The 1950s-60s brought America rock and roll, West Coast surfer music, Motown, the British invasion and later, anti-war protest and psychedelic music; local rock and roll bands provided us with an exciting “in person” ride on the same soundtrack. We owe much to these early local rockers and this is an attempt to tell their stories and ours. How did it all begin?
Click on the author and title below to read the writing series articles.
In this day and age when every activity imaginable can be filmed, archived and made instantly available and when musicians routinely record their own music, it is difficult to imagine a time when great local musical performances were enjoyed by many yet went unrecorded.
Such experiences fade into memory, then just fade away all together.
The Cruisers, The Dynamics, The Five Satins, The King Beats, The Poor Side, rock and roll bands from the younger years of an aging Little Falls generation. Hank Brown’s “Twist-a-Rama” was a weekly “must watch” for many. A look back at this era is long overdue. Sit tight and remember when.
DAVID CHICKERING: A tribute to Leon Dussault and the Little Falls Symphony Orchestra
It was past my bedtime on this Monday night as I write this and I am reminded of Monday evenings, long ago now, in the old Little Falls High School auditorium where the Little Falls Symphony Orchestra would rehearse.
It was always a big deal to me as a high school kid. Mr. Leon Dussault invited me to become involved when I was quite young, perhaps too young. But, Mr. Dussault seemed to know that it was the right thing, and I didn’t argue. I was absolutely thrilled to be part of the Little Falls Symphony Orchestra!
The cello section was filled with the best people from the Mohawk Valley. Mr. Dussault led the section with Mrs. Ackerman next to him. Mrs. Margaret Chase was there (her husband Mr. Austin Chase was principal violist), along with Frances Riley from Herkimer. Joe Brin and possibly Joe Quatrini had preceded me.
Mr. Dussault attracted the best people from all over the area. Those who weren’t quite sure were cajoled and persuaded until they became sold on the idea that a long drive on a wintry Monday night was just what they needed in their musical lives.
Long after Mr. Dussault passed on, a lovely reminder of his passion and commitment showed up in Wellington, New Zealand. Klaus Heymann, the founder of Naxos, had married a talented and beautiful violinist named Takako Nishizaki. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra was doing a great deal of recording for his label at that time and often Takako would accompany him to Wellington. It just so happens that Takako was a student or recent graduate of Julliard when Mr. Dussault was able to lure her to Little Falls to solo with the Symphony. She dazzled everyone with her playing back in the 1960s. I seem to remember her playing Fritz Kreisler with us.
Mr. Dussault loved musicals and we often played popular tunes from “Oklahoma” and “The Sound of Music,” among others. I seem to recall performing with his niece Nancy Dussault on at least one occasion. But the programs were always varied and interesting and quite challenging for us to perform.
Mr. Dussault was nearing the end of his conducting days when I joined the Symphony. He needed some help on Monday nights setting up the orchestra. I considered myself most fortunate to have been called upon to help with this “chore.” He would let me in on the people who were needed for the upcoming concert and the problems that he was having with this instrument or that. How he managed for over 40 years was a miracle. He was a cultural blessing to Little Falls and his efforts were highly appreciated by the audiences and musicians alike.
I have played in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra, the Orquesta Sinfonica National in Costa Rico and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra where I have been the Principal Cello for the past 17 years, but the best job that I ever had was with the Little Falls Symphony Orchestra from 1965 through 1970 when I went off to Northwestern University. I still miss Mr. Dussault.
Little Falls native David Chickering has been with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra for the past 17 years. From 1965 to 1970, Chickering played in the Little Falls Symphony Orchestra under conductor Leon Dussault. This is the third article for the Little Falls Historical Society’s 2017 writing series. Other articles will follow up until and following the opening of the historical society museum on May 23. Article topics will vary, but each will relate either to the bicentennial of the 1817 groundbreaking for the Erie Canal or to the history of music in Little Falls.
RAY LENARCIC: Little Falls as Music City – U.S.A.
