Interview with Albee Tellone
by Torsten Mörke, Febuary 2005
My name is Albee Tellone and I play traditional American music. Some people call it "Old Time Music" some call it "Folk Music". Today I live in Mountain View, Arkansas, where I perform at the Ozark Folk Center State Park. I play mandolin and guitar in various bands and do some recording session work. Before moving to Arkansas I spent 16 years living and playing music in Key West, Florida from 1978 to 1994. I was born in Newark, NJ in January of 1951 about 15 months after Bruce was born. I played saxophone and bass guitar in the high school band and learned guitar and later mandolin from friends. After I graduated from high school I moved to the Jersey shore area. I worked at the Danelectro guitar factory in Neptune City, NJ in 1969 and moved to Asbury Park in 1970. I had become friends with co-workers Garry Tallent and John Lyon (Southside Johnny) when I worked at Danelectro and found out about the Upstage Club from them. I realized that for someone my age (18) the best place to hang out and play was the Upstage. I rented an apartment in Asbury Park in 1970 with Johnny and Steve Van Zandt.
And that was when you met Bruce?
No,I first met Bruce casually when I was visiting a friend at Ocean County College (residents of NJ will know where it is) in Tom's River. Bruce was enrolled as a student there. We were introduced in the cafeteria because my friend, Alan Brandle, was a guitar player also. He had seen Bruce play (with Child / Steel Mill) and told me what an excellent guitarist he was. This was in the fall of 1969 I think. We talked about guitars and music a little and then they went off to class and I left. I didn't see Bruce again until I started going to the Upstage Club in Asbury Park. Sometime in the summer of 1970, I got to know him better when Steve moved into our apartment in Asbury Park with me and Johnny. Steve was playing bass guitar with Steel Mill at the time and he used to sit in with me a lot at in the Green Mermaid cafe at the Upstage Club. Stevie played electric lead guitar with Johnny on bass. Johnny and I had become friends at the Danelectro factory the year before (in fact we were laid off the same day when they were closing down the plant). In 1970 and 1971 I was playing a lot of the time in the Green Mermaid cafe at the Upstage Club - doing a sort of Bob Dylan folk rock style music and trying to write original songs too. Sometimes we would go to Tinker's first surfboard factory to listen to Steel Mill rehearse. The surfboard factory was located a few miles west of Asbury Park in Wanamassa (Ocean Township), NJ . Neither Steve nor John had a car but I did, so I drove Steve to practice sometimes. Bruce hung out at the Upstage all the time whenever he didn't have a gig. Tinker had an acoustic guitar and played with me as a duo sometimes. He wrote protest songs and such. His favorite was one he wrote about the infamous “Clearwater” concert where the police attacked the crowd and the band. Bruce was the king of the jam sessions upstairs in the dance hall. I remember seeing him jam with just about everyone from the Jersey shore music scene. Mostly he liked to jam with Garry Tallent or John Luraschi on bass and Steve on guitar also. If Vini wasn't around, a lot of times Bobby Williams played drums. Sometimes Johnny played harmonica and John Waasdorp played organ with them. Soon we discovered keyboard wizard David Sancious. He was about 15 years old and not even old enough to be in the club after midnight but luckily Eddie Luraschi (John's older brother) worked for Tom Potter as a bouncer (along with Big Danny Gallagher) at the front door. Eddie was David's neighbor and convinced Tom Potter to let him stay and play. Bass player Jerry Carboy, who later played in Tone (with Sancious), was in a band with Ricky DeSarno (guitar) at the time. Also hanging around and jamming were players like John Waasdorp (guitar), Bill Chinnock(guitar), Kevin Kavanaugh (keyboards)... I wish I could remember all the great musicians I saw there ! DeSarno and Luraschi are now (as of 2004) playing in SteelMill Retro with original drummer Vini Lopez. During the final year of operation, Kevin Connair and some of his friends took over the operation of the Green Mermaid Coffeehouse on the lower level.
How did you get into the Sonic Boom ?
That is not an easy question to answer. I guess just being around when the shit hit the fan, you know what I mean? Our apartment was an extension of the Upstage Club in the fact that during the weeknights when we weren't playing, Steve would organize a Monopoly game and then later it evolved into Poker games in our living room. So a lot of our Upstage friends knew where the action was during the week. That is the reason we had a Monopoly game being played onstage by Danny Gallagher and friends. Danny also sang in the Zoom chorus. The situation was like this: Tinker (Bruce's manager) got a call from the manager of the Sunshine In. They had been booking some of the better rock bands in the USA at the time and needed an opening act for the Allman Brothers and he wanted Bruce's new band. That was a dream come true for Steve. He loved Duane Allman's guitar style. Bruce, Steve and Vini had played there before with Steel Mill but they were in the midst of rehearsing his new 10 piece version of the BSB and they were not ready. So he came to my apartment and told me, Steve, Southside Johnny and John Waasdorp the plan for what became the Zoom band. He needed a band and we needed the money ! It may have been Tinker's idea to just hire all the Upstage regulars. At first Tinker called the band "Friendly Enemies" for a kind of a joke name. After the posters were printed Bruce and Tinker came up with Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom. The name was not on the poster because it was too late. So, "Friendly Enemies" was really Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom. I think Tinker also came up with that name.
By the way: Did Tinker really record all the gigs played?
