Ok, I’ll bite. While I’ve always been a bit wary of musicians who are inveterate name-droppers, this latest Facebook-meme craze got me thinking about my own long musical history, and of the many great acts I’ve been lucky enough to share the stage with. Friends and fans will regularly bring up many of these shows to me in conversation, and they are always great shared memories. With that is mind, here is my list, with my own short recollections.
1) Bulldog – Shoreline, Liverpool, NY (1972)
When my high school band, Fieldstone (Charlie Robbins, Dana Klipp, Charlie Heimermann & Frank Caputo) got this gig, it was the high point of all of our lives up to that point. Bulldog was a new band on Decca with a minor hit, No, (#44 on Billboard). But what thrilled us was the fact that Gene Cornish & Dino Danelli of the Young Rascals were in the band.
Only 4 years removed from their last Rascals’ hits, these guys were still major rock stars to us. I don’t remember much about our own set, but I still vividly recall standing at the side of the stage and not being able to take my eyes off of Dino Danelli; to this day, still the one of the greatest drummers I’ve ever seen. Quick note about the Shoreline: three months later, in Feb 1973, I saw the Raspberries there, on the same day that my future-Flashcubes bandmate Tommy Allen saw them. Our first of many great shared rock & roll experiences!
2) Ramones/The Runaways – The Brookside, DeWitt, NY (1978)
In what was supposed to be our big break (according to Brookside owner Si Sifer), the Flashcubes (Paul Armstrong, Arty Lenin & Tommy Allen) opened for both bands in a very memorable triple bill. The Runaways were all still in their teens and escorted by legendary indie rock impressario/writer Greg Shaw (Bomp Magazine), and The Ramones still had Tommy Ramone on drums (the only one of five gigs we played with them, when he was there). The Runaways were impressive, in their own unskilled, sloppy way, and the Ramones were simply stunning. We had never seen anything like them; one song after another, bam, bam, bam, bam! Like a machine gun! We would play with them four more time over the next two years. In Poughkeepsie, later that same year, their fans threw sandwiches at us during our set (although we did get to hang with them backstage and hear stories about their recent sessions with legendary rock producer Phil Spector, very cool!). And the following year, we shared the bill with them AND their new movie, Rock & Roll High School, which was screened in between our sets.
3) The Jam – Four Acres, Utica, NY (1978)
Opening for Paul Weller & company was one of the early jewels in our crown as the Flashcubes. They were truly one of the greatest acts in the early British New Wave scene, and were really strong live. Weller, especially, was an obvious force to be reckoned with; a really compelling performer. The show felt like a real punk show, with kids pressed up against the stage. I recall someone knocking Arty’s microphone into his teeth. Ouch! The band was managed by Weller’s father, John, and they all had such thick working-class English accents that they were nearly unintelligible. Hard to talk to because of that!
4) Police – Firebarn, Syracuse, NY (1978)
When we opened for The Police at the Firebarn, they had one import single out, and were traveling around the States in a van doing dates for $200 a night. Local promoter Chuck Chao had us open because we had a following and he knew they would at least have someone to play to. They also played through our PA which, in retrospect, is laughable. And yet they were amazing! It was one of the only times in my life where I’ve watched a band and just known they were going to be huge. To a man, Sting, Andy & Stewart were ALL brilliant. When we played with them 6 months later, their first US LP was out, and Roxanne was on the radio. Instead of the 75 people who came the first time, they now had a crowd of over 600 people stuffed into Uncle Sam’s. Just three short years later, they sold out the Carrier Dome (over 30,000 people), and actually asked from the stage, “how many people saw us at the Firebarn?” Wow!
5) Romantics – The Firebarn, Syracuse, NY(1978)
In the Romantics, from Detroit, we found our kindred spirits. Both four-piece guitar bands, we shared so many influences, and we played together nearly a dozen times in Syracuse, Detroit and in New York City. They were always way more professional than us, with a real “act” onstage, and, more importantly, real management offstage. But we always got along great with them. We probably spent more times with the Romantics than any other band of that era, even linking up with them again, years later – as Screen Test – to play a gig with them in 1983 when they were riding high with their #3 hit song, Talking In Your Sleep.
6) Artful Dodger – Stage East, East Syracuse, NY (1979)
Along with Badfinger, Raspberries and Big Star, Artful Dodger was one of our Power Pop forefathers. The Flashcubes had a way of selling local promoters (basically, Chuck Chao) on the marketability of our favorite bands, so that they would book them, and we could get to share the stage with them. That was the back story of this one. Not many people came (sorry, Chuck), but it was a real treat to meet them and to finally get to see them live. They were a really strong live band, and they were super nice to us.
