Posts Tagged ‘Cheri Shack

02
Apr
09

CT Rock ‘n Roll: Pulse, Part 3

To recap part 2: At the end of the summer of 1967, two popular New Haven-based bands broke up at the prodding of manager/producer Doc Cavalier, who owned Syncron Studios (later Trod Nossel) in Wallingford. Three members from the Shags and three from the Bram Rigg Set joined to form The Pulse (the actual original name was The Pulse of Burritt Bradley). But after a failed single released on ATCO, the bubblegum confection Can-Can Girl, the group broke up after about six months. Pulse, a blues-rock outfit emerged with now four members from Bram Rigg Set, one lone survivor of the Shags and a new addition.

pulse-burritt-bradley-b-side-smallIn January, 1968, Pulse started rehearsing in earnest to play some live dates and start recording its first album. The first gig was to be at a small club in Watertown, the Shack. We used to rehearse in what was called the Shed in back of Syncron Studios. The rehearsal room was an unfinished concrete-floored area no larger than a two-car garage with 2×4 framing exposed on the first floor of what looked like an old barn. This was perhaps the most dangerous place I’ve ever rehearsed, yet we carried on in the Shed for 2-plus years as Pulse.

The danger lay in the ceiling, which was probably less than a foot above everyone’s heads. In fact, there was no ceiling, instead it was the foil side of insolation tucked in between the framing. So, if you happened to lift the neck of your guitar a little too high as  when you were taking if off and your hands were touching the strings, you were in for a maximum jolt of electricity, the kind that tenses your entire body. I’ve had a few of those in my days, several from the Shed and it is as you may know no fun and rather scary. Still, we persevered.

pulse-cheri-ad-2-smallSoon after forming, we added a sixth member, Jeff Potter, who played a mean blues harp and also added percussion with a conga drum and eventually occasional keyboards. Ray Zeiner, the keyboard player from the Wildweeds, had recommended him. Jeff and Ray lived next door to each other right down on the Connecticut River up near Hartford. Those houses are no longer there since the area flooded every so often. The Weeds had recently come into the fold with Doc (via their terrific single No Good To Cry) and Jeff had grown up and gone to Windsor High with Al Anderson and other members of the band.

Jeff added an element we needed and loved. The band was influenced by the great blues-rock groups of the times and in ’67-’68 that meant Paul Butterfield, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, John Mayall and others. So the lineup was Carl Donnell (Augusto), lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Peter Neri, lead guitar and vocals, Rich Bednarzck, keyboards, Paul Rosano, bass, Beau Segal, drums and Jeff.

We set out putting together two sets worth of material that included some  unusual covers and what few original tunes we had at the time. We chose cover material that was not the usual fare for local bands in the same vein as the Bram Rigg Set, which always played songs no one else touched. This was largely influenced by Beau and when Bram Rigg was together lead singer Bobby Schlosser.

For those early gigs. we opened with our take on Spoonful, covered as a single by Cream at the time of their first album, the Otis Rush/Willie Dixon tune All Your Love, which gave Peter a lead vocal in addition to a piercing guitar solo over a shuffle feel in the middle, and the Doors Love Me Two Times, Carl being a huge fan of Jim Morrison. We did a take on a Mose Allison number, Mad With You, giving Rich a featured lead vocal spot along with an extended piano solo. And we also covered a B.B. King tune, Think It Over, which was a staple of those early sets.

Carl’s own Low Down Baby, which eventually made it onto our album, was a dark rocker in the Morrison mold, and Beau’s As A Rule were two of our early originals. As A Rule hung around a long time on our set list but wasn’t around when we finished the Pulse album.

Other early original tunes included I Can See, a power trio piece written by Beau, which we spent a lot of the spring perfecting in the studio. It really showed off Carl’s voice in the middle section, but was a little on the busy side, particularly by me, musically. That’s one of the few tracks, along with As A Rule, that I don’t have a copy of despite it being committed to tape.

