Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Savoy Brown, Curse Of The Blues PT. - 1

My audition for Savoy Brown occurred in a flea bitten rehearsal room in Brooklyn, N.Y. in February of 1985.

As I had said in the last entry: Jack Starr "Lost In Limbo" I had met Arnie Goodman manager of Savoy Brown and owner of Zig Zag Records, a collector's paradise of heavy metal albums and rare used vinyl. He set up an audition for me with Kim Simmonds, founder of legendary blues rock band Savoy Brown. It would just be the two of us in a small rehearsal room jamming on standards and playing some of the new songs for his ongoing project.

Arnie drove me to a small rehearsal hall somewhere in Brooklyn and there we met Kim Simmonds. I towered over him as I'm 6' 4". He looked a little intimidated. We played together reasonably well and he told me that he liked my use of the snare drum. The playing part of the audition went extremely well so we nicked out to a nearby coffee shop so that Kim could pick my brain about music and try to get better acquainted. Just like with Rhett Forester so many month's ago, Kim was having a problem looking me in the eye and was being very vague about his band and me being a part of it. I later found out that he was spooked at the fact that I was dressed to hit the stage in what was to be a casual meeting and that he had a hard time taking me seriously! This also would be a trend throughout my 3 years of service with his band! Arnie suddenly walked into the small coffee shop and Kim and him went off into a corner to discuss whether or not I would be their pick. Arnie assured Kim that I was more than capable of doing the job as he had seen me play with Jack Starr in Long Island. He asked Arnie if I was on drugs because he had never seen anyone dress or look like me. Arnie told him once again that he had personally checked me out and if he wanted a good drummer, I was his man!

Kim Simmonds was reluctant to have me as his drummer which only further discouraged me in my journey to the "big time!"

Kim was still hesitant. Arnie and him had a few more words and then Kim suddenly left the coffee shop. I thought to myself " Oh boy, not again!" Arnie informed me that Kim wasn't sure and that now his band would have to make the decision. So I was to now drive to Cleveland, Ohio the following week and meet the rest of the band and play with them. If they liked what they heard, then that would be good enough for Kim. Arnie also told me not to get my hopes up as he thought Kim would immediately be bowled over by me but now was apparently skeptical of my professionalism! I thought to myself, "I've been doing this sort of thing probably as many years as Kim" "If he doesn't like what I do screw 'em!!" He didn't bowl me over either, at least not on that night!

So, the following week I made my way out of Virginia and up through Ohio until I came to Cleveland. It was going to be St. Patty's day that upcoming weekend so the town was mobbed with people and traffic. I made it to my destination on the shores of Lake Erie at a three story office building which was converted in to a rehearsal hall and recording studio.

I was greeted by Gary Bordonero, Duck MacDonald and Jimmy Kunes! I had seen all of them play on stage in the not so distant past! All three of them were awesome musicians! Gary was the Bassist for "The Rods", Duck had played guitar for "Shakin' Street" on the Black And Blue Tour in 1981 with Black Sabbath and Blue Oyster Cult and Jimmy had just recently played L'amour in Brooklyn with ex-Riot members in "Silent Partner" as their vocalist! All of us were top flight musicians and I was sure that this was going to be my next band if I past their litmus test!

We unloaded my truck of all the drums and carted everything up the lift to the rehearsal room! Right away Jimmy and I became close friends and he was excited about having me on board! Duck and Gary seemed very occupied on the phone with Carl Canedy, drummer of "The Rods" about a solo album that Duck had just recorded called "Thrasher". The first 2 days that I was there that was all they seemed to be interested in. So initially my only contact was with Jimmy which was fine.

The time came for the rehearsal/audition. Kim arrived and was still avoiding me which started pissing me off! I would never treat someone like that who had made it to the ranks of an audition because a certain amount of research must have been made to suggest that the person was worthy of said audition. I didn't deserve what was behind door number one, two or three but I did deserve basic respect! After all I had just driven 600 miles to be there!

