“The Pride of Eastwood”


 By Russ Tarby


Harrington, Hamell and Goss scuffle and shuffle their separate ways up rock's slippery ladder

With the Music Center as its soul and supply line, Eastwood-an unpretentious blue-collar neighborhood tucked behind a bustling business district—has nurtured some of Syracuse's most prominent rock musicians. Three Eastwood alums—guitarist-songwriters Tim Harrington, Ed Hamell and Chris Goss--are currently making big waves on the international recording scene.

Hamell has just released his second album on a major label, The Chord ls Mightier Than the Sword (Mercury), while goss' Los Angeles-based band Masters of Reality will issue a live disc How High the Moon—Live at the Viper Room (Malicious Vinyl), on June 24. And Harrington—who founded the Masters with goss in 1981 before Splitting bitterly following a 1989 debut LP on Def American Records—has received rave reviews here and abroad for his 1996 CD Master Frequency & His Deepness (Triple XXX).

These new records rule, but getting there was no ride in the park for any of these guys.

Twelve years ago, more than 15 years after he'd first picked up the guitar, Ed Hamell refused to relinquish his rock' n' roll dream. Having proclaimed his band The Works the best in the world in a classified ad placed in Rolling Stone in the early Eighties, he weathered personnel changes, honed a new wave image (he still had hair then, dyed in day-glo yellow) and prepared to work on. Two other Eastwood rock' n' rollers, Goss and Harrington, never placed a classified, but their gothic blues/rock band the Masters of Reality actually earned a worldwide reputation a few years later, largely on the strength of an awesome album engineered by superproducer Rick Rubin in 1988.

Well, it's an old story: Rock' n' roll bands break up. Sometimes it's amicable, sometimes it's ugly. The Works called it quits circa 1987, while the Masters burned out on the road with King's X, and parted ways one awful night in Chicago in 1989. Goss and the bassist, another Eastwood habitue singularly named Googe, headed for California, while Harrington and drummer Vinnie Ludovico returned to Syracuse and immediately formed the Bogeymen.

Hamell got married, quit drinking and became a bartender while he honed a new act he called Hamell on Trial. Like any great writer, Hamell was always working. Even while he cleaned glasses and stocked beer bins at Cerio's on Grant Boulevard, he never stopped talking, never stopped sharpening his rapier wit. His observations—in conversation and in composition— never fail to incite a smile. For instance, Hamell' s take on playing solo compared to playing in bands: "Now when we have a rehearsal, we all show up on time, we're all sober and we all agree on the material." Gotta love it.

Now Hamell has parlayed his boundless joie joie de vivre and brilliant gift of gab into a creative, unique and entertaining pop music act, complete with his integrity intact.

Harrington—an amazingly gifted electric guitarist—clings to bis integrity like a pit bull, refusing to bow to commercial concerns, as bis recordings—waxed both locally and in Los Angeles—plumb the depths of all manner of electronic soundscapes.

Meanwhile out west, Goss recast himself as a much-sought-after producer (Kyuss, Magnificent Bastards). Working in tandem with another Fast Syracuse expatriate, engineer-guitarist Steve Feldman, Goss is working on a new California recording facility, Monkey Studios. Will this Monkey business take precedence over Masters progress? Only time will tell.

It's great to have excellent records on decent labels distributed internationally, but the primary fact of rock' n' roll life is that recording artists must be willing to crisscross the continent several dozen times, playing dives as well as arenas, in order to move product. Neither Harrington nor goss have ever shown much enthusiasm for touring, but Hamell thrives on the challenges of the road, a new audience every night and -- most importantly -- the opportunity to promote the record.

"Last year I did 187 gigs," Hamell recently told an interviewer. "{Traveled} 60,000 miles...! love to play live. I'm lucky to have found a Job I love." But for bis part, goss named the Masters1 second album Sunrise on the Sufferbus (Chrysalis/EMI), a reference to how the band—which at that time included ex-Cream drummer Ginger Baker—suffered miserably on tour.

