History (Back Story)
September 18, 1968
I was born around 10:30 PM and oddly enough I am not a night person.
Sometime in early 1974
First heard KISS. 'Nuff said. Also heard George Carlin's FM & AM for the first time. That fortified my viewpoint. Also became a huge Pittsburgh Steelers and Boston Red Sox fan.
I am given my first "guitar" which I gleefully smashed to bits against my bedroom walls. It wasn't a real guitar (hence the quotation marks), but it gave my parents pause...
Started taking private guitar lessons at the Auburn Musician. My teacher was Joel "Hotz" Converse. Also received my first serious guitar: a candy-apple red Fender Mustang with racing stripes.
Summer of 1976
I broke my collarbone by falling down our cellar stairs. My father was questioned by the police. No kidding. When I was taken to Auburn Memorial Hospital (where more go out in a body bag than any other hospital in the nation) the attending doctor was a bit suspicious of my father answering questions for me. I recall falling on my own. I was pretty good at that back then. My father had nothing to do with it...I think.
The Rest of the '70's
I spent them obsessed with the rock band KISS. Sure, I listened to others, but KISS was it for me. There were also comic books (most notably: Spider-Man), Evel Knievel, Michael Stanley, The Michael Stanley Band (yes, Michael Stanley and MSB are entirely different things...geesh), The Hudson Brothers, The Smothers Brothers, Steve Martin, George Carlin...you get the picture.
Into the 1980's
I was still an ardent KISS fanatic. Nothing else really mattered to me. This was also the time where I started getting more and more into art - both graphic and free-flow (or whatever you want to call it). This was the decade where my becoming an artist or architect - not a musician - were first and foremost on my brain (too bad I actually needed to go through high school to achieve this goal).
January 18, 1983
I attended my very first KISS concert at the Syracuse War Memorial. My mother and father were also in attendance that evening. Very cool. The band Night Ranger opened the show. Won a gold key for a drawing titled "Stretching My Thoughts." I still have that drawing.
My second KISS concert. Queensryche opened this one. They were awful. Terrible. Just terrible. Started my first real job at the local grocery store.
Graduated high school. Big whoop. If I had it to do all over again I would've quit school. It did absolutely nothing for me and regardless of what some might say, I had no friends, attended not one party outside of the school building and found it all to be a huge waste of my time. I was however, friendly with everyone (didn't get into any fights...really), but no real friends came of that lengthy, tiresome experience (sorry Facebook "friends," who were acquaintences thirty years ago...sorry). So, I left high school a virgin and friendless, but I had a dream and nothing was going to get in the way of that...within reason. Get your GED and get on with your life. Decided that since college wasn't in the cards, I'd go to work for my parents instead.
1986 – 1989: An Offer I Should Have Refused
In my own mind, I had already been writing songs for a few years before I actually sat down with a guitar or piano to do so. Following high school graduation in 1986, I began seriously writing and recording those ideas on a Fostex 4-Track recorder my Mother had given me as a Christmas gift. These “sessions” were my first taste of engineering and producing music.
By the end of 1987, I had written and demo-ed twenty songs, four of which became my resume. One, I Feel the Rain, attracted some attention from a small record label in California: Rainbow’s End Music. They wanted the song badly, and offered me a little money and a singles contract. But I didn’t want to jump on the first thing to come down the pike, so I held onto my songs, believing something better waited just around the corner. Something was coming around the corner - or so I thought.
Growing up in a small town has some advantages: everyone knows you and your family. A distinct disadvantage is that everyone knows what you’re doing. And when you’re trying to become the next big thing in music, people in a small town take notice.
In the spring of 1988, a local businessman approached me with a proposal to produce my first album. He’d heard my demo tapes and liked what I was doing. I had known him for a while, but wasn’t sure how he got the tapes – but it was a small town, right? He wanted to draw up a contract to produce a 10-song album with all the trimmings. I would be recording at PCI Studios in Rochester, New York with a top recording engineer. There would be a massive, national promotional campaign including ads on television, radio, and in print, and three music videos for MTV. I knew him to be a successful ad executive, with an incredible staff and years of experience in promotion campaigns just like those in the contract.
Did I mention that this was a verbal contract?
There were gray clouds before the project even left the gate. The album, Don’t Look Back, was cut to six songs (“…less risky,” he said); the video shoots were cancelled (“Can’t have a video without a hit,” I was told). The expenses, originally all his, were revamped, with me now paying 25 – 35% of them. This wasn’t what we had agreed to, but I was young and motivated, so I kept my head up and went ahead and recorded the six songs. My “producer” showed up for the first night of recording, but failed to appear for the next four months of late-night sessions.
Don’t Look Back was never officially released as planned, but the recording was completed in December 1989. What’s more, I never received the master tapes as promised. I was upset with all of this, but never discouraged: I fought back, although nothing ever came of the lawsuits. I later learned that the master tapes had been destroyed. The good news was that I still had a slightly-worn cassette of my first professional sessions. And so began my music career, and my education…
1990 – 1993: The Years of the Cat
To this day, I still don’t know why I named my first official release (on CD and cassette tape) Black Cat. I realize that plenty of recordings are named for a song title, and that a black cat can capture the imagination. But nothing about that album cries out, “Call me Black Cat!” Even though the song Black Cat is, musically, one of my favorites off that album, it didn’t necessarily need to be the star of the show.
Woulda. Coulda. Shoulda. That’s what happens when you sit and think about the things you did ten, fifteen, twenty years ago.
The project grew out of the Don’t Look Back mess, which was then mixed with a few meetings at some of the largest record companies of that time. I sat with Capitol Records, and the kind people at CBS Records. I also spoke, at length, with the fine folks at A&M Records. Each meeting taught me something new. Hell, I was in my early twenties, so I had a lot of learning to do. And there’s no better way to learn than to dive in, head first, hoping you don’t hit your head on the bottom while doing so. Right?
