“Don’t let Polott fool you, a humble gent off the bandstand, the bass player is cooking in the pocket – plying glissandos, double stops, countermelodies, solo breaks, and grooves on his crisp, resonant Sadowsky Jazz.”
-Tom Semioli KNOW YOUR BASS PLAYER.COM
My life in music. A very long story…
It all started with saxophone lessons in Fifth grade which led to a love of music and performing. My first band was the Long Island Sounds. We were four Junior High School friends who played whenever they could and were the highlight of parties, sweet sixteens, dances and an appearance at the NY Worlds Fair in September of 1965 at the NY State Pavilion. I was on Tenor sax and vocals. This horn, purchased shortly before the show , replaced an alto sax. I remember having to transpose all my parts, including the famous solo from Sam the Sham’s “Wooly Bully.”
My ambitions were further fueled by several summers working in rock bands up in the Borsht Belt of NY’s Catskill Mountains. The Innovation Umbrella, fronted by the beautiful and talented Lila, was the house band at the Aladdin Hotel in 1967. We were discovered during a short stint at Ruben’s Maple View and received an offer we couldn’t refuse to “upgrade” to the Aladdin in neighboring Woodbourne. We were 16. It was the Summer of Love. We won several Battle of the Bands and the big musical highlights were opening up for the Chambers Brothers in concert and an appearance onstage with Little Eva playing the mega hit, “the Locomotion.” She found me in my room and said, (and I quote)…”I need a bass!” There were other highlights in that magical summer that will not be mentioned here.
The Beatles had taken the world by storm and by necessity someone in the band had to be on bass and this would be my calling and a life changing decision.
In several configurations we played together for a few years and then another watershed moment…
The Innovation Umbrella Boys...49 years later!
Mark Polott and Alan Wiesenfeld. Bagels and the Blues…
It was 1969. Lloyd Landesman, an exciting keyboardist, joined the group upon the disbanding of his High School band, the Tangerine Puppets. Shortly after several rehearsals and no gigs, we broke up the band and Lloyd returned to a new project that was in it’s fledgling stages with former members of the Puppets. He brought me along on bass. This group became Haystacks Balboa, produced by the legendary Shadow Morton. It featured Mark Mayo on guitar, who would become my partner in crime for many years to come. We were shortly signed to a record deal on Polydor after a hot summer rehearsing in basements and opening up for Paul Butterfield at the Pavillion at the old Worlds Fair grounds, a venue that I played years before. That was the coolest NYC venue that summer with appearances by Led Zeppelin, Procol Harum, Grateful Dead and Mountain, just to mention a few of the performers. We were managed by Shelly Finkel, manager of Mountain.
Haystacks Balboa toured the country opening for acts as diverse as Ten Years After, Jethro Tull, Rod Stewart and Faces, Blue Oyster Cult and Eric Burden and War. We opened up Black Sabbath’s first US gig in Glasboro, NJ. We were 19, had a blast, heard ourselves on the radio and did everything but sell records…
This record has had legs. It is still widely available on the internet and can be found as an original vinyl collectors item, on CD or as an upload in various bootlegged editions. Renamed “Detoxified,” someone keeps pressing it and we let it go on. Better to keep it out there as a piece of Rock history than to see it disappear along with my python boots…
We were a minor local smash. We were on the radio, opened for Jethro Tull in Central Park and for Ten Years After in Jersey and at Portchester’s Capital Theater. We toured the country and had our 15 minutes of fame but still remained somewhat mysterious. In some circles we were thought to be from Great Britain… via Queens, NY! This could have been due to our representation by ATI Talent and our propensity for opening up for some of the top British acts of the day.
“I could a’ been champ, I could a’ been a contender.”
19 years old… it’s been downhill ever since…
In 1970, we were scheduled to be the opening act of the Powder Ridge Rock Festival in Connecticut. It was cancelled last minute by an injunction and could have been the next Woodstock. “Candles in the Rain” by Melanie was written about her solo performance there. She managed to sneak in with just her acoustic guitar, while we returned to the city and pigged out at an Eastside diner.
Undescribably great times, the formative years. I have often joked that my career has been downhill since I was 19. In reality, this was the spark that gave rise to the creature I am.
Mayo and I developed a great chemistry and started writing together. Lloyd moved on to a great career performing and writing jingles. We became a fixture in clubs and often played out 5-6 nights a week, developing our style, our chops and our reputation as players and song writers on the scene. We studied formally and our tastes evolved. We paid our dues and discovered funk.