During the decade 1950-1960, it wouldn’t be hyperbole to describe my hometown of Little Falls as “Music City-USA.”
Throughout any given year, numerous concerts, recitals and parades afforded city residents an opportunity to enjoy the artistry of exceptional musicians of varying ages under the tutelage of such iconic directors as Leon Dussault, Salvi Ferraro, and Don Musella. Listeners were treated to musical selections from nearly every genre, featuring composers ranging from Beethoven to Dvorak to Sousa to Rodgers and Hammerstein to Anderson to Cole Porter and George M. Cohan.
My personal experiences during the decade cultivated in me a love of music which has made my life so much richer for the living. And I’m certain many of my musician friends back then can say the same thing.
My musical odyssey began at the age of nine when I picked as my instrument of choice the trumpet. Initially, I preferred practicing baseball over the horn. Tired of walking around the house with his fingers in his ears, my father admonished me to either take music seriously or give it up. As further incentive, he arranged for me to take private lessons from a longtime member of the city’s Slovenian Band, John Peckay. The fear of disappointing my dad and the drill sergeant methodology employed by the old Slovenian would ultimately pay dividends, the following being the first.
Each summer, the six playgrounds held talent shows with first place winners rewarded with the opportunity to play at one of the weekly band concerts held alternately at beautiful Eastern and Western Parks. I was fortunate to win one and made my musical debut with a nervous rendition of “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window.” Joining me that night were the other winners including Karen Carpenter, Alan Miles and Terry Leon. The applause had an intoxicating effect on me. After that night, I began to actually enjoy practicing.
The summer concerts performed by our Military Band were a longtime tradition attended by hundreds of residents, many in cars parked around the park – drivers beeping their horns in appreciation after each selection. The band was conducted by Salvi Ferraro and emceed by the legendary Clarence Hotaling. It was comprised of musicians from all walks of life and ages.
I joined the band when I was 14 and loved every minute of my involvement; so many great memories – Monday night rehearsals above Clemens Drug Store; Souza marches and Broadway show tunes; listening in awe to former Navy Band trumpeter Leo Potrikus warm up by playing the “Flight of the Bumblebee;” laughing at the band’s humorists Joe Vespasiano (clarinet) and “Shammy” Krchniak Sr. (tenor sax); marveling at the talent of guest singers Clara Mentis (of St. Johnsville) and Shirley Leon (Ashley).
In addition to summer concerts, the band performed in the many parades held each year. I can recall hundreds of people lining the parade route from Eastern Park to Furnace Street and back. And I’ll never forget that Fourth of July when I marched in my woolen uniform in the 90 degree heat!
Speaking of bands, thanks to a plethora of great musicians (e.g. Tito DiTata, Betsy Snyder, Frank Wnuk, Pete Adasek), Little Falls High School bands during the decade delighted locals with their performances at concerts and parades. The latter featured the “twirlings” of a drum majorette corps led by the unforgettable Sonny Follmer.
My band experiences began under the direction of Jim Buffan, and I had the good fortune to be taught by his successor, the great Don Musella, a trumpet virtuoso from Dolgeville who graduated from Fredonia State and the Eastman School of Music. Not only did he mold myself, Jim Harter, Allen Miller, Vic Leskovar, John Kaye, Pete Bambic, Jack Agati, Bob Perry and Al Kazmerski into the best trumpet section in the area, but he also honed the skills of Sam Krchniak, Jr. (alto sax), Holly Baker (oboe), Carol Busacker (clarinet). Audrey Chieka and Ginny Young (flutes), Fred LaFleur (tuba), among others.
The result was a concert band which, in 1960, earned a rare A-Plus rating at the annual New York State School Music Association competition. Musella’s musicians distinguished themselves by earning scores of medals (solos and duets) at NYSSMA festivals, performing solos at numerous concerts, and sitting first chair in many All-County and All-State Sectional bands and orchestras. The marching band was so accomplished that people attended football games to watch its halftime performances.