Lovin’ Time was one of my earliest stabs at writing, but it didn’t survive over the long haul. Two other prominent tunes included Beau’s Duchess & Duke, which I have little memory of, and a song written by Karen Eisner, a precocious teenage singer/piano player from New Haven, called I’m Gonna Be A Rich Man, which had blues changes. Most of these were originally thought to make up what our first album was to become. But that would change. And little did we know it would be a long road until that first album was released.

pulse-ad-richThe gig at the Shack went really well as we had already started developing a following from people who had gone to gigs of both the Shags and Bram Rigg Set. People, right. It was young girls. I haven’t mentioned it yet, but let’s face it in the ’60s (and I suppose it’s still true today) one of the main reasons young guys got into the music scene was pure and simple: to meet girls. Like this devilishly handsome fellow to the left, Rich. As time goes on the serious musicians put the music first. But you know what? To some extent, there is always that attraction on the pop/rock scene of simply wanting to meet girls. It’s a universal truth in rock ‘n roll. And we did meet a few along the way. Of course in short time, almost everyone in the band had a girl friend.

A few more club dates followed and then one of Doc’s early mistakes with the band put us in a position we shouldn’t have been thrust into at that point. Through his association with a promoter, Doc landed us an opening spot with the Lovin’ Spoonful at the Back Bay Theatre in Boston. The Bram Rigg Set had actually opened for the Spoonful in the summer of 1967, an experience I’ll never forget that went very well. That was the first big gig I had played with the band, after a months of clubs and school dances.

The problem with the Back Bay show wasn’t really the band, it was as it was explained to us by our road manager Mike Geremia, who was out front during our set, the sound system that Syncron’s main engineer had insisted we use. Rather than using the house system, and remember in those days house systems were not what they are today, it was deemed we would use our own. But it was smaller than the house system and geared for clubs despite having two Altec A-2 cabinets, which were considered fairly large at the time.

On stage, we were doing fine, but evidently in the audience Carl’s vocals were terribly distorted. When the Spoonful came on, they used the house system and sounded just fine. On a positive note, John Sebastian of the Spoonful came into our dressing room after the show and was the nicest guy. Despite what we thought had not gone too well for us, he was extremely complimentary and of course so were we of his band’s set. Guitarist Zal Yanovsky was by this time gone from the Spoonful, replaced by Jerry Yester, but original members Steve Boone and Joe Butler were still in. They were coming off the success of Summer In The City and had just released Everything’s Playin’ with the single Six O’clock.

After that speed bump, Pulse started getting really popular in Connecticut. We played clubs all over the state, dances at high schools and colleges. But our favorite spot was definitely the Cheri Shack (see add above), owned by Connecticut’s own man in black, Bill Miller, a dance instructor, and run with his daughter Cheri. It was a beautiful two-floored renovated barn turned into a dance studio with one large room on ground level near the front of the building, mirrors on one side of the room with a ballet bar.

The stage was at the end of the room on the right side of the building, so if you walked in the front door, you turned right into the room where the bands played. We were the first band Bill had advertised in the local paper, the New Haven Register, with a large photo of the band. We played there frequently.

Cheri was a beautiful young woman and usually during our second set, she would get up on one side of the stage and do a belly dance in appropriate garb with her boa constrictor named Scheherazade. That made for some tense moments. The club also was one of the first with a fog machine and professional lighting. Our home away from home. Always loved playing there.

As 1968 rolled on, the band came together more and more, particularly live. Doc had many positive effects on us but also some negative influences as well. He needed to be in complete control. The always redeeming feature was our access to the studio and gaining experience recording. By the summer, I had written the first song I felt had any potential, Another Woman. The seven-minute opus was a culmination of my influences at the time but we put an interesting spin on it with our own brand of improvisational playing and almost flamenco qualities in the arrangement, always led by Beau’s unending ideas about how to put a song together. The song eventually made the album and in an edited version was the A-side of our first single.

But trouble was brewing. Doc was always meddling to some extent in the music despite his not being a true musician, although there are reports he did some playing in college. That’s not to say he wasn’t a good producer. At times, he was very good, and as the years passed, his accomplishments speak for themselves. But in late 1968, he became infatuated with a blues guitarist from Long Island and his mainpulations almost tore the group apart.

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