My musical history is what I consider non-standard. The road to professionalism would begin at 19, but before that? Let’s just say I was not enrolled in a local “rock school”.
Sunny days, small bedroom, Brooklyn apartment. 1970s.
There I am sitting on the floor pretending to play keyboard using old Maxell cassette tape storage containers — my father brought them home from work.
The cases were empty, the slots making up imaginary keys of an organ or piano: my earliest memory of being a performer.
A few years ago, I miraculously discovered rare evidence of my hidden childhood musicality and improvisational ability. It was on an old cassette tape, labeled “Mark – 3 Years Old”.
In retrospect I consider this my first recording “session” — where my mother had me repeatedly singing the alphabet. I did SO many takes. After a while, I truly expressed myself, listen to file below.
If you did not listen to the file provided — I improvised and sang ” A, B, C, D…. I wanna go out!” This was received quite unfavorably.
1970s: My dad worked in New York City in the “audio-video” business, so we always had some piece of current technology. The cassette recorder was similar to a Panasonic RQ-413AS — we had an external handheld microphone — were these the field recordings my father envisioned making?
This recording is the only evidence of my early musical involvement.
My parents, along with relatives and friends were convinced I was destined to be a commercial artist.
Yes, I expressed an interest in drawing — and it lasted as I became older. It exists now, it is always there.
However, no effort was made to encourage any other creative interests. My sister received all of the “entertainment” training through dance and piano lessons.
I was alone on a journey of musical discovery having no older sibling to introduce me to cool music — any music for that matter. I had devices and attentions. Radio, Vinyl and Cassettes.
My curiosity aided me in developing an appreciation of musical diversity. 1970’s radio would form the initial base of my musical foundation. Paul McCartney and Wings, Elton John, BTO, Hues Corporation, Del-Fonics….
Essentially Dan Ingram on WABC radio; the music that would become classic rock as well as pop, soul and period R&B. These were the sounds of my Brooklyn and trips in the car, that old 4 door Cutlass. Note: Not the one pictured, but very similar.
1975: my family moved from Brooklyn out to New Jersey and my musical discoveries would continue to evolve.
Radio and popular cultural music were all-consuming but I also began to investigate the albums my father was bringing home.
I don’t know why my dad brought home this broad mixture of LPs, perhaps because they were free?
Did my Dad ever listen to Demis Roussos or Bonnie Bramlett? No.
1976. When the US was in the state of KISS fever — my classmates raving about Peter Criss being the greatest drummer — I could not embrace that and as evidence pointed to “All the World’s a Stage” and Neil Peart. Most 9 year olds did not know who Rush was apparently. I discovered Rush in his take-home collection!
FACT: The first album I ever personally acquired was a Beatles re-issue The Beatle’s, Rock N Roll Music, released in 1976. It can be found on eBay now for upwards of 16 dollars. It is a double album. “Hey Bulldog” was the tune that really gripped me.
As I grew older I would often refer to my father’s cache of albums and bit by bit discover overlooked treasures, such as Nazareth, Art Tatum, Manu Dibango, Ray Conniff, Hair ( OST ) and Jesus Christ Superstar to name a few but for the most part, harder classic rock would command my attention until practically the very end of high school.
My path toward music as profession could be called “the service road less traveled”.
My main diet from 1975 to 1984 was what commercial radio served up, a whole lot of classic rock, pop plus a bit of alternative/new-wave and early rap. This was supplemented by college/freeform radio along with my continued explorations of my parent’s eclectic vinyl. I discovered anything else via random chance, songs and albums:
Pink Floyd Animals, Hurricane by Dylan, Beatles/Rubber Soul, Tommy/The Who, The Ramones — all in summer camp.
A home-town neighborhood acquaintance D. Blitzer introduced me to Floyd’s ” Piper at the Gates of Dawn” — as well as alcohol.
