ALECSTAR - From the Beginning
Alecstar began as the remnants of a band called Thrush which featured George Mahoney on drums and lead vocals, Jack Murray on bass and backing vocals and Dan C. on guitar and vocals. George and Dan formed their friendship in high school, of which Mahoney was still attending, when they had decided to form a band. They placed an ad in the local paper and Murray answered the call. A three piece powerhouse, they did covers of the major rock acts of the day. Although short lived, Thrush contained the rhythm section that would form the foundation for Alecstar.
When Thrush broke up less than a year later, Mahoney went on to join the Flyers (later the New York Flyers) as their drummer. It was during his time with the Flyers that Mahoney wrote his first two songs, “Long Dirt Road” and “I Can’t Say Goodbye”. Both songs were first performed by the Flyers and later on were recorded and performed by Alecstar.
Murray began playing with other local musicians in the hopes of putting another band together to go out on the road with. One of those musicians was local guitar slinger Dick Murphy, formerly of Bib-n-Tucker and Howie (Bartolo) and the Hornets. After a few months of practicing and auditioning it became apparent that it wasn’t coming together like Murray had hoped. He had just about given up when his and Mahoney’s path would merge once again. Because of an accident that occurred while moving a Hammond B3 organ, Mahoney had to temporarily leave the Flyers. Due to previously booked dates, the Flyers decided to play on with a replacement until Mahoney could return. While recuperating, the musical bonds that had formed between Mahoney and Murray began to pull at him. Once healed, he would return to the Flyers but within a few months he would follow his instincts and leave to form Alecstar with Murray.
Alecstar now had three of its future members onboard, but the decision was made not to remain a three piece band as Thrush had been. The search was on for another guitar player who also had lead vocal capabilities to add to the bands vocal presence. After a number of auditions the clear choice was Steve Moosebrugger, formerly of the band Darlin. The first order of business, while the band rehearsed, was the naming of the band. Distant Star was the working name of the band for awhile, but on one particular night of practice the name Alecstar surfaced from a rather peculiar circumstance. The walls of the practice room were covered with large moving pads to absorb the sound and on one of the pads was a tag with the name Alec Smith. It’s not clear who put the two halves together, but that night the name Alecstar was conceived.
As the band practiced, the first gigs were being booked. One of those was an opening act for what would become one of rock and rolls biggest bands, Boston. The band started playing more and more but it soon became apparent that the band chemistry was not working. Moosebrugger had demanded that he do nearly all of the lead vocals and that did not sit well with the rest of the band. Moosebrugger soon left and went on to form his own band, Holly and the New Yorkers, which would include one of Alecstar’s future drummers, Kenny Simpson. The search for a replacement began.
At one point, while Mahoney and Murray were performing together in Thrush, they were booked as an opening act for Kane, who was Central New York’s first theatrical rock band. Kane was the brain child of lead singer, songwriter and bassist, Tony Masterpol. Rounding out Kane’s lineup was Harold Mantor on guitar and vocals, Lou Secreti on keyboards and backing vocals and Mike Secreti on drums. Kane had since disbanded and Mantor was recruited to replace the departed Moosebrugger. The rigors of rehearsal were about to begin again less than a year after they had started.
Rehearsals began and initially there were conflicts over what direction the band should go in. Up until this point they were doing a lot of what could be termed obscure material. Some members wanted to stay on that path and others wanted to do more mainstream rock to build their audience, and in turn their pay. The situation was further complicated when Murphy, who had for some time been looking to make a move to sunny Florida, decided to go and informed the band that he would be moving south. While this dealt a blow to the remaining members, they were determined to press on. It became clear at this point that if they were going to start over, they should go for the more commercial sound. All they needed now was another guitar player. The rebuilding process would soon start again.
