2. Early Ensembles of R.I. Music Hall of Fame Inductees

by Allen O. Olsen


As highlighted within the introduction to the Early Influences section of the Inductee Compendium, early musical influences have a profound impact on advanced talent later in life. In sum, those factors include the support of family, and music teachers, as well as frequent listening to music. Fewer studies have been done to ascertain the influence of a youth’s earliest ensembles, or what the result of that influence is.

There are some clues in an article penned by Christina S. Chin and David M. Harrington (2007). The authors assert that “By cooperating in a band…children learn important social skills, and also make friends.”1 Learning basic social skills is of course important for the overall development of children. A young boy or girl can conceivably learn how to congenially interact with other children by playing in a band. How does it impact a child’s future in music performance, however?

Oral history interviews with several Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame inductees by Allen Olsen and Rick Bellaire provide hints for further study into this largely overlooked topic. Friendships established in early ensembles may have a further impact on later success as a musician. Inductees such as Ed Vallee, Rick Couto, Mark Cutler and Rudy Cheeks made lifelong friendships with other musicians who they performed with as youths. Some of those bonds were reestablished and solidified in other bands on and off for several decades. This data implies that making friends with other musicians in early ensembles contributes to musical success later in life. More study is indeed needed to more fully understand how this factor contributes to later musical accomplishments to include talent and career success.

All of those interviewed are part of the ongoing efforts of the Rhode Island Hall of Fame Archive Committee to preserve the music and culture of the Ocean State, and that all of those interviewed are inductees, both as ensemble personnel and headlining inductees. The Board of Directors is forever indebted to those who have given their time for these interviews, and to those who will be interviewed as the Archive Committee continues its role of historical preservation of RI music and culture.

1Chin-Newman, Christina & Harrington, David. (2007). Supporting the Development of Musical Talent. Gifted Child Today, p. 41.

Chris Vachon Interviewed 8/5/14 [Inducted with Roomful of Blues, 2012, Blues/R&B]

Chris: …And I ended up after a while getting some guys together, and the first band I was in was actually formed out of Cub Scouts. You know, it was called the Falcons. We had two acoustic guitars, a snare drum and an accordion. 

Allen Olsen: And when is this, about?

Chris: I must have been probably ten; ten or eleven, [1966-67] something like that. Probably ten. And our outfits were like turtlenecks and stuff. We did that for a while, and then for some reason or another the accordion guy dropped out. And I think the first public performance we had was up at URI when they built that new arts center. We were in a little contest, and I think we sang “Last Train to Clarksville,” a Monkees’ tune. 

Allen: I remember reading that somewhere when I did a little research. 

Chris: Yeah?

Allen: That was a kind of a song that would have grabbed you at the time?

Chris: Yeah, The Monkees was on the TV, you know the series, and you know they were really popular at the time. And it was something that we could learn and try to repeat. You know we had these little high voices and stuff, but I don’t think we won or anything. There were a lot of local people. Ed Vallee – [RIMHOF Inductee, 2016, Fabulous Motels/Young Adults, 2013, Steve Smith & the Nakeds] – he had his band, and they were older than us so I don’t know who ever won. That was kind of our; my first public thing. I kind of liked the whole kind of thing so I kept trying to do it…

Allen: So, what happened after the Falcons in terms of music?

Chris: Well, I don’t know. I think I didn’t play in a band after that for a while. Then I got into a band in fifth and sixth grade in the Hazard School that was here [Peace Dale, RI]. We had a rock band that was part a band. I don’t even know if we had a name. That was kind of our band thing where we’d learn songs and stuff, and tried to perform for the kids, our age group. So, I did that in fifth and sixth grade. Once I got into seventh grade, we had another band. And that’s when I started playing dances. I think we’d get like thirty dollars for the whole band. You know that was like a big deal. And we might know about seven songs, and we’d just stretch ‘em out. We’d do like “Sympathy for the Devil” for like half an hour. You know, stuff like that, and I did that… 

Allen: And is that the point where you said you went to Florida then after high school?

Chris: This was after high school. Yeah, we went there. That was an original band. I don’t know if you remember Sybilla Hyde (2016 Inductee, vocalist with Ken Lyon & Tombstone) and Bob Moulton (musician associated with Roomful as a songwriter and percussionist). We used to call it the Slim Buckle Band, but we all pitched in. Chuck Smith was in it.

Allen: Chukulla?

Chris: Yeah. And Eric Brennan. And we had Joanne Polana on drums. But we would all kind of write songs. That’s when I started to try to write songs. So that lasted for a few years. 

Allen: Where in Florida was this?

Chris: We moved into Winter Park which is near Orlando kind of. We did some gigs and stuff like that, but it didn’t work out like we really thought it was gonna. You know what I mean? We were young. You know we had our own little issues and all of that. Mark Taber [highly sought after Rhode Island keyboardist] was in that band too. 

Allen: He was.

Chris: Yeah. And there’s a funny story about the house that we rented. I’ll never forget this, but there was about six or seven of us. We move in, and we’re all asking “What room do you want? And what room do you want?” Mark picked a walk-in closet. That’s what he wanted. We’re all going scratching our heads going “What?” But that’s what he wanted. And he was with us for that period. I always enjoyed playing with him. You know, he’s great you know. I had a good time with that band. 

Allen: So, then you moved back to Rhode Island after that point you said?

Chris: Yeah. I went back to Rhode Island and started playing with Just Us it was called which Chuck was in too, and Frank Angell, and Eric Brenan was in it too.

Allen: Oh, OK. They still do the fundraiser every year.

Chris: Yeah. Eric North; Joel Langois was in that band too.

Allen: He was?

Chris: Yeah, he was the drummer. I moved back to like a lot of work. We didn’t have to go too far ‘cause there was a lot of kids out all the time. And we did that. Then disco hit. 

Allen: With Just Us, what venues did you play? 

Chris: We used to play the Sunnyside [Narragansett] ; we’d play, they used to call it the Sundown Lounge I think over there. It’s a car dealership now. 

Allen: In Wakefield?

Chris: Yeah. It [was] on 108 going up towards the college [URI]. And we would play up in Pawtucket at My Brother’s Pub. We actually would go up north ‘til we’d go into New Hampshire and Vermont. And just whatever we could get, but it was always gigs. I think I probably made more money then, than I do now. Just kidding. Yeah, we just kind of all lived in a house and split the rent. The rest of those stories I can’t really say.

For more information, please visit the artist’s Hall of Fame webpage:

Roomful of Blues

Doug James Interviewed 11/11/14 [Inducted with Roomful of Blues, 2012, Blues/R&B]

Allen Olsen: And when did you start feeling that you would like to play music as well?

Doug: I always did, and I had a wanderlust or whatever, so I basically left home when I was sixteen for good; sixteen and half, whatever it was. Went up to Portland, Oregon, had a good time. Played with some people. They had a great blues band up in Portland, Oregon called “Brown Sugar,” and they had a great harmonica player named Paul deLay. And the guitar player, I’m not able to think of his name right now. But very good stuff out there too.