I owe my introduction to Metal to A. Malawista. He turned me on to Priest and Maiden, summer of 1982. At age 15, I walked the streets of New Orleans, Iron Maiden’s “Killers” cassette playing over and over via my Aiwa “Walkman”. I was so taken by the song “Prodigal Son”.
The following summer, while visiting a friend in London, I had two cassettes: Deep Purple, “Deepest Purple” and Iron Maiden “Piece of Mind”. Piece of Mind came with a bonus T-Shirt, which I wore until it fell apart in the 90s. I was so tempted to buy Judas Priest Killing Machine — because in the US it was released as Hell Bent for Leather.
By college I was powered by metal: Metallica, Slayer and many others but I also had Theolonious Monk, Be-Bop, WKCR, WPRB — plus fresh music I was exposed to by new people I had been meeting.
This mixture, these environments, formed my foundation, as I became a musician.
I was not a vocalist at first.
1985: I met a guy Andy in college. He was a drummer. He saw me tapping my hands and fingers and suggested I might try drumming. That was all it took. I embraced his suggestion.
I worked out the cash and eventually purchased a Pearl drum set at Manny’s in New York City. My family was not very enthusiastic. Long story short: I taught myself to play, reached a certain level of proficiency, jammed with friends and yet knew I was late to the game. Drumming would not be what I would do. Eventually I sold the set for much less than I paid for it.
How I decided to be a singer I cannot recall.
I just wanted to keep my hair long — long hair was synonymous with musician. I can’t recall the first music paper I bought… nor remember my moment of decision. I have to settle on accepting that it was such a deep, creative ultimatum that my conscious self was pushed forward by a mysterious, powerful, unavoidable energy.
I was 19 and I would begin the auto-didactic process that has never ceased. I didn’t even own a microphone or PA. I had a crazy persistence. I called all over and pestered people… Whirling, in the white water rapids that was Part 1 of my life, I simply dived into it.
I was in bands located in the major “metal” locations of the day ( Old Bridge, Middletown, Paramus/North Jersey ).
And it started: my collecting what might be comparable to “merit badges”.
- I remained for over a year in band that never left the basement.
- I played in a battle of the bands — at a high school — Once.
- I would perform at various clubs on the Jersey Shore — ones that would eventually disappear.
- I would experience opening up for larger bands.
(Pantera, Suicidal Tendencies, Savatage, Trouble, TT Quick and more )
- I “sold tickets” a few times, for gigs so far back I cannot recall the club that required this evil practice.
- I would experience the “trip to the music lawyer”.
- I would soak in the “command performance” ( Playing for 1 person ) Twice.
- I would experience being booked on a Super Bowl Sunday. Twice.
Let me add — I think the Riotgod gig in South Bend on game day ( Notre Dame ) could almost fit into the same category, town was dead, so was the venue.
From the late 1980s and onward I would dedicate my time to bands, meaning being the vocalist for a band. I did not seriously consider solo performance as an option.
I would experience times of involvement and non-involvement, or fallow periods. However, I would always sing every day and I still do. It is simply unavoidable.
As of 2018, I divide my “musical career” into 2 main categories.
#1 Pre Riotgod
Before Riotgod, thus before 2007.
Feast/famine fluctuations — list form brevity.
- Late 1980s. Tried out for a band, did not get gig. First time ever as a singer.
- Met people through first tryout. 2 guitar players.
- One of two guitar players connected me to the Year in a Middletown Basement.
The guitar player was so hung up on his soloing perfection, that it prevented the “band” from ever playing out.
- Somehow found out about a Old Bridge NJ band needing a singer.
Blown away upon seeing them practice — rehearsing in the back room of kosher butcher shop. This would become Elysium, 1988 or 89.
- With Elysium I experienced my first time on stage. Opened up for various touring nationals. Local Tri-State Area gigging only.
Recorded to demo cassette. 3 Demos. No label interest. No management. 1989-1991
- Got in touch with a band from northern NJ, System Addict. Joined this band. A peculiar mixture of progressive metal, tinged with funk influences. I experimented with rap influenced vocals. This band opened up for various touring nationals. Local Tri-State Area gigging only. Recorded one demo cassette and demo CD. Essentially no label interest. 1992-1994
- Fallow Period 1995-1998.
