The University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa and When Stars Were in Reach

On January 8, 2018, The University of Alabama was crowned NCAA football champions when they beat the University of Georgia 26-23. This was the 5th time since 2009 that Alabama won the championship in continuing a long and illustrious tradition for the university.

You’re not going to believe this but did you know that there is an indirect link between The University of Alabama and the book When Stars Were in Reach?

It all goes back to the fall of 1971. As a sophomore in college, a group of friends and I decided we would follow The Who at the beginning of their American tour. We decided we would travel to see The Who in Charlotte, North Carolina, the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and in Atlanta Georgia, the first three stops on their American tour. Earlier in the year The Who had released “Who’s Next” so the middle portion of these shows was devoted to the album; songs that would in time be considered rock classics; songs such as Baba O’Reilly, Won’t Get Fooled Again, My Wife, Behind Blue Eyes and Bargain. The friends with whom I traveled had worked with the Who’s roadies the previous summer in a number of Who concerts in England so they were convinced that the roadies would recognize them and allow them to work with them again, thereby enabling us to get backstage.

The plan worked like a charm. We met up with The Who in Charlotte and helped the roadies with The Who’s equipment and followed them to Tuscaloosa Alabama for the next show. The University of Alabama was the most beautiful college campus I’d ever seen in my life. The show itself was not one of The Who’s best. They were having sound problems for the second consecutive show and Pete Townshend was furious with the band’s road manager Bob Pridden, whom he blamed for the equipment problems.

Following is a quote from my diary entry from the show at the University of Alabama – November 22, 1971: “They just weren’t on tonight. The sound system went again and Townshend is getting incredibly pissed at Bob Pridden. After the show Townshend had a big argument with Plum (Bob Pridden) which is why Daltrey and Entwistle were by the stage rather than in the dressing room.”

As a pimply-faced eighteen year old, to be backstage and see The Who, up close behind the scenes was an experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Because Pete Townshend was in such a foul mood due to the equipment malfunction, I remember the atmosphere backstage being tense and intimidating. I did what I was told my grandfather had done in the sweatshops of the Lower East Side of Manhattan during The Great Depression in order to ingratiate himself to his boss and keep his job. He acted busy and so did I. I wouldn’t make eye contact with Pete Townshend for fear of him saying: Who the f— are you anyway? What are you doing here. Get lost!” Luckily that never took place. The road crew was a bunch of characters. Everybody had a nickname. As I mentioned above, The Who’s road manager Bob Pridden was called Plum. One of the roadies was called Bumper. In retrospect it could have been a scene from the movie “Almost Famous.”

We left the Who’s tour after the show in Atlanta, while The Who continued on to Miami, Memphis, New Orleans, Houston, Dallas and then to the western United States.

Fast forward thirty seven years to 2008. I had started to sell duplicate Fillmore East programs on ebay and enjoyed the experience of writing about each particular show’s significance and witnessing the bidding process. It was a tremendous rush to see my item bid up as the auction was coming to a close. Enjoying the experience, I rummaged through my basement for more memorabilia to sell. In a bin buried beneath other bins, I stumbled upon a rolled-up poster. I unfurled it and low and behold it was a poster from The Who concert at the University of Alabama (see below). The poster was in very good condition, as if it hadn’t been touched since November of 1971. I felt like I had made a valuable archeological find. I had forgotten the existence of that poster from the Tuscaloosa Alabama concert. But yeah, come to think of it, I had brought it back with me to New York. I immediately flashed back 37 years to that once-in-a-lifetime road trip with The Who.

I decided I was going to auction the poster on ebay. As was the case with ebay auctions, there was little bidding in the days leading up to the auction. 98% of the action occurred on the last day of the auction, in fact in the closing minutes of the auction. In the case of The Who at Tuscaloosa Alabama poster, the bidding was fast and furious in the closing minutes of the auction and I was both stunned and pleased to see the final sale price of the poster.