What I took away from those meetings was what I didn’t want: to be a piece of meat or a part of the Hair Metal assembly line; to give up control over what I was writing, recording, and producing. Most important, I really didn’t want to move to Los Angeles. Instead, I flew home, and started my own record label: Midnite Music Records. I believed that I could change the landscape of Independent Music. To get started, I needed something to show for my new label. Three years later, I had Black Cat.
The recording took a little over two years, from March 1991 to January 1993. During that time, many events changed my life, most notably the death of my Mother. It’s interesting how such an occurrence can shake you: you either want to curl up and die or to keep pushing forward. Three months after her passing, I completed the album and released it on September 16, 1993.
Listening to Black Cat today, nearly twenty years later, I have a new appreciation for it. I hear that kid I once was, trying his best to bring great music to the masses, in the only way he knew how. Although Black Cat has faded into obscurity for most, I take pride in the fact that I accomplished what I set out to do. Would I love the opportunity to go back and tweak a few things? Yes. After all, I am my own worst critic. But the overall feel and energy of Black Cat is something I could never duplicate today.
I wasn’t sure what I was setting myself up for when I started Midnite Music Records and released Black Cat, but I was eager to learn. It was all instinct then. Sometimes my instincts were good. Sometimes they led me astray. Shortly after Black Cat’s release, I was writing songs for a new album. I knew that I had to release something soon, if I was to keep my momentum going and garner any attention.
Just when you think you’ve got it figured out…
1994 – 1996: Here’s Your Hat - What’s Your Hurry?
I had every intention of recording a follow-up album that would blow the speakers apart in living rooms across America. I wanted to record an honest-to goodness, Rock and Roll Masterpiece. With that in mind, I entered the studio and began recording new material in the summer of 1994. Four songs from those sessions could have easily followed Black Cat. I was well on my way…
Then I hit the beach.
While vacationing in Virginia Beach later that summer, I discovered a little music shop called Moe’s Music. There I found a Seagull S-6 acoustic guitar, which was small and elegant, and sounded beautiful. Until then, I hadn’t held an acoustic guitar that felt like this one. Almost immediately, I began playing differently, innately using a finger-style picking method. Something about that guitar brought out another side to my playing and I loved it. As crazy as it might sound, I began writing new material at Moe’s Music; those songs eventually became the real follow-up to Black Cat.
I bought that Seagull S-6 guitar, of course, and started on a writing streak. As quickly as I was coming up with new material, I was recording it with an engineer named Andy Peebles. Andy and I both lived in the same town, and he just happened to be building a home studio. He offered to let me play my new material while he recorded it; that was how Home was built.
We recorded about twenty-six songs; the first of these was Home. From the moment we finished that song, we both knew we were onto something different, and very good. I was also acutely aware that the drastic change from hard rock to folk would be a tough sell for many, but that didn’t deter me.
Nearly twenty years have passed and I still think Home holds up very well. Some guitar parts on that album impress me (particularly the guitar solo in Dance). I know that might sound bad, but it’s true. I don’t typically go back and listen to my own music – quite the opposite. Home was released in October 1995, and I haven’t listened to it more than a handful of times since. But while putting this collection together, I listened to it three or four times and I must say, “It’s not that bad.” Other highlights are the songs that remain unreleased. It’s My Life is one of those songs. Why didn’t it make the final cut? Damned if I can remember.
Home was one of the more popular albums of 1995 in and around the central New York music scene. It found its way onto many year-end Top Album lists and was heard all over the globe. I’m proud to know that songs like You Can’t Turn Back, Daydream World, Where Have All the Children Gone?, and Dance can still be heard on folk radio stations. Even Dream On has a long shelf life; it’s an audition standard for Canada’s French-Canadian version of American Idol. That album changed my musical direction.
And then, just as quickly, another change was on the wind…
1997 – 2003: The Ebb and Flow of it All
After the glow from Home faded, life kicked in and I found myself drifting in and out with the tide. I had not found success with Black Cat or Home. I was not on the cover of Rolling Stone, Creem, or Hit Parader. As quickly as it had happened, it was over. I found myself in a seemingly never-ending cycle of moving from place to place and making hopelessly bad decisions – over and over and over again. The years between 1997 and 2002 were the least musically productive I’d had. I wrote a few riffs, but they were more like snippets than full-blown songs.
I found my main creative inspirations through my “day job” as a technical writer. I discovered that writing every single day helped me to focus on some of my other creative talents. In 2000, I wrote several original TV scripts and comic book stories. I went so far as to start a comic book imprint of my own: What The-?! Comics. I began to realize that there was more to life than creating music.
Awareness and belief are two different things. For a long time, I had truly believed that music was my life. As I focused more on the creative side of my life through writing and scripting, I was drawn more and more to music. I started dreaming of moving to Nashville, Tennessee, to become a part of Music City’s music scene.
As I thought about actually moving again, I began to record demos of new songs; these were shaping up as an obvious extension of Home. I incorporated drums, electric guitars, bass and percussion, without losing the music’s acoustic backbone. Almost before I knew it, I had an album’s worth of new material on my digital 24-track recording machine.
During this time, I legally changed my name from Tyler Cole to Anthony Tyler. Most people I knew at the time thought the change was due to the entertainment industry. It wasn’t; it was strictly personal, because I needed a clean slate in my life.
In 2002, I moved to Nashville to chase my musical dreams. I was making a fresh start with new music and a new name, a complete unknown with a catalogue of original music.
Soon after my arrival in Tennessee, I released Ignition, an album of songs I pieced together back in Rochester, New York. While Ignition is stark, the lyrics were more mature, both in theme and language, than any I’d written so far. Looking back now, I can point to this album as my next giant step forward as a writer. To be honest, Ignition is a series of demos that sounds a little better than your typical garage band. Listening to Ignition today is bittersweet. I had great hopes for my musical future in Nashville, but I still had an itch that needed scratching. Settling down was not in the cards.
