Kelakos is one of those great bands that sometimes fall through the cracks of history. They've just released Uncorked: Rare Tracks From A Vintage '70s Band, a set of tunes originally recorded between 1976-1978, and when you hear it, you'll wonder why these guys weren't on The Midnight Special cranking out the same type of eclectic, soul stirring rock as the Allman Brothers Band, Steely Dan, and other legends of the times. Better late than never, we can now hear what should have been a big hits at the time.
The band was filled to the brim with talent - drummer Carl Canedy has been a hard rock/heavy metal legend for many decades, and bassist Lincoln Bloomfield Jr. went on to a remarkable career in Washington, D.C.. While his bass playing and singing can compete with anyone of his era, Bloomfield instead opted towards a path that would see him most notably appointed Assistant Secretary Of State for Political-Military Affairs by President George W. Bush in 2001. Guitarist Mark Sisson, and singer/guitarist/songwriter George Kelakos Haberstroh have never stopped playing music, and continue to work together almost forty years later, proving that the love of music never dies, in spite of the pains that can be caused by the industry.
I recently had a chance to speak with George Kelakos Haberstroh, and it was one of those experiences best called life affirming for all the right reasons. It would be only too easy for a musician to respond to a fickle market with bitterness and acrimony, but Haberstroh has instead chosen to taking the high road by putting the past behind, and getting on with the task of honing his God given skills, and continuing to follow his muse with an attitude that is wonderfully refreshing.
My first question was, "Why now?"
George Kelakos Haberstroh: "I knew nothing about this!
"Linc (Bloomfield) found the tracks, and was able to convert them to digital tracks, so he got a bunch of equipment and just started playing around with the old tracks, and some of the results he was getting were amazing.
"He sent me some early tracks and said, "Hey, listen to this."
"It somehow had the depth that the vinyl never did for some reason. We spent our hearts and souls, we borrowed everything up to our ears, I gambled everything on the future of that band. It was sort of a tribute to a father I never knew, Kelakos, that was my father's name."
|Kelakos in 1977|
True enough, the Kelakos album does sound great. It's a crystal clear recording that is punchy and tight. No sonic argument can be made against it, and the material and performances are uniformly excellent. So, why did it not do better?
When Haberstroh (Kelakos) speaks of a mssing depth on the vinyl, this is directly attributable to the process that is called mastering. Many a great album of that era came out of the studio sounding like a million dollars, only to be reduced to bargain bin leftovers by a bad mastering. Much like cooking a dish in a stove, a lot can go wrong after the parts are assembled, regardless of the recipe and ingredients. Such is the fate that doomed Kelakos commercially in 1979:
George Kelakos Haberstroh: "We didn't have enough money to try it again!
"We got it back, and we knew something wasn't right. When we were listening to the playbacks in the studio, they were blowing our minds. We were saying, 'The stuff is golden! We'll bank on this for a long time.'
"Haha, we didn't realize just how long! But, now it has come out again, and how it was intended to be heard. Link had the concept - he's brilliant, he's the bass player, he's a U.S. Ambassador...
"Yes, and singer! Link and I grew up in the same town, we were in the fifth grade, and we were in a special singing group together in our own public school. Little did we know that five or six years later we'd be starting a band in '68! I think the year we were singing together was the year that Kennedy was assassinated, so yeah, we go way back.
"We all went crazy when The Beatles came out, and the catalyst to our band forming was rhythm guitarist Mark Sisson came in from Seattle with a Fender Villager twelve string, and he knew all the chords - he was so good, it was like, 'Oh my gosh...'
"We had found our George Harrison!"
Looking back upon it, it's hard to say what went wrong for Kelakos. Bad mastering aside, these fellows had been hitting the boards hard for years, making the most of their opportunities, and not falling victim to the excesses of the day, but sometimes just nothing is enough:
George Kelakos Haberstroh: "And back then recording was expensive, too. We recorded at a place called Pyramid Sound, who also happened to be our booking agent at the time.
"So, they were making a lot of money off of us, in that they were sending us out to do our gigs, 300 one nighters a year, and we were going to towns and just conquering them! We knew we had the stuff, in places we had never, been winning them over, and that just added to it.
"With that impetus, four years of doing that, we came into the studio and spent all of our money, but we figured, 'We've got the stuff, here it is.'"
I asked what it was like, gigging in those days when playing original material in clubs was certainly not a given:
George Kelakos Haberstroh: "At first, we moved down to the Jersey Shore. Three of us had grown up in Massachusetts, and we had a good following there, we were big fish in a little pond.
"We had our following and everything was good. Then we got together with Carl Canedy, who was just fantastic on drums, and as you said, any style we would play, we could bring to life. Carl said, 'Well, let's not just be big fish up here, let's go down by The Big Apple, and see how we do!'
