(Host) When the members of the central Vermont band Mike and the Ravens first met, both they and rock and roll were young. Now the five musicians are in their 60s and they’ve regrouped to make a new record. Though it’s unlikely they’ll earn a big paycheck for their efforts, they do have their fans-and their reasons for giving it another go. VPR’s Steve Zind talked with two of the groups members.
(Zind) Steve Blodgett was a fifteen year old from Stowe when he met drummer Peter Young and bass player Brian Lyford. They were 16. That was a long time ago.
(Blodgett) "Eisenhower was still president and they told me about a singer, Mike, from Northfield, Vermont."
(Zind) Mike is Mike Brassard.
(Brassard) "And I remember the day I met Steve. I knew right off I was dealing with someone special: He knew more than three chords. Our very first gig ever was at Saint John’s Parish Hall. We knew four songs, we were going on five, and we knew that if we just turned it up a little bit louder, they wouldn’t notice."
(Zind) Steve Blodgett started writing songs for the band and in the spring of 1962 they recorded a few of them in Boston. 46 years later, the records still convey a manic energy that must have stood out in the pre-Beatles era when most rock and roll was fairly tame.
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(Blodgett) "We didn’t want to but we played really, really fast. We’d go into a studio and come out and say we failed because went twice as fast as we should have."
(Zind) In the early 1960s, live bands gravitated not to Burlington, but across the lake to Plattsburgh.
(Brassard) "There was a big scene over in Plattsburgh then, music scene. There were a lot of bands over there because of the Air Force base. And we started playing this venue called Rollerland over there. We became very wild as a band and so when we hit the stage, they weren’t ready for us. They had never seen anything quite like us because we weren’t into doing steps and doing all that choreography."
(Zind) Every Monday night in the summer of 1962, Rollerland threw open its doors to the crowds who came to see a lineup of local bands in a weekly event called the "Gigantic Rock-a-rama". Mike and the Ravens played every week. One night at a Rock-a-rama, Brassard wrote a tribute to Rollerland, which the band never recorded – until now.
(Zind) Back in that memorable summer of 1962 everything seemed possible to Mike Brassard.
(Brassard) "We really had aspirations and dreams – I did because socio-economically it was my only way out. I knew college wasn’t going to happen for me and I knew I could sing and I really wanted to make it in the business."
(Zind) Summer was winding down and high school – senior year – loomed. Up in Stowe, where songwriter Steve Blodgett lived, the community church had a loudspeaker system attached to a record player in its steeple, which it used to play chimes over the village. Then one night in early September, Blodgett and two other band members snuck into the church and put a Mike and the Ravens record on the turntable.
(Blodgett) "There was a three minute delay between the time that it clicked on and the time that the music would actually start, so it gave us three minutes to get out of the church and run across the little valley. We heard the needle hit the vinyl, and at that second before anything started we knew, ‘this is going to be loud!’"
(Zind) The music woke the village and once daylight came, it didn’t take long for people to figure out who the culprits were. Justice was swift.
(Blodgett) "The judge at the initial hearing said you’ve gota choice: You can go to jail, school or the service."
(Brassard) "Steve went to prep school and two of the guys stayed for a little while and that was kind of the end of it."
(Zind) Over the years the memory of Mike and the Ravens was preserved by a small group of rabid fans of early and obscure garage bands. One of them is Will Shade of Plattsburgh. A few years ago, Shade tracked down the members and urged them to return to the studio. Now, after a 46 year break, Mike and the Ravens are back.
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(Zind) Mike Brassard say a little recognition would be nice, but the joy is in proving that he and his band mates still have what it takes to make the same kind of wild music they did in 1962.
(Brassard) "Gathering people and saying, ‘come on, we’ll let you in on this little joke, this wonderful thing. Here we are at 65, we’re going to blow the doors down. And in a way we accomplished what we set out to do, and that to me is the payoff."
Photo: Mike Brassard holds one of the band’s 45’s in 1962