Before the word got out that Alecstar would be rehearsing new guitar players, Mantor suggested they try a keyboardist to add to the lineup. It was at this point that Lou Secreti, another former Kane member, was brought in to replace Murphy. During this period Alecstar began moving more into the mainstream with their selection of cover material. Drummer Mahoney was also writing more and more originals that fit in well with the broader sound they were reaching for. For several months the plan to switch directions worked, until inner dissension once again struck home. Unable to get the band to play his originals and not willing to travel too far from home, would put Secreti at odds with the band. He left after less than a year had passed. Thrown into turmoil, and not willing to wait for a replacement, the remaining members performed as a trio while they pondered their next move. They began to wonder if they would ever have a lineup that would last beyond a few seasons. Fate was about to deal the band a winning hand.
Murphy, little known to the band, had decided he wasn’t ready to retire to sunny Florida and had returned to Syracuse. Local promoter Jack Belle, who was a long time friend of Murphy’s, approached the band and asked that they consider taking Murphy back into the band. It should also be noted that Belle was Alecstar’s manager during the first short lived version of the band. Along with his request came the promise of opening slots in some of his shows. In fact when Murphy was in Bib-n-Tucker, they were given the opening slot at a sold out show for heavy metal rockers SLADE (who had their #1 hit "Cum On Feel The Noize" become a hit for Quiet Riot) at the 8,000 seat Onondaga County War Memorial. After some discussion Mahoney, Murray and Mantor all agreed to let Murphy back into the band. It was one of the best decisions they would ever make. From that point on until the last day the band played together, and even the subsequent reunions, the four of them would never part ways again. It was this lineup that most observers would agree was the one that created the magic formula that reached out and built the fan base that remained with them until the end. And Belle kept his word, offering up numerous opening slots for some of the big acts of the day like Johnny Winter, Ronnie Montrose, Boston, Loverboy, Foghat, UFO, and Eddie Money.
With Murphy back in the fold and committed to the band, the journey was about to begin. The driving, seamless rhythm section of Murray and Mahoney laid the foundation for the bands sound. The twin guitar of Murphy and Mantor became the heart of that sound. Everything was finally working and working well. It was time to take the new band out for a test drive.
In the early part of spring in 1978, when life begins, Alecstar hit the road and played every club they could. They watched as the crowds grew and the bookings increased. It was now time to try their hand at recording. They set up recording equipment in Murphy’s living room and recorded their first single “No Cash” b/w “Taking it Over”. The single was met with success and the band wanted to record more of their own material, which was being written at an ever increasing rate.
With their first single receiving airplay, the band was ready to record again. Not ready to invest in studio time just yet, but wanting to record more of their own material, the band once again set up recording equipment in Murphy’s house and with the help of their soundman John Gilmour, they recorded eight more songs. After mixing the session down to a stereo master tape, three of the songs (Hold On To Rock & Roll – Take Me – Long Dirt Road) were released to radio stations for airplay. One of those three songs, “Hold On To Rock & Roll”, made it onto one of WOUR’s Rock of Central NY albums and "Take Me" was released on a DMR’s promo LP. It was also around this time that the band would form a long and lasting friendship with WOUR DJ Jerry Kraus, who would be instrumental in helping to make Alecstar a household name in the Utica-Rome market. Two of the Syracuse area radio stations were also influential in helping Alecstar. Howie Castle and Tommy Nast from 94Rock and Dave Fresina from 95X, were also a big help in getting Alecstar’s originals played. And to the east, in the state capital of Albany, Andy Turco, Bob Welsh, and Rick VanZant from PYX106, were all huge promoters of Alecstar. All of these stations were immensely helpful with the air play they gave the band.
The sounds of synthesizers were becoming more and more prominent in the rock and roll world. In addition, Mahoney was beginning to feel somewhat confined behind the drums, especially since he was capable of adding acoustic guitar and keyboards to the bands material. The decision was made to bring in another drummer and move Mahoney out front. Mike Secreti, another former Kane member, was the obvious choice. In the beginning all was well. The band was able to grow musically with a fifth member. However, after a relatively short period of time, personality conflicts began, and before long another new member of Alecstar left before a year had passed. It was a decision Secreti would later regret. Within days after he left, the band announced they would be going into UCA studios in Utica to record their first album. Mahoney was back on drums before the dust even had a chance to settle.