Six months after moving to Nashville, I was on my way to Colorado. I left behind a few opportunities and a new album. However disjointed things were at the time, Ignition truly sparked the next wave of my musical creativity.
I was making plans again. There was much, much more on the horizon…
2004 – 2006: Rebuilding a Dream
I decided to re-release my back catalogue in Colorado. I wanted everything to be consistent: I couldn’t have two albums under the name Tyler Cole and one under Anthony Tyler. So I redesigned Black Cat and Home from the ground up. I renamed Black Cat to Life Alone; Home became Home Again (which included three unreleased songs from the original Home sessions). I also decided to finally release the six-song EP Don’t Look Back (the EP) recorded in 1989, using only the cassette tape copy as a source. I transferred the tape to CD and cleaned it up as best I could.
These three albums became The Reissued Collection. Along with Ignition, this music quickly made an impact on Colorado audiences. During my stay in Colorado, I released three other collected works – The Originals, So Far… the Box Set, and Yesterday’s News – three variations on a “Greatest Hits” package. Over the course of one year, Yesterday’s News rose to the top of the pile as the most popular of all the CD releases.
I left Colorado in 2004, moving back east to Maryland. I had boxes of CD packages (which I’d printed and assembled by hand) and no plans to promote any of it. I seemed to have exhausted myself once again. I let life take over, but it wasn’t a bad thing, just necessary. I wasn’t performing, but I was sharing the music with new friends and coworkers. I kept hope alive with this face-to-face promotion, instead of sitting on a stool playing in front of hundreds of people.
One other interesting note: We wound up living in a crappy apartment complex right above the founder of the Death Metal band Unorthodox. I have to admit that Death Metal really doesn't do the band justice. They're a bit more than just another Death Metal band. I have to admit that living situation was an interesting one and in all honesty, we (Claire and I and our pup Roxy) knew WAY TOO MUCH about our neighbors...
In 2005, I moved to Virginia, and used the promotional approach that was so effective in Maryland. I returned home to central New York in 2006, and decided to pursue music, full time, for the first time in my life. I had to start by reacquainting myself with the hometown music fans, hoping that some of them would remember me and my music.
I chose to start yet another record label – What The-?! Records – and officially release Yesterday’s News. The 2006 version of Yesterday’s News was based on the Colorado release, but with a different track listing and new artwork. I thought the concept was perfect: a “best of” CD from a man who saw himself, quite frankly, as yesterday’s news.
The “homecoming” was a bitter pill to swallow: Yesterday’s News failed miserably. I couldn’t interest any of my former venues in an appearance to promote the album - none. 2006 was a year in which I felt the monumental shift in my so-called career and the music industry in general. Everything seemed to be in upheaval. I started to regret my return to central New York, and to re-evaluate my approach to music. My ways of doing things, though thoroughly-planned and well-executed, were not working.
I knew I needed to make changes. What I didn’t know was whether I could make them…
2007 – 2012: Back in the Day the 8-Track Was King
I would never blame my lack of success – in the worldly sense – to the ever-changing industry standard for music distribution. I have lived to see the vinyl record album, the 8- track tape, the cassette tape (and all its incarnations i.e., metal, chrome, high-bias), the digital audiotape, the compact disc (both regular and high-definition), and the MP3. All but one of these methods of musical transport died. These deaths happened within the last twenty-five years. What’s left, now that the dust has settled? The MP3. Well, at least it’s convenient.
Senza Voce was my head-first dive into the land of digital downloads. It was also my first instrumental album, marking a fierce return to a harder style of rock than even Black Cat. Released on January 20, 2008, Senza Voce immediately took off. There I was, a truly independent artist, who sold not 5 full album downloads, but 100 – astounding. For the most part, digital downloads are mostly one song at a time. Full-album purchases decrease each passing year, and CD sales have dropped like stones in the shallow end of the pool. I don’t love this trend; I don’t even like it. But I know I’ll have to accept it, and toot-suitely.
In many ways, Senza Voce was similar to Ignition: I built it primarily from existing demos. I had recorded over forty musical ideas for an artist who wanted to write his own lyrics to my riffs. Two tracks especially captured his fancy: Take It Out on Me and November (Feels Like Suicide). The former had a Maroon 5 vibe; the latter was not really appropriate for a teen singer, as the tone was rather heavy. Oddly, the artist and his producer wound up choosing November for his album. To add insult to injury, their interest in my material waned after a few meetings and a single recording session. This was my glimpse into the industry’s recent evolution (or maybe what it’s always been). The artist in question was a former American Idol contestant; he was a gifted vocalist, but there wasn’t much there, there.
I took the song ideas I’d created for him and began developing full instrumentals, adding lead guitar tracks and melodies, to create Senza Voce. One extra track in particular, Ella No Esta Aqui`, was a standout. When I hear this song today, it’s a bit surreal: I don’t actually place myself in it at all. The Tex-Mex feel was something new for me, but I honestly think I pulled it off rather well. Oddly enough, Ella No Esta Aqui` was not included with the Senza Voce release. Would. Coulda. Shoulda...
Some songs from Senza Voce, including covers of Nick Gilder’s 1970’s cult classic Hot Child in the City and Kiss’ 1976 cut Hard Luck Woman, really tookoff. I decided to put it all out on the table with a gigantic, digital-download release: Second Time Around (…or Third) came out in January 2009. Comprising 118 songs spread over five volumes, this release saw more than 1,000 single-song downloads in its first year. I’ve since made Second Time Around (…or Third) obsolete, due to the fact that the maintenance costs far outpaced any income to me. Therein lies another growing issue with the digital music industry, but that is yet another story.
