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
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
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
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
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
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
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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