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Bobby Comstock Interview

Along with The Counts, Bobby Comstock, enjoyed considerable success not only in the Central New York area but nationally as well.

He appeared on Alan Freed’s t.v. show; did the Dick Clark Cavalcade of Stars Tour; and got a lot of play with a song called-----“I Wanna Do It”.

Q – I was talking to one of your ex-band mates recently, Duane Hitchings of Syracuse. Do you remember him?
A – Duane-----of course I do. (Laughs).

Q – What do you remember about him?
A – Just what a great keyboardist he was and a good person. We had a lot of fun on the road traveling. I’m trying to remember which tour he was with-----Bobby Vinton.

Q – That’s the one.
A – Janie Grant. The Routers who made, that hand-clapping thing ‘Let’s Go’ and Del Shannon. We were touring across Canada.

Q – How did you get that tour?
A – I had a chart record, a rock ‘n’ roll version of ‘Tennessee Waltz’ when I was 17. Back in those days there would be one band backing the whole show. In fact, Alan Freed had heard it as a demo on the studio. He come up and asked me if I wanted to do his t.v. show six days straight, and then do ten days at the Brooklyn Fox. But, I couldn’t use my own band. I wanted to do the show ‘cause I figured it was a great way to kick the record off. That’s great with Alan Freed, you know? So, I did it. There was a house band. It was Lloyd Price’s band. Wonderful musicians playing in it. But, it still didn’t feel the same way to me as having my own band. I got offered some things after that because the records was in the charts. I said I want to take my band. They said you can’t; there’s only one band that backs the show. I said, well, I’ll do that then. For me, here I am playing with my idols-----Chuck Berry, Dion, Jackie Wilson. (Laughs). And I’m onstage playing with them. To me it was more fun than work. And that way I had my own band with me all the time when I did my thing. They didn’t care ‘cause they used other bands all the time. So, it worked out great. I kept doing that noticing that a lot of acts were coming and going, but there was always a need for what I was doing, and still have time to record and do what I wanted to do, but, it was a wonderful way to travel and play music all the time.

Q – You’re from Ithaca, New York?
A – Yeah.

Q – You were managed by a guy name of John Periales of the Valex Talent Agency?
A – Well, yeah. When I was first starting out I was giving guitar lessons to a gentleman named Gus. Gus Ephrensom and his brother-in-law was John Periales. John was selling insurance then. (Laughs). But, he got interested in getting involved in the show-biz thing and he was starting to manage and book us.

Q – Those are usually two separate jobs-----management and booking. That had to be rather difficult for Mr. Perials to do.
A – Well, no. At that point in time we were also playing a lot of colleges. We’re sitting in Ithaca and you had Colgate, Syracuse, Cornell. They’d call and he’d just book. We worked out a deal on the whole thing. It was very fair. Later, when the major agencies started booking us that was a totally different situation. They would get booking commission and John was managing.

Q – What agencies did you have booking you?
A – William Morris. GAC (General Artists Corporation). Premier, Frank Barsalona. We met Frank when his first office was a phone booth on Broadway. (Laughs). We got to be friends. We did a lot of shows with him. But, that’s how he started, and he turned into the major guy. A very nice man. We were playing Long Island someplace; I can’t remember where it was. There were 3 or 4 clubs in a row. Tommy Roe was playing a club and the band didn’t show up to back him up. We’d do our thing and run and back him and then go back to our club. He put us back with the first Rolling Stones Tour. It was only like a 4 city thing.

Q – Would that have been in ’64?
A – ’63 or ’64. I think it was Pittsburgh, Hershey Arena, New York City and I’m drawing a blank on the last one. I can’t remember. But, that was their very first time in the States.

Q – Did you get to meet and talk with all of the Stones?
A – Oh, sure. We’re setting up stuff.

Q – I would think that Brian Jones would’ve been an interesting guy to talk to.
A – They were all interesting. We didn’t get a chance to spend that much time with them, backstage stuff while the equipment was being set up. Then they’d go off to dinner someplace, and we’d go someplace else. After that I worked with Dave Clark Five. We toured with them for awhile. Did a lot of dates with Gerry and the Pacemakers. As they were bringing the acts over, we were doing the shows with them.

