THE RHYTHMLADS - AN INTERVIEW WITH TOM CARMELENGO






When Beatlemania and the British Invasion conquered America in the mid 60s most teenagers wanted to form a rock 'n' roll band and be part of something their parents (for the most part) wouldn't understand. It was this influence and rebellion that shaped so many combos and sounds during that brief period in history. I'm talking 1965 to 1968.


Thousands of bands got to cut a record, gig and get the girls. Some bands unfortunately only ever got to play gigs and get the girls. One such band was called The Rhythmlads.


WHY/WHEN DID YOU DECIDE TO FORM A ROCK'N'ROLL BAND?

Music was always a part of our lives; the older teens would sing doowop any place they could get a good echo going. Some had their own groups. But it was the British Invasion that knocked our socks off. The Beatles, Stones, Herman's Hermits, Freddie and the Dreamers, Gerry & The Pacemakers, just about anything from England became a hit. Here in the States, there was The Ventures, Johnny Rivers, Beach Boys, Rascals...on and on! This wasn't street Corner
music anymore...we flooded the music stores for instruments.







WHAT WAS THE LOCAL SCENE LIKE IN STATEN ISLAND, NEW YORK?


I can speak of my immediate area, West Brighton, Staten Island. It seemed when you walked down the street, maybe just to go to the store, you'd hear guys practicing their instruments, and later in the evening, the bands would get together at someone's house and jam. I used to stand outside, just hear each session I passed, I guess like window shopping, but listening. 

Bands would also visit other (rival) band's sessions. Some would try to steal players, or even borrow them for upcoming gigs. Mostly dances. A lot came and went, changed names, and some even got to record. "The Cat's Meow" practiced around the corner from me, they had a hit in Europe, "LaLaLu" in 1966. Later, they became "The Beeds", and played on Long Island, NY. They cut a few records. "Run To Her" is still pretty popular by the number of sites showing it. 

David Johansen (Buster Poindexter) is also from West Brighton. His first band was "The Vagabond Missionaries". But for the few who made something of those old garage band days, there are many more talented folks who for whatever reason, didn't continue, or persue to bring it to a higher level.


DID THE BAND ENTER ANY 'BATTLE OF THE BANDS' CONTESTS?

As the Rythmlads, the closest we came to that experience was a church bazaar that featured different bands, each doing 30-45 minute sets, with a different line-up each night. This drew quite a bit of young folks to the event. There were no winners, as in a prize; but you know who became most popular by the crowd reaction. when I moved on to the Royal Tones, we did enter Battle of The Bands. The triple pickup/Bigbsy Hofner guitar I borrowed got more attention than our performance!


APPROX HOW MANY GIGS DID THE BAND PLAY? DID THE BAND EARN ANY MONEY FOR THESE?

We did maybe 5 or 6 gigs, and took no money. We were in the 'testing the grounds-spread our name around' mode. Although the money could have gotten me the Rickenbacker that I had to wait another year for!





NAME THE VENUES/CLUBS/PARTIES ETC?

Our gigs were small-time. Local Dances and church fair. We did do a gig at St. Michaels Home for
Girls, which turned into a battle of the bands, when "The Mustangs" showed up in the middle of it all. These guys had Fenders and nice equipment, we still had our cheap Japanese guitars and plugged into my Silvertone Twin-Twelve, and our borrowed Gemini II. but the girls became attached to us and literally rejected "The rich guys" as one girl put it. LOL I guess we won in more ways than one!



NAME SOME BANDS YOU PLAYED WITH/SUPPORTED


I sat in with a lot of the locals, but really only played with The Royal Tones, Rythmlads and Dutrells. I supported "The Royal Gents" and "The Vagabond Missionaries". The Royal Gents were probably the most soulful, talented and versatile groups around at the time. But all were young and it came to an end.





DID THE BAND WRITE ANY ORIGINAL MATERIAL?


We had one song "The guy Next Door". But no matter how we did it, it was very doowoppy. The song with some really good help, would probably do fairly well today. Wish I could remember more than the chorus!


DID YOU ALL EVER DISCUSS GETTING THE MONEY TOGETHER TO CUT A RECORD?


This we constantly discussed. A studio demo back then was about $35 an hour to cut. Two of us worked part time for about $42 a week. It didn't add up. Plus, we'd have to drag all of our stuff to Manhattan. By the time we were ready, we were begining to fall apart. We did have a tape, but only the record Gods knows where it may be.





HOW MUCH OF A LASTING IMPRESSION DID THOSE 60S YEARS LEAVE ON YOU?


I'm still in touch with most of my friends from then. Even my first love, who was the lead guitarist sister! The music and innocence of those days can never be repeated, they were spontaneous. We did what we did out of the love for it. It was the greatest era for music.

I hear so many younger people...I mean younger, listening to, and singing old stuff. I recently sany "You Keep Me Hanging On" by Vanilla Fudge, and a young girl (20's) came up and asked how I knew the song, because she just downloaded it to her iPod! I said, Honey, that song is 41 years old! She was shocked. The 60's are the most special part of my life.





DID YOU JOIN ANY OTHER GROUPS AFTER THE BAND SPLIT?


I immediately got taken in by The Royal Tones. A short lived experience, but a fun one. I played
rythym guitar...well, still do...never was a lead guy. They knew me and I fit right in. Different music, as they had a sax player, who I just came across, and he still plays. 


After that, I played backup for the Dutrells, a Motown type vocal group. By then the world had exploded and my guitar got replaced with a uniform and rifle. When I came back home, the world, and the music had changed. Now, later in life, I hooked up with some players on the beach at Sandy Hook, NJ, doing 60's stuff..."unplugged". 

I brought a hollowbody 12 string every weekend. Joe, the unofficial leader, had a band as a kid and opened for the Rascals at Palisades Park, NJ with DJ "Cousin Brucie". I playfully nicknamed our little group, "Joey Sand & The Hooker Boys. They still play, I moved on...plus the damp air warped my guitar! LOL! Am I a better player? Maybe a little.


ARE YOU INVOLVED IN ANY MUSICAL VENTURES NOW?


I have reunited with two very old-time friends. Nokie, who taught me guitar at 14, and who could play anything he heard on the radio in minutes, and Pete, the Lead Guitarist for "The Cat's Meow" and "The Beeds". Pete owns Long Pond Studios in Pennsylvannia.

I am now recording a song I wrote, with Pete and Nokie. What started as a fun 40 year reunion of friends, jamming, knocking down a few drinks in the studio, has turned to a serious, but very-fun adventure towards my life-long dream of cutting a record. And who better to do it with, than the guys who were there when it all began!












Thanks to Tom for taking time out to share his thoughts and words as well as providing the timeless pictures.


More information about The Rhythmlads can be found here:

http://www.myfirstband.com/FirstBandRythmlads.html 

Originally posted on 'Flower Bomb Songs' November 2008

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