We went through 3 of the songs that I was told to learn and Gary Bordonero turned around and asked sarcastically "Do you listen to much John Bonham?" I asked "Why? You don't like Bonham?" Immediately Duck MacDonald turned to me and said "That's it!" I'm thinking "Oh No, They don't like me!" Then Duck spoke again and said 'I'm now done looking for drummers and Joe, your it!" Kim Simmonds got the look of horror on his face and they went in to another room to discuss it further! Evidently Kim was trying to negate this decision as Duck was the band leader for Kim and the quality control officer of the the group! Duck was adament about his decision and went as far as to say that if they wanted to send me home that he was leaving too!

Duck MacDonald went to bat for me when Kim Simmonds called my musicianship into question!

I never forgot that act of kindness from Duck and as you can see from my first blog entry "A Ground Breaking Revelation At 13" Duck's kindness was payed back in spades!

We rehearsed many hours a day until we got it right and were ready to play out. We even tried recording a studio cut but the recording engineer's set up was sub par so we knocked it on the head and went out in the streets of Cleveland to celebrate St. Patrick's day with 10,000 drunk Irishmen! This is where the rest of the band started warming up to me and realized that I loved having a good time even if it was at my own expense. They also found out that my strangeness got us a lot of attention with passersby who for the first time asked Duck and Gary "Do you guys play in a band?"

Later that night the studio engineer who messed things up wanted to make it up to us by taking the band to a huge club that he knew about that according to him had loads of beautiful women who patronized the place! We said "Hell Yeah, Let's go!"

We arrived at a very large establishment in "the flats" of Cleveland. We walked in the club all of us in full leathers, to a giant crowd of people. There was a caberet act on the stage with a woman singing and throwing garters into the audience while straddling a chair! It was something straight out of a Marlena Deitrick movie! As we stood at the bar several women approached the band in micro-mini skirts and push up bra's! One of these came up to me and started whispering stuff in my ear but the musical performance was to loud for me to make out what she was saying. Before I could get around to getting a good look at her Gary Bordonero ran up to me in a panic! I asked him what was wrong? He asked me if I had taken a good look at this girl who was trying unsuccesfully to put the moves on me? I said that I hadn't gotten around to that and that I was getting ready to before he came barging in! Gary said "Look at her, she's got an"Adam's apple!" It was a guy! In fact all of the chicks in this place were guys! Gary said "We've got to get out of here!" Damn if he wasn't right! Even the woman on stage was a female impersonator! All of us were shocked and we'd been had! So, on the way out of the bar there was a massive suit of armor at the entrance of the hall which I dry humped until it fell into a pile of metal arms and legs and then shouted "Viva la France!" and exited the building! I could see that the rest of the band were quite impressed at my strange exhibitionism but extreme circumstances demand remarkable actions!

When we got to the car we let that engineer guy have it for bringing us to this horror show of a club! He laughed his ass off and said "I thought you guys would enjoy it!" To this day I never go to a club on someone's recomendation unless I've check it out myself! I have to admit though, we were closer as a band from that moment on because we couldn't make up stuff like that!
You absolutely need living witnesses!

The following weekend came and we drove to Ann Arbor, Michigan for our first show together as Savoy Brown at a ratty college bar called "The Blind Pig". I was glad that we started there because my heroes, MC5 and The Stooges were from Ann Arbor and it was kind of symbolic to me. The gig was great and Kim found out real quick that I was great at sussing out spontaneous moments in the set and that I was consistent throughout! From then on he acted a lot better towards me!

A rough and tumble looking Savoy Brown. L-R Duck MacDonald, Gary Bordonero, Jimmy Kunes, Kim Simmonds and Joe Hasselvander.

Many other gigs followed and we were still based out of Cleveland until one day we learned that Kim and his wife Tina had parted ways. He was devastated and I totally understood as I had lost every woman I had ever loved to the music industry! Kim decided to move into exile in upstate New York as Gary and Duck were from there and it seemed the right thing to do! Jimmy Kunes and I also had to move there and we found a place to live in Cortland, New York with a women who provided the accommodations for all the bands recording at Pyramid studios in nearby Ithaca. Her name was Vicky and her house had even been dubbed "The Rock & Roll Hotel".
Metallica had once lived there and now Raven were living there although they were on tour most of the time. Jimmy and I stayed in the downstairs part of the house with Vicky. I had once met her in Long Island as she used to date Ned Meloni who was still playing bass for Jack Starr. I knew from that meeting that she was a ballsy rock and roll chick and was no pushover!

Vicky Calandra took care of Jimmy Kunes and I like a mother and made a hard situation easier for us!