Q – How long did that last?
A – You take all of those Dick Clark Caravans and Richard Nader in 1969 started the Rock ‘n’ Roll Revivals out of Madison Square Garden. That ran from ’69 to ’89. I’ve played Madison Square Garden, the main room, probably 30 times and the Felt Forum probably 40 – 50 times. I was doing the music for his Doo-Wop shows too, which really went back to 1953-1954. But, I grew up listening to that music so I knew it all. A lot of those acts would show up without charts and we’d sit down and work it out. I’d teach ‘em to the younger musicians who were playing with me. We’d put the shows together in the afternoons. The Felt Forum shows normally ran Friday and Saturday nights.

Q – You mentioned you played Syracuse University. Where else did you play? Does anything come to mind?
A – Oh, sure. It goes way back to when the 320 Club was operating. Hewitt’s. I think that was on Erie Blvd. I’m not sure. I used to go in and sit in with Jimmy Cavallo. He used to play Sunday nights at a place called Sorrentos. I’m not sure. On the north side of Syracuse. I’d go over and sit in with Jimmy on Sunday nights if I had the night off ‘cause I liked Jimmy a lot. The ( Syracuse) War Memorial quite a few times with Richard Nader. In fact, I think it was WOLF that brought the show in that year. Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley. Gary ( U.S.) Bonds. The Drifters. The Coasters. Shirelles-----and us, my band.

Q – How did you get interested in singing? How’d you know you had a voice?
A – Well, when I was 5 years old, my dad stuck a mandolin in my hands. (Laughs). When I was 7, I was doing a radio show in Ithaca. It was called ‘US Kids’. It was all just young performers. And, it was on Saturday mornings on WHCV with a man named Jack Deal. Then I started doing a weekly radio show playing country music in Sayre, Pennsylvania. WATS, I think it was. I was playing with a friend of my fathers, Bob Kinney. We did that for two years. My brother and I were working I’d probably say 4 – 6 nights a month, besides the radio show. My brother and I were working together. I was playing mandolin. He was playing guitar. Then about age 11 I started hearing WLAC in Nashville and hearing real R and B music. My brother was kind of veering off into jazz. He was 4 years older and went into the service early so; I just started putting rock ‘n’ roll bands together.

Q – Did you write that song “I Wanna Do It”?
A – No. Actually, the same guys that wrote the other side which was the Billboard chart record called ‘Let’s Stomp’. That’s how it originally came out. It was a Feldman Goldstein Goder, FGG Productions. They were also The Strangelove’s, ‘I Got Candy’. That was them. They were in on writing songs for that. Actually Wes Farrell produced ‘Let’s Stomp’ and ‘I Want To Do It’. FGG also did The Angels. So, I was playing guitar on The Angels sessions, ‘Your Boyfriends Back’ and with Freddy Cannon on a few sessions ‘cause they wrote some songs for him.

Q – So how did you get “I Want To Do It”? Did someone pitch that song to you?
A – They did. I met Wes Farrell when he was first starting. He was working for a publisher, Roosevelt Music; I think a guy named Hal Fine. In those days, you’d go to these publishers at 1650 Broadway. They’d play demos for you. Different songwriters applied. We met FGG, Bob Feldman, Larry Goddard and Richie Goldstein. They liked me. I liked them, so they started writing songs for me.

Q – Did they ever tell you how long it took to write that song?
A – No. With those guys you can’t tell. (Laughs). Even after splitting up, they all stayed in the business big time. Goldstein produced War. Goddard produced the Go-Go’s. It was a lot of fun. It was actually a whole group of people hanging out together in New York at that time. We’d go down on a Monday. There was Neil Diamond before he recorded. He was pushing songs as a songwriter. Larry Weiss who wrote ‘Help Me Girl’ and ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ was there. It was just a group of people that were always around that were all trying to break into the business.

