So I’m taking a slightly different approach with this post, as suggested by my good friend, John Castleman, a fabulous jazz trumpet player. John and I got into a conversation one day about my escapades as an aspiring teenage rock star growing up in New Jersey in the 1980’s. To me, my experiences seem ordinary. Apparently, though, the stories, and the way I tell them, evoke a certain nostalgia and rekindle the feelings of those carefree days of youth. And, according to John, they also give hope and inspiration to the younger generation. So a big thanks to John for his encouragement to tell these stories. I hope you will find joy and meaning in this first and others that come.
After my first electric guitar, there was no turning back. I had been taking guitar lessons for 5 years, three spent intensely studying classical guitar. It was fine, great actually. I could read music very well, and I had tons of technique. But I had no real creative outlet. I guess I was getting bored. So once I got “my first real six-string” (thank you Bryan Adams) I was hooked. I practiced every day on a crappy $109 yellow Hondo strat, purchased in 1984 at the long-gone Muscara Music in Belleville, NJ. Muscara, is a Super Walgreens now, a somewhat sad sign of the times.
That first electric guitar was a real cheap-o, but at least it worked. The amplifier (which I didn’t even realize you needed until the sales guy at Muscara said, “Hey, you know, you’re going to need an amplifier with that”) was an even bigger piece of crap. It was so crappy, in fact, that the cheap pressboard sides literally came unglued and began falling off after a few months. And I didn’t even move the amp. It just sat there in the same square of carpet in my bedroom. (Imagine what would have happened if I actually had to take it on gigs?) I don’t even know what company made it. I just remember that the amp “clipped” when you turned the volume all the way up, meaning that the sound began to break up, creating a sort of natural “distortion.” Distortion is a common effect guitarists purposely incorporate into their sound using expensive effects pedals… not from a bottom of the barrel amp that distorts because its circuitry is so bad. But you know what? It really didn’t matter. I was just so blissfully content to make whatever joyful noise I could with my new electric equipment. And it sounded so exotic after years of playing on an acoustic guitar.
Eventually, though, even with my crappy but cool electric gear, I was getting tired of sitting alone in my room, practicing to nothing. I was itching to jam with other kids. I had learned a bunch of songs by ear from Def Leppard’s “Pyromania”— the first vinyl record I purchased with my own money— plus assorted bits of other songs, like the main riff from Beat It by Michael Jackson. I figured I knew enough material, and I could play pretty well. Well enough to get into a band... I hoped. I really didn’t know any other kids who played rock band instruments, so I had no one to compare myself to. But I figured all that practicing must count for something, and I was banking on it being good enough to get myself into a rock band.
I had no idea how one “gets into a rock band,” but as it happened, a kid I played soccer with, Tim, had heard me play. I don’t remember where or how. But I told Tim I wanted to get into a band, and he suggested I meet his friend Nick Moccia, who was the leader, vocalist, and guitarist in a local rock band. Tim thought Nick might be looking for a second guitarist. I was thrilled. The chance to be in a real, bona-fide rock outfit. Wow. I couldn’t believe it. So Tim set up the audition at Nick’s house for a Saturday morning at 10 am. If I recall, it was the week after school ended, and there was that feeling of freedom in the air, the feeling that now that school was out, you could take on the world. I had just finished sixth grade and would be entering the 7th grade. It would be a new school, a new world, a new life. Things were really starting to happen now, and this audition was proof.
Nick, who was a grade ahead of me in 8th grade, lived on a prominent corner home only a few blocks from my own home. I had passed by it many times for years without ever knowing who lived there. Now I knew. So on that Saturday morning a little before 10am, I packed up my crappy yellow Hondo into its crappy black soft case and strolled over to Nick’s house. I remember it was pleasant, a little overcast, but warm enough for me to wear a white sleeveless t-shirt and shorts, my fashion mainstays at the time. As I approached the house, I could see Nick opening the garage door. He was a tall, husky kid. I recognized him from around school, but I didn’t know him personally. He and Tim were standing in the garage. I had serious butterflies. What if I didn’t play well? What if I wasn’t good enough to get into his band? What if I totally stunk? But I gathered my courage and walked into the garage. Tim did the introductions, and Nick invited me to sit down and plug in my guitar… in his amp, not mine. Remember, I didn’t dare move my amp.
“What songs do you know?” Nick asked a little more brusquely than I was expecting. I didn’t know this kid. Was he trying to intimidate me, feel me out, see what I was made of? I had no idea. I didn’t know how these things went, so I figured I was just going to play the songs I knew. I told Nick I knew some Def Leppard songs. He said, “Alright, why don’t you play one of those.” So I did. I think I probably played the rhythm and lead parts to Rock of Ages, which I knew well. I’m pretty sure I must have nailed it, because Nick seemed impressed. I think he might have even asked me to show him some of what I was doing. At one point, Nick got his guitar out and began playing. He was good. And I think he saw an opportunity to elevate the profile of his band by adding me. So after a little jamming and shooting the breeze, Nick said, “So, do you want to join the band?” Do I??? Holy cow. I was never so excited in my life (though I coolly didn’t show it). I was going to be in a real life honest to goodness rock band. It was possibly the coolest thing that had ever happened to anyone in the history of the world.
The name of the band was Silent Fury. What a totally awesome name. There were two other kids in the band, Rob and Dave Connolly, brothers, drummer and bassist respectively. Nick would be telling them about me. We would be rehearsing where my audition took place, in Nick’s garage— a real garage band! If I remember correctly, I think Rob’s drums and Dave’s amp were already set up in Nick’s garage. That just gave the whole thing an ultra-cool authentic feel.
So I got the gig. My first audition, in Nick’s garage, on a summer morning at 10am. And, by the way, I got a new amp to go with my new band, a Peavey Bandit 65, a very popular amp at the time. It was about time, right?
That first audition would be the beginning of a lifelong association of performing in one musical group or another. I learned so much during what would be a one-year stint with Silent Fury. In a way, it’s become the foundation for much of what I’ve done as a performer. More than anything, though, it was just so much fun. I had the time of my life performing in that band. It was everything I had hoped for and more.
And what about Nick and the Connolly brothers? Nick is still the leader, vocalist, and guitarist in a successful rock cover band, exactly what he was doing all those years ago when I met him. Only now he’s doing it for a living and doing it extremely well. Not that he wasn’t doing it well before, because he was. It’s just that he never gave up on that dream of playing for a living in a rock band, and he made it happen. He lives in Philly now. We reconnected several years ago on facebook. As for the Connolly brothers, they moved after my 8th grade year, and I have no idea what happened to them. I’ve looked for them on facebook, but I can’t find them. Actually, Nick moved an hour away “down the shore” (meaning to the New Jersey shore area) around the same time as the Connolly brothers. Those moves effectively ended Silent Fury, and it was time for me to find a new band. But that’s another story for another day…