Later, the person who purchased the poster contacted me because he did not want me to mail the poster for fear of it being damaged in the process. Besides he wanted to meet me in the flesh, to question me and examine the poster to determine the poster’s authenticity and finally to determine if I had any other valuable posters which he could buy from me and bypass the auction process. (The answer was yes, but that’s a story for another day.) The man was a collector of rock posters and informed me that he already had a copy of the Tuscaloosa poster. However unlike mine, his had been mounted on some hard material, like poster-board. He therefore wasn’t sure my poster was authentic. I explained how the poster came into my hands, that I had been at the show and that original posters of the show were not mounted on anything. They had simply been posted on bulletin walls with thumb tacks to advertise the show or display cases; that in fact mine was the authentic form of the poster. He also gave me a short lesson about collecting rock posters. The bottom line was that the most valuable posters on the open market were concert posters. Posters with beautiful pictures of band members were of little or no value. But posters advertising actual concerts, that placed the band at a specific place and time were the posters with the most value.

Quickly enough he became convinced that the poster was authentic. Several days later he sent me an email with photos of several rare posters of Who concerts that took place in the New York metropolitan area that were from his collection. Among them was an incredibly beautiful poster of The Who at a Catholic high school in Scotch Plains New Jersey, named Union Catholic High School from November of 1967.

Seeing that beautiful poster of The Who at Union Catholic immediately transported me to a time when I was a collector of Who memorabilia and a time when I was crazy enough to travel thousands of miles to see The Who and get backstage with them. I immediately realized I had some unfinished business to attend to; to place my years of Who fandom in some meaningful context.

Across from me was this beautiful photo of The Who playing at a Catholic High School in New Jersey. But wait! The Who playing at a high school in the New York metropolitan area? And I thought I was such a big Who fan that I would have heard about such a concert at a high school. Knowing intimately The Who’s history and the band’s struggle in the U.S. to make it big, I sensed there was story behind this concert. I also figured that given that the concert took place in the New York City metropolitan area, some of the people instrumental in putting on this unusual concert may still be in the New York area and may still be alive and would be relatively accessible to meet and interview. I wasn’t far off in my hunches. And so I began my research into what would eventually result in the book When Stars Were in Reach.

And now you know the connection between the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and When Stars Were in Reach.

tuscaloosauchs poster in jpeg

KEITH MOONS SNARE DRUM – PART 2

Which Doesn’t Belong and Why?

Part I of this post detailed how Decoys’ drummer Mike Mazzarisi used Chris Salman’s snare drum for the Decoys’ Union Catholic show and how Keith Moon ended up using it during The Who’s performance.  Remember the famous Zapruder film from the JFK assassination.  Well, check this out.  We now have incontrovertible evidence of Mike Mazzarisi’s story.

Below are two photos.  The first is a photo from the previous post of (from left to right) of Chris Salman, author Michael Rosenbloom with the famous snare drum and Jim McClurken, lead guitarist for The Decoys.  Take a look at that snare drum in the photo.  The second photo is of Keith Moon’s Pictures of Lily drum kit taken by then Freshman Nancy Scalera Mackow, a few minutes after the Union Catholic show.  A beautiful photo isn’t?  You may correctly recognize the photo from the back cover of “When Stars Were in Reach.”  See the cymbal strewn across the drum kit after the smash up.  See also John Entwistle’s bass guitar.  I consider this photo to be a tip of the hat to the two deceased members of The Who – Keith Moon and John Entwistle.

But now take a closer look at the various drums that make up Keith Moon’s drum kit.  See something that doesn’t belong?  Look at the snare drum.  It’s the only drum that doesn’t have the Pictures of Lily design on it.  Why is it different?  Because it was Chris Salman’s snare drum. That’s why!

Not sure why no one ever noticed this, especially not this writer.  It’s amazing the discoveries one can make by examining old photographs with a critical eye.

snare drum 11967,_Nov_29_Union_Catholic_HS_The_WHO_concert_Keith_Moon's_drumset

KEITH MOON’S SNARE DRUM PART 1

snare drum 1Keith Moon’s DNA is on this Snare Drum

In the interview process for the writing of “When Stars Were in Reach, The Who at Union Catholic High School, November 29, 1967,” Mike Mazzarisi, drummer for The Decoys, the band which opened for The Who at Union Catholic, related how Keith Moon’s snare drumhead broke during The Who’s performance.  Having no alternative, and with The Decoys’ equipment directly behind the stage and ready to be taken apart and packed after The Decoys’ performance, Bob Pridden, road manager for The Who, ran to Mike’s snare drum and started to dislodge it from its kit.