In 1974 we were signed again to Polydor in an unrelated deal. We found top management, a producer, recorded an album at Electric Lady Studios and thought this might be it. We toured again with a great bunch of guys from very diverse backrounds. This was reflected in the record… half funk and half rock. The band was named Mercury, a moniker chosen by management. We wore silver suits, uncomfortably. Sadly, on the brink of release, there was a shake up at Polydor and we were one of it’s victims. A well crafted and eclectic collection of our original tunes would not reach the public. Singles were pressed from “ the forthcoming album” but success eluded us again. Potential hits such as “Aw Shucks, Ain’t Got the Bucks” and “Lila” would remain underground. This tune would resurface 30 years later on another one of our projects, timeless, at the least. Some of these bass lines should have been on the airwaves. It was some of our best writing and we even flew to some gigs!
King of Broadway
Aw Shucks (Ain't Got the Bucks)
Ron Johnson had just produced Wicked Lester, a group that after a long association he failed to get signed. They amiably parted company, the group changed it’s name to Kiss and the rest is history. Ron was also the manager of Electric Lady Studios on 8th Street in Greenwich Village. Ira Blacker was a co-owner of ATI, who, along with Premier Talent were the two big players booking the largest bands in the world. We were signed to both at different times. Ira wanted to branch out into management on his own and he liked our writing and there was great chemistry. We signed with his new company, who also represented Rush in America. He hooked us up with Ron. Al Gorgoni, a famed studio guitarist, arranger and producer was brought in to co-produce with Ron. A list of his credits is staggering. Johnson’s gig as manager of Electric Lady allowed us to work at odd hours, sometimes through the night if the studio was empty.
The Music Box was a record shop located between my school and my home. It was owned by Keith West, a singer and a larger than life personality. Many of the Queens rockers would congregate there and some solid friendships were born. Paul Stanley was a regular. We would hang and talk music, girls, and guitars amidst a mixture of band competitiveness and cameraderie. Keith was the founder of the Brats. They were a very popular group at the very beginning of the Glam era in NYC. Kiss got their start at a Brats loft party. The rhythm guitarist, a neighbor of mine, was an original NY Doll, before their meteoric rise. The bassist cut my hair. I worked briefly with the drummer. Keith and I were good friends, still are.
If You Can't Rock
After a shake-up, Keith was looking for a new lead guitarist and bassist. Mark Mayo and myself had our own thing, but it was suggested that we fill in at gigs during the search and this had a great appeal for us. We were far from type and the image that the Brats represented but, we could ROCK! This was an exciting period of some great live shows, some of which would later become a live CD, and some totally explosive recordings. We cut a 45 of one of our Mercury tunes, “If You Can’t Rock” and the crawling “Keep Doin’.” Really hot stuff. We wrote “Dancing in the Backseat” just for them, and they added our “First Rock Star on the Moon” as a featured number in their set. This tune appeared on the historic Max’s Kansas City album and was also covered by the Vampyr Bunnies out of Baltimore. The Brats still perform and still do some of our songs in their set. Eventually their search was fruitful and we moved on. The new guitarist, Scott Sheets, went on to play with Pat Benatar’s original band.
The club scene in NYC was exploding. There seemed to be a million bands playing out and everyone looked for their gimmick to help separate themselves from the rank and file. Lack of musical skill was often overcome by a great image, crazy name or just plain charisma! Far from being a “pretty boy,” I had to rely on good songs and technical skills to get and keep gigs. This dilemma gave birth to Murder Inc. Mayo and I gathered a great group of musicians and developed the Murder Inc. show to help us create some buzz and secure many shows upstairs at Max’s Kansas City and down on the Bowery at the Great Gildersleeves. We appeared on the Gildersleeves album and it was here that I met my wife, Pat. Maybe it was the gangster suits, maybe the slide show or the dueling lead guitarists. Whatever it was, we had a good run as outsiders surrounded by the world of Punk and New Wave.
SlippingAway-Feeling is Right
And the Wave was big. We morphed into a tight, groomed pop band. We added some friends who had the right vibe and an MTV look. The pompadours grew and the tunes were commercial. There was some reggae ( a genre always visited by us), some cool instrumentals and a polished set of shorter catchy tunes. Through it all, we played our hearts out and had many memorable nights on stage. The name came about when we decided during a naming marathon, that the next name suggested would be it, no matter what! Someone said the Eskimos and after we regained our composure and our breath, we landed on Igloos. Original, if nothing else.
Just a Little Bit
The simplicity of our sound coupled with a complexity of chordal structure led us to pursue a new challenge. We always felt that our songs were our most marketable commodity. We craved a way to embellish our creations. We decided to take a leap and form a big band. We added a horn section. Initially it was two trumpets, a trombone and two or three saxes. This line up varied during the life span of Raccoon Lodge, but was a dynamic live unit and really fun in the studio. We played out a fair amount, the highlight being the Hard Rock Café uptown. Our undoing was the complexity of running an eight piece band… too many scheduling conflicts, too many phone calls and too many egos. The recordings live on as a testimonial to our power and energy. It was a blast singing in front of the massive sound coming off those seemingly tiny stages. We would also meet some great sax players that would influence our sound, even up to today.
