A name that often seemed to pop up during my researches was that of Jeff Richards - apparently he sang and played sax at some point in the early genesis of the Soft White Underbelly, but I had no idea when he actually entered or left the scene.
I decided to try and find out a bit more about him, to see if he had any recollections that might help fill in any of the many missing pieces of the SWU zigsaw.
Looking through the 1968 Stony Brook yearbook, I'd come across this graduate entry: "Jeffrey Richards BA Art - Dean's List 2,3,4". Once I knew that he'd been studying art at SBU, my presumption was that maybe his link to the Underbelly came through John Wiesenthal...?
Luckily, I was able to ask him...
I am most deservedly a mysterious figure in the Soft White Underbelly 'saga' as I was a peripheral and rather short-lived character in it. More later.
Yes I knew John (Wiesenthal) from the Art Department. He was much better than I at art, and freer in approach, style and creativity. Also he was into Rock and the Hippie pop culture of the time.
The first time I went to the Bennett's Road house he had a turning mirror ball, low lights, incense and played his Standel (I think) guitar with an impossibly narrow neck. It was quite a compelling scene.
I was pretty 'square' and am not sure why John sort of 'took me in' but I sure liked it. He played the new Doors record around then and I was as flattened as anyone, I got to be friendly with Andrew Winters too (and some of his high school friends later.) Don Roeser was one of them and although neither he nor Andrew attended Stony Brook we all hung out there.
I don't remember most details - John probably told you about most of this - but I think it was John's connection to Sandy Pearlman that brought him and Richard Meltzer into the circle. Donald knew Albert Bouchard from Clarkson College in Potsdam, NY and also Jeff Latham, who played guitar early on.
It was crystally clear from the beginning that Donald was an exceptional guitar player, one of those innately talented people that learned fast and had his own voice.
I think it was mostly that that led Sandy to promote the very fledgling band. To a lesser extent he was also interested in another local band named Alice.
On the basis of these two groups he referred to Stony Brook as a "cultural nexus" in Crawdaddy magazine, which he co-founded (with Meltzer?).
His connections were crucial to getting Soft White Underbelly off the ground, at a rate probably unthinkable today.
When we got the St. James house (John would know the details - I think it was his doing) he and Albert and I each had a room (ask him why he left Bennett's Road) and Jeff Latham was there a lot too.
Don lived with his parents a mile away and Andy with his mother (in Setauket ??). It was the practice house. We were really poor and pooled what money we came up with for a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
The house was built as a summer cottage and sometimes in winter snow would blow under the back door onto the kitchen floor.
We had our share of the usual 60's college recreational substances and worried somewhat about being infiltrated by one of the narcs that prowled Stony Brook (the school was well known at the time as 'the Berkeley of the East'.) We were pretty sure we were being watched.
John had a Volkswagen which was primary transportation for everyone. I finished building a 1940 Ford Coupe hot rod at some point, but could borrow my parents' station wagon to haul equipment for the gigs the band was starting to get.
I think it was that, and the fact that I was there, that got me a short-lived role as lead singer (Oy!) and saxophone player on a couple of songs (Veh!), both enterprises I knew almost nothing about.
I was scared the whole time, and the thought that I attempted it embarrasses me still. I'm sure that if I hadn't been let go there would be no BOC today.
You asked about gigs I remember. End lounge and cafeteria in Dorm G at SUSB, one at a Port Jefferson nightclub called "The In Crowd", one at an Episcopal Church in Sayville, NY of which my then late grandfather had had been minister for 50 years, and a big one at the Anderson Theater in NYC, on a bill with Country Joe. That became Fillmore East shortly thereafter.
Shortly after that Les Braunstein showed up (I don't know those details) and became lead singer. He had performed folk music prior to that, and he had a VW van.
During his early years there I remember a number of dates with Blues Image at the Diplomat Hotel in Manhattan.
You must have heard much about that and subsequent periods from the others. I can't remember going to recording sessions by the time I drifted away.
I didn't quite graduate from SB in 1968 - I lacked a few credits that I eventually made up in LA.
But I felt I was not fitting well. I didn't know enough about the music they were so good at, I didn't get along well with drugs, I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life.
I went back and lived at my parents' house in Bayport for a little while, just hating the small town thing. I felt I had no peers there, no real friends, no eligible girls, nothing to do.
I have willfully forgotten that whole chapter.
Wanted a motorcycle, sold my Ford for dirt (Aargh!), bought a bike in the fall, decided to take it to California for the winter, visit Hawaii and come back. I never made it, LA was just too good.
When I got there I stayed with John's family for a bit, and than another bit with a girl John knew in Venice before finding my own place. This was late '68 I think.
Are you getting the idea yet that John was really influential in my life?
Other things you must already know include:
Things you don't know, but that may not matter: I did have an all black room including the sheets and rug, but no Jim Morrison lion graphic. What I did make was a Jim Morrison doll from a G.I. Joe figure.
I made leather clothes for it and it looked really good, Sandy took it to photograph for Crawdaddy and I never saw it again, although I saw a blurb about in the mag that said "Somewhere out on Long Island is a boy, a very sick boy who spent his time fashioning a Jim Morrison doll..." Clearly, pure envy. It was cool.
Other figures to investigate, if you haven't:
Some memorable early scenes to me: