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CD Review: Good Times Ne’er Forgot, by Hey Now, Morris Fader

Good Times Ne’er Forgot, by Hey Now, Morris Fader

 

In “Sounds the Same,” from their new independent release, Good Times Ne’er Forgot, Hey Now, Morris Fader asks if the muse is gone away for good. This dire existential dilemma hits like a mid-life crisis, signaling the maturing of the group and its members. Good Times Ne’er Forgot is the result of growing up, facing life’s growing complications, and, sonically, it stems from recent outside musical pursuits of the band members. Brooks, for example, has become a mainstay on the local scene, providing his virtuoso chops to a variety of lineups based out of Green Street’s Dive Bar, and Pez plays with uber-pop locals, The Luxury.

The good news is, as this record testifies, the muse isn’t gone, at least not for this band. The record teems with ideas steeped in pop, with Brooks Milgate’s piano playing – as the lead instrument – defining the band’s sound, while his potent arsenal of blues and jazz chops have infused HNMF’s music with some historic presence, and elevated its appeal much the way superlative playing elevates the pop of Ben Folds or Phish.

The new tunes present the usual topics –social and relationship critiques – but often from less obvious vantage points, and with subtle suggestions of broader meanings. “Sounds the Same” finds the singer questioning his own creative sense (“Is anybody with me in thinking that the muse is gone away for good? It all sounds the same”) while seeming to call the state of all current music into question. Similarly, hidden beneath the bright, up-tempo, RnB/jazz-style piano hammering and blaring trumpet of “Not for You Anymore,” the band delivers the artist’s manifesto to create for the self rather than pandering to audiences. (“It’s not for you anymore, and it never will be again. “I won’t write your song and I won’t sing along.”). Or, perhaps it’s all just directed at a former lover.

Most of the songs presented on Good Times Ne’er Forgot are pop, and move in unpredictable ways that are hard to pin to one genre or another. Some, though, incorporate well used tropes to positive effect, like “Suits,” a condemnation of phonies (“A crooked smile, insincere and smug, you’ve got all new scams to pull”) with its Ray Charles-like Rhodes riff and bluesy right-hand trills (as well as a great Rhodes solo and a barrelhouse piano bridge); and “Two Weeks Notice,” a five-minute soul/blues revue that would be right at home on Joe Cocker’s Leon Russell-led Mad Dogs and Englishmen, borrowing chord changes from Ray Charles hits, like “A Song for You” and “Let’s Go Get Stoned.” The tune is big and bluesy, with tasteful lead guitar and a scorching solo courtesy of Troy Gonyea (The Howl, Booker T. and the MG’s), who also delivers some sweet slide guitar work ala Derek Trucks on the opening track, “The Blues and Alcohol.”

The work hangs together and makes good use of musical friendships developed by the band members. In addition to Troy Gonyea’s fine guitar work throughout the record, track four (“Gone for Good”) features strings by Boston guitar ace Ian Kennedy (Reverse, Groovasaurus), and track five (“Cop Show”) features Dana Colley (Morphine, Twinemen, Hi-n-Dry studios) on saxophone.

Overall, the record stays true to the band’s belief in having a good time. So, while the themes can be bleak, critical, and sometimes anxious, the mood is carried by the arrangements and production, which are driving, up-tempo, and slick, making the overriding vibe light and fun.

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How does it feel to get what you want?: Worcester’s Hey Now, Morris Fader Release 3rd CD

by Matt Robert
 
From Worcester Magazine’s September 6, 2012 issue.
Photo by Steven King
 
A significant contingent of Worcester’s rock scene has a strong and unabashed attachment to pop. I mean white pop rock. One of the area’s greatest proponents was the late, legendary Scott Ricciuti, who embraced a lot of things, but whose music always kept its foot in the good old hook-laden pop gem.

Hey Now, Morris Fader, comprised originally of drummer Alex Sacco and keyboardist Brooks Milgate, stormed this scene late last decade, playing an ironic, bombastic pop that bore inevitable comparisons to early Ben Folds Five (in no small part due to Brook’s piano chops, though the band cites the band as an influence, too). HNMF was immediately embraced by the scene, and won best new pop act in Worcester Magazine’s 2009 Reader’s Poll.

Hey Now, Morris Fader 2012 – Brooks Milgate (keyboard), Alex Sacco (drums), and Justin “Pez” Day (bass) – has a new CD, Good Times Ne’er Forgot, and will celebrate with a party at Ralph’s on Saturday, Sept. 8 at 8 p.m., featuring Boston band Lights Out; local power pop icons Thinner; Jon Short, Duncan Arsenault, and Jeff Burch electric blues trio, Big-Eyed Rabbit; and New Pilot.

“Basically [it’s] just a big party, and we hope everybody comes out,” says Brooks of the event. “Our objective is just a party celebration, so you can expect a good time.”

A good time is what the record provides, though the process wasn’t always easy. “We started making this record about a year and a half ago,” says Brooks, of Good Times Ne’er Forgot, which was tracked at a number of studios, including Wooly Mammoth, New Alliance, Hi-n-Dry, and Tremolo Lounge, and, according to their website, mastered three times.

The album, he says, evolved out of “a bunch of songs that we just started writing in practice” as a collaborative method, though, sometimes, he or Alex would “bring in a completed song.” More often, though, Brooks says, “I’ve got a verse and a chorus and I show it to those guys and we kind of piece it together, and there’s probably one or two that were completely written in the studio.”

“The second to last song on the record,” he relates, laughing, “we legitimately didn’t even have finished. We had the time booked at the studio, but we finished it right before we recorded it, which was pretty exciting.” Time and money both influenced the making of the record. “Over the next year or so we just kind of – as we had the money to do it, we would try to add a little bit more.”