The band wanted someone to record their album that knew the recording industry, and the logical choice was their former soundman, Matt Forger, who had since moved out to Los Angeles and procured a job at Westwood Studios. Forger was later given credit as a technician on the late Michael Jackson’s now famous Thriller album. Forger was flown home and the recording process began. Due to time constraints, it was important that the session be completed in a relatively short period of time. The session went quickly, but the final mixing and mastering process would take more than a year to complete. In addition, the song selection was left up to Forger, who chose not to have the band record some of its most popular music to date. When the album did finally arrive, nearly 18 months had passed and more than half of the songs on it had been rotated out of the bands set list. Even though the recording was polished sounding, some thought it was too polished. It was very important to the band that how they sounded live was translated onto vinyl. Unfortunately, during the final mixing and mastering process, the big live feel that the band was going for was lost and replaced with a slick, processed sound that was not a true representation of Alecstar. The band had learned its first big recording lesson. If you want something done quickly and done right…. do it yourself. And that is exactly what they would later do.
In the meantime, as the recording process was going on, the need to find a new drummer quickly was ever present. The process would be short one. The new drummer would be former Holly and the New Yorkers drummer Kenny Simpson. Simpson’s double kick drum set and more aggressive style would compliment Mahoney’s latest compositions, which were becoming more and more musically challenging. Within a few months of Simpson’s arrival, the band would head back into the studio. Only this time the band would do it themselves. Guided by Bob Yauger of UCA studios, the entire process would take only a few weeks. Produced by Alecstar, the session wound up with two of the bands biggest hits, “So Long To Hollywood” and “Living In Fear.” They were never released by the band, but they were released by a few radio stations, which put out their own LP’s of local music. A live version of “Hollywood” was recorded by the King Biscuit people at an outside show in Albany for local station PYX106. They later released it on their own album entitled Capital Land Jam. It was an album of local and semi local bands that were the most popular in the Albany area. After its release, the public was asked to vote for their favorite band and Alecstar won. The top prize was a couple of thousand dollars worth of equipment. The band never received a thing.
The bigger concern at the time was with the latest member of Alecstar. Trouble was on the horizon and personal problems would soon force Simpson out of the band. Would the “curse of the drummers” ever end? Not just yet. The process of auditioning another round of drummers was not one anybody wanted to go through again. However, it needed to be done and done quickly. After a small handful of drummers had auditioned, one quickly stood out. Robbie Spagnoletti was relatively unknown, but his skill as a drummer was apparent. He was quickly offered the job and he accepted. Practice began and the band started to gel once again. But the curse was not through yet and would strike one more time. Spagnoletti would quit the band before he ever even got to play a beat. Dakota, a band based out of Wilkes-Barre Scranton Pennsylvania, was signed to a label and they too were in need of a drummer. They had previously auditioned Spagnoletti and now they were offering him a chance to play with a signed band and he took the offer. Dakota never went anywhere after that. Llater on Spagnoletti would become part of the Mark Doyle and Joe Whiting band. Now Alecstar was under immense pressure to find a replacement. It was no secret at this point that some thought Mahoney should have stayed behind the drums. The band had been tighter and the flow was even. The music was seamless in every respect. And if they could not do some songs because of the limitations of being a four piece band, then it was a price some thought was worth paying. The hunt for what would be the bands last drummer was about to begin.
One of the first to apply for the job was Fred Coury, a Binghamton native who had seen the band many times. He contacted the band when he heard that they were looking for a new drummer. Coury showed up for his audition but when the audition was over, the band felt that he did not do his homework and did not offer him the job. They also did not sense that he would necessarily fit into the bands personality. And after all the problems with drummers they wanted the next one to be their last one. Coury did break into the big time a few years later as the drummer for nationally known Cinderella. However, the city of Binghamton had not run out of drummers just yet.