First serious attention to solo music — Riotgod (V1) project Created a self-produced cassette with the assistance of CJ Scioscia of Blood Feast. Because the name Riotgod would be utilized later by the hard rock group created in 2007, I call this first Riotgod, V1. 1998-2001.
- Rejoined Elysium members to create a band called Peekabuddha. Considered Alt.Rock by some. No notable opening slots. Local Tri-State Area gigging only. Recorded one CD. No label interest. No management. 1999-2000.
- Fallow period 2001-2002.
Developed a powerful interest in combining electronic music and rock via my own arrangements and ideas. Led to create certain lo-fi productions similar to Riotgod V1. Home recordings, no live act.
Limited computer power, funding.
- Reconnected/Connected with drummer Bob Pantella via mutual connection.Started contract work, per song basis. Arrangement evolved into the group Billy Rubin. featured Matt O’Ree on guitar and Alexis Lehman on bass. Appealed to my stylistic interests, parts electronica and rock. The music was entirely created by Pantella via home studio. Shelved when Pantella joined Monster Magnet in 2004. Featured below, an example of the collaboration.
Final show at the Acme Underground also in New York City.
After Pantella joined Monster Magnet, I would be involved super-briefly, via Pantella’s referral, with A Thousand Knives of Fire ( off shoot of Halfway to Gone ) during their early development period. I would play one show with the group at the Brighton Bar, Long Branch, NJ but would not record nor tour. Guitarist took over vocal duties, took the band to SXSW and I entered into a third fallow period.
#2 Riotgod & Beyond
In 2007 Bob Pantella got back in touch and informed me that he and Jim Baglino ( both in Monster Magnet at the time ) were putting together a band. The band was unnamed. The music was mainly a collection of riffs and ideas Pantella had put together, with some additions by Baglino. As well, guitarist Garrett Sweeny offered music from a prior band which, for this group, I changed the lyrics and melody. I also offered one song. The band took the name Riotgod ( my prior solo project name ) after a long stretch during which names were considered and rejected.
Riotgod would start out the same way all bands had in the past: write, rehearse, record and gig. A self-produced CD was released in 2010. Two other CDs would be recorded and released under the Metalville label based in Koln, Germany. Pantella alone signed a contract with the label without consulting myself or anyone else as to the exclusivity or specifics of this deal.
Riotgod would open for touring national and international bands as well as experience limited North American and European tours, the Europe gigs highlighted by a few festival appearances: Baroeg (2010), Saupfitz and Wacken Open Air (2012).
A friend of mine once said that Riotgod wasn’t a true band ” You’re just four guys playing music.” This remark would prove prescient.
After years of playing third fiddle behind Monster Magnet and Atomic Bitchwax ( which Pantella joined in 2010, taking over for Keith Ackerman ) Riotgod was offered an opportunity, directly contacted receiving an e-mail from Earache Records. Pantella looked upon this unfavorably and ignored the issue, in essence rejecting it, having set his sites on another path. In 2014 Pantella would quit Riotgod followed by guitarist Garrett Sweeny, who (notably) had taken over the lead guitar spot for Monster Magnet in 2010. Lack of communication, trust, line-up changes and all things considered had this band disintegrate.
Various different brief line-up configurations were considered as an option, with Riotgod playing a final live show in Atlantic City at the Boneyard in 2014. A crowd funding campaign, for music I created and recorded (assisted by past musical colleagues) prolonged the inevitable. Riotgod maintained a Facebook page and having never publicly thrown in the towel, I did so in 2017. I put in 7+ years with this operation and it made up my mind.
I would not ( and will not ) allow myself to be involved in such a paradigm anymore, where I disproportionately rely or solely depend on a band, being served up inconsistent or even stale music to pen lyrics to, dealing, suffering practices of obstruction or overall mediocrity any longer.