As recording progressed and the band moved from studio to studio and engineer to engineer, a vision began to emerge. They liked the songs and the progress, and “started hearing horn parts and string parts,” Brooks says, and the band “felt like [they] needed to make a bigger production of the record.”

Additionally, HNMF wrestled with a philosophical debate familiar to any musician or music fan. “Our last record,” he says, “we were very in the mindset, ‘We don’t want to record anything we can’t do live.’ But the record, we felt, this time around, needed to be something a little more special.”

Now that the recording is done, the packaging has been designed, and the CDs have been duplicated, Brooks is enjoying the result and looks back with fondness. “We just got our CDs in the other day. I’ve never done a record that was that big of a production,” he says. “It’s a great feeling when you hear it back and it’s that huge.”

The band has high ambitions for the record and has hired Powderfi nger Promotions in Framingham to manage them. “We’re doing two campaigns,” Brooks says. “The first is just to get it reviewed in different magazines and blogs, and after we release the record, next month we’re going to do a six-week [campaign] targeting college radio, and see if anything sticks to the wall.”

“We’re not really expecting anything,” he laughs. “We’re hoping it helps us get the word out, but we’re not really hoping to become millionaires.”

Check out Hey Now, Morris Fader at Ralph’s on September 8th, on Facebook or Myspace, and at heynowmorrisfader.bandzoogle.com. Pick up Good Times Ne’er Forgot at Bandcamp.com.

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Local Tunes: Recording in the City

Originally appeared in Worcester Magazine, August 2, 2012

Photos by Steven King

Music stores, production companies and recording studios are the adjuncts to the music scene—third-party offshoots that evolve to seize upon the marketable talent of, and/or provide the tools for, the artists who work in the given area. At one time, American bands sought out the major label hubs, originally New York and Chicago, and then Los Angeles, where they could record in fully outfitted studios complete with acoustically tuned rooms, large plate reverbs, isolated control rooms, German-made large diaphragm microphones, and horn-rimmed engineers operating bulky, state-of- the-art mixing consoles. Of course, even then, independent studios existed, making critical contributions to recording arts, and capturing regional sounds that might have gone overlooked by the major labels. The centralization problem was, though, the considerable financial outlay required to design and build appropriate spaces and equip them with the necessary gear.

Of course, technology has, as with many other fields, made the gear ever more available to the consumer, bringing the essential studio outfitting budget from the millions to the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands. Today, for as little as about $200, an enthusiast can purchase a digital recorder with built-in condenser mics, and software that allows for multi-track recording, and even digital effects, on which she can make her own “Sgt. Pepper’s” album. In fact, there’s an app for that: you can multi-track today on your iPhone!

However, while consumer technology is often advertized as the panacea, the promethean provider of the power of the gods (or at least Rick Rubin or George Martin, in this case), the studios – both major league and minor league – remain open, and even seem to be multiplying in certain vibrant musical markets.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Worcester doesn’t have any high profile, major label- aligned studios. In fact, it has few prominent, full-time studios, unlike Boston. The reasons are many. Not only is the scene significantly smaller, but artists can easily record nearby in Boston, Providence, or even New York. This opportunity is fueled, too, by a perception that big-city studios will offer better results. Studio owners also point to changes in the recording arts industry that have led to considerably downsized budgets for recording and band development, even among national and international acts.

There’s no record-shaped building, or neon-lit recording studio in downtown Worcester. Like most everything else today, especially in this town, you’ve got to use your nose and snoop around a bit. Even then, it can be a bit difficult to find decent recording space.

At the top of the local scene there are essentially two studios: Tremolo Lounge, in West Boylston where for close to two decades Roger Lavallee has manned the helm, engineering and producing the lion’s share of local recordings (or, at least, more than anybody else); and Fontanez Recording and Rehearsal Studio, which opened in downtown Worcester last year, where Alejandro Fontanez has grown an impressive resume of urban artists, including a mixing session for Wyclef Jean.

Beneath them, the drop is steep down to part-time studios and project studios, where bands or artists record themselves and their friends. The phone book lists perhaps a half dozen operations in Worcester and surrounding towns, though even this scant listing is optimistic and a bit deceiving. Many of the listed numbers are nothing more than home numbers to a kitchen phone whose owner has learned not to anticipate any calls from customers.

The market for good studios in Worcester is thin.

The less suspected reason for the scant listings is the nature of recording studios, which, with the exception of the aforementioned major-label variety, can be – for lack of a better term – sort of mom-and-pop outfits, run by—who else?— musicians, who, according to their nature, eschew slick, established business norms and often operate by word of mouth.

Ask Lavallee for a business card and he’ll write his number on your hand. In fact, you can’t even find Tremolo Lounge without guided instructions. There’s no convenient Main Street address, no neon sign to signal your arrival. The studio is a pastoral, converted suburban house annex. And though you have no doubt driven (and perhaps even walked) lower Pleasant Street dozens of times, you probably have never noticed that Fontanez Recording Studio exists there.

The decision for Sam Margolis and Andrew Kramer of Riverview Studios, in Waltham, to go pro, came naturally. Margolis says of their approach, “It’s all been organic, so we haven’t put a focused effort on trying to build a business. The approach has been more networking and community-based and doing projects that we’re truly interested in and have fun doing.”

The need for instruments beyond the range of the band members while recording their own CDs brought them into contact with a number of area musicians, who then inquired about renting the space for their own projects.

Their studio, too, is tough to spot, hidden within a nondescript suburban home along the Charles River.

To find these studios you must actively seek them, and ingratiate yourself to the local scene, unlike Boston and Providence, where a host of trade magazines devoted to the music scene carry ads for highly competitive studios vying for clients.

