Dave Meade
Hopedale and Milford Bands
of the Sixties and Seventies
By Dave Meade

The Beatles played the Ed Sullivan show in February 1964. This event led to Ken Simmons and me to taking guitar lessons. For four or five months we took lessons from Peachy Cassasanta at Peachy’s House of Music on Hopedale Street, just a little beyond the Route 16 intersection. I quit when I decided that I didn’t want to play the way he was teaching me. Now I can see that his way made sense, but I didn’t see it at the time.

Kenny was quite a truant and I don’t think anyone cared if he went to school or not. He was pretty much out of school by the age of fifteen. He’d stay home and practice guitar all day. Then he’d show me the stuff he’d learned.

In late 1964 The Wildcats, Hopedale’s first Beatle’s-era rock ‘n’ roll band (Steve Rose, Jack Moran, Gary D’Alessandro and Henry Gillam) came on the scene when they played Twist and Shout on Community Auditions. They went on to the finals, only to lose to a big marching band. Their performance along with the British Invasion inspired Ken Simmons, John Alden and me to start our first band.

Richie Alves, Bob Grant and DJ Diomedes were forming a band with the two Rose brothers, Steve and Bob in early summer, 1965. Richie was dating my sister at the time. It was fun for Kenny and me to hear him talk about playing in a band. There was some rift between the Rose brothers and the rest of the band. At that point Richie asked Kenny and me if we wanted to join the band.  With great enthusiasm we said, “Yes!” and “The Witness” was born. I remember Steve remarking to me in school one day that he would be upset if he lost DJ as his drummer.  DJ was a fun drummer to watch. Very showy.  I could see his point, but I kept it to myself that it had already happened.  We practiced three times a week for about six weeks to learn enough songs to play our first gig at a CYC dance at the Crystal Room on Sumner Street in Milford on Labor Day weekend. Ronny Pagnini of the Music Nook was the DJ that night. He’d play records between the band’s sets.

Though The Witness was playing about once a month, we still continued to practice with John Alden, looking for other players and a singer. Tony Niro began playing keyboard with us in the fall of 1965, and this gave us another place to practice. John’s father, Dr. Alden, a musical enthusiast of the classical variety, was glad to see us move to Tony’s house for our practices. On the other hand, Tonys mom was without a doubt our greatest fan. I think she liked the idea of knowing where we were.

At one of the practices in John’s poolroom (on the third floor of his Adin Street home) Joe Perry had come along to listen to us. This was shortly after he had picked up an acoustic guitar. We showed him the rhythm parts to Pipeline and Walk, Don’t Run. We tried to electrify his guitar by inserting a reel to reel tape recorder’s microphone into the hole of his guitar. We were not very successful. During one of the breaks, as I recall, he took his guitar, I took mine, we sat down, and I showed him the chords from Louis, Louis, by The Kingsmen.. (They used to come to Lakview in Mendon every spring.) To my knowledge, these were Joe’s first chords on the guitar.

At least every other Saturday during the winter of 1965-66 we practiced in Tony’s cellar. We picked relatively simple songs to play, and we played them over and over and over again, to the point where we had them absolutely perfect. We were playing tunes like Boys by the Beatles and You Don’t Try Too Hard by the Dave Clarke Five,

As spring approached, we found out that Dr. Alden would be away during the last week of school. John’s first thought was, “Party!!!” So on the last day of school in our sophomore year, our unnamed band played its first gig in the Alden barn entertaining what seemed like the entire school. Leading up to that day we practiced quite regularly. Joe really wanted to play guitar, but we didn’t have an electric guitar for him and he was just learning, so we convinced him to be our front man. He was a hit! He would dance around in front of the band and he could sing the tunes as well as anybody. I remember one girl walked up to him after one of the songs and said, “You’ve got talent!”

The Wildcats played that night too. Henry Gillam had been replaced by a bass player from Milford named Steve (Gizmo) Comolli.

