October 6, 2007

tp Part 2 of an interview with Paul Sorvino, executive producer of “Top Priority – Anthology: 1974-76”, scheduled for official release on the Kittyhawk Productions label later this year:

Q: Before we continue on with the song selections you chose, tell us a little bit about the what happens with the CD from here on out. Obviously, you’re pleased with how everything turned out.

PS: Well, it’s still kind of hard to believe these 30+ year-old recordings are seeing the digital light of day. Once the original cassettes were transferred to disk, it was simply a matter of breaking the tracks – which upon transfer had several songs per track – down into individual songs. Then, several passes through the DART Digital CD Recording Studio software with help from you, Victor [grins], and then final tweaks and such by Doug Richard, who handled the final mixdown. After all, he was a part of the band at that time and had a sense of how it should sound. But I must say, because the original source cassettes were in pretty rough shape to begin with, there was only so much we could do.

Q: Did any of the other former Top Priority band members have input into the CD creation process?

PS: No, but it wasn’t due to any personal problems or issues with them, it was purely logistics – Mark and Jerry “Keys” Palma live in Massachusetts, Ken “The Cat” McDougal lives in Florida, and all of the digital transfer and recording work took place in Phoenix. But their spirit and enthusiasm for the project created an energy and excitement that made the whole process worthwhile.

Q: And the CD is due to be released when?

PS: Well, it’ll be tied to the formal launch of the Kittyhawk Productions website. I understand there will be CDs, T-shirts, your soon-to-be-published book [Ed. note: The Band That Never Changed Rock: A Definitive History of Top Priority, excerpts of which can be found starting here] and other collectibles available, plus sound clips and a band history. It’ll be exciting, I’m sure…

Q: Well, shall we complete our run-down of the songs found on the Anthology? “The Alleycat Song”…

PS: [Sighs] More wedding music to hully-gully by. The funny thing here is that the band sounds like they’re actually having a keen time of it – there’s some joyful and creative playing by Keys, Mark, and Doug throughout. But still, you’re left wondering when the bride and groom were going to get around to cutting the cake!

Q: “Hang On Sloopy”…

PS: More ‘garage band’ blandness by a band that had to have had better stuff in its repertoire. Is it well performed? Yes. Does the band sing their vocals on key? Yes. But one still has to wonder about the necessity of it all…

Q: “Daniel”…

PS: Unfortunately, yet another rather bland, mid-’70s selection. “The Cat”‘s vocal, while not dynamic, is nevertheless earnest, and the band actually does a nice job on it. It would have been nice to hear the band rock out a bit, but as I said earlier, that’s just not what they were at the time. One half expects some 70-year old grandmother in the audience to suddenly cry out, “don’t you boys ROCK?”

Q: “Michelle”…

PS: While this instrumental goes on a bit long for my taste, I understand the band’s selection and their intent of playing it – after all, the audience was eating at the time and this is the perfect kind of music for those occasions. I actually like the band’s performance here a lot – it has a nice, creative arrangement with some virtuoso finger-picking by The Cat towards the song’s close. Along with the prior track, a quiet gem.

Q: “Wipe Out”…

PS: My guess is that this surf classic was chosen to feature Mark’s drums, and the band absolutely nails it. The drums are perfect throughout, and listening to the song, you’d swear Dick Dale was about to show up with a group of bare-footed hodads and wahines any moment. Next to “You Ain’t Seen Nothing yet”, the band’s best cover in the collection.

Q: “Rhythmic Blues”…

PS: One of two original songs (with the track that follows) created as the band’s alter-ego, “Scat Jacobs and the Manhattans Featuring Sonny Williams”. It is unfortunate that the original tape had some serious problems, but we are fortunate to have what we have. This is a stunning piece of musicianship – the boys are totally into a 12-bar blues thing that transcends anything they had ever attempted before. Inventive, bluesy, and fun, with a walking Doug bass-line throughout, some creative wah guitar by The Cat, and funky piano fills from Keys, it is, in my view, the most interesting piece of work the band ever did. It’s a shame they didn’t explore the blues idiom a little more – perhaps they could have ended up in a place similar to The Doors and their “L.A. Woman” phase.

