1. Early Influences of R.I. Music Hall of Fame Inductees

by Allen O. Olsen


Many would argue that having musical talent comes from a few specific sources which are present during childhood.  There is a myriad of ways in which human beings are exposed to music at an early age. Children see music on TV, hear it on the radio, are given recordings by friends and family members, take music lessons and, for some, are raised in a musical family. 

Academic studies have of course been conducted which attempt to explain how early exposure to music determines talent later in life. One study with a small sampling of 42 young aspiring musicians found that frequent listening to music, much of it shared by family members such as parents and siblings, is a major factor for later talent.1 The same study finds that supportive music teachers also play a role.2 Similar findings in a later study, with some of the same researchers and a larger sampling of 257 early music learners, further illuminated that the most successful children were those who were involved in the learning process, and whose parents “…were involved in music themselves.”3 The results of these studies and others seem to reveal that the common elements for musical talent later in life include exposure to and support of music during childhood by family members and supportive music teachers.

Oral history interviews conducted by RIMHOF archivists Rick Bellaire and Allen Olsen, in addition to the interview of Bruce McCrae, aka Rudy Cheeks, by Julia Wolfson of Brown University, reveal that many inductees were indeed exposed to music at an early age and received support from family and teachers, thus fitting into some of the academic findings. Bob Petteruti and Sugar Ray Norcia had the benefit of being immersed in musical families, and Greg Abate had the same supportive music teacher for eight consecutive years. Not all stories fit neatly into the academic findings, however. There were those like Michael LaBelle [Neal and the Vipers, Inducted 2019] who were first exposed to musical performance otherwise and was supported by a friend who lived in the neighborhood. McCrae lacked any great deal of support from his family, but he was exposed to music by friends, TV, recordings and the radio. Further studies need to be done to learn more about these many “exceptions” to the rule. 

All of those interviewed, including bandleaders and ensemble personnel, 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. 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.

1 Howe, M., & Sloboda, J. (1991). Young Musicians’ Accounts of Significant Influences in their Early Lives. 1. The Family and the Musical Background. British Journal of Music Education, 8(1), 39-52. doi:10.1017/S0265051700008056

2 Howe, M., & Sloboda, J. (1991). Young Musicians’ Accounts of Significant Influences in their Early Lives. 2. Teachers, Practising and Performing. British Journal of Music Education, 8(1), 53-63. doi:10.1017/S0265051700008068.

3 Davidson, J., Howe, M., Moore, D. Sloboda, J. (1996). The role of parental influences in the development of musical performance. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 14(4), 399-412.

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

Chris: Well, the first music I can remember is actually my sisters’. They were older than me; two of them are older than me. So, they had like Johnny Cash and Chubby Checker and Roger Miller; stuff like that they were playing. So that was the first stuff I really was exposed to. And so, you know that went on for a while, and then my oldest sister Rene, she bought Meet the Beatles. And so, when she brought that home that was like the light went on, you know what I mean? For me, and I was like “I’m gonna; this is what I’m gonna do.” And so, I did everything. You know I made cardboard guitars, and I used to stand behind the Beatle’s poster. I basically warped the record; I wore it out as a kid, and finally it had to get tossed out. But that was my first inkling that I was gonna try to be a guitar player and be in a band. I think that was what, ’64 or something like that? I was pretty young. And so, my dad bought me a little three-quarter scale acoustic guitar, and I tried to bang around on that for a while. I took a couple of lessons, and probably you know half a year I took lessons. But my teacher was a really good teacher, but she was trying to teach me out of the Alfred book. It was like “Red River Valley” and stuff. I wanted to play rock and roll. Finally, I stopped doing that, and I started picking stuff out by ear. 

Allen Olsen: And did you listen to the records; were there any radio stations in Rhode Island that…

Chris: Oh yeah. Well, WPRO was what we listened to when we were kids, and at that point in time there was so much good music. You know there was all the top forty stuff, and it was all mixed. It was Motown stuff; it was this and that. I mean it wasn’t any one kind of thing, so that’s the stuff I was listening to as a kid. Everybody was on there, Beatles to Temptations. So, I guess I just always gravitated towards good songs, songs that you know I remembered; stuff that I felt like was put together well and stuff like that.

Allen: Well, what does that mean, a good song put together well? What grabbed you?

Chris: Well, something that you remember, number one, right? I mean everything back then was hook oriented, meaning that you know you would remember something in the song so you would like that song, dance to that song. That was kind of my early thing with music…

…and then when I got into high school, that’s how I got into blues. Once I got into high school; well, I was still in junior high. Like around seventh or eighth grade I met this guy named Artie Harris. I watched them play, and he turned me on to Live at the Regal, the BB King album. He gave it to me and said, “Here, check this out.” So, I heard that, and I was like “Wow, I wanna try to do this. This is really cool.” One summer I just played that record over and over, and I tried to emulate BB King which nobody can really do. But I tried. And that was kind of my start with the blues thing. And I liked that because I didn’t really have to ever learn stuff note for note. It was kind of improvisation to it…

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]

Doug: My father was a minister. So that’s really what I was involved in the whole time; my first exposure to music would have been just sitting on the organ bench with my mother while she was playing the organ. So that’s how I learned about keyboards and stuff. The rest of it, we just had the normal sort of stuff at home that everybody listened to you know of various things. Certainly not just religious music, but you know the usual pop stuff of the day I would say…

Allen Olsen: So, you were exposed to church music early on. So, you were born in ’53, is that correct?

Doug: Yes.

Allen: So, at that time – I’m a Lutheran too so…

Doug: No kidding?

Allen: Yeah, I am. I am. I remember the old red book [LCA Lutheran Hymnal]. 

Doug: Yeah, there you go! Alright.

Allen: And is that what mom played out of when she played the organ for you?

Doug: Oh sure, sure man. You know, all the good stuff.

Allen: “A Mighty Fortress,” etcetera? 

Doug: Yes, “Abide with Me.” 

Allen: Yup.

Doug: Now you’re asking about…

Allen: Yeah, well if that was the case, where did other forms of music come from?

Doug: It’s funny. Oddly enough, with more Texas connections, a friend of mine that I grew up with was very, very good friends when I was like third grade through like eighth grade has been teaching in a university in Laredo for like a long time. He just came down to see me with Jimmy Vaughan, and he was talking about me being interested in blues when I was like nine years old. I used to when I was like nine or ten years old, I used to buy blues records, and give them as birthday presents to my friends and family. And they would never listen to ‘em, and then I would just borrow ‘em back, and that’s how I would get some of my recordings. Then my collection got better because of that. 

Allen: Were you exposed to blues on the radio or TV?

Doug: We were close to Oakland [CA], so I heard stuff. I remember hearing Bill Doggett at the opening of a shopping center or something. I had no idea who was playing sax; I don’t know if it was Clifford Scott or not. But anyways you know there were a lot of good blues guys, and we had a very good public television; really good shows that like on Sunday afternoon would have all sorts of people on from the local scene and from everywhere else. It was a great education that way. Later on, when I was a little bit older, we had KSAN and KMPX, I think the two free radio stations. So, they would play like everything. It was all sorts of amazing stuff on, so got a chance to hear all sorts of stuff. Listening to the transistor radio underneath the blanket when I was you know supposed to be asleep all night long. Stuff like that.

Allen: Were those two radio stations local, or were they X Radio?

