"So you want to be a rock 'n' roll star,
Well listen now to what I say.
Just get an electric guitar
And take some time and learn how to play.
And when your hair's grown right and
Your pants are too tight
It's gonna be alright."
with permission by Tickson Music
"I didn't know it would be like this. How different I get when I'm at home or in the studio and when I'm on the road. Your whole personality turns around completely. "But it's music, it's what I want to do."
Gary Cox, a gentle, quiet man with long brown hair, is talking about his life as a musician.
He and the other members of his Fairfax County-based band, Artful Dodger, were in New York last month making an album in the Record Plant recording studio.
Billy Paliselli, the lithe, lean lead singer prances around the studios in an Italian Stallion T-shirt, making jokes, a wiseacre.Steve Brigida, whose muscular biceps and triceps mark him as the band drummer, is moving constantly, his hands pounding some silent beat only he can hear.
Gary Herrewig sits curled up in a corner, or as curled up as his 6-foot fame will let him, reading "Hawaii." Black-mustachioed Steve Cooper trades insults with his producer, Eddie Leonetti. By contrast, [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] a three-piece, custom-made [WORD ILLEGIBLE]
They are all waiting. They are waiting for their producer to tell them it's time to record again. Waiting for a new arrangement to get worked out. Waiting to re-record a track of music they have just played. Waiting for their dinners.
Artful Dodger is working on their third album, to be released sometime this summer. Their first two, "Artful Dodger" and "Honor Among Thieves", received critical acclaim, but sold only 50,000 copies.
This can be the one to make or break them. The band members are counting on a hit - this week they will release a single," Can't Stop Pretending" - to help them join the elite ranks of the other top groups.
Products of the '60s phenomenon in which everybody's brother had a band that practiced in the basement rec room, Artful Dodger plays, "not to get rich, but because we just want to do it," said Gary Herrewig, the 25-year-old lead guitar player and one of three composers in the group. "There is something really strong that makes you want to be a rock musician, something inside that says something has to come out."
Their music is a synthesis of early Beatles - strong on harmonies and soft, meldoious backgrounds - with a '70s flair, an occasional "heavy metal" guitar riff, a bit of saxophone, a throaty male lead singer.
"Our music is teen-age music to go out and get crazy with. It's a frame of mind rather than of any real age. Our lyrics are about love and hate - no politics or anything like that," said Billy Paliselli.
The band members have been working on their sound for years. Gary Cox, 24, said "I knew in seventh grade that I had to be a musician for the rest of my life."
Fairfax County, indeed the whole Washington area, has never been a springboard to rock stardom. Only a handful of home grown performers - Emmylou Harris, Nils Lofgren, Marvin Gaye and Roberta Flack-have ever found national prominence.
The suburban image-beer and pizza with your best girl at Tysons Corner-doesn't quite fit the rather jaundiced and bizarre lifestyles promoted by such bands as the Rolling Stones and David Bowie.
But the rock 'n' roll lifestyle of six weeks touring on the road, two weeks with the family, and then back to touring or making records again, appeals to these men. It is the job they know how to do, and others think they do it well.
"The band has three excellent songwriters," said David McGee, critic for Record World and other music-business publications. "They sing well and look good live. If they were playing the right places, they could be one of the top middle bands (solid opening acts, headliners at smaller clubs). They are not a Kiss or Aerosmith, but they could make a good living out of it."
The men in the band have been Virginians all their lives-Paliselli, 21, and Steve Cooper, his 24-year-old cousin and bass player for the group, lived next door to each other when they were growing up. During their Fairfax High School days, they played together in a band called Badge. Herrewig, Cox and Brigida all went to Herndon High School and were in a band called Homestead.
While Cox's and Brigida's guidance counsellors at Herndon were telling them to quit school and learn a trade, they were building expertise after-hours with the bands.
Brigida actually learned how to play the drums in the high school music program. "We used to meet at Woodson High School. There were about 30 of us, and we would take turns sitting on a drum set and pounding on it."
Brigida's parents did not appreciate all the clatter and time he spent with the band. "When I was a kid, I was the black sheep. When my parents would play bridge, and a neighbor would ask how I was, they would change the subject and talk about my brother, Art. Now they are glad I'm finally making a success."
Cooper's and Paliselli's families were bigger fans. "When we'd be practicing, my parents used to shout down requests while they were doing the dishes," said Paliselli. "All the neighbors would turn off the air conditioners and listen to us."
The band members finally united into one band called Brat. They won some local, than national attention, and wrangled a management contract from Leber-Krebs of New York.
In 1974, Leber-Krebs landed them a recording contract with Columbia Records. Before they knew it, they had a new name, Artful Dodger ("there were too many bands named Brat, and after all, the Dickens character was one, too," said Herrewig), and a new record album of the same name.
Off they went on the road to tour with bands the likes of Kiss, Ted Nugent and Blue Oyster Cult.
Life on the road turned out to be one-night stands in a succession of Holiday Inns and Howard Johnsons in towns all across America. Green-haired groupies in Texas and women wearing only blue jeans and backstage passes pasted in appropriate places began to wear on them.
"There was nothing to do but drink," said Brigida. "I wouldn't want my kids to do it. It is easy to totally sell out, to lose perspective. The chances you will make it are so slim. You have to be stable."
But the audiences in Buffalo, Cleveland and Mason City, Iowa, loved them. Shelley Stile, program director for WMMS-FM in Cleveland, thinks she knows why. "Artful Dodger is good fun. The music is not fancy, not overproduced. You feel their hearts are in it. They showed the people here they love us and you might say they are now our adopted hometown band."
"At first we were just nervous," said Paliselli about performing before 5,000 people. "Now we're still nervous, but it's a good nervous. We have a fun attitude in concert. We want to have a party with them. When we were on the Kiss tour the members of the band helped us out a lot. They gave us advice on how to stand in the lights, about stage presence."
When they are not on the road, they say they are homebodies, "retiring" to the countryside. They have lost contract with many of their old high-school friends because of the strange hours and lifestyles they lead. Their homes have become their vacations. "I live like a hermit here," said Brigida.
Two of them, Billy Paliselli and Gary Herrewig, are married, Herrewig for only a few months. Copper and Cox live with their families, and Brigida has an apartment in Reston.
Paliselli laughs when asked if the minds being a heart-throbs to thousands of teen-aged girls."I love it. I bask in that kind of stuff. If you get a letter from a real fanatic, male or female, you know you are headed in the right direction, that people are really getting off on it."
"The girls, they really talk you up. They get their girlfriends to come to the concerts," said Cox. "It isn't on a sexual level all the time, they just want to meet you."
But the motivations that accompany some of the introductions - the groupie syndrome - has taken its toll on the band members.
"I knew my girl friend before the band made it. "I'm really lucky about that because I know she's interested in me and not just the band," said Brigida.
"I don't think I could trust anybody now," said Herrewig.
They are back in Fairfax now, practicing the songs from their new album for an upcoming tour. Their cars, a '54 Plymouth Savoy, a '54 and a '57 Chevy, a Toyota Corolla, are lined up around the warehouse where they play into the night.
They are waiting again. Waiting to see if they'll get a hit, to see who they'll be touring with. And they are ever optimistic.
"We'll be one of the biggest," said Cooper. "It's just the way I feel about the music. There hasn't been a band like us in a long time."