For more information, please visit the artist’s Hall of Fame webpage:

Roomful of Blues

Steve Smith Interviewed 5/26/11 [Inducted with Steve Smith & the Nakeds, 2013, Rock ‘n’ Roll/R&B]

… So, in the seventh grade I started out; in the eighth grade a bunch of my classmates were putting a band together. And they asked me to come and sing, so I went, and we practiced. And in eighth grade we had a – I tell this story all the time; it’s very well documented – but there was a nun. She was very, very hip. You know we always thought the nuns were young; I mean old. But they were all you know just out of college, just out of school. But they all looked old because they wore those uniforms. They had the habits. And we told her that we had a band, and she said, “Well why don’t you bring the band in and play in front of the class?” The band name at the time was called “The Blokes,” and then we changed it to “The Nightcrawlers.” So, we started the band; I mean we went and played in front of our eighth-grade class. We played three songs, and little did I know when we started playing, the principal came running down the hall ‘cause she has no idea that this nun was letting us do this. She got in the back of the class; you know they both enjoyed it, but little did I know that the pastor at the time who was a staunch religious, you know wrath of God; you know World War I, World War II veteran – he still wore combat boots – he reprimanded her. Like she was reprimanded, and you know brought down for letting us do what she let us do and all of that stuff. But I guess that blew over. But what I’m trying to tell you is that she eventually left the order and got married and had kids. You know what I’m saying? So, not because of that… So, eighth grade I’m in the band The Nightcrawlers, and one of the guitar players quit, so I called my cousin John [Cafferty, Inducted 2012] and I said “You wanna be in the band with me?” So, he joined The Nightcrawlers. And I still have a picture of it. My cousin Wendy still has a picture of it. We played in a battle of the bands in the American Legion hall in Smithfield. Four bands. It was us, we were in the eighth grade, and there were three college bands. And we ended up winning it, winning the battle of the bands at this American Legion hall. And then when I got into high school my voice started changing, so I was having trouble you know vocalizing and singing stuff you know. So, I quit singing; you know I quit the band in the ninth grade, and I got into sports in high school… 

My sophomore year I quit playing hockey – I was working 35 hours a week after school – when a friend of mine said “Hey, we’re putting a band together, would you like to come and sing? We know that you can sing. We just need a lead singer.” So, I got in that band, it was called “Bloody Mary,” and I started working Friday and Saturday nights in the band making twice as much money as working thirty-five hours a week. So, I worked in Bloody Mary my whole college experience; all through college. And we would work every Friday and Saturday night. So, one night we were playing at Stanley Green’s, and they put us on the same bill with “Naked Truth.” (Sandy Green’s in Warwick.) And we opened up for Naked Truth [which Smith soon joined and morphed into Steve Smith and the Nakeds, 2013 Inductees].

For more information, please visit the artist’s Hall of Fame webpage:

Steve Smith & The Nakeds/Naked Truth

Ed Vallee Interviewed 11/15/11 [Inducted with Steve Smith & the Nakeds, 2013, Rock ‘n’ Roll/R&B; The Young Adults, 2016, Rock ‘n’ Roll]

…My cousins and I formed a band, and you know we worked out a lot of stuff in the garage. And we played popular tunes from that time. You know like Jerry and the Pacemakers, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, really early stuff you know; all the stuff that was goin’ on. The Beau Brummels… Let’s see what was that tune? “Cry Just a Little.” You know (sings) “I cry just a little ‘cause I love you so.” 

Allen Olsen: OK

Ed: Yeah, that one. That was the hook; “Cry Just a Little.” Lot of stuff like that; “Shakin’ All Over.” Right, later on did a parody of that song [Shakin’ All Over] with the Young Adults called “Shaving All Over.” (laughter) But that’s what we were doing then. So that was my first band. 

Allen: Do you remember the name of the band?

Ed: Yeah, it was called “The Element of Surprise.” And you know back then I was just learning how to strum, play chords and sing at the same time. So that was a pretty big challenge back then just to be able to do those things together at the same time. And you know we actually got gigs. We played at sock hops, we played at Grange halls, we did private parties; we actually made money. I remember the first sock hop we played for. I think it was in North Kingstown at the high school. And you know I don’t even think that we were in high school at that time. At the end of the night, they gave us the money. I think we made like three hundred bucks or something like that. 

Allen: At that time?

Ed: Yeah, it was a pretty big thing. It was a school dance you know. And they had like it was a dollar cover charge to get in. So, when they paid us, there was this huge stack of money. I mean it was like; (laughter) it looked like a lot of money, and it was you know at that time. You know that was a lot of money. And like it looked like even more because it was like stacked up so high. (laughter) 

Allen: And how about high school? Did you have a band in high school? 

Ed: Yeah, there was you know a natural progression of things that happened after that. I started meeting other people that had musical interests. The next band I had was called the “Angels of Odd,” and we played at the beach during the summer; some of the beach clubs and stuff like that. And it was more of just the same kind of stuff, popular music. You know a couple of kids from the city [PVD]; Jay Mirando, Mike Mirando. Mike was the drummer; Jay was the guitar player and a really prolific song writer back then. And around that time, being about fifteen years old, sixteen, this kid was a good song writer. His brother was the drummer, and his brother passed away unfortunately. You know there was a lot of drugs [that] proliferated, and he died of an overdose. And that was pretty common around that time. A lot of people were getting into those sorts of things. I actually played my first nightclub gig when I was fifteen. Still playing with my cousins then; we played at a little bar in Narragansett. And the bartender was actually serving us too. And we got pretty drunk that night. 

Allen: The Bon Vue [Inn] is coming into my head. (laughter from Ed) I know it’s been there for a long time. 

Ed: No, it wasn’t Bon Vue. This was one of the clubs right on Beach Street in Narragansett. Nothing’s there anymore; it’s all gone. So that was the first professional nightclub gig (laughter); it was right around that time when I wasn’t even old enough to drink…

…Alright, so I got interested in the blues, probably about the third band I started working with were kids from school. At that point I think I was in first year; probably going maybe kind of like ninth grade. Eighth grade, ninth grade around that time; and we were doing a lot of popular stuff like the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, you know all that kind of stuff that people wanted to hear. You know if you wanted to work and play places you had to play what people wanted to hear. Jefferson Airplane, you know, all that kind of stuff. But we interspersed a lot of that with you know Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon; you know all that kind of stuff. Chicago blues pretty much, and that was really kind of where we first, you know we were getting into like blues music. You know so we didn’t just get it from like you know Cream or from the British. You know we actually dug a lot of that stuff like Peter Green, John Mayall, Eric Clapton; you know, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, you know even before Jimmy Page was ever in Led Zeppelin. Yeah, we were into those guys. You know they really kind of turned us on to a lot of names maybe that we might not have gotten right away. 

For more information, please visit the artist’s Hall of Fame webpages:

The Young Adults/The Fabulous Motels/Rudy Cheeks

Steve Smith & The Nakeds/Naked Truth

Buddy Cavaleri Interviewed 5/5/11 [Inducted with Steve Smith and the Nakeds, 2013, Rock ‘n’ Roll/R&B]

Allen Olsen: So how did you get interested in music then if there weren’t any influences in your family?