Doug: KSAN was San Francisco, and I’m trying to think of the other. I think KMPX was actually the one out of Tijuana with Wolfman Jack. I’m trying to think of the other station; but anyways, there was two incredible stations that free format, so they would just play just all sorts of stuff. I got to hear plenty of stuff when I was supposed to be sleeping… 

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

Roomful of Blues

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

Allen Olsen: Did your family listen to music, take records home?

My father was a very athletic person, but he was also into the arts. And one of the reasons why I do what I do today is because my dad, he was very much into the arts. He noticed at an early age that I had a good voice. So, at the age of seven he sent me to vocal lessons, which wasn’t my favorite thing to do, but I’m glad he did it. He had the insight to see that and do that for me. I’ve been vocally trained since I was seven years old. That all came about – in the summertime we lived at Roy Carpenter’s Beach in Matunuck. And at the time; I don’t know – my cousin is John Cafferty from John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band. My mother was a Cafferty. And every summer we grew up in the same beach house together – these little shacks down at Roy Carpenter’s Beach. And my Uncle John; every Saturday night my Uncle John would have a talent show in front of the refrigerator at the beach house. And everybody would have to get up and perform… every Saturday night you had to perform before you went to bed. And he would invite my Uncle Francis who was my godfather; and all the uncles over to sit on the couch and watch us perform. And at four years old I performed “Love Letters in the Sand” by Pat Boone in front of the refrigerator; and I mean we probably did the same thing every Saturday night. It was just a routine. Whether you recited a poem or told a joke or whatever, it was done in front of the refrigerator. And from there my father saw that I had potentially a good voice, so at the age of seven I started taking vocal lessons. And I was vocally trained from when I was seven years old. Also, when we were five-six years old, the wintertime was spent Saturday afternoon at the movies. In the winter every Saturday afternoon you would go to a; we would go to the community theater in Centredale. And back then it was two double features, and no matter what was there we went. And it was Elvis and John Wayne. Our interest was spurred; my favorites were Elvis and Jerry Lewis; both sides of the street. And you know so every Saturday afternoon we would go to the movies, and then – and you know that was a ritual – that’s where our interest spurred into music because we saw; you know we didn’t just see Elvis and John Wayne and Jerry Lewis. Some nights you would see “Carousel” and you know “South Pacific” and whatever was there; Disney movies and whatever. And I kind of took to the music side of it. And that’s where my interest really in musical started. So from there – you know all through elementary school and stuff like that – you know every Saturday afternoon in the winter time was double feature at the community theater in Centredale. 

So, movies, soundtracks… That [information] kind of goes to the musical influences…

The musical influences, yeah, back then were Elvis, definitely; Ricky Nelson; Pat Boone and “Love Letters in the Sand” was in a movie; and the other musical influences we had – I was explaining to you about Roy Carpenter’s Beach – every Saturday night at Roy Carpenter’s Beach there was a record hop. Actually, every night we’d go to the fire barn at Roy Carpenter’s Beach, and they had a juke box. And there was a guy that used to run the fire barn, but he was like our babysitter. All the kids from the beach would go to the fire barn at six o’clock and the younger kids would stay ‘til nine and the older kids would stay ‘til eleven. But every night there was a juke box, and we’d play the juke box; and we learned how to dance; and we learned how to sing; and we learned how to socialize in that fire barn. And then on Saturday night for a quarter there was a record hop with a live DJ. Every Saturday night…

Same place?

The same place; in the fire barn; and then again, he would spin records all night long in the fire barn. So, through the fifties I was brought up on fifties music, then sixties; and the biggest music influence happened when The Beatles came out. My father – I guess I was in the seventh grade – my father brought “Meet the Beatles” home one night, and he said he bought the album. He heard it on the radio driving around, because he was a salesman; he was in his car all day. And he said “Listen to these guys. These guys are gonna be great.” My father said that to me. “These guys are gonna be great.” And that’s when it really took off, you know The Beatles – I remember going to the Strand or was it the Majestic downtown, and they dropped us off one Saturday afternoon downtown because “A Hard Day’s Night” was playing. And back then, downtown theaters, they just used to play them continually. 

Throughout the day?

Throughout the day, so I watched “A Hard Day’s Night” five times that day. And then you know they just left us downtown for the day and watched. You know “We’ll drop you off here; we’ll pick you up there.” But anyway, my cousin John and I one afternoon were at the community theater – ‘cause the cousins would live at the beach in the summertime and really become extended family – and then in the wintertime we’d meet at the community theater. So, my cousin John and I – we grew up in the same beach house together, so we listened to the same music. We had the same interests in music. He’d play guitar and we’d sit around the beach house and sing together, learn Beatle’s tunes together, and one Saturday afternoon we went to the community theater and “The T.A.M.I. Show” was there. I don’t know if you’ve…

Yeah, I’ve seen the video.

Right, it was our first exposure to black music. Because I don’t know if you remember but in “Ski Party” with Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon – James Brown was in that movie. But we never saw James Brown until we saw “The T.A.M.I. Show.” And that show had everybody: The Rolling Stones, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and James Brown closed the show. And that introduced us to black music. And maybe about a year later – I don’t know if it was the same year; I don’t know – but “Ski Party” came out and James Brown was in that movie with [his band] the Famous Flames. And we were just overtaken by the black music. So, we were influenced – John and I both were influenced in the community theater and seeing those movies. You know and then when The Beatles came out, they made a movie. That was it…

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

Steve Smith & The Nakeds/Naked Truth


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

 Well, when I was a child, we were so poor; my mother had to paint our feet brown and lace up our toes. (laughter from Ed) But, basically from a musical perspective, first experience in music would have been you know would have been watching television and seeing you know music played on TV like the Maguire Sisters, Arthur Godfrey show, you know stuff like that; Dinah Shore, you know all those shows that were popular when I was like a little tiny thing that you know couldn’t even speak English yet…

…I didn’t do much until I got into like junior high school; ‘bout that time, 14, 15 years old. Fourteen years old, I think. My dad played a little bit of guitar. You know he was into like stuff like Hank Williams, Jr. and you know Country-Western stuff pretty much. And I wasn’t like a big Country-Western fan. I learned like a couple of chords from my father, and I played on his guitar a little bit. But I kind of like branched off. I started getting song books and stuff like that. We’d take rides out to Cranston or Providence and go to a music store. One of my earliest records was like Bob Dylan; “Another Side of Bob Dylan” and “Freewheelin’’’, and what was it? Oh, “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” And I had a big, thick song book that had all those songs in it with chord charts and everything. And that’s pretty much how I taught myself to play by looking at the charts and following the lyrics along with the music. I wasn’t really reading music. I was just you know writing out lyrics, double spaced, and writing the chords. You know I knew how to play the chords ‘cause I memorized how to play them, and that’s how I learned how to play. So I taught myself… And then the Beatles came out, and you know that that was an important factor back then. That was the way a lot of kids got interested in music. Especially you know guys; you’d see all these like chicks like screaming and like you know waving their hands up in the air and going “woo woo woo!” You know, so we said “Hey, I wanna get in a little bit of this.” (laughter) You know “I wanna get some of that!” (laughter)

……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]

Buddy: Woodstock, Beatles, Motown I guess; my older sisters were into the whole Motown scene, so you know we had all the Motown records in the house. We had all the Beatles records in the house. You know my dad was into a different kind of thing. He’d listen to Perry Como, Dean Martin, and know all the great crooners. So, on Sunday the stereo system was his. On Sunday he put on his records. It was always you know Dean and Sammy Davis; you know that sort of thing. Then during the week, we had that stereo for all the Motown stuff, all the Beatles; I remember havin’ all that stuff. The Ventures, you know we had all those Ventures records. As a matter of fact, one of my first – one of my first things was, when I started music lessons someone gave me a record called Play Guitar with the Ventures. And it was a record; inside when you opened it up it was a music book that went with it. So, you could listen to the Ventures then learn how to play “Pipeline,” “Walk Don’t Run,” “Tequila.” They did all the instrumental tunes and stuff like that. Yeah, we’d learn that and then my friends would come over; we’d learn all that stuff and go on the school yard and play it you know weekend, nights or whenever we could. Bunch of us man; tons of us, and the players that weren’t playing guitar were singing along or banging stuff. You know banging some kind of bongos or something like that. 