Q – Your song ‘Tennessee Waltz’ was on Blaze Records. Was that your label?
A – No. That was Herb Abrahamson who was one of the founders of Atlantic Records. He had split with Atlantic and set up Blaze Records and I was one of the first artists he signed. Well, there was another artist Billy Bryan. That’s what they called him. It was really Gene Pitney. That’s where I first met Gene. We toured a lot. He was on Dick Clark’s Caravan with me, or I was on there with him. (Laughs). There was about 12 other acts.

Q – You appeared on Alan Freed’s 5 th Anniversary stage show at New York’s Brooklyn Fox Theatre. Who else was on the bill?
A – Lloyd Price. Jackie Wilson, The Isley Bros. Dion. Jo Ann Campbell. Bo Diddley. The Tempos.

Q – You recorded 25 singles and 1 L.P. Is that accurate?
A – Yeah. Actually, I was involved in another L.P. There was a movie called ‘Let The Good Times Roll’. Actually, they filmed two of Richard Nader’s shows and it was my band doing the music for those. It was a Martin Scorcese film. The sound track opened up a lot of things for me.

Q – You had hits with 3 songs, “I Wanna Do It”, “The Stomp”, and “Tennessee Waltz”. Is there anything else that I didn’t mention?
A – I had ‘Jambalya’. That was in the charts I think in the 70’s or 80’s. That was basically it. After that I was playing more. I was still recording, but I was on the road doing shows more so than recording. We put some things out. Actually the answer to ‘Your Boyfriends Back’ we did as more or less as a goof. That jumped into the charts for a couple of weeks. We didn’t think it would do anything. A couple of musicians who played on that were in my band, so, we just did another version, like an answer version just to do it because we could.

Q – What would it have taken to advance Bobby Comstock’s career to the next level?
A - Hit records were always the answer. But, it didn’t happen on a big field, but I never stopped working. See, that’s where I was lucky. I played ‘til about 1990 working just about as much as I wanted to. The Nader tours were all over the country. We’d do maybe New York on a Friday, Philly on Saturday, Boston on Sunday. Then we’d blast L.A. and there would be dates all the way back, or we’d start in New York, zigzag across the country and end up on the west coast. It was just continuous touring. Then there were just other things I was doing on my own. I was out playing clubs all over the country.

Q – Would you have been happier had you spent more time in the studio and less time on the road?
A – That’s tough for me because I loved playing so much. I had so many experiences playing music. I played ever 200 shows with Chuck Berry and he was my idol when I was 12 years old. Chuck Berry. B.B. King. In 1974, I was playing in Vegas with Chuck and B.B. King walked in. Chuck got him up and there we were. I started thinking to myself, God I’m playing with my idols. (Laughs). And-----I’m getting paid for it!! I’ve met so many people-----Muddy Waters. Just sat down and played with him in a dressing room for awhile. He was Bo Diddley’s cousin.

Q – Did you ever meet Elvis?
A – Briefly, in Memphis. Chuck Berry was on a show and he came backstage briefly ‘cause the people knew he was there. He said, ‘I don’t want to mess the show up for you guys’.

Q – Have you ever met any or all of the Beatles?
A – John Lennon.

Q – Do you still perform today?
A – Once in awhile. I’ve kind of kicked back. I’m talking to some people about doing some recording. We’re doing it in the Central New York area. It’s in the talking stage-----but they’re all friends. As far as doing the type of shows I was doing, I’ve found about the last year I was doing ‘em that a lot of the acts, there weren’t any originals in the act unless it was Chuck Berry or Bo Diddley. To me the shows were beginning to feel phony and I didn’t want to be involved with that.

Q – Would you have played shows with some of the better known bands in Syracuse in the 60’s? I’m talking Otis and the All-Night Workers. The Monterays.
A – Yeah. I know Otis really well. The Monterays I think we did one show with. Sam And The Twisters. I knew them. Of course Ronnie Dio’s band. Jam Factory. We did a lot of gigs with Jam Factory. They were a wonderful band. I loved that band. I played guitar on a few of Ronnie Dio’s early things. I’m very familiar with all those people.

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