Well, being an inner-city kid – that’s interesting – because being an inner city kid we lived across the street from a school, a little middle school that was in East Boston, and having a school yard there that’s where all the kids would hang out. And we would grab guitars – we all had you know little folk guitars in the house and stuff – and we’d go out on the school yard steps at night all a bunch of us and bang out the Bob Dylan tunes, and the Beatles tunes, whatever we could learn from our teachers or teach each other or learn by ear. And we just started playing in the schoolyards you know as a bunch of kids hanging out, jamming and singing and stuff like that while I was taking lessons as a young kid, and through that started my first band; you know as a matter of fact… [Shows me 2 old photos] One of my first bands… Show you a little picture here. It’s a picture from 1970 at the school I was going to. We used to have little recitals. 

“Hollis Music…”

Hollis Music, yup…

Audition? Audition…Hollis Music Audition [reading banner on photo].

No, no; I think it’s Hollis Music Accordion – I think it was an Accordion. What does it say?

I can’t see it…

I’ll tell you in a minute. “Studios…”


Hollis Music Studios, yeah… it was a little tiny music store. And upstairs they would have a bunch of little rooms where the kids would take lessons – violin, accordion, guitars, whatever – upstairs from the music school, and that’s where I took my lessons at. At the time, Al, my lessons were $2.75 for a lesson. 

Wow! 1970 prices

Well, no, ’67 I think is when I started going there; ’66 or ’67. And here’s a picture of my first band. 

OK, what have we got here?

The name of it was called the “Feelings.” 

The Feelings; OK

And as you see we’re in the back yard there playing.

Four-piece band…

Yeah, and we used to sit around and play all the friend’s backyard birthday parties, and things like that, all the teens and pre-teens [parties]. We’d go and play in the backyards for our friends. 

That’s you there on the left?

Yeah. I used to be skinny and have black hair and everything. 

That looks like a Hofner Beatle bass.

Yeah, that’s what it was. And our influences back then; and I mean we played like some Hendrix tunes like “Hey Joe,” and all the Dylan stuff or Van Morrison playin’ “Gloria” ‘til all night long; just playing the same things over and over again. 

So how old were you then?

I was born in ’57, so I must’ve been about 12, 13 years old when these pictures were taken. Yeah, yeah; it’s pretty interesting to do that sort of thing you know? But that was how we first got started playing music as young kids jamming in the school yards and playing the backyard parties and stuff. Sometimes we’d play the backyard parties if someone was havin’ a birthday or whatever; for whatever reason we could have for playing in the backyards we would. But if it was a birthday party they’d say “Hey, you guys want to play at the birthday party?” And we’d say “sure,” so they couldn’t pay us money so sometimes the kids would go and like steal a carton of cigarettes from their dad.


They’d pay us with that! So sometimes we got paid in cigarettes, you know sometimes we’d get like five dollars; most of the times probably nothing. Just the fact of going and playing and playing our tunes for people; that’s the early part of it – late sixties doin’ that.

For more information, please visit the artist’s Hall of Fame webpage:

Steve Smith & The Nakeds/Naked Truth


Bob Petteruti Interviewed 2/5/15 [Inducted 2015, Sideman]

…So, I started playing the bass. I was fifteen, and I entered Mount Pleasant High School [PVD]. I was the only bass player, and so all of a sudden, I became popular. In that photograph that I showed you in this book [holding photo and scrap album], well that was the time. And so, I was getting all these calls. We’d have these rehearsals, and they call them “garage bands” now; or they did not too long ago. We just called it a “band” and we’d go to play. And we played the music of the day, the Glenn Miller and all those things. So, by; let’s see that was 1945. Then I graduated Mount Pleasant in January of ’48 because in those days Providence had two graduations a year, one in January, one in June. That of course has since changed. So, I had just turned eighteen, and I went to Shcillinger House in Boston which the name was changed to Berklee. And what happened there is the owner or the starter of the company, the school, started in I think it was June of 1946. And that was the Schillinger House because he was a student of Joseph Schillinger who was a composer and arranger and all that type of things. So, he decided to call his school “The Shillinger House.” And there was a method that we followed of that music. So that went on, and I guess maybe I did three semesters, and one day the telephone rang. By then I was nineteen. And this was this local contractor, music contractor; we had a few of those in those days. They would get calls for a gig, and if you could handle it, then you just kept getting the calls. So, I got this call to play on an ocean liner. Not a cruise ship. The difference is an ocean liner carries cargo and people, and this particular ship carried about 250 people. And it was a five-piece band. And I also have a picture in there [points to photo and scrap album] of that band. And so, I went on down to South America three times; three cruises I made. And then I’d come back; oh, the last year of high school, 1947, I did a hundred gigs. I was seventeen. 

Allen: That’s a lot of gigs. 

Bob: So, the gigs were there. That’s why I got the gigs. It was nothing special. You just go and do your job and do it well, be a professional, and that’s the way it worked. So then when I got back from South America – it wasn’t much longer – I got drafted into Uncle Sam’s army. In fact, I have the papers in there [points to photo and scrap book]. “Greetings.” So, I had been in school, and that went on my resume, two days of paperwork up at Fort Devens, and they placed me into basic training first. And when that finished it was into band training school. And there were several from Rhode Island. It was at Fort Dix. And that was a good experience. Actually, every gig was a good experience. It’s nothing but paid practice… So then eventually I got out of the army, and we had the two music stores by then [Twin City Music]. One in Pawtucket. That was a big store. And the smaller one on Plainfield Street. And so that’s what I did. The phone was always ringing. There were lots of gigs. Now there’s nothing. But there was lots of gigs. There was so many there were times I had to stop maybe for a week. But it was a great experience playing for all kinds of gigs. You name it, I played it. 

For more information, please visit the artist’s Hall of Fame webpage:

Bob Petteruti

Mark Cutler Interviewed 1/18/12 [Inducted with The Schemers/Raindogs/Mark Cutler, 2015, Rock ‘n’ Roll]

…When I was ten years old, I started playing guitar. And I was in a couple of bands in elementary school. We did songs by Steppenwolf, Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles; and for our sixth-grade graduation John, Eddy and Mark – otherwise known as “Gem” – did “The Pusher” into “Born to Be Wild” for our graduation class. That was at Stadium School, Stadium Elementary School [Cranston]. And from there to being in junior high school and was best friends with a gentleman and a kid named Mark Egan. And we hung out together and did our projects and hung out with a few other people and played some guitars together. I taught him how to play the guitar. In junior high – I was in the stage band, I played guitar – and I was there for seventh, eighth and ninth grade. And I was in a few bands; you know just cellar bands or garage bands during those years. And in tenth grade I went to Cranston East and became friends with Mark Egan, Bob Botelho and Kenton Cuddy. We hung out together and called ourselves the “Balled Three” because we saw on an overpass the graffiti “The Balled Four.” B-A-L-L-E-D; whatever that means (laughter), but we went with the “Balled Three.” And we used to go to the beach together and you know flirt with the girls and all that stuff. I also was very much into taking art courses and art classes. My main thing in high school was doing art, working for the Art Service Council. I was in a couple of plays. And playing guitar; and I graduated in 1976. And that year, a few weeks before I graduated high school, my stepfather died. And that was really the first person I ever knew – a close person – that died. That was tough. And I went to Rhode Island College for a few years. And I always played the guitar, but you know kind of you know it was more of a hobby in college. But then you know after college, after a few years in college, I dropped out and worked during the day but started a band or joined a band called “Windy Mountain.” I put an ad in the – then it was called the New Paper; it’s now called the Providence Phoenix – in the late seventies. Joined a band called Windy Mountain; a bunch of Brown University students and one teacher; and I was with them for a few years. And then in 1979 or 1978 left Windy Mountain and started a band called “The Users” which then became “The Schemers.”