…I lived in Boston, Massachusetts – east Boston, Massachusetts – right near Logan Airport. I grew up in East Boston and played music in East Boston. Took my music lessons in East Boston until about the tenth grade, then I started going to Berklee College in the tenth grade for my private music lessons; and then I attended Berklee you know when I finished high school. About ’74 to ’79 were my years in Berklee. You know, and I grew up you know just a regular kid in the ghetto. “The concrete jungle” we used to call it. And started playing guitar because Woodstock was big at the time; Beatles, Woodstock and you know whatever was going on at that time. In the mid-sixties to the late sixties – that’s when I started playing. And you know I stayed in East Boston and north of Boston for – oh – pretty much ‘til I was about 30 years old through the first marriage and all of that stuff. My early guitar teachers were jazz teachers. Where I first started going was the Berklee School of Music; and ended up when I went to school there full-time, went over to the Berklee College of Music. But it used to be Berklee School of Music. But my influences were Rock ’n’ Roll. You know Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King – that type of thing – Carlos Santana, Eric Clapton definitely is my favorite guy. And then whatever jazz players I was introduced to in my young age was like Joe Pass, Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel; you know those were the guys I listened to in my younger days…

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]

…And we lived up in Federal Hill at that time, and when I was about two and a half my parents moved to the location where the music store [Twin City Music] is, Plainfield Street (Providence), because that’s a big old three decker apartment house. And downstairs we turned into a music store; not we, my father did. ‘Cause I was only two and a half at that time, and by the time I was four years old he had a ukulele in my hands. And I was very good at standing on it. I was so good at it that it got crushed. So, he got me another uke, and I still…I was a little better with that. But then I switched to tenor guitar. Somewhere in my book here I have a picture of me playing it. That would have been probably about 1938 –  ’37 or ’38. And then later; let’s see. ’37, ’38, oh and then he started me on the vibraharp. I really wasn’t a very good student. I didn’t wanna play. I had to practice. But he kept after me. And I had a younger sister, very good piano player, and I had an older brother. I was the slowpoke. But I’m the only one that’s still playing. They quit long time ago, so I guess I finally woke up. So, then I played vibraharp for couple of years, and by the time I was fourteen he decided I should play the bass. And there’s one right in the corner there. [Points to upright bass in the corner of the basement.] 

Allen Olsen: And what were some of your earliest music influences? 

Bob: My earliest influence? My father had bought these 78s; do you know what a 78 RPM is?

Allen: Yeah.

Bob: Records. In fact, they’re right in the closet behind you, the very records. And I had a windup Victrola, and it was Benny Goodman Sextet with Charlie Christian. He was the guitar player. And Django Reinhardt, the French guitar player. I’m sure; you play the guitar. You must’ve known about him.

Allen: Absolutely.

Bob: So, I still have those records, and I would play them over and over and over. My mother would come, “Do you have to keep playing?” And I still have them. So that was my first influence. And the next influence was Slam Stewart because by then I was playing the upright bass. And he would play his solos with a bow, and nobody had done that. Because now we’re talking about probably anywhere from 1945, ’46, ’47. And I did get to see him live in New York. As uneducated as my father was uneducated; you know about that term, don’t you?

Allen: How would you define that, uneducated?

Bob: Well, the first family vacation we went on was to New York City. That was just as World War II ended; just as the Japanese signed the surrender. And so, we piled into the 1936 Oldsmobile and drove to New York. Nine hours. There was no [Interstate Route] 95. And we stayed in a hotel, and he took us everywhere. Metropolitan Art Museum. Definitely music. So, we’re standing on the corner of Broadway and 52nd Street, and that’s where most of the jazz clubs were. Not all of them of course. New York City is a big city. So, I can still picture him. He went like this: he said “I’ll take you into one. Which one do you wanna go into?” And now it was myself, my mother, my sister and my father. And so, there was Slam Stewart playing, and I can’t think of the name of the club, and the other band, two bands, was Charlie Parker. Now we’re not talking about you go into an auditorium with fifteen thousand people. These clubs might’ve seated a hundred or 125 people. So, you could be right up there. And I was right up there. My eyes were glued to all of them. Slam Stewart had a female piano player. She was very good. Unfortunately, she died young. But she was very good. And so, I got my education watching. Then during the day, we went to the Paramount Theater. You might have heard the name. It’s not a theater anymore. Now it’s an office building. And the Count Basie Band was playing there. And one of my father’s former guitar students was Paul Gonsalves [RIMHOF Inductee, 2014]. And he had switched to saxophone, but he was a very good guitar player. And he was in that band with Count Basie. That was before he joined Duke Ellington. So, and then the next day we went across the street to the Strand Theater, and there was Gene Krupa’s band. So, we saw all that, and this was not a thing like nowadays you wanna go into one of those like the Civic Center you pay a hundred dollars, and you’re two miles away from the stand. Well, it wasn’t like that. You were right up there. So, it was rewarding. I really had a lot of influence from those players. So, I practiced a little more…

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

Bob Petteruti

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

Allen: What prompted you to want to learn how to play?

Mark: My brother Carl started taking guitar lessons when I was about nine. And when I was ten, I picked up his guitar, and looked at his books and noticed the chord diagrams. I noticed there were lines and dots. And I figured the dots were where you put your fingers, and the lines were the strings.

Allen: (laughter)

Mark: And all of a sudden, I played a chord. I said “wow this is cool;” started playing. And you know my influences back then – you know 1968 – was Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Rascals, all that kind of stuff. The Kingsmen; and Shadows of the Knight – we did “Gloria.” I didn’t know about Them [Van Morrison’s first successful group] back then. 

Allen: Van Morrison original.

Mark: Right, right; and Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. And those were my initial influences on guitar. And as I got older different people came into play. Early twenties, actually late teens was like I listened to Mahavishnu Orchestra and stuff like that. You know not that I could do that, but I listened to it and was trying to do it. Lowell George came into play [during] high school and stuff like that. 

Allen: You mentioned Hendrix and Clapton, the English-American rockers; any blues influences?

Mark: Absolutely. When I started getting like into my twenties, I discovered Howlin’ Wolf; I mean I knew about Muddy Waters ‘cause of “Mannish Boy” and all that stuff. But then I got into Howlin’ Wolf and found out about Hubert Sumlin and just that whole band and I was really absorbing that. And Robert Johnson; you know I was getting into him. I bought that record that has – what is it, twenty songs on it? – and just listened to that all the time. And one time Dickie Reed from the Schemers [RIMHOF Inductees, 2015] and I were in my apartment, and we just listened to it from beginning to end. And I said “Dickie, you gotta get your accordion out because I think we need to play some hymns or something because I feel like there’s a devil in the room!” ‘Cause Robert Johnson does that for you, you know? I mean I do enjoy listening to Robert Johnson, but you might not even enjoy listening to him. But once you hear him it does something to you, I guess to your core. It changes something in you. So, I love that, and I was listening to – I’m looking at that John Coltrane album over there [on the record shelf] – John Coltrane a little [as an early influence]. 

