Caesar: When I hear of your far-flung adventures, it reminds me that until then I'd lived a pretty sheltered life because I had been chronically ill from birth with a genetic illness called Familial Mediterranean Fever. Fortunately, in the early 70s, when you and Angelo were at Pratt, a group of medical researchers found that it could be treated preventatively and, from one day to the next, I stopped being ill. That was a miracle for me. It took quite a long time to realize that I was free and could live differently. It was just around that time that I met you and saw my ticket to a world of adventure that I still hadn’t had.
Brian: Back in those days we didn’t really talk much about those things, but I knew you'd been ill and that you'd started taking medication.
Caesar: I would visit Angelo at Pratt and remember it as a place teeming with brilliant young artists. It was during that time that Angie kept telling me: “You gotta meet this guy Brian.” We finally met and got right to playing music together in a band.
Brian: Yeah, I’d been playing Irish sessions, and one guy I bumped into was John Caulfield. He played the fiddle, mandolin, was a good singer, good guy and drinking partner. We played quite a bit as a duo. I had moved around in Brooklyn and had moved to a brownstone in Fort Green with my sheep dog, Maggie. I used to take her to Fort Green Park, which the locals called Needle Park. John came around one Sunday morning and we made a great big brunch—eggs, beans, bacon and lashings of tea, and we both sort of said at the same time "why don’t we put together a folk-rock type of band?" So we said, "Ok, who are we going to get into this band?" Straight away we made a short list. I had met a drummer called Ted Jenner on campus. I already knew Larry Craven who played upright bass and I was going to ask him if he could play electric bass, too. Then there was you, of course… a 5-piece band.
Caesar: How did I make your short list?
Brian: Yeah, well we didn’t discuss anyone else. That was the band, and there was no one else on the list. We just said - that one, that one, that one! Fortunately, you all said yes and that’s how Banish Misfortune got started.
Caesar: We all moved in together. Do you remember our apartment? I recently went to an exhibition in LA about the Stones and they had a replica of the little flat that they lived in. It was not, how shall I say, decorated! Our pad was just a lot bigger. We’d just get up and start playing. We were tight with each other and we hung out all the time, including going busking in the Village to play some tunes and get some coin for dinner.
Brian: Yep. Angelo knew this guy, Nils, a very cool artist at Pratt who offered us a basement room for us to practice in. It was in a great big warehouse, practically free. It was pretty manky and I remember Angelo helped us paint it to get the spook out of it.
Caesar: I think we rehearsed there every night of the week.
Brian: Yes, and one night of the week we’d take a break to go and watch Monty Python on Channel Thirteen.
Caesar: We used to haul our heavy amps and equipment up and down the stairs to the basement all time. I had a pedal steel guitar at the time and we wove that into some of our sound.
Brian: Yeah, we‘d pack the equipment for gigs in Larry’s Volkswagon microbus. The starter never worked, so we had to push start it every time. One time, after we played at CBGBs, people came out to help us push the van and we took off in a cloud of blue smoke and cheers. Back then at CBGBs Blondie, Television, Patti Smith, Talking Heads were playing, and one of the main bands was The Ramones, your childhood buddy.
We used to sometimes go to see agents to get bookings and once got a gig in the Catskills. The moment we got there we felt that this was going to be a strange fit for our music. Never mind, we were pretty steadily befogged in those days. We set up, got on stage to do a sound check when you opened your case and discovered you had left your guitar at home. I think we were all quite happy to cancel the gig.
We never recorded with Banish Misfortune. I remember doing a live radio show on one New Year’s Eve—or was it a St. Patrick's night? Wonder if that’s still in someone’s archive? I also wanted to mention some more about Spider John Koerner. When I lived in Rochester, our neighbors across the street were the Koerners. What a coincidence! Pete Koerner told me his brother was playing at The Triangle Bar in Minneapolis, where Bob Dylan used to go, before he moved to New York. Meanwhile, Hilly Crystal, the owner of CBGBs, had thrown us some gigs but we weren’t paid very much and were offered a steady gig at Matt Talbot’s, a big Irish bar in Boston. The money was much better and they put us up in a rambling old house in Dorchester.
Caesar: We played 6 nights a week. It was kind of like when the Beatles played in Hamburg. We got very tight as a band.
Brian: Eventually we all wended our way back to the City. I remember I had to call you to pick me up in Yonkers, because that’s as far as I could get. I think we were also ready to re-think the electric thing, too… with amplifiers catching fire and everything. A new generation of Irish players and bands was taking over from The Clancy Brothers and The Dubliners. Now it was Sweeny’s Men, Planxty, The Bothy Band and we were really influenced by that.
Caesar: When we were at Matt Talbot’s we traded the stage with Johnny Beggan who was a singer and traditional mandolin player.
Brian: Yeah, there was also Declan Hunt. There were a lot of sessions then, too, and we did our best to raise the share price of Guinness.