Seeing what was happening, Mike Mazzarisi ran to protect his equipment.  But Mr. Pridden explained that Keith Moon had broken his drumhead and had no choice but to use Mike’s snare drum for the remainder of the show.  Mike at first protested but In the end he relented and the rest is history, as they say.

That much was recounted in “When Stars Were in Reach.”  But what was learned on Saturday night November 18th 1967, at The Decoys’ 50th anniversary reunion concert, is that the drum didn’t belong to Mike at all.  Mike had borrowed the snare drum for the show from a friend named Chris Salman (pronounced Salemin).  That could be one reason why Mike was especially reluctant to let Keith Moon use his snare drum.  Chris has remained Mike’s friend until today.

While Mike’s or more exactly Chris’ snare drum was being used by Keith Moon, Keith bloodied one of his hands on a cymbal when he hit it awkwardly.  When the show was over Mike took back the snare drum Keith had been using and it had blood stains all over it.

Fast forward 50 years to The Decoys’ reunion concert from November 18, 2017 when Chris Salman and his snare drum from the Union Catholic show made an appearance.  Below is a photo (from left to right) of Chris Salman, author Michael Rosenbloom with the famous snare drum and Jim McClurken, lead guitarist for The Decoys.

Mike Mazzarisi jokes till this day that Keith Moon’s DNA is embedded in that snare drum.  If one day, mad scientists will look for a way to clone Keith Moon, we can now direct them to Chris Salman.

The Decoys Step Up to the Plate…Bigtime!

As the 50th anniversary of the historic Who concert at Union Catholic High School has been approaching, it was widely conjectured what if anything would be done to mark the occasion. Perhaps the school would contact The Who to appear in some form or another? Instead The Decoys, the band that opened for The Who on November 29, 1967, stepped up to the plate and arranged a concert/charity event at the gymnasium at Our Lady of Peace in New Providence, New Jersey, on Saturday night, November 18, 1967. The program, the brain child of Ed Cadmus, Decoys’ longtime manager consisted of three segments. The first and last act was music. The opening act was the band Interior Steel. The Decoys closed the show. Between their acts Michael Rosenbloom, author of When Stars Were in Reach gave a Power Point presentation about The Decoys’ career with a special emphasis on the Union Catholic High School show, when The Decoys opened for The Who.

The five Decoys who stayed together all through high school and college and who opened for The Who in November of 1967 consist of Mike Mazzarisi on drums, Jim McClurken on lead guitar, Michael Testa on rhythm guitar and harmonica, Jon Kenseth on lead vocals and Bob Gilligan on bass guitar. For the show, Mike Mazzarisi’s brother Ernie Mazzarisi filled out the band on keyboards. All of The Decoys except Jon Kenseth grew up in New Providence. Jon Kenseth grew up in nearby Chatham Township. Bob Gilligan went to high school at Union Catholic in Scotch Plains. Jon Kenseth went to Chatham High School. The other three Decoys graduated from New Providence High School.

The Decoys were in a buoyant mood on stage, rejuvenated to discover that they still sounded great. They found their groove from the start and wowed the audience with a set of mostly ‘60s covers and two Decoys’ original tunes from the early 1970s. They were also quite ambitious in their song selection, tackling such numbers as “Crossroads,” the Robert Johnson blues number made famous by Cream, “Mr. Soul” the Buffalo Springfield classic and “Red House” by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Jim McClurken, who in his youth was known as the best guitarist around the New Providence area appears not have lost a step, excelling on a host of guitars he brought to the show.

As this concert was a reunion celebrating the show at Union Catholic High School when The Decoys opened for The Who, The Decoys played two Who songs – “Substitute” and “Summertime Blues.” Jon Kenseth was the sole Decoy who did not continue singing or appearing with other bands after the demise of The Decoys in the early 1970s. That said, his voice was in fine shape and did not he disappoint although Mike Testa and Jim McClurken took over lead vocals on a few of the songs .

Jon Kenseth made the trip from Boston and Bob Gilligan from Arizona. The band practiced several times before the show and sent each other MP3s of songs they were intending to play at the show. This way, The Decoys could practice songs from remote locations before reuniting for the few practices they did hold prior to the show.

I learned a few new factoids at the concert. One is that about 15 years ago, Jim McClurken spent a period of time at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts in Liverpool, England studying under Paul McCartney. Jim had to win a songwriting competition in order to be awarded this position. This was related to me by Barbara McClurken, Jim’s wife.