Allen: As early as your early twenties?

Mark: Yeah. I had some cool girlfriends that turned me on to stuff. And I lost a lot of record collections when we broke up. (laughter) I don’t go deep into jazz, but you know I like a wide variety. I like Mose Allison and all that stuff. Rudy Cheeks from The Young Adults [RIMHOF Inductees, 2016] was the person who turned me on to Mose Allison, and that was when I was like twenty years old. I didn’t look back. It was just great stuff. And also in college I got into the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed and all that stuff. And you know Lou Reed he had the live Rock and Roll Animal out when I was in high school. And that was the thing that turned us on; also “Walk on the Wild Side.” Those two albums; but then as I got older I went further back and discovered the Velvet Underground and stuff like that. I should name the guys in the band.

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; Rizzz, 2017, Rock ‘n’ Roll]

Allen Olsen: And was your father a professional musician?

Rick: Yeah, my father was a professional musician, and he worked two jobs. He worked at the Narragansett Brewing Company. He was there for thirty years. Previous to that he was on the road with the band and whatnot in New York City. He played with a band called The Tommy Reynolds Orchestra. And my dad was you know fairly well-known Rhode Island drummer, played with a great little group, had great gigs and was really busy all the time. Played a lot of weddings, played nightclubs, played a lot of shows. I actually inherited a volume of 8×10 glossies that he collected over the years most of which are signed to him. Includes people like Tony Bennett and Fats Waller, pretty amazing collection of pictures actually. A lot of unknowns too, but you know just an amazing representation of the entertainment industry at that time. 

Allen: Did he play with those people as well?

Rick: He usually was performing in a backup band. Those people would tour, and the local musicians you know would get the book and play the show.

Allen: OK, yeah. So, was your father your first exposure to music?

Rick: Well yeah, I guess that would definitely be the case. Unlike me though – I play a lot of music in the house all the time – my dad, they didn’t really play a lot of music. When they had a party, they’d bring out their collection of albums and play some music. You know, my mom had the AM radio on in the kitchen all the time, so we got to hear all the popular stuff of the day. We’re talking late fifties, early sixties. I had older brothers and older cousins who really liked to play and dance, and they had little dance parties. My uncle actually was fantastic. This is classic actually. He used to have, every Saturday, he would roll up the rug in his living room, and he would let the kids have a dance party. My cousins had stacks of 45 [rpm] records literally piled up on a shelf next to the record player, and they had the poodle skirts and the penny loafers. I mean it was right out of Happy Days. We were little kids, me and my other cousins, we would be off in the corner. We actually had this little place in the stairwell where we could sort of see through to the living room, and we be so envious, and we watched them dance and have their party. When they’d take a break, my aunt would come out with sandwiches and Cokes with straws in the bottles. I mean literally like you could paint the fifties picture there. And one of the people at that event most Saturdays would eventually get up while they were eating their sandwiches and the music would stop for a little while; he’d walk over to their upright piano and play the popular tunes of the day. They might sing or whatever, and he might play, and they would dance. Turns out years later that guy was Mark Taber [keyboardist, performing with several Rhode Island combos] who is obviously someone we know. Local, fantastic piano player. So yeah, family life was generally pretty good at a very young age. And close exposure to music. Like I said, just knowing the fact that my father was a musician, that that was something a little different, a little special that created something. I think I perceived it as being kind of cool. 

Allen: Nice! And did you listen to radio yourself at that time?

Rick: Oh yeah. You know I mean as a kid, again, they controlled the airwaves. But as we got older, we got our own radios, and we would listen to things. Now again I was exposed to my older cousins. So, some of the early stuff that I remember is like I remember seeing Jerry Lee Lewis playing “Great Balls of Fire” on television because I was being babysat by my older cousin. That would have been my older cousin Jean. And I think my brother was around or whatever, but you know the older kids were responsible to watch younger kids while their parents went out. And they were definitely gonna watch some rock and roll. It was on a little black and white TV. And I very distinctly remember seeing that whole thing with the piano and the foot up on the thing. And I was little, and I thought “wow! What is this?” It was almost scary in a way ‘cause it had so much power. I remember having a little feeling of like “Am I supposed to be watching this? Am I doing something bad?”…

Rick: Yeah. There was a whole thing about you know he’s playing the devil’s music. 

Allen: OK, go with that.

Rick: So, you know maybe that a little bit was in the air. And it wasn’t just him. I remember other songs and moments. I remember from that generation that kind of floated to me are like Little Eva. She played a song called “The Locomotion.” I remember Dee Dee Sharp. She used to sing a song called “The Mashed Potato.” And Gary U.S. Bonds; what was his song? It was “I Danced ‘til a Quarter to Three.” And I remember those songs from them dancing to them and playing them. So, I think I got more exposure to music from my older siblings, cousins, than specifically my dad. But the fact that he was a musician, I saw that as something unique about him that was different from all the rest of the people in my life at that time which again is mostly like family and some neighbors. 

Allen: And did that influence you to want to play the drums as well?

Rick: Well, I have to think it did. 

Allen: And then at what point did you start playing the drums? 

Rick: Well, we moved to Riverside. I went to junior high school here. And sometime in junior high school you have to make the decision of are you going to be in the art path or the music path. You know that’s the way it was in those days. You picked one or the other. So, I naturally picked drums in the band. I played in the marching band and whatnot. I carried the bass drum in the marching band. I played at the games and the concerts at the school and whatnot. So that was my first exposure to actually playing. Somewhere in that time my parents sent me to take formal lessons on drums with George Geer. He was the guy in town. There was George Geer’s drum shop was in the Conrad building downtown which later housed the first Lupo’s. So, I had a lot of history in that one particular block in downtown Providence. And I’d take the bus. After junior high school I’d take the bus downtown, do my lesson. Either my brother or my mother would pick me up and take me home. And I did that for years. I remember that finally I got through the last book – syncopation book – with George Geer, and he said “OK, you’re all set. You should go out and do some gigs.”

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

The Schemers/Raindogs/Mark Cutler

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

Julia Wolfson: I know that when you were in high school you said that there was no one else that was really interested in the things that you were interested in like performance and music. Do you remember anything in particular that just got you into it? Was there someone…

RC: Well, it wasn’t that they weren’t interested in performance and music.

JW: But the kind of music that you were interested in?

RC: Well, I remember very distinctly that when I was in the tenth grade my friend Charlie Sawicki was writing his term paper on humorists and he called me up and said, “I got to write this term paper on American humorists.” He wanted to know… well he knew Mark Twain and stuff like that…That was a huge thing and I remember also writing and we were also, myself and Charlie, we were both big Bob Dylan fans and we had this folk stuff, we were familiar with the folk stuff and one day we were, I remember exactly where we were, we were riding in the car, we were on Newport Avenue in Pawtucket, right near Newport Avenue approaching Armistice Boulevard from the north and we’re in the car and all of a sudden “Subterranean Homesick Blues” comes on the radio, this is the first time Bob Dylan had been on the AM radio.

JW: What year is this?

RC: This is about 1965, I think.