At the end of that summer we had our only paid gig. Chick Sayles was a teacher at Hopedale High at that time, and he was also head of a summer school in Medway. He hired us to play for the last day of school there. Joe was a no-show that day, so I had to do some of the singing. I was kind of a squeaky dude and probably pretty much spoke the words. I wasn’t really a singer and I was kind of embarrassed doing that in front of Chick.

As it turns out, Joe didn’t graduate with us. The last day of school was not just his first gig but it was his last day at Hopedale High School.  His marks were not where his parents wanted them to be, so they were sending him to a private school in Vermont, away from distractions, away from Dave Meade, Ken Simmons and rock ‘n’ roll!

Joe repeated his sophomore year at Vermont Academy, but it didn’t get him away from rock ‘n’ roll. It turned out that he met and formed a band with other members of the school. Even his roommate was a guitar player. Well two out of three ain’t bad.

All the next school year Mrs. Perry (she was the girls Physical Education teacher at Hopedale High) kept us up-to-date on his new band.  

Joe and I kept in touch by writing to each other. In one of our communications he asked me to send him the lyrics to tunes. I was not much of a singer but I knew lots of lyrics.

Allow me to digress. In the spring of 1966, The Witness played a battle of the bands in Northbridge. I had heard about it just the day before. On the spur of the moment, we packed up all our stuff and showed up, just hoping that they would let us play. The organizers thought about it for all of five minutes, and said, “Okay, but you’ll have to go on last.” Fine with us. We figured that was the best place to be.

The Monday prior to the battle of the bands had been the release date for Wild Thing by the Troggs. We learned that tune on Tuesday at a rehearsal and we played it as our first of four songs that Saturday night.

Little did we know that a friend of ours, (Mike Manning, a classmate of mine) who was quite friendly with a group of girls from Northbridge High, had spread the word, “Hey, you gotta hear these guys!” By the reception we got, evidently they had listened to him, because when we hit the first note in Wild Thing, the place went wild.  We held that first note longer than we were supposed to, as our lead singer, Richie, taunted the audience a little and said, “We don’t really know it.” Then with a downbeat of his hand, the band followed into the song. Other songs we did that night were Route 66, the Stones version, and We Gotta Get outa This Place by the Animals. Well, we won!  This gig gave me a whole new way to look at the band.  As musicians our job was not just to make music but to entertain.  

The Witness. (John Kearnan replaced DJ when he went to college in Miami.) With John drumming we went from being a bluesy band to more of a pop band.  John had a great voice for singing harmonies, which allowed us to do songs with three parts, such as If I Needed Somebody, and I’ve Just Seen a Face by the Beatles.

One gig we did when The Witness was together was at a dorm at UMass Amherst. My brother was the dorm president. He hired us to play one Saturday night. From that point on the guys in the dorm referred to us as “Ray Meade’s Brother’s Band” We had a great time and I don’t think anybody slept that night.

Victor Pepper, who had been a Hopedale selectman for years, asked us to do a free gig at the town hall for a March of Dimes fund raiser. The Witness played that night along with a couple of other bands. After the fund raiser Victor asked the bands if any of us were interested in the use of the town hall to make a little money.  I was the only one to take him up on the opportunity. After that we went to the selectmen and asked to continue to use the town hall for our own concerts. They agreed to it and only charged us ten dollars for a permit. The Witness was together from 1965 to 1967.

During August of 1967, Dennis Hourihan, Kenny Simmons and I went to see John who was at his parents’ vacation place at Lake Winnisquam in New Hampshire. It was my eighteenth birthday. While we were there, we decided to go over to Sunapee where Joe spent the summers. As it happened, he was playing in a band and they had a gig that night. We met Tom Hamilton that afternoon. He played bass and they had a girl singer. We couldn’t get into the place where they were playing, but we hung around outside and were amazed at how much Joe’s guitar playing had improved since we had last heard him. That was the beginning of my being enthusiastic about his talent. Up until then, the best guitar guy in the area was Steve Rose.

