By Peter Lindblad
|Kelakos - Uncorked: Rare Tracks|
From a Vintage '70s Band
Going on the idea that location is everything, they relocated, thinking they were more likely to be discovered in New Jersey, given its proximity to record labels in New York City. They didn't fully realize what they were up against.
"At that time, it was really heavy music or it was disco," said Carl Canedy, the drummer for Kelakos. "It was right at the onset of disco, and we were neither."
Even worse, they were trespassing on the home turf of a man known as "The Boss," and they soon found out where they stood in the pecking order of the New Jersey music scene.
"When we played, we played a place called the Drift Inn," recalled Canedy. "It's in New Jersey, which was across the street from the Stone Pony. So, the first time we played the Drift Inn – I think we played Tuesday nights, we had a regular gig there, Tuesday nights at the Drift Inn in Asbury Park – and we were playing along, and it's a Tuesday night. There are people in the club, but not a ton of people – 75 people maybe. All of a sudden, they just start running out of the club, just running out of the club."
Needless to say, Kelakos was taken aback seeing an audience fleeing from their set as if someone had yelled, "Fire!" Bassist Lincoln Bloomfield Jr., for one, wasn't sure what to think.
"You see people talking, and suddenly, they run out of the club, and Linc leans forward to me and said, 'Wow, I guess these people just don't get us. This really sucks,'" recounted Canedy. "So the same thing happened two more times that we played there. It was crazy. We didn't know anyone, and finally, we just asked someone, 'What's going on?' And we found out what was happening was – which we were unaware of – that Springsteen was sitting in with Southside Johnny at the Stone Pony, and the word would be out in the club and people would run to see Bruce Springsteen, which seems so silly when they could have stayed and watched Kelakos (laughs)."
All the complications and frustrations involved in chasing the elusive dream of rock 'n' roll stardom eventually wore thin for Kelakos, which included Canedy, Bloomfield, singer/guitarist George Michael Kelakos Haberstroh and guitarist Mark Sisson. Incidents like the one at the Stone Pony didn't help.
"Those are the 'Spinal Tap' moments for the band, where we didn't know what was up and our feelings were pretty hurt the first couple of times until we found out," said Canedy. "But it was tough in New Jersey because of things like that."
The recent unveiling of Uncorked: Rare Tracks From a Vintage '70s Band aims to reintroduce the music of Kelakos to an audience that, in all likelihood, has never heard of them. A surprisingly diverse set that runs the gamut of Southern-fried boogie to prog-rock and Beatlesque psychedelia, as well as boasting compact jams of blues, country and rock ingredients born of that time, this 15-track effort never stays in one place too long, as evidenced by tracks such as "Gone Are The Days," "Boogie Bad Express," "How Did You Get So Crazy" and the ambitious epic "Frostbite Fantasy," as well as the never-before-released "In The Sun."
That willingness to explore may have cost them in the end.
"I think that's one of the things that may have been a downfall for us at the time," said Canedy. "You know, Linc, George and I were the songwriters ... we had no boundaries. It was the '70s. We had been influenced by The Beatles ... so we wrote what we wanted. We never looked at it as well, should we be grape jelly or should we be tomato soup? We were like, 'Screw it.' We'll just be like stew. We'll just have carrots and onions, and we'll do whatever we want to do. We had no label. We had no guidance."
Perhaps best known as the drummer for '80s metal bashers The Rods, Canedy also later made a name for himself as a producer, working on albums by the likes of Anthrax, Overkills, TT Quick, Exciter and Possessed, among others. Over the years, he's served as the archivist for both The Rods and Kelakos.
"I've maintained and stored all these tapes, these recordings for years," said Canedy. "And Linc and I were having a discussion one day. He was putting together his Pro Tools studio. And we were talking about the fact that in this day and age, transferring from analog to digital it just makes life easier because you don't have the studio costs and so on, which we obviously had in the old days."
Shipping off some transfers of the material to Bloomfield, Canedy waited for him to work on the mixes. The results were stunning.
"With each successive recording, the mixes just sounded ... we were like, wow!" said Canedy. "It was like blowing off the dust on a painting that was actually very nice."
Knowing full well the project would be a money pit, they carried on, and Canedy believes it was all worth it.
"When we recorded this, one of the things I remember saying was, 'Let's continue,'" said Canedy. "Even though we were spending a lot of money mixing, and we were concerned we were just never going to break even on the project, my thought was, 'Someday, we'll be glad we did this, we'll be proud of it. So let's make it as good as we can.' And I have to say, those words kind of came true, because now, at this point, for me having done so many things – produced so many albums and having been a part of The Rods and done so many projects – the Kelakos thing something that wasn't really on the radar ... we were proudest of this discography, and I'm really glad people get to hear this because it's really something to be proud of."
Trials and tribulations
Before Canedy came along, Bloomfield, Sisson and Haberstroh had formed a band as teenagers living in Cohasset, Mass.
Sisson had moved there from Seattle with his electric guitar, hooking up with Haberstroh, a singer who later took up the instrument as well. Since grade school, Bloomfield had played the sousaphone, but he learned electric bass, and the trio formed Emergency Exit, employing others on keyboards and drums and using that moniker throughout their high school and college years.
In the early '70s, they were rechristened The Criminals, their music inspired by artists such as Eric Clapton, Todd Rundgren, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Johnny Winter, The Who and Led Zeppelin. Crisscrossing New England, performing at clubs and schools, the group went full-time in 1974.
Miles away, in upstate New York, Canedy was honing his talent as a drummer and making contacts with music industry professionals in places like Ithaca, Elmira, Cortland and others, before heading out to see what the rest of the world had to offer.
