A recent East End arrival, I moved here from Nashville. Having been in the music biz in one incapacity or another for more than 35 years, I process music through a filter derived in large part from 1950s and ’60s Top 40 AM Radio. My career may be deemed a cautionary tale, but the soundtrack is top-notch!
But this is not about me.
Via the web I recently reconnected with an old buddy, Gus Backus, a member of the ’50s doo-wop icons the Del Vikings (“Come Go with Me”). He reinvented himself overseas in the ’60s, as the “German Elvis,” enjoying a truly stellar career in music and film. Gus was born in Southampton in 1937, and in 1957, as one of two white singers in the Del Vikings, he broke some serious ground—they were the only integrated rock group to have major hits in the late ’50s. But this is not about him.
Gus’s Southampton roots got me wondering, what other artists and music luminaries called the East End home? What was pop music’s footprint out here—singers, bands, songwriters, record company rascals, you name it? I beat the hedgerows for details, and came up with enough data to warrant the establishment of an East End Rock & Soul Hall of Fame (and Food Truck). EERSHOF for short.
Cleveland’s got the Rock & Roll HOF, Nashville’s got the Country Music HOF. There’s even a Long Island Music HOF in Port Jefferson—weighted overwhelmingly toward NYC and Nassau County. The East End should have one, too—after all, this is the most famous and fashionable slice of LI real estate. To paraphrase ZZ Top: We’re Bad, We’re Nationwide.
So I drew up the following criteria:
Timeframe: 30-year cutoff, i.e. nothing more recent than 1984 for the 2014 nominees.
Genres: Rock & Roll, R&B, Soul and Top 40 Radio from the golden era—before radio became balkanized, MTV radically transformed the music biz, and MP3s drastically degraded the audio experience. If you’re looking for Broadway, cabaret, classical, opera, rap, “alternative” anything, you won’t find it here, sorry.
That said, I’m pleased to announce the Categories and Official Nominees for the 2014 EERSHOF Induction and Food Truck…
True Locals: Artists/Musical Personages of Distinction Born or Residing on East End Both Summer and Winter
Gus Backus – Southampton (See Preamble above). Gus recently turned 75, lives in Bavaria, and still performs regularly. His autobiography, Ich esse gar kein Sauerkraut—Die Autobiografie, was published in 2011. I don’t speak German, I have no clue what that means. But I’m sure it’s a good read, unless it’s a cookbook.
Laura Branigan – East Quogue (1957–2004). Chanteuse, who coupled big beautiful four-octave voice with an aching vulnerability, a rare and compelling combination. Branigan had hits with Euro disco staple “Gloria” and the ballad “Solitaire,” and gave Michael Bolton his first major songwriting success with “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You?” Her devoted fan club holds an annual celebration of her life and music.
Hugh Prestwood – Greenport. Premier songwriter for the last 30 years. Some of his music rocks, some rolls, but it’s all drenched in soul, elegantly crafted and hauntingly perceptive. Discovered in 1978 by Judy Collins, Hugh has penned songs for James Taylor, Anne Murray and many of Nashville’s finest artists of the last three decades. He’s “self-contained,” choosing not to co-write—a rare distinction for successful Nashville-oriented songwriters, and further evidence of his remarkable talent. Or antisocial tendencies.
Steve Boone – Westhampton Beach.Westhampton High School graduate Boone played locally with the Kingsmen before joining the Lovin’ Spoonful as bass player. One of a few U.S. bands to hold their own against the British Invasion, they scored seven Top 10 hits between ’64 and ’68. Boone co-wrote “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice” and “Summer in the City.” The tall skinny one, he favored turtlenecks and Guild Starfire basses.
Joe Butler – Westhampton. Drummer with the Lovin’ Spoonful. Stationed at Suffolk County Air Force Base in 1961, Butler played with Boone in the Kingsmen, joining the Spoonful in ’64. He was usually seated behind a really small drum kit, typical of mid-’60s bands, sporting a French sailor shirt.
Alexander “Sascha” Burland – Bridgehampton. The composer/arranger owned a recording studio in Bridgehampton in the ’70s. Burland makes the HOF for two stunning achievements. In 1959, following the success of David Seville’s Alvin and the Chipmunks comedy records, with those really annoying sped-up vocals, Burland and partner Don Elliott responded with the Nutty Squirrels self-titled LP. It featured bebop scat singing in a demented upper register, beatnik-inflected lyrics and, astonishingly, two songs that made the charts: “Uh! Oh! Part 1” reached #45, and “Uh! Oh! Part 2” peaked at #14. Burland wrote many TV and radio jingles, and in 1966 a studio group billed as the T-Bones took a tune he’d written for Alka Seltzer, “No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach’s In),” all the way to #3. A Nutty Squirrels reunion is being planned, hopefully in time for the Induction Ceremony.