In recent years, both Hamell and goss have described Syracuse as a sports town with no significant music scene. Nevertheless, goss admits it was a good place to find yourself, to develop as an artist free from the constraints of the fly-by-night musical trends and hipper-than-thou fashions that dominate big-city rock milieus. Hamell would probably agree, although he took a circuitous route—Albany to Austin, Texas, to New York City—while goss has stayed put in Palm Desert. (Hamell on Trial and Masters of Reality both showcased last March in Austin at the 1997 South By Southwest Music Conference, but goss and Hamell did not cross paths.)

And Harrington, still anticipating the release of his second solo effort, Shinola (Delicious Vinyl), has been gearing up for more than a year to relocate on the West Coast. Having disbanded the Bogeymen after one album, There's No Such Thing As... (Delicious Vinyl), followed by a tumultuous outing as Spook Daddy in 1993-'94, Harrington remains a man without a band. He' s still in Syracuse largely because of this area's depressed real estate market. Once he sells that gorgeous old house, Harrington and family will be California-bound.


Sad but true, Syracuse's best musicians find they're better off elsewhere. "I miss the Italian food in Syracuse," Hamell admits, "but it just isn't a music town."

Hamell on Trial's new record—the follow-up to last year's Big As Life (Doolittle/Mercury)— pulses with new life, incisive comments on current social issues and heartfelt homages to the history of rock' n' roll. Goss' live Masters disc, meanwhile, manages to maintain an aura of intensity while mostly recycling old material. And Tim Harrington—who once played alongside Hamell in a 1970s folk mass combo at Eastwood's Blessed Sacrament Church— bides his time at area Studios, ever shaping and reshaping bis electrically undulating psychedelic vision.


Hamell on Trial

Although he still tours as America's best solo act, Hamell' s new disc The Chord Is Mightier Than the Sword features a small band unobtrusively bolstering several talking tunes, such as "Red Marty," "Confess Me" and "In a Bar." Produced in Philadelphia by Phil Nicolo, one of the Butcher Bros. (Fugees, Dishwalla, Cypress Hill), Hamell' s new disc deftly blends punk energy with an acoustic ambiance, with the sound mix always allowing the lyrics to really hit home. Hamell once said he could only sing three notes, but he sang 'em with passion-and that's still true an each of this CD's 11 enthralling songs. The disc opens strongly with "Mr. Fear," with a hint of hip-hop and a heavy anti-violence message. That's the track you'll likely hear on the radio for a while as Mercury begins promoting the album, but Syracusans will prefer the acoustic "John Lennon," Hamell's rapid-fire recollection of his botched meeting with the Beatles leader. "In 1971 John Lennon spent a week in my hometown of Syracuse, N.Y.," Hamell says to Start the tune. Like many Hamell numbers, it's more short story than song, with colorful characters, continuous action, conflict and, in this case at least, a touching resolution: Years later, an unexpected emotional catharsis ensues when Hamell sees Lennon's son Sean at an airport. A Beatles-cum-Sir Douglas Quintet influence can be detected on "Mark Don't Go," with its slow-mid-tempo jangly guitars and big tambourine, while "Confess Me" and a couple of other full-band cuts vaguely recall Creedence Clearwater Revival. And the somewhat sad, minor-chord song "Red Marty" -- about a friend who died of multiple addictions—is actually danceable despite its Roger Cory climax. That dancing in the face of death emphasizes this album's underlying theme of rock as a source of personal redemption."In a Bar" draws upon Hamell's experiences at Cerio's, taking tavern talk and transforming it into something meaningful, with a big hook chorus to boot. This song has jukebox staple written all over it. Hamell leaves 'em laughing – and wanting more—as Chords final cut, "The Meeting," rings out as a three-minute-46-second autobiography doubling as a Condensed history of rock' n' roll, complete with allusions to the folk mass tune "Kumbaya," "Puff the Magie Dragon," Picasso, Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters: "I'm rockin1 like The Clash, it's acoustic kinda meanery I'm bad as Nine Inch Nails except I don't need machinery. A little bit of wood and a little bit of wire, call up Smokey the Bear 'cause there's gonna be a fire, and if I ain' t sweatin1 then it ain' t no fun. I'm like the Beastie Boys except I'm only one!"



