Monday, August 29, 2005

The Mosquitos: Part 1: Leading Up To It

I met Iain Morrison when I was about 14 or 15, possibly even younger. He was friends with a guy who lived on my block and we hit it off big time becoming best friends for next 15 years or so. We shared a common love for music, especially all things coming out of England. Iain, who is from Scotland, had an incredible record collection with tons of imports that blew my mind. We would spend hours listening to records, going to concerts and talking about music. Thinking back on it now, its pretty wild that my parents would let me hop on a train to head into New York City to go to the Fillmore East where would catch a show and then head down to the village to go record shopping. Iain was a few years older than me, so maybe my folks felt good about that and it certainly was a different time. We were committed to live music and together we saw hundreds of shows in the 1970s.

Iain and I listened to a lot of different music back then. We were heavy into the British blues scene - Johh Mayall, The Groundhogs, Savoy Brown, Fleetwood Mac and the like. We listened to the source as well - getting into Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Howlin' Wolf and guitar heros like BB King and Freddie King. We also dug a lot of the early prog bands including Genesis, Jethro Tull and Yes, as well as lesser known bands like Man, Gentle Giant and Can. We listened to the British folk bands such as Fairport Convention and the Strawbs. We dug some of the American groups as well - Little Feat and the Allman Brothers. We also began a lifelong love affair with reggae, basically starting with the soundtrack to "The Harder They Come." So many different types of music landed on our turntables back then. It was a very exciting time.

But when you got to the core of it, the music closest to our hearts was that of the original big bang of pop music - the British invasion of the early 60s. The Who and The Kinks were our big two right through the seventies and into the eighties. We loved the Beatles and Stones, of course, but to us the Searchers, The Hollies and Gerry and The Pacemakers stood on equal ground. I know for me, and probably for Iain as well, this was the music that defined us - at least the music that was the soundtrack to the formative years of our lives.

I didn't come from a musical family, not in the sense that my parents or siblings played an instrument. My brothers were almost ten years older than me and since they grew up as teenagers in the late 1950s/early 1960s, music certainly played a part in their lives as well. They didn't have a huge record collection, but there were plenty of 45s in the house and a few LPs, mostly pre-invaision teen idol stuff - Frankie Avalon, Four Freshmen and, of course, Elvis. I took up trumpet as a kid in grade school and began to get an understanding of music, but it wasn't until that fateful Sunday evening - February 9th, 1964 - that everything became clear to me.

I was nine years old in 1964. I loved listening to the radio, everything about it seemed almost magical. This music that came out of the air, the DJs with their crazy names - Mad Daddy, Cousin Brucie - signature catch phrases, swamped in reverb and the constant changes brought along by the weekly top ten. I would lie in bed on Tuesday nights, under the covers with the radio and a flashlight, diligently copying down the weekly top ten in my black and white notebook. The music was exciting at times - story songs like "Running Bear" and "Big Bad John," a Jimmy Dean song about JFK PT boat experience, were among my favorites - but it was apparent that things were changing. The DJs were getting excited about something called "The Beatles." It was obvious that this was a big deal - but I was confused about exactly what the deal was all about. They talked about "Beatle Wigs" and shouted "Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!" and my eight year old brain couldn't quite process all this information so I did what eight year olds do - I asked my mother what all this Beatle stuff was about.

She said, "You'll understand this Sunday. They are going to be on the Ed Sullivan Show."

I loved Ed Sullivan. Sunday nights were all about Walt Disney and Ed Sullivan. The whole family usually was in front of the TV set for the Sullivan show. You would see it all - music, theater, acrobats, puppets (I loved Topo Gigio!), comics, impressionists - it all came together on that show. But outside of Elvis - we had never seen anything like what we were about to see.

My story is one that you have probably heard many, many times before. All I can tell you is that is 100 percent true.

I remember sitting on the floor in front of the television when they came on, opening the show. By the time they took their first bow at the end of "All My Loving" my life had changed forever. I knew what I was going to do, amazing, since I didn't even know you could do something like this. I wanted - no, I needed a guitar. Right now. And I needed more Beatles - and thanks to the radio and good old fashioned supply and demand - I got it. The radio began pumping out a seemingly non-stop parade of British pop, all of which I absorbed like a sponge and retain a loving respect for to this very day.

I didn't get that guitar right away, but that didn't stop me from assembling a "group" that would mime to Beatle songs in the playground during recess at school. Eventually my folks gave in and bought me my first guitar, which was actually a pretty decent acoustic guitar made in Italy. We were inseparable. I didn't want to do anything except play that guitar. I was about 14 now and it was 1969 so the music scene had changed quite a bit. In retrospect the trip from "Meet The Beatles" to "Let It Be" happened in the blink of eye. I had many other influences now, including the new crop of guitar heros like Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. Soon I began to make noise about getting an ELECTRIC guitar and as soon as I had my hands on that, there was only one thing to do - start a band.

I had met Iain by now, and became the lead singer in our first group. We played some of the blues stuff that we listening to like Fleetwood Mac's "Black Magic Woman" and lots of riff-based songs like the Kink's "You're Looking Fine." We played at a few "battle of the bands" type of events and at the local teen center. We had a few different names - Halfnelson and Gun Hill Road - which were both used later on by recording groups. It was great fun.