In spring 2009, I was asked to contribute some playing to another Kiss cover, this time their 1982 epic I Love it Loud from Creatures of the Night. I played drums, bass, and lead guitar on a classy version of this song for a Kiss tribute website. This collaboration led to an opportunity to contribute a song to yet another Kiss tribute album. Magic Touch became my contribution to Succession: A 30th Anniversary Tribute to Dynasty, released during the spring of 2009.
My take on Magic Touch is probably the best example of what I have strived to do since the mid-1980’s. I arranged the song, played every part, sang every vocal, engineered, produced, mixed, and mastered it to near perfection. And it paid off. This track off Succession was, hands down, the album’s most popular track, receiving glowing reviews online and in the music press – especially among other Kiss fans. Magic Touch is one of my prouder moments as a musician, arranger, engineer, and producer.
Since I made the decision to go the Internet/MP3 route, it seems that more people have paid attention to the music I’ve created. The web has opened a few doors I never thought I’d pass through, too: I’ve performed on other artist’s albums, and helped produce and engineer music for other performers. I’ve also tried my hand in two arenas I never considered – radio ads and cheerleading.
2010 saw the quiet release of five remixes, aimed at the competitive world of cheerleading. Are You Ready?, the most downloaded of the five, mixed several samples that everyone has heard – just not in this way. I also submitted a Dunkin’ Donuts radio spot to the top morning radio show in Rochester, New York. They use it to this day.
Throughout the last twenty-five years, the most fulfilling aspect of making music is having people respond to it. I’ve received numerous requests to use the Black Cat and Home versions of Life Alone for various personal events. I’m deeply flattered that people continue to be moved by that song. In 2011, I was also fortunate to write and record This Life for a young couple’s first dance at their wedding reception. They were thrilled that the song was so personal to them. What made it so special for me was that the bride-to-be was my partner’s oldest niece and the first of many nieces and nephews to marry.
That’s what music has always come down to for me: being able to share what I do with appreciative people. Whether it’s a large crowd or a bride and groom, it has never and will never be about money or marketing.
I’ve kept my integrity, and I haven’t sold out. To me, that is true success.
2013 - (Who knows?): The Single Years
The release of the single song has been the blueprint for popular music since it's inception in the early fifties. Bloat gave way to the recorded album, the long player, the collection of songs. The advent of the compact disc gave way to artists forcing way too much music into eighty minutes...simply because they could. The truth is, people's attention spans aren't that lengthy and putting more music on an album, just because you have the time allotted to do it, didn't really pan out. Now, we're back to the single release. The single, downloadable release.
Since 2013 I've released a few singles. I continue to do this today and most likely will continue to do it for years to come. Never Surrender, One Final Bow, The Price of Principle, Life Goes On and The Devils in First Class, have all been released successfully, worldwide. Success is quite a subjective thing. I think the fact that anything I've produced getting past the mailbox at the end of my driveway is a success.
However, there are definite changes in the air. I've gotten into mastering audio for others. I've found it quite fun actually (something music has not been for me) and plan to expand on that aspect of my musical career in the near future. While I will never stop playing and writing and maybe recording, I do find myself looking past the days of releasing music as I have for the past years. It's just time. And while I have planned future releases, their actually happening is not a given (and quite frankly - no one is really interested).
Saving the absolute best for last: my longtime partner in crime, Claire, and I were married in December after being together for eleven years. I couldn't imagine having gone through the past decade-plus with anyone else. It wasn't easy, but here we are...thanks to whomever might be listening.
July 27, 2014 - What the Hell?
Time for other things and I couldn't be happier about it. In all honesty, I've never been a one trick pony. Why start now?
August 2014 - Well, not so fast.
Entertaining the thought of performing again...
November 2014 - Very hopeful.
After a visit to Cooperstown, NY, I'm thinking maybe a place does exist that would accept me. Time will tell...
January - May, 2015 - Everything in one place.
All music available EXCLUSIVELY through CD Baby. Streaming is through the roof. A song I wrote and recorded twenty years ago just won't let go and for the first time ever...well....that's for another day. However, the goal for 2015 was to have everything in one place. I accomplished that with time to spare. Bored out of my skull right now...
September 29, 2015 - Stick a fork in it.
Officially announced, via this site, that the music portion of our show is now complete. I've done a lot. I've certainly accomplished almost everything I set out to. Of course, when you're a kid...dreaming of being the Next Big Thing, you always dream big. You dream of gold and platinum records. You dream about #1 songs. You dream about playing in front of millions of people...or at the very least - playing Madison Square Garden. Alas, it wasn't to be, but I'm quietly proud of what I've learned and what I'll carry with me for the rest of my life (which, in all honesty, music had very little to do with).
Never say, "Chuck it in the Fuck It Bucket!"
If you've actually read this far, well, 2017 has been quite a year. There's much I haven't shared (and am still on the fence as to whether or not I need to share too much information) and, unfortunately, much I just haven't been able to do however, sometimes, events can seriously change your perspective about a lot of things. People, places, politics, social issues, and maybe even yourself (and if you're not prone to focusing on YOU all the time, well, this can come as quite the wake up call). Needless to say, or not, there's music in the plans.
Honestly, I think I've written enough for this "bio." As I mentioned above, there's much I haven't mentioned here, on this site. As I ponder whether or not to finally spill it, I do know this: whatever might be added to this bio will be done so through the BLOG page of this site. So, again, if you made it this far, thank you.
My Fifteen Minutes of Fame (Part I)
During the summer of 1985, while working in the dairy section, I met Benny Mardones. Now the town was abuzz with the rumor that Benny Mardones was summering on the lake. There had been rumors that Eddie Van Halen was living on the lake too. Paul Newman and Bill Murray's names also were mentioned however, Benny Mardones (especially at that time) was much more of a celebrity in central New York than the others. The idea of him living in our town, on the lake, was big news to everyone.
