THIS IS A WORK IN PROGRESS
FEEL FREE TO READ
BUT IT AIN'T DONE YET :)
NEITHER AM I..
So, how do I convey my life experience thus far in words without engaging in generic, ego based dribble exalting my triumphs and overly dramatizing my tragedies? Its not so easy, if truth is black and white, we all tend to color things in our own brand of grey. At any rate, here is my subjective perception of my life's journey thus far:
I was born June 3, 1968 in Point Pleasant, NJ. My parents split up when my twin sister and I were quite young and we survived an upbringing clouded by a wide variety of dysfunction of a rather intense magnitude. The story of our upbringing could genuinely comprise its own book, but it wasn't all bad..
Life for me started at the Jersey Shore and I have many fond memories of "borrowing" row boats from Clark's Landing, cruising the boardwalk, hanging at the beach, and a bunch of crazy stuff that adults were up to in the 70's. It was a wild time.
We moved around a lot during my childhood - kindergarten in Pt. Pleasant and Bayville, Pt. Pleasant Beach for first and second grade, 3rd grade in two different school systems in and around New Port Richey, Florida.. 4th grade in Waretown, NJ.
In fifth grade we moved to Sayreville, NJ and even though I left home at 15 I managed to stay in the Sayreville school system until my high school graduation in 1986. Thanks to terrific, supportive friends, some incredible teachers, a kind Episcopal Priest, and many other good people, I managed to stay in high school despite being ejected from my home by an abusive Step Father.
Sayreville is the community where my artistic life took serious root. I can clearly recall borrowing my friend Billy Mayer's acoustic guitar in the eighth grade and playing it for over a year before being unceremoniously informed by another guitar player that it was in fact a right handed guitar that I was playing upside down. Oops! I suppose this constituted the origins of many ass backwards actions that would transpire in the years to come.
Leaving home at such a young age, I endured and experienced an interesting variety of living situations. The main constants and my saving grace was my involvement in my high school's Theater and Music Department - I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to many good teachers, especially my Theater Teacher Dr. Michael Piccuirio for demonstrating character, kindness, and personal service and sacrifice that has had an enduring impact and positive inspiration towards my life. I also owe a major debt to generous friends and their families who took me in at various times throughout that period of my life, I regret that I didn't express more gratitude for their kindness at the time, but between being a typical angst driven teenager, and my messed up family situation, my personal issues often affected my behavior in a negative manner.
As an emerging guitar player I was an ugly duckling. Sayreville's teen rock scene was primarily into metal shredding and I tugged on my old guitar strings like an 89 year old trying to grab one last breath. I can recall one time when my friend a young, aspiring guitar deity named Michael Romeo called me and flawlessly played Al Dimeola licks over the phone as I attempted to sputter through the first few bars of Van Halen's "Eruption" - which apparently Mike could play upside down and backwards with one hand! None the less I continued to play because it helped me cope with and metabolize my emotional pain and just get through another day.
My teen years were largely spent trying to keep up appearances and enjoying school and social activities, but my lack of a home life impacted my grades severely and I felt a lot of shame, fear and anxiety about my living situation. It stands to reason that kids don't especially care about their grades when they're worried about basic needs and not being loved by their parents. In fact, I was probably the only kid in Sayreville's Talented and Gifted Program with a D average. It was ironic because I went to the State Championships with my Olympics of the Mind Team, consistently scored in the top 2% nationally in the CAT, yet I could barely manage to pass basic Algebra. I suppose the early emergence of my own drinking didn't help matters much either and I was already suffering from chronic low self esteem.
On a happier note, within my high school's performing arts scene my spirit came to life and I was sheltered by kindred spirits and loving souls who also strayed from the established norm of the time. There were a bunch of us "band and theater fags" that stuck together like glue (my second dysfunctional family). We were essentially an extracurricular after school bohemian triage facility masquerading as a high school theatrical department. The friendships and comaraderie I experienced in that high school auditorium are among the sweetest memories I possess and the root of many of my deepest friendships.
I kept playing guitar - hours upon hours in the basement of the Dell's (sorry), drums - marching band and jazz ensemble, and piano - sneaking into the school auditorium every chance I got and eventually started multi-tracking by bouncing between two cassette recorders. In fact, I was quite convinced that I was rather clever until I read about Les Paul and his genuine multi-track recording innovations.
During my senior year I moved in with Bob Bogan my dear friend and the initial drummer for my first band Gemini. Bob was frequently talking about this guy from around the block, his friend named Jon. He was in a band called Bon Jovi. At some point some kids including Bob, his sister Ann, her friend Lisa, Michelle Geoffre, and I were invited over to Jon's parent's house to listen to some demos that had been recorded at a local studio called Century Sound. We listened to a bunch of tunes and gave our opinions about which ones we thought were good. I remember really digging "Wanted Dead or Alive" and one of the girls remarking that it sounded "too Cowboy" and I responded to that by stating that twenty years from now, when everybody forgets about some of these other tunes, this "cowboy song" will still be played on classic rock radio. I also remember hearing a demo version of "Never Say Good Bye" featuring Richie Sambora on vocals that was simply astounding.