The second fact I learned was related to me by Chris Salman (pronounced Salemin). He told me that the snare drum that Mike Mazzarisi used at the concert at Union Catholic was not Mike’s snare drum. It was Chris’ snare drum. This may explain further, the reluctance on Mike’s part to let Keith Moon use his snare drum when Keith busted his own snare drum at the show.

A wonderful time was had by all. There were in excess of 300 people packed into the gym. There was a dance area in front of the stage which some in the audience used. Behind the dance area was about 10 rows of concert seating. Behind the concert seats were about 30 round tables spread round the gym where friends and family could sit as a group and enjoy the show. The show was not just a reunion for The Decoys. It was evident that the show served to reunite a host of people who hadn’t seen each other for years. That plus the fact that the proceeds of the event went towards two charities and that The Decoys were local lads who came back to give something back to the community in which they grew up enhanced the good vibes felt throughout the gym.

A truly memorable evening!Grotto ad Myddle Class Decoys ad bernardsville ad

Song List From Decoys’ Union Catholic Concert Found After 50 Years

decoys song list croppedIn preparation for the upcoming Decoys reunion concert, scheduled to take place on Saturday night November 18, 2017, the various members of The Decoys have been looking through old files and drawers for memorabilia from their history.  In doing so, Jon Kenseth made a remarkable discovery.  He discovered the song list from the Union Catholic show, the show in which they opened for The Who on November 29,1967.

The washed out and barely legible list is revealing to say the least.  The list checks out in that none of the songs were released by their original artists after November of 1967.  Noteworthy is that the band played two songs recorded by the hugely popular but star-crossed local band The Myddle Class – Free as The Wind and Don’t Let Me Sleep Too Long, which also was recorded by the Blues Project as “Wake Me Shake Me.”

At the time of the Union Catholic show, The Decoys were a cover band and indeed all the songs were covers.  The band covered the most that night by The Decoys was The Byrds, with three songs.

The list as best can be deciphered is as follows

  • 1) Don’t Doubt Yourself Babe (Byrds)
  • 2) It’s My Life (Animals)
  • 3) She Don’t Care About Time (Byrds)
  • 4) Hey Joe (Hendrix and others)
  • 5) No Time Like the Right Time (Blues Project)
  • 6) Come On Let’s Go (The McCoys)
  • 7) 3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds – (Jefferson Airplane)
  • 8) Have you Seen Her Face (The Byrds)
  • 9) Crossed out???
  • 10) Sock It To Me (Mitch Ryder)
  • 11) Things I Should Have Said (The Grass Roots)
  • 12) Free as The Wind (Myddle Class)
  • 13) She is Still A Mystery to Me (Lovin’ Spoonful)
  • 14) Gimme Some Lovin’ (Spencer Davis Group)
  • 15) Omaha (Moby Grape)
  • 16) Don’t Let Me Sleep Too Long (Myddle Class, Blues Project)

One large question to be asked is: As a tribute to the band’s history and that historic evening, will The Decoys play any of the songs on the list? I guess we’ll have to be there to find out.

 

 

DECOYS 50th ANNIVERSARY CONCERT

The Decoys, the band that opened for The Who at Union Catholic High School in November of 1967 will be reuniting and performing in concert to mark the 50th anniversary of the historic concert on November 18, 2017.

There had been much talk about whether Union Catholic High School, The Who or anyone for that matter would mark the event during which The Decoys and The Who appeared on the Union Catholic stage in a groundbreaking concert.

It appears that The Decoys have seized the initiative and leapt into action. Fifty years ago, The Decoys were five high school students.  Three of them, Jim McClurken (lead guitar),  Mike Testa (rhythm guitar) and Mike Mazzarisi (drums) were students at New Providence High School.  Bob Gilligan (bass guitar) was a student at Union Catholic High School in Scotch Plains and Jon Kenseth (lead vocals) a student at Chatham Township High School.  Now they have reunited for the event. Bob Gilligan and Jon Kenseth will be coming from out of state to play with their ex-bandmates.

The concert will take place at Our Lady of Peace Gymnasium in New Providence, New Jersey on November 18, 2017. General admission tickets will be sold at $25 per ticket and the proceeds will go to Catholic School education.