For more information, please visit the artist’s Hall of Fame webage:

The Schemers/Raindogs/Mark Cutler

Rick Couto Interviewed 7/13/15 [Inducted with The Schemers, 2015, Rock ‘n’ Roll]

Allen Olsen: Let’s see. So, did you get involved with any bands at that point?

Rick: Well, you know we; a little bit. We tried to put some local guys together and see if we could do something, but not quite yet then. You know we’re still kind of young. Didn’t really realize how to do that yet. So, it’s still a lot of influence just listening you know of moving from like that British invasion into discovering like the San Francisco music. I was a big, big fan of the Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead; you know I went to Woodstock.

Allen: You were?

Rick: I was able to see all this stuff firsthand. I was in a band before I went to Woodstock. I guess the very first real band I was in around that time in the mid-sixties was a band called “The East End” with dear friend Bob Conroy – God rest his soul – and a local guy still in town Mike Wroblinski. And you know we played some covers. We played “96 [Tears].” I remember we did that song. We did some Animals; you know, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” those kind of songs. And I got in another band called “The Blues Oracle.” That was a little more sophisticated. This band had a guitar player that had a little more history. He could play well. Singer, this guy from East Providence, Tony Foley, who knew how to front a band and look like he was in a band. That was a band that we finally like got gigs. Played at school dances and really kind of worked on the songs a little more and developed into more of a real band. 

Allen: And was that in high school at that point?

Rick: That was in junior high school still.

Allen: Junior high school.

Rick: Oh yes, still in junior high school.

Allen: Wow! How about high school? Did you have any bands at that point?

Rick: So high school [evolved] into finding my Riverside [RI] musical family. So that would be David Tanury, Jim Tait, Ken Reynolds [RIMHOF Inductees, Rizz, 2017, Rock ‘n’ Roll]. The first band didn’t include Ken actually. The first band was “Powerhouse” was the name of the band. And that was with Maggie DeLuca, that was Dave Tanury, Guido Darrazo on bass, me on drums and Jim Tait on guitar. With that band we did a lot of Jefferson Airplane ‘cause we had the girl singer. That was something that we really liked. And we had gigs. We played church dances and stuff like that. We rehearsed right here [Riverside] a couple of blocks away at Dave Tanury’s house in his basement. And that eventually is what after a few twists and turns; I played with that configuration from high school into college. And I think completely through college, when I was playing music in a band, I was playing with those guys. We were still Powerhouse. 

Allen: Really.

Rick: And I might not have the history 100% correct, but I’m pretty sure it’s something like that. And then musically evolved; I left college and decided to just get out of town for a little while and went to Cape Cod. Lived down there; I had some friends down there. So, Jim Tait who was in that band thought was [it] a good idea and came along. So, we got a house together, and we put a band together down there called “Jimmy Steak and his Chuck Wagon Review.” And we played at the one and only place that was open all winter, a place called “The Pub” in Wellfleet, MA and kind of developed a nice little following. I remember you know after a few weeks playing in the pub every weekend, every Friday and Saturday night, the clientele started complaining like “You guys gotta learn some new songs.” And we kind of realized “Oh yeah, we got the same audience. You know we can’t just keep throwing the same stuff at ‘em.” So, we started to buckle down, really learn a lot of songs. And again, the influences in those days were the Grateful Dead and people like that and started realizing these guys you know play hundreds of songs. They don’t have a twenty-song set list. They have a two-hundred song set list. We thought that was intriguing. And we started to experiment with improvising, jamming and playing long solos and just starting. We used to this thing and say “Well let’s just start. Pick a key and just start.” Eventually that got to be called “jam bands…”

Allen: That’s later, yeah.

Rick: But at that time that didn’t exist. And we were kind of doing it out of a need because you know we needed fresh material because these people were getting bored with our songs. So, The Pub became a real testing ground to learn stuff and learn how to perform and play for people. And we were part of a little community down there of hippies and runaways. So after a few years on the Cape, it was kind of like time to get back to Providence and pursue a career in graphic design because that’s what I went to school for, and play music with my pals that I was missing most of them whom were still here…

For more information, please visit the artist’s Hall of Fame webage:

The Schemers/Raindogs/Mark Cutler

Bruce McCrae a/k/a Rudy Cheeks, Interviewed 2003 [Inducted with The Young Adults/Fabulous Motels/Rudy Cheeks, 2016, Rock ‘n’ Roll]

Allen Olsen: Please tell me about your involvement with music performance. 

Bruce: Well, that goes back to when I was in high school. A friend of mine had a band, and it was called The Ox Bow Incidents. And they were all in high school, too. Interestingly enough a lot of them are still professional musicians today. There’s a guy named Forrest McDonald who’s a blues guitar player from Virginia. He grew up in Barrington [Rhode Island]. He’s in Virginia now. He’s the guy who does the solo on “Old Time Rock and Roll” by Bob Seger. And Forrest was kind of the leader of the band, and my good friend Dave Burks from Pawtucket was the drummer. Another guy who was in the band was John Holscher [Inducted 2016, Fabulous Motels/Young  Adults/Rudy Cheeks] who was later in a couple of bands with me. And then there was a guy named Bob Regan who played for many years with a very popular club band around New England called P.F. & The Flyers and a bunch of other people were in that band. I used to sit in and play harmonica with them. But they were just kind of my buddies. But I wasn’t really in the band, and I wasn’t in a band until 1970 when I became part a group of people that started a band called The Fabulous Motels…

For more information, please visit the artist’s Hall of Fame webpage:

The Young Adults/The Fabulous Motels/Rudy Cheeks

Sugar Ray Norcia, Interviewed 2016 [Inducted with Sugar Ray & The Bluetones, 2016, Blues]

AO: How did you decide on harmonica out of all the instruments?

SR: At first I was just singing. Then friends like Blunt White said why don’t you try playing the harmonica.

AO: Did you have any formal training on the harmonica?

SR: No. I always say, “The worn out grooves on the albums.” Nobody was telling me there’s positions on the harmonica, go to first position, go to second…I didn’t know what I was listening to so it was very difficult to figure out what was going on because the band’s in E and Little Walter’s [Horton] using an A harmonica. I didn’t have the luxury or going online or somebody telling me. I just figured it out.

