In the last blog entry I wrote about one of the musicians involved in the making of Rock’n’Roll Romantic who I owed a debt of gratitude—Garry Tallent from The E Street Band. In this blog entry I want to talk about someone not as famous as Garry, but just as important to the making of Rock’n’Roll Romantic—Tommy Mastro.
I first met Tommy when he was playing drums for a band called The Discontent. This was in my previous life as a Manager. It was obvious from the get-go that Tommy was clearly the best musician in the band (I don’t think any of them would disagree) and he played a big part in my decision to manage them. It wasn’t just his muscular playing with “old school” feel that impressed me like Kenny Aronoff (drummer for John Mellencamp & John Fogerty), but perhaps even more importantly, his attitude and personality. He loved to laugh and kid around and was there to be a cheerleader when necessary. His positive vibes were very contagious and many times lifted the band up whenever challenges arose. As a manager, I can’t tell you how important it is to have a guy like that in a band!
I was either lucky or dumb to have 2 bands recording their projects at the same time in different studios. It kept me busy shuffling between the 2 and it also got my juices flowing to record my own songs again. I had always wanted to produce and make records as an artist, but I let go of that dream to start my own company Sha-La Music. However, I started working more and more in the studio with The Discontent and that’s how I met studio engineer Ben Elliott, who the band was working with at Showplace Studios in Dover, New Jersey. Funny thing, the Showplace used to be a club and my band had played there 15 years earlier opening for acts like Robert Gordon and Elliott Murphy. Now it was cut in half, divided by a wall with a GoGo Bar on one side and the recording studio on other side, where the stage used to be. I could usually find the band in the bar when there was downtime in the studio. 🙂
Besides managing The Discontent, Sha-La became the band’s label, releasing their 1st cd societydidit. When it came time to work on new material, I decided to take the band into the studio to record some demos. It was also at this time that I decided to record some of my own songs. I’d been watching Tommy play drums and I could see how solid he was. I had recorded with some real pros like “Mighty” Max Weinberg. The drummer is the engine that drives a band, especially in the studio. The basic track is really all about the drums. A great drummer can make all the difference in recording a great track.
I could see that Tommy had that ability too. I saw and heard what he had done on societydidit. The Discontent played punk with a metal edge and Tommy would put a groove in that you don’t usually hear in those kinds of songs. I began to wonder what he could do with my more “old school” songs and was looking forward to making that happen. So when the time came to go back to Showplace Studios to cut some demos, I asked Tommy and the bass player Eric Hoagland, if they would be interested in cutting some of my songs before their session. Both were enthusiastic and one night after a Discontent rehearsal we ran down the songs and it was off to the studio.
It was very cool for me to be making music again and recording with Tommy and Eric made the experience even cooler. I could see Tommy was a bit of a “head case” when it came to playing in the studio. He would stress himself out. I told him not to over think it because he was a great drummer and just needed to let his intuition guide him when playing. He would start to relax and lock in the groove. When it came to playing rock’n’roll he was a natural. He kept it fairly straight but he played with such power locking in on the groove. It really allowed me to enhance the rhythm. I think the 1st track we cut was Turn Around And Go. You can hear how he attacks the track but keeps the groove together.
We cut 6 tracks in that session that I could work on at my leisure when I had some down time. I was also very impressed with what Tommy played. He knew who I had worked with and wanted to impress me. He also knew what I wanted and he knew how to make the songs rock. I started calling him “2 Take Tommy” because we would be doing the 1st take and at some point he would stop. Then he would nail the 2nd take! 🙂
Little did I know at the time that these sessions would be the start of what would become DownTown Mystic. Looking back I have Tommy (with an assist from Eric) to thank for that. As I became more involved with working on the tracks, I decided I needed a name for my project. As it would turn out, The Discontent would indirectly help me find one. On a trip up to Providence, RI for a gig with the band I saw an old wooden sign on the side of the road that read “next exit Downtown Mystic”. Presto! I had my name for the project. On all our trips up to New England I’d never seen it before. Never saw it again. 🙂
Tommy would eventually leave The Discontent, but I stayed in touch and never hesitated to call him to play on my DownTown Mystic sessions. His playing is all over Rock’n’Roll Romantic, playing on half of the album. One of the tracks, Dead End Space, was written with The Discontent after he had left the band and we cut my version with just the 2 of us in the studio. I’ll always remember that session because it was late at night and the only time I was set up with my acoustic guitar in front of the mixing board in the Showplace control room. Tommy was set up with his drums in the studio so we could see each other through the control room glass as we cut the track live to tape. After the 2nd take Tommy was beaming. I could hear him say (in true Tommy fashion) through the glass, “that was so coool”!!
That was Tommy, a true Rock’n’Roll Romantic. 🙂