More details to follow as the event nears. In the meantime, mark this on your calendars! Sounds like a can’t miss event.

Decoys reunion poster 001

Per The Who – THE VERDICT IS IN: Who show at Union Catholic – Historic!

At last some recognition from The Who or from those who represent The Who on the band’s official website that they too agree that The Who’s appearance at Union Catholic High School on November 29, 1967 was truly historic and unusual. Historic enough in fact to include a copy of the ticket stub and the page from school’s 1967-1968 yearbook devoted to the concert among a select few photos of The Who from the 1960s. Not only that but on the top row, smack dab in the middle.  Wow! Pretty impressive especially when you consider that the ticket stub is the only live performance flier, poster or ticket among all the photos on the page from the ’60s.  That’s right.  No Marquee Club poster or Fillmore East ticket stub.  Just Union Catholic High School.

Although the credit for posting the ticket stub is given to a Tim W, the ticket stub actually belongs to Nancy Mackow Scalera a freshman at the time who submitted the ticket stub to a Who memorabilia competition earlier in 2015 run through the Who’s website celebrating the band’s 50th anniversary.  Nancy contributed mightily to the finished product of When Stars Were in Reach in many different ways – with photos and tracking down others who eventually were interviewed for the book to name just two.  She checked her copy of the stub and sure enough those stains in the upper left hand corner of the stub are identical to those on her stub. During this internet and social media era, where photos are posted and re-circulated countless times, it’s not surprising that the attribution is incorrect.

The yearbook page has been circulating on the internet for years in various places. Several of the photos from the yearbook appear in “When Stars Were in Reach” with greater resolution (especially in the color, Kindle and Nook version of the book).

It is reassuring though to know that after decades have passed and context has become more obvious, that those who viewed the concert at Union Catholic as highly unusual, so unusual as to warrant a book about it, were not off base in the least.

WESTFIELD HISTORICAL SOCIETY FLIER

The time has been set for the presentation of When Stars Were in Reach and the live performance by Boonescuttle5 on Sunday, June 7, 2015. The scheduled time for the presentation is 2PM. The live concert will follow the Q&A, which follows the presentation. Festivities are estimated to go on until 4PM.  Our guess is they will go a bit past the 4PM estimated ending time.

You’ve got to love the art work by a member of the event committee at the Westfield Historical Society named Kerrie. We will work tirelessly until her last name is uncovered so that she receives the accolades due her. Kerrie has not only created a collectable in her own right but she has done so by tipping her cap, so to speak, to the artist of the original Union Catholic Who concert poster. The Westfield event is announced alongside the original poster by replicating the look and style of the original, which has always been so unique and so eye-capturing.

Kudos to Kerri!!

june7

 

WESTFIELD HISTORICAL SOCIETY PRESENTATION NOW OFFICIAL – SUNDAY, JUNE 7, 2015

The Westfield Historical Society is promoting Michael Rosenbloom’s upcoming presentation about The Who, Union Catholic High and When Stars Were in Reach, by creating a flier that replicates the iconic Union Catholic Who poster from 48 years ago. It’s on the home page of the Historical Society and can be accessed by clicking here and should not be missed.

In a twin booking that is truly synergistic, the presentation will be followed by live music by the Boonescuttle5, three members of whom played a not insignificant role in When Stars Were in Reach. Dave Goessling, Kevin Compton and Myke Connell, friends from childhood befriended The Who’s roadies after the Who show at U.C. and helped them load The Who’s equipment onto their tour bus. The three of them formed the basis of one of the side-stories of When Stars Were in Reach that tells about the concert through the eyes of a group of 15 year-olds.

We look forward to seeing you. Remember! You never know whom you’ll see there – musicians, authors and assorted personalities. A splendid time is guaranteed for all!

SAVE THE DATE – JUNE 7, 2015

Who:       Michael Rosenbloom

What:      Presentation – When Stars Were in Reach (The Who, Union Catholic High School)

When:     Sunday, June 7, 2015, afternoon (exact to be determined)

Where:    Westfield Historical Society, 314 Mountain Ave., Westfield, NJ 07090

Why:        Because it’s a cool story.

Q&A and book signing to follow presentation.

Details to follow in the weeks to come.  We look forward to seeing you there.  You never know who else will show up!