Musella’s Cadet Band was consistently exceptional, insuring that vacancies caused by graduation were filled without missing a beat. I was honored my senior year to be chosen to lead the Cadet Band during the Memorial Day parade, the highlight of which was stepping in my white bucks on a pile of fresh horse droppings (horses were ahead of the band and I was marching with my back to them).
Finally, as a testament to our director’s vision and the talent with which he had to work, Don formed the Metronomes, a classic dance band which played paying gigs throughout the valley (e.g. Knights of Columbus), a Dixieland band and Pep bands which kept the fans’ feet “a-tappin’” at basketball games throughout the decade.
Along with the Military and High School bands, music aficionados could enjoy performances by the High School orchestra conducted by Anson Nocera and featuring an outstanding string section (e.g. Karen Jurewicz, Martha Geisler, Al Lovenheim). Its annual Christmas concert played to a packed house.
And who can forget the Little Falls Symphony Orchestra and its renowned conductor Leon Dussault? I mean, how many small cities (population then c.9000) had a symphony orchestra? Participating in it not only introduced me to a new world of music (classical) but also provided me with an opportunity to perform “Buglers Holiday” with my heroes, Musella and Potrikus. Mary Lowenstein’s superb High School chorus and Ensembles, the countless piano recitals (e.g. Mrs. Maltby) and Halloween Minstrel Shows (pre-politically correct days), also regaled city music lovers.
For these reasons and more, it should be apparent that between 1950 and 1960, Little Falls was indeed “Music City-U.S.A.”
The other day while walking through Western Park (renamed Burke Park), I stopped by the bandstand and closed my eyes. I conjured up an image of Clarence Hotaling announcing the next number to a park filled with concert-goers. In my mind’s eye I could hear the band playing a rousing version of “Stars and Stripes Forever” and could even smell the home-made popcorn hawked by kids looking to make a few bucks. I walked on thankful for these and so many other memories held dear to this old man’s heart and for the opportunity to have been an active part of my hometown’s “Golden Decade of Music.”
Editor’s note: Ray Lenarcic is a retired Herkimer College professor. When Lenarcic was in high school he played trumpet in the Little Falls Military Band and Symphony Orchestra and in All County and Sectional All State bands for Little Falls High School. This is the fourth article for the Little Falls Historical Society’s 2017 writing series. Other articles will follow up until and following the opening of the historical society museum on May 23. Article topics will vary, but each will relate either to the centennial of the 1817 groundbreaking for the Erie Canal or to the history of music in Little Falls. The next article in the Little Falls Historical Society writing series was written by John F. Grabowski and is entitled “The Sunday Morning Polish Hour On WLFH.”
JOHN GRABOWSKI: The Sunday morning ‘Polish Hour’ on WLFH
“Dzien Dobry!” That’s “good morning” in Polish! That’s the way my father, John A. Grabowski, started off his “Polish Hour” radio show in the 1950s on 1230 WLFH.
As a very young boy, I would sit next to our old RCA radio and listen, not understanding much of anything. There were no iPhones, cable, internet or iPads back then. Radio was a major way to communicate locally, even in the early days of Mohawk Valley television. Little Falls was a culturally diverse community back then. There were actually a number of ethnic radio programs throughout the Mohawk Valley that kept the locals entertained and informed. The “Polish Hour” on Sunday mornings was mostly in the Polish language, with occasional English thrown in. There were also commercial ads and announcements.
Then there were the “polkas!” A polka is basically lively dance music with a bohemian, eastern European origin. Polkas have all types of themes for weddings, birthdays, holidays and dances, something for every occasion, with the usual accordions and clarinets, a loud, lively, joyous sound!
My father played these songs from very heavy vinyl 78 RPM records from the tiny WLFH radio station on Second Street in Little Falls. The equipment he used was very basic. I recall my father telling me the headphones that I had when I was getting into stereo equipment were so much better than what the station had in the 1950s. I still have most of his program record collection … is anyone interested in giving them a good home?
