It’s a classic tale in the music industry…the rule and surely not the exception. Bands that could or should have achieved success but unfortunately remained an almost unknown entity. One such characteristic case is definitely Kelakos; a 70s classic rock band that just released an album called “Uncorked” that includes unreleased songs from that era. In the wake of this, we get in touch with three members of the band and learn more about them. Least but certainly not least, the band’s drummer is non other than Carl Canedy (of The Rods fame)! Interview: Sakis Nikas
Rockpages.gr: How did the band start and how difficult was it in the mid-70s to draw the attention of a label to secure a record deal?
George Michael Kelakos Haberstroh: Three of us were schoolmates in a small town by the ocean — Cohasset, Massachusetts — and had been performing with various drummers since 1968, first as the Emergency Exit then as the Criminals, before adopting the name Kelakos …as a tribute to my Greek deceased father who I never knew. In 1974 we rented a cool little secluded house in Kingston, Massachusetts…and we were in search of an extraordinary drummer whose playing could take us to the top. Enter Carl Canedy…he was and still is incredible on drums. We somehow convinced Carl to join our band and live with us in Kingston where the music flourished. From that moment on, we all thought we were headed to the top…we were a band to be reckoned with! As for attracting a major record label, we believed we could just go out on the road and play our music, and they would come to us! When that didn’t happen, we decided to put all our resources and talent into making absolutely the best album we could by ourselves, and our original songs would draw the major labels. Unfortunately they didn’t come and even though we submitted 100 albums to major record A&R departments, we got no response except “We cannot use your music at this time” form letters. In truth, I have no idea how to attract major record labels besides giving my best every time I play!
Carl Canedy: At the time it was difficult for any band to get recognized, particularly without a major manager. To put things in perspective, there was no internet, no American Idol or America’s Got Talent (or Greek Idol). Musicians needed representation to get in the door of a label. I remember hearing a story of Elvis Costello playing in front of Columbia Records until someone noticed him. I also had friends, who played with Harry Chapin, telling me of how Harry would call labels under a false name asking if they’d heard of a guy named Harry Chapin; he worked the labels until he had a buzz going. Needless to say it was a very difficult time to get noticed. We had no representation and although we tried very hard to get noticed, we were unable to have major doors opened for us. We were self-financed, so funds ran dry quickly. I will say that the experience was invaluable for me moving forward with The Rods.
Rockpages.gr: The East Coast had a healthy and vibrant rock scene back in the day. Up and coming artists, like KISS, Blue Oyster Cult, The New York Dolls, Springsteen etc. were making their first steps. Where did Kelakos fit in and how was the overall scene back then?
George Michael Kelakos Haberstroh: Honestly we never even thought of where we fit into the music scene…we were too busy blazing our OWN path. Others can decide where we fit in. All I know is that our hearts were deeply entwined with our music…it was a total commitment of our minds, bodies and souls for one goal…the music!
Carl Canedy: I remember us covering “Rock and Roll All Night” when we lived in New Jersey. It never occurred to me that we were in the middle of the “New York Scene.” Many club bands get so caught up in surviving that they lose their identities to the cover material or simply give up their dream. “We’ll work on the originals once we get past this next batch of gigs” which never happens, as there is always the next batch of gigs to get by when you’re on the club circuit.
We were focused on surviving so we could bring out our own music. Kiss had a hit, Springsteen was already on Columbia, Blue Oyster Cult had already had a hit with “Reaper”. These bands were established and we had yet to begin recording. Those bands to me seemed a million miles from where we were. They were Rock Stars and we were a band trying to book any gigs possible to survive. We played Tuesdays right across from the Stone Pony in Asbury Park where Springsteen would sit in with Southside Johnny. Inevitably the crowd would hear that “Bruce” was there and literally run out of the club where we were playing (The Drift Inn). Looking back it seemed that there were two types of bands in the Jersey scene at that time. The Kiss, Queen wannabees and the disco/dance bands. We didn’t really fit into either category. We wrote our own material while trying to find the middle ground of learning enough cover material to get gigs, yet still finding time to develop our music.
Rockpages.gr: You were an active outfit for almost 4 years. How was the experience of playing in the clubs? How did the crowd react to your music?
George Michael Kelakos Haberstroh: We had some wild times on the road. We felt as though, through our repertoire and performance, we could win over any crowd!! Carl had this show stopping strobe light drum solo that would bring the house down night after night….I remember once near the end of the night at a rowdy club called Freddy’s in Lake Placid, New York, we were doing a super hard rock, nasty version of the Stones’ Brown Sugar when the place erupted into a full-out bar brawl while we kept jamming! I think Mark whacked a guy coming at him with the head stock of his ‘68 les Paul without missing a chord in the song! The clubs were packed, and they loved us!
