Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Probably the most curious and least understood era of Syracuse pop music was the period of 1961-1964. First, this was the last of so-called teen music dominance (mostly coming out of Philadelphia). Also it was the beginning of soul music, the successor to rhythm & blues, mostly coming out of Detroit and Memphis. It was also the period of the girl group supremacy as caught by producer Phil Spector and his unique recording technique called "The Wall of Sound". Finally and most importantly the California summer sound was born,

The California Sound focused mostly in the Los Angeles - Hollywood area of  Southern California  Its sound was refreshing and its lyrics were a new breath of life for the nations youth. It was summer music focusing on Surf, Sand, Sun, Girls and Hot Rod Cars. Unheralded new stars appeared doing this so- called Surf Sound. Jan & Dean (Surf City), Surfaris (Wipe Out), Dick Dale (Let's Go Trippin), Ripcords (Hey Little Cobra), Hondells (Little Honda), Ronny and the Daytonas (Little G.T.O.). and America's top party band the Beach Boys.

The Beach Boys (Brain Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Mike Love and David Marks /later replaced by Al Jardine). known as a high energy good time, rock n' roll band reached national stardom when they adopted Chuck Berry's version of Sweet Little Sixteen and called it "Surfin U.S.A": b/w Shut Down.  The hits just kept on coming- 409, Surfin Safari, Little Deuce Coupe, Be True to Your School, Surfer Girl. Fun, Fun, Fun, I Get Around, In My Room, Barbara Ann and on and on. They were the ultimate of this California Sound as they featured  surf & hot rod music in a fully produced vocal style.

Meanwhile what was happening in Syracuse? Other than Sam and the Twisters, not much. There was no surf groups, no Phil Spector style super producer and except for a few Syracuse University bands very little R&B filtered into the area. Syracuse teens were still doing the Twist and listening to instrumentals. The popular bands were the Eternals (Tom Rozzano, Rocco DiMento, Mickey Nicotra), Dynamics, Vikings, Madisons (Johnny Whipple, Terry Golden, Carl Irvine, Jimmy Foran), Continentals (Dave McQuillan, Mike Money & Jack Belle who had joined up with Don Barber) Concepts (Don Martin, PJ Scott & Billy Wolfe), Frankie and the Fortunes, Sabers (Ron Lauback), Bobby Comstock, "Little Bernie" Milton & the Cavalieres, and Ronnie Dio & the Prophets (Dio, Pantas, Rogers & Botoff) shared the Central New York audience with such other groups as the Vanguards, Thunderbirds, Diamonds, Twilighters, Monterays (founded by Jack Abert), Revelations, Starliters, Centurys Tip Munger, Ed Murphy, Terry Golden), Rogues, Headliners,  Exiles (Dave Porter) and the Syracuse Universities band The Daquires (Mike Esposito).

Towards the end of this  stagnant period a few new groups released recordings to improve their popularity. The Avengers (Chuck Wheeler) recorded "Reflections" for Utica's Kama Records, the Bel-Larks back by The Eternals cut "A Million and One Dreams" for producer Dave Ransom, While Fulton's Dick and the Demons (Rod Novak, Tom Green, Dick Nastasi, Chuck Dziedzic) appear on disc as "The Good Guys" released  "Whoa Whoa, Whoa" (Lawn Records), The Madisons "Only A Fool" along with Cortland's top groups the Cindells ("Rock" Feinstein & Gary Hall) "Don't Bring Me Down" and Kal Dee and the Showmen "Mind Your Mama". This record was released by Lawn Records (division of Swan) and was on its way to becoming a hit except for the fact that it came out the same time as President John F. Kennedy's death in Dallas, Texas. The nation was shocked as was the music industry. So Kal Dee's recording went the way of so many others before him "into oblivion".

Young bands are always forming, one worth mentioning in the early 60's was the Caz Cats. Based in Cazenovia, a few miles south of Syracuse The band admired and carefully studied Sam and the Twisters. They shared the stage with them at Suburban Park in Manlius on 99 Cent day as early as 1963. Their leader was singer/guitarist Dave Novak, who would go on to play with many of Central New Yorks finest band (Nightcaps, Sermon, Cross Creek, FabCats etc.). He was inducted into the Sammys Hall of Fame in  2008. Also in the Caz Cats was the very talented John Danks who continued his bass playing with Novak's groups into the 2000's. The drummer was Howie Castle who later became an deejay at both WNDR & WOLF and later program director at WSYR FM 94-Rock. Howie was also instrumental in helping  promote the History of Syracuse Music album series starting in 1971. The band also believed in promotion and appeared live on WNDR's Teen Scene, a live broadcast with Jim O'Brien. Many groups appeared on this program as radio was still the best way of exposing local talent.

Through the local bands were in a dormant state, new musical blood was filtering into the Syracuse University community from the New York City area. Unlike local music of today, the city bands for the  most part were totally segregated from the Syracuse University community. The university bands played exclusively for university functions, fraternity and sorority parties and near campus bar and clubs.

While the Twist was still filtering through local city bars, the university's big band on campus. "Felix and the Escorts" featured rhythm and blues as its main course.  Led by Sigma Phi Epsilon's freshman pre-med student Felix Cavaliere, the Escorts (Ted Goldberg, Steve McCord & Billy Neuman) enjoyed much success as the sound of R&B spread quickly among students and particularly the SU football players. Almost always you could get a glimpse of Dave Meggysey, John Mackey or Jim Nance as they were some of Felix's most devoted followers and were great fans of "Soul Music" as it was soon to be called. The Escorts played the SU campus for about two years, in which time another New Yorker, Mike Esposito had replaced Ted Goldberg on guitar. Esposito formally of The Daquires would further his musical education with the nationally famed band the 'Blues Magoos" who had a monster national hit with "We Ain't Got Nothn Yet" for Mercury Record in 1966.  Mike relocated to the Woodstock area in 1967 , learned to play bass and if you're lucky you can still see him peform with the Marc Black band. Famed band promoter Mike Martineau would book the Daquires (Esposito) along with Felix & The Escorts off campus many times to play at the Fayetteville Inn.