Q: “Rhythm and Blues, Part I”…

PS: Without a doubt, one of the strangest and most interesting tracks on the CD. What the band was trying to do here is anyone’s guess. It starts out as straight kind of three-chord garage tune in the spirit of The Beach Boys’ “Do It Again”, then transforms itself into a quasi-electric blues / jungle rhythm / African drums syncopated thing before ending without any kind of flourish. Absolutely avant-garde and very strange. It just makes one think what the band might have been capable of doing had they had more time to explore their own creative directions, but this was towards the end of the band’s creative run.

Q: “Tiny Bubbles”…

PS: No less an authority than “Keys” Palma has called their arrangement of this song “avant-garde”, and he’s right. Everything about this arrangement is tongue-in-cheek: a rave-up that the band swings it for all it’s worth: Doug’s bass frolics, Mark’s drums parody the “coolness” the band (actually, just Keys, Doug, and Mark here) is attempting to project, and Keys tosses in every piano cliche ever invented. It’s a bit long, but that’s just another part of the joke the band is in on – they can’t figure how to end it straight. Perhaps the most fun and entertaining track in the whole collection.

Q: “The Hustle”…

PS: In a word, bizarre. This track, obviously recorded at the same session as “Tiny Bubbles”, apparently seeks to answer the question, ‘what would a disco hit sound like if it was played to a swing beat?’. From what I understand, the band had gone up to Hampton Beach, NH one Sunday and saw an elderly group of musicians playing this song this exact way, and, the boys all being highly impressionable, decided to try it out for themselves. One can laugh at the track in all its zaniness and strangeness, but it says a lot about the band’s ingenuity and creativity to have even thought of attempting something this bizarre.

Q: “It’s OK”…

PS: Probably the last song the band ever put to tape. Supposedly, there was another tape with some original material on it, including a live version of “The Boucher Shuffle” (a homage to departed member “The Bouch”), and a bizarre recording called “The Sharecropper Song” (middle-class suburban white boy “Keys” attempting to sing the Delta blues), but these unfortunately appear to have been lost. At any rate, this cover of a minor Beach Boys hit in the summer of 1976 is played fairly straight. The recording is a bit muddy and the vocals are buried way down in the mix, but it does illustrate the band’s interest in The Beach Boys and some of their more obscure recordings that this incarnation of Top Priority enjoyed playing.

Q: Well Paul, it has been a pleasure working with you on this project, and I thank you for your time and perspective as these recordings are about to be unveiled to an entirely disinterested public.

PS: My pleasure as well. Thank you.

Filed in: Top Priority - News! by vcugini at 01:58 | Comments (0)
October 5, 2007

tp Part 1 of an interview with Paul Sorvino, executive producer of “Top Priority – Anthology: 1974-76”, scheduled for official release on the Kittyhawk Productions label later this year:

Q: How difficult was it to find material sufficient enough to satisfy the die-hard fans of Top Priority?

PS: Actually, it wasn’t difficult at all, considering there really are no die-hard fans of Top Priority to speak of.

Q: Given the fact you had enough material for multiple CDs, how did you choose the ones that ended up on the Anthology?

PS: Easy, I simply listened to all the material available to me and picked the numbers most representative of the band’s various stages of existence and least offensive to my ears.

Q: Was there anything about the Top Priority tape archives that surprised you?

PS: Yes, the sheer lack of tunes that weren’t offensive to my ears.

Q: What will Top Priority’s fans find most surprising about this CD?

PS: That I was able to find 21 songs that wouldn’t cause dogs to howl and mothers to board up their windows and hide their children.

Q: OK, let’s take the tracks one at a time. You started off with their cover of Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”. Why?

PS: It was their trademark song, if you will. This version features a solid Ken “The Cat” McDougal vocal and an exciting Ken Sandler lead solo. There were other versions available to me without Sandler’s guitar on it, but they just didn’t radiate in the same way.

Q: “Green Onions”…

PS: An early instrumental by the band with three guitarists – Sandler, “The Cat”, and “The Bouch” all making a decent enough go at it. One of the surprises of the tapes, incidentally, was that no one could ever recall these three guitarists ever playing in the same room together; this recording bears that fact out, so that in and of itself was kind of amazing – not just to me, but to Vince [Ed. note: Vincent N. Cugini, recording engineer for the project] and Doug [Richard, mixdown producer] as well.