I had grown up listening to Benny's music. My sister turned me on to Benny Mardones around 1980 and I wound up coveting two of Benny's albums from her (Never Run, Never Hide and Too Much to Lose). You couldn't turn on AM radio (or FM for that matter) without hearing Benny's hit song Into the Night. Anything Benny Mardones released, I devoured. I would sit for hours on end, guitar in hands, learning his music note for note and singing along to every word sung. Benny Mardones was a household name in central New York and I was a huge fan. So the moment that I got wind of his entering the grocery store, well, I was on alert. I didn't want to be obnoxious, but I did want to shake his hand and tell him how much I appreciated his music.
And then, just like that, Benny Mardones and I met for the first time.
I was rotating the cheese when I heard someone walk up behind me and ask, "Do you have any brie?" I stood up, turned around and there was Benny Mardones (with a couple other guys) asking me for brie. I kept my cool, wiped off my hands on my apron and led him over to the brie. He picked up what he needed and said, "Thanks." As luck would have it, I was called to the front of the store to cashier. Everyone at the front end of the store was literally on the lookout for Benny. It was ridiculous really, but we were all quite giddy. I tried to keep my cool (and did so) as Benny made his way to my line. He smiled and nodded and came through my checkout lane. We shot the small talk and at that moment I thanked him for the music he'd given all of us. He liked that I had thanked him for that. I then asked if I could get his autograph. He said, "Sure, you helped me find the brie, right?"
The closest thing I could find for him to sign was a broken down cardboard box. An empty Bounty Paper Towel box to be exact. He laughed, but he signed it (I don't remember what it was he wrote, but it was long and his penmanship was beautiful - no kidding) and as he left, he shook my hand and said, "It was great to meet you. Thanks for the brie." I replied (or quietly blurted out), "I'm going to be in your band one day." He stopped for a moment. Squinted at me and asked, "What do you mean?" I explained to him how much time I'd put in learning his songs and that it would be a waste if all that know-how wasn't put to good use. He laughed (not at me, but with me) and walked through the exit door.
After that exchange, life continued on. Eventually, I left the grocery store to work for my parents (who had just become proprietors of the local dry cleaners after my father's having been laid off from his job after 26 years) and Benny Mardones continued to make music and play the central New York area once or twice a year with the venues getting smaller and smaller with each pass through town. I made of point of seeing him perform whenever he was in town. I also continued to make my way into the local music scene by teaching guitar and playing in the odd band here or there. I also started writing and recording demos of my own in hopes of securing that ever-elusive record deal with a major label. From 1985 - 1989, I had written and demoed nearly thirty songs to shop to all the big labels throughout the country. I had big dreams back then. Big Dreams and a Plan.
All the while, unbeknownst to me, I had been preparing for what would prove to be the truly one BIG moment in my musical life for the past ten years.
My Fifteen Minutes of Fame (Part II)
The more I looked into Rainbow Records, the more I disliked what I was finding out. I think one thing that struck me as odd about all of it was just how much everything fell on me to produce something they would later use. I figured if they liked the song so much, maybe someone else would too. So, I continued to play the song for various people within the "biz." The general consensus was that I needed to record an album of my material and use it as a business card of sorts. Many felt that I Feel the Rain, with some polish, could be something of a mild hit.
Because of the encouraging words of others, I decided to book a trip to California to pitch, in person, my material.
Discussing this with my parents, who were also my bosses, was delicate. Neither liked the idea that I had something going on outside their business (not my job, but their business). It wasn't like I was asking for time off either. The dry cleaners shut down twice a year: a week in March and a week in August. I planned to head out of New York during that week long break in August. There would be literally no impact on their business. I have to say my mother was a little more supportive than my father, but in the end, it was what he felt that mattered most.
The trip to California was interesting, to say the least. I met with Capital Records, A&M Records, Columbia Records and CBS Records. Each meeting was one step further into the real music business. Oddly enough, I came away from each meeting with the same response: You can play. You can write. You look good.
Each label had interest in working with me, but they had more interest in what I looked like and discussions turned quickly to me becoming the next Michael Bolton, but in a more hard rock way. The funny thing with Columbia Records was that I mentioned Michael Bolton having been hard rock at one time and they saw fit to change that (listen to Michael Bolton (1983) and Everybody's Crazy (1985)...on Columbia Records & Tapes). I don't think they expected to hear that, but I just happened to have been a fan of Michael Bolton's music.
The meetings took place in two days. The rest of the week was spent being shown the town by a former executive at CBS Records. I had met his niece during the flight from Chicago to Los Angeles. She suggested I meet her Uncle, who just happened to be picking her up at LAX. I couldn't believe my luck. As luck would have it, her Uncle was no longer involved with music and had turned his sights on men's cologne. Still, he had huge connections. Connections I was very interested in having for myself. When her Uncle met me, he immediately saw something I'd never seen nor considered. Long story short, he wanted me to be a model for his newly-minted cologne company.
Although I was flattered, I rejected the idea of becoming a male model very quickly. I was there to talk music. I wasn't there to fall into the trappings of Los Angeles. I was head-strong and narrow-minded. Ultimately, I was afraid of the possibilities. I realized that in order for me to "make it," I had to stay in Los Angeles. It was odd to be shown options. It was incredibly strange to consider doing something other than what I was set on doing.
I was thrown quite a curve ball...and I was never good at hitting the curve ball.
I was slightly off-kilter after my visit to California. When I returned home, I filed a DBA under the name of Midnite Music Records. I figured if anyone was going to handle my music career and all that went with it, it was going to be me. I came off, what I felt was, a productive, informative week in Los Angeles and decided to make the most of it back in central New York. When I was offered an opportunity to work in Los Angeles, as a model, I froze. I became a bit defensive. I didn't handle that well and I certainly didn't have an open enough mind to see the benefits of doing that. I certainly didn't realize that many had gone that route on their way to doing what they set out to do in the first place (and many doing it without getting involved in the porn business).