Once, when the band was playing in the Binghamton area, a young area drummer came up to the band and announced that if the band ever needed a drummer, that he was the person for the job. He thought his high energy style of playing would be a perfect fit. His name was Tim Sharp and he wanted to play with Alecstar. When auditions began he was given the chance and ultimately the job. Although nobody in the band ever claimed to be superstitious, they were hiring a fourth drummer whose last name began with the letter S. Was it an omen? Was the curse going to strike a fifth time? Fortunately, the bad luck with drummers had finally run its course and Sharp stayed with the band to the end. During Sharps reign with Alecstar, they would go into the studio one last time. Wanting to do something fairly quickly, but with more appeal than the standard 45rpm in a jacket, the band opted for 45 sized (but played at album speed 33-1/3rpm) flexible vinyl disc placed over a photo of the band. It was unique in its appearance, and would be the bands last musical statement.
The fall of 1984 had begun and as with all falls, the end of life for many things. And not long after, the announcement came down from lead singer and songwriter Mahoney, that he would be leaving the band. Nine long years of playing throughout the northeast, Canada and as far away as Florida, had taken their toll on Mahoney. The hopes of landing a record deal had long since faded. The rigors of playing night after night had begun to outweigh the rewards. He had been offered the lead singer and drummer position in a band that was forming in California. For better or worse, it was time to try something else. Following Mahoney’s announcement, Murphy said he too had had enough and would be going to Florida. This time however, would be for good. The last dates were announced, and January 19th 1985 would be the end. It was time to say goodbye.
The last weeks before the bands final night together went as many before them had. The only exception was the very last week during a special farewell party at the Rustic Inn in Herkimer on January 16th - It was given by WOUR in honor of Alecstar’s excellence and commitment to their trade. Jerry “The Doctor” Krause was master of ceremonies for the evening and presented each member of the band with a silver cup, a token of appreciation. It was this night that reality really set in. The next two nights were at The Connection in Gloversville. No one really wanted to talk about it, but it was apparent that the bond that once held the band together was dissolving and it couldn’t be stopped.
January 19th came and with it a snowstorm. The road crew left earlier than usual as it was a long drive to West Leyden. The weather did not affect the mood or numbers of the full house that greeted the band upon their arrival. They came to say goodbye and wanted one more night of the brand of rock & roll that Alecstar had given them so many times before. Through the laughter, the tears, the joy and the sorrow, the band gave up their best. When it came down to the very last song, the band felt it should make a statement and chose The Who’s “Long Live Rock” to make it with. And when the last chord rang and slowly faded away, Alecstar came to its conclusion. The long ride was over. All that was left now were the memories. It was a long ride home that night, and longer still was the wait before some members even wanted to talk about it being over. Some bitterness lingered, as not all the members wanted the band to close its doors. But time is a healer of all wounds, and the time did finally arrive when everyone accepted the fact that it was over.
The band never got that coveted prize, a record deal, the ultimate reward for any aspiring band. A lesson I learned a long time ago is that you can do your best and still lose. It’s not about losing, it’s about doing your best. That is what it all comes down to. I know what I saw so many times over the years. A talented and original band, that always gave its best. So enjoy your trip back through time on the Alecstar website and as the band said so many times over… "Hold On To Rock & Roll"...
It’s been discussed many times over … what if this had happened… what if that had happened. Hindsight is a beautiful thing. Foresight is great planning. Where did the band turn left when it should have gone right? What would you change if you could go back and do it again? Why didn’t the band get a record deal? What was done to get them a record deal? Mistakes were made and some were probably fatal. Let’s take a quick look at what some of the decisions were that took place, that more than likely affected Alecstar’s chances of taking it to the next level.
Putting Mahoney out front. While freeing him up to do more, the move also affected the cohesiveness and dynamics of the band. Plus the constant dealing with the drummer issue was draining. While certainly not a major mistake, its effect was felt. The magic was the four main members. The old saying “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” would certainly apply here.
