Willy's Story Time...
The following is an attempt to piece together the varied details of my past. If you recall a different story please get a hold of me and together we’ll sort this out…
How Did I Ever Get Like This?
I started playing in bands in upstate NY. By the age of 16, I was taking gigs and chasing the dream of playing the blues. At that time there weren't a lot of blues clubs around the Adirondacks. Some of the guys from my school were starting a "50's" band and asked me to join. "Real Live Jive" was a fun mix of Rock & Roll, football players, and adolescent energy. There were a few musicians thrown in for good measure!
... I did a few gigs around central NY as a folk-singer in the early 1970's. In '75 my friend Joe talked me into riding to Islesboro, Maine to look for work and play music. The island is about 14 square miles in all and had one establishment with entertainment at the time called "The Island Pub".
The Pub has since become legendary for the music and the characters that passed through there. I lived upstairs in the room over the jukebox. I didn't sleep much that summer but I did play in the "house band" which was Joe Allard, Thon Christiana, me, and any number of musicians from God knows where, sitting in. The memories of that summer run deep and I value the people and the times I had on Islesboro, greatly. I think a piece of me will always be on that island...
Photo by Murt Durkee,
I tried to go back to NY State but that only lasted about a year. During that time a country-rock band we had in upstate NY called, "Tulsa" played the first unofficial "Coaches Picnic". After that gig all I could think of was heading back to the coast. I stayed in New Hampshire for a winter and began getting together to make music with Dave Lewis who was staying in Wiscassett at the time.
I'd plug "Dave Brubeck" into the eight-track of my '64 Chevy named "Juanita" and head north on the weekends to play country tunes with Lewis. By spring we were talking about playing gigs and we started getting together with Peter Davis.
Before I realized it, I was on my way back to NY to get Joe and upon our return we had a new drummer, Kevin Perry, who had gotten us a place to stay at the Newagen Inn on Southport Island.
...So "Blue Northern" was formed in early 1977 and featured Pete Davis, Dave Lewis, and myself on guitars and any other instrument we could get our hands on, with Joe Allard on bass and Kevin Perry on drums.
We played all around the state but still managed to stay pretty close to Islesboro. We had a party at our place in Hope and invited "C&W Moe Co.", "Oat Willy", and Chris Morse (then manager of Morgan's in Camden). By the end of the day we had people to call and by the end of the week we were booked for the summer...
Photo by Murt Durkee,
Blue Northern started falling apart in the fall but not before having my old friend Mike Stone and his side-kick Bob Satinoff come play. We had played together in "Tulsa" so it was a quick fix. By the dead of winter they were back to NY and Joe and I practiced a duo and eventually played one gig at a local beauty solon party that spring... Yes, beauty solons, toy stores, Memorial Day parade floats; I've played them all!
On The Road with Jud Strunk
Al Scheeren, Jud Strunk, WK, & Alden Clark
Jamboree, Bangor, Me. (late 1970's)
It was on Islesboro that I met Jud Strunk, who penned the hit song “A Daisy a Day”.
I was in line to get on the boat to Islesboro when a friend introduced me to Jud who
was ahead of us in line. We spent the afternoon "trading songs" at the Pub and telling
stories, of which Juddie had many! At the time he was twice my age which seemed to
please him, somehow. We partied on through our gig and late into the night. Jud did
wind up playing a few songs that night, with the band, Blue Northern.
I didn't hear from Jud for many months, although I did write him a letter during the winter. By spring, I was in a low spot. Playing the beauty salon circuit wasn't really panning out and I guess I needed a change of scene. So after a winter of heartbreak and mayhem I was working a local burger house and drinking "nasty gansetts" by the case.
One day I get a message that Jud had called and I needed to call him back. Within a few days I had quit my job and was headed north in "Mulligan". Now that 1960 panel truck was one hell of ride. When I bought it, there were two sticks serving as the shift. One stick was 1st, neutral, and reverse; and the other stick was 2nd, neutral, 3rd. By the time I got to Eustis Ridge for rehearsal with Jud, 1st gear was gone and 2nd was smokin'...
I walked out of a cloud of smoke to the front door. We headed up to the cuppola and began playing and telling stories. Now, this was a Wednesday afternoon and I was beginning my career as a bass player on a Hagstrom, Alden Clarke had loaned me. By Friday we played Rangeley and Saturday we pulled into Toronto, Ontario to play and celebrate Duke Redbird's graduation from university. That was about all the rehearsal I ever got with Jud...
That tour was in the spring of 1978. For the next few years we traveled the US and Canada playing everywhere from the Top Hat Lounge in Missoula, MT. to the Palm Bay Club on the east coast of Florida to the WWVA radio show, (get that “Wheelin' feelin”...)
Great Northern Bluegrass Fest., 1978,
When Jud had called me to offer me a gig, he told me he needed a bass player. I told him I really wasn't really a "bass" player… His reply was, "You know where the notes are, don’t you?" I said, yes and that became one of the pivotal moments of my adult life as a working musician…
My father played 4-string banjo. He used to say, "I don't know how you play a six-string guitar with only five fingers." My mother played a little chord-organ many nights after supper, she also had an electric six-string lap-steel National guitar. My dad played for square dances, in his youth, and had a friend, from those times, named Larry, that occassionally dropped by. Larry was a harmonica player, in the style of Tootes Thielemans. He is one of the great characters of my childhood. He was always sort of bent over, like he was always ready to start playing harp…
Every so often we would have a family get-together. The instruments would come out and my dad would sing old songs like "Just Because" and "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling". I received a cherry red, solid-body, electric guitar with a chrome pick-guard for Christmas, along with a hand made, solid-state amp, that ran on batteries. My dad had made the amp from a kit; he would always rather make something than buy something. Sometime after that Christmas, I walked into the family get-together with my new guitar in hand, ready to play. I stumbled along as best I could and my life of "sittin’ in" began…
I started working hard and after a while, I knew a few chords and had some idea of basic music theory. My dad, however, never talked about "keys". I guess he figured if you're a player, you listen and play… So when I asked what key a song was in or what the chords were he would look at me in mock amazement and say, "Willy, you can't hear that?" After that, I quit asking questions and learned to keep my eyes and ears open. I got pretty good at following him and learned tenor-banjo chords in the process.
That experience helped alot, when I stood behind Jud every night, peering over his shoulder, as he would tear into some song he had written on the way to the gig or some old song from his youth that had just popped into his head to play…
And now, you know why, when Jud said, "You know where the notes are, don't you?", I had to say, "yes", load up my stuff and head north to my next gig…
Peace, Love, & Happiness