The Bongiovi family was pretty cool. Jon's Mom Carol used to give me advice and pep talks and Jon's Dad gave hair perms to half of the aspiring glam metal population of Middlesex County. I even taught Jon's little brother Matt a little bit of guitar while Jon was on the road one time.
In the fall of 1986 I jumped head first (and ass backwards) into the music business with my newly formed band Gemini. Bon Jovi's album "Slippery When Wet" was quickly defining the pop culture of the day and living literally around the block from Jon, quite naturally Gemini was hugely influenced by his success . Around this time I got repeatedly assaulted by members of a local thrash metal band for being a "poser like Jon". In fact, I was once actually threatened with crucifixion for singing "Runaway" at a local club! None the less, I enjoyed playing the pop metal sweepstakes and was soon awarded an opening slot for Skid Row at a local club by Dave Sabo after having been recommended by Jon's Mom.
So there I was, 18, barely out of high school, and playing in front of hundreds of ultra hot metal babes opening up for Skid Row. As you may imagine, I came off the stage with an utterly distorted sense of reality. You see my band was fairly popular despite the reality that we were actually pretty bad. We were just in the right place at the right time. Due to Bon Jovi's huge success there was tremendous hype about anyone coming out Sayreville at that time. At one point, we won a statewide popularity contest hosted by Uncle Floyd's TV show. As a result we performed a live TV concert at the Dirt Club opening up for Lance Larson and got our first show at the Stony Pony which was promoted by Chris Barry of the World Beyond network. (R.I.P. Chris.)
So, despite being a half ass talent, I was a naturally gifted promoter. Consequently we soon found ourselves in a full page advertisement in Metal Edge Magazine and dragging a U-Haul out to Denver Colorado to showcase for Geffen Records. Michael Romeo (Symphony X) came with us to play keyboards and escape life in South Amboy, NJ while he masterminded what he would do with his enormous talent. It was quite ridiculous actually - Mike was dissecting Frank Zappa masterpieces and Marty Freidman solos by day and then playing cheesy synth parts on really mediocre melodic rock tunes by night. Somehow it all seemed perfectly reasonable in the 80's.
Rocky Mountain High
We ended up in Denver as a result of getting airplay on a big radio station out there thanks to a DJ called the Mystery Lady. Consequently Eric and I flew out to Denver on an exploratory mission. Upon our arrival we were promptly chauffeured to a Rod Stewart concert in a limo filled with champagne and Coors compliments of the Mystery Lady (I was diggin' this chick). Once there we were seated next to the Scorpions. After an incredible show, we were ushered backstage where Rod Stewart suggested we all crash Van Halen's party at some hotel. I was inches away from meeting my biggest hero - Eddie Van Halen, when we were abruptly bounced out for arriving with "the press". Apparently there were no photographers or journalists allowed at this particular party. By that time I was so tired that it just didn't matter. The Mystery Lady checked us in to the Loews Giogio Hotel. For two poor kids used to sharing a bedroom with two other guys in a dingy apartment in South Amboy, a stay at a high end luxury hotel was an incredibly nice thing! We decided that we liked this Denver place and that we would move there - expediently.
We soon infested a cool apartment in the charming suburb of Aurora and started playing local shows at clubs like Bangles and Basin's Up. Coming from NJ, we were like exotic animals to the local rock population and were readily adopted by its denizens. Within a month or so we showcased for Geffen. Geffen's Bob Margolis told be in no uncertain terms that although he liked my voice, some of the tunes, and our guitar playing, overall the band needed work and that we should either revise the line up or that I should get my guys up to snuff. He even offered to help Eric and I relocate to LA so he could hook us up with some professional players out there.
The thing was, that to me, my band was my family and I couldn't bare the thought of leaving anybody behind. So we headed back to Jersey with our tails between our legs, after much local press and fanfare about our departure. Some wind was taken out of our sails and I made a decision to stand by personal relationships and emotional attachments rather acting upon sound business advice. I thought this was loyal and noble. Years later I would come to realize that I was in the grips of an addiction called codependency.
In the next few months we played everywhere and anywhere we could - Murphy's Law in Long Branch, Connections in Clifton, Studio One in Newark, it just didn't matter, I was trying to improve myself and the band and get us tight. Though we improved substantially, but we still weren't all that good.
Can't Stop Me Now
Around this time we went to a local studio called Trax East and I recorded a song called "Can't Stop Me Now" thanks to the generous patronage of one Pete Squindo - my boss at a local movie theater. This was my first experience with midi production and I was overjoyed by the ability to integrate parts and arrangements that were stuck in my head or that I had difficulty conveying to the band. The song was engineered and mixed by Plinky Giglio - a legendary keyboardist, writer and producer known to many in New Jersey.
After recording "Can't Stop Me Now", I grew increasingly interested to work with new musicians. I truly loved the guys in Gemini like brothers, but I just wanted to experience playing with other musicians and explore other sonic possibilities. Not that I was God's gift to music, but I at least wanted my songs to sound as good as possible. So I aimed for the sky and asked the very best players I knew to join Gemini - Frank Dill on bass, Bob Nelson on drums, Michael Romeo on lead guitar, and Jack Young on keyboards. It was definitely painful letting the other guys go and there is no doubt that some feelings were deeply hurt, but I just wanted to try a change.
I now found myself in a band where my chops, knowledge, and experience was absolutely infantile compared to my band mates.