The “Polish Hour” program kept the traditional music alive for the Polish community in the Mohawk Valley and passed on the sounds and language to the younger generation. Back then, there were still many older Polish people who used the mother tongue as their primary language. I must say, I now envy those who were bilingual. What rich conversations were heard on the streets of Little Falls all those years ago.
In our home, aside from reading the newspaper and watching a little television, our radio was always on, mostly tuned to WLFH. The show was a perfect addition to Sunday mornings with people attending church and then relaxing at home for the day. People followed the ethnic radio shows kind of like we do today with “Downtown Abbey” or “Breaking Bad.”
My father was also able to speak a little Italian, German and Slovak. It was all part of his being a local radio celebrity in touch with the local community. He seemed to know everyone in town. At the time, I often wondered if when I grew up I would have to know as many people.
The “Polish Hour” radio show helped to carry on the rich language and traditions of the Polish community. And, as in most cultures, music is the common thread that entertains, energizes and unites all people.
John Grabowski is a graduate of Little Falls High School, Class of 1968, and a member of the Little Falls Historical Society.
JEFFREY GRESSLER: 1960s-1970s Little Falls: The Golden Age of Rock and Roll | Part 1
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of a two-part series on the history of rock and roll in the city of Little Falls in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. The second part will cover the late 1960s and early 1970s and will appear in next Tuesday’s edition.
In this day and age when every activity imaginable can be filmed, archived and made instantly available and when musicians routinely record their own music, it is difficult to imagine a time when great local musical performances were enjoyed by many yet went unrecorded. Such experiences fade into memory, then just fade away all together.
Dances with live bands were fixtures of teenage life in 1960s-1970s Little Falls; dances at the YMCA, Benton Hall and St. Mary’s gymnasiums, the DeCarlo-Staffo Post, the Knights of Columbus and Filipski’s Golden Pin Lanes bring back pleasant memories. It was good that our parents never quite knew all that we were up to!
Perhaps it was the city’s barbers who first felt the impact of the 60s. Longer hair meant fewer haircuts. Long haired youth and a gold hearse being driven around town by the Chapadeau brothers were clear outward signs that something was different. The 60s generation was going to be noticed and heard. And nothing spoke louder than 60s music, so much different from what went before. Bob Dylan was not Elvis Presley, John Lennon was not Frank Sinatra and Mick Jagger was not Bobby Darin. But the town had no need to be nervous.
Just as 50s slang expressions nifty, greaser, outta sight and flat top gave way to groovy, hippie, laid back and guys with ponytails, so too did 50s songs. Elvis’ “You Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog,” the Everly Brothers’ “Wake Up Little Suzie” and The Kingston Trio’s “Tom Dooley” gave way to The Beatles’ “Love Me Do,” The Rolling Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
Early — Mid 1960s
The allure of forming a rock band was inescapable for some. Joe and Gary Chapadeau started The Cruisers in 1962: JFK was president and the Cold War was peaking, the Vietnam War and 1960s-70s social turmoil were to follow. Joe played piano (later drums and organ), Gary sang vocals (later played bass and guitar), fellow Little Falls teenagers Steve Malek and Lorrie Snyder played guitar and George Gregory played drums. Henry Dise, Tom Dobrovich and Tony Troy played in later versions of the band.
The Cruisers covered Dion’s “Runaround Sue” and “The Wanderer,” The Four Season’s “Sherry” and other early-60s mainstay songs at area lounges and high school dances. Poor Side front man Mike Walo remembers the Chapadeaus as the local trendsetters, not only with their music, but also with their personal appearance and behavior. The Cruisers promotional pictures remain time period cool.
Local TV and radio personality Hank Brown recalls that The Cruisers “really had their act together. They used a promoter and had great advertising and they were well-organized. The kids really loved those bands.”
Although neither was as long lived as The Cruisers, The Dynamics (Bob Kaucher, Jay Love, John Sagatis and Steve Murphy) and The Five Satins (Kaucher, Sagatis, Murphy and Gene Colorito) also performed rock and roll at area venues in the early 1960s. Love went on to establish the Love Inn in 1973.
