Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Contells (Rockside)

The Contells were from Bradford, Pennsylvania which is located about 80 miles south of Buffalo, New York. From 1963-1967 the group developed a substantial fan following performing at various events in Western Pennsylvania, Northeast Ohio and Western New York State. Band members consisted of Bill Wilson (Lead Guitar), Alex Nuzzo (Drummer), Gary Hrin (Rhythm Guitar), George Salvucci (Sax) and Tony Curcio (Bass). The Contells released one record in 1965 on the small Rockside record label. The song "Doesn't Matter At All" was included on the garage compilation series Wyld Sydes volume two. The flip side "I'll Be Right There" has a catchy beat with slight Mersey sounding vocals. I was pleased when I was able to make contact and had the privilege to talk to band members Gary Hrin and George Salvucci. Some of their thoughts and memories of their time with the Contells I gratefully present to you.
         Bill Wilson (Lead Guitar)              Alex Nuzzo (Drummer)             Gary Hrin (Rhythm Guitar)
        George Salvucci (Sax)                          Tony Curcio (Bass)

Gary Hrin   We were all friends. Everyone in the group attended Bradford High School with the exception of Bill Wilson who went to Central Christian High School. I remember back in 1963 there was construction taking place at the high school so students were let out of school around noon every day. We would hang out down town visiting the record store, soda shop and various other stores. We all enjoyed playing music and being in a band sounded like it would be fun. Occasionally we would get together and play around some. I was mesmerized when I watched the Beatles on TV in 1964. They had such a different look and sound than anybody else. The Armory was close to the high school. We knew Jack Confer who was the Sergeant in Charge there. In one of the rooms at the Armory there were some musical instruments. Sometimes Jack would let us come in and play with them. We started getting serious about the band and its potential. We continued to practice trying to learn some new songs. Jack arranged for us to perform at a dance they were having in the Armory with the possibility of making a little money. It went well and the place was packed. Jack was happy and he started getting us more events to play. We always had good size crowds and it seemed like people enjoyed our shows. Jack would later become the manager of the band. Tony and I were in the same mechanical drawing class in school and we found ourselves always discussing music and other band related things. After school we would practice sometimes three or four hours striving to get better. The music store in town extended us a line of credit to purchase some new musical instruments. Great!! We got some nice equipment. I got a Gibson Stratocaster guitar. The sounds that we were getting from our new equipment was amazing. The local Jewelry store owner’s wife made us matching dress suits that we could wear at our shows. We even wore Beatle boots for a short time. Jack purchased a van so we could haul our equipment around to various events.
George Salvucci   During the school year we would play mostly weekend dances at the Bradford Armory, YWCA Hall, and the Knights of Columbus Auditorium. We also played for school events when asked. The Armory became our home base. When we were not performing shows we were able to practice there most of the time when drills were not in session. We could usually leave our equipment set up there as well. During the summer we would travel. The group played all over Pennsylvania, such as in St. Mary's, Dubois, Emporium, Erie, Harrisburg, Allentown and our hometown of Bradford. We also performed around Cleveland and Astabula, Ohio as well as in Olean, Salamanca, Ellicotville and Buffalo, New York. We developed a loyalty of fans from areas all around that saw us play. We would perform in the "Battle of the Bands" that was put on probably by the Rotary or Community Club. The winning prize I believe was $100 to the winner and coupons to the local milkshake and burger shop.  Bands from Buffalo, Cleveland and other areas would play. The crowd would applaud as a vote. It was great when you were considered a winner in your hometown!!  I remember The Tierra's (also a Bradford group) and The Gatesmen (from Buffalo) were a couple of bands in the competition and there were a lot more that I can't remember. There were always funny moments. One time we were playing a month long gig in the St. Mary's/Lock Haven/Dubois area when our van broke down. Our other vehicle was with our manager Jack Confer and he had disappeared.  We didn't know where he was for about three weeks. We relied on local fans to truck our equipment around to our different events. We were short of money because Jack had our checks. When we did our shows we would announce that it was one of the band members birthdays. We probably had 30 birthday cakes given to us by fans. We ate lots of birthday cake. We also stayed at newly made friend’s cottages that were in the beautiful parks and forests of western Pennsylvania. That made for picnics and jam sessions with fans and friends. We had no problems surviving. There was always plenty of food, good friends, and people that helped us get around to our next job. We found out later that Jack had been called away on business. It was a great time to be in a band in those days. We had loads of fun.  
Gary Hrin  The band was always doing things to entertain the crowds. One time we were playing at the Quaker Dance Pavilion which was located in Allegheny State Park, New York. Little over an hour into the show we came up with the idea that three of us would play a song upside down. We had some people lift us up to the rafters and we played the song hanging from our knees. I remember the sweat was flowing down my body. I look down and I saw several people staring wide eyed at me while I played my guitar. The crowd was dancing and thoroughly enjoying themselves. The wooden floor of the pavilion was shaking and bouncing. We heard later that two of the floor beams of the pavilion were cracked that night!