What I really couldn't admit to myself was that I was afraid to leave home. I was scared to death of what staying in Los Angeles meant. I was blinded by fear of the unknown and I validated that fear by returning to Syracuse, New York. I had hurt myself by not taking the chance and little did I know that chance would never come again. But, I also began to see that I wasn't in it to become famous or have the spotlight shining on me. I was really uncomfortable with the attention being paid to me. I had a lot to figure out. So, I decided during the flight home to do the best could, doing what I thought I wanted to do, and be happy with that choice. I'd figure it out as I went along. As long as I had the safety net of my other life, I'd be OK.
Then, almost out of nowhere, the call came. Benny Mardones needed a rhythm guitarist who could sing...
My Fifteen Minutes of Fame (Part III)
I remember the audition being on a Monday night. I know I had a weekend to prepare twenty-four songs. The songs were taken from the albums Never Run, Never Hide, Too Much to Lose and an album that I referred to as Benny's Blue Album, simply titled Benny Mardones. The Blue Album was his most recent release at that time. It was also the album that propelled Into the Night into the Top 40...for the second time! No other artist, at that time, had ever done that. Benny had a Top 40 Hit with the same song, twice, nearly ten years apart. What I couldn't figure out was why Benny Mardones, with a hit album on his hands, hadn't done a larger tour. The other thing that I found perplexing was his use of local talent to fill in as his backing band. Every single time I saw Benny in concert he had an incredible band. Usually six to ten people. He had backing vocalists. He had a sax player. He had a percussionist. He had a huge band. But I wasn't going to stir the pot and ask questions. Not now.
The audition would literally be a complete run-through of the proposed set list for upcoming shows in the central and northern New York areas. Now, Benny was known for his Syracuse Christmas Shows. These shows that I was auditioning for were not billed as Benny's Return to Syracuse or even as Christmas Shows. I don't know why, but they weren't. There was also a little confusion about the eventual line up of the band. Pete LeVante was now going to play drums. The previous drummer was asked to leave and that left a guitarist slot open. There was also a cloud over who would playing piano and keyboards. Duane Evans had been Benny's piano player for years. Duane was also a co-writer with Benny and together they produced excellent songs. This time around however, it appeared that Duane Evans wanted nothing to do with the upcoming shows.
Anyway, I show up for the audition - on time. I'm introduced to the other band members who were there. Todd Troubetaris on bass and Dan Cleland on lead guitar. We talked a little about what would be expected of me if I should earn the spot. I would need to learn all background vocals and rhythm and lead parts on the guitar. I didn't think this would be a problem given the hours I'd spent practicing along with Benny's music for the past ten years or so. The band knew I was fan. They just didn't know, until we started playing, how much of a fan I was.
We breezed through about twenty-four songs without stopping. I honestly think we sounded as if we'd been playing together for some time. I really felt we sounded great and so did the rest of band. At the end of the audition I was told I had the gig. In truth, someone else already had gotten the gig by default. There was a guitar player already chosen who had played in an area band with Todd Troubetaris, but there was some trepidation regarding his overall well-being. I didn't know this going into the audition, but it was discussed as I was leaving. I felt badly that I had been brought in, without the other guy knowing, but at the same time I felt it was their call. I was just applying for a job opening that was available however, now knowing what I knew, I was always looking over my shoulder.
Shortly after officially becoming a part of the band (no trumpet blasts, just a phone call), Pete LeVante called to talk about rehearsals. The band needed a space to set up a stage PA and didn't have one readily available. I suggested using the basement of my house. It was huge, unfinished, dry and wired for sound. It turned out to be the perfect place to practice. Within a week after that talk, the gear was delivered to my house, set up, tested and readied for full-on use.
Each practice ran a couple hours or so. The first two were sans piano player. Eventually, a local musician, George Rossi, was brought on board to handle all piano and keyboard parts. The rest of us were left to handle his ego (I kid because I love, George). George wound up adding a little Hammond B3 to Benny's sound, too. At first no one was quite sure that was going to work, but over time, it did. George could play anything in any style, but that B3 added a touch of George's personality to Benny's music. I thought it was great. I was a bit jealous that he was able to do that. The band now seemed to be in place.
Now it was Benny's turn to show up. Right? Wrong.
Benny never made an appearance during those rehearsals. I didn't know if that was normal or not, but I found it weird just the same that we were preparing for something, as a new band, and Benny was nowhere to be found. I think he called my house once to talk with Dan Cleland about how things were going, but that was it. He had no involvement whatsoever in those practices. As a matter of fact, I actually sang most of the songs during those practices. In some cases Pete would sing so I could work on background parts, but usually, I was doing the singing.
Rehearsals went pretty well. George fit in nicely, regardless of his ego (again, I kid). I don't know if he really liked the music he was playing, but he did what was asked and did it incredibly well. I, too, did what was expected me and kept my mouth shut. I just wanted the chance to play with these guys, backing one of my favorite artists. This was a bit surreal at the time. I couldn't believe I was actually going to fulfill a dream of sorts. The fact that I had once said to Benny that I'd be in his band one day, was very much at the fore. This was too cool and I was trying to take it all in, but in time, I would discover my silence rubbed some people the wrong way (more on that in Part IV).
We had prepared for four shows. We were to play The Winner's Circle in Auburn, New York. The Strand Theater in Watertown, New York. The Utica War Memorial in Utica, New York and then close out the "tour" at the infamous Pump House in Syracuse, New York. For the most part, these were small places. I had seen Benny play before 20,000 people just few years prior to this. For him to now be playing small clubs had to have been disappointing to him. The only large-ish venue was the Utica War Memorial. But the fact that, on average, we'd be playing in front of 500, maybe 600, people was strange. What was even stranger to me was why these shows were happening in the first place.