Some musicians/engineers prefer it this way.

Luke Bass, an area engineer and bassist with a host of local groups, including The Farmers Union Players and Kalifa and Koliba, has what he refers to as “a project studio on steroids” near College Square, where, he says, he “can get the quality of a bigger studio.” He has released a fulllength recording by Kalifa and Koliba; is presently working on a follow-up; and has plans for a Farmers Union Players full length this year. Bass, however, has little interest in being a business owner.

(PHOTO: Zack Slik plays banjo during a recording session at the studio of Luke Bass. Steven King/Worcester Mag)

“I only work with people I like, and I don’t have to make money on it, so I don’t call it professional,” he says. “I keep my day job, and the day job pays for everything, so I only record people I enjoy. But the quality I’m getting is through the roof.”

Guitarist David Stadig, of Northbridge, who runs David Stadig Studios and King Kat Productions, feels the same way about the business end of recording. “If you’re doing that commercial venture,” he says, “then you’ve got to kind of put up with that stuff.” His motives for building the studio, like many musicians, are personal. “I publish my own stuff. My whole purpose was really just as an adjunct to being a lifelong musician.”

Modern technology has made it possible for the modern musician, like Stadig and Bass, to forego the professional studio and do it themselves. Innumerable others have, too.

Ubiquitous local bluesman, Jon Short, has done lots of his own recording. Of his numerous CDs since 2005, his 2006 recording “Barrelhouse Ramblers,” with Paul Chase (bass) and Josh Teter (drums), “was recorded live here in Worcester with Jonathan (JD) Leary at [Leary’s] home studio”; 2007’s “Three Different Ways,” with Keith Carter (harmonica), “was recorded live at my home studio on Pro Tools”; 2009’s “Live from the Shack at Vincent’s” “was recorded live with one ambient large diaphragm condenser mic on the porch of the shack, using a Zoom 4 and was mixed/mastered by Bill Ryan”; 2010’s “Big Shorty” “was recorded live at my home studio”; 2012’s “Live from the Shack at Vincent’s 2011” and “34 Special (Limited release)” “were recorded live with one ambient large diaphragm condenser mic on the porch of the shack, using a Zoom 4”; and his band Big Eyed Rabbit, with Duncan Arsenault (drums) and Jeff Burch (bass), “just recorded live this past Monday night with Paul Dagnello using a bunch of incredible equipment” at Erick Godin’s Lucky Dog Music Hall.

So, it can be done. And Short’s recordings are hi-fi and clean and professional sounding. Short, however, specializes in a genre of music that values the live over the recorded, the primitive over the complex, vintage over modern, and so, single takes without overdubs, limited effects and editing, and ambience are preferred.

Kramer and Margolis home record, too, except that their home is a studio. They met at the formation of their current band, Comanchero, nearly a decade ago, and, after self-recording the band’s first two CDs, the pair got serious and attended Boston University’s CDIA (Center for Digital Imaging Arts) degree program, applying their newly acquired knowledge to the band’s most recent CD, 2011’s “The Undeserved.”

“I think that recording was just such a natural part of all of our musicianship,” Kramer says. “Sam and I each had our own setup at home.”

Their results, though, testify to the potential quality of “home” recordings. Margolis says that, even with the first two CDs, “a couple of the tracks got some play on the radio.”

“We got great gigs out of it,” he continues.

Fontanez says that the experience of home recording, in addition to being an economic and/or creative necessity, and sometimes a little funky, can be fun. “When I started, I was recording in my friend’s kitchen, on Home Street,” he recalls. “The control room was the kitchen and the vocal booth was the laundry room. We had this joke that the cockroaches were the background vocals. It was a great time!”

“It was still pretty good recording. We had Pro Tools [multi-track software], MBox [digital interface], and a decent microphone, and a nice preamp. It was mostly for practicing. We had a band going. It was more for us, just to see how it sounded.”

(PHOTO: Alejandro Fontanez in his recording and rehearsal studio. Steven King/Worcester Mag)

Fontanez opened his studio after over a decade of travelling as a performer. “I got married, and I started doing a lot of mixing at my house. It got busier and busier, and I decided to open a studio right here in Worcester.”

Lavallee says that brilliant recordings are being made locally, both in the city’s professional studios and in “people’s closets.”

“I’m biased, but I’ll say this: Legendary records have been made [at Tremolo Lounge], whether I’ve worked on them or not,” he says. “There are records that I think that I could play for anybody that have been done here over the last 20 years that would blow your mind. So, yeah, I know that it’s possible.”

Lavallee also agrees that the magic could happen on a home project studio. “I’ve heard stuff that people have done—on their own, in the Worcester area—that is awesome, incredible. People come with demos to me sometimes and they think of it as a scratch demo, and they don’t even realize how great it sounds. I think it happens sometimes by skill and sometimes by trial and error and sometimes by dumb luck, especially if you are writing and creating something that is sort of unique sonically. It’s definitely possible and it has happened where people have made amazing stuff – in Worcester and in their closets, or on their laptop or on their iPod.”

Fontanez agrees with Lavallee, with stipulations. “I think that the technology is such that you can get a good recording sound [at home]. You’ve just got to learn; you’ve got to know what you’re doing recording-wise.”

Stadig further stipulates, “If you’re very meticulous about what you do, you could have a recording that sounds just as good as something that is done in a professional studio with a poor engineer. It still comes down to, even if you’ve got all this great equipment, you’ve got to have someone with great ears, and someone who knows how to use the gear to its optimal effect. I’ve heard a lot of lousy recordings come out of what should be good sounding recordings.”

