I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked about the origins of the names of the various musical groups I’ve performed with over the last two decades. In my book, naming a band is kind of like assigning it an identity and it’s no surprise that, over time, popular bands in every musical genre develop into individual entities. For example, guitarist and songwriter Jerry Garcia allegedly hated the name The Grateful Dead. Yet now, after four-plus decades, that name is part of our social consciousness. When I hear a GD tune such as “Scarlet Begonias,” “Ripple” or “Friend of the Devil” it immediately conjures up images, memories and emotions from my past experiences.
Therefore, I thought it would be kind of cool to go through the different ensembles I’ve performed with over the years, in chronological order, and relate the stories behind their various appellations.
While not the first I ever played in, this band was, in many ways, where I began to fine-tune my vocal and guitar abilities. Comprised of myself, my best friend Tozer on drums and my father on the bass guitar, Happiness Hotel was a reference to Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem, of Muppet Show fame, and the dilapidated hotel where the muppets spend some time during Jim Henson’s classic The Great Muppet Caper. Known best for our unique rendition of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” segued into Hendrix’s “Third Stone From the Sun,” the band played a wide variety of modern (at the time) and classic rock, including covers by artists such as Tom Petty, Pearl Jam, Neil Young, Green Day (yes, Green Day), Hootie & the Blowfish (I can’t believe I just admitted to that), Collective Soul, Van Morrison and the aforementioned Cream and Hendrix.
Featuring myself, high school and college buddy Bill Frank on bass, Tozer and, originally, Vischi on keyboards (he soon left the band to join the Army – without telling us), Lunar Stew was our all-original college jam band, formed in early 1996 while Bill and I were attending Ithaca College. If I remember correctly, I wanted the word stew in the band’s name due to the many different musical styles the group experimented with, namely blues, jazz and rock. Bill came up with the “lunar” part thanks to a computer game he played back in high school which mentioned something about “lunar dew,” if I remember correctly. My memories of this band always revolve around the summer of 1996, one of the most prolific songwriting periods of my life and one which I will never forget. What an amazing summer that was. People who remember this band might recall several of our favorite – “No More Rolling Home,” “The Big Nothing,” “Sneaky Raccoon” and “That Damn Spot” among others.
Fools at Play
Following our return from Vermont, where we had attempted to put together “the band that would take us all the way,” good friend Bosworth (also on guitar) and I formed Fools at Play with Vischi (now on bass) and drummer Nick Andrews. Even at 14, as I believe he was, Andrews was probably one of the most talented drummers I’d ever heard at the time. Vischi departed the band shortly after our debut performance at The Music Shop Pub and was replaced by Troy Abbott (aka Roy Tabbot), who’d been banging away on a makeshift percussion set with the band. We released an album of all original material titled “Have Gun, Will Travel” in 2000 or 2001, and headlined Bosworth’s Twisted Groove Music and Arts Festival during its run. The name of the band was actually taken from a song I had written (what’s funny is I can’t remember to this day how it went) shortly before our first performance. What’s also humorous is the fact that our first inclination for a name, Rippleton, would later become the moniker for another band put together by Tozer, Vischi and I nearly a decade later.
When I began this blog I had absolutely no idea it would take up quite this much space, so I guess I’ll do this in two parts. If you’re interested, look for part two in the near future.