Mid-1960s Friday night dances at the Knights of Columbus and Sunday afternoon dances at the old DeCarlo-Staffo were the first exposure that many of us had to live rock and roll music. The atmosphere was exotic for young teens. A generation was just beginning to hit its individual and collective stride and rock and roll was its voice.
Chapadeau recalls that The Cruisers also at one point had “four local girls” known as the Cruiserettes (Cherilyn Carrig, Nora Buccafurno, Genevieve Ashley and Lisa Lester) performing on stage along with the band.
By 1965 the British invasion was in full swing; The Cruisers changed their image and became The King Beats; their playlist included songs by The Rolling Stones, The Dave Clark Five and The Animals. The band played their original Dylan-like song “Nothin’ About Life At All” both live on Hank Brown’s “Twist-a-Rama” and on the album “Twist-a-Rama USA.”
Taking inspiration and instruction from the Cruisers, The Poor Side began performing in 1967; Mike Walo (vocals), Bob “Chauty” Staffo (drums), David “Doc” Muller (keyboards), Bill Staffo (rhythm guitar), Vinny Pescatore (bass) and Gary Perkett (lead guitar) were the core members. Bart Carrig and Frank Scortino played guitar in later versions of the band.
The Poor Side played Sam and Dave’s “Hold On I’m Comin’,” Wilson Pickett’s “Midnight Hour” and The Doors’ “The Crystal Ship” on “Twist-a-Rama.” Richard Marocco remembers Poor Side band members as “rock stars” when being recorded for “Twist-a-Rama” at the city pool.
Around the same time, The Endless Knights (Blaise Carrig, Bart Carrig, Bill Staffo, Vinny Pescatore and Dewayne Perry) was a “garage band” managed by Gordie Ackerman. Most of these musicians later played in other groups after hitting the right chords with the Knights.
The 1967 Summer of Love and the Monterey International Pop Festival lured many to California and the musical influence of West Coast bands — Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors and others — impacted a generation’s musical tastes. Local rock and rollers began covering West Coast songs. The lyrics spoke of love, rebellion and looser lifestyles.
Jeffrey Gressler is a member of the Little Falls Historical Society.
JEFFREY GRESSLER: 1960s-1970s Little Falls: The Golden Age of Rock and Roll | Part 2
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of a two-part series on the history of rock and roll in the city of Little Falls in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. The first part appeared in the May 9 edition of the Times Telegram.
The King Beats stopped performing in 1967 and The Poor Side broke up in 1968; the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Asparagus) emerged. The group lured Gary Chapadeau (bass) out of musical retirement. The group also included Mike Walo, Bob Staffo Eddie Pelligrini (keyboards) and Alan Kobliha (lead guitar). The band was a fusion of rock groups; shades of Blind Faith and Derek and the Dominoes.
The SPCA’s song list included Moby Grape’s “8:05,” Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love,” The Doors’ “Soul Kitchen,” and The Grateful Dead’s “Morning Dew.” Cutting edge and cool.
In 1968 the nation was both embroiled in the Vietnam War and grieving following the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy; locals grieved following Gary Chapadeau’s death in a car accident that same year. A musical era ended with his death.
The SPCA was gone and The Joint Commission emerged: The band featured A.J. Campione on lead guitar, Joe Janezic (keyboards), Fred “Chico” Urich (bass), Perry (drums), Bart Carrig (rhythm guitar) and Walo (vocals). Later in 1968 the personnel was trimmed to a three-piece band with Walo and Campione adding Chaut Staffo to the group, then renamed The Golden Grate. They featured songs by Cream and Hendrix. Utica’s Tony Cee Enterprises became their booking agent and a new world opened; clubs and lounges, ranging from “classy” to “scary” became their venues along with high school dances.
Psychedelic music such as Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” was the rage and The Golden Grate’s song list included Cream’s “Toad” and Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.”
