Nick Gravelding Interview
They formed their band in one of the coldest places in New York State-----Oswego, New York in the 1980’s.
They went on to record 2 popular CD’s, “Ice Breaker” and “Just What The Doctor Ordered” which sold over 18,000 copies in 2006.
The band is called “Frostbit Blue”.
Guitarist Nick Gravelding spoke with us about the history of the group.
Q – Are you the guy who put “Frostbit Blue” together?
A – Yes. I’m the only original member in the band. Original meaning I started the band 20 years ago, actually in ’87. The line-up we currently have is pretty stable although we did lose our drummer to Cancer back in 2002. So, we’ve replaced him with our current bass player. Then our long time drummer had quit I think in 2003 or 2004 and we since replaced him with a current guy. But yes, I am the founding member I guess.
Q – What kind of material was Frostbit Blue playing in the beginning? Did you do originals?
A – Not really, no. In the very beginning we were a 3 piece. Just a power trio. Actually at that time I was playing bass and singing rather than playing guitar and singing. Like in 1990 I switched to guitar fulltime, or ’91 I should say. But yeah, it was mostly Blues covers back then from Cream to B.B. King. We did some R and B stuff.
Q – Was Frostbit Blue your first band?
A – Well, I was in a band at home and actually did double duty for awhile and that was a band with my older brother back in the Binghamton area called ‘Rusty Still’.
Q – When I listened to one of your CD’s, there was definitely a Southern feel to the music. How do 5 guys from Oswego, New York pick up on this Southern feel?
A – (Laughs). Well, I think a lot of that was my doing because I was always and still am a huge Southern Rock fan. I don’t know exactly how that happens growing up in the Binghamton area, but very much the Allman Bros, Marshall Tucker, The Outlaws, was the stuff I was good at. Being the singer, when it came time to doing covers, I was always pushing for ‘One Way Out’ but The Allman Bros. and ‘Can’t You See’ by Marshall Tucker. It slowly became what we probably were best at-----that style. We had two guitars, I mean eventually ended up with two guitars. So, it was just one of those things where my influences kind of influenced the style of the band. Then our writing, my writing was certainly like that. The other main writer, Mike Place, who is a keyboard player and singer brought kind of a Beatles, Steely Dan kind of influence. We were kind of able to mesh those two styles. We had a lot of Southern influence but we had some cool changes and some cool harmonies. Mike’s arranging skills are really, really good. It was kind of a cool mixture. We weren’t completely a Southern band. We had a lot of different flavors in there. But, at first glimpse you’d be, ‘They sound kind of like Southern Rock’! (Laughs).
Q – Why are you in Binghamton?
A- That’s were I’m from and then------I went to college, in ’87, to Oswego and I met up with the original guitar player and we grabbed a drummer. We all lived in the dorms on campus. We started this power trio blues kind of thing. Once the three of us graduated, they left and I ended up staying. That’s when I hooked up with the local musicians in the Oswego area, our drummer, guitar player, and bass player. Those guys were older than me, but they were veterans in the music scene from the Oswego area. I ended up staying in the Oswego area for another 15 years.
Q – Now I see how Frostbit fits in. Oswego is colder than Syracuse.
A – Yeah-----and windy as hell. (Laughs). It was actually the original guitar player Erik Viel and myself and we were listening to an Albert Collins album called ‘Frostbit’ at the time, and we kind of just took it and morphed it out of that. I never liked the name. I wasn’t really crazy about it. It sounded kind of cliché. I wasn’t into the name so much. It’s like one of those things, after awhile you figure its more harm than good to change it.
Q – I recall Dan Dunn and Eric Will used to play one of your instrumental songs on their radio show “Homegrown”. Did the success of an instrumental song surprise you?
A – Well, it wasn’t an instrumental. We have got to put an instrumental down on tape. We do have one for the up-coming CD if we ever get it done. However I think the song you’re talking about did have long stretches of instrumental parts. But the song is ‘Lake Ontario Twilight’. They used to use it in the background a lot when they would go to break or commercials for the show itself. For a long run, it was the most requested song they had on ‘Homegrown’ and it won the Number One spot for I don’t know how many weeks in a row. ‘Lake Ontario Twilight’ is from the first CD. We had the first CD which was in 1995, called ‘Icebreaker’. Production-wise we were able to get much better on the second CD, which came out in ’98. That one was called, ‘Just What The Doctor Ordered’.
Q – And how many CD’s have you released since then?