Jimmy and I would vacate the house to give Vicky her space and for us to get some excersize in the local parks around Cortland! These photos of Jimmy and I were taken at Tremon Falls.

Our new base of operations was much better although our shows were all in the mid-west. But at least now it was easier for Jimmy and I at the Rock & Roll Hotel under Vicky's care!
We were booked for a show in Detroit at the premier blues club called "The Soup Kitchen". When we drove out there we were joined by legendary guitarist of Mitch Ryder and Cactus, Jim McCarty! Kim and Duck left the stage while Jimmy Kunes, Gary Bordonero and I played "Parchman Farm" which Jim had recorded years before with his old band Cactus! Jim smoked on guitar while we played the most authentic Cactus imitation we could muster. That was a surreal moment and I told him so! I was a huge fan of Cactus and still am! Gary and I thanked him for letting us be Tim Bogart and Carmine Appice for an evening! Ironically Jimmy Kunes became Cactus' vocalist in 2005 with Mr. McCarty on guitar!

Jim McCarty sat in and played Parchman Farm with us and blew the roof off the building!

While all this was going on people were cramming into the small blues bar to see what was going on. Parked outside in front of the place were 2 red limos containing Jimmy Page and Paul Rogers! The Firm had just played at the local arena and they were now coming by to hear Kim play but got spooked when they saw the overflowing crowd so rather than coming in they just sat there and listened through cracked windows.

Savoy Brown at the Soup Kitchen in Detroit with Jimmy Page and Paul Rodgers listening on outside in their limos!

Another memorable gig from that time was "Sun Fest", an outdoor concert in Ford City PA. with an average audience of 2000. We played in support of Mark Farner who was one of the friendliest and most down to earth people I have ever met! He came up to me in the food line in catering and said,"Don't eat the potato salad, you don't know how long that's been sitting there." That opened the conversation between him and I about a lot of things including his dear friends who had once worked with him who kept drinking and drugging it up! He told me about their tragic endings and that he had since adopted a zero tollerance policy about folks who indulge in such stupidity! I was a health nut in those days and I had to agree! Gary Bordonero and I asked him if he would take a photo with us in the classic Grand Funk Railroad pose? He agreed.
After our show he was in his stage outfit ready to go on and Gary and I were fresh off the stage soaked in sweat and took the classic hands out shot! It was a great pleasure meeting him!

Top - Savoy Brown at "The Office" in Ford City, PA. the night before the open air "Sun Fest" with Mark Farner!
Below - Joe Hasselvander playing the outdoor event in front of 2000 people.

That whole summer was filled with gigs. Some outdoor events and some in large venues like Harpo's in Detroit among others in the midwest.

One show in particular makes me shudder when I think about it. We were playing with Molly Hatchet somewhere in Ohio at an outdoor festival and Jimmy Kunes and I were invited in Molley Hatchet's trailer to talk with Dave Lubeck. Let's just say that Dave and the rest of the band were enjoying their type of lybation in powder form! Jimmy and I of course did as the Romans do as to not offend anyone and found ourselves tweaked! Dave went on to tell us that the way him and Danny Joe Brown learned about per diem was that they were once shagging these 2 girls and while doing so were reaching down in their pocket books and relieving them of their cash! Dave said, "And that's where Danny Joe and I learned about per diem"! These guys were hilarious but were also kind of dangerous to be around!

Jimmy and I went back to our trailer and found a 17 year old girl lying in bed naked! She had been running the consession stand at the festival. And now here she was summoning Jimmy and I to come have sex with her! Gary Bordonero suddenly burst into the room with a camera and told us "Go ahead guys and I'll take pictures!" It was no sooner than he said that, when the festival security stormed our trailer and confiscated Gary's camera and tore the film out of it! For some strange reason this seemed like a classic frame up and for all I know it was! Kim and Duck walked in to this horrible scene in disbelief! The festival security were ready to call the authorities on us! So Kim calmed them down enough to let us go and we sped off in the van to our hotel to only later be visited by Molly Hatchet's tour bus! They had tracked us down because they had heard of the incident and wanted to commend us on our rock & roll attitude!