By the late-60s anti-Vietnam War music proliferated; Country Joe and the Fish’s line “One, two, three, four what are we fighting for? I don’t give a damn, the next stop is Vietnam — we’re all gonna die” was cutting edge political satire. After the May 4, 1970 deaths of four students at Kent State at the hands of Ohio National Guardsmen during a campus anti-war protest, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young penned the song “Ohio” and its haunting refrain “four dead in Ohio” spoke to an entire generation. College campuses across the nation erupted in further protest. The Vietnam War ended LBJ’s political career and in 1969 America got Richard Nixon who later resigned in disgrace over the Watergate scandal; political upheaval was the norm.
For tens of thousands of young Americans 1969 was a pivotal year: On December 1 the first of two Vietnam War draft lotteries took place. Draft numbers often determined personal fate. Low draft numbers meant that you could be drafted and possibly sent to Vietnam, high draft numbers often translated to personal safety.
Rock and roll became more political and anti-establishment. The 1969 Woodstock Music Festival put a generation’s cultural behavior and politics on display. Richie Havens, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Jimi Hendrix, Country Joe and the Fish, Janis Joplin, The Band, The Who and The Grateful Dead all performed at Woodstock. Some embraced what they saw, others were repelled.
Walo, Staffo, Campione, Janezic, John Frazier (trumpet) and Dave Failing (saxophone) founded Your Friendly Neighborhood NARC in 1969; Chicago, Blood, Sweat and Tears, The Electric Flag and Al Kooper tunes made up their playlist.
Later that year, NARC disbanded and The Other America emerged, performing through 1971, first as a four-piece band with Walo, Staffo, Campione and Henry Verri (guitar), then adding Doc Muller (organ) and a horn section which allowed the band to cover a wider playlist, including even some Miles Davis jazz selections, as well as tunes by Traffic and Canned Heat.
Stump the Band (STB) was probably the most successful Little Falls rock band from 1974-76; the original group featured Campione, Mike Cecconi (keyboards), David “Tito” Ditata (guitar), Mark Kaucher (bass), and Jeff Mosher (drums). STB covered Cream, Elton John and Johnny and Edgar Winter. Little Falls musician Alan Brin (keyboards) joined the band in 1975. That August Ditata died in a car crash and a younger generation grieved once again.
A few months later, STB added Walo (bass, vocals, trumpet) and Anthony Vennera (keyboards) and soon was performing regularly once again, but by mid-1976, the band dissolved.
Before his tenure with STB, Brin had performed with Little Falls native Stevie Rigo (guitar) in Mooneye. Following the STB break-up, Brin and Rigo went onto what was arguably the most successful rock and roll careers of any Little Falls rock musicians. They toured nationwide and throughout Canada with the Elvis Presley Story.
Brin and Rigo then joined Daybreak. Their act included Brin fronting the band’s Jerry Lee Lewis set and Rigo fronting their Buddy Holly set. The group toured the country for several years before dissolving in the early-1980s. Brin and Rigo then joined with Alan Cancelino to form the West Albany Street Blues Band.
The true catalyst for this local rock and roll era was the willingness to teach and share. These musicians learned technique and songs from each other. The Chapadeaus inspired Poor Side band members who in turn inspired the next generation to get organized and to gain the confidence “to play out.” Mark Kaucher, Bob Willman and Richard Marocco all took guitar lessons from A.J. Campione. From that beginning, three groups, Breezin’, Rock City and Jab, evolved and performed from 1975-2015. During that long stretch, Marocco (guitar, vocals), Joe LaValla and Todd Smith (drums), Bob Willman (guitar), and Roger Marocco (harmonica) formed the core while Craig Deverereese, Paul Finch and Kaucher all played bass at different times.