Q: “And I Love Her”…

PS: Another fairly good representation of the band’s early ‘three guitar’ sound. Ken Sandler sings the lead and, while somewhat lacking in verve, it is sung both sincererly and on key. You don’t find THAT very often in the band’s archives…

Q: “Blue Suede Shoes”…

PS: I chose this track because it featured only three players – Mark Richard on drums, Doug Richard on bass and singing lead, and Ken Sandler on fuzz guitar. What they were trying to do, only God knows, but what the song lacks in brevity it makes up for in enthusiasm.

Q: “Green River/Susie Q”…

PS: Actually, this is not a bad cover at all. The Cat’s vocal is spot on, the guitar work by the three guitarists once again provide decent cover, and Sandler’s lead solos throughout are interesting enough. This is the one cut, by the way, where The Bouch’s guitar actually adds something to the song, during the transition from “Green River” to “Susie Q”. Almost makes it a cut above standard garage fare.

Q: “Jackie Blue”…

PS: I chose this song not only because it came as a complete surprise to me – there was no prior indication whatsoever of the song’s existence on tape – but also because it’s the only song in the Top Priority archives with The Bouch’s unique guitar sound: thin, clipped, and utterly void of any kind of underlying creativity whatsoever. He plays it straight, and the band does nothing to overcome it. While his vocals (shared with The Cat) are sung on key, the song limps along to a close and serves as an example of Boucher’s contribution to the Top Priority legacy.

Q: “Let Me Be There”…

PS: The first of several live performances of the band chosen from a gig recorded at the Billerica Masonic Temple sometime after The Bouch’s departure from the group. Here, the band was playing a party for a primarily adult audience, so we hear a lot of their adult/wedding material. This instrumental, which apparently kicked off the band’s performance that night, rolls along cheerily to the point where you start wondering what the bride and groom have chosen to feed the invited guests; perhaps that’s why I had a craving for stuffed chicken while hearing this song. Some some inventive bass lines by Doug Richard help underscore the song’s rhythm.

Q: “Sloop John B”…

PS: Barely passable vocals by Doug and The Cat, but decent enough instrumentation throughout. There’s something about their rendition that doesn’t sound right to me – the drums come in full on the second verse instead of the chorus, as one would expect, but my guess is this is being done to either make up for the lame vocal work, or gin up some excitement from the crowd. Probably a little of both…

Q: “Get Back”…

PS: Once more, the band tries hard and musically gives a good enough accounting of itself, but the vocals are just so-so. One saving grace here is the keyboard work by “Keys” Palma; he does a fine Billy Preston impersonation, and Mark’s drums are Ringo Starr-solid.

Q: “Saturday Night”…

PS: First of all, let me say I couldn’t believe this choice of a song – I mean, the Bay City Rollers? Who did they think their audience was – twelve year olds? Nevertheless, the band does a fine version of this song with much enthusiasm, and it was obviously well received. One interesting note: that’s Doug’s and Mark’s aunt, the famous “Auntie Marge” of Billerica fame who is heard on the fade telling the band their performance was “better than the record”…

Q: “Wild Fire”…

PS: Starting with the previous track, I call this part of the Anthology “Drowning in the Seventies”. Another mundane choice of song by a band that, frankly, could have chosen better. I mean, the actual released song [Ed. note: a one-hit wonder by Michael Murphy] wasn’t much to write home about to begin with! Nevertheless, The Cat’s vocal is earnest, surviving some shaky harmonies on the chorus, and the band makes a pleasant enough go at it.

Q: You sound disappointed in the material that was available to you…

PS: Well, it is important to keep in mind that these recordings date from the early and mid-70s, so one shouldn’t be surprised at some of the material chosen. In addition, the band really was never a “rock” band, per se. It was, after all, The Bouch’s desire that they be a wedding/Top 40 band, so their material was simply a reflection of that time and the work they had done as a band. So, while one wonders what they could have done with better material, it is, as they say, what it is.

———————

Tomorrow: Part 2 of the Sorvino interview.

Filed in: Top Priority - News! by vcugini at 01:13 | Comment (1)

tp Part 1 of an interview with Paul Sorvino, executive producer of “Top Priority – Anthology: 1974-76”, scheduled for official release on the Kittyhawk Productions label later this year:

Q: How difficult was it to find material sufficient enough to satisfy the die-hard fans of Top Priority?

PS: Actually, it wasn’t difficult at all, considering there really are no die-hard fans of Top Priority to speak of.