For their first disc, 2010’s “Live at the Emporium, Greatest Hits, Vol. III,” J. Stu “Dr. Gonzo” Esty and his band, The Roadkill Orchestra, chose to record on their own at a makeshift studio set up at Gonzo’s Unusual Condiments storefront, because, as Esty says, “It was important for us to record it where we had written and practiced the songs.” So, Esty continues, “Bill Nelson, who had a studio for years above Union Music, was gracious enough to come down and set up a live recording. With the technology we have today, we could go straight to hard drive.”

This approach wasn’t foreign to Esty. “I’ve been recording since the ’70s, beginning in my bedroom with reel-to-reel recorders and razors, Tascam 4-tracks, all of it.” And the experience of working professionally wasn’t always appealing, he notes. “When I was in Europe I recorded in Nuremburg, and every time you’d go in, you’d see that tape, and when that light would come on there was money going down the drain and you had to either shit or get off the pot. And so it was always nerve-wracking to lay it down that way.”

Self-recording, though, wasn’t without its own inherent problems. “We had some separation problems we had to deal with,” Esty says, but the situation brought out an old-school musical toughness that he liked. “You had to bring your A game. It was a Ramones-style thing. We laid down 16 tracks in six hours. Fourteen were keepers and 12 made it onto the disc.”

(PHOTO: Luke Bass in his recording studio near College Square in Worcester. Steven King/Worcester Mag)

Bass’s experience with the pros was similar, and he says that the compulsion to self-record “started…because we went to the other studios and I didn’t like the sounds we were getting. When we couldn’t get it, we decided – me and my partner at the time – we needed to build the studio ourselves. That’s when I started buying equipment.”

“Best thing I’ve ever done in music, except [to] start playing music,” he says.

According to Bass, the problem with commercial studios is that most artists don’t get to work with producers. “They work with an engineer and they pay by the hour. And the engineer’s job is simply to get a recording, and I think it’s kind of a cookie-cutter recording. You’re paying by the hour, and you don’t have $10,000 to put into an album, so everybody’s always watching the clock and everybody’s trying to get as many songs in as they can. It doesn’t work, to me, to be a quality album.”

Working in your own studio, he says, is entirely different. “If I don’t like a track, I’ll record it 10 times; I don’t care!”

“Going out and hiring a [commercial] studio,” says Stadig, “would run you anywhere from fifty to one hundred dollars an hour, and if you needed players, you’d have to hire guys or try to get people to do things. If you’re pretty prolific at what you do, those kinds of moneys can add up pretty quickly.”

And like his fellow musicians, desperation became, once again, that mother of invention. “At that point I started researching how I could set up a small project thing for myself and that’s how that took place,” he says.

By all accounts, it is cheaper to record at home, and this is probably the top reason cited for doing so. This presents a lethal business arrangement, when the primary market is poorly paid musicians, who no longer enjoy the unbridled patronage of an earlier time. And as noted, an old Tascam four-track can be purchased for next to nothing (in fact, they’re probably being given away today), and you need as little as an iPod with the right app or a basic portable digital recorder.

“Good gear is still expensive. Period,” says Stadig. “But you can do a lot more with the advent of digital equipment and signal processing and all the trappings than you could 10 years ago. I mean, 20 years ago? Forget it!”

“The climate has changed so much in the last 10 or 15 years,” says Lavallee. “Everybody’s got their own home recording systems, whether it’s Pro Tools or Logic or Garage Band, and they’re able to do really cool stuff.”

So, things have gotten less expensive and more user friendly. Why not just do it all at home? Well, you could also paint your house, repair your own car, service your own computer, home school your children, and transplant your own vital organs (this last one might not be legal). Why hire anyone?

Well, as Lavallee points out, “It’s not immediately apparent to everybody what a large studio—what a producer—can bring to the table. They [home-studio owners] know how to record the stuff, but they don’t know how to mix it; they, perhaps, don’t have the space or the mics or the interface to do a full drum kit, or a full tracking of the backing band.”

The modern compromise, then, says Lavallee, is a mixed effort, whereby artists on a tight budget might track the parts that they feel equipped to handle at home, and hire out the studio for multi-microphone applications, or critical pieces like mixing and mastering, fullband recording, and vocal recording, that require trained, acute ears.

In fact, it’s not only local bands and artists that operate this way. Lavallee says the whole industry does, and that the days of unlimited budgets – even for big-label artists – are long over. Nowadays, he says, signed artists are likely to have a budget of, say $50,000—a paltry sum compared to the heydays of the 1970s, when major bands would wile away a year or more in a studio developing a project. Today, even bands like Wilco and Los Lobos, for instance, develop ideas and track in their own rehearsal studios, before heading to big studios for mixing, overdubs, and mastering.

Still, Kramer points out, “even there, they have engineers on hand to work the equipment and set up all the microphones,” which frees the band up to do what they ostensibly do best: write and/or perform.

And, as with the bands mentioned above, a mixed approach of personal and professional settings suited Roadkill Orchestra’s needs on their first, self-recorded effort. “We did the mixdown at a studio down in Whitinsville,” says Esty.

Moreover, not all exiled recordists are able or willing to invest the considerable time, money and energy required to do it right at home, as Bass has.

“About two years ago I found myself a nice isolated room where I could record anytime I wanted, but it was really small. I moved down the hall and got a much bigger room and was able to put in the extra rooms. I had the gear to do it. I didn’t have what a professional studio would have in the isolation rooms and the windows, so people could actually see each other while they play even though they’re in separate rooms. That was basically the next logical step to getting a better recording: having finely tuned rooms and a real recording environment instead of a band room.”

Another crucial element that doesn’t come – either included or optional – with the purchase of recording equipment, is a producer’s ears, and years of experience.