There was a buzz starting to happen around the band and it was at that time that Kim changed the name of the band from Savoy Brown to "The Kim Simmonds Band" or "K.S.B." and decided to primarily focus on the new material we were playing and the new songs that were coming fast and furious as our rehearsal schedule ramped up!

I was asked to replace the drums on an earlier demo of four songs that had been recorded 2 months before I joined the group. The drum tracks that were laid down by the previous drummer were inadequate and so was the overall mix. So, we went in the studio with Carl Canedy at the helm and replaced the tracks in an afternoon which shocked everyone! I was used to doing things like that and I've always had a good ear so it wasn't a problem. The demo was then remixed and produced by Carl who did a super job also!

We played a few more shows one of them being support for Blue Oyster Cult at L"Amour in Brooklyn, N.Y. and then we took a small winter break.

We hit the road again in May and played an outstanding show in Chicago where we met up with Dean from Dean Guitars who offered us a development deal with an unending budget for recording to the tune of $100,000! The only stipulation was that Dean wanted to personally manage the group as he thought we were one of the rockingest bands that he had ever seen. Kim flat out declined the offer as he would not leave Arnie Goodman behind as our manager. I loved Arnie as much as everyone else but I think Kim blew an incredible deal for the band which he did several other times in my tenure as drummer.

The pay from Kim was getting ever smaller and it became suspicious to me but I held my tongue and continued playing these shows as it was educating me about putting on not just good concerts but great concerts! This was to prove invaluable to me in later years.Some people in the band weren't as tolerant. Gary Bordonero was feeling the pinch and was fast becoming disillusioned! I believe the only thing that kept him around was that we were a great live band. He had met a woman who would later become his wife and he needed to be thinking about a nest and a nest egg! I was happy for him.

Our final round of shows with Gary were to become the "Make Or Break Tour"! We would be traveling to Florida for 3 dates in Orlando, Cocoa Beach and Ft. Lauderdale and then on to Stone Mountain, Ga. to play and be showcased by Mary Tyler Moore's record label, MTM. Then we would rap things up with a gig in Detroit.

Our trip to Florida took 17 hours. We arrived in Daytona and we all jumped in the hotel pool and for the first time realized that we were better friends to each other than we had been willing to admit. We had come a long way to being the great band that we were and we were finally loosening up and just enjoying the ride of rock & roll miles away from the frigid cold of upstate New York! The Gigs went down fantastic and we never were aware of how famous Kim was down in Florida. It all made for a great time especially with all the beautiful women we had in tow!

Top - Tickets for our shows in Cocoa Beach and Orlando.
Below - Joe Hasselvander "The Hairspray Whore" had to nick out for the gooey stuff before the gig in Ft. Lauderdale!

After moving north and playing the showcase in Georgia we ended up in Detroit for a show at "Tracks" where the legendary Dick Wagner came out to see us. I remember him coming up to me after the show and telling me that he really liked my drumming as I reminded him of Neal Smith, the drummer of the Alice Cooper Band. He asked me if Kim was around. I said he's in the dressing room, could I ask who's looking for him? He said, "Tell him that Dick Wagner is here and wants to speak with him." I suddenly recognized him and told him that I had always wanted to meet him and had I known he would be there I would have brought my Frost and Ursa Major records for him to sign! He just stood there and looked at me funny! I later found out that he too had offered Kim a smaller but tidy sum of $10,000 worth of studio time if he could produce and share in developing the band! Kim turned him down also! This was a super missed opportunity as Dick Wagner had been instrumental in the making of Lou Reed's "Rock & Roll Animal" and Alice Cooper's "Welcome To My Nightmare"!

Photos from "Tracks" Detroit, Michigan the final stop on our mini-tour ending the Gary Bordonero era!

When we got back to New York Gary announced that he was leaving the group and so we all took a bit of a break until December and I was able to go home and see family and relax awhile.
I was never really able to do that as I found my old home town friends all addicted to cocaine and it wasn't long till I developed my own problems with it. I was also very depressed about the band's status at the time. No band has ever aged me as much as The Kim Simmonds Band. It was hard work for long hours with next to no money and no place to live except on somebody's couch that didn't nesessarily want you sleeping on it! Big changes were about to come and this had only been the first chapter!

Don't miss the 2nd entry on this very talented band that 's story hasn't been told until now! Next week in Savoy Brown, Curse Of The Blues PT. - 2

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