Wednesday, December 9, 2009

“Backstage Access” - From The Belly of The Beast Part 2

By Larry Dember, State Theatre Director of Production

Once upon a time a long long time ago, I lived in a town called Massapequa.

Many famous people have hailed from the land of the Pequas such as: Jerry Seinfeld (my sister was in Hebrew school car pool and graduated with him), Neil Diamond, the Baldwin’s (their Dad was my football coach/social studies teacher), Twisted Sister, Eliot Eastman (the Cars guitarist), the Baldinger Brothers (Pro football players) , Andre Eglevsky (ballet dancer), Carlo Gambino, John Gotti, Steve Guttenberg, Marvin Hamlisch, Ron Kovic (I played in a band with his brother Jack at the New York Times 4th of July release party for his brothers book, Born on the Fourth of July), Bob Nelson, Helen Slater (spent a couple of Thanksgivings with her at her cousin Hunt Bresky’s house), and of course, all three of the Stray Cats.

I was in a band with Lee (Leon Drucker) Rocker in high school but we kicked him out because he was not a great bass player and had a bad attitude (I hear things have not changed). James McDonnell, aka “Slim Jim Phantom” is the drummer for the Stray Cats and was in an original jazzy band that beat my band in the Nassau County finals of the battle of the bands. Great drummer. A founding member of that band was Brian Setzer. It was my pleasure to present him in concert last week here at the State Theatre in New Brunswick.

When Brian was a young teen he would take guitar lessons at my buddy Ralph Agresta’s (nationally accomplished guitarist/songwriter/teacher/vocalist) music store. We all knew Brian was different and very, very skilled, even at 16. I remember going over his house one day and he had just come back from Brooklyn shopping for guitars and he had bought a Dan-Electro double neck bass and six string. Another week, he came into school with his hair dyed bright orange. Back then he was playing the hell out of Zeppelin, Queen, Bowie, and Deep Purple. He was a rock god on guitar. One day in our senior year I was sitting in the little theater at school watching auditions for the Senior Variety show and Brian took the stage with his band and sang “Communication Breakdown” and “Ziggy Stardust”. I was so blown away from the energy and talent exhibited. It is a feeling that I get whenever I see a real virtuoso. His band played the show and dressed like Kiss and rocked the house. In the next years, I had the pleasure of jamming with him at a party and some late night basement jams. He was doing a lot of hard rock and was putting together a punk band called Bloodless Pharaohs. Not my taste at all and we went our separate ways. Mine was the business side of music, his was the UK and reinventing Rockabilly, playing with Robert Plant, touring the world, selling millions of records and winning three out of 7 Grammy nominations.

It must be about 15 years since I saw Brian out at a trade show in California. Last week when I sat with him in his dressing room and we talked about old friends, girlfriends, and jams I told him how proud all of us non-celebrities from Massapequa are of him. He was very humble and gracious as always. You can see in his face that he has led a fun packed life, playing thousands of shows all over the world. It took all my power and restraint not to remind him my band Starfire beat his band in the Massapequa High School Battle of The Bands in 1977. So what he sold millions of records and won 3 Grammys. I didn’t want to rub that old wound in his face, especially before he took the stage for an amazing night of music to a packed house.

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