“To work with a great producer and put real money and real time into an album? I would absolutely love to do that,” admits Bass. “Recording can be a daunting process. It’s a lot of hours of mixing, a lot of hours in the studio. I would love to just be able to walk in somebody else’s studio, lay my tracks, and walk out, and get a great recording. But without having either great people producing it or a lot of money backing it, that doesn’t usually happen.”

“Bands come here just because they don’t want to deal with any of the setup and the tweaking or the troubleshooting, or anything,” Kramer explains. “By the time you’re done getting the sound you like and checking for phase coherency and getting the levels all right, sometimes it’s tough then to go be creative, when your mind is all focused on the technical aspects.”

One additional bit of useful wisdom that Margolis and Kramer acquired during those formative recordings was that “it’s pretty easy to fuck up a recording.”

Fontanez agrees with this wisdom. “When it comes to the engineering part – to mixing – that’s when you need the help,” he says.

Ultimately, musicians must face this truth. “I am a composer and a performer. I am not an engineer,” says Esty, whose second album “was designed to be the next level up, a studio one. We were fortunate enough to get into Tremolo Lounge.” The benefit, he says, was in the engineer. Lavallee’s abilities, he says, are “phenomenal. He hears every fucking note! His musical knowledge is so vast. You say, ‘I’m trying to get this sort of a vibe, this sort of a feel, in this kind of a color, and the sound of the ocean,’ and he knows exactly what you’re talking about. He’s been around long enough so that he can get any kind of a sound. And, plus, with the gear that he’s got there….”

Ah! To have a professional, who has been through all the trials and errors, and has spent years developing an ear for recorded music.

“You just go in there and play and that, for me, is the essence of making music, says Esty. “If I had unlimited resources, I would ensconce the band in the recording studio and never fucking leave!”

Studios stay alive because some artists are simply baffled and overwhelmed with the prospect of outfitting a studio, mastering a litany of highly technical devices, and devoting years to developing the subtle hearing skills required of good recordings. And all agree that Worcester has studios that offer this professional experience.

“There are very good studios in Worcester,” asserts Bass. “You definitely do not have to go elsewhere. No matter what your style is, there’s someone out there that has a decent enough studio that can record you at a much better price than you can get in Boston.”

Kramer at Riverview Studios says that they’re doing very well west of Boston, and that business is increasing. “We’ll have maybe five ongoing different projects, where we’re mixing one project, we’re recording another, we’re coproducing another. It’s basically two to three nights a week we’re working on other people’s stuff and one night a week we’re focusing on our stuff.”

Still, Margolis says, it’s not enough to go full-time. “That’s where the day job comes in,” he says. “I think we could [make a living on the studio], but we’d have to work our freaking asses off, networking the hell out of bands around here.”

(PHOTO: Leighton Kennedy plays the saxophoe during a recording session at Fontanez Studio. Steven King/Worcester Mag)

Fontanez says of area studios, “We are cheaper than other cities. We get great quality here. There are people who have been to Boston who now know about this studio and who now come out here.” His optimism is buoyed by the movement of Boston’s Bristol Studios, which opened a voice studio with him and are now training singers here.

This trend makes him hopeful for the future. “Hopefully in five years – 10 years – we’re going to need more studios to open up to handle the business. Right now, it’s not a big music scene in Worcester,” he says. “There are a lot of great artists, but Worcester is that type of city where you have to push people to get them involved.”

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Scott Ricciuti: Epilogue (The Extended Cut)

After publication of “Scott Ricciuti: Epilogue,” in Worcester Magazine, on April 12, 2012, I continued to interview and to work through the material. Here is the “extended cut,” which I will continue to add to if/when more interviews occur.
Buy Scott’s music with Huck here.

The News

“I was in the studio and my phone rang, and it was my friend John Donovan, who performed every Tuesday night at Vincent’s with Scott. Why would John be calling me at 11:30 AM? I answered it and he began with, ‘I really don’t know how to say this….’”
This scenario, experienced by Roger Lavallee, began his nightmare – one we all fear. Around Central Massachusetts and throughout the Bay State, and up to Vermont – where childhood chum, Childhood band mate, and one of his earliest friends, Ken Ebell, lives – similar phone calls announced the same horror to a nexus of distraught family members, a life partner, musicians, fans, friends, club owners and club goers, bartenders, music writers – a massive web spun over forty-eight years of life, and almost as many making music: James “Scott” Riccuti had succumbed to injuries incurred when his car left Route 290, in Northboro, and landed in the median strip.
“I ended my (recording) session, and like a zombie, went to be with my girlfriend and my dog. I spent the day cycling between numbness and breakdown,” added Roger, who, over two decades that began when sharing bills with Scott’s band Childhood and evolved as Roger became the central engineer/producer of the vast majority of Scott’s prolific body of work, inadvertently became one of his closest friends.
“[Scott] had just been up to my house [in Vermont],” said Ken. “Your girlfriend answers the phone; her face turns white….I still haven’t processed that.”