Benny was promoting the Blue Album. For all intents and purposes, that album was successful. Into the Night was hit (again). The album itself seemed to be doing very well, but here Benny was...getting ready to do four shows in small venues. I heard plenty of rumors as to why these shows were booked, but never found out the real reasons why and as the new guy, well, there are some things better left unsaid. Regardless of anything that was going on around Benny Mardones and the band, we were ready to play.
Up first was The Winner's Circle. I don't remember the opening song, but I do remember the band played an extended musical bit to "introduce" the man of the evening - Benny Mardones. As the music churned, Benny took the stage, greeted the crowd of over eight-hundred and then looked right at me, eyes wide open, as if to say, "Who the hell are you?"
Hang on, everyone. This is going to get interesting.
My Fifteen Minutes of Fame (Part IV)
The first show of the "tour" was at The Winner's Circle in Auburn, New York. A true central New York nightclub if there ever was one. Hundreds of local acts had played The Winner's Circle over the years and having Benny Mardones and The Hurricanes performing there was quite the deal for the club owner. Personally, it was quite the big deal for me, a 23 year old aspiring musician, as well. This was my very first performance - ever - and I was a part of one of the biggest bands in central New York. In some ways, the show at The Winner's Circle would turn out to be a sort of homecoming for me (even though hadn't left...yet).
I was a guitar teacher in Auburn. I was known by other musicians in the area, but I really kept a low profile. When word spread that I was a part of The Hurricanes, music stores around the area started giving me gear in exchange for a mention of their shops. How on earth do I mention these places on stage? It's not my place however, the area where my amp and guitars were set up was my space. I strategically placed bumper stickers advertising various stores and equipment companies around my part of the stage. No one said a word. No one even noticed. Those local businesses helped me. I was going to help them in any way I could. Other musicians however, were not so supportive. Most displayed a horrible color of green I'd never seen before and quite frankly, I found it unattractive.
I knew that musicians could be a bit competitive. I realized this as early as high school. Have you ever auditioned for a high school entertainment event? Yikes. It's a bit much really and that mentality, that insecure, immaturity (that all of us try to keep at bay), really never goes away. You find that you're never too far from high school...even in early adulthood. So, other guitarists, more seasoned guitarists, start to snipe you when something good happens for you. This happened a lot with me after earning the spot with The Hurricanes and I brushed it off and remained encouraging of others in their musical pursuits. I think a lot of other "local" musicians I'd met along the way, even the ones in The Hurricanes, thought my attitudes were insincere. They weren't. I never aspired to be in the spotlight. It just happened because I could do what was asked of me...without drama.
Soundcheck for the show was quick and uneventful. It was recorded. I had a great cassette tape of that soundcheck, but somewhere along the way it was lost. I left the venue to return home for dinner (I lived only fifteen minutes away from the club). After dinner I got dressed, grabbed a guitar and headed back. I wore my black leather motorcycle jacket over a new white T-Shirt, a pair of Levi's and a comfortable old pair of cowboy boots. I looked pretty Rock and Roll that night.
As I had mentioned, Benny took to the stage ready to deliver the goods, but when he turned and noticed a couple faces he didn't recognize, I honestly thought he was going to stop everything right then and there. His jaw dropped when looked stage right and saw me with George Rossi playing piano over my shoulder. I think George actually waved to him. I'm not kidding. I also think I may have started laughing, but whatever happened, we were off to the races.
The crowd was packed into the place. The Auburn Fire Department was there...just in case. The police were there. It was crazy, but a lot of fun. Perhaps the most fun for me was seeing so many faces I recognized from high school yelling at me and reaching up to slap my hand. That was nuts and that didn't go unnoticed by Benny or the rest of the band, for that matter. There were several moments during the evening where attention was cast in my direction rather than Benny's. At the end of the show, Benny signed some posters before leaving the stage. I was right there next to him signing the posters too.
"Who are you," he asked. I told him I was a local boy who made good. He smiled at that and said, "Bullshit." I laughed at that because Benny had no idea how accurate my answer was. For that moment, I was the local boy who had made it in the eyes of some who once knew him. Stick in a fork in me...I'm done. I'd accomplished something I never thought would happen. That's exactly how I felt.
I don't remember which show came next, but it was either the Utica War Memorial or The Strand Theater in Watertown. I remember the actual shows and certain highlights and lowlights from each, but for the life of me, I can't remember which one was next.
Benny was sick during the Utica show. Really sick. As in "...keep playing...I gotta throw up," sick. It was also the first time I had a pair of underwear thrown to me on stage. They were men's briefs, but it was underwear just the same. I hung them off the headstock of my guitar. And that mention of throwing up earlier? That was true. During a song called Run To You, I was responsible for the lead guitar part. My part is coming up and Benny is walking toward me on stage. He takes me by my left arm and says into my ear, "Keep playing. Just keep playing...," and walks over to the far side of the stage to fall to his knees and throw up. It was awful, but I shook that off, took center stage and played, what felt like, a thirty minute guitar solo....waiting for Benny to take the stage again.
The whole night was like that. There were screw ups and odd song changes and lyrics being forgotten. At one point we wound up playing the original version of Sheila C. instead of the re-recorded, newer version of the song we were accustomed to playing. What made this so odd was that every single member of the band seemed to be on the same wave length as we made the noticeable mistake of playing the original version's bridge section at the same time. Benny was ready at time mic, to sing the newer parts, and we were off an running with the original section. I thought he was going to kill all of us.
