Review by Greg Haymes
“It Gets Worse Before It Gets Better.”
That’s the name of a jaunty, jumpin’, twang-laced track in the middle of Storm Ride, the about-to-be-released debut CD by country-rockers Silver Chicken. But if the members of the band knew that it would end up taking an excruciating 36 years to finish the album, they might have re-titled the song – or the whole album – “It Gets a Whole Lot Worse Before It Gets Better.”
One of the most popular bands on the Local 518 scene back in the mid-’70s, Silver Chicken had only a brief two-and-a-half-year run before the original line-up called it quits without releasing a single song. The bulk of Storm Ride was recorded in ’77 – on vintage consumer equipment by bassist Rick Bedrosian in his bedroom at his parents’ Delmar house – and as it turned out, the original band played their final gigs just a couple of months later on January 5-7, 1978, at the Boulevard, now Ristorante Paradiso. (Yes, the same place where Meryl Streep sang in “Ironweed.”) It seems that singer-songwriter-guitarist Jim Fish got a phone call from Henry Paul (formerly of the Outlaws) later that month inviting him to join his new band, and Fish left Silver Chicken and the Capital Region to head to Florida to join the Henry Paul Band.
These days Fish calls Oklahoma home, where he plays in the bluegrass fiddle master Byron Berline’s band. Drummer Ted Were retired from the music business, but Bedrosian and guitarist Todd Nelson teamed up in a number of Local 518 bands over the years – including Squareone, Donnybrook Fair and Tornado Bait. Bedrosian finally settled in with Celtic rock perennial poll-winners Hair of the Dog. Nelson shifted into new wave mode with the Units/Fear of Strangers and is now exploring more jazz-centric turf with the instrumental trio TN3.
This weekend, however, more than three-and-a-half decades since their last gig, the original Silver Chicken line-up (plus drummer Mark Foster) is reuniting at the Parting Glass in Saratoga Springs. They originally announced shows at 6 & 9pm on Saturday (May 4), but those sold out so fast that two more shows were added – 3pm on Saturday and 4pm on Sunday.
This weekend’s onslaught of reunion shows – with some fans flying in from as far away as California – also serves as the CD release party for Storm Ride, which features a total of 11 vintage tracks. Seven were recorded in Bedrosian’s bedroom and the others were live recordings from such long-defunct, but not forgotten former musical hotspots as the Boulevard, Uncle Albert’s and Thompson’s Lake Hotel.
Pat Tessitore at Cathedral Studio tackled the tricky transfer from rapidly deteriorating analog tape to digital, and Bedrosian teamed up with the sonic brain trust of Al Quaglieri and Ray Rettig to salvage the original tapes and supervise the well-placed contemporary overdubs by Berline, Chris Leske (banjo and mandolin) and Ace Parkhurst (guitar, pedal steel guitar).
The result is the sound of a band that was clearly plugged into the then reigning country-rock sound of the mid-’70s, primarily fueled by a fusion of the Byrds (the disc features a live rendition of the classic “Chestnut Mare,” as well as “Banjo Dog,” a foot-stompin’ instrumental by former Byrds member Gene Parsons) and the Beatles.
“El Rancho Motel” resonates with a Marty Robbins-styled south-the-border narrative, while the novelty “Freddy the Frog” features faux-crooning and the vintage swing of Dan Hicks & the Hot Licks. The pop British Invasion influences seep in most deeply on “She Ain’t No Lady” and Everly Brothers-meet-the-Searchers-styled “I’ll Be There in the Morning.” And somewhat surprisingly, the oblique instrumental “Do the Chicken” – Nelson’s only co-write credit – turns out to be the most out-of-the-box track of the disc.
Ultimately, the disc may only appeal to southern-rock aficonados – and I know you’re still out there – and rapidly aging Local 518 music fans, but with its a 20-page booklet, liner notes detailing the band’s history and more than three dozen photos, the disc is a bonafide artifact of the pre-punk/new wave DIY days.
But I’m betting that the band’s reunion shows this weekend will likely provide a much bigger spark, and who knows, it might develop into an annual reunion affair. One thing is for certain, however, Parkhurst will be on hand this weekend, recording all four reunion performances for a possible live Silver Chicken album…
Silver Chicken reunion concerts will take place at the Parting Glass in Saratoga Springs at 3, 6 & 9pm on Saturday (May 4) and at 4pm on Sunday (May 5). The McKrells will open. Tickets are $16. UPDATE: The 6 & 9pm shows on Saturday are officially sold out. At publication time, tickets were still available for the other two shows.