AO: What were the names of some of these first bands?

SR: It’s funny you should ask because it’s been so long that I was even asking my wife, but I did come up with some. About 1969, 1970, I was in a band called Linseed Sam & The Oilers – they’re the guys who brought me the records. We were doing Memphis Slim tunes, we had a couple of horns, we were just kids. The Wimpfheimers [brothers Jimmy, a bassist inducted with Roomful of Blues in 2012 and Jocko, a drummer associated with Sugar Ray and Connecticut’s Otis & Ridley Band] were in the band and another guy named Chris Daniels who’s still playing. After Linseed Sam, I had a band named Arm & Hammer Blues Band. This was when I was playing harmonica. A good little band…

SR: I would like to say that Johnny Nicholas was a big influence on me for kind of giving me my break ‘cause I was just a young kid from the Westerly-Stonington area who only played local places, within ten or fifteen miles. He said, “Why don’t you get on the train…” – I’d get the train right across from The Knickerbocker – “…and come to Boston and I’ll pick you up.” I played at The Speakeasy and other places and he knew Big Walter and Johnny Shines, people like that, personally. So, I would go and I’d get off the train and I’m a country boy and I’m in the big city! It was exciting. He introduced me to the Boston audience and to Big Walter [Horton] and Johnny Shines. I have to give him a lot of credit with helping me in that way. Of course, he moved to Texas and was in Asleep At The Wheel…

For more information, please visit the artist’s Hall of Fame webpage:

Sugar Ray & The Bluetones

Bill Harley, Interviewed 2020 [Inducted 2016, Folk/Children’s Music]

Allen Olsen: Moving back, you mentioned that you played trombone in an ensemble, Bill? Did you say that?

Bill: Trumpet. Trumpet. 

Allen: Can you tell us about that early music involvement in performance? 

Bill: Yeah. Yeah, actually it’s…I think I started playing trumpet when I was in fifth grade. You know, you  would take lessons, and then in seventh grade – it was like seven, eight, nine, junior high school – it was in Indiana where band is really important. Like band is a big deal. You know, the marching band and all that, and so I was in band seventh through ninth grade in Indiana. And the conductor was really serious and really good. He was also a brass player. So, I didn’t practice you know as much as I should [have]. My brother, I should say my older brother is a musician. He plays horn. Plays French horn. And I kind of watched what he went through trying to be a professional musician in the classical world which is really brutal. He’s good, but what it takes to be in the classical world is not, you know, it was really hard to watch. And my parents watched it too. It was one of those cultural things. I watched my parents just besides themselves trying to, watching John, knowing he probably wasn’t gonna be good enough to do that. But anyway, when I was in eight and ninth grade, it was probably the dads, but this guy who was a better trumpet player than me, he put together an ensemble, and it was like a[n] Herb Alpert ensemble. [laughter from Al and Rick] I was the second trumpet player, and there was an electric bass player, and a drummer, and probably a trombone player. There might have been an electric guitar. I can’t remember. And we did you know “[A] Taste of Honey” and “What Now My Love?” and…

Rick: “The Lonely Bull” [By Herb Alpert]

Bill: Yes! “The Lonely Bull!” The first trumpet player, John, was really good. He had a Bach trumpet, I remember, and he was really good, but I remember the first time that we were on stage, because we had been practicing in some basement, and we played at the talent show. And I don’t think I’d ever heard an electric bass and a drum play at the same time, and it was behind me. And the lights, you know the [laughter] overhead strip lights were on, and red and blue and white, and I thought “Oh, my God. This is amazing.” And a solo performer I don’t get this a lot, but I think band players know that there’s an aura of sound around you when you’re playing that’s really kind of indescribable that the listeners have kind of an inkling about. But that was the first time that I felt that, that I was like… As a solo performer, all your energy is going out to the audience.  And as a guitar player, I have to be able to play so that I don’t think about it so that I can pay attention to the audience. When you’re playing in an ensemble, you know the music’s carrying you, and you’re just part of it. Pretty amazing. 

Allen: Beautiful. And was your first performance on a more professional evel when you got to Hamilton College, or did something happen before then when you were in a band?

Bill: Yeah. When at Hamilton, I was in a really bad rock band, and I played keyboards, and it was a borrowed keyboard. It was an organ, and I mean I didn’t know anything about electric instruments at all. And I was borrowing this, and it was one of those ones where the organ where the speaker was in front of you, and you had a volume thing with your knee. You know, you’d switch your knee to increase it [volume], and I could never hear myself ‘cause the music was all out front. I  didn’t know what I was playing. I remember we were playing “Wayward Son” [“Carry On, Wayward Son,” Kansas] and Steely Dan. I would figure out the chords, and they would all say “You’re playing too loud, man!” I was like I never knew what I was playing because all the sound was in front of me. So, I did that, and then I started to write songs. And you know there were coffee houses, local coffee houses, that I began to play in. So that was really; and I had written a couple of songs. There was a folk festival at the college there every year, and I was a freshman, and I’d written a couple of songs, and the judges; I didn’t, I wasn’t a finalist. But this guy came up to me, it was a judge, and he said “I don’t like songwriters,” ‘cause he was a traditional musician, he said “But I like you. You have something to say. I don’t like songwriters, but you’re OK.” And this was Jeff Warner. His father collected “Tom Dooley” in North Carolina, and he’s still around. Jeff Warner, Jeff Davis, he’s a traditional musician. He’s very well considered. And so, he kind of; he tapped me on the shoulder. And you know, he’s like “There’s like way too many singer/songwriters, but I like what you’re doing.” And so that was like the first like maybe; I mean, I was a freshman in college, and you know, I knew six chords. So. 

For more information, please visit the artist’s Hall of Fame webpage:

Bill Harley

Jon Campbell, Interviewed 2018 [Inducted 2019, Folk]

Jon: Yeah. So it was always; people were not always professional but everybody had some music, and it was sort of expected that you’d play some music. My grandfather was a piano player; my uncle played harmonica; my great uncle played guitar and mandolin; and my mother played. It was just everybody played. People played violin; they played and sang. My aunt used to take us out busking on Boston Common…

Me: And at what age did you start to play an instrument?

Jon: About ten.

Me: And what instrument was it?

Jon: I started on fiddle, but pretty quickly switched to guitar. I also played some woodwinds when I was in school; clarinet and flute and stuff. So we always had instruments around the house; whatever was around the house, we’d pick up and learn how to play it as best we could. To my eternal regret I never really kept at the fiddle. By then we were in the sixties; nobody really wanted to hear the fiddle…

Me: So what did you do after high school? 

Jon: I went out west and ended up falling into working construction. Did that for a couple of years; it was great money; I banked three checks and cashed one. I did that for a couple of years, and I then I got a call to go play in a rock band in L.A. I just said “Fuck it, I’ll go do that for a while.” 

Me: So there was a rock band in your life…

Jon: Well yeah.