The Strand Theater show in Watertown was the second best performance I'd ever been a part of (number one on that list came much later) and we did it in front of Molly Hatchet's back drop. The Southern Rock band Molly Hatchet had played the Strand a couple nights previously and left their stage back drop: an immense tapestry of their first album's cover art. There was nothing to cover it so, we played with that as our back drop.
The evening of the Strand show there was an ice storm. Roads were being closed. Highways were being shut down. We were receiving word of numerous serious accidents. We honestly didn't think anyone was going to show up. At one point we started breaking down the set. But then, out of nowhere, a tour bus pulls up to the club and about 150 people walk into the Strand. We had our audience and we played like there was no tomorrow.
People were dancing on the bar. People were climbing up onto the stage. People were falling through the trap doors in the stage floor. It was absolute madness and it was the most fun I'd ever had playing the guitar in my life. Everyone was in a great mood. We were telling jokes on stage and laughing so much. Benny was also very relaxed and that, for me, was great to see. It was also the first time I realized that I could have gone home with almost anyone I chose out of the crowd. I'm not bragging. Not at all. But that night was the night I realized what so many other musicians had realized along the way - there's something about someone playing an instrument and singing.
During the band's introduction, Benny made his way around to me and started breathing heavily into the microphone. "Oh my God. Oh my God! Oh My GOD!!!' He kept saying this, over and over and over, until he reached down, grabbed a young woman's hand and lifted up onto the stage. He gently nudged her in my direction and said, "There you go, honey! He's all yours!" She was quite pleased. I was quite dumbstruck. My girlfriend at the time was less than amused. It was that kind of night.
We had three solid shows under our belts and one to go, but there was change in the air...
My Fifteen Minutes of Fame (Part V)
The first thing I will always remember is sitting backstage with the rest of the band and Benny, while I picked at a salad, hearing George Rossi say, "You know Benny...this wasn't as bad as I thought it would be." There was dead silence for about two minutes. I couldn't help but giggle at what George had just said. It was hilariously snarky and sarcastic and filled with George's irreverent humor. Benny, while putting on socks and cowboy boots, looked at George and said, "Fuck you, George," with a sly, playful grin on his face.
The second thing I recall is not being introduced during band member introductions. My parents were there. My sister was there. Some family and friends were there. My girlfriend was there with members of her family. I was embarrassed by Benny's blatant omission. I was also pretty angered by it too. I remember being prepared for Benny to introduce me and somehow he became distracted. So much so, he lost sight of where he was and what he was doing. People throughout the crowd started yelling, "What about that guy? What about the other guitar player? Who is the other guitarist?" Benny gathered himself and moved on to introducing George Rossi.
The third thing I remember is not being included in the stage bow at the end of the show. This was another slap in the face that I handled as professionally as I could. When the final song was finished, everyone was making their way to the front of the stage. I turned to put my guitar in its stand and turned back to stand at the end of the line, stage right, as I had the previous shows. As I turned, I noticed everyone rushing to get in line to take a final bow. They did not make room for me at the end of the line. They bowed three times and waved to the crowd and walked off stage one by one. As Benny and the band made their way off stage, I stood center stage and took a bow. The crowd went nuts.
I was saddened by this. It hurt. I won't lie about that. I wondered what I had done to bring that on. I wondered if it was because I didn't stay after shows to party. I wondered if it was because I kept to myself. I wondered if it was because if I talked at all, I talked more with the crew than the band members. I wondered all these things. I questioned myself more than anyone else.
Needless to say, it was a huge let down after three great shows.
I packed my gear into my Ford Festiva (believe it or not it held two guitars, a half-stack amp, two keyboards, stands, bags, road cases) and drove home. I knew there were more shows being planned due to the success of the shows I'd taken part in. I didn't know if I was going to be a part of the band going forward. Shortly after the Pump House show, I got my answer.
Pete LeVante and Dan Cleland showed up at my house to collect the PA system. They said they were going to move into another rehearsal space in Syracuse. I thought, "Well, this is good...right?" I then offered to help Pete and Dan with the gear and Dan said they didn't need any help, they could manage. I didn't care for Dan's tone. I knew Dan had something more to say and I was patiently waiting for the boom to lower.
When they finished gathering the gear, Dan said, "The band is going in a different direction. We're going to bring in other people." Once again, I didn't quite know what that meant. I thought he was just telling me what was going to happen the next time around, but what he was actually saying was I was out of the band. Eventually, he got around to saying it. There was nothing I could do but thank him and Pete for the opportunity.
And that, as they say, was that.
I saw Dan Cleland one last time to pick up my final pay for the Pump House gig. He asked what I was up to and I told him that I was going to record an album and that I planned to ask Pete and Todd to play on it. He thought that was good news and with that, I was out the door.
Shortly after my last show with Benny, another show was booked at The Winner's Circle. I decided I would go and see if I could talk with Benny, alone. When I arrived at the venue the entire crew and security people all wondered where the hell I'd been. They thought I was still in the band. When I told them I wasn't, there was a sense of disbelief among all of them. I asked the head of security if I could talk with Benny. I was led into the dressing room and there was Benny, sitting putting his boots on. I walked up to him, shook his hand and thanked him for the opportunity. He was sheepish, but very glad to see me. I had also written him a letter. The letter was written expressing my gratitude to Benny, Dan and the rest. Upon leaving, I turned to Benny and said, "If you ever need a co-writer, let me know." He smiled and waved goodbye.
I didn't stay for the show. In some ways I felt I'd accomplished what I had set out to do. I talked with Benny, briefly, thanked him in writing and that was it. I haven't seen, nor have I spoken to Benny since that moment, but obviously, I think about those "fifteen minutes" every now and again.
I learned quite a bit through this experience. I learned a lot about myself. I also knew the moment I stepped outside The Winner's Circle that I was going to move forward. I knew I would be recording an album of my own material. I also had a feeling I'd see The Winner's Circle again...someday.