I was born on November 12 in Rhinebeck, New York.
In the 60s and early 70s, I pretty much had what would be considered an average middle class upbringing in a small upstate New York town which was, quaintly enough, named Pleasant Valley. I had an active imagination and plenty of time and space to let it run wild. I was into all things colorful, larger than life and fantastic. I loved science fiction, W.W.1 airplanes, Evel Knievel, Jaws and daydreaming. Through my childhood, I didn't have broad exposure to many different styles of music but I pretty much enjoyed everything I heard, which consisted of whatever 8-track tapes my Dad had playing in his VW, or whatever pop music was on the television or radio. Alas, there was no MTV yet. My Dad listened to Johnny Cash and Dylan, and from TV I got The Partridge Family and The Monkees. I also got into other contemporary pop songsmiths such as Neil Diamond, and as this was pretty much all I was exposed to, this is what I was into.
The early '70s: My first guitar and my first fish. The fishing thing lasted about a year. The guitar thing has lasted a lifetime. (Notice the bogus fingering of an imaginary chord. I hadn't learned to play yet, but I was fakin' it like a pro! I know, it sort of looks like a G chord, but trust me, it ain't.)
My brother Kurt, who was two years older than me, would occasionally bring home hard rock albums of the day - Sabbath, etc. Though one day I would grow to appreciate bands like Sabbath, at the age of 10 or so, it just seemed like screaming noise to my pop conditioned ears. Then one day, my brother brought home the KISS Alive album, and my life changed forever. Though the music was still loud and heavy, it also had a certain catchiness to it that I hadn't heard in his other records. But what really pushed it over the top for me was the album cover. All I could think to myself was "Oh my God, who are these guys?!" Up until that point, I had seriously considered becoming a drummer. But after the image of the KISS Alive album cover had permanently burned itself into my brain, I couldn't help but notice that these three guys up front playing guitars looked like some kind of insane Gods, and the drummer was this little tiny guy way in the back. (As you can tell, visuals made a big impression on me. I think one thing that made KISS really cool as a rock group, is that they weren't merely a band you liked, they became part of your personal mythology. No other group had an image that inspired such whimsical notions of Gods. The painted faces were the final element that distanced them from the bounds of typical earthly rock idols.) I also noticed that two guys were playing six string guitars, but only one guy, and coincidentally the guy who looked the most outrageous, played a guitar with only four strings. This made him extra special and unique in my mind. It was at that point that I knew I had to play that instrument. I didn't even know what the bass guitar was at the time. It's simple moments like these that wind up shaping an entire life.
The KISS Alive album that changed the course of my life.
My mother was always very supportive of my musical interests and on my 14th birthday in '77, she bought me my first bass guitar, a Fender Musicmaster. It pretty much looked like a Fender Precision but had a shorter scale neck - a great starter bass for me and I was thrilled. I had about a half a years' worth of bass lessons and then for the next year I proceeded to do what most beginner musicians do, play to records, and rather loudly much to my father's irritation. My folks were having a garage sale in the late Spring / early Summer of '79 when an interesting and outgoing teenaged character named J.R. stopped by with his mom. He saw my amp in the basement and asked what I played. At that point I was only concentrating on learning to play and had not yet pursued putting a band together. But after some quick introductory conversation, we decided we should hook up and rock the world, as only teenage rockers with no experience can. ;-) J.R. turned out to be a sort of prodigy who could play about a dozen instruments fluently, as well as sing. "Scorpio" was formed in the summer of '79 with J.R. McCarty on drums and vocals, Matt Tether on guitar, and myself on bass. Look out world! The name was derived from all the band members' shared zodiac sign. We rehearsed at J.R.'s house and played almost all covers, maybe only one or two originals. We added Al Bruno, a slightly older musician, as a second guitarist in the Fall of '79 which gave Scorpio a bit of a richer / heavier sound. We replaced Al Bruno with a school friend Harold Gale that Winter and, for our first (and my first) actual gig, we played the Poughkeepsie Lady of Lourdes High School talent show.
Scorpio: Me, J.R. (kneeling), Harold, and Matt.