A – None, unfortunately. (Laughs). It’s like the joke within the Frostbit Blue community, now the infamous third CD. We’ve stopped even talking about it, in terms of the public. We do have enough material for it. We do actually have some basic tracks recorded, but, we’re older. I live in Binghamton. My bass player lives in Binghamton. One guys in Rochester. Two guys are in Oswego. Everybody works. Everybody has kids. I’m really hopeful. We also have the equipment to do it. My bass player has state-of-the-art digital set up down here. It’s just been one of those things we have not been able to get (to). We’ve always been sticklers for production and for quality. I think we remember and know how much time is involved in the kind of product we would approve. It’s just finding that time to devote to it has been difficult.
Q – Was it expensive to put out that first CD of yours?
A – Yeah. It’s much easier now to put out the type of production quality you’d want with affordable equipment. Back then we did both those albums in a studio in Ontario, New York which is just outside of Rochester, GFI Studios. It cost a pretty good buck. We got it mastered down in New York City both of ‘em. It was a thousand bucks a whack. We logged some serious studio time, but we also had a tremendous ally back them. He’s still a very good friend of the band. He was actually a local physician, still is. His name is Corliss Varnum. He became very interested in the band and became kind of like a silent financer for us, and assisted us financially. At one point he was the doctor for every guy in the band. He pumped a lot of support and a lot of money into the band. He very much believed in the band.
Q – What kind of a doctor was/is Dr. Varnum?
A – Just a general practitioner, a Family Doctor.
Q – He’s where?
A – Oswego, In fact, he’s the reason why the second album is titled, ‘Just What The Doctor Ordered’. He still comes to see the band.
Q – What did you want to see happen with this band?
A – At one time we were playing once a month in New York and really trying to generate industry interest. Once I moved down here the perspective changed a little bit in that we were playing more ‘cause we wanted to play and I think we didn’t worry so much about playing in New York. I think we had kind of come to terms with hey let’s just play to play.
Q – It’s strange really, a lot of Central New York bands had this mistaken belief that if they showcased once a month in New York they could get a deal. “Orleans” played 3-4 nights a week, for 3-4 months before something happened. One night a week, once a month is not going to work.
A – No, and really when you combine that with where we were, the proximity of it, the fact that you could virtually make no money in New York City. It was a losing proposition in a lot of ways. We expanded the fan base. We used to play at The Bitter End in Greenwich Village and they absolutely loved us there. The owner Kenny had said, and this is after a couple of years of going down there, and I said we can’t do it, we can’t justify it, he said, ‘You have an open invitation anytime you guys ever want to come back and play, just let me know. Give me some notice. I’d love to have you’. It was cool for us because we always played really well down there. We had a lot of people that didn’t really see that kind of music being played anymore, like two guitars, a lot of harmonies, harmony vocals. There wasn’t as much of that going on in New York when we were playing there. Once a month, we didn’t get the industry things we were hoping for.
Q – I remember seeing a segment on “Frostbit Blue” on TV-9, when they were highlighting local bands. That was when there was a real buzz in the air about “Frostbit Blue”. Then when someone in the band left or got sick, There wasn’t so much of a buzz in the air about “Frostbit Blue”.
A – Well, our bass player had gotten cancer. That kind of changed things a bit for us. WE kind of had to circle the wagons. He was the trouper of all troupers. He would go to Buffalo for chemotherapy for a week, all week long of chemo treatments; drive on a Friday from Roswell and do a gig. He could barely stand. He played literally until he couldn’t stand any longer. So, that became difficult and then finding a replacement. Fortunately the guy we have now we were actually working him in under Tim’s approval. He would like split the night with Tim. So, we were working him in while Tim Smith was sick but still playing with the band. I think that coupled with…..I think it’s a very difficult thing to keep 5 people with the same goal after so many gigs that we played…We were always climbing in the van every weekend up and down (Route) 81, although it was mostly New York State, it was intensive. After awhile it becomes a really hard life to stay focused to, coupled with Tim being sick, and we didn’t receive much industry recognition, we said we’re selling tons of records which we’ve always done and we’ve always done well in the bars, let’s play to play and have fun and not worry about all that other stuff.
Q – It’s probably a lot easier for a group like “Frostbit Blue” to get recognition today because of the Internet.
A – Yes. We were just at the beginning of that stuff. Nobody had a website yet. We did have an e-mail list. I can remember sending out the snail mail mailers. We would send out a mailer card every month with all our dates on it. We definitely were just before that big boom so things might have been different had we had the Internet as part of things.
