In my opinion The Silos of the late 80’s/early 90’s were a one of a kind, real Rock ‘n Roll band. The band had unlimited potential and could have set the tone for a generation of guitar-based rock bands. Those of us involved with the band knew it outright. Although our RCA record got great reviews, the way the Gainesville/RCA sessions unfolded was a complete disappointment. The record was a dud. (The best recording of the band is a live bootleg recorded on tour by our soundman, Joe Chianicci.) This version of the band remained intact until 1992 and was a powerhouse on tour in the US and Europe. I stayed on a little longer than did JD Foster and Bob Rupe, recording more tracks which ended up on subsequent records. My last tour with the band was a grueling six week van tour of Germany, Austria, Spain and Switzerland. The following is the story of my involvement in the band and of our only major label recording.
In 1987, bass player Richard Ford had just finished working with Joe Jackson and was settling into the freelance music scene in New York. Richard had also played with Bill Nelson of Bee Bop Deluxe as well as many others. Originally from England, Richard came to the US and lived near my home town of Randolph, NJ before settling in Hoboken. He recommended me for work regularly, for which I’ll be forever grateful. He is a true musician and would be sorely missed by The Silos at the time of his departure from the band.
The Silos had just been voted Best Band in America by a Rolling Stone Magazine Critics Poll and were looking for a new rhythm section to carry them to major status, getting them signed to a major label record company. Richard was asked to play bass and he recommended me for the drum chair. The line up of The Silos was Bob Rupe and Walter Salas-Humara on guitars/vocals. Me and Richard Ford on drums and bass.
In addition to a new rhythm section, the band also had a new business manager; Hoboken realtor Mark Zoltak. Mark was a former NYC DJ and was the motivational muscle behind the band.He had great ideas and knew the songs better than those of us in the band. He regularly spoke his mind and had strong opinions about music. To Mark, music was either great or it sucked. There was no in-between. Mark truly understood the essence of The Silos. He got it. He devised a business plan to unleash the improved band and get it signed to a major label. The band quickly became an unparalleled live act and played dozens of industry showcases in Los Angeles and in the Northeast. The plan worked. In March of 1989 the band was signed to RCA Records by the label’s president Bob Buziak. The trick now would be to capture the true essence of the band at a studio recording.
A One Man Band
I was not involved in the daily business of the band, so I can’t explain the rationale behind most of the business decisions. As the September recording date approached it was obvious that there was a power struggle within the band. Specifically, Walter was making it known to us that the band was his brain child. (Subtext: “The record deal is all mine!!”) Although Walter was indeed a strong songwriter, he was not even an adequate singer or guitar player. It was Bob Rupe’s Otis Redding voice and Neil Young guitar style that fleshed out Walter’s contributions. It was the way the ensemble executed the songs and the way we played together that made us a great band. It was my hope that Bob would hold fast to his co-leader status, checking Walter’s power grab. To my dismay however, Bob assumed the role of second-in-command.
To make things even worse, Walter then began hinting about playing the drums on the upcoming record. Yikes!Just what I needed, right? One month before our scheduled sessions, he invited me over to his apartment for dinner. After eating in awkward silence, he turned on the stereo and played tracks of great drummers like Al Jackson and Levon Helm. Next he played some of our demos, the ones I drummed on. Out of nowhere he then delivered this mandate: “Start playing like one of these drummers or I’ll find someone else to play drums in the band.” I thought, “What a douche bag!” Granted, those are two great drummers, but not really suitable for the guitar rock of The Silos. Also, not the drummer he sought out and hired for greater success-ME! Please don’t get me wrong. Most of my job as a drummer has been to listen to others and execute their music as they hear it. It’s also been my experience that when someone pulls shit like this there’s usually an ulterior motive. This was his first of many moves to play drums on our recordings. It was this need for control that would trump everything else. Even if it meant he’d sabotage the band’s record deal and chances of success.
There was great irony in the fact that the guy who was the worst singer, guitarist, bassist, drummer and producer; in fact the worst musician in the band was the one who wanted to play every instrument and do everything himself. Walter had no interest in being a member of band, unless perhaps it was a one-man band. His desire to play drums would weigh heavily on our upcoming Gainesville recording sessions and would eventually crush my desire to work with him altogether. In the meantime, while on a coffee break from one of our many Hoboken demo sessions, Richard revealed to me that he’d be quitting and would not be joining us in Florida for the recording of the record. For me, that was the beginning of the end.
We plowed ahead. Austin-based JD Foster would replace Richard on bass. Cowboy Junkies producer Peter J. Moore was brought in from Toronto. Ed Bair would run house/stage sound, and Peter Yianolis would be the recording engineer and operator of the mobile truck. On September 25, 1989, the band and crew settled into rented apartments in the town of Gainesville, Florida ready to record.
During this period of The Silos, my real home was on Bergen Avenue in Jersey City. Richard, Walter and manager Mark Zoltak all lived in nearby Hoboken. Bob lived on the lower east side of Manhattan. We were all within a few miles of each other and within an easy commute to mid-town Manhattan, home to dozens of the world’s top recording studios. In spite of this, Walter somehow convinced RCA executives that recording our record in NYC would be too distracting (from what?). That instead, we’d need to record in Gainesville, Florida. The fact that there were no suitable recording studios in Gainesville led us to an abandoned theater. We used its stage and hallways for live sounds. A mobile recording truck parked next to the building and was where the producer and engineer spent most of their time. Admittedly, this made for an interesting story and good press. For us however, that’s all we got out of it. As we were rehearsing in the theater, we got word that RCA president and #1 Silos fan, Bob Buziak had been fired.