JW: Ok.

RC: And it was like ’65, ’66 and we just broke out into a roar. It was like the greatest thing. We couldn’t believe that the radio was playing his music.

JW: Little did you know.

RC: Well, the thing that was interesting was that the years that he was doing the most powerful stuff to me is that about that era, which is “Bringing It All Back Home,” “Highway 61,” “Blonde on Blonde,” which is about ’65 through about ’67, and uh, there was some radio play with a few numbers, but really he didn’t sell records like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones or anything like that. He was a name, but the thing is that we just thought that his stuff was just so many steps beyond everyone else… There also used to be a radio station…uh, in Pawtucket WPAW, later it was WXTR, I can’t remember what the heck they call it, anyway it was way down on the low end of the AM dial and this is before FM had really had caught on in the late 1960’s and we were uh… and there used to be a late night show called uh…hosted by a guy named Fred Grady, a jazz show and I used to listen to it on a transistor radio under my pillow every night, late at night when I was going to bed and I became very into that stuff…

JW: Yeah, so you were just doing your own thing.

RC: Yeah, they weren’t even… My grandmother had a bedroom upstairs, which was kind of adjacent to my bedroom in our house and she could hear me playing these jazz records at night on the little stereo….and uh playing these jazz records and playing Bob Dylan and she actually sometimes would laugh at the Bob Dylan stuff. “I Ain’t Gonna Work on Maggie’s Farm” and she would hear that, and she would laugh. There was stuff from the song that she thought was funny. But it wasn’t like that, you know. But as far as I was concerned, they only touched on what I was interested in. But you know they were working a lot. My mother was working at the same time. My mother had a job and my father worked. It was like, there was not much of a shared culture. I mean there was shared stuff like TV, stuff like that. Maybe we all watched Ed Sullivan or we all, I remember the Beatles on Ed Sullivan when I was a kid.

JW: It was a big thing to watch.

RC: Oh, it was huge! It was huge!

JW: I remember my mom told me about that too. Watching it with her family.

RC: I was in the 8th grade when the Beatles came on Ed Sullivan and it was for the first time. I can even tell you the first song, um, they played “All My Loving” and that was the first song and it was just like dynamite. I also, by the way, I also remember seeing Elvis on Ed Sullivan, but I was a little kid then. I was like 6-7 years old, but I was 14 when the Beatles came on Ed Sullivan. I was the perfect age you know. And it was the talk of the junior high school the next day.

JW: And so then, after high school when you went to URI, what were you getting into at URI that led you to…

RC: Well, I had already, from high school, had these tastes that were…I didn’t know if I was going to find like-minded people at college and as it turned out there were a couple people here and there who shared my interest in jazz, you know getting more into the stuff like the John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman type stuff. You know the kind of out there stuff…the Sun Ra Solar Arkestra. I had a number of Sun Ra records you know, and I had records by Harry Partch, is like this eccentric who wrote songs with like 32 tones or 36 tones or something like that so, he had to build all his own instruments, because you know it wasn’t like 8 tone… do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do. It wasn’t that it was like three more notes in between everyone of those. And I had a couple of records. Where I came across…I can’t even remember where I…you know, I’d see a name, you’d read the back of record labels, I’d get a Miles Davis album and I’d read the back and I’d see the names of these other musicians and then you go to a record store. Or I’d hear it on Fred Grady’s show, and I go and get it. So, I became very big, you know John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, Myles Davis, uh, there were a few people who were really huge I thought. They were really… you know I loved their stuff. So….uh, I remember when I went to college at first, my first year in college, my freshman dorm room I had a record player and I’ll tell you what was popular then. The big hit songs of my freshman year in college, one of the biggest hits was “Sympathy for the Devil…” That was big, and this is like 1968 and you know I liked a lot of this rock and roll stuff. I liked that. That was from an album called Beggar’s Banquet It was swell, you know, it was a great record. And the Beatle’s had records out…Revolver I think and uh, the White Album came out that year or something. And I listened to all that stuff and I liked that too, uh, and Bob Dylan had a big motorcycle accident and had all of a sudden switched to this weird country music thing. “Nashville Skyline” came out that year and it kind of bothered me because he was using this (Rudy imitates Bob’s voice) crooning voice which was very weird. So, I was not a huge fan of that record, although there are a couple of songs on it that I have deemed very powerful. “I Threw It All Away,” that’s a great, great song. It’s very simple. He had had all this ornate stuff and all of a sudden, he’d gone down to real basics. Actually, he did that in the album before that called, “John Wesley Harding,” but what I do remember from my freshman year in college was that I had my record player in my room and I had my records with me and uh, and I remember one of the guys living down the hall coming in and he saw this record, which was Joe Williams singing with the Count Basie Band and he was like, I don’t know maybe he thought it was like his parents music or something. He didn’t understand at all. He tossed it out the window, you know the forth floor. He thought it was like a joke, a joke record. I was like “No, I love that record.” I was just starting to get into big band stuff…and Nat King Cole, as I got older, I started to appreciate that more, which was more of the music of my parent’s generation, but I was more attuned to Bob, and then post Bob stuff, like I said, Coltrane, and Miles and stuff like that… 

JW: So, were your friends at school…were they the few people that showed interest…was music a big part of who you became friends with or the people you hung out with?

Rudy Cheeks: No, I hung around with a lot of jocks and stuff like that. I was kind of, I didn’t really know what I was doing at that point. It was my sophomore year that finally I found some people who were on a similar wavelength and they were not from the University of Rhode Island. What happened this guy from my neighborhood transferred to URI. His name was Steve Strzepek, aka Stevie Thunder, and Stevie was doing stuff with his cousin who was at RISD and his cousin had a band and was writing music and the music was kind of like this jazz-tinged rock and roll. It was really uh… and with real satirical lyrics and stuff…and it was very original and the only thing that you can compare with stuff like that, I mean there was obviously some Frank Zappa influence there, somebody else I admired a great deal at that point and had some early records of… (Accessed at https://library.brown.edu/htmlfiles/1125429838791902.html, 4/12/21)

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

The Young Adults/The Fabulous Motels/Rudy Cheeks

Sugar Ray Norcia Interviewed 8/4/16 [Sugar Ray and the Bluetones, 2016, Blues, Roomful of Blues, 2012, Blues/R&B]

Allen Olsen: Can you tell us a little bit about when you were born, where you were born, your family and your neighborhood?

SR: I was born in Rhode Island – Westerly, Rhode Island at the Westerly Hospital. The first three years of my life I lived in an Italian neighborhood so that I really don’t remember much about those years – on Oak Street in Westerly. Then we moved to Pawcatuck, Connecticut – sometimes I call it Stonington, Connecticut, they’re connected, you know. I was three years old, my grandparents bought a farm in Connecticut, an 80-acre farm, and they had the whole deal, the cows, pigs, chickens, you know, selling milk and all that, but I was a little bit too young to remember those days, but those 80 acres got broken down into sublot divisions for family. As I grew up, my aunt lived there, my uncle lived here – we didn’t have to drive to anything, picnics or whatever, it was a wonderful kind of way to grow up, the farmhouse being the focal point of the property – the red farmhouse on the hill where we had Sunday School and we all sang. It was a nice way to grow up and, musically speaking, as I was a kid. My two uncles on my mother’s side played guitar and bass and my brother played piano and my father was a vocal coach and piano teacher in the school systems. My mother sang jazz, and they would rehearse at my home. When I was going to bed, I’d hear a band rehearsing down in the basement and it was my family band playing jazz tunes of the day – “general business” I guess you’d call them. I could slip down during the week because they left their instruments set up down there and there’d be a big string bass, a piano and guitar and I would fiddle around with that stuff. I took a liking to music, obviously.