7) David Johansen – Slide Inn, Syracuse, NY (1979)
I had seen the New York Dolls on a bill with Aerosmith and Mott The Hoople in Rochester in 1973, so getting to play with the Doll’s former lead singer, Johansen, was a real treat. He was an amazing frontman and performer, and his band, unlike The Dolls, were extremely tight. But like The Dolls, they were loaded with energy and they totally ROCKED! A very memorable night for all who were there.
8) The Records, Walnut Park, Syracuse University, NY 1979 The Records were riding high with local airplay for their singles Teenarama & Starry Eyes when we opened for them at a big outdoor block party at SU. We bonded heavily with them as we were both proudly waving the Power Pop banner. They even came to see us later that night at our own show at the Slide Inn. We would cross paths with some of them again in the coming years.
9) Joe Jackson – Landmark Theater, Syracuse, NY (1979)
One of the first big opening gigs we did with new Flashcubes’ member Mick Walker. Really thrilling, being onstage at the Landmark in front of over 2,000 people. We had joined Joe two times earlier that year at Uncle Sam’s (Syracuse) and the Red Creek (Rochester). He was always a little prickly (although extremely talented), but his band were super friendly guys, especially bassist Graham Maby.
10) Pat Benetar – Uncle Sam’s, DeWitt, NY (1979)
Our first gig with Pat (& guitarist and future spouse Neil Geraldo) was on New Year’s Eve 1979, for a WAQX-95X event. Sold out and really fun. We joined them again a few weeks later at Toad’s Place in New Haven, CT, a great showcase club. They were an impressive live band and very nice to work with. It was no surprise to any of us when she became huge over the coming years, Couldn’t have happened to nicer people and well-deserved!
11) U2 – City Limits, East Syracuse, NY (1981)
Our first big opener as Screen Test (Arty Lenin & Tommy Allen). When we played with U2, they had one single out, I Will Follow, and their first LP had just been released. Like the Police, they were very impressive live. Definitely an act you thought could be huge and, of course they were/are. Unlike most acts I’ve opened for, we did NOT meet the boys from Dublin. Their management ushered us out of the dressing room before U2 even got off the bus. We got no closer to them than anyone in the crowd did. Still great to see in that small-club setting.
12) Squeeze – Auburn Star Theater, Auburn, NY (1982)This might’ve been our high point as Screen Test. Squeeze was riding high with hit MTV videos for Tempted and Black Coffee In Bed, and we had just been on the MTV Basement Tapes with our video for my song, You Don’t Know Me. Small theatre, huge crowd and one of the best receptions we ever got as an opener. And Squeeze, bless them, actually pushed us back out on stage for an encore, something very few headliners would ever do. Very memorable!
13) Graham Parker – Lost Horizon, Syracuse, NY (1983)Just a few years removed from his Rumor days, Parker was doing clubs and promoting his then-new LP, The Real Macaw. He was a really strong live performer with one great song after another and a really good live band that included our old friend, Hugh Gower, the left-handed guitarist from the Records.
14) Marshall Crenshaw – Lost Horizon, Syracuse, NY (1985)
Crenshaw was touring in support of his third LP, Downtown, with a band that included another old friend, Joe Jackson’s bassist, Graham Maby. Crenshaw was my favorite songwriter at that time, and it was a real treat for Screen Test (Arty Lenin, Tommy Allen & Jim Carney) to share the bill with him. We had crossed paths with Marshall before, most memorably at a showcase for both of us at Trax in NYC in 1981 (before Jim joined the band) when we were both trying to get a record deal. Crenshaw had played first that night, and I clearly remember looking out and seeing legendary music executive Clive Davis in the audience and thinking “This is it, this is the night we get signed!” But as Crenshaw’s set ended, Davis and his entourage, all got up and left the club. Oh well…
15) Bryan Setzer – Lost Horizon, Syracuse, NY (1986)After the break up of the Stray Cats, and a year spent as the band leader for Robert Plant’s Honeydrippers, Setzer had released a solo album, The Knife Feels Like Justice, and was hitting the clubs to promote it. It was the only time I ever saw Setzer live and he was great. A real performer, and what a guitar player!
16) David Bromberg – Auburn Star Theater, Auburn, NY (1987)
This was the first time Arty & I had ever done our duo in such a large setting. We went over great and Bromberg was a real down-to-earth guy to work with.