The album. At the time the band was investing in their own album, MTV (back when it was playing rock music) had a show called MTV Basement Tapes. Bands would send in a video of themselves and on Monday nights, MTV would play the videos and let the public call in for their favorite artist. The prize was a record deal. It was suggested that the band take that money that was to be used for the album, and make the best video they could, of their best song. It didn’t matter if the band won or lost, because with national airplay, you couldn’t buy that kind of publicity. All a record label had to do was turn on MTV to find the next hot band. And you could rest assured that the label executives had somebody watching that show. It was also around this time that Mahoney had elevated his songwriting to the next level. The time to strike was then, but the band was convinced to go with the album. The idea being that they could shop it to record labels, which in turn, could take the finished product and release it. They were also hoping that their former soundman and engineer, Matt Forger, would put the album in the right hands. That did not happen either. Going with the album would be a crucial and costly mistake… possibly the biggest. The band went left when it should have gone right.
Management. Good management is hard to find and great management is almost impossible to find. Initially the band worked through DMR, the local booking agency, and later their manager to get dates booked. Not a difficult job when you are booking a band everyone wants. The songwriting was there, the vocals were there, the musicianship was there. But who was knocking on record company’s doors with the latest and the best the band had to offer? Who was looking for every possible contact there was to find in hopes of landing that elusive record deal? No one. DMR did not want one of their top money bands leaving town and leaving them behind. It was a smart business decision for them, but it would only hurt the bands possibilities for success. Rather than try to boost the bands chances and have their name forever attached to a band that made it, they chose to go for the small picture they painted for themselves and ultimately the band. In addition the band had to contend with an agency that was overly busy playing turf war. DMR was unwilling to share commissions with other agencies. This kept Alecstar out of clubs in other large cities like Rochester and Buffalo. Keep in mind that Billy Sheehan (of Talas) who would become a member of Mr. Big and David Lee Roth’s band was discovered in Buffalo. From the neighboring city of Rochester emerged singer and songwriter Lou Gramm (of Black Sheep), who would go on to lead rock superstars Foreigner. DMR’s self serving tactics did not end there. They used their most popular acts like Alecstar, Flyer and Todd Hobin, to force club owners to book the other bands they represented, that did not enjoy the popularity and drawing power of the bigger bands. If a club owner wanted Alecstar he would have to take a couple of bands he didn’t want as well. A brick wall was built around the band and each brick in that wall was made from greed. Exposure, along with proper representation is essential for success. DMR did not represent Alecstar. They represented themselves. Even some of the club owners started to complain to individual band members on how they were being held ransom by DMR when it came to getting the popular bands. It took awhile, but the band finally got wise and told DMR that their services were no longer needed. The band would be doing their own bookings. They were told by the agency owner that they would be blackballed. A threat that carried no weight and the band knew it. Alecstar wasn’t the only band to jump ship either. For the last few years the band was together, their manager would take over the booking process. Make no mistake, in the beginning DMR did get Alecstar into a number of clubs, but once the band had built their own reputation, which did not take long, booking them was like selling ice water in the desert. New York City, which has an office for every major record label, not to mention home to a number of talent agency’s, is a five hour drive from Syracuse. Mailing some promo tapes of the band, followed up by a few calls, would have been a very inexpensive way of shopping Alecstar. In addition there are numerous professional talent agencies in New York City that might have wanted to take Alecstar under their wing… if they had a chance to hear the bands original material. You have to go looking for success. It doesn’t come to you unless you are born under the name Rockefeller. Bad management was a major flaw in the life of Alecstar.
In retrospect, the band did its job but disconnected, self serving management, and bad advice on the making of the album would be two monumental mistakes. One, or both of which, might have cost the band the very thing they wanted most. We will never know. This is not to judge or criticize anybody. These are the facts as they happened. This is to simply look at an issue that could have gone in an entirely different direction and more than likely, had a much happier ending, if a few decisions had gone a different way, and a few more people had gotten involved.