In 1963, Felix and the Escorts decided to leave school for a semester and try and find their fortune on the road. While in New York City they recorded the song "Do The Syracuse" and released it on J.A.G. Records, a small independent label. It eventually led to bookings in the Catskill Mountain resort area. During this engagement, Felix was contacted by Joey Dee (of Peppermint Twist fame)  and was asked to join The Starlighters who were on tour in England. He accepted the offer and left for Europe while remaining trio returned to Syracuse University to continue their education. It was with Joey Dee that Cavaliere met singer Eddie Brigate and guitarist Gene Cornish. He stayed with the band only a short while and then joined a group called Sauda Scott and Her Scotties working out of Las Vegas. It was there he met drummer Dino Danelli. Not being satisfied, Felix formed his own band with Cornish, Brigate and Danelli calling themselves "The Young Rascals". After beating around the Big Apple for over six months they finally landed a recording contract with Atlantic Records.

Another NYC native also touched base at Syracuse University, his name Lou Allen Reed. Lou Reed enrolled on the SU hill in 1960 but didn't join a band until 1962. After being rejected by the top campus bands, Lou formed his own called "L.A. and the Eldorados". Why ?  Felix Cavaliere was quoted at the Sammy Awards in 1994 "For one reason, most musicians on campus didn't think he was good enough" So Lou found little or no work." So Lou and his music went un-noticed. He left school and returned to New York and became a staff writer for Pickwick Records and wrote and performed with such bands as The Primitives, Beachnuts, Roughnecks, Warlocks and the Falling Spikes.

But in 1965, things were different, a short time later Lou Reed joined forces with artist "Andy Warhol", who spotted his potential and placed Lou and his band, now known as the "Velvet Underground" (that included another former Syracuse alumnus, Sterling Morrison) in his total environment show, the Exploding Plastic Inevitable. The show was the first to incorporate music, dancers, film, light projection environment and people. The show gave Lou the opportunity to show his song writing ability. He wrote as he lived, in the world of incense and peppermints and student protests as many Greenwich Village groups did. Musically the band was far advanced using sound and voices in a way that most groups didn't use until the late 60's He was the author of such classic songs as "Walk of the Wild Side". 'Vicious", Rock n' Roll", Sweet Jane" and "Heroin".  Lou started his solo career in 1971 then toured the world performing his hits albums "Transformer", "Berlin" and "Rock and Roll Animal'. and so many others.  Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.

To bring things more up to date Lou performed with the band Metallica at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's 25th Anniversary Live Show at Madison Square  Garden on October 30, 2009. And more recently Lou covered the  Buddy Holly song "Peggy Sue" on a various artist tribute CD titled  "Rave On Buddy Holly."

If Cavaliere, Esposito and Reed aren't enough let's add NYC 's Garland Jeffreys name to this impressive list of Syracuse University alumni to reach national prominence. Born and raised in Brooklyn, Jeffreys came from a lower-middle class family whose multi-racial background kept them isolated. Though not accepted in the white, black or Puerto Rican world, Garland learned to move back and through different ethnic groups that surrounded him. Jeffreys love of art, language and literature led him to Syracuse University. While at S.U. Garland went to Italy for a year on a scholarship to study renaissance painting. It was there where he became a perceptive urban poet. Though Jeffreys didn't focus totally on music while at Syracuse, it was there he became a close friend of Lou Reed. Upon graduation he returned to New York for graduate school, the two  met again. Garland and Lou began playing at a NYC club called the Balloon Farm with John Cale and Eric Burdon (of The Animals).

Although this group never recorded, Jefferys kept writing good material. His debut album the self-titled "Grinder Switch" was recorded and released by Vanguard Records in 1969, a year later switched to a solo career. After signing with Atlantic Records, Garland released the classic song "Wild in the Street." This received heavy national airplay and drove deep into Billboard Magazine's Top 100 Chart. While being a survivor of the turbulent Greenwich Village mid-sixties rock scene his ultimate came in 1981, with the song "96 Tears" a remake of the  ? and the Mysterians hit.

Other S.U. students also released recording during this period, Jeff Lowe sang "He Gives" (Tribute Records), Scott Gregory recorded "Angel Eyes of Liberty" and Audrey Freeman's "Looking For Me" (Musicor Records). Freeman was also featured at S.U.s's first Folksong Festival in 1963 along with The Three Crows, Loraine Heyman, Mort Jacobs, Elaine Meltzer and the Gallow Sisters.. This concert was recorded and release by the university on an album called 'Folk Festival At Syracuse." Folk was another type of music that was extremely popular in the early 60's. S.U. was fortunate in having a campus radio station WAER FM, that block programmed many different styles of music- folk, rock, R&B, jazz, classical and international. It was at WAER that Syracusans first heard the like of Dick Clark, Marv Albert, Windy Craig, George Plavacos, Dick Snyder and Don Bombard (now Bob Shannon) before they ventured into commercial radio.

PS-  One more SU group to quickly mention is the Fallen Angels (Dave Stevenson-lead vocalist) who recorded the fantastic song "Bad Woman".. Their rise to fame wouldn't happen for a few years. We will cover them in an upcoming chapter.

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