17) Jerry Seinfeld – BT Nightlife, North Syracuse, NY (1987)
A year before Seinfeld developed his groundbreaking sitcom for NBC, he was still working the comedy clubs and somehow, we ended up on the same bill with him at this short-lived venue. They had the idea of pairing live duos with comics. Yeah, that’ll work! I remember finishing our set, and standing at the bar watching Seinfeld, who I’d seen on TV (Letterman, maybe), and thinking, what a hard life; telling jokes to a tiny crowd on a Thursday night in the middle of nowhere. Little did I know what was on the horizon for him!
18) Peter Tork – China Club, New York, NY (1988)
Our Flashcubes/Screen Test drummer Tommy Allen moved to NYC in late-1986 and started working at the China Club. We spent many memorable nights there over the next few years, but none more-so, than the night Peter Tork, from the Monkees, sat in with us (Mickey Dolenz was there too, but was too tired to join in). After showing us his arrangement in the office/dressing room, he joined us onstage for a rousing rendition of Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode sequel, Johnny Too Bad. Actually playing in NYC with one of the Monkees; what a trip!
19) Nils Lofgren – Lost Horizon, Syracuse, NY (1990)Another opener as a duo, for Nils, who touring as a solo. I owned every LP Lofgren ever put out (even the Grin records) so it was a great to be sharing the bill with him. He was so good live, just a wonderful performer. And super nice to us. Always nice when that happens!
20) Bobcat Goldthwait, Tom Kenny & Adam Sandler – Landmark Theater, Syracuse, NY (1991)
One of my oddest openers was actually a closer. This comedy show paired CNY local-boys-made-good, Goldthwait and Kenny, with newcomer (he was just starting on SNL at the time) Adam Sandler. After Goldthwait’s headlining set (Sandler actually was the opener), he came back out for an encore. The curtain, which had been closed throughout the show, opened to reveal an entire band set-up, and Arty & I, and several members of Tom Kenny’s old band, the Tearjerkers (Charlie Robbins, Mark Rotundo & Larry Dziergas). We launched into U2’s With Or Without You, while Bobcat did a spot-on Bono impersonation, complete with a banner on a pole that he waved like a true, iconic rock star while the place went nuts!. After that, Kenny led the band through Eddie Cochran’s 20 Flight Rock (with Goldthwait now on guitar), and that was the finale. Truly one of my all-time favorite performance memories!
21) Aztec Two-Step – Copperfields, Syracuse, NY (1991)
My first solo opener. Even though they were long past their initial commercial impact, Aztec Two-Step were a wonder to behold. I remember telling friends at the time that I couldn’t imagine any duo being better. The way their voices and guitars blended was amazing. Arty & I have gotten many compliments over the years for our duo, and they are always greatly appreciated. But for my money, there is no finer duo than Rex and Neil.
22) Ani DiFranco – The Zodiac, Syracuse, NY (1992)
Jon Notarthomas & I hosted a singer-songwriter showcase at the Zodiac (which later became Styleen’s Rhythm Palace), where we featured regional and local songwriters in an unplugged setting. It was a weekly show that was an enormous amount of work to arrange, but was ultimately rewarding. One of our major coups was booking a 21-year-old singer from Buffalo, Ani DiFranco, who had started her own label, Righteous Babe Records, when she was just 18. With two cassette LP’s to her name, she played for us twice in 1992. Like seeing the Police in 1978, Ani’s talent was undeniable. Her playing, writing and singing were all world class. It never surprised me when she went on to such a successful career. She was that good!
23) Stephen Stills – Symphony Hall, Syracuse, NY (1993)
This was the first major opening show I did after the release of my first solo CD, Armory Square. I was a huge fan of Crosby, Stills & Nash, and was thrilled to get the gig. But as I sat and watched Stills do his soundcheck, a lot of that faded. His voice seemed shattered, and he was rearranging all of his songs, kind of like Bob Dylan does. Then backstage (actually downstairs) I was hanging with his bandmates (who were all very friendly) when he finally came through. His drummer, Jamie Oldaker (who I knew of as playing on Eric Clapton records) introduced me to Stills, who gave me a wet fish handshake, made no eye contact, and barely acknowledged me before moving on to his dressing room. Talk about a slap in the face. Sometimes the smallest interaction can turn a hero into a hero-no-more.