Tinker always had a reel to reel tape machine hooked up to the sound board. I don't know if he saved all of the recordings. He had been known to record over some of them to save money back then. He never did a show without recording it. His dream was to have his own recording studio and eventually he built one from the ground up. He hired me and some of the guys in the Sunny Jim band to build it. He did not record the Student Prince gigs.
Ok, let's go on with the Dr.Zoom story...
Bruce's plan was to use the core of the BSB without the female singers or the horn section and add as many friends as possible to give a concert similar to Mad Dogs and Englishmen, with a taste of what it was like when we jammed at the Upstage Club. We already had a "mad dog" of our own - Vini Lopez ! We also got as many singers as we could for the Zoom chorus or as Bruce calls them on the recording, "the Sonic People" - a take off from Leon Russell's Shelter People. Southside Johnny got his name from that band. Before that he was just John Lyon. And a lot of people don't realize that Steve went from playing bass (in Steel Mill) to lead guitar in that band. What you have here is the roots of both the E Street Band and the Asbury Jukes. When I listen to that old recording, I hear a lot of tunes that were played at the Upstage jams. Stevie was really into the Allman Brothers so he wanted to have what they had: 2 drummers and 2 lead guitars. We also had 2 keyboardists and 2 saxophonists. Bruce asked me to play sax along with Bobby Feigenbaum. I had jammed a little at the Upstage with Tom Potter's sax that he had in his office. We once did a 50s R&R revival show there, so he knew I played sax a little. Bobby could solo very well but I just played the accompaniment parts. He taught me what to play that would sound right. Bruce didn't know anything about horns so he left that part up to Bobby. The cool thing about it was that we lived only 3 blocks from the Sunshine In. We walked to the gig !
Now how does it come to break up with Dr.Zoom?
From the beginning, Dr.Zoom and the Sonic Boom was not meant to be a permanent band. Just to fill in for the BSB and have fun doing it. The 10 piece BSB eventually got polished and started performing around the area in the summer of 1971.
Do you still have contacts with some of the old gang from Asbury Park ?
Yes, but not as much as I'd like to. I now live over 1200 miles (approx. 2000km) away from there. I talk to Vini Lopez sometimes and Danny Gallagher. Over the last 30 years I have visited New Jersey a few times while I was on the road playing music. I got to see Garry Tallent a few times when I played at the Tennessee Renaissance Faire outside of Nashvile where he lives. I talked to Southside at a show in Nashville in 1997 and that was the last time I saw him. I ran into one of the old Upstage gang, Alan Subarsky, in Key West a few years ago. He plays under the name "Alfonse" in the clubs around the island.
What made you leave New Jersey ?
I left New Jersey in 1976 ( at the age of 25) to seek out the roots of American music and learn more about playing it correctly. At first I went to Austin,Texas for about 2 years and then on to Key West, Florida in the winter of 1978. I was playing more and more Bluegrass and Country music in my sets but I didn't know the roots. During the summers I used to hitch-hike with my mandolin around North Carolina and Virginia going to Bluegrass festivals and Old Time Fiddlers conventions. That's where I learned about the real roots of American music. In the winters I would stay in Key West and play in bands in the bars on the waterfront where they wanted to hear Bluegrass and Country music. I met my wife in Key West in 1979. She played guitar and standup bass in some of the bands I was in. We traveled a lot playing as a duo until we had our first son, Trevor in 1986. We settled down for a while, had our second son, Torin in 1989. I had a day job for 7 years while my kids were little.
When did you leave Key West ?
I moved to Arkansas to play traditional music in 1994 at the invitation of my friend Joe Jewell. Joe plays Irish,Scottish and Renaissance music on the hammered dulcimer. While we lived in Arkansas we also traveled with a band doing Renaissance Faires all over the USA. I mostly played back up guitar(acoustic) and she played bass with Joe Jewell and Featherstone. We moved back to Key West in 2000 and we divorced the next year. I have been going back to Key West in the winters to be with my sons and working in Arkansas about 7 months a year. I am a contract musician at the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View, Arkansas and play with various bands as a sideman.
Are you interested in writing more for this website?
Yes, I am. Very much so. I am a bit of an amateur historian myself. When I lived in Key West I worked as a tour guide and became very interested in history. Being a person who is also interested in accuracy, I want to tell what I know to help fill in the blank spots in the history of the old Asbury scene. I have seen some recordings on the internet and some websites that are either inaccurate or incomplete. A lot of these people are just guessing about what was going on at the time. When a webmaster asks the question, "if anyone has found incorrect information on this site, please contact me," I take it personally when it involves something that was a big part of my life at one time. This all came to me by coincidence from an old Asbury Park friend we called "The Attorney"- George Francis. After Tinker lost interest, he was manager for BSB and Sundance Blues Band. He sent me a link for your site and I saw a lot of incorrect information. When I saw the invitation to correct some errors, I jumped right on it. Brucebase in the UK has asked for my help also. I just did it because it needed doing. It never occurred to me that the memories I have were important to you. Now I am remembering things I had long forgotten that were deep in my memory. The human brain is an amazing thing. Some of the memories are funny and some sad. I guess that's life. I am working on some other related stories and hope to have them done in the near future.
Thanks for the interview Albee !
You are very welcome. Grüße.
Interview by Torsten Mörke, www.castiles.net
This site is a part of Castiles.net (The history of Bruce Springsteen)
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