"I had left bands that were successful club bands," said Canedy. "I kind of wanted a band that was a national recording act. So I said, 'Well, I'll strike out and see if I can find this type of thing. And I'm just really looking to have a major label deal.' So I went to San Francisco. I went to L.A. I went to New York City, and really, just nothing was a fit for me. So, as a last resort, I said, 'I'm going to try Boston and see what's in Boston."
While there, Canedy sat in with a cover band, " ... a 10-piece horn band and show band, and the musicians were phenomenal. They were all Berklee, Boston, music grads. They were phenomenal musicians, and the guys taught me a lot. The horn players were great and helped me so much."
However, Canedy thought the band leader " ... was a jackass. He was a tyrant, and he wasn't very talented and he was, by far, the weakest link in the band."
Feeling miserable, and wondering if Boston was just another unfulfilling stop along the journey, Canedy eventually met his future bandmates, just as he was planning to move on. "And they came and said, 'Just come and stay with us for a few days and see what happens before going back," said Canedy.
That was 1974, and soon they began writing together. Taking the name Kelakos, in reference to George's family heritage, they made the ill-fated move to New Jersey a year later, barnstorming clubs throughout the central part of the state, the Jersey shore, New York and Long Island after finding that Massachusetts had little to offer them.
The next year, they decamped to Ithaca, N.Y., which became their headquarters. Between 1976-1978, Kelakos spent whatever time they could in the studio, working on 15 original songs.
In 1976, Kelakos released their first single, "There's a Feeling/Funky Day." Two years later, they had recorded an album's worth of material.
"We actually recorded the album over a period of time," explained Canedy. "And I think at that point we were playing five and six nights a week, and it was just a question of time factors, and we were paying $60 an hour for studio time. That was a lot of money back then for musicians not making a lot of money. And I also think it was getting the material together and ready to record."
Getting that single out gave Kelakos a sense of accomplishment.
"There was just a period of tome for us with that first single, but I remember getting the jukeboxes ... they were 45s, and I was so happy because we found a place that manufactured jukebox name tags, in the little pink and red or whatever they were," said Canedy. "I thought that was just so cool that we were able to get them in jukeboxes."
Gone Are The Days came out in 1978, with the title track and "How Did You Get So Crazy" pushed as singles. It didn't quite measure up to their raucous live shows.
"We were a pretty high-energy rock band," said Canedy. "George was a fiery soloist and a very charismatic guy. We were pretty intense live. Not everything on the album reflects that, because it was about songwriting on the album."
Perhaps knowing subconsciously that this was their one and only shot at fame and glory, Kelakos pulled out all the stops, even going so far as to add horns and strings.
"It was just crazy what we did in terms of no boundaries, musical boundaries," said Canedy. "We just went for it as if it as if it were Sgt. Pepper's."
Put up or shut up
There was a lot on the line, however, for Kelakos with that record. The club scene and endless touring throughout the Northeast hadn't led to a breakthrough or a major label deal. And perhaps, they were grasping at straws throughout the making of it.
"It was a lot of fun," said Canedy. "There was also pressure. I think we each kind of produced our own songs, because we didn't have a producer. So sometimes there was a little bit of a lack of direction or somebody really taking the reins, and that was a new experience for us. And I don't recall anything really bad. I think we had a lot of fun doing it. I think the tension really came from the financial aspect, because if someone was spending a lot of time on the minutiae – you know, little parts and things and really racking up the bills – I think everybody got a little tense about that. Overall, it was a fun experience. It was certainly interesting, and for me, having always been interested in production, I was able to watch a lot of times, and I learned a lot."
Canedy wasn't the only one getting an education. The engineers who worked on the record went on to do big things. Les Tyler, who worked on the 1976 single, operated various audio technology companies, including DBX. Alex Perialas, producer and owner of Pyramid Sound Studios in Ithaca, N.Y., would become an associate professor of Performance Studies at Ithaca College. And finally, there was Tony Volante, an engineer for Steely Dan's Donald Fagan who has worked for the cream of the crop as far as studios go, including Sound Lounge in New York City. That's where Volante is engaged in TV and movie post-production.
As for Kelakos, that album was a "pass/fail" test. If it had brought them the attention they needed to attract the labels, they might have kept going.
"When the band comes together, and they decide to do that original thing and are going to make that leap, I think it becomes a 'do or die' and I think, at some point, if you were to make it happen, then you could continue on," said Canedy. "But if you don't make it happen, you kind of realize it's pretty much the end of the road. Then you go back to playing clubs again. Are you going to be happy doing that? It's probably time to move on."
And that's just what they did, breaking up after a short tour of New York state.
"We had radio ads, and it was okay, but it was not a label," said Canedy. "And things are different now for people, looking at how the music business is today. Back then, it was a bottleneck. You had a major label deal or you couldn't get your music out. Today, you can get your music out, and of course, there's a lot of music out there. It's hard to rise above the noise that's out there, with all the product, but you can do it. Back then, no. If you didn't get that major label deal, it was going to be very tough to do anything, because it was tough to get distribution, tough to get promotion and without the approval of the record machine behind you, we were basically done. So we kind of realized, without the support, it wasn't going any further and it kind of wound down."
And so Kelakos scattered to the four winds, splitting amicably but knowing they'd come to the end of the road. All four continue to be involved in music and entertainment in one way or the other, but Kelakos will always be something they can look back on and be proud of what they accomplished. And now, maybe the rest of the world will discover what made them special as well. Visit https://www.facebook.com/KelakosUncorked to learn more about them.