We can all make a quick list of great guitarists from the area but we should all thank the predecessors to most of the bands we talk about in the film. For example, those from other musical genres like TJ Wheeler or Ed Gerhard who were amazing examples of local musicians who make a living at playing music.
Guitarists like Rick Twombly and Jon Nolan created the styles that define their bands, but I was always amazed at how Jon McCormack’s guitar filled the sound spectrum. Like many of the other virtuoso guitar greats here in Portsmouth like Bryan Killough and Tim Therriault, whose electrifying leads and chord progressions are amazing journeys into a story told in tones, Jon’s guitar filled every gap left by the other instruments around him. With 2 singers, 3 horns and the rock-solid rhythm section of Dan McGary and Chris Hall there wasn’t always much to fill - but that wall of sound helped Fly become the ”must see” live act.
Mark Damon is my current favorite bass player because he is on stage and having a ton of fun just like I had once dreamed for myself. As a bass player I was in awe of Jon Lesesse and Drew Wyman and how they could walk the whole damn neck of the bass in just one song and make something so complicated sound more soothing than confusing. Chip Brindamour would play the funk out of his bass and Tim McCoy would dive into a riff that just made you pop up and dance.
I remember Scott Kinison’s thundering drums. I was more in awe of him because of his size, unlike Mike McNeil who was a wild man tearing up those skins while his hair bounced around like like a thousand drumsticks ready to make a crash. But it was Sean Daniels and Steve Ruhm that showed you didn’t need to go be Swiss to have amazing timing. They each had styles that helped congure up their bands’ unique sounds.
The vocalists were the physical embodiment of each band: from the double – and sometimes trio – of vocalists in Fly Spinach Fly, Percy Hill and Heavens to Murgatroid to the screams of a man known as Iron Lung, each frontman brought their own personality to the stage. It was Jeff Bibbo who lived the life of many other tortured artists and who brought that out in his lyrics and it was how he followed it up that created one of the most unique singing styles ever heard. And of course there were many people that could sing and rock the tambourine or the occasional egg shaker.
It was Andy Happel’s classically infused rock and roll violin with Thanks to Gravity that stood out in the crowd and helped to show how diverse and talented the musicians are around Portsmouth.
I would be remis if I didn’t give the lifetime of fun-loving music award to Tom Colleta for adding that Star Trek sounding instrument that, like Nigel Tufnels guitar, you can’t touch. The Theremin is the most unique instrument for the most unique man and his legendary support for the music of this area should never go unsung. Other supporters - and some of them rockers as well - like Kevin Guyer, Jim Teirney, Hank Decon, Chris Decato, Gary Fox all supported and continue to support area musicians in many ways and thank goodness for our first lady of music Denise Wheeler for helping to keep sexy in style when so many others lost that battle.
As usual you don’t know what you have ’til it’s gone, and I am thankful for all the music that has filled our lives and excited to see many others that feel the same and hopefully these musicians we loved can make another go at it. Whether it’s reuniting or forming new bands lets all be thankful for their talents and support them as they bring joy to our lives.