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!


fabian's untight drummer said...

Steve is remembered by his oldest friends as a fabulous guitar man, and more importantly a great wit . In the early Fabian days, we would drive around for hours ,mainly out of a lack of better things to do, listening to music, and creating plans for the future(basically whatever the next day was...... we amused each other to no end, and had no idea where we would end up in life, all the while creating practical jokes to bust on our fellow band members. What made it the most fun was that the fact that this group of music fans knew that our musical sensibilites would carry us into a performing world that would accept the basic garage nature indicative of the era that was in full swing, and would influence music in a way that still carries on in the garage spirit of Seattle and college alt that is so well received for the past two decades. Not to mention the opera called Town Hall that was never developed beyond that first stoned car ride in Steve's toyota.....possibly the greatest undeveloped piece of music never completed........those were great years, and I am currently putting out a petition to nominate Iain's bedroom as the greatest listening room in modern rock history.

Steven Prisco said...

It cetainly was a fun time in our lives, even though yours truly was knowlingly pushing the envelope in regards to "growing up." I know that I skipped over some details about the Fabians - especially the two other members, John and Nancy - but this is a story about that other band. However, this comment reminded me of one of my favorite Fabian moments.

We were at Yankee Stadium - a place that we often found ourselves during those years. I believe that the entire band was there: Jon, Iain, Eammon and myself and most certainly our good friend Chris was present as well. It seemed that the band had taken on more of a life than most of us expected and the demands being placed on the members were increasing. Keep in mind that none of us were virtuosos - far from it. And although I don't remember the exact circumstances leading up to it, a decision was made to ask Jon to practice a bit more.

I don't remember who posed the question that day in the Bronx, but I will always remember Jon's response which was delivered instantaneously and without any trace of regret: "I quit."

We all had a good laugh and the drumming torched was passed!