Q – You guys were looking for a record deal weren’t you?
A – Oh, absolutely. We thought with that second record…..we’re always proud of the two CD’s and they still sell well. We sold probably 11,000 or 12,000 copies of the first one. We’re in our 11th or 12th pressing of the first one, and 6th or 7th pressing of the second one. They’re still selling.
Q – You actually got your music noticed by the network t.v. people.
A – The song ‘The Preacher’ which is from our second CD was on a short-lived ABC show called ‘Cupid’ and then it was also on ‘Dawson’s Creek’. But, before that when Fox had a show called ‘Party Of Five’ which was very popular at the time, they had used two songs on an episode, from our first album. So, that was really where we thought, o.k. here we go. We got a tremendous amount of publicity from it. I can remember having a party the night it aired on local t.v. Granted, it’s background music, part of a scene, and you’re certainly not paying attention to the music, but, when your song is on there you’re paying attention like crazy!! (Laughs). But, those were great times for Frostbit Blue, where we felt like…..
Q – Something might happen.
A – Yeah.
Q – Who got your music to this t.v. show?
A - That really was a result of our former drummer John Bletch. He knew somebody in California, an Oswego native, whose job it was, at least part of it, was to place music in television programs. It had been kind of ongoing negotiations for months where we kept sending him stuff. He basically said, ‘It’ll happen guys. I’m not sure when’. We started to think it’s not going to happen. Then we got the phone call, ‘We’re going to use two songs in ‘A Party Of Five’. So, that was kind of one of those who you know things.
Q – You won a SAMMY (Syracuse Area Music Award) for Central New York’s Best Rock Band. What does that mean for your career? Do you get better paying gigs?
A – I also won a SAMMY for Best Rock Vocalist as well that year or maybe it was Rock Vocalist one year and the next year it was the band. I can’t remember. That was a great thing. It was at the Landmark and we performed. They had it on the Big Screen there at the Landmark. It really felt like an awards program. It gave you some street credit. It certainly gave you some leverage in booking. It was definitely a good thing. Very cool. We were really psyched, to be recognized especially not being from Syracuse. I always felt like we were trying to crack that market as like outsiders. But then Syracuse really embraced us and became very good to us.
Q – You opened for Marshall Tucker, Charlie Daniels, and Steppenwolf. How did these people treat you?
A – You know it really depends. We got everything form complete jerks to us to you felt like you were related to the people they were so nice to you. We had the good fortune of opening up for Marshall Tucker a bunch of times, probably 5 or 6 times. Each time the original lead singer Doug Gray asked me to sing ‘Can’t You See’ with him onstage. So, that was a wonderful thing. Doug Gray and the whole Marshall Tucker crew were just really nice. In a case like Charlie Daniels, you never met Charlie but his crew was cool. We met some of the guys who were real nice. We opened up for .38 Special and Dicky Betts. Usually, because we’re opening for a Southern band and because our styles are right in there, most of the people are really cool to us. I remember we opened for the Ramones once.
Q – What year was that?
A – I’m not sure what year it was but it was at a Springfest in Oswego. It was an outdoor thing. The crew were jerks to us. Not the guys in the band, ‘cause they stayed in their bus until it was time to play. You know, one of those deals. So, we’ve seen the entire gamut of real cool people who were not full of themselves to the complete prima donnas who wouldn’t let you move a microphone stand an inch from where it was.
Q – How did Steppenwolf treat you?
A – John Kay was kind of a jerk. (Laughs). Their crew was pretty ambivalent. They could’ve cared less. I think which is fine. At that time Steppenwolf was an also ran. Many years after their hey day, I think John Kay was the only original guy. These bands that were once huge are now playing these small venues, and they’re bitter. It kind of comes across from their crew to their sound check. It was kind of neat certainly for the guys in the band who were older than me and who were teenagers when Steppenwolf was at their height. From an opening act standpoint the height was Woodstock ’99. We played on one of the main stages. We were the first act to open Woodstock ’99 on one of the two main stages.
Q – How much do you play out these days?
A – Well, this past Summer (2007) was probably the busiest time for us. We’re probably playing 4-5 times a month, maybe a little bit more. Now, we’re taking January and February (2008) off, the first time in 20 years just because the ‘live’ entertainment scene is not what it used to be to begin with, but also in Central New York January and February…..(Laughs). At this point in my life I refuse to travel up and down (Route) 81 during those months. But, we probably play 2-3 times a month.
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