Duncan Arsenault’s photo collection of Scott

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Scott Ricciuti, posted with vodpod

The Musician

Roger’s sentiments echoed a veritable deluge of outpourings on Facebook and in articles in a host of area publications, and at memorial services at Vincent’s bar and in Scott’s home town of Marlboro, MA, as the local scene and loved ones attempted to grasp the reality that the glue of the local scene was gone.
“The area – not just the local scene – just lost the most prolific, talented songwriter they will ever see so close,” said a reeling Paul Dagnello, thirteen-year bassist for Scott’s most enduring band, Huck, expressing the overwhelming consensus about Scott, universally lauded as a poetic, smart, tireless, humble, competitive, generous, and, above all, thrillingly energetic musician.
“The obvious hit that we all take is the fact that he was at his most prolific at writing and busiest ever at performing these last few years,” said Roger. “Pretty much every night of the week, he was performing somewhere, and so many people who would see him every single week are now going to feel the loss of his presence.”
“Two summers ago, when they started recording the Pistol Whipped album, Like the Red Haunts the Wine, I dropped by the studio, and being Scott, he, of course, invited everyone in the room to sing harmonies,” Recalled musician Anne Eggleston, adding, “he wanted everyone to feel special and included. He was not afraid to invite a near stranger to sit in with him. If he knew you played or sang, he was inviting you, his ‘dear friend,’ as he called everyone, up on that stage, whether or not you knew the song.”
“His songwriting is untouchable,” Annie added. “Even the saddest tunes are upbeat; the strangest lyric fits perfectly. The magic in Scott’s music has to be his humility.”
“He was always super talented,” remembered Ken. “We started writing songs about the same time. He, of course, always wrote a lot more songs than I did. Scott would have twelve, and I’d be like, ‘These six suck, these are good,’ and he’d be like, ‘Your two are cool!’ He was churning them out even back then. He always loved The Beatles and writing music, and we always wanted to do that.” About Scott’s technical schooling in music, Ken added, “He knew everything about that. He was good at that – we both were. He was a great soloist [on sax]. Then, he picked up the [baritone] sax and would solo on that. He played tuba.”
“One of my oldest memories of him was – remember those old Magnus Chord Organs? Before we even knew what was going on, we’d be like, ‘What’s this G mean?’ (Ken sustains a long G sound).”
“I always liked how I sang with Scott, the way our voices melded. But it was also very competitive. He wanted to write a better song than me, and I wanted to write a better song than him.”
Musician, Michael Thibodeau’s professional relationship with Scott was similar, he said. “Scott and I were fiercely competitive with each other, in a friendly way. Whenever one of us would write a new song, we would love to show it to each other, and the next step was to see who could write one better than that.”
“We played so many gigs together that I don’t even remember how we started, how many we’ve played,” remembered Michael. “We’ve been playing together for six or seven years, and we did four years every Tuesday night together. I’ve played multiple hundreds of gigs with him.”
“A thousand times you’re going to hear ‘he’s a great songwriter’,” Michael added. “It’s absolutely true. He’s probably the best songwriter I’ve ever known. Good guitar player. Not the best singer in the world for everything, but, for what he was doing, you couldn’t get any better. His voice was so individual. Scott’s great gift as a musician was he knew how to make everybody else around him better. He knew that people were always focusing on him. He knew that he knew a lot of people, and that a lot of people had been following him for a long time. But he knew how to take that attention and let someone who was sitting next to him shine. Sometimes to a fault. He’d pull anybody and everybody up on stage to stand with him, because he just wanted to share every moment he had up there with somebody else.”

The Person

Scott’s close acquaintances were quick to clarify that his gifts went way beyond music. Hours of interviews revealed reverent tones about a guy whose art was his life force, and a personality of complete “inclusiveness.”
“Who’s closer than a brother,” asked Ken. “We spoke the same language. We didn’t even have to talk about stuff. We’d finish each other’s sentences. I don’t think there’s been a better person ever born,” he said.
Michael (for whose wedding Scott acted as Best Man) and Annie, both told stories of being warmly pulled into Scott’s spotlight, fostered, and nurtured. “He took the attention on him and put it on others,” said Michael. “I’ve known him for a decade, but it felt like a lifetime. He was my best friend. He was the person I was most intimate with musically, and who I talked to about everything. I travelled a lot with him. My wife and Maro – the four of us would hang out quite a bit.”
“When I started playing with him, he could have said, ‘just sit next to me and we’ll play two of my songs and then play one or two of yours.’ But it was – from day one – ‘We’re going to trade songs, we’re going to feature your songwriting next to mine.’ He really brought me along. I learned so much from him.”
“My first memory of spending time with him,” remembered Annie, “was shortly after I met Duncan – I came by the house and they had been writing music, cooking, and drinking wine, some of Scott’s favorite things to do. Meals were spiritual experiences for him and his lyrics often mention cooking. He was so kind and warm to me. He loved Duncan [Arsenault – musician in Pistol Whipped and a variety of other projects with which Scott was involved] dearly and that just seemed to pour over and include me. His love for his friends ran endlessly and he never missed an opportunity to tell you how much he loved you and give you a big hug and a kiss.”
“(Scott) had true love for other musicians. He was really inspired by everything,” said Duncan.