At Winnisquam, Kenny and Dennis slept outside in hammocks. Kenny and I swam across the whole lake. Dr. Alden was furious!  He told John to go follow us in their boat. When we got to the other side, we climbed out onto private property, just so we could say we made it all the way across. Some folks were giving us the evil eye as Ken asked me if I wanted to swim back.  I said, “That okay,” as we hopped into John’s boat.

Well, we couldn’t wait to get Joe back to Hopedale to see how he would fit into the old band.  He had just a couple of weeks before he was to ship off to Vermont so we had to work fast.  Tony did not play this time and Dennis Hourihan was on lead vocals.  We still had Ken, John, Joe and me.  We practiced just about every day for a week or so, rented the town hall for a Saturday night, and named the band The Town Hall Massacree. The name was a reference to a passage in Arlo Guthrie’s classic, Alice’s Restaurant, which was just gaining popularity and was our anthem that summer.  I still have the song list from that gig. It included The Train Kept a Rollin’, Route 66, Purple Haze,  Light My Fire and a little known Stones song called Miss Amanda Jones.

Joe was also quite the inventor.  He built his own strobe light by taking a cubical wooden box and mounting two spotlights inside the box, facing a circular hole.  Then he inserted a circular panel with two holes mounted on an electric motor over the cutout in the box.  With the lights on and the motor spinning it gave not just a flashing effect, but a light coming at you with a spiral effect; this was cool!When I saw Joe’s light box I proceeded to take an old speaker cabinet and using my Erector Set, I built my own.  We used them both at the town hall that night during the song Purple Haze (Joe’s ten minute version of Purple Haze).  We put one light on the band and the other on the audience.  It was a gas watching people dance with the light on them and seeing that light spiraling at us while we played.  This was the only time we used the light boxes.

Before we practiced again, Joe told me that he wanted to be the only guitar player in the band, so John, Joe and I became Cereal. Why Cereal? Cream was one of the top bands at that time. Cream is what you put on your cereal.   

Cereal was together from that point (fall 1967) until June of 1969.  We played every time Joe came home from school.  If we didn’t have a gig lined up we would run one ourselves at the town hall.  These were fun times.  I don’t know how Joe did it because he was juggling three bands and the curriculum of a private school at the same time.

The songs we played in Cereal were from Hendrix, Cream, The Who, The Yard Birds and other tidbits.  A lot of the songs that really shaped our taste in music were from albums that my brother Ray brought home from college.  We used to sit and listen to Ray’s albums when he was not home.  The album I liked the most was Happy Jack by the Who; one whole side of the album had all great cuts on it including tunes we did: Boris The Spider, Whisky Man and Happy Jack.  As a matter of fact, one day as we were practicing in Joe’s garage down on Mill Street, we were recording the tune Happy Jack over and over (we never lost that persistence toward perfection) when on one playback we heard the end of a tune he once recorded at a Witness practice.  I was pissed that he had recorded over it.  He remarked that we had sucked anyways.  I believed that  was the only recording ever made of The Witness and it was a shame to lose it.

Anyways, back to Happy Jack.  We tried over and over to tighten up that song but never quite got it there.  We did play it out because it wasn’t bad.  I had seen The Who in ‘66 and that was the only song they did that didn’t sound just like the record.  But I saw them again in the ‘70s and they got it right that time.

Another album we used to play in Ray’s room was Rave Up by The Yard Birds.  This album had six great tunes in a row on one side, and we used to start that album on low volume, but by the time we got to the last song it would be full blast….that song was The Train Kept a Rollin, the now famous Aerosmith encore tune.  I let Joe borrow the album, and when I got it back the song was unplayable since the needle had bounced around so much because Joe had to hear licks over and over to get them right.  Thank goodness for cassette players.  They made this painstaking task much easier. The Rave up Album had a song on it called Mister, You’re a Better Man Than I.  Aerosmith took a line right of this album in the tune Living on the Edge.  “If you can judge a man by the color of his skin, Mister, you’re a better man then I.”