BEYOND LIVE MUSIC — LOUNGE MUSIC AND RADIO
The Green Gables and Chickering’s Lounge were 1960s generational hangout bars. Chick’s was the place to meet up with friends. His Wurlitzer jukebox banged out our favorite tunes through his great Altec-Lansing speakers. The bowling machine chimed away in the background as The Chessmen’s “Louie Louie,” The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun,” Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale,” Janis’ “Piece of my Heart,” The Temptations “My Girl” and other favorites filled the bar and backroom with our music.
It was unfortunate that Chick’s was not set up for live music; it would have been cool to listen and dance to our music being played live by our bands in our bar.
In the early 1970s Jay Love opened the Love In and part of the social scene shifted from Main Street to Route 167. Love booked many bands, including Zoo Dirt, Rock ’N Rod and Bhang. In 1976 an outdoor multi-band music festival was held on the Love Inn grounds.
Radio helped satisfy our 1960s-70s craving for music. WLFH never quite measured up with its Top 40 format. We tuned in WTLB (Utica) and WTRY (Troy) during the daytime and to “super stations” like WLS (Chicago), WBZ (Boston), WABC (NYC) and WKBW (Buffalo) at nighttime for more cutting edge music. Buffalo Springfield, Tom Waits, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, The Byrds, John Mayall’s Blues Breakers.
This effort would not be complete without mentioning that some of these musicians have passed away. Gary Chapadeau, Doc Muller, Gary Perkett, Tito Ditata, Al Brin, not quite Buddy, Jimi, Janis or Jim Morrison, but still rock and rollers dead before their time. You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go.
1960s-70s rock lyrics spoke to the needs and cravings of a generation. The words meant something — social justice, anti-war protest, love — and pointed the way for a generation to navigate the social turmoil.
The Baby Boom generation’s greatest lyricist and poet laureate was of course Bob Dylan. The fact that he recently received the Nobel Prize for literature speaks for itself. Has any other American songwriter ever been accorded such an honor? None. Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” stands alone as a 1960s rock anthem. His music continues to be relevant and critically acclaimed.
Oldies radio stations continue to cater to our generation’s musical tastes, but we are aging. We continue to see our friends and contemporaries slip away. The Band’s seminal film “The Last Waltz” was recently re-issued on its fortieth anniversary; say it ain’t so! Where did our time go?
And in the end, it has been a pleasure to research and write this article; the stories and memories that have resurfaced are priceless. The musicians are grateful to both reconnect with one another and to have their stories written down and recorded for all to enjoy. Future generations will hopefully benefit from this collective effort. What will be their impression? That must have been a cool time to grow up. It was, we were lucky! Let it be.
Special thanks to Mike Walo, John Frazier, Joe Chapadeau, Mark Kaucher, Joe LaValla and Tom “Dewey” Dussault for their timely assistance and support for this writing project. Dewey recently passed away on April 9; his brainy wit and enduring friendship are no more; our great loss.
Please be sure to visit the Little Falls Historical Society Museum to view our 1960s-70s Little Falls rock and roll displays and our many other exhibits.
BART CARRIG and BLAISE CARRIG: 1960s — 70s Little Falls Rock and Roll: The Endless Knights
Beginning in the early 1960s, Little Falls had a solid “rock scene.” Following up the legacy of The Cruisers (and Cruiserettes), a number of different Little Falls teenage students were mentored musically by Joe and Gary Chapadeau and other Cruisers band members. Although some adults in the community were alarmed by the emergence of this music culture, other adults helped nurture it. The Endless Knights followed in the footsteps of the Cruisers, the Five Satins and the Dynamics, all early Little Falls rock and roll ground-breakers.
More people probably heard about the Endless Knights than actually heard them perform. Most of the time they played for classmates and friends in the cellar of band member Vinny Pescatore’s parents. The Knights were a true garage band that really only performed publicly a few times. Bart Carrig (lead guitar), Bill Staffo (rhythm guitar), Vinny Pescatore (bass), De Wayne “Caesar” Perry (drums) and Blaise Carrig (vocals) were band members and Gordie Ackerman was their manager. They were all members of the Little Falls High School Class of 1969.
