A few weeks ago, in what has become customary when I’m not performing with my own band, MDIII, or Forever Soul, the 12-piece band that you will hear more about in a future story, I went down to the Fairfield Café to check out and sit in with my friends, guitarist Al Ferrante, keyboardist Glen Masso, and his band, Al Ferrante and friends.
This is a great band, with a rotation of some of the finest musicians in this area, many of who have played with, and still play with MDIII; Pat Marafiote, Steve Clarke, Chris Stanley, Jay Gerbino, Scott Lebish, Steve Scales, etc.
Great music and musicianship are the norm on Friday nights here, a cool atmosphere totally unlike the other venues where you may hear live music. This is about the music, the art, the craft, a departure from the drink and dance crowd, although the music is so infectious, you will dance at some point.
I make it a point to sit in when free, especially when Marafiote or Masso man the keyboards. Pat brings out the jazzier side of my vocal personality, as well as the Stevie Wonder songbook, and Glen appeals to me from the standpoint of songs from my AM radio. Let me explain.
It sounds biased, I know, but the 70’s to me was hands down, one of the greatest times for music. Soul, Funk, Motown, Rock, categories that were not quite categorized, music with a message, love songs that were not vulgar, there was something for everyone.
My mom had a great collection of 45rpms, so I learned the A and B sides of so many, my next door neighbors in the old Marina Apartments, the Waller family, had all the albums, all the “jams”, and since our FM reception in the projects wasn’t the best, we were stuck with AM radio, which actually wasn’t a bad thing. You see, I learned so many tunes while not even trying to learn them and these songs became anthems for that era.
On this night, I heard the band do an instrumental of ‘Dance With Me’ by Orleans, smooth acoustic groove-style. When they called me up, I performed Toto’s ‘Georgy Porgy’ which took me back to the fall of 1978, my freshman year at UCONN. Although I had never performed the tune, I knew it word for word, thanks to the AM radio’s influence. We also covered a song I had done with Masso previously, 1970’s ‘Beginnings’ by Chicago, a cut I can never tire of doing.
As the evening drew to a close, the owners agreed to keep the bar open for a few, and we kept it going, pulling out impromptu versions of great classics from that era: More Today Than Yesterday by Spiral Staircase, Spinning Wheel by Blood, Sweat & Tears, Wildflower by Skylark, Philadelphia Freedom by Elton John, Get Back by the Beatles, Day After Day by Badfinger and others. Some ladies came up and provided some background vocals, and a good time was had by all.
Out of this, an idea was born, courtesy of a conversation I had with Al Ferrante. Let’s put together a show based on the songs from this period.
Yes, I am a committed R&B/Funk/Motown/Jazz vocalist, but I know these songs well. My peers know these tunes just as well, those people I grew up with who had the same radio reception issues.
These songs are indeed a soundtrack for our lives. Ferrante knows so many of these songs, so the idea has started to take flight. A little about Al, he has taught John Mayer, and had performed with talents like Edgar Winter, Cindy Lauper, and other too numerous to mention. Whenever I called out a song, if the other guys didn’t know them, he knew them.
This is what I call being in tune, being locked in, the essence of true musicianship. All because we bothered to listen to these songs. You could see the looks on the faces of the listeners as these tunes took them back to pockets of times in their lives. We started to think, hey that was a hugely successful period for music, let’s bring them back. There are many people who would like to hear this great music again.
As someone who has covered many songs for many years, and has participated in tributes to Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Motown and others, I believe in respecting the legacy of these great artists and their contributions. We try to do this music right, as well as keep it authentic.
The generations that have followed would do well to check out the rich history; hey, You Tube is a great tool for all music lovers. Even the late 60’s, when I first learned that I could carry a tune as a little boy, had its AM gems. Happy Together by the Turtles, The Letter, by the Box Tops, were 2 songs at the turn of the decade that caught my ear. During a time of war, revolution and political change, these songs carried some serious weight. They all seemed to have some meaning in these dynamic times.
These songs are timeless, and I suspect they will be remade over and over, and some already have. Everyone says their era was the best from a musical standpoint, I doubt that anything could ever match the 70’s, and the songs from my AM radio.
Stay tuned as we put this show together. We promise to do this right, and hope to see some of you as well.