M A R K S M O L L I N "S C H M O K E"
Drums and Purcussion - email
I was affecionately nicknamed "Schmoke" by bassist Peter Mogren after he introduced me to the joys of consuming cigarettes.
There isn't one explanation why I wanted to play drums. It was a combination of seeing Buddy Rich on the Tonight Show, my friend Bill Banks sitting behind his blue-sparkle kit, and the fact that I didn't need to know how to play music to be a drummer! The first time I ever heard live amplified rock music was in this dance hall at Bedford Junior High. I remember the band? playing "Under My Thumb" and "Route 66." Here we are doing a sound check four years later.
I never though about playing in the school orchestra or marching band initially, it was ROCK I wanted to play. The music classes were full and I was unable to convince the music teacher at Long Lots to make a spot for me. I saved my allowance for a short eternity and bough Bill Banks' trashed old snare drum with a stand. I brought it home and set it beside the 12 inch speaker of my father's hi-fidelity-monoral-sound system, which was built into a set of Herman/Miller cabinet and started to make some noise. I taught myself by ear and learned the Stones "Get Off My Cloud" by wearing out the grooves on the 45. Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs' "Sugar Shack," Terry Stafford's "Suspicion" and Bobby Fuller Four's "I fought The Law" were my other favorites. Most of my spare time and some class time was spent learning new beats by tapping on desks with any handy objects, or playing on my legs. I probably annoyed the hell out of everyone around me when I was thirteen.
I was craving a drum set pretty bad, but couldn't figure how to afford one. My father asked me to paint the house and offered to give me an excessive raise in allowance, but I turned it down for a new set of drums in the near future. A short time later I was invited join a band by Gene Baker - organ, with Jim McDonough on guitar and Bill McDonough on bass. We called ourselves The Wild Sect, yet every adult mispronounced it as 'The Wild Sex.'
Jim McDonough (class of '68)
Jim got me a job at Westport Hardware which lasted for three years until I graduated from Staples and moved to Virginia.
Bill McDonough (class of '69)
then and now
Bill taught me how to drive a standard transmission truck so I could become the next Westport Hardware Delivery-Boy after him.
I think they accepted me because I could play "Wipeout' fairly well. All these guys were two years older than me. They didn't seem to mind and I enjoyed hangin' with them, doing tunes like "My Generation," "Hungry," "Groovin" and "Lonely Too Long."
I met Martha Borders, the love of my life, the night we played Liz MacGuires 17th birthday party. She came late while we were playing and stood alone under one of the ceiling spots. I fell completely in love by the time the light hit my retna.
Playing "Here Comes The Sun" for the sun at Compo Beach Canons.
I was so jealous of Steve Wall's ability on sax that I decided to learn the instrument just to burry him with my chops in a battle of the brass blowhards. After that he played his flute most of the time.
In 1971 I worked briefly for Don Elliot in Weston as a recording-studio-keeper, making sure everything was clean and equipment in its place. Don produced lots of jazzy commercial soundtracks featuring mellophone horn and vocal harmonies. Those were the days when advertisers paid to have something orginal scored. He also created a version of the mellophone where the bell pointed forward, so he didn't have to play with his back to audience with the coventional design. The first day I reported for work he was paying off two (count 'um) sophisticated working girls as they freshened up before heading back to New York City.
Practicing alone witht eh stereo blasting in a high-rise apartment in Alexandria, Virginia with a limp wrist and missing some good musicians to jam with in 1974.
The United States Army stationed me in Frankfurt Germany from 1976-79, and even though I never thought about playing in Europe, within two weeks of arriving I was asked to join a country/rock band, The Western Image. It was lead by Roger Morris a southern man from Alabama who had an album of orginals that he signed to fans at our gigs. He told stories about playing quick-draw with his brother and how he filed the action down on the trigger. In the final contest is brother was so fast that he shot himself in the foot before the gun came out of the holster. Germans love everything about American western culture because there is no equivalent environment in Europe. Between German and American military clubs, we played every weekend for a total about 150 gigs a year. We never rehearsed and learned our new tunes listening to records and sometimes to someone strumming a flat-top-guitar traveling down the autoban. The refinement happened on stage. We played so much we couldn't help being tight. Western Image 2nd incarnation members: Roger Morris - guitar and lead vocals, Karen Morris - vocals, Glenn Sanders - flat-top and vocals, Billy Isreal - bass and vocals, special guest appearances by Red Saxon on steel guitar. The 3rd incarnation members: Glenn Sanders - flat-top and vocals, Mark Smollin - drums, Ginger Taylor - guitar, Billy Isreal - bass, John Richmond - vocals and sax.