Years later, during the punk explosion of the seventies, a group of friends decided that we would form a punk band. Since I played guitar, I would be the guitar player. Jon Arm, who had some marching band experience, would play drums. A college friend of Jon's, Eammon Bowles, was going to be the lead singer so Iain decided to pick up the bass, completing band and thus the Fabians were born. Iain became quite a capable bassist in almost no time and Eammon turned out to be a good songwriter. We played CBGBs and Max's and became a tight little outfit, especially after Jon left and was replaced on drums by Roger Murdock. Eammon and Roger are still playing together in the critically acclaimed NYC band The Martinets, which also includes Dave Rick (ex-Bongwater) and Daniel Rey (who produced the Ramones and Joey Ramone's solo effort).

The Fabians carried on for a while and we had an early recording session which was never released. One of our show's at Max's was recorded, with Roger on drums, and it's quite a spunky performance. I can't remember what exactly brought the Fabians to an end, but this is where the Mosquito story begins.

Next: The Buzz Begins!

Friday, August 26, 2005

The Mosquitos

In the past week, a part of my past came up randomly a couple of times. My uncle Francis is in the hospital and I stopped by for a visit. Francis - we call him Chechi - is a very social guy and had not only made friends with the fellow in the next bed, but seemed to know his entire family on a first-name basis. Apparently one of his room mate's sons was a musician and Uncle Chechi took it upon himself to mention that I was a ex-member of The Mosquitos. Turns out this guy was a fan from way back and told me how he used to sneak into Sparks to watch us play. He told his dad that, "The Mosquitos were one of the biggest bands from Long Island" and that "back in the 80's it was all about The Mosquitos and Zebra." Well, I don't know about that, but it certainly impressed my wife.

Then a few days later I get an email from Bill Jones asking about including The Mosquitos on a video compilation. Bill and I exchange emails now and then, and he inspired me to put together a CD of some Mosquito material which was to be part of a "retrospective" - a project that seems always to be on my to-do list.

It is pretty nice to know that people actually cared - and still care - about this little part of my life. It was obvious back then, but I never really fully understood how much that band meant to some people until I had conversations with them years later. Sometimes it wasn't so much about the music but rather a special time in their lives and in other cases it is all about the music. Either way it makes me feel good to be a part of it. Blair Buscareno, who wrote some especially touching articles on the band and is now playing in bands of his own - The Miscreants and The Coal Gems, actually claims that The Mosquitos "changed his life." I believe it's said that if you can make a positive difference in one child's life then you have accomplished a miracle, making me one step closer to sainthood. Thanks, Blair!

I'm sure you have heard the phrase "there are three sides to every story - his, hers and the truth." When you are in a band, you are in a relationship with multiple partners, so you can expand that out to as many stories as there are band members, ex-band members, wives, ex-wifes, friends and lovers. it gets a bit cloudy at times to be sure. But since there seem to be a few people who might be interested in reading one of those stories, I thought that I would dedicate some blog time to The Mosquitos, starting at the beginning. Tell your friends and keep those cards and letters coming.

Monday, August 15, 2005

God Only Knows

Saturday's show at Jones Beach was fantastic - I have been lucky to catch almost all of Brian's NY area shows since he began touring again and this might have been the best one yet. I had tickets for SMiLE at Carnegie Hall, but unfortunately a death in the family changed my plans. So I was pretty happy when I found out that he would be bringing the tour back this summer and what better place than Jones Beach to see it. It was by no means a sold-out show, but there were a lot of fans there and it shoudn't reflect badly on Brian. It is a great place to see a show and I would rather sit in a half-full Jones Beach Theater than many other places. I was towards the back of the orchestra and was surrounded by what seemed to be some true fans. The sound was great considering how strong the breeze was.

The band seemed really pumped up - I don't know if it is just the joy that this music brings or if they were experiencing some sort of special night, but there was a lot of energy on stage. It almost had an end-of-the-tour vibe. Anyway - it was a great, great night. The opening set included some of my absolute favorite songs - When I Grow Up To Be A Man, Breakaway, Marcella, Add Some Music - and maybe the best ever version of God Only Knows. How great was it to hear Little St. Nick! I can't wait for the Christmas record Of course SMiLE is incredible. It has taken life as a performance piece that could be the centerpiece of Brian's show for years. Wonderful really stood out for me. For most of the performance, I just sat back with my eyes closed and let that incredible wave of sound wash over me, mixed with the ocean breezes. I can only hope that someday my son - who just turned one - will experience something like this.

The band - that incredible, amazing, powerful group of musicians who back him everynight with an endless supply of talent, respect and love - they are so very special and I am always blown away. These are some confusing times, to be sure. But on Saturday night the message was clear and simple ... love and mercy is what we need - and what was delivered. Thanks Brian.

Friday, August 12, 2005

My Turn To SMiLE!

Tomorrow night, Jones Beach I finally get to see Brian Wilson perform SMilE! I had tickets for the Carnegie Hall show, but sadly my wife Lizz's uncle passed away just days before and I was unable to go. So I was pretty happy when it was announced that Brian would be bringing the show to the beach this summer.

I don't need to go into the whole SMilE thing here. I am a true believer, always was and always will be. In my ears, it was the record of the year and it will probably be a really long time before I hear anything else that tops it. And that band! If you are in anyway a Beach Boys fan, you have to see Brian in concert. He keeps getting better and better - in many ways - and the band is just incredible. Much better than that sad show that Mike Love is dragging around these days.

Anyway, more to come after the show.