & Percussion
Don Rentier – Bass Guitar (Track 4, 6, 7, 13)
John “Buck” Green – Lead Guitar (Track 10)
Alex Zander – Lead Guitar (Track 8)
This album is dedicated to
my dear friend, George Rieger
I met George in my first year at the University of Dayton
George had a genuine rock & roll attitude which was very impressive
& it really influenced the way I felt about rock & roll
This was the first song that was written expressly for this album. I think this particular song sums up my life philosophy with regards to rock & roll music and the huge impact it has had on my life. My favorite line in the song is "One day the clocks are gonna stop and we'll find out who we are"
The world is a mess...so don't go looking for the devil's kiss. My favorite lines in the song are part of the song's bridge: "You think the sun shines outta yer ass, you think you're a genius, that ain't gonna last, the devil's gonna come and ring yer bell & you'll be selling ice cubes down in hell"
In recent years, I've found that I tend to write a lot of songs about modern life. To me, modern life seems unnecessarily complex and that's reflected in thae fact that many folks can't seem to make heads or tails of who they really are. "This is my life & everything I did with it, this is the hole & I put my soul in it, this is the way I'm gonna deal with it, too many demons to dream..."
This song started was written in 2008. I used to joke around with Sweet Loretta, my daughter Molly and Rosie, our dog by saying, "Lord have mercy! I'm trapped in a house of women! That seems innocent enough but when I listen to the song nowadays, it sounds very dark. "Now they're talking that way, I can hear myself say, this is a cul de sac and I can't go back to that House of Women"
I usually start my day around 4 am and one morning I got up and wrote this song. “The best cure for insomnia is to get a lot of sleep.” (W.C. Fields). "4 am, 4 am, here I am again at 4 am..4:04, 4:04, if I ever find my dreams I'll be out the door...coffee in my cup, the sun is coming up..."
One Big Street is a nonsensical tune that's about (what else?) modern life. "What if the world was one big clock, what if the hands would never stop, what if life was like a parking lot & you couldn't find your car because you forgot...where it is, where it is, where it is, sometimes life can be like this, walking down one big street..."
I don't consider myself a political songwriter but this song was written as a reaction to the chaotic political situation that has existed in the USA the last two years. "Hash Tag Baby, running wild, you talk like a baby, you're a little child, everybody knows you're the Twitter-In-Chief, you're living your life like a strange disease..."
This strange little song was written about a family I called The Klumpus Family who used to live right behind Mind Smoke Manor. The song is about the oldest son of the Klumpus family. He was a ne'er do well who spent the majority of his time smoking pot, drinking beer, having loud arguments with his on/off girlfriend, playing guitar in an attempt to serenade the pack of constantly barking dogs he kept in his backyard and fighting with his parents. At one point, the parents had finally had enough of him and moved him out of the house into a tool shed in their backyard. "Your living in a tool shed Shangri-La, with your teenage girlfriend and an old guitar...money in your pocket, a big bag of weed, everybody knows you're a real bad seed...broken music on the radio, sounds like a prayer that you used to know, you're a big piece of trouble no matter where you go, you're living in a world gone wrong..."
This song was written in 1993 in the wake of the first accusations of Michael Jackson being a sex predator with children. I recorded the track in 1995 but put it away for a long time. After viewing the recent Leaving Neverland documentary, I thought this song should be heard. "Listen to the children call your name, mannequin boy, he's so strange, man in the mirror, china doll, listen to the babies weep and crawl, hey hey whadd'ya say, time to make a getaway, change your face, feed your head, the king of pop is dead..."
Another song about life in the modern world. My favorite lyrics are in the bridge: "time goes here and then it goes there, it has a cup of coffee and it goes upstairs, it runs around in circles and puts you in the race, sometimes it puts you in a quiet place..."
I would say that this a blues song about mortality. "Cemetery moonlight, dancing in the yard, it's a living nightmare, if you don't know where you are...don't blame it on the moonlight, don't blame it on me, all the things that kill you dead are gonna set you free."
This was the second song I wrote for this album. it's about how rock & roll changed my life. In the verses, the song mentions the following musicians: Hank Williams, Charlie "Yardbird" Parker, Kurt Cobain, John Lennon, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Johnny Ace, Jeff Buckley and Danny Gatton. "...move it ahead don't get left behind, rock & roll is a state of mind, the things you can't remember, the things you leave behind, rock & roll is a state of mind..."
The album's closing track is a final expression of the philosophical elements of rock & roll. “Music works in mysterious ways. Once it goes in your ears, you really have no say about what it does to you” (Keith Richards) "Roll roll roll, rock & roll roll rock...In your heart, in your soul...never gonna get old!"
"Rock 'n' Roll might not solve your problems,
but it does let you dance all over them."
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