"We moved down there and started doing gigs. The only problem was that disco had just hit the shore there, and we were a rock band. It was a little difficult, and after a year down there, we just said that we didn't fit in, so we moved to upper state New York, and things started happening for us more on the rock scene and circuit, just getting the whole routine down of being a traveling rock band."
So, the big question seems to be, was this just the right band at the wrong point in history? Because it certainly appears that way, especially when you hear the album. This should be a record that people have known for thirty-five years, not something brand new to be discovered, right?
George Kelakos Haberstroh: "See, I'm not the one to ask.
"I was disappointed, to say the least, and I left to live as a hermit, just to hell with everything. I came down to this very rural part of Florida, and just went away from everyone and everything I knew. It just hadn't worked, and it wasn't working.
"But, I never turned my back on the music - I've been writing and playing, and making myself better at my weaknesses all these years. I just never had the heart to go have formal releases of things again, and getting a band together again, roadies...
"I never had that urge anymore. Over the years I've done one nighters, and I'll have people up to play, so I just kind of lost faith. Not in the music, but in the whole machinery of it all. Now, Mark Sisson has moved close by me, and he plays pedal steel guitar now, alá Jerry Garcia, a real sweet thing, so we get together to play about twice a month, and we've been recording songs that I've written. It's an ongoing process, but it harkens straight back to the days of that album."
|Rock 'n' roll's loss was our country's gain. But what a bass player!|
What's in the future for George Haberstroh and Kelakos? I know Linc Bloomfield has kept his chops up, and has been seen gigging with guitar legend Jeff "Skunk" Baxter in the D.C. area, and Carl Canedy joins Haberstroh and Sisson as musicians continuing to ply their trade:
George Kelakos Haberstroh: "Well, I'm very capable of it! I'm writing, playing, and recording in that barn four hours a day!
"The opportunities really haven't been coming up for me, but if you look at the Facebook page and it's nice, and it's great, but there's like eighty likes on it, and my YouTube songs have like forty-fifty views. Still, that's OK - I never did better than breaking even at it, but it's my love!
"Like a prayer to the skies every time I play! Please Lord, make me sound better, make it beautiful!
"That's been my mindset ever since. It's for the glory of the music, not the glory of myself being the big shot up there onstage."
|Bloomfield onstage with Jeff "Skunk" Baxter.|
I offer that if that is, indeed, the gig (and it is), then George Kelakos Haberstroh has been a stunning success in the game of life. I asked George about the rest of the band's reaction towards the re-release of their early efforts:
George Kelakos Haberstroh: "I can't really speak for them, but Carl's review have been spectacular! He also has his new Headbanger album, that he did by himself, and boy, things like that track "Crossfire" really kicks ass!
"Carl could always do that, he made our band a force to be reckoned with, he made our band a force of nature. We brought out a side of Carl that he had never shown before. He sang songs, harmonies, and he would tone it down, and play exactly what the song required.
"It was a sacrifice on his part because man could he hit those double bass drums, and he had a kit that wouldn't quit, but when he played with us he just let the songs shine through, and I thank him forever."
How was the original album, fully titled, Kelakos - Gone Are The Days, received at the time of its release?
George Kelakos Haberstroh: " Not really so good. Not really so good...
"We did the album ourselves, and we really didn't have any publicity machine behind us, so each of us were trying on our own to sell it. I took fifty to a hundred copies of the album into New York City every day for like fifty days, went to every record company, and said studiously and courteously, 'Well, here's what we've done, here is our album Gone Are The Days, and they'd say, 'Oh, thank you very much,' then within a week or two I'd get a form letter back saying at this time we cannot use your music. It was very disappointing - when you're young you have everything pointing to the sky with your hopes and dreams, and it's disappointing when it doesn't catch."
Still, it remains that Kelakos made an excellent album that for whatever reasons never quite caught the wave that leads to stardom, but life is a long term project, we now have another gold nugget to add to our collections, and we are left with people like George Haberstroh who teach us by example what it is to be both humans and artists:
George Kelakos Haberstroh: "It's one of those things - you can say, 'The harder the road is that you have to travel, the better the blues you play,' and you make the best of it. I just said, 'Well, I'm going to get better, and I'll be able to play all the parts myself.
"In this life I've learned that I can't control a lot of things, but there are a couple f things I can, and that's the music. That's my gift, and it's been my whole life. You dedicate it to the music. The work of a lifetime."
Amen, George, amen. Happy Birthday, my friend.
Great thanks to Chip Ruggieri and Lincoln Bloomfield Jr. for bringing this to my attention. I got to discover some great music, and I got to know a little bit about a very special guy.
Link to George's YouTube Channel