Al Wolfe Interview
Smokin' They bill themselves as "The Hottest Classic Rock Band In
Central New York" and it's easy to see why.
You see, Smokin' really delivers!!
They're a terrific band. Founding member Al Wolf (bassist/vocalist) is
an original member of both Sam And The Twisters and The Livin' Ennd.
The recording of "Fooba Wooba John" and the "Transylvania
Twist" by Sam And The Twisters, remain to this day, the biggest selling
records from Central New York.
It's no wonder then that we decided to sit down with Al Wolf for one Smokin'
Q - Al, when I saw the group at Lucy's, I was truly surprised to see how
much energy and enthusiasm each of the band members puts into the act. How
did you get so lucky to find people like that?
A - Well, that's a good question. I think probably luck. I think what
happened is we found six people who all really like what we're doing. We
love to play. We like to perform. It's something that evolved out of the
music we play. I also give a lot of credit to Janice Wilson (Smokin' lead
singer). She really moves around a lot on stage. It's kind of infectious.
You look at her and see all the energy she's putting out, it sort of motivates
you to get into it too. It's kind of hard not to do that, with her onstage.
Q - She's a good performer.
A -I think Number One we're all friends and the chemistry onstage has
a lot to do with that. If people like each other, the musical output should
be good and you should be able to see that we're enjoying it. We put the
band together because we wanted to have fun playing. I find that if people
are friendly with each other, then everything else usually works out quite
Q - Did you put Smokin' together?
A - We are like a partnership. There is no band leader. We all have our
jobs to do. We actually started out 5 years ago in a group called Cruisin'.
We got together basically to do a fundraiser for the Heart and Cancer Society
at Bishop Ludden. Judi Gettino who was a singer I was associated with in
a band called Liven' Ennd in the 70's; she was on the committee to
put together entertainment. She got some local bands to volunteer. Then
she thought why not put something together, maybe a half an hour. So she
called me and we called a few people and that's how the group started. It's
evolved since then into Smokin' and the current members. Talkin' about a
good time, we actually continued because we were having fun. We never started
out with the idea of putting together a real working band.
Q - Was it your idea to have a band that performed material from
the 50's to the present?
A - We wanted to have a band that did classic rock in an authentic manner.
It's been 5 years and I think we've recognized that we need to start
doing some more modern things, to attract a broader audience. And so we
are starting to add some newer things. We're doing some Shania. We're
doing some Cher. We're doing some Faith Hill. There's also a lot of songs
that have been covered by people recently, so we take some of those
new covers and do them.
Q - As you see it, does Syracuse have a music scene? If so, where is it?
A - (Laughs). Yeah, I think it does. There seems to be a market for lots
of different bands, and lots of styles of different music. Groups like
ourselves certainly have circuits that we play. Bands that play our kind
of music tend to play a lot of the same places. Then modern rockers have
their own, although I'm not that familiar with where they actually play,
but I'm very familiar with groups that play similar things to ourselves
and we certainly tend to play the same places. So, there does tend to be
an area of places that we play and who we attract, a market area. I think
we basically appeal to people in their 30's on up. Although, it's interesting
we've also played to younger crowds and we're able to adjust our repertoire
to do things they recognize and enjoy too. And of course it helps to be
changing the repertoire a little bit to that. But, as far as the music scene
Q - How different is it to be in a band today versus the 1960's?
A - Very different. I do the business end of the band, so I can put
a comment on that.
Q -Go ahead.
A - Its really a lot more competitive than I think it was. Of course,
when I first started, what I'm playing now is what I was playing them, and
that's when it first came out. So, in those days that was modern rock for
that era. And, the number of places that we could play was phenomenal. S.U.
fraternities. Fraternities in the fall had parties. Every house had a party,
prior to every football game. And some of them had a party before and
after. It was not unusual to play a party on a fraternity porch from twelve
to two and then we would play a party afterwards. Then, there might be something
late at night. You might be able to fit two or three things in. There was
also radio station promotions. Record hops they were called. In other words
you could also play at high schools, or even at middle schools. There were
just so many places to play. I don't recall DJ's being in competition. The
only thing I'd say we didn't do too much of was weddings, 'cause we were
then modern rock, and that was really not anything they wanted. Not that
it was called that, but I'm just trying to draw an analogy. Now, weddings
are something that we can market ourselves for and private parties. But,
it was just very, very different. You really have to work at booking
the band now. You have to advertise. You have to market yourself. You have
to have pictures of the band. You have to have printed materials, recorded
materials. Of course, in those days too, the band that I was with had several
records out, therefore maybe that's why it was a little easier for us. We
were connected with WNDR. Maybe, that's not a good analogy, in my case.