Rick Bellaire: He was a bit ahead of his time!

SR: That’s right. He believed in stuff like that. 

AO: How old were you when you were going down to your father’s studio at that point?

SR: I was probably five years old and on, right up until I left home, which was 17, or 16. I learned a lot from that. My dad – I have to add this part because he played excellent harmonica – not Blues! He couldn’t really bend the notes a lot using the notes you use a lot in the blues idiom, but he was the life of the party at gatherings playing the harmonica and I always said to myself, “Yeah – I wanna do that.” It looked like a lot of fun.

AO: What kind of music was he playing?

SR: He was playing cowboy songs, “Oh! Susanna,” that kind of thing, but he had the ability to play chords – tongue blocking we call it on the harp. It’s when you’re playing a single note but your tongue is moving forward and backward with a chord behind it so it sounds like a squeeze box. He did that so well and I picked up on that. So, for both the vocal and harmonica I got an early start from him. 

AO: When you consider the kind of music you were listening to, how did you come to enjoy the blues? Where did that come from?

SR: I really had no interest ever – or still – listening to the music of the day. I think as far as I got into it was, when I was a kid, I liked the voice of James Taylor, Carole King, that era. I had a few of their records and I liked the fact that he had a very melodic voice – to this day. But that didn’t last long. That was in high school. My friends kept bringing me records in school, so I was about 15 or 16 when I heard Sunnyland Slim, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson. I would sing in the school plays at that time. I was a good actor. I took lead parts in the plays. A couple of guys said, “We’re starting a band, and would you be interested?” They gave me a couple of records Elmore James I think was one of them.

AO: So. it was your friends?

SR: Yes.

RB: And who were these friends?

SR: They were hippie friends. Long hair, anti-establishment. That’s where the music came in, too – we’re going to listen to this, not what everyone else is listening to. This is a cool kind of music – check it out.

AO: People a little younger like me would listen to the Stones records and the Zeppelin records and I’d look at the back and say, “Who’s Muddy Waters?” and get those records. But you went directly to the source.

SR: Directly. Exactly. And I said, “Wow – this is cool!” We had some rehearsals, I don’t know the exact date, but I was 16, maybe even 15, when we played our first gig.

RB: Who were some of the guys who were turning you on to the music, giving you the records?

SR: One guy’s name was Blunt White from Stonington. He was one of the hippies. Another guy was Jocko Wimpfheimer. He was a drummer and he played with me for years. His brother Jimmy later played bass with Roomful of Blues. He’d bring me records. One day, we were riding in the van and he said, “Man…you sounded good. Your voice and your harp are sweet like sugar, Ray.”

RB: So, that’s where it came from.

SR: That was it – bang!

AO: Who were some of your early blues influences? You mentioned one…

SR: The records were Little Walter, Sonny Boy, I mentioned Elmore, Sonny Boy, Sunnyland Slim and then I branched out into more sophisticated blues like T-Bone Walker, B.B. King and Albert King. I just started exploring. I think that’s what’s wrong with a lot of kids these days. They don’t go to where it comes from – they don’t go back far enough. They don’t do the exploring. We were like explorers, going to Boston hitting the music shops, coming home with an armful of albums and getting together on the weekends drinking beer and spinning records – listen to this!

RB: Did you go down to Roberts Music in New London?

SR: Yeah, yeah, yeah! And then we’d incorporate these new findings at the rehearsal for the bands I was in…

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

Sugar Ray & The Bluetones

Greg Abate Interviewed 9/30/16 [Inducted 2016, Jazz]

Allen Olsen: …when you were younger, who were your musical influences and how did you become aware of them?

Greg: Well because of school at; high school band in 1959 it was. I was listening to Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five,” and I was like; I liked the Paul Desmond tune “Take Five.” So, everybody was playing that tune trying to play that. He was the first saxophone player that I really heard that was a professional that was famous. I didn’t hear about all the other great ones until I got to Berklee…

Allen Olsen: …So, how were you exposed to jazz? Did that not come till 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 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…

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

Greg Abate

Bill Harley Interviewed 3/7/2021 [2016, Folk/Children’s Music]

Bill: …My mom was actually a writer; so, I look back on it now and realize that she’s had a pretty big influence on me in spite of the fact that I would have denied it for most of my life…

Bill: Musical influences. So, I kind of came of age at the time of the singer/songwriter thing. So, you know, of course I was listening to Dylan. I had an acoustic guitar. I was listening to Dylan. I was listening to Eric Anderson. You know that kind of Greenwich Village; and Tom Paxton who I ended up becoming friends with. Tom [was] very encouraging to me early on. Steve Goodman was a huge influence. Jackson Brown, you know, his early albums were very influential to me. So, it was at that point; you know you’re kind of trying what they’re doing. And you know, folk music, in terms of that, you know it’s like what they say about country [music.] It’s three chords and the truth. I think every musician at that point – [we] don’t have to do this anymore – but when we were trying to figure this out, you would just listen to the recording over and over and over again and try to; and you couldn’t find the chord. You didn’t know what the chord [was]. You had to find the chord yourself, you know, and figure out what it was and sometimes… I remember a friend of mine was playing in a rock band, and he was trying to figure out how to play all the Rolling Stones’ tunes, and he didn’t know that [Keith] Richards was playing in open G tuning. He was trying to do all those sounds with either a barre chord, playing a G chord with a barre over the top, you know? [laughter and agreement] And I think all of us, all of us were in that position of ear [training]. We had to develop our ears in order to understand. And fingerpicking, like how did they do that? You know, drop D tuning. When I found out about drop D tuning, it was like a religious experience. It’s like oh my God! Look at this! So. 

Rick Bellaire: If I could backtrack. if I could backtrack just a tad. 

Bill: Sure! 

Rick Bellaire: You earlier mentioned the Highwaymen. The “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore” guys. 

Bill: Yeah.

Rick: They were local. One of them was a Rhode Islander [Robert Burnett, East Providence, 1940-2011]. 

Bill: That’s right, and I met him at some; I met him. I think I won some award, and he was getting some too. I think [it was] the East Providence Chorus gave him something. I met one of them [the Highwaymen]. Shortly – maybe about ten years ago – shortly before he died. But all that kind of folk stuff. I missed… [laughter]

Rick: When you were little, a kid, so it would have been the Peter, Paul and Mary [and] Brothers Four kind of thing, leading up to Dylan and Joan [Baez].

Bill: Yeah. I mean, you know that was, my older cousins were listening to Peter, Paul and Mary. And I mean you know, so 1961 I would have been seven. You know, I kind of; and I didn’t really… I mean, I have to say I didn’t really have access to folk and acoustic music until I went to college. And so, I was listening to, you know, top forty radio. I have a long story I tell about, as a performer, about discovering my brother had a radio, a big radio, and we discovered CKLW I think was the station in Windsor, Ontario. But it was the voice of Motown, and that’s the first place I heard the Four Tops and Mitch Ryder you know and Smokey Robinson and all that stuff. So, it was just like you would listen to whatever, and a lot of it had to do with like it wasn’t what my dad was listening to. Right? I mean it was a generational thing. And it would drive my; my dad, final, I remember, when I got a Blood, Sweat and Tears album, he was like “Oh, thank God!”  [laughter from all] “Something I can listen to!” The next album I got was a Creedence Clearwater [Revival] album, and it was like “Funeral Train,” [actual name: “Graveyard Train”] and the guy plays the same bass line for nine minutes long, you know! [laughter and mouths bass line]. Well, anyway… [laughter]

Allen Olsen: So, what happened at [Hamilton] college? Did something turn a light on for you to point you in a direction?

