A Musical Flashback
Yikes, here's something I stumbled across in the vaults recently - a 1975 copy of the Springfield Technical Community College newspaper The Ram. In it is an interview by a promising young writer with a guy named Rick Knightly, at that time a wizened old veteran of the local music scene. He was probably around thirty at the time. In any case it offers a rare look at the early years of the local rock music scene.
There are few who are more knowledgeable or so long immersed in the Valley music scene than Rick Knightly. Name any local band, or any local club, and Knightly can probably tell you the band's history and give an opinion on how good they are.
In his RAM column "Beer and Barf" Knightly has reviewed many of the current local bands. In this interview however, Knightly reminices about the early days of rock n'roll in Springfield, and how a group named FAT brought the San Francisco sound to Springfield and changed the nature of music in the area forever. He talks about the old Woodrose Ballroom (named after the high inducing Woodrose seed) and how it served as the focal point of the new sound and the infamous Forest Park outdoor concerts, where the drug culture first emerged into the open in the Springfield area.
Knightly has lived in Springfield all of his life. Besides being a musician himself, he performs a vaudeville act with his five year old son Stevie.
Tell us about the first time you saw FAT.
The first time I saw FAT was about 1968, when I was performing with a top forty band called Crimson Sky. It was a real bullshit band, a big tape recording that you put on stage, since none of us knew how to play and relied on recorded material to back us up. We played Top 40, the Rascals and shit like that. Everyone was into high school dances then. It was easy to make money just dressing up and playing proms and things.
One day we were playing a gig over at the Eastern States Exposition in the bandshell by the main green, and before the show we went walking around. We walked together, like the Monkees or something, playing the role of the Big Bad Rock Band. We got around to the back of the Big E where all the cowshit was dumped and they had a platform set up where this little band was playing. They had no equipment. Little rented amplifiers was all they had and there were only about five people watching them, sitting cross-legged San Francisco style, you know?
In the cowshit?
Just about. This was just a little to the right of it. So there they were, in this ditch really, playing to only five or six people. Of course we felt that we were much better than they were, there in the cowshit, so I asked one of the chicks who was listening what the name of the band was. She said it was a new band, called FAT. Of course in those days to hear a band with a name like FAT was absurd and we laughed at it. At the time FAT was playing pieces like the Doors' Crystal Ship, stuff from Quicksilver, the Jefferson Airplane and basically acid rock. We never thought they'd amount to anything. About a year later the band I was in had broken up and FAT was the number one band in the area.
They were doing original tunes by that time. They had to beg to get jobs, their sound was so new. One thing with FAT was that it was the first sign of what I guess you'd call the "drug scene" in Springfield. High School dances stopped and the concert scene started.
What year was that?
1968 or 69. FAT was at the center of all the changes. Soon after FAT introduced acid rock to the area the free concerts over at Forest Park began. That was like the Haight-Ashbury scene, those Forest Park concerts. Drugs everywhere. This was like two years after the same shit was going on out West, that this kind of music came to Springfield.
FAT was way ahead of its time compared to what had been going on in Springfield before they appeared. Believe it or not WHYN was the major radio station then and they played only Top 40. But when FAT appeared all that changed. Dances became extinct. No one wanted to go to dances anymore, a whole new format of entertainment was taking its place. It was hard for a commerical musician like me to adjust, as the ground on which our type of appeal rested was being swept away. The hippie era hit Springfield. It hit hard and spread fast, musicians like me were the first to feel it because demands for our kinds of gigs became fewer and fewer. The old bullshit bands went out of business: Monty and the Specialties, Kwaheri Tribe, they all went under. The only scene to survive was Sweet Charity's.
Was there any club that was leading the others in offering this new kind of music?
The Woodrose Ballroom in South Deerfield. It's an art gallery now, I think. Occasionally someone will still rent it and put on a show but at that time it was the focal point of musical activity in the Valley. It was like a miniature Filmore East. Unbelievable really. There was no bar there, the authorities wouldn't have stood for it. It was bad enough the hippies wanted to play their music, drinking as well would have been intolerable. What they served mostly was coke; Coca-Cola too (laughs) and State Line potato chips. There was a juke box that you could play in between sets that had the weirdest music on it you ever heard. Heavy drug shit, ya know, sound effects and stuff.
It cost about two dollars to get in and you could see the finest bands in the area. BOLD came out at about that time, they were even better than FAT I felt. The band Flight came out then, they were also very good and Country Funk as well.
Was the Woodrose the only club where this music was going on?
Mostly, but soon there was like a circuit of small concerts happening all over the Valley. Woodrose was the first major club. Then the Paramount Theater started doing the same type of thing and then the Capital. The Capital Theater was the first to introduce professional concerts in the area. Alice Cooper played there when he was a complete unknown. FAT played the Capital a lot. Rod Stewart and the Faces, Lou Reed, J. Geils, the Allman Brothers, all of them could be seen for about two bucks. None of them were known at the time, most of them on their first promo tours.
The Woodrose used to feature some regular groups, a few of which went on to become nationally famous. The James Gang were from Cleveland originally, played for a short while in New York and New Haven, then came up to the Woodrose. For $2 you could see the James Gang and the Allman Brothers.
What was J. Geils like at that time?
They were lousy, very bad. They still are in my opinion. They had a trumpet player then. In fact of the original J. Geils Band that used to play the Woodrose, Peter Wolfe and J. Geils are the only ones left.
How would you describe the local music scene as it is today in the 70's?
It's gone way downhill. When clubs like the Fifth Alarm started popping up, they catered to a straighter, beer drinking crowd that was more interested in getting drunk than in hearing music. FAT, with all their sophistication, can't draw like they once did. Now all the bands in the area sound the same, and nothing really creative is being done. People just want to dance and drink like they do at the Fifth Alarm, and if they are confronted by art they throw things at the stage and scream "Boogie!" But I think that's going to change. People are getting sick of the boogie scene, it's about time for something new to emerge, and I'm just sitting back and waiting.
Here's some other interesting things from the same issue of the STCC paper. This is a picture of the college radio station sports team, featuring Mark Wiernasz who went on to have a multi-faceted career in local media.
Also here's longtime Springfield Newspapers reporter and current court dude Kevin Claffey with STCC President Dr. Robert Geitz and his dog Maura.
The other night I was walking past the old Thornes location of the now defunct Dynamite Records, when I noticed the door was open.
Going inside, I saw that there was all kinds of art hung around the room, some of it quite good.
It was nice to see where the old record store was, and the outline of the record bins on the wooden floor.
Using it as a temporary art space for local artists is a cool idea, but when will a commericial business move in?
Uh oh, Starbucks is first to bring out the ultimate symbol of Fall - the pumpkin!
My neighbor found a decorative use for his old marbles.
HOT FUCKING TUNA!