                                                                            The Record
                                                                 The Contells- Doesn't Matter At All

                                                                   The Contells- I'll Be Right There

Gary Hrin   We were practicing at the Armory when our manager Jack Confer came over to talk to us. He was with an elderly man who owned a recording studio in the small town of Elgin, Pennsylvania which is near Erie. Jack told us that the band was going to make a record and that we needed to write two songs for that 45. We had about a month do this. I sat down and came up with the lyrics for the song “Doesn’t Matter At All”. The song is basically about a boy who loves his girlfriend, but she was unfaithful and has a baby by another guy. Ashamed, the girl leaves town but later comes back to find the boy who loved her. The boy still loves her deeply and he takes her back saying, “Doesn’t matter at all”. Anyway, that's what I was thinking when I wrote it. “I’ll be right there” was the other song we came up with very quickly. We all worked as hard as we could to get ready for the recording of the two songs. We practiced for many hours on the rhythm, tempo and harmonies.
George Salvucci   Before going to record the 45 we performed the newly created songs to various crowds and we were pleased with the reaction that we received. When we arrived at the studio most of the details were handled by Jack and the studio owner. We played our songs a few times while adjustments were made to the recording equipment. There were two other people in the booth with Jack Confer. They would send Jack out with instructions of loudness levels/settings and mic adjustments, etc. Alex Nuzzo was the lead singer, with Tony in the 2nd seat. All of us that were not singing lead were singing harmony on the chorus parts. The only exception is when I played my sax on specific parts in the chorus. When we finally got through the dry runs we were told "This is for the final take"!! We played the songs the best we could and that was it! I believe it took about 4 hours or so to get everything in order and recorded.
Gary Hrin  I remember the studio used a reel to reel tape machine when recording our music. After about one or two months we received a wax record about the size of standard 33 1/2 LP album. Both the songs were on one side.  The back side was smooth. When we played it to see how it sounded, we notice that the tempo for “Doesn’t matter at all” was a little slower than how we originally recorded it. The song was supposed to be faster, something you could dance to. Even though we were not completely satisfied with it, we decided to just leave it as it was. The 45’s were pressed and it wasn’t too long afterwards we started receiving boxes of records. It's hard to describe what a great feeling it was when I first heard our record on the radio. That was special.
George Salvucci  We were all excited about the 45. The record was distributed to local area record stores and we sold them at our shows as well. The record was played on the local radio station WESB/1490am in Bradford, as well as radio stations in St. Mary's, Warren, Pennsylvania, Olean, New York and maybe others. I am not sure if it charted but it was popular in Bradford. It was nice to walk around town and have people come up to you and say that they really liked our music. Joe DiProspero joined the Contells not too long after the record was made. Joey was an accomplished accordion player, keyboard man and was very talented. When we made the record we had hopes that it would be picked up by the big boys and go national. Unfortunately, that did not happen, but we sure had fun with the experience.
Gary Hrin  The Contells disbanded  in 1967. The Vietnam War was escalating causing many young people's lives to be effected. That was true for the guys in the band. I think all of us were either drafted or enlisted. I have many good memories playing music with all the guys in the Contells. I will always cherish those. We had great times and even today we are all friends.

Newspaper article from the Mount Jewett News    March 11, 1965
Photograph and Newspaper article of the Contells was courtesy of George Salvucci. Thanks George and Gary for sharing some wonderful stories about the band.