24) Catie Curtis – Cafe Lena, Saratoga, NY (1994)
Catie may be a lesser-known name on this list, but her talent is up there with any of them. After the release of my first solo CD, Armory Square, I was asked to be a part of Alan Rowoth’s Internet Quartet tour which presented 28 emerging New Folk singer-songwriters in an “in the round” format of seven foursomes, touring throughout the northeast. It was on this tour that I caught the ear of Gary Brody of Tangible Music, and was signed to his label for both of my solo albums. My quartet was myself with Jim Infantino, Maria Sangiolo and Catie. As the dates went on, we learned each others songs and occasionally joined in for impromptu performances. I fell in love with Catie’s songs, and ended up recording Troubled Mind, on my second CD (Jigsaw People), with her joining me on harmony vocal.
25) Don McLean – Landmark Theater, Syracuse, NY (2001)
I remember missing my 30th high school reunion because I was opening for McLean at this show; certainly the best excuse I could’ve come up with! Arty & I played as a duo and went over really well to a nearly sold out crowd. McLean was supportive and friendly, and still a formidable presence onstage with a well-known songlist and a voice that soared. Very impressive!
26) Tom Rush – Everson Museum, Syracuse, NY (2001)
I’ve performed Tom Rush’s versions of Urge For Going & No Regrets for years, so it was a real thrill to share the stage with him. A real listening crowd at the Everson (one of the true joys of folk shows), that was very welcoming to me as the opening act.
27) Badfinger – Holiday Inn Ballroom, Liverpool, NY (2004)
Like Peter Tork and Bobcat Goldthwait, this was a situation where we not only opened for the main act as the Fab Five (Paul Davie, Arty Lenin, Dave Novak & Dave Miller), but we actually played with them, becoming, for one night only, a Syracuse version of Badfinger, backing up original member Joey Molland. As lifelong Beatles’ fans, playing with Badfinger was about as close as you could come to playing with the Fab Four. They were on Apple Records, after all! Joey was wonderful to work with and a pro in every respect. The show was sold out, and over 1,000 people got to see us actually BE in Badfinger for one night. One of our biggest thrills ever!
28) Eddie & The Hot Rods – Knitting Factory, New York, NY (2008)
We have a friend who refers to the Flashcubes as the band that refuses to die. The fact that we got to do this show – 31 years on from our inception – seems to be proof of that. At our very first show in 1977, we did two songs by Eddie & The Hot Rods (Get Across To You & Get Out Of Denver, trivia buffs), so what an experience to pair up with Barry Masters & co all these years later. We also recorded their rock anthem, Do Anything You Wanna Do, on our 2001 album, Brilliant. The sets by both bands were loud, fast, and raucous, just as they should be. What a night!
29) Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – Chevy Court, NYS Fair, Syracuse, NY (2008)
In another date that harkens back to our early history (see #2 above), Arty & I did an acoustic opener for former Runaway and recent Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Joan Jet. We did all originals, and actually spotted a few Flashcubes fans in the crowd. I wonder if they had been at the Brookside, all those year ago? Although we didn’t get any face time with Joan Jett this time, she and her band were sensational!
30) Mark Hudson & Gene Cornish – Landmark Theater, Syracuse, NY (2015)As part of our former-Fab-Five-bandmate Paul Davie’s BeatleCUSE show, we got to do our own thing, opening the show as the FabCats (Arty Lenin, Dave Novak & Dave Miller), and then sing on the second set presentation of Abbey Road, performed in its entirety. If that wasn’t enough, we got to join in the finale which featured Mark Hudson (Hudson Brothers, Ringo Starr & Aerosmith collaborator) and Gene Cornish (The Rascals). Hudson led the band through several rock & roll classics, and then stepped aside to let Cornish guide us through the Rascals’ #1 hit, Good Lovin. All these years on (I turned 62 that night), to be playing to over a thousand people with a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, (Cornish) and a musical hero who actually worked with Ringo for over a decade (Hudson) was just about as good as it gets.
And the symmetry of opening and closing this long list with Gene Cornish (Bulldog, #1 & Rascals, #30) seems perfect. Gene is an upstate guy too, originally hailing from Rochester, NY. And our paths had crossed in between these two shows when he would join us onstage at the China Club in NYC in the late-80s for several late-night jam sessions. Always a down-to-earth guy, Cornish exemplifies, for me, the career musician. He never stopped playing. Sometimes in the limelight, and sometimes not. But always ready to head out the door for another gig with his guitar in his hand.
As a kid, I never dreamed of becoming famous. I only dreamed of playing music for a living, which I’ve managed to do now for the better part of four decades. And while playing music is a great way to make a living, it’s not a way to make a great living. But if you’re willing to live with less, it makes for the best life I can imagine.
And who would argue, with a list like this?