Bill: Well, um, I mean you know, this is [laughter]; I always thing of David Crosby whose no role model for anybody. There’s two reasons that a guy gets a guitar. One of them is to play music.  [laughter from Allen and Rick] So, you know, I was not immune to that. But it was also at a time of you know, ferment. I mean, it was the rear-end of the Vietnam War. I was very active politically in that I started to listen to; that’s when I first really, I knew of Pete Seeger, but at that point I think one of the most seminal albums for me in terms of folk music is [the] 1963 We Shall Overcome concert [at Carnegie Hall]. It was just an amazing album where he shows that music has a cultural function which has been really important to me where it’s not just someone talking about themselves. And Pete, he said this to me, he said “The main purpose of music is to build community.” That’s what its main function is, in the history of humankind. So, I began to pay attention to that. So, there was that, and the other thing was my friends and I – one of ‘em’s whose still my wife, and the other one, people, who are living in Rhode Island – but we started a day camp in the summer. And I had a guitar and was very comfortable with kids. And so, at the end of the day – we would start the morning, I would sing two or three songs – at the end of the day, we would sing songs, and I would tell some stories. So, that was kind of, that was where I cut my teeth on how to work with kids, and also find out what worked with them and what didn’t…

Bill: … And once again, to go back to Pete [Seeger], I think that’s one of the things that; you know, Pete recorded a bunch of kids’ albums. And when you went to a concert, you were probably going to get a couple of kids’ songs. That was part of the deal. He’d sing “Skip to my Lou,” and talk about the background of the song or something, ‘cause that’s the way Pete was. And so that just made sense to me. You know, to make a living, you have to be put in a box, so people know how to market you, but I’ve never been very comfortable with being identified one way or another. It’s just one of the things, and it doesn’t make sense to me, but it’s alright. 

Rick: Similar to Pete though [Seeger] and Woody [Guthrie]. You know.

Bill: Yeah.

Rick: It’s a family thing as opposed to just doing it all on your own.

Bill: Yeah. Well, I remember when I was in college I went to see – I was in New York with Debbie’s [Block, spouse] family – but I guess I got a ticket myself. He [Seeger] would do a concert every Thanksgiving at Carnegie Hall. And towards the end Arlo [Guthrie] came with him a lot. And I remember [laughter] I was standing outside, I think I was waiting for somebody to come, and there’s this guy next to me whose standing with a ticket waiting for somebody to come, and I looked over, [I] was like “Are you Alan Ginsberg?” He said “Yeah.” I said “OK!” [laughter] But I remember Pete said, “I got three generations of my family here tonight, and I hope that you do too.” And I remember sitting there going “Right! That’s what I want. I want to do something that three generations can come and be entertained and be moved. That’s what I want.” And it’s really hard in this culture to make that case. Like say you’re doing kids’ music, people think you’re gonna do “Itsy Bitsy Spider” for forty-five minutes. You know? Like my image is I want the kids sitting on, half-way down the steps, listening to the songs and the stories that the adults are telling and learning from that. You know, I’ve always felt like that’s a… So, Pete – ‘cause when I look at him, he’s in some ways the biggest influence on my perception of what my job is. I can’t remember when I first met him. I think there was an organization called “Songs of Freedom and Struggle,” “People’s Music Network,” it did political music. And they’re still around. And I would go to those meetings. I would go to those conferences. And Pete was there, and I would introduce myself to him, but so would everybody else. And there was one of them I went to – and I had written an anti-nuke song, it was the middle of the anti-nuke movement – and my friend said; Pete came up to me right afterwards and he said “That’s a great song. I wanna sing it.” And he sat down, and he wrote the music to it, so he could figure it [out]. [Said] “So, I’m gonna sing this tomorrow night.” And I was like “Huh?!” [laughter] You know? And so that might have been it; you know, that might’ve been when I first began to know him. But actually no! When I was just out of college, I remember writing him a letter, saying I was trying to be, tell stories and sing songs when I was I Syracuse [NY] before I did it as a job and said, “I want some advice.” And he wrote back. He wrote this letter and said read this book and do this and do this and do that. You know, through my whole life, while he was alive, he would – and Debbie got to know him too; Debbie was on the board of the Sing Out foundation, the magazine – and we got to know Toshi [Seeger, wife of Pete and filmmaker], and we Mika [daughter of Pete and Toshi and a ceramic artist] who lives in Tiverton. So, I’m not special in the sense that Pete did that for thousands of people, but it was pretty amazing to have the phone ring and it would be Pete because he had a question. [laughter] It was like I have to go out the door, and Pete Seeger’s on the phone? What am I supposed to do? I’m late for something. So…

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

Bill Harley

Deb Demarco and Eric Stumpo Interviewed 12/1/16 [Plan 9, Inducted 2017, Rock ‘n’ Roll]

Allen Olsen: And how did you come to that kind of music – the psychedelia?

Eric: Because of our record collection.

Deborah: It came to us. 

Eric: Yeah.

Deborah. For sure. 

Eric: Because of our record collecting. We’d collected a lot of sixties stuff since we got together, and we’ve been together since…

Deborah: I can’t listen to anything else!

Eric: Yeah, she really likes it. I can, but…

Deborah: Well, some traditional stuff, but…

Eric: We got together in like ’72, Deb and I, so. 

Allen: Started dating?

Eric: Yeah. And we collected records…

Deborah: It wasn’t that long ago. 

Eric: No.

Deborah: And it wasn’t ’72, it was ’71.

Eric: ’71. There you go.

Deborah: The year I graduated high school you took me to senior prom.

Eric: Well, we collected records anyway pretty much since we got together. 

Deborah: Yeah, they were easy to collect in those days weren’t they, sweetie? Everything was ten cents. Half a dollar, you could buy absolutely anything that you wanted to listen to, so we did.

Eric: Yeah, we used to buy all the old cutouts for 29 cents. 

Deborah: We got tons of stuff. 

Allen: Cool stuff.

Eric: So that’s how we got into it…

Tom Ghent Interviewed 7/16/19 [Inducted 2018, Nashville Songwriter/Folk]

Allen Olsen: What were some of your earliest musical influences and experiences, and how were you exposed to them?

TG: Well, I think I explained that a little. My aunt used to take me to different places. She would play with bands, and she would sometimes get me up to sing. It was all country music. It was definitely country music; Eddie Zack and people like that. She was a pretty good guitar picker, actually. She’s passed away, but she was a pretty good guitar picker. 

AO: And were there any radio or record influences or television?

Rick Bellaire: Rock ’n’ roll?

TG: Radio, in those days, was so diverse. There were tons of things that I liked. I liked Adam Wade. Remember Adam Wade? 

RB: Yeah.