The Early Years

“We grew up together in Marlboro,” said Ken. “The first time I met him, he was a funny looking kid with a funny haircut that could play a little bit of saxophone, who was in the school band. I was in fourth grade and he was in fifth. By sixth grade, we had already become fast friends and wanted to play rock ‘n’ roll. We even had a little rock band in sixth grade – the Richer School Rock Quartet. We played “Proud Mary” – trumpet, two saxes, and a drum player. We were like Glee. The cool kids didn’t like us. We didn’t smoke cigarettes back then. We were in the band room and Scott would be playing his Yamaha [acoustic guitar] and I’d be jamming away on the electric piano.”
“We were very lucky to have a great music system at Marlboro High School in the early ‘80s. Cosmo Valente ran it – I think he still does – and there was a whole band room with sixteen Yamaha electric pianos and guitars, and anybody that was interested could come down on their free periods and play. We played all the time, and we kind of cut our teeth that way. Scott and I were joined at the hip. There were just the two of us in the theory and harmony classes. We learned all the theory and harmony.”
“We were in the Framingham Blazers Band together [Framingham Public Schools band still active today]. Being in a band at school is a funny thing. They called us band geeks all the time. But by the time when Scott was a senior and I was a junior, we were rock ‘n’ roll, playing at the proms and stuff. We had a little band called Midnight Sun, and we had a sax player, and we played Springsteen. We even played nightclubs! Sixteen years old! Like the Dew Drop Inn, in Northboro, and Manny’s, in Hudson. They let us come in because we brought…our family and friends.”
“Way before Childhood,” Ken continued, “a lot of people don’t know, but during the Midnight Sun days, we were doing old country and it was apparent early on how well we sang together. We even did a three-piece for a while, and played gigs all the way down to Rhode Island and shit.”
“And then Scott went off to college for a year, which didn’t suit him that well,” Ken continued. “And when he came back – I was kind of lost during that time – we immediately started playing music and reconnecting. And he had met a couple friends –his roommate was Danny Lucas [drummer for Childhood and Huck] at ULowell. They also met Greg Passler [guitarist for Childhood] at ULowell. Danny was the first guy. We kind of jammed with him, and then Greg came in. We also had our drummer, Chris Diraddo, and we formed an early version of Childhood – early ‘80s. We started writing songs, because that was the big thing. I still have a bunch of cassette demos. It’s funny, there was a photo on Facebook [after Scott’s death, an array of photos were posted to the site] of me with the perm? That’s when we were making those videos with Steve Diraddo, Chris’s brother, up in the cemetery!”
“Eventually, Chris Diraddo moved to Florida, and that’s when Danny came back, and that’s when we really started playing with Childhood – early ‘80s – ’84, or something like that.”
Childhood enjoyed significant local success, even winning the prestigious WBCN Rock ‘n’ Roll Rumble in 1987, leading to, perhaps, their biggest gig: opening for The fixx, at The Channel, in Boston, according to former Childhood manager, Lisa Mondello Naujoks. “When the Rumble thing happened, it was kind of like a snowball effect in the opposite way, where it crushes you, you know? I don’t know why we never broke after that, but it didn’t matter. We just kept doing what we did: gigging a lot.”
“We were too young. I don’t know what happened. It all happened so fast. We were all just playing around a lot, making our music. It was a really great scene around in ’86-’87, with all the Danimal [local musician/promoter Dan Hartwell, later founder of the successful Locobazooka festival] stuff that was going on. All of a sudden bands got a little place that they could play, and the crowds started to come.”
The two played for years before parting ways in 1990, though the friendship endured and Ken still joined Scott for recent shows, including Childhood reunions and a set on piano at a Ralph’s Pistol Whipped show.
“When I left the band, it was a little acrimonious for a while,” said Ken. When asked how he and Scott managed a relationship both in and out of the band, Ken said, “One funny thing about Scott was that….It was getting to be a little bit too much for me, and the girl that I was with at the time was with child, so we got married, and I told Scott, ‘I can’t do it,’ and he was adamant to keep going on, and he was mad, and Greg was even madder. But Scott was best man at my wedding a month later, and we stayed in touch.”
“I moved to Vermont in 1992 and we were out of touch for a little while, but we would come down and see him, and after I got divorced I got back into music,” he added.
“I loved all the Huck stuff he did – I always kept in touch about that – and then we did the Childhood reunions and things like that.”
“I first met Scott in 1993 when The Curtain Society got to open up for Childhood at P.T. Beanie’s Music Box, on Main Street, in Worcester,” remembered Roger. [I, too, met the band this way, sharing bills with my band, Flubber, the same year at the same venue.] “They were absolutely rock stars to me at that point, because I had heard them on the radio and read about them in magazines. I was just blown away by them at that show: To meet them after the sound check and to be immediately welcomed into what was the best bunch of people I would meet in this business. We immediately became friends.”
“Very soon after that, Childhood had decided to come to a close, and Scott and drummer Danny Lucas, who Scott had been musical partners with since at least college, as far as I knew, put together…Huck. [They] came into the studio [Tremolo Lounge, in West Boylston, where Roger has engineered since the mid ‘90s] with me to for a few demos. From the absolute start, I jumped in with both feet…as their producer…because I loved what they did so much and understood what they were trying to achieve….We became a unit. I loved that band like I was one of them.”
“I first heard Scott and Huck play around 1995,” Said longtime Huck bassist/vocalist, Paul Dagnello.” I had heard of Childhood, but never got a chance to see them. I had a girlfriend in college who was obsessed with Huck, so I had to deal with her swooning while I just listened to the great music.”
“The first time I met Scott, I believe, was on September 21, 1996,” Added Paul. “It was the night of The Curtain Society CD release of Life Is Long Still [at the now defunct Foothill’s Theatre, in the former Galleria Mall/Worcester Common Fashion Outlets]. My band at the time was playing at The Cove [Sir Morgan’s Cove – now The Lucky Dog Music Hall] with Black Rose Garden and Huck. I remember Scott coming up to me before, in his sweet and gracious way, and saying, ‘Hey, man, I have heard so many good things about you guys. I can’t wait to hear you guys. I’m so happy you guys are on the bill.’ While the setup was happening at The Cove, he skipped out to watch The Curtain Society sound check at Foothill’s. He made sure he was back in time to catch our set. I hit the first chord and looked up to see Scott walk through the door.”
Paul added, “From there, we started meeting up from time to time…and just started developing a professional relationship. After Dave Robinson [of Black Rose Garden and original bass player with Huck]…left the band, I got a call from Scott. ‘I know you don’t play bass, but we really need a bass player, but specifically we need someone to sing harmony.’ This was a Saturday. He gave me twenty songs to learn…and said, ‘Come to practice on Monday and [we’ll] just see what happens.’ I borrowed a bass and worked my ass off to learn as many songs as I could. I showed up at practice, met Danny, and just started. After rehearsal, all I got was a ‘that wasn’t bad. Come back tomorrow night and let’s try again.’ I showed up the second night and we did the same thing. Again Scott said, ‘That was all right, and, by the way, we have a gig tomorrow and it’s a battle of the bands.’”

