February 27, 2008

It all began with a phone call one Sunday afternoon last summer. My brother Mark, who had shown little prior interest in re-visiting the years spent playing together in our mid-’70s band, called Top Priority, asked if I had any pictures of us playing together. His two sons (my nephews) Matt and Mike have their own band, and evidently they wanted to see how their old man cut his chops in the rock and roll thing. Well it just so happened that I did, but just sending him the pictures seemed to me to be a little dry, so I made a document that not only had the pictures I had, but featured a little band history that his boys might appreciate.

We ended up having a long conversation about those days and laughed our asses off for a hour just recalling some of those times, the good and the not-so-good. And from that we got the crazy idea to try and look up the other two members of the band and see if they were alive and what they were up to. A look through the phone book and a search of the Internet helped locate our keyboard player, Jerry “Keys” Palma, and I’m sure my call to his law office one morning from clear out of the blue caught him completely by surprise. But we had a wonderful conversation that ultimately led to a reunion over dinner several weeks later.

A few days after that, a call on a Saturday morning from our guitar player, Ken “The Cat” McDougal, caught me totally by surprise and I was glad to hear he was alive and well, living in Jacksonville, FL, and doing well heading up his own photography business.

Ordinarily, in most cases, that would be the end of that, right? But in this case it wasn’t. Evidently, the various communications between the band members caught the attention of one Victor N. Cugini, former CFO of Kittyhawk Productions, the legal and marketing front for everything that was Top Priority back in those days. Even though Mr. Cugini still owed me $2.76, “Keys” $5.12, Mark $0.76 and The Cat a whopping $3.49 after skipping to The Netherlands following the band’s break-up, I was nevertheless willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and authorized him to pen the “official” biography of the band, which he intended to call “The Band That Never Changed Rock: The Definitive History of Top Priority”. His appearance on C-SPAN’s “Booknotes” program, recounted here, received such widespread publicity that Mr. Cugini was prodded into contributing the highly-acclaimed five-part series on the band’s evolution and history, further whetting the appetite of America for more information about Top Priority.

One of the consequences of this series, as well as a later post remembering an old Tewksbury landmark from my youth, resulted in a reunion with Bob Noftle, an old high-school friend of mine. What a joy it has been to not only share a wonderful lunch with him last December reminiscing about the “good old days”, but a rekindled friendship that (if he doesn’t mind me speaking for him) has been a blessing to us both. During a long flight back to Phoenix the next day, looking back over the year that was just hours away from being over, I couldn’t help but marvel at how fate and the Internet had brought back into my life friends who I otherwise would never, ever have heard from ever again. Technology indeed has its blessings as well as its curses!

Then, the other day, a new comment posted by “BeatleTracks” appeared under one of Victor Cugini’s Top Priority-related posts. A couple of days and a few probing comments later, yet another reunion had taken place – this time with Ken Sandler, my best friend from junior high school, who not only taught me how to play bass (on the lower strings of a cheap acoustic guitar rigged with a pick-up for amplification, no less), but introduced me to playing in a band (a four-man garage outfit called “The Instamatic Vibration” – still a great name, if you ask me). Back in the early ’70s, Ken and I were very tight, and I learned a lot about music from him. I would ride my bicycle down to his house after school, and we would listen to music (a lot of Top 40, Glen Campbell and Creedence Clearwater Revival, I recall). I still remember him recording himself plugged into a reel-to-reel tape player in order to create a distorted “fuzz” sound, which we both thought was the balls. My brother Mark and I had originally hoped to have Ken front the band that ultimately became known as Top Priority, but life somehow intervened and Ken ended up playing the Pete Best role in what later became the phenomenon known as Top Priority. Music remained a central part of his life, however, and it gives me great pleasure to know he is now a member of an acclaimed Beatles tribute band called “Beatle Tracks”.

(Ed. note: I have to admit to being surprised at Ken involving himself with a Beatles tribute band – where he really belongs is fronting a Creedence Clearwater Revival tribute band, because no one – and I mean no one – could replicate John Fogerty’s swamp-bayou blues licks like Ken could.)

If there is any one reward that has come from my time blogging here at Goodboys Nation weblog, it is to have it be the vehicle that has brought me back in contact with friends I loved and enjoyed hanging around with during my school and band years so many years ago; to be reunited with them after all this time is an incredible blessing. In some ways, it has brought my own life full circle; in others, it is simply remarkable how everyone has, in their own ways, hung in there with life long enough through times both good and bad, to a point where we can all be reacquainted in various ways once again.

Like my old (and new) friend Bob Noftle says, another chicken has come home to roost, and I have to admit, it’s all pretty cool.

Filed in: Top Priority - News! by The Great White Shank at 01:57 | Comment (1)
1 Comment »
  1. […] project on the Apollo capsule and the LEM. I remember a collaboration with my classmate (and future Instamatic Vibration bandmate) Ken Sandler, but since science was never my forte, I think my contribution was covering the […]

    Pingback by GoodBoys Nation - Archives » Sizzlin’! — July 27, 2009 @ 10:53 pm


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