Cover Story » Vol. 5

Still Reelin’ in the Years

Volume 5 Cover

Volume 5 Cover

Will you still need me, will you still feed me when I’m 64?

If you’re a music fan and you’ve lived in the Worcester area for any amount of time, you’ve no doubt come to realize and appreciate the rich variety of musical genres and the professional musicians who deliver the sounds that Massachusetts’ second largest city has to offer.

From swinging rock-a-billy to hardcore head banging to sweet and easy jazz to light pop to ‘80s covers to southern and classic rock to soulful blues and bluegrass to the Beatles and to everything in between, the Worcester area has been home to the best of them. The question is, who among the best has had the staying power or the drive and ambition to keep setting up that equipment, gig after crazy gig? Better still, why and how has their success been achieved, since Worcesterites are known to be fickle regarding many of our entertainment preferences?

In order to clarify longevity in terms of the music biz in Worcester, let’s define it this way: in the live music business, if you’ve survived 10 years, you’re considered noteworthy (or too stubborn to know when to give up – or you have no other viable work options). If you’ve hung on 15 years or more, you’re the stuff of legends (or too stubborn to know when to give up – or you can translate that longevity into one viable work option — teaching music). Anything beyond 15 years earns you hero worship and your adoring fans start bringing their offspring to your shows.

Cliff Goodwin

Who are you, who, who, who, who?

Vincent Hammeter, owner of Worcester landmark Ralph’s Diner (as well as Vincent’s and Nick’s), refers to the fans of those long-lived groups this way: “That demographic just doesn’t go out much anymore. They may be good for only once a month or so.”

Well, yes, the demographic he is referring to is now well into their 40s (if you consider they began clubbing as soon as they were legal) and well into their careers and their families – neither of which is conducive to the late nights that are so necessary to being a loyal fan of a particular band or solo artist. But what it does engender is the continuation of performances by these groups – just fewer and farther in between, but well polished and greatly anticipated.

Bill Dumas, booking agent at the Lucky Dog (still Sir Morgan’s Cove to many of us) says this demographic is good for reunion shows and the bands that do those shows do very well and get a good crowd. Groups like Chillum, 7-Hills Psychos, The Hat and Sluggo etc., put on some “tight performances” to greatly appreciative audiences. It would seem then, that a once-in-awhile, full-on bender, slopping drinks on everyone while dancing and dragging your butt home well after closing is doable for the more mature crowd, but only on occasion – and small doses like reunion shows are just the ticket.

Chuck and Mud perform at Mechanics Hall

I keep holding on? (or Should I stay or should I go now?)

So, who are they – these sublime yet wily professionals who have persisted in bringing the best sounds to Worcester?

The groups (and musicians) that have, no doubt, earned their spot on stage for their staying power include Wilbur and the Dukes, Valerie and Walter Crockett, Chuck and Mud, Dick Odgren, Huck, The Curtain Society, Jimmy D’Angelo and Code Blue, Jim Perry, Cliff Goodwin and Dawn Sweet (the list goes on, but space restrictions prohibit us from naming all the other wonderful performers who so richly deserve to be included ~ our apologies to them!).

Steve Going

Steve Going

Wilbur and the Dukes, known for their swinging R&B and Blues and ca-raaazy Swing, complete with horns and the Wilson sisters (a combination that just makes you shiver), may have lost a major Duke in the short term when bass player and front man Steve Going was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident recently. Dickie Cummings, booking agent at Ralph’s, has begun organizing a benefit for Mr. Going saying, “Steve is always the first person who steps up and does these things for everyone else. It’s time to give back.” Going organized the legendary memorial for the late, great Ralph Moberly (of Ralph’s Diner) complete with a Louisiana marching band and gospel chorus.

Lined up for the Sunday, September 14th Going Benefit (1 p.m. at Ralph’s) are James Montgomery, Clutch Grabwell, Jason James and the House Rockers and of course, Wilbur and the Dukes (with slight modifications). So, if staying power has anything to do with heart, Steve Going has led the way, all the way.