Recent Years

“The first gigs we played together were at the Bijou [Art Cinema, on Foster Street, in the Worcester Common Fashion Outlets, which closed in 2004],” said Michael. “And there was a series on Wednesday nights at Vincent’s for a while that Huck, Curtain Society, and Mossberg [band featuring keyboardist/songwriter Steve Mossberg] would rotate. Then, they got moved over to Ralph’s, under the moose, when they first started doing stuff downstairs after Vincent bought Ralph’s. I got pulled into that group via Steve Mossberg; and Roger and Duncan. I met them first. Scott and I just started playing songs together at those things.”
“We just hit it off,” Michael added. “I vividly remember one night him pulling me aside and telling me that he thought I was a wonderful songwriter, but that he hated me, because I was so young. We just started playing gigs together.”
Drummer Duncan Arsenault’s relationship with Scott blossomed exponentially in recent years, as Scott became a regular feature of Duncan’s Thursday night series at The Dive Bar, in Worcester, where, along with bassist Jeff Burch, Pistol Whipped germinated, when Scott began introducing the pair to his original songs.
“He was so fired up and inspired by music,” Said Duncan. “I think he’s the greatest songwriter. He didn’t need to do any more work, but he was still working at it really hard.”
Roger, who engineered and produced Huck’s material, added, “He had already proven himself as a gifted songwriter for years by the time he and Danny moved on to start Huck. It’s like they started at full-tilt and somehow it kept getting better and better and better. We would finish making a CD and I would be thinking, Whoah. This thing is a masterpiece! A year and a half later, I would get a scribbled-on cassette tape of rehearsal demos of a new batch of songs and I would be thinking, Wtf? How the hell do they top that last CD? Every time.”
“In the last few years, after being really inspired by a few trips that Scott took with Michael Thibodeau to be a stagehand at the Americana Music Festival in Nashville, Scott really cranked the valves wide open and turned himself into a songwriting machine,” added Roger. “He threw anything and everything he had onto the page and honed his craft into something like I’ve only heard about. He became so good at it. We would be on the road somewhere and someone would say something in passing and he would laugh and say, ‘That would make a great concept for a song!’ The next morning, I would hear him strumming in another room and a few minutes later he would come up for a coffee and say he finished that song idea.”
“He was incredibly willing to participate musically in anything,” said Duncan. “[He had] endless energy for gigging. He was down to play. There were times when he would leave a gig he was already playing and come over to The Dive and do that one, as well.”
“We had spent the last six years doing a duo,” said Ken. “Scott never stopped [putting his full energy into music]. His greatest songs came out later. His Huck songs, to me, are friggin’ incredible.”

Picking up the Pieces

“We’re going to survive, we’re going to get by, we’re going to make it through, we’re going to pick up the pieces,” said Michael. “It’s not like we’re never going to play again. But how can you replace a guy who played with everybody? You can’t get that back, because not everybody is that guy that can just sort of make everybody else around him feel good and feel better about what they’re doing.”
“Publically speaking, there’s going to be a huge void,” Michael added, “because Scott was so ubiquitous; he was everywhere. He played everywhere, he played anything. I used to bust his chops, because he’d play in a parking lot. He didn’t care how big or small the gig was. If someone asked him and he had an open date, he’d be there. As a music community – even just people who like to go to bars and drink – they’re going to notice that he’s not around. He was sort of one of the elder statesmen – the guy who’s been around so long – who had this amazing catalogue of songs. He’s going to be sorely missed. Somebody can come in and fill that public void, but personally, I’ve lost my music partner. I’ve lost the guy I played most of my gigs with. I spent more time honing my musical skills with him than anyone else.”
“You can’t have this wonderful musical community and expect when something bad happens for it to be easy,” Duncan said, though he takes heart in the “outpouring of respect for him,” including phenomenal response to the online stream of his extensive collection of mp3 recordings of Scott’s music, and downloads of Scott Ricciuti and Pistol Whipped’s “Like the Red Haunts the Wine” on Bandcamp. Others, meanwhile, have taken solace in hearing Scott’s music being piped at Oxford’s Casual Dining, in Oxford, and at TT the Bear’s Place, in Cambridge; and in the recent Boston Rumble set dedicated to Scott by Bow Thayer and Perfect Trainwreck.
“We stopped in at a deli in Oxford to try to eat something,” said Roger [about the day he heard the news of Scott’s passing], “and the owner, a good friend and member of the local music scene, as well, was listening to Scott’s music in the store. I broke down hearing the song ‘Saddest Side of Monday’ as we walked in.”
“I can’t even begin to untangle what effect Scott’s loss will have on the local music scene,” said Roger. “It has already had profound effects on me and my closest friends, from wanting to make music in his honor to feeling really lost and wondering how do we go on without him. Among the many things that I am so heartbroken that I will miss: knowing that I no longer have the next song to record with him to look forward to is really making me think about the shape of my future as a producer.”
“Trying to picture the hole that is left in the music scene just tears me up inside,” lamented Annie. “You cannot replace the songwriting ability, the voice, the guitar skills, and the occasional saxophone moment, with any one person.”
“It’s been an unspoken promise,” lamented Roger, “that there will always be a great time ahead of me where I get to be with Scott and be a part of making another musical miracle, and with the thought that I will never be able to do that again, it really shifts my perspective about my future. I just need to hold tightly to the spirit and inspiration that he has left with me and keep trying to make new miracles.”
“We aren’t sure how to honor him without him there to play,” said Annie.

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