In addition to Mr. and Mrs. Pescatore, who nourished the band with food, drink, encouragement and performance space, John Ferraro was also pivotal to the emergence of the Knights as well as other 60s-70′s teenage Little Falls rock bands.
John owned Salvi’s Music Store and he allowed young musicians to buy instruments and equipment “on time” with no down payments and only $5 or $10 weekly installments. John also went to great lengths to track down albums and song lyrics; those teenagers who he nurtured musically remember his tolerance, generosity and encouragement. He was a gem who went onto a long successful career as a music teacher at Little Falls High School.
Pescatore’s cellar was the perfect home for the Knights, it had good acoustics and enough space for all of their musical equipment and for friends to drop in and listen. The Knights felt like rock and roll kings practicing there; they were able to escape the boredom of high school life.
The Endless Knights covered songs by The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Byrds and other tunes played by local bands, but they tried playing them differently, often driven by their improvisational drummer Caesar Perry. The Endless Knights ventured out of their cellar home and played out a few times.
In late-1966, the Knights played a series of Sunday afternoon jams for friends, family and bar patrons in the backroom of our uncle Stuart Balderston’s John Street bar, The Globe. Their most successful performance was at the YMCA in January 1967.
By that time, Gary and Joe Chapadeau and their Cruisers band mates had become The King Beats and during a break at that January YMCA dance, the Endless Knights were invited on stage to perform. The Knights were pumped with nervous energy to perform for such a large crowd. They played “Gloria,” “Hey Joe” and “Gimme Some Lovin’” through The King Beats’ powerful sound system. The audience was impressed and much surprised by their performance.
The following month, high school friend Tom Dussault was able to get the Endless Knights hired for their next and last public performance at a well-attended dance at Benton Hall gymnasium. The crowd was large, but the Knights’ modest sound system was no match for the large space, so much different than Pescatore’s intimate cellar. The crowd had to get close to hear the music, but overall everybody had fun dancing and socializing, even though a fight broke out between alcohol-fueled gladiators. The dance left the Knights a bit disappointed in their own performance. It really was the beginning of the end for the Endless Knights.
The band went back to their cellar practice sessions, but band members began to drift apart and by spring of 1967 the band was no more. Individual Knights moved onto other bands. Bart, Caesar and Vinny helped form the Joint Commission along with Mike Walo, Joe Janezic and Fred “Chico” Urich. Billy played with several other bands and Blaise sang at a few dances with bands in need of a vocalist, including the Good Tymes with Frank Sciortino, Jimmy Muller and Alan Sefcik. Gordie played drums in one incarnation of The Poor Side along with Allen Syneki, David “Doc” Muller, Frank Sciortino and Vinny Pescatore.
At Gordie and Gina Ackerman’s 1981 wedding reception at the Little Falls Masonic Temple, A.J. Campione (lead guitar), Chico (bass), Gordie (drums) and Blaise (vocals) fired up the crowd with rock tunes, including Jimi Hendrix and Rolling Stones songs; one last encore for the Endless Knights!
The whole Endless Knights experience really was about a group of Little Falls youth being “electrified” with musical instruments and equipment to become part of the 60s pop culture of experimentation, rebellion and non-conformity. Their two-year run was driven by the sheer joy of playing rock music together. By the mid-60s, the rock and roll music scene had exploded and an entire generation of local teens rode that wave. Music was the vehicle.
The Little Falls 1960s-70s rock scene was about friendship and camaraderie helped along by nurturing adults like John Ferraro and the Pescatore family. Music united a group of high school students in friendship, endlessly.
Everyone is invited to visit the Little Falls Historical Society Museum at the corner of Albany and South Ann streets to view the 1960s–70s Golden Age of Little Falls Rock and Roll exhibit. The historical society’s two main 2017 exhibit themes are the history of music in Little Falls and the bicentennial of the 1811 ground-breaking for the Erie Canal.
Bart Carrig and Blaise Carrig, members of the Little Falls High School Class of 1969.
Click photos to enlarge.