Teo Macero – Quogue (1925–2008). A distinguished record producer, composer and arranger. Macero produced landmark recordings by Duke Ellington, Thelonius Monk, Charlie Mingus, Dave Brubeck and many more. He made the HOF cut for producing three albums by Robert “Simply Irresistible” Palmer, and Miles Davis’s startlingly bottom-heavy electrified LPs, Bitches Brew and On the Corner. Some call them jazz, some call them fusion, I call them “Rock & Soul and a whole lot mo’.”
Summer People: Artists/ Musical Personages of Distinction Spending Inordinate Amount of Time on East End Between Memorial Day and Labor Day – Usually in Big Houses or on Big Motorcycles
Ahmet Ertegun – Southampton (1923 – 2006). Record company mogul founded Atlantic Records in 1947. Producer, songwriter, raconteur, bon vivant. He ran with everyone from Aretha to Led Zeppelin, yet his favorite vocalist was Fred Astaire, whose flawless enunciation and respect for lyrics endeared him to many songwriters of the day. Pop music without Ahmet’s contribution is simply unimaginable; the inaugural EERSHOF Food Truck will be configured in his honor. (See below)
Jerry Wexler – East Hampton (1917–2008).Record producer, journalist, record executive. As a Billboard magazine writer in 1948, Wexler coined the term “rhythm and blues,” then proceeded to help bring R&B to its fullest flowering. Joining forces with Ahmet Ertegun in 1953, he was instrumental in Atlantic’s creation of the greatest catalog of R&B, soul, jazz, and rock ever, in my humble opinion. Wexler and Ertegun each deserve an entire Hall unto themselves, but real estate is so pricey out here.
Billy Joel – No introduction needed, no explanation necessary. Genius. Just the way he is.
Jimmy Buffett – North Haven. Alabama-raised migratory songbird. Parrot to be exact. In hush puppies or flip-flops, he has sure-footedly remained among top-touring acts for decades, with whip-smart songwriting, a former journalist’s gift for storytelling and an abundant generosity of spirit—tequila. Buffett has balmy Gulf & Western roots, but he can rock hard, with some surprisingly potent sidemen (and sidewomen) over the years. Look up the complete roster of his Coral Reefer band, and you will be amazed. I was.
Mick Jones – East Hampton. UK native, creator, guitarist and leader of arena-rock immortals Foreigner. Hot blooded and beautifully melodic, too. Extra credit for early work with Johnny Hallyday; he survived French rock & roll (easiest oxymoron ever) to become a genuine juke box hero.
Stars & Bars: Bands/Singers That Rocked the East End, Delighting Club Owners and Liquor Distributors Alike
Young Rascals – Of NJ/Westchester origin, this blue-eyed soul quartet was discovered in 1965 while serving as house band at The Barge, on Dune Road in East Quogue. (If you aren’t familiar with their string of superb hits and just-as-fine near-misses, you have no business reading any further. Please go directly to the Police Blotter and check up on your neighbors.) Lead singer Felix Cavaliere made the 600-pound combination of Hammond Organ & Leslie Tallboy speaker a mandatory component of every LI band to follow the Rascals. He put hundreds of chiropractors’ kids through college, and should be inducted into their HOF, if there’s any justice in this world.
Rat Race Choir – White Plains natives, this band took up regular summer residence in Southampton for a number of years. While they never became a recording act of note, they drove hordes of summertime celebrants crazy, with superb musicianship and very large amplifiers. I had the dubious fortune of being in a cover band with a former RRC keyboard-player. The gale-force breeze from his speaker cabinets was invigorating, but my hearing has never recovered.
Twisted Sister – Dee Snider’s colorful troupe of screaming shredders got a lot of practice playing The Mad Hatter club in East Quogue. They first appeared there in the summer of ’73 (pre-Dee) and worked there often throughout their formative years. Good taste is timeless.
You may be thinking there are few true locals, and not many nominees of any type—but that’s okay. Exclusive area, exclusive HOF. As now conceived, it could easily squeeze into a small nook of the original Parrish Art Museum. Once funding is secured, plans call for the creation of the EERSHOF Food Truck. Chefs have become the new rock stars, foodies the new groupies. The roll-out version will honor Ahmet Ertegun, offering kebabs, Turkish taffy and raki. Plans call for a Jimmy Buffett Buffet version: boiled shrimp, sponge cake, margaritas. (EMS personnel will be on hand to respond to any outbreak of Parrot-tonitis.) Yum.
This is a work in progress, corrections are welcome. The HOF is in particular need of photos, posters, police reports and ER records which are the lifeblood of Rock & Soul scholarship.
Program Notes for the 2014 EERSHOF Induction Ceremony
Music to be performed will include the following adaptations of classic Rock & Soul songs. (With or without the Nutty Squirrels.)
“Sag Harbor Lights” – The Platters
“Gimme Shelter Island” – The Rolling Stones
“Riverhead Deep, Montauk High” – Ike & Tina Turner
“Sweet Home Amagansett” – Lynyrd Skynyrd