TG: And people like that. He was a big influence on me. I loved the way he sang. And of course, we heard Hank Williams, we heard Perry Como, and all of the classic people. That’s who I grew up listening to, and I feel very fortunate that I grew up listening to people who really could sing. [laughter] Well it was pre- [auto] tuner[s]. I was thinking of getting my daughter a contract, but anyway…

…What happened was every city had a little [tennis] team, and by the time I was about thirteen on this little junior team, I was the number one player in Cranston on that team. We used to play other cities. There was a fellow from East Providence, a young black man whose name was Oliver Carey. I mean I remember him as being hugely tall. I don’t think I was all that small, so he probably was a good 6’3”, 6’4”, maybe even a little taller than that. He used to serve like it was out of the trees. Probably during a few-year period, we played two or three times and I always won, but he used to play for what was known at that time as the American Tennis League which was black players. Tennis, like all sports, it was segregated. He used to invite me to his church up on Benefit Street. In the basement, they had wood floors; it wasn’t large enough to be a full tennis court, but they’d set the net up. You’d have no backcourt. One person would be serving, and you would be trying to return serves with no backcourt which was wonderful practice because they were fast as hell, the wooden courts. That was really, really good. I got to meet a lot of his friends. He would take me around to different parties, and I was hearing all of this black music that I really, really got to like. He knew about the Tete-a-Tete, and he brought me up to the Tete-a-Tete [Coffeehouse on the East Side of Providence]…

Jon Campbell Interviewed 8/20/12 [Inducted 2019, Folk]

Me: And did you have any music in your family?

Jon: Yeah, oh yeah; no, my daughter is fourth generation within a direct line…

Me: Of musicians?

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… My grandfather played classical pieces pretty much by ear. There were no strict lines drawn. My great uncle would get up and sing; he would do a recitation in Gaelic, and then sing a comic like Arthur Godfrey-type song. I mean it was just all music. In there would be sort of old American folk songs, British Isles music; just that whole mix of what people knew and my great grandmother quoting Longfellow. Just a mélange of stuff; it was kind of fascinating… 

Me: Did the radio or any records play any influence on what you enjoyed listening to or playing? 

Jon: Yeah, well I wasn’t raised on television. We didn’t really have a television until I was well up in my teens and pretty much out of the house. I had a little radio, and one of the stations I listened to the most – ‘cause I could get it – was WWVA.

Me: What is that now?

Jon: WWVA, it was Wheeling, West Virginia; but I could get it. It played at night on this crummy radio. It was like XELO or one of sort of those Clear Channel Mexican stations, where they have powerful signals.

Me: Right, [like] X Radio. 

Jon: Yeah, they played gospel, old timey, old Nashville stuff which I never minded listening to. We’d be exposed to pop music on the radio just like everybody else. I mean there was a radio on, so you’d hear the Beach Boys, you’d hear all their stuff. We had to go over to the neighbor’s house to watch the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and all that, but it certainly was an early imprint, WWVA. It kind of got me into thinking more along those lines in terms of music rather than sort of tin pan alley pop music… I could have been listening to the AM pop stations, and we did to some extent because that’s what you had in car radios and stuff. But I thought a lot of it was kind of dopey. (Laughter) And another big influence was – even as teenagers, and a lot of us all of a certain age used to do this – we’d jump the ferry in Jamestown and go hang around the [Newport] Folk Festival. I’d be over there when I was 14 years old, and we’d all scam some way to get in. And then you’d wander around. And Son House would be there; Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf.  You’d ride the ferry with Arlo Guthrie; you’d ride the ferry with this that and the other. So, I actually got a chance early on to kind of rub elbows with people. 

Me: Did you get to chat with them?

Jon: Yeah, we’d all hang. I mean people; it wasn’t like the Festival is now. People kind of limo in, do their schtick, and then they gotta go play in Portland or something. I mean people used to come in early and hang. It would be three or four days people would come in, and crowds weren’t big. People would hang out and everybody would mix because everybody was sort of; Paul Geremia [RIMHOF Inductee, 2013] and I would be wondering around listening to these old blues guys. I mean he’s only a couple of years older than me. That was a great opportunity to see a real wide variety of sort of a lot of real genuine article type guys really early on. 

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

Allen Olsen: When you say rock, do you mean the classic rock of the seventies?

Neal: Classic rock. Absolutely. Classic rock as my friends they would be more into – which I couldn’t take – they were into Styx and those kinds of bands. 

Allen: Popular.

Neal: Yes. I found George Thorogood. And I found Elvis Costello and things like that which was not popular to them. And then I was buying blues records. We all loved Led Zeppelin and I wanted to know who McKinley Morganfield was. Who’s Willie Dixon? 

Allen: How did you get to that point? Did you buy the records?

Neal: I went and bought the records. 

Allen: And look at the back?

Neal: Yeah. First blues record I got to – and this all about blues; a big revelation from a kid from Warren – and my parents mistakenly got BB King’s second record called The Blues which I still have. And I played that; put that on and whoa! Check that out! Went to the Swansea Mall when they used to have a record store. Bought the first one that said The Blues, [and] Albert King’s double album live. Wore that out. Had to buy three of them. I bought the last copy about ten years ago. 

Allen: How did you get to that if…

Neal: I wanted to know what made the guys that made me want to play guitar what made them tick. And once I found that and listened to that I instantly gravitated towards it. Everything was guitar driven back then too. So, I mean of course in school we also had the southern rock thing that came which is totally blues based. The Allman Brothers’ “Statesboro Blues” all that stuff on [the live double album] The Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East. You had Cream doing Albert King licks, “Born Under a Bad Sign.” So, you know I became a little musicologist, I guess. I would go and buy those records and listen to them constantly; try to get those licks. You know back then as you know we didn’t go to YouTube and have somebody explain it to us. We put the record, and we put quarters on top of the needle to slow it down and figure out that lick. And it would be a lot of bad words coming from down the hall at my mother’s house. And the guitar would get; you know, frustration. And I just had a passion for that. I don’t know why. I just had to do that. And never looked back. That’s what I wanted to do. That’s what I really loved; still love.

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

Allen: So, you were about talk about a fellow who was in your neighborhood who used to play the drums. 

Michael: That was John Iacona . 

Allen: And how old were you at about that point?

Michael: I was about fifteen; fourteen, fifteen, sixteen were kind of like the enlightening years. I played guitar first; not really. I never really got to a point where I played it. That seriously didn’t work out at all, and the drums seemed a natural fit. After watching someone play; they would play with Jimmy Kelly from the house band – Monday nights, Nickanees – and a buddy of mine, John Capasso who I haven’t seen in years and years. But they would play in the basement and I’d watch. And it was intriguing. They had different musicians coming down; they’re trying to get a band that would be a working model that we could go out and do gigs with and whatnot. And John kind of knew enough about drums that he read music and all of that stuff. So, he was a good person to watch; to learn from. He was way ahead of me obviously. I had never played drums at that point, and he kind of knew what he was doing a little bit with the reading and he could show it. Kind of could watch him, and it was done where I could comprehend it. It was an awesome thing to mechanically figure it out and then take it and work with it. And so many years later I’m still doing it. 

Allen: And who were your influences, musically, when you were that age? 

Michael: Charlie Watts [drummer for the Rolling Stones], number one. 

Allen: Really?

Michael: Yup. Yup. And boy my first band – again with Jimmy Kelly – I think it was fourteen or fifteen Stones tunes we did. And you know it was a natural fit. Play a song rather than drums. You know it was more about what everybody else was doing versus, “I want to play a lot of notes.” Not that I didn’t, ‘cause I listened back and it’s pretty interesting how much I overplayed this stuff. But it was the beginning of me comprehending music first, drumming later.