By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon
The Road was always one of the most-loved local bands in Western New York. Not because they were ‘super-hip’. They never went full psychedelic, musically, preferring pre-hippie Rock (like The Zombies, Hollies and Buffalo Springfield) and Soul music covers for their live shows material. They never looked like hippies either, dressing more like Mods.
They were popular because they were everywhere – if you are of age, you probably saw them at a high school dance; later on, you saw them in the bars and clubs. They were accessible and relatable. And they were GOOD. Superb musicians, all. And always.
And if you were of age you grew up with their music in the background. Especially on the radio, especially “She’s Not There”. It did sell well (supposedly 200,000 singles, and the album sold well too) but it got played endlessly on local stations like WKBW. Later on it got immortalized on one of WKBW ‘KB Classics’ oldies albums which made their way into seemingly 50% of local households!
The Zombies released “She’s Not There” in the Fall of 1964 and it was a smash hit in the USA by December. The Madmen (including future Road-sters Ralph Parker and Jerry Hudson) evolved into 6 Pact (joined by Phil Hudson) who performed a cover version “She’s Not There”. It’s there where they first developed their familiar re-arrangement of the tune, with a more powerful vocal element compared To Colin Blunstone’s more atmospheric take.
When the local supergroup Mellow Brick Rode all came together – adding Nick DiStefano, Joe Hesse and Jim Hesse (from Just Us Five and Caesar & the Romans) – they continued to perform the song.
Their management brought WKBW DJ Joey Reynolds into the picture. He produced their first single, on United Artists Records. Althouh it fizzled on the charts they were able to get signed next to Kama Sutra Records.
Looking for a surefire hit they recorded their arrangement of “She’s Not There” under Reynold’s supervision, in New York City. The single came out as by ‘The Road’. Apparently Mellow Brick Rode fans had taken to calling them just ‘The Rode’ and by this time (mid-1968) their old name was passe – sounding too much like 1967!
Needing a B-side the band recorded a track credited to a J. Pinto. “A Bummer’ is a pure throwaway instrumental. It may sound like a hip title, or a drug reference, but it consists only of the band playing a moderate Rock/Soul groove while a voice mumbles ‘bummer’ a few times. Maybe it was a bummer to have to record the track?? Because I have a feeling it was not so much ‘wow, let’s cut this great song!” as a case of a shrewd business deal. J. Pinto turns out to be the real name of Joey Reynolds. Whether Mr. Reynolds has composing talent I don’t know, but it’s not evident on tbis track! But when a single sells, royalties are paid equally to the composers of each side. And for the band’s interests, it certainly didn’t have hurt to give WKBW’s DJs an extra reason to play it.
For this recording, Road organist Jim Hesse was absent. He apparently had medical problems which required the band to sometimes have others fill in for him. Here, Jake Jakubowski (of Barbara St. Clair & The Pin-Kooshins) filled in for him and played that classic Hammond B3/ Leslie speaker demonstration of a part.
By the time of their next album Cognition – following the bands’ reorganization (no pun intended) – Jakubowski became the full-time organist.
Curiously, on the same night “She’s Not There” was recorded (9/27/68) the fire that destroyed the Glen Casino / Inferno occurred. And Barbara St. Clair & The Pin-Kooshins’ equipment was lost in the fire, including a brand new organ that had just been delivered that day. I suspect that that was Jakubowski’s instrument, though I’ve also heard that Ron Davis was the Pin-Kooshins’ new organist at that time.
A newspaper blurb of the time mentions a benefit that was held immediately after at The Mug on Hertel Ave, and one of the bands listed is The Mellow Brick Rode, so we can establish that the name change to Road happened at the time the single was released.
We should not that it was around this time or shortly after that Larry Rizzuto became a member as drummer. Regular drummer Nick Distefano was so important as co-lead singer (one of three) that it was felt necessary to free him up to just sing at times. Rizzuto eventually became a producer and produced some of their later singles.
This seven-man band was unusual. I can’t think of another seven-piece band that didn’t have horn players!
The single was a hit, selling in impressive numbers single and topping the charts in some markets. It reached #6 in Los Angeles in February 1969. Further singles were released, and an album (only the original six are on the cover though). The band played relentlessly but mostly locally. They could always draw a crowd here, always get good pay for gigs. Unfortunately the decision to not put them on tour hurt their career outside of the immediate area. Ultimately that led to the break up of this first phase of the band.
Listen to “She’s Not There” and be taken right back to 1968…..
Note: the version I’ve linked is not the exact single version. It’s in Stereo, and includes the intro as was found on their album.