About Me

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I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org).  As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia!  Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton.  I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, and The Syracuse New Times.  I also wrote the liner notes for the four THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me?  My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored.  Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

I've Got The Music In Me (And That's Where It's Gonna Stay), Part 2

I love music, but I can't sing or play music. The sad, sad story began here, and continues today.

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Rock star. I was a rock star!

Fine. My band played jazz, not rock 'n' roll. We performed, not at Madison Square Garden or CBGB's, but in my dorm room--not even in the suite of my dorm room, but the little dorm room itself. Our mass o' screaming fans was a collection of maybe--maybe--as many as four or five friends, including my girlfriend Brenda, my suitemate Ray's girl Anna, and occasionally Les Odom (whose son Leslie Odom, Jr. would eventually make a big impression on Broadway). But we didn't care about the meager scale of our success. We were Bud Mackintaw & the Skeeters! There had never been another group like us!

Well, except for the millions of other groups like us. Skeetermania, we hardly knew ye.

For my sophomore year at the State University College at Brockport, I lived in a dorm suite with three other guys. The fall semester set o' guys--Frank, Tony, and Murph--departed for apartment life when the semester ended, leaving me with a fresh set of recruits come the spring of '79. My new roommate was Tom, a witty, engaging guy from Ronkonkoma. The other room in the suite would be occupied by Truck, a large (hence "Truck") black guy from Wyandanch, and his friend Ray, a Latino from...Queens? I think. We all seemed to hit it off rather well, even though our musical tastes were a bit disparate: Tom, as I recall, liked acoustic music and Be Bop Deluxe; both Ray and Truck loved soul and disco: I, of course, remained me, with my worship of rock 'n' roll, punk, pop, and bubblegum. I remember once mentioning Bob Dylan to Truck, and he nodded and pointed to my individual posters of each of The Beatles, and asked, "Which one was he?"

But we got along great. Tom was a DJ at the campus station WBSU, and he played The Flamin' Groovies for me on his show. Truck and Ray often had friends over for parties, and I joined in while they listened to records; The O'Jays' live rendition of "Wildflower" sticks out in my memory as a particular favorite. I don't remember ever exchanging a cross word with any of them; that was a first for me in terms of roommate situations.

And the three of 'em all loved jazz. Maybe Ray didn't love it quite as much, but Tom and especially Truck more than made up for that. Truck was a trumpet player, and Tom had an acoustic guitar. Inevitably, when you have music-lovin' musicians hangin' out together, it's only a matter of time before they start to play together, as well. Music! Truck and Tom's mutual love of jazz resulted in informal...well, not jams, because they didn't really improvise, but they did lovely renditions of jazz standards. It was nice.

Then I decided to horn in the deal. Miraculously, it didn't detract much.

I wish I could recall the specific sequence of events, but I'm pretty sure it involved beer or something. In whatever order it transpired, Tom began to speak between songs in an exaggerated beatnik patois, I donned sunglasses, long scarf, and a cap, and I grabbed my bongos to tap along. It was all in fun, so why not? No one objected; in fact, it seemed to enhance the freewheelin' ambiance. Tom came up with the name Bud Mackintaw & the Skeeters, and the Skeeters we became.

God, it was so much fun! I knew I wasn't a musician, my delusions of adequacy notwithstanding, but damn, I felt like I was. In that moment, joke combo or not, Bud Mackintaw & the Skeeters were real. Our small audience of friends learned to snap their fingers, classic coffeehouse style, instead of applauding, because that's what the beat generation woulda done. Tom--the undisputed leader, first among equals, Skeeter # 1--would rap in a raspy, pseudo-cool patter about doing a number in the key of 1326 (our suite number), to laid-back responses of Yeah, man and Cool, brother. But the music itself was always played in earnest, straight, no kidding around. Tom could play; Truck could really play; I kept up as best I could on my little bongos.

Sitting here in 2017, thirty-eight years later, it still brings me a smile to think about those nights as a Skeeter. We were strictly an instrumental group; no vocals to sully the purity of our sound (or, really, Truck and Tom's sound, plus me). I can only remember two songs from our, um...set list. Sure. Let's call it a set list. One was the familiar "My Favorite Things" from The Sound Of Music, rendered cool by us cool jazz guys. But the other was an original Truck and Tom song called "Fine Arts."

I remember that one as if we'd just performed it last night.

The phrase "fine arts" was an in-joke catchphrase among Truck, Ray, and some of their other friends. When picking classes to complete college requirements, one of them--Truck? Ray? Les? Sam?--was trying to find a class that would satisfy his fine-arts core; but every class he selected to fill that core was rejected by someone in admissions saying, "Sorry, that's not fine arts."  Sorry, that's not fine arts! became a go-to punchline among all of that group, and Tom and I also adopted it in short order. You wanna get some grub at the Union? Sorry, that's not fine arts! I'm gonna watch some TV in the lounge. Sorry, that's not fine arts! We're heading to The Barge for beers, ya wanna come with? Sorry, that's...no wait, we always accepted that invitation. Never mind.

So, for a combo that didn't seem to take anything seriously, of course our sole original tune would have to be called "Fine Arts." Tom came up with a distinctive intro on his guitar, which I accompanied with a (presumably) light brushing of my fingertips on my bongos. Truck then came in with the hook on trumpet, and the strolling melody followed from there. Dya-da-la-da-de-la, da-da-la-da-da, dom-dom-dom, dya-da-la-da-de-la, da-da-la-da-da, dom-dom-dom, baa-da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da-da. You can't hear it. But I can. I can still hear it, and I always will.

One of my favorite memories of Bud Mackintaw & the Skeeters took place when I wasn't really there. I was spending the evening with Brenda. Our dorm rooms shared a wall (a wall she pounded on to get me to turn down my loud music before we even met); in her room that night, I could hear Truck and Tom playing as a reduced-strength Skeeters in my room, another concert for the usual small crowd of Skeetermaniacs. Listening to them play next door, I got up right against our mutual wall and started to tap along. Within a few minutes, I could hear them speaking through the paper-thin wall, Wait, do you hear tapping? What's that tapping? And then Truck cried out, IT'S CC! I could hear the laughter, and I was told that Tom fell on the floor in hysterics. Good times? Yes. Emphatically yes.

Bud Mackintaw & the Skeeters made one single attempt to break out of our dorm-room residency: we booked a gig. Okay, yeah, it was an open-mic gig at the campus coffee house, but it was a gig, and it would be a hoot. Finally, I would be playing music--sort of playing, anyway--on stage!

Alas, the Skeeters broke up before our first and only gig.

The saga of Bud Mackintaw & the Skeeters is too large, too grandiose, to be contained within a single post. We'll conclude that story next time, and we'll also discuss the one and only time I finally played guitar in public.

Wait, did someone just yell out "Freebird?!" Security! Man, where them damned bouncers at...?