Early Bands

The Brigands

Johnny & Caesar

Caesar:  I met a group of guys in high school and we fell in together and formed a band called The Brigands. One of the guys, John Hartmann taught me my first chords and licks to Beatles songs. Johnny and I are still close friends. The Brigands would rehearse in his apartment. One day, Johnny told us, a guy knocked on his door to tell him he liked the sound he was hearing and he offered to write the band a couple of songs. It turned out he was Artie Resnick, the guy who wrote the lyrics for Under the Boardwalk. That certainly stoked our rock ‘n roll fantasies. He wrote us two songs and, to our amazement, we recorded them at a big-time studio in New York with Epic. You could play either song right now and probably peg that they were written in 1966. I remember we got a call from a radio station in Erie, PA telling us our tune was ‘pick hit of the week.’ And that’s the story of our rise and fall. One footnote, however: 30 years later, while trolling the web, Johnny discovered that one of our songs, Her Big Man, was included in a Rhino Records Nuggets collection, a major anthology of rock hits. There we were, a little garage band from Queens, along with Rock’s giants. Our blurb said something like, “We don’t know who these guys are or whatever happened to them but we think they’re from Queens." Damn right!


Brian:  Around that time… while you guys had a British Invasion. Well, we had a Folk Invasion from America into Britain—people like Joan Baez and Pete Seeger. I was getting into acoustic music, thanks to my brother, and I got heavily into Bob Dylan. We had a chemistry laboratory in our school, and we started a record club there. We called it 'The Record Club'… get it? Every Friday lunchtime we took it in turns to introduce and play music on a record player. I chose Bob Dylan and talked about him for an hour, playing a selection of his early tracks. For the Christmas party, I wanted to sing 'It’s Alright Ma' by Dylan, but I couldn’t remember all the lyrics. It’s a long song. So I wrote them all out by hand and taped them all together, setting them up on about 5 or 6 music stands in a row and spreading out all the lyrics. I sat on a chair that had wheels, playing the first verse, first chorus; went through the first page, shifted the chair over and played the second one and so on.


Caesar:  That’s a crackup… sounds just like Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues.


Brian:  I started going down to the clubs in London. On Greek Street, in Soho, there was a basement club called Les Cousins, with a Greek restaurant upstairs. Everyone used to go in for the regular session that started at 8:30 at night and went through till closing time. They had no alcohol license, but you could buy Pepsi. Then at closing time everyone would rush out to the pubs, knock back a few pints, and maybe put a flask in their pocket, head back to the club and then there’d be the all-night session till dawn. One more bit about that era: My brother’s friend, Jon Beer, was taking guitar lessons from an American guy who was in town. His name was Spider John Koerner. I meet up with him later.


Caesar:  I remember that he was billed at a club in Cambridge, Mass. when we were playing there—later on in our story—with Banish Misfortune.


Brian:  That’s right, he had second billing to us and I said to him, “No way you’re going to support us; we’re going to support you.” He was one of my heroes.He previously played a concert at our art school with his band Koerner, Ray and Glover. That was the first time I had a conversation with him. Back to the 60s… My brother, Mike, and I would go on cycling trips. We would cycle up and stay with my aunt in Warwickshire and then continue up to Holyhead, get the ferry to Dun Laoghaire, stay in Dublin, ride across the Bog of Allen and all around the coast, down through Cork and gradually back up to Dublin and ferry and cycle back home. That was about 5,000 miles round trip. En route, we would go to loads of sessions and hear a lot of live music. In the youth hostels we stayed in there’d be a guitar or two lying around that we’d play and might do some Everly Brothers harmonies, which went down really well.  


Caesar:  Did you run into good session players back then?


Brian:  Yeah, there were loads of older session players. There were fewer younger people getting into it back then. I didn’t really get to know the Irish players until I moved to New York. That's because in Ireland we were always moving on.


Caesar:  Following high school days, I tuned in and dropped out. For a while, I lived in Canton, NY and had a music duo with my buddy, Johnny, who was writing songs. We held on to our hippie dream through a hard and cold winter until we sidled back to the City to reset our lives. I still have my Martin D-28 from those days.


Brian:  As you were moving about, I was, too. An opportunity came up to move to America. I hadn’t really wanted to go over that much because I had got into the club scene in London and had started playing some guest spots and was getting into the scene. The way I got my head around it was I'd read how Bob Dylan was influenced by Woody Guthrie—how he jumped freight trains and so on, and I got into the whole romance of it. I did a year in high school in Rochester. I was lucky enough to meet a guy, Chris Broadwell, and his brother had a band called Jeremiah Peabody. When they played, I just listened, surrounded by this amazing acoustic string band playing live. I thought, ‘yeah, that’s the stuff.’ I got into American string band music—for example, the New Lost City Ramblers, Country Cooking. That's when I started art school at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. I moved into a high rise on the campus and that was where your bro, Angelo, was living. We started jamming on a regular basis. There was another guy who used to play for a glam rock band called The New York Dolls. It was funny to me because his everyday look was the same as his stage look. It was hilarious, the high heeled silver boots and the whole regalia. I also met other musicians and we started a string band called The Roadside Ramblers. We brought in a double bass player, Larry Craven, who was later to be part of Banish Misfortune, the first band with you. Larry worked in the mailroom at Pratt. We played loads of gigs. I also fell in with a band called Breakfast Special. They were the backing band for David Bromberg. Remarkable connections started to happen among all these people and bands.