Huck

Huck

Valerie and Walter Crockett are record holders, having been on the scene since 1979 (Walter actually started without Valerie, much earlier in 1968). They have a unique blend of country, blues, bluegrass, folk and rock n’ roll, and have morphed from the band Crockett to the current Valerie & Walter Crockett and the Oxymorons. With four albums to their credit, Valerie and Walter are currently taking some time off to allow Valerie to recuperate from a serious illness, but Walter still has nuggets to share (don’t miss them on this page’s sidebar, left!).

Their favorite place to play? Elm Park in the summer. Upcoming gigs include a reunion with Zonkaraz and a booking at the Hanover Theatre. Please join us in sending Valerie your healing vibes.

Dick Odgren Trio

Dick Odgren Trio

Chuck and Mud played their first gig at the Paddock Lounge in 1979 which means that they will be celebrating a 30th anniversary soon – another record! Their sweet, folksy – country, rock sound is familiar and comforting to Worcesterites and from the looks of things, may continue for another 30 years!

Dick Odgren has been a fixture in the Worcester jazz scene for many years and his smooth, yet hot riffs are not to be missed. Probably best known for his 22-year partnership with an equally legendary musician, the late Emil Haddad, Odgren still performs regularly and teaches in his own studio.

Jim Perry, a supremely talented and serious musician has been around since the mid ’70s, yet somehow the wear and tear just doesn’t show. Starting with Albatross (check out the YouTube footage from a show at Mechanics Hall in 1974!) and moving to The Heartbeats, Tornado Alley and Down East, Jim has been involved in some of the best loved and most talented groups in the Worcester-area. Jim’s current band, Doctor Robert, performs regularly and is well-known as the best cover band around.

Jim Perry

Jim Perry

Cliff Goodwin, another amazing talent whom Worcester can claim as its own, is a 15-year member of the Mohegan Sun All-Stars. Lead guitarist with New England’s American Standard Band through 1974, he joined forces with Joe Cocker in 1976 and later became Joe’s musical director. Goodwin has toured the globe and recorded with Cocker and has shared the stage with such legendary icons as Steve Miller, John Mayall, and famous British pianist Nicky Hopkins. Today, Goodwin performs and also produces records and can be seen leading the Community Auditions band on Channel 38.

Oh what a lonely boy

And what about the solo artists who have been around? Who are the long standing, lone soldiers?

One hard-gigging guy that is out regularly and still making a name for himself (although not one he wants to admit to) is Bill McCarthy. Bill is the lone wolf who has been entertaining the longest, fully on his own. Lately, he’s developed a popular open mic show that is loads of fun, earning him the title “Open Mic King.” If you’re not interested in embarrassing yourself, Bill does a wide range of tunes from Billy Joel and Jim Croce to Elvis Costello, the Stones, the Beatles and more, and has an amazing voice for all of them.

When asked what his secret to longevity is he says, “I refuse to give up – that and my fans refuse to die.”

Workin’ in a coalmine

Valerie & Walter Crockett

How do the best weigh in on a noteworthy topic – music as a vocation? Is it your day job? Opinions are split on this, but diehards like Jim Perry and Bill McCarthy firmly believe that if you want music to be your career, then music is what you should do, full-time. “You work harder when you’re hungry,” Bill says. The resounding truth is that as a professional musician with no fall-back work, you are forced to make it. Jim Perry puts it this way: “You have to go on blind faith and be a musician.” It’s all or nothing sometimes.

I’ll keep you, my dirty little secret

So is there a secret to longevity in the music business in Worcester? Overwhelmingly the answer was, “Do what you love,” or “Do it for the love of the music.”

Bill McCarthy

Walter Crockett’s Nuggets

1. Don’t let friends and girlfriends come to rehearsal.

2. If you can get out of bed, you can play the gig.

3. A strong melody is most important, so make up the melody in your head before you play it on your instrument.

4. Don’t go on stage stoned or intoxicated — when you’re up there it’s not about you, it’s about reaching the audience.

5. Don’t let the work of music kill the playing. Learn to enjoy the working part: practice, learning songs, repetition.

6. Time + concentration = music. You have to spend the time. And when you play, your mind has to be on the music.

7. Don’t get depressed if you don’t sound as good as your heroes. Just keep plugging away and loving it.

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