I did the business end for the band called The Livin' Ennd and Sam And The
Twisters for a little bit. Back in those days you really didn't have to
go out and seek work.
Q - You could play six nights a week without any trouble.
A - Absolutely. Especially in summer. In the summer the bowling alleys
would put plywood over the top of the lanes and they would have dances,
for any age group. They were not selling liquor. You'd get people in their
teens up to 30-40 year old folks coming to see major acts and our band and
other acts like Carnage, The Strangers, Livin' Ennd, and Sam And The Twisters.
We'd act as warm-ups or the main act. It's very different nowadays.
I remember when Dan Leonard was here, every Sunday there was a gig for us,
at the Teen Canteen. I can go on and on about all the venues that were available
for bands in those days and are not available now. I think it's got to be
pretty difficult for a young band nowadays to get known. Real difficult.
I feel sorry for 'em. It's really tough. In those days it was not difficult.
And, there were a lot of bands. I know there's a lot of bands now, but,
I would guess there was just as many bands in those days.
Q - When you were in Sam And The Twisters were you content to be in a
Syracuse band or did you want a shot at the Big Time?
A - We wanted a shot at the Big Time. We promoted Fooba Wooba John up
and down the Thruway. We went to Buffalo and did a Dick Clark Show. I don't
recall if he was there, but it did carry his name. It was called a Dick
Clark Show. We participated in that. Our record did us real well even though
we were hoping it would go many other places. It was listed in Billboard,
for a week or two.
Q - How did Billboard hear about Sam And The Twisters?
A - I think it had a lot to do with the record label and probably a lot
to do with Dan Leonard, and what he did for the band, which was a lot. I
mean, he got us on Lawn Records which was a subdivision of Swan Records.
Freddy Cannon's record label. That gave us the opportunity to be on Mike
Price's Transylvania Twist.
Q - The Best Selling Syracuse record of all time.
A - Right. One thing leads to another. You're there at the right time,
at the right place. Of course that record was a lot of fun to do. He's really
a cool guy. It was funny. We were up at the Onondaga Hotel. All the way
up. That's where Mike Riposo had his recording studio. I remember Mike Price
wanted to come in, in character. So, he decided to wear his outfit to walk
in the place that way. I guess, from what I remember, the elevator operator
wouldn't let him up. He ended up walking up the stairs. He was dressed in
his Baron Daemon outfit.
Q -I don't understand why they wouldn't let him use the elevator.
A - We're talking a long time ago. They thought he was some sort of kook.
Q - Did you ever think back then that you'd still be in a band in the
A - No, I didn't. I left the band business in 1975. It took me 20 years
to get back in.
Q - You were a teacher?
A -I taught from 1966 'til 1981. Then, I was a vice-principal in
the Syracuse School District for several schools, then a principal in several
schools and then I retired as an assistant director in vocational education.
Q - Now it's Smokin' full-time?
A - I still work part-time. I work in the Incarcerated Education Program
at the Justice Center, which used to be one of my duties. I also work for
the United Way. Two part-time jobs. I actually have three part-time jobs.
Q - What did it mean to you to be inducted into the Sammy Hall of Fame?
A - Real proud. Very proud. A very special moment. It was really great
to have my wife and my kids there, especially since my kids were too young
to remember much of that. So, my whole family was at the ceremony. It was
great. It meant a lot to me. It was just a very special memory. To be in
the company of some people I really respect a whole lot and to think I could
be part of that is really very, very special.
Note: To learn even more about Smokin' please visit their website at www.smokintheband.com.
And they thank you.
© Gary James All Rights Reserved