It was our Madison Square Garden, our Ed Sullivan Show. We were stoked to say the least. I don't think I got much sleep the night before the gig and our adrenaline was rushing as we readied for our first big public rock and roll moment. We had this thing planned out for our entrance - rather than walking out on stage like everyone else, we were going to run straight down the aisles when they announced us. In our minds, it was like that scene where the Beatles go running across the field at Shea Stadium. It worked like a charm and the desired effect was achieved, right up until we jumped on-stage and realized our amps had all been unplugged and the moment became totally anticlimactic. Being as we were not on stage to monitor things, our stuff had gotten unplugged in the shuffle between acts. I was the first to get connected and was nervous and slightly embarrassed. I started slapping my strings in a slow and steady rhythm which created a sort of suspenseful tension and then people started clapping there hands to the rhythm. This nervous action on my part turned out to be a saving grace as it killed some time while J.R. scurried around and got all the equipment functioning again. Soon we were rockin' through our set list and all was right with the world again.
Dig my sequin blazer! I was ready for either rock and roll or Vegas.
It was only a talent show and not a contest so I don't recall an actual "winner" being chosen, but if it was some indication of our reception, we were asked to play again after all the other acts were done. And I actually wound up playing again that night with a different group when their bass player had to go home early. I didn't even know the song but it was some simple three chord Lynard Skynard thing that the guitarist showed me only moments before we went on. For what the show was, Scorpio was well received that night and we all felt happy with ourselves for quite some time afterwards. Matt left the band shortly after that show, I think he wound up moving to another school or something like that, but J.R., Harold, and myself continued on as a threesome for a while.
Scorpio disbanded sometime in June of 1980 because Harold had to move to California. After Scorpio broke up, I teamed up with Al Bruno again who had recruited some other local Poughkeepsie musicians - Paul Parella on drums and Chris Gallaher on keyboards. We played in the upper loft of a barn at Chris' house and jammed on mostly covers - Genesis, Santana, Todd Rundgren type stuff, and a few originals that Al wrote. The band was called Cheeb Runner, named after one of the band members' cars, I can't remember which one. It was an old rusty sedan that was used to go score pot with and had "Cheeb Runner" written with duct tape in big letters across the doors on both sides. I'm sure the local cops loved that, nothing like being inconspicuous. Anyway, we jammed through the Summer and did a big keg party in the barn at graduation time. Cheeb Runner disbanded in the Fall of 1980 and I proceeded to practice on my own for about a half a year.
I should mention that, in both Scorpio and Cheeb Runner, I was pretty much playing whatever music the other guys suggested as I guess I didn't feel that confident of my own abilities yet, or at least not to the degree that I could throw my weight around as an influential contributor. They were playing popular, radio-friendly rock, but my personal tastes were more in line with the glam AOR rock influence of the late 70's such as Alice Cooper, David Bowie, KISS, Rocky Horror, etc. Just at this time, I was to experience another huge influence in my life along the lines of my earlier KISS revelation. Through a friend, I got to meet and then eventually work for, the up and coming group Twisted Sister. (I worked for them from roughly '81 through '83 as a local roadie. At this time they were selling out clubs everywhere they played but hadn't gone big yet. In the beginning, I didn't even have a car. I would hitchhike just to work for them! That's dedication... with a little starry-eyed fascination on the side.)
Me with Mark and Dee in 1981 at the Good Times Cafe in Poughkeepsie, New York.
Twisted Sister was finally a real life tangible group of guys I had an immediate connection with that were everything I loved. They were huge, larger than life, colorful characters that played some catchy loud-ass heavy rock and roll. They were exactly where I wanted to go musically and theatrically. One consistent theme I have gravitated towards all through my life is whenever theater and rock and roll cohesively meet. It showed in all my major influences. I loved the show and the performance aspect of rock. If music is good, that's simply good. But if you can also put on a show that is visually exciting, colorful and energetic, that was great to me. This growing influence eventually led to my unhappiness with playing in bands like Cheeb Runner. They were good beginner experiences, but doing generic music with no show was not for me. I continued searching.
...or click through the years listed below...