During the fall of 1967 Joe’s dad had been building a new house at 89 Mill Street, across the from their 84 Mill St. house, and the new home was not finished when they sold 84 Mill Street. So the Perrys moved into 200 Freedom St (the home of snowbirds Kara and Earl Roberts) for the winter.  We practiced in the cellar up there quite often and Joe told a story about fishing through the Roberts’ attic where he found an old black leather jacket.  He wrote to them and asked if he could have it. They said okay.  It was old, worn, paint-stained, but true rock ‘n’ roll attire.

In the spring of 1968 (my senior year) Medway High School hosted Hopedale High   School in a “computer dance”.  What’s that?  Well everybody filled out a personal profile and the data was fed into a computer.  Barring any hanging chads, the results were supposed to be compatible couples.  I dont know how many happy couples came out of the dance that night, because Cereal played and we were too busy rock’n’rolling.  

At practice the day before, Joe asked me if it was alright to use my first guitar for the finale.  I’m not sure of the tune.  It was either My Generation by The Who, or The Train Kept a Rollin’.  Anyway, my guitar met its demise that evening as Joe first used the microphone stand as a slide until strings started popping. He then used it like an axe and slammed it against the stage floor.  Just like The Who, hey Joe?

The following May (1969) Joe called me about two weeks before he was going to graduate.  He said he wanted to get a practice together.  I said, “Right. Aren’t you in school?”

He said, “No I quit.”

And I said, “What? “

And he said, “I quit.”

I said, “What did your mother say?”

And he replied, “What can she say? I’m 18.”

To make his mother happy, he got his high school equivalency degree as soon as he was eligible.The last gig we did as Cereal was the Hopedale High graduation in June of 1969.  John only played the first set because he was one of the graduates and he had other things on his mind, so the evening became one big jam.  I believe Jack Moran hopped on the drums for a while.  Then Gizmo sat in on the bass.  Then Dave “Crash” Carchio took over on drums.

The next thing you know, Joe is gone to Sunapee for the summer, as he did every year.  Like previous years, he played all summer with the Jam Band.  The three-piece band included Joe, Tom Hamilton, and Dave “Pudge” Scott on drums.  

In the fall Jam Band played a gig at the Hopedale Memorial School and I thought that that might be the end of playing with Joe

                                                   ***************************************

But, sure enough, come November I got the call. “Dave lets get the band back together.”  So we got John as our drummer. Joe wanted to have a keyboard player in the band and it so happened that he was dating a gal from Milford, Lorna Mussulli, who played the keyboards, and she came equipped with a cellar to practice in.

We practiced two or three times, but John’s heart just wasn’t in it anymore so he bowed out gracefully.  Joe knew another drummer in town, Dave Carchio, who had filled in for John earlier that year at Hopedale’s graduation party.

I didn’t really know Dave but I had seen him play with another Hopedale band, Fluff, at a Lakeview 4th of July celebration a year or two before.  The band consisted of Dave, Dave Rose on bass (of the famous Rose brothers) and Daryl Guglielmi on guitar.  It was a very memorable gig because they were playing the tune Sky Pilot by Eric Burdon and the Animals (not to be confused with Eric Burdon’s earlier band, The Animals) while the fireworks were going off above them. Good effect, eh?

So Dave joined the band.  After a few more practices Lorna decided that it wasn’t really for her, and though she continued to date Joe, she dropped out of the band.  At this time, Dave Carchio mentioned that he knew an organ player from Uxbridge named Bob Renault.  Dave called Bob and he joined the band.

We started rehearsing almost every day in Dave Carchio’s cellar.  
       
                                                            To be continued.

Some of you who are reading this may have been in one or more of the bands mentioned, or may have been at dances when they played. We’d love to be able to add memories and/or pictures that you have. Click here to email us

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Dave with Joe Perry in 2013.