I am known by some as a hard rock vocalist.
Pictured: I am fronting Riotgod at Sauzipf Rocks in Austria, in 2012.
Mine was a musical history, but it would be a while until I was a musician.
I have scenes I recall, of sunny days, my small bedroom in that Brooklyn apartment.
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, so the slots would be imaginary keys on a organ or piano. That is my earliest memory of personal music.
I also miraculously discovered rare evidence of my hidden childhood musicality as well as improvisational ability on an old cassette tape.
Captured when I was 3 — during which I consider my first recording “session” — my mother had me repeatedly singing the alphabet. I did so many takes. After a while, I subtly expressed myself, listen to file below.
If you did not listen to the file provided — it was the point where 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 we had was probably similar to the Panasonic RQ-413AS — it had an external handheld microphone.
That little recording and a picture of me performing in a nursery school play are the only evidence of early musical involvement.
My parents were convinced I was destined to be an artist. They, relatives and friends would say that when I grew up I should/would/could be a “commercial artist”.
True, I exhibited an interest in drawing, however, no effort was made to encourage any other creative interests. My sister received most of the “entertainment” training through dance and piano lessons.
In retrospect I was alone on a journey of musical discovery. I had no older sibling to introduce me to cool music or any music for that matter. I was left to my own 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 yet 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. But I discovered Rush in his take-home collection. 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”. Most 9 year olds did not know who Rush was back then apparently.
FACT: The first album I ever acquired for my own 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 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 “service road less travelled”.
My main diet from 1975 to 1984 was what commercial radio served up, so I had a whole lot of classic rock, a side of pop plus a smidgen of alternative/new-wave and early rap. This was supplemented by college and freeform radio along with my parent’s eclectic vinyl. I discovered anything else via random chance, songs and albums:
Pink Floyd Animals, Hurricane by Dylan, The Ramones — all in summer camp.
A young neighborhood drunk D. Blitzer introduced me to Floyd’s ” Piper at the Gates of Dawn”.
I owe my initial introduction to Metal care of A. Malawista. He turned me on to Priest and Maiden. At age 15, I walked around New Orleans, Iron Maiden “Killers” cassette playing over and over in my Aiwa “Walkman”. I was so taken by the song “Prodigal Son”.
The next summer, while visiting a friend in London, I had only two cassettes with me : Deep Purple, “Deepest Purple” and Iron Maiden “Piece of Mind”. Piece of Mind came with a shirt, which I wore until it fell apart. I was tempted to buy Judas Priest Killing Machine — because in the US it was released as Hell Bent for Leather.
By the start of college I was primarily powered, inspired by metal: Metallica, Slayer and many others but I also had Theolonious Monk, Be-Bop, WKCR, WPRB plus the new music I was exposed to by new people I had been meeting.
It was this mixture, these environments that led up to my becoming 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 and long hair was synonymous with musician to me. 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 experience clubs on the Jersey Shore — ones that long ago disappeared.
- I would experience opening up for larger bands.
(Pantera, Suicidal Tendencies, Savatage, Trouble, TT Quick and more )
- I sold tickets a few times to gigs so far back I cannot recall the club or anything else.
- I would experience the “trip to the music lawyer”.
- I would drink in the “command performance” ( playing for 1 person ) Twice.
- I would experience being booked on a Super Bowl Sunday. Twice.
And actually I think the Riotgod gig in South Bend on game day could almost fit into the same category.