Me: What instrument did you play?

Jon: I played a [Fender] Stratocaster. 

Me: That’s a guitar people.

Jon: Yeah, it was my brother’s band. He called me, said “We got this pretty boy guitar player out front with all the looks and a three pickup [Gibson] Les Paul, but we actually need somebody in the band that can play.” (Laughter) I said “Well, do I have to dress up like a fucking glitter rocker?” He said no, no. So we did that. We were actually the house band at the Starwood Club on Sunset [Blvd]. 

Me: And this was late sixties, early seventies?

Jon: No, no, middle seventies. So that was fun, but I thought about it and I said “What I don’t want to be a 35 year old electric guitar player.” At that time, we were all of an age, and I said this is really a young man’s game to me. And I said, I’m either gonna stick this out; and I knew some real good players. What the hell was his name? Dusty something; he went on to soundtrack a bunch of TV shows and all this kind of stuff. And I said, unless you’re really gonna – and we knew Rory Gallagher, we knew different people; the guys from Poco; we used to record at the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band studio – and I said, unless you’re really good you’re always gonna play in the minors. And I said I don’t love rock and roll enough to invest the time and effort into getting really good. I think I’ll just sell my electric shit and go back to where I’m comfortable. 

Tom Ghent, Interviewed 2019 [Inducted 2018, Folk/Nashville Songwriter]

AO: Moving on, what songs did you begin to perform on your own and start branching out to?

TG: OK. I had a few friends. When I was in high school, where I was a horrible student, I had a few friends who were playing music, one of whom you know about who is Harry Steele. We mentioned [before the interview] that Harry Steele was friends with somebody else who thinks that he’s a [tennis] legend… Harry was terrific. I used to go up to the east side [of PVD] because I played tennis…

RB: What kind of material were you playing in that early time when you were [playing tennis]?

TG: Well, I was playing the same garbage that everybody else was, and I’m not saying “garbage.” I was playing whatever the Kingston Trio was doing and the other people were singing, and then the other people started coming through and they were singing their own material. Then I got really, really, really hung up on blues guitar, and a saw a bunch a people like Dave Stoval that were doing Delta Blues. I really got interested in the whole double thumb thing; having my fingers independent of my thumb, and playing all the funky Delta Blues-type syncopations. Of course, by that time we also had Paul Geremia [RIMHOF Inductee, 2013] who became part of that crowd.

… I never met Harry [Steele], or saw Harry, until I saw him at the Tete-e-Tete [Coffeehouse in PVD]. And I said “Gee, that’s something that I would really like to do.” So, I took a job washing dishes at the Tete-e-tete. The place was run by a lady named Justine Egleston, and I took a job washing dishes so that I could get in for free. [laughter] I could always hear people. Then I started auditioning. I would audition. They would have like one night a week or something when people would audition. I would audition. At that time, I had already left home, and I was living on the corner of Benefit Street and Angell Hill. 

RB: You were still in high school.

TG: Yeah, which is why I ended up not graduating high school, because they found out I was living in Cranston, and they said “Sorry, you can’t come to school here.” I said “Well, I wasn’t doing this for me.” [laughter] So, I was washing dishes there and I was auditioning, and finally she said “Why don’t you open for” this person or that person, which was really, really great. We were starting to get people like Sleepy John Estes and Eric Anderson and Hamilton Camp. [They] were all coming through town and playing there, and I was getting to know these people. All of them were saying “Why don’t you come to New York?” 

Deborah DeMarco and Eric Stumpo, Interviewed 2016 [Inducted with Plan 9, 2017, Rock ‘n’ Roll]

Deborah: But Eric was a musician [when they met]. I was attracted to his musicianship when I was a kid; a little too young to be dating a 21 year old. But he was in an outrageous band in Newport called “The Crippled Pig…” The lead guitarist for that band, Julius Borges [Borges Guitars, MA], is now a well-known luthier, and he is a maker of acoustic guitars; guitar excellance [French accent].

Eric: Yeah I played bass in that band; I didn’t play guitar. I hadn’t even learned to play guitar at that point. 

Deborah: …and they were fantastic, but they never recorded anything. Not one single note went down on tape.

Eric: That kind of leads into the point, and I think too, because we did long improvisations in that band too.

Deborah: Yes.

Eric: That was pretty much our whole thing.

Deborah: And I really liked that as a kid watching his band, allowing the music to just take over the dancefloor, and they would like just break out of a riff and go into a long thing that you could dance to. And we did. So I was a big fan of Crippled Pig before – well before – Plan 9 manifested itself. 

Greg Abate, Interviewed 2016 [Inducted 2016, Jazz]

Rick: So when you were in grammar school and junior high, were you playing with any ensembles other than the Saturday morning lessons? Was there a school band…

Greg: I was in school band all through junior high school plus marching band. 

Rick: You played at games and things like that.

Greg: Yeah. That wasn’t like my favorite thing to do. I kind of like didn’t like marching and doing that, but I had to do it. You know ‘cause I just found it weird at that age to play music that way. I don’t know why, but it felt uncomfortable to me. 

Allen: And what kind of songs did they teach you for marching band? 

Greg: You know “Stars and Stripes;” you know a lot of [John Philip] Sousa things. Souza wrote a lot of; he’s a great march writer of course, but I guess my heart wasn’t into marching and playing an instrument at the same time. I was; I don’t know. I didn’t have any idea that I was going to play jazz, but I just didn’t like that getting up and going to march. Plus I’m not a sports guy and I thought it was weird that people that played the music sitting on the bleachers were like not as important as the sports figures. And that pissed me off. 

Allen: Interesting.

Greg: And at that time you know you have the cheerleaders which you might’ve had a crush on someone, but they didn’t care about the musicians. They just cared about the football players. So we’re talking about kid stuff, right? So I can come out and tell you that. I just remembered all that stuff now. 

Allen: That’s good; that’s good. So how were you exposed to jazz? Did that not come ‘til Berklee?

Greg: No, I played jazz in high school in the stage band. 

Allen: OK…

Greg: I played music – written music – but I wasn’t an improviser then. 

Rick: It was at a big band; stage band.

Greg: Yeah. You know, five saxes, and four trumpets, three trombones, and drums and maybe guitar. So that was it.

Rick: Full rhythm section.

Greg: Yeah.

Rick: So who was the conductor or the teacher?

Greg: Al Lague; Alfred Lague. 

Rick: He was the music…

Greg: He was the director. 

Rick: At Woonsocket…

Greg: At junior high school. 

Rick: Oh.

Greg: And then he went over to the high school. 

Rick: Oh!

Greg: So I had him for like 7, 8 years. 

Allen: OK so that’s like a big influence.

Rick: Yeah.

Allen: Did he give you any records or just sheet music? 

Greg: Sheet music, yeah. And we played the record of “Take Five.” We played that and tried to copy it, see how you could play the alto thing; the music to it so you could read it.  That’s early. But I had no idea about the jazz soloing technique. I had no idea about what was going on. Other than that it was ear playing; played by ear. 