Living in the Street
Here to Stay
The Blue Period
The 90’s were winding down. We needed to scale it down and just have some fun. What followed were a series of groups built around Mayo and myself, Ken Plum, the hot tenor sax player from the Lodge and Jim Taormina, a keyboardist we met through an old drummer friend of ours from the early 70’s known as Dippy. This core was augmented by a series of female vocalists. Blue Zone became Blue Lagoon when we added Val Kinzler up front and our old friend, the great Joe Franco sat behind the drum kit. Joe had left us in Haystacks many years before to join the Good Rats and remained a good friend of ours for decades. His career has been stellar with stints with Leslie West and Twisted Sister just to name a few. And he owned a great recording facility in town. We recorded a nice demo at Avatar and played several gigs around town. This didn’t quite work out but we remained blue.
One of the defining characteristics of a Mayo-Polott project is diversity. We never seem to know exactly what we should be so we just write and play whatever we feel at the moment. We’re funky one moment, heavy the next, and we have a comfort zone within almost any genre. That being said, we always were children of the 60’s and grew up on the blues of the original masters and more importantly, on the sounds of Clapton, Beck, Hendrix and Page. We never were a pure blues band, that might be my doing, but the blues was always a big part of our set.
Urban Blue was born out of this “problem.”
After the events of September 2001, Kenny moved West.
We added Dave Painchaud on trumpet and a new saxophonist, Senien Hicks. Backed by our drummer Doug Sako, we let it simmer. We played out a lot at some great venues.
In 2004 we recorded our first cd, “It’s Different Today.” We were helped out by Lloyd Landesman who co-produced and engineered. Lloyd was the keyboardist in Haystacks Balboa, over thirty years before. It’s fourteen songs including our reggae influenced cover of ‘Crossroads” and the title cut, our post 9/11 ballad. The music is available on iTunes and CDBaby.
Middle of Nowhere
It's Different Today
Then another watershed moment. We added the amazing Lars Haake on alto sax. His killer sound and melodic creativity took the band to new heights. The energy coming off the stage was infectious and his musical knowledge pushed us from all angles. He was more than the perfect compliment to Mayo’s guitar. They had a great chemistry and the musical sparks flew. Some nights we would be on fire. By this time, I was playing my Sadowsky UV-70. Easily the best bass I had ever played, six sets a night were somewhat tiring, but a pure joy. Onward and upward…
We became a great party band that could, and did, play late into the night. We mixed a great variety of original material with the cover tunes we grew up on and loved. At our shows you could “expect the unexpected.” Urban Blue became a regular draw at Lucille’s Bar and Grill inside BB King’s in Times Square.
After awhile we added some old friends again. David Donen was an exciting rock drummer we knew since the early 70’s. Another player from the musical melting pot of Queens, he sat in with us now and then over the years and always cooked. We seemed to be cut from the same piece of wood and clicked on many levels. My basslines fit like a glove over his groove. The time was ripe for collaboration.
I met Frank Cervantes in college. Over the years he was a frequent partner to some of our musical shenanigans and a member of Mercury for a brief time. A one-time Mayo guitar student, they played seamlessly together and magic happened. Frank was always the funky rhythm king with the energy of Pete Townsend and a falsetto from another era. We took this unit into the studio and created ten great tracks.
Sadly, Frankie unexpectedly passed away. This hit us real hard and we de-railed for a while. We immersed ourselves in the studio and worked real hard to make this project our best ever. When we listen to his tracks, he is in the room, pickin’ and dancing…
A Thousand Stories Never Told was released right as 2016 began. On it, the power ballad “Waiting for the Real You” contains the line “Can’t see the future, whatcha gonna do?” That about sums it up. I don’t know where I’m heading but with this new release the adventure continues…
Hopefully, this story will continue for many years. In an era of Youtube and Selfies, everyone seems to find their spotlight. The concept of Fame has become somewhat trite and maybe a little irrelevent. Ego aside, I simply felt this is a story that could, and should be told. More so than even the music itself, the people I have met along the way give the tale relevance. They have been sources of energy for me as important as the songs and performances. My path has been crossed by characters like Jett, Stix, Frummy, Zootland, Weasel, Mush, Fat Eddie and a dancing dwarf known as Bullet. Sometimes the adventure resembles a Damon Runyan fiction, sometimes a Fellini film. Along the way I’ve made lifelong friends, memorable acquaintences and most importantly, in a backstage encounter, I met my wife. I feel good with the fact that I have given it my all every time I am onstage, at a rehearsal, or in the studio. Many of you reading this are players in the saga. You know who you are!