Q: Given the fact you had enough material for multiple CDs, how did you choose the ones that ended up on the Anthology?

PS: Easy, I simply listened to all the material available to me and picked the numbers most representative of the band’s various stages of existence and least offensive to my ears.

Q: Was there anything about the Top Priority tape archives that surprised you?

PS: Yes, the sheer lack of tunes that weren’t offensive to my ears.

Q: What will Top Priority’s fans find most surprising about this CD?

PS: That I was able to find 21 songs that wouldn’t cause dogs to howl and mothers to board up their windows and hide their children.

Q: OK, let’s take the tracks one at a time. You started off with their cover of Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”. Why?

PS: It was their trademark song, if you will. This version features a solid Ken “The Cat” McDougal vocal and an exciting Ken Sandler lead solo. There were other versions available to me without Sandler’s guitar on it, but they just didn’t radiate in the same way.

Q: “Green Onions”…

PS: An early instrumental by the band with three guitarists – Sandler, “The Cat”, and “The Bouch” all making a decent enough go at it. One of the surprises of the tapes, incidentally, was that no one could ever recall these three guitarists ever playing in the same room together; this recording bears that fact out, so that in and of itself was kind of amazing – not just to me, but to Vince [Ed. note: Vincent N. Cugini, recording engineer for the project] and Doug [Richard, mixdown producer] as well.

Q: “And I Love Her”…

PS: Another fairly good representation of the band’s early ‘three guitar’ sound. Ken Sandler sings the lead and, while somewhat lacking in verve, it is sung both sincererly and on key. You don’t find THAT very often in the band’s archives…

Q: “Blue Suede Shoes”…

PS: I chose this track because it featured only three players – Mark Richard on drums, Doug Richard on bass and singing lead, and Ken Sandler on fuzz guitar. What they were trying to do, only God knows, but what the song lacks in brevity it makes up for in enthusiasm.

Q: “Green River/Susie Q”…

PS: Actually, this is not a bad cover at all. The Cat’s vocal is spot on, the guitar work by the three guitarists once again provide decent cover, and Sandler’s lead solos throughout are interesting enough. This is the one cut, by the way, where The Bouch’s guitar actually adds something to the song, during the transition from “Green River” to “Susie Q”. Almost makes it a cut above standard garage fare.

Q: “Jackie Blue”…

PS: I chose this song not only because it came as a complete surprise to me – there was no prior indication whatsoever of the song’s existence on tape – but also because it’s the only song in the Top Priority archives with The Bouch’s unique guitar sound: thin, clipped, and utterly void of any kind of underlying creativity whatsoever. He plays it straight, and the band does nothing to overcome it. While his vocals (shared with The Cat) are sung on key, the song limps along to a close and serves as an example of Boucher’s contribution to the Top Priority legacy.

Q: “Let Me Be There”…

PS: The first of several live performances of the band chosen from a gig recorded at the Billerica Masonic Temple sometime after The Bouch’s departure from the group. Here, the band was playing a party for a primarily adult audience, so we hear a lot of their adult/wedding material. This instrumental, which apparently kicked off the band’s performance that night, rolls along cheerily to the point where you start wondering what the bride and groom have chosen to feed the invited guests; perhaps that’s why I had a craving for stuffed chicken while hearing this song. Some some inventive bass lines by Doug Richard help underscore the song’s rhythm.

Q: “Sloop John B”…

PS: Barely passable vocals by Doug and The Cat, but decent enough instrumentation throughout. There’s something about their rendition that doesn’t sound right to me – the drums come in full on the second verse instead of the chorus, as one would expect, but my guess is this is being done to either make up for the lame vocal work, or gin up some excitement from the crowd. Probably a little of both…

Q: “Get Back”…

PS: Once more, the band tries hard and musically gives a good enough accounting of itself, but the vocals are just so-so. One saving grace here is the keyboard work by “Keys” Palma; he does a fine Billy Preston impersonation, and Mark’s drums are Ringo Starr-solid.