Masters of Reality

While Hamell hammers out new material like a New Process Gear assembly line, Chris Goss and his reconstituted Masters of Reality seem satisfied to hang out at the Steak & Sundae playing the jukebox. The upcoming Malicious disc mostly retools the band's best-known numbers. "I promise you motherfuckers there'll be some music out there sooon for you," Goss tells his Sunset Strip nightclub audience as they howl on How High the Moon—Live at the Viper Room (Malicious Records). But only three new songs appear among the ten tracks on the live set, recorded last Sept. 22 and 23.

By far the best of the new numbers is "Jindalee Jindalie," a haunting love song that rolls and thunders like a midsummer storm. Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland breathes fire into the melodic ballad, as his whiskey-voiced verses perfectly complement Goss' prurient purr.

Awash in the charms of a certain girl, boy or perhaps a drug of choice, "Jindalee Jindalie" celebrates a "love from the other side." Its cool dual vocal, simple structure and mesmerizing momentum make it truly memorable. No wonder Malicious chose it as the album' s first single. One reason "Jindalee" works so well, however, is because — unlike most early Masters material-it's not built around a big guitar part.

No matter how many new bandmates Goss surrounds himself with, he has never filled the chair vacated by his old Henninger High School buddy, Tim Harrington. A recent write-up in The Trouser Press Record Guide to the '90s (Simon & Schuster) points out that recent Masters displayed "little of Harrington's finesse, and the {new} songs' starkness often give the impression that something's missing." Well said.

Something's missing from several of Viper Room's live cuts, as the "Tilt-A-Whirl" guitar lead sounds downright silly while "The Blue Garden," "Doraldina' s Prophecies" and "John Brown" simply lack the sense of menace that made them so riveting way back when.

Nevertheless, even a half-ass Masters of Reality record Stands head and shoulders above most of the dross that passes for rock' n' roll these days. New tunes such as "Swingeroo Joe" and "Alder Smoke Blues" suggest that Goss' well hasn't yet run dry. And Goss Claims he has two albums' worth of new Masters material already recorded. "I keep throwing stuff into the can," he said. "Maybe it'll be a double record."

One can only hope.



Tim Harrington

Hamell and the Masters can stand proud of their growing discographies, but nothing they've done comes close to the work of the wildly imaginative Tim Harrington.

The guitarist's instrumental prowess flowers fully on his incredible 1996 disc Master Frequency & His Deepness (Triple XXX Records).

The CD's 11 tracks include vivid musical/mystical trips such as "Sewer of Dreams," "Backward Prayer" and "Cake Boy's Catwalk." Harrington calls it "an electronic cabaret" record, but it sounds more like the sky opening and window panes shattering, as the banshee plugs a Les Paul into a Marshall amp and cranks it to 10.

Harrington turns it back down to 91/2 on Shinola (Delicious Vinyl), due out sometime before the millennium. In an apparent effort to focus more specifically on his songwriting rather than his Hendrix-like guitar playing, Harrington does the best singing of his career on tunes such as "Goose Steppin,'" "Immemorial" and, ironically, "Don't Keep Me Waiting."

The Trouser Press Guide to the '90s, edited by Ira Robbins, hails Harrington's 1996 "re-emergence." And Master Frequency has been embraced by journalists, radio programmers and listeners in Greece, of all places, just as the early Masters were big stars in Holland.

With Harrington, Hamell and goss carrying the banner, one of these days, perhaps, the rest of the world will bow down to the Eastwood Sound.