Rick: We’re almost up to Berklee, but I have one more question about high school. Were you doing anything on the side playing in a rock and roll band or anything like that during that high school/junior high period?

Greg: Yeah I remember there’s a place in Woonsocket called “Shack Town.” It’s up on Mendon Road going up past… Do you know Woonsocket at all?

Rick: Sure.

Greg: If you go by the incinerator there you go away from Woonsocket you keep going up, and when you get to the intersection of Mendon Road and there… There’s a place called – a little village – called “Shack Town.”  And there was a kid there that lived there that I played with. He was a guitar player. I can’t remember his name. And then Russel Turneau was the drummer in the high school band – junior high, 9th, 10th grade – and we did a 45 I mentioned to you guys. And it was on Main Street; there was this recording studio. One machine, and he burned – he pressed these 45s for people [cut acetate copies on a lathe]. So we recorded two sides of some song which I have no idea what it was. 

Rick: What was the name of the group? 

Greg: I don’t know. It didn’t have a name I think. I don’t remember the name.

Rick: Then probably acetates; he was cutting them on the spot, right?

Allen: Right.

Greg: Right. 

Rick: So even if you had one it probably wouldn’t play anymore ‘cause you can only play those 10 or 12 times when they wear out.

Greg: Is that right?

Rick: Yeah that’s unfortunate.

Allen: Like the ones you used to get on the back of the cereal box. 

Rick: Right. The ones they make for you.

Greg: No, this was a wax release.

Rick: You actually had ‘em pressed? 

Greg: Yeah.

Allen: Alright.

Rick: Oh boy!

Allen: Wow.

Rick: We have to try to track this down. This would be your first recording no matter what you think of it or what it was.

Allen: Oh yeah…

Rick: So what was the break [from attending Berklee]? I’m sorry.

Allen: Going to California. I was just gonna say that.

Rick: Yeah. OK.

Allen: How did you get to California? 

Rick: There was a break in your education, and you went out to California.

Greg: Well, it was just a fluke thing. It was just a spontaneous question from someone that I was working with a band from California. They were both New Bedford natives. George [?] was the drummer, and he had a friend named Matthew [?] who was a New Bedford guy; played baritone. And somehow he asked me to go to California, and they were putting a band together in Hollywood. And he says, “Are you interested to go?” And I said “Yeah, I’ll go.” So then we got a trumpet player, Joe Andrea, he joined us, and then Steven Faber who I saw a couple of nights ago actually. He was in Framingham. He went. So the four of us – it was a ’65 Chevrolet Bel Air – we drove out there with the help of certain things. We left and got there exactly three days after we left from the Fall River mills. We drove from that parking lot. And we took off, got there and started playing around Hollywood with this band. 

Rick: How long did you take off from Berklee?

Greg: Oh, about a year.

Rick: OK.

Greg: Yeah. 

Allen: OK, and is this when you got involved with Ray Charles, or is that after? 

Rick: No, that’s the second trip.

For more information, please visit the artist’s Hall of Fame webpage:

Greg Abate

Michael LaBelle Interviewed 4/16/15 [Inducted with Neal & the Vipers, 2019, Blues]

Allen: Did you play with any bands in high school or middle school?

Michael: I played continuously in the basement with Jimmy Kelly, Bob Hughes – currently in Zinc Alloy – John Capasso was there for a while. He was the bass player. Whoever was around would sing. David Ricci would sing at times. We’d do occasional gigs. I got some recordings of that stuff in fact where the vocals almost didn’t matter because we were having so much fun playing music. We’d play the songs, and use the vocal mics to record. So we couldn’t sing; we were recording. You know that’s pretty funny stuff. The basement was a long time. It was a very long time. It took quite a long time for it to sink in that, well, you don’t have to be pro grade to go out and start doing gigs. ‘Cause the stage legs don’t come until you hit the stage. And that was yet another epiphany that hit. Get on stage; do it. Just do it. 

Allen: When did that realization come around?

Michael: The first gig was, finally left the basement, and I joined a local cover band called “Trickster” with Ronnie Hudson singing, Mike Silva – who did; he’s currently doing a Foreigner/Bad Company tribute – he was in Touch for a while, Trickster for a long time. I believe he was one of the founding members. Cover rock; everything from heavy rock from you know whatever was on the radio. Whatever the hits were that’s what we would try to cover. The rock stuff; [W]HJY stuff. Good learning experience: the first thing I did on a gig was make a mistake. It was the biggest trauma of my life ‘til I listened back to the tape sometime after that and realized it was just a small segment. Another epiphany hit. Gotta keep your wits, and recover from the mistake rather than dwell on it. It’s the past; nothing you can do. But the song’s still coming at you so you’d better make good. That was a good learning experience. Yup.

Allen: At some point while we were looking at your photographs you had said that this was your first real gig. 

Michael: Yup. Center Stage. If I had thought of it I could’ve given you the exact date. I have a cassette recording of it, and the box actually has the exact date. 

Allen: And who was the band? 

Michael: The band was Mike Silva, Ronnie Hudson was singing, Emory Hudson was playing bass, Eddie Gelsomino was on guitar. That was the whole band. 

Allen: And that was the same gig that we’re talking about?

Michael: Yup.

Allen: Oh!

Michael: Yup.

Allen: OK, so you’re first real gig.

Michael: Yeah that was my first real band that actually played out regularly.

Allen: OK.

Michael: And we would play at clubs in Newport. Believe it was called “Harrigan’s Saloon.” That was kind of our home base. I don’t believe it’s there anymore. The bar is there, but I’m sure it’s called something else. 

Allen: OK, well let’s move on to some of the bands that you really played a big part in. Which one comes first of all these: Stormin’ Norman, the High Rollers?

Michael: Well, I’ve got my list here on my phone. 

Allen: Oh, good!

Michael: I’m going to peruse it. 

Allen: And we’re getting this on film. Michael LaBelle looking at his phone. 

Michael: The telephone age is upon us. Trickster; right after Trickster was Marci. Marci and the Stone Crushers. All original band. Or mostly; I’m sure we did some covers. We were working pretty well. Marci was quite the go getter getting us little club gigs here and there. A lot of original stuff. I actually have a recording of that that was done up in some guy’s apartment in Providence. Marci knows his name but I cannot remember. But fun stuff. That was Jimmy Kelly again; a reoccurring theme. Marci Chevian was the lead vocalist and pretty much the bandleader. Artie Hawk on bass; currently with Pozer. Actually started the band Pozer. Eighties hair band. Let’s see, we had Bob Hughes on second guitar; another reoccurring theme. And myself. Kind of rock and roll, blues mixed in. ‘Cause Marci was very blues. She tried to pull us along in that direction, and we went kicking and screaming ‘cause we didn’t realize how cool that stuff was. And fun; lot of fun. We did some nice gigs. We did an opening set for the new and returning Probers to a full house at the Living Room, downtown Providence; the Bubble [nickname for second location of the Living Room]. What a great gig. It was super to be there for, you know for a huge crowd like that to be accepted musically. We weren’t booed off the stage. It was a wonderful experience. Yeah, enjoyed it. 