Q: “Saturday Night”…

PS: First of all, let me say I couldn’t believe this choice of a song – I mean, the Bay City Rollers? Who did they think their audience was – twelve year olds? Nevertheless, the band does a fine version of this song with much enthusiasm, and it was obviously well received. One interesting note: that’s Doug’s and Mark’s aunt, the famous “Auntie Marge” of Billerica fame who is heard on the fade telling the band their performance was “better than the record”…

Q: “Wild Fire”…

PS: Starting with the previous track, I call this part of the Anthology “Drowning in the Seventies”. Another mundane choice of song by a band that, frankly, could have chosen better. I mean, the actual released song [Ed. note: a one-hit wonder by Michael Murphy] wasn’t much to write home about to begin with! Nevertheless, The Cat’s vocal is earnest, surviving some shaky harmonies on the chorus, and the band makes a pleasant enough go at it.

Q: You sound disappointed in the material that was available to you…

PS: Well, it is important to keep in mind that these recordings date from the early and mid-70s, so one shouldn’t be surprised at some of the material chosen. In addition, the band really was never a “rock” band, per se. It was, after all, The Bouch’s desire that they be a wedding/Top 40 band, so their material was simply a reflection of that time and the work they had done as a band. So, while one wonders what they could have done with better material, it is, as they say, what it is.

———————

Tomorrow: Part 2 of the Sorvino interview.

Filed in: Top Priority - News! by vcugini at 01:13 | Comment (1)
August 21, 2007

Is there a more touching and enjoyable experience in life than to renew old acquaintances after many years? Tonight was one of those nights as my brother Mark and I met one of bandmates from our Top Priority band days of long ago, Jerry “Keys” Palma, for dinner and some wonderful reminiscing after 30 long years.

It’s funny how these kinds of things turn out. It’s literally been years – maybe even a decade or more – since my brother and I have even discussed our old band days. A little over a month ago, Mark (who played drums in the band, me playing bass) called to ask if I had any photos left over from our Top Priority days, as his two sons have started up a band of their own and he wanted to show them that their old man was no slouch when it came to garage band pursuits. Earlier that weekend, I had been playing CDs by an old ’60s surf band called The Sandals, who had reformed to create the soundtrack to the movie “The Endless Summer II” and recreate their original soundtrack to the landmark surf film “The Endless Summer”.

For some reason, Mark’s call reminded me of The Sandals, and I began wondering what our old fellow bandmates Keys and our guitarist Ken “The Cat” McDougal were doing with their lives, and I made a mental note to check the phone book upon my next visit back to Massachusetts. During that visit here last month, I found out that both their families still lived at their original addresses, and Mark, undertaking a search of his own, found a website link to what turned out to be Jerry’s law firm. Shortly after renewing acquaintances with Jerry by phone, I left a message on his parents’ phone and a few days later got a call from “The Cat”, who, as it turns out, lives in Jacksonville, FL and runs his own photography business. While Ken couldn’t make it up here for my August visit, we shared phone numbers and e-mail addresses and hoped someday we’d all be able to meet together for some laughs and memories.

Tonight, Mark and I hooked up with Jerry, and, as it happens in these kinds of situations, it’s amazing to watch thirty years of separation melt away in just minutes. While we were never very good as a band, we did have a lot of fun with it over the few years we pursued our craft seriously. While one could bemoan the fact that our lack of serious talent made success elusive and our music more of a hobby as anything else, it also allowed us to have more fun and be both foolish and creative with it – maybe it’s that very fact that we were more than bandmates, but friends. And it was renewing that friendship and being able to laugh and reminisce about those times that made tonight so enjoyable.

On one level, it was great to listen to some of our music again and laugh until the tears started flowing; on another there was this wonderful sense of time both passing by and going backward, melting the years away, making all our journeys all seem a little more worthwhile. We’ve all gone our separate ways, had our own life trials and tribulations, and now have our own lives and priorities left to pursue, but shouldn’t everyone have the opportunity – at least from time to time – to be able to rekindle relationships that enable you to take stock of where and how your own life journey has gone? And shouldn’t one be able to share and, yes, celebrate the fact that you’ve survived all those years with friends you haven’t seen for ages? These kinds of things truly are the spice of life, and it’s renewing acquaintances in this way that are just one of God’s little blessings that come along from time to time.

I feel fortunate and blessed indeed to be able to experience a night like this, and I’m well aware that there are a lot of people out there who should be able to be so lucky. So to Mark, Jerry, and Ken (who we were still able to talk with by phone while we shared dinner), I say ‘thank you’: we may not have been the best band in the world, but the times and memories we can still share together more than make up for any deficiency in talent we might have had.

Filed in: Top Priority - News! by at 01:01 | Comments (0)

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