It was quite freaky the day I sat eating lunch in the PX cafeteria when I saw Charlene "Chou Chou" Raum. She was exiting the line holding her tray while scanning for a place to sit. Her husband Mike, was working in Frankfurt as an attorney with an American law firm and she was attached to the military working as the assistant director of the DYA Dependent Youth Activities. I walked up to surprise her and then we chatted about all things that happened in the past seven years. Charlene and I were going at it together, I mean 'going-together,' back in junior high.
After the Western Image and being discharged (honorably) from the army, I joined Stagedust, playing more rock than country. With lots of Marshall Tucker Band, Alman Brothers and ZZ Top in the repetiore, let's call it southern-rock. We developed a series of sets with special themes like Retro 50s, complete with costumes. We were approached the guy who was checking out on a gig. He introduced himself as Johnny Horton Jr. and said he needed a band to back him up on the Euopean circuit . He sat in on the next set and we played "The Battle Of New Orleans" and a few other sentimental country classics his father made famous. The country-boy could sing! He had great accent and a show business costume. The whole idea sounded good to us, so we developed a show and played several Clubs with him. Our band-leader was pretty sharp in business matters and noticed a few facts that didn't add up. He wrote Mrs. Johnny Horton and asked if she had a son. When the reply finally came in the mail it was revealed that we were working with a total fraud, a good impersonator, but a con artist nonetheless. Too bad, I could have used that on my resumé.
New Years Eve 1997 saw me setting up my kit in the Airport Hilton in Orange County to play with Brenton Wood - you know - the guy who released the hit "Gimmie a Little Sign" in 1967. It's such a cute song, I don't know anyone that doesn't like it.
Well, the bass player, guitarist and I showed up with plenty of time to setup and sound-check and we felt each other out over a few jazz covers when the music director and keyboard player showed late, but things got dicey when the company supplying the sound system for the ballroom still hadn't arrived an hour before showtime. It was depressing. No PA and no time to sound check, just lovely. The guitarist and I went out to sit in my van and shoot the breeze since this was the first time we met. He offered me a joint so I took a few hits to calm my nerves. The stuff seemed pretty mild and I chuckled to myself about how wimpy the weed was. The PA van finally arrived about 20 minutes before the show was supposed to start. They were quick with the setup but we were checking as young hispanic couples in formal attire entered the ballroom. We left the stage and rushed to get dressed.
We came out and launched into the first tune. I was a bit anxious, but confortable with it. When I puncutated the last chord with bass drum and choked cymbal, Brenton turned and said, "Alright Mark!" I though I might get a permanent gig with him since it seemed to like my playing so much. The drums were all micced and EQed for a hip-hop mix and sounded like thunder. It seemed inappropriate for this soft pop artist, but the kids were diggin' it. The sixth tune required a sixteenth-note-single-stroke-roll-intro on the snare on beats 3 & 4 before the first measure, and the director qued me that this was the song. He counted it off and I came in on 'one' with everyone else. I had no idea why I didn't play the part? It's so neat to be embarrassed in public in front of so many people. Obviously, I was brain damaged - never to play with this band again - red-faced - and quite thoroughly STONED - just like I look in the next photo…
Very happy to be playing our reunion 2000 with my best friends.
What about Cliff Burr? Here's one very talented-self-taught-low-key composer, singer, producer and performer. He has the quietest and largest ego of anyone I know. I worked the clubs in Kalleephoneya with him for twenty years - until we had an issue. His singing is a tad sweeter but sounds just like Lennon. It's almost erie. The longest gig was four nights a week for about a year in this dingy country bar. Same crowd every night. Same drunks every night. We had a good time, and since we didn't have to teardown the equipment and set it up again, I wanted this gig to last .
Wonderful to be playing with my best friends again in 2005 – – Mark