Allen: Are those the kinds of places that you played, the Living Room? 

Michael: Ah, we did a lot of little clubs. It was some you know little bars. Little bars; you know wherever they could fit us in Marci would seem to get us a gig. I remember doing a place down in that little v-shaped thing that you had to go around to Rocky Point. You’d go in one wing and come out another. It was; I think it was called “The Maple Tree” but I’m not sure. 

Allen: Down where Rocky Point was?

Michael: Yeah, yeah. I can’t quite remember the name of the place, but I think it was the Maple Tree. We did Cumberland [?] I believe it was called. And there were others, and of course can’t remember ‘em. But we did pretty well for a while. It was fun ‘cause we were pretty much let it go. Whatever you play like, do it. And again a learning experience. I listened back to the tapes and boy did I overplay. Filled every little hole. But now the knowledge is there but it still hasn’t sunk in. 

Allen: Right.

Michael: Yup.

Allen: And who were you with after that?

Michael: Right after that – we’ll check the list – we’ve got; oh, I went into another cover rock band called “Mariah.” It was a Ricky Carr band. Lot of gigs; lot of gigs. We did JR’s. We did; oh boy there was a club way out in Springfield. We did an entire week. All the JR’s clubs. You know I mean all the Ricky Carr clubs at the time. You know you did the circuit with all the Ricky Carr bands. All those bands had those clubs pretty much…

Allen: Alright. Interesting.

Michael: …Alias Smith and Jones. Boy. But yeah we worked pretty much every weekend. For the time it was an incredible paycheck. Still was working during the day, so it was a lot of burning the midnight oil. I was a lot younger then. It was easier. 

Allen: Younger as in twenties by then?

Michael: Yeah, I would say maybe early, mid-twenties. There are pictures in the [photo] book that you can laugh at. 

Neal Vitullo Interviewed 1/15/15 [Neal & the Vipers, 2019, Blues]

Allen: And when did you start to play the guitar and decide that’s what you want to do? 

Neal: Well, I was in junior high school; Mary V. Quirk. And the other guys were playing, and I thought that was kind of cool.  And just wanted to play the guitar; just knew I wanted to get a guitar. So my mother got me an acoustic guitar. 

Allen: How old were you then?

Neal: I was fourteen, freshman in high school. And got that for Christmas; quickly said “I got to get an electric.” My friends had a couple of the usual Silvertone, Sears, the Kays; fought with those and didn’t get any. My mom and parents, you know working class, they tried to help me along. And then working at Newport Creamery; had a paper route. Newport Creamery; there was this music store in Warren that we would go and get some guitar lessons and it was called “Moden Music.” Bob Moden – who’s passed, God rest him – and would go in there. I think it was about ’78, ’77, my mom got me a Gibson Marauder. That was like my first decent guitar. And you know it was always revolved around that. My friends all played in bands; almost all of my friends. They would play at my friend’s cellar. We’d all go there and play, or my parent’s house at least three nights a week of; it was like a little nightclub. God help me. My parents; thankful for that. They had the patience to let us. Drum set was always and we played there like it was a club. Like we were giving shows. And we worked our songs like our life depended on it. 

Allen: And when did you decide you wanted to start a band and…

Neal: Well I was in a band then. We’re in a band, and we would do the dances and parties and those kind of things. Senior year of high school came, played some parties. Instead of getting me the high school ring my parents I said “No, I’ll take the money. But I’ll take the money so I can get new pickups for my guitar.” And they did that. God bless ‘em. That had to be such a different world for them. Patient. Went to work, graduated high school doing some gigs. Really still loved to play. Went to work for my father, my only day job my whole life that I worked for someone else. Went to work for my father driving an oil truck. Did that for about a year and had to clean oil burners. And I was thinking I gotta go to school. I wanna try to be a musician. There’s gotta be more to life than this. I wanna follow my passion. So you can imagine there was some quiet dinners. “I quit. I wanna be a musician.” My father’s like “If you work at this business you’re the heir apparent.” So that wasn’t well received. But it worked out. They had a school in Providence for a while called “The Modern School of Music,” and Taft Khouri was there; Bob Schlink was a teacher there; Mark Campellone who makes some wonderful guitars, great bass player. He was a teacher there. Artie Cabral [drummer, Inducted 2017, Jazz]. They were all there. Some great local guys with the same drive and same passion as I had; I had met others outside of the East Bay. Other than that we would all go up to Providence; I mean to Pawtucket. Pawtucket was the music mecca back then. You had a block: you had Ray Mullin’s music; you had Tony’s Rhode Island Music; you had the Leroy Theater on the corner. So when you went up there and you’re a kid and walked into there it was like “look at all these guitars and amps.” Now you just take it for granted. You wanna get something you look on dBay. [Back] Then, you went up there. That was mecca. And to take a drive all the way to Pawtucket. It’s a Rhode Island thing. We don’t drive very far. So anyway I worked for my father then went to school – Modern School of Music – it was accredited music school. All these guys were graduates of Berklee or taught at Berklee. An accredited school. I got into a few year program right through the summer and I would have a Bachelor’s degree. Well I start gigging. I’m gigging. And I’m gigging all the time. Besides doing that I had to make some money. I was a janitor at Newport Creamery in the morning. Then I’d go to school. Then I’d be getting gigs as I’m driving around towing a U-Haul or a little trailer at night and taking the wrong exits ‘cause I’m falling asleep. You know, learning. Playing at the Ocean Mist when it was the original owner when they had a no dance policy for the reason being the building was so unsafe you had to strap your speakers to the post. ‘Cause when people started rocking and moving they wouldn’t stand on their own.

Allen: How did you end up gigging down that far?

Neal: I called. I had no fear. I was gonna do this. Do it. I would call the place, and I’d have the guys that I met from the music school. And we went and we did it. We played the gigs and they went over. If anything I could be a showman. I would give everything I had right wrong, or indifferent. I was gonna try to make that show, and it went and it started to build. And then I was getting more gigs to the point Taft Khouri – piano teacher and my teacher – went “How do you get so many gigs?” I’m like “They’ve been calling and I just go.” So I said “Well, I don’t really need to be in school now.” So if there’s a little bit left to go I said “Well I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m supposed to be a musician. I’m making money at being a musician.” And I was making OK. So nothing was ever really thought out. Just going with it. So I did that and I left there, was gigging. I get a call from Chris “Stovall” Brown. Stovall Brown, you know, great musician. Great harmonica player. Played guitar like crazy. I remember seeing Chris from being around here. He had the guys from around here that was his band. Tommy Estes, Al Mendoza; they would come to my junior high school and play. We would go over to Tommy Estes’ who lived down the street from here. Well Tommy Estes was a drummer, harmonica player, keyboard player with one hand. Tommy had lost his hand in an accident when he was a kid so they put a claw on. He would play the bass lines like this on the keyboard using his right hand. He would cup a harmonica like this. These guys are playing at Lupo’s all the time. Great musicians. Tommy played drums; he would screw his drum stick in.