Carl Canedy: Again my experience with Kelakos and playing so many one-nighters was valuable to me moving forward in my career. I believe we all recognized that by meeting people during your gigs, you could help build your following. It was also interesting to me to see the crowds grow organically, and to watch them respond to us as we grew as a band. It was rewarding, particularly after the year in New Jersey. The move to upstate New York was right for us. We were able to build our audience in other states successfully from our new home base. By the time we parted ways we had quite a strong fan base in our region. But without the advantage of the internet and social media, we had no means to ‘rally the troops’ to help get us noticed by mainstream record label executives.
Rockpages.gr: Was there ever a time when you thought that you were about to make it big and achieve commercial success?
George Michael Kelakos Haberstroh: Yes indeed, the whole time we were a band we felt that way…especially during the studio recording sessions and our sky-high hopes for our album! We felt oh so close…
Carl Canedy: My perspective on this was quite simple. We were so focused on doing whatever it took to succeed; we didn’t even consider the option of failure. We believed in the band, the material and ourselves. We worked very hard and felt that it would pay off. Although at the time it didn’t happen, I believe that the music has stood the test of time. I’m as proud of it today as I was then. I’m also very grateful that people such as you are discovering the music and turning on new listeners.
Rockpages.gr: “Uncorked” is a collection of rare tracks that were recorded in the 70s. Tell us a few things about this record…
George Michael Kelakos Haberstroh: Kelakos Uncorked represents the focused, unbridled passion, the culmination of the hopes and dreams, and the Herculean effort of 4 young musicians! Carl is not only phenomenal on drums, but also as a producer, songwriter, guitar player and singer!! Linc is as gifted a song writer as there ever could be, coupled with his voice, and production and arranging skill, and musical proficiency on bass, piano and guitar, this man can hold his own, and shine, in any musical situation! Mark added his passion and all-in approach to his expert guitar playing with every track. We were a formidable team, working in synergy with each other!! There is a vast array of styles of music on this CD, reflecting the scope of our love of music. I absolutely believed then, and still do, that this was a great, musically rich first album for any band, and I am extremely grateful and proud that through eternity, it bears my and my father’s name Kelakos!
Carl Canedy: This 2015 “Uncorked” CD project owes a great debt to Linc, who digitally remixed these recordings from the raw tracks after I located the Kelakos 2-inch tapes in 2013. He refused to record over those tracks, believing that by re-mixing the original performances we would capture what we all had intended all along. I had wanted to re-trigger the snare and kick drum to give them a more “modern” sound, but he stuck with the original drum tracks and got amazing results. I had also wanted to change a background vocal part on the song “All You Need is A Ticket” to a different effect from the 1978 album version, but he worked with the original sessions and made it sound the way I had always wanted to hear it. I can see that he was right to resist diluting our 1970s performances, as what we have now is a clear, fully polished version of what we created so many years ago. I love the fact that I can say we recorded this before “cut and paste” existed. These were ‘one takes’ on most instruments; we had to play songs through from beginning to end. I’m very proud of us as band and what you hear on these recordings. I also love that we set no boundaries or limits with regard to instrumentation and production. Although funds were tight we recorded and self-produced our songs as if we had a major label record with an unlimited budget. We just wanted each song be the best it could be. We pulled in all kinds of instruments and experimented with effects as if we were The Beatles recording Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Crazy and perhaps a bit foolish, yet it shows our dedication and commitment, and I now see that, as corny as this may sound, as a badge of honor.
Rockpages.gr: Do you see it as an opportunity to introduce the band to a wider audience that was previously unaware of your existence?
Linc Bloomfield: The band members gave four great years of our lives to Kelakos, and what motivated us was not fame or fortune but belief in our music. So the release of “Uncorked” in 2015 has meant that these 15 original Kelakos songs will be preserved forever on streaming and download services around the world, sounding the way we want them to be heard and remembered. A song can appeal to people of any generation, and bring pleasure to people in any culture, for a very long time – even long after the artists are gone.
Carl Canedy: Until 2015 this album was invisible to any who knew me or had followed my career from the 1980s on. With “Uncorked” in wide circulation, it is now part of my “official” discography. I’m thrilled that people are enjoying the music who may otherwise have never had the chance.
Rockpages.gr: I wrote in my review that your music is a mixture of Foghat and Santana with lots of blues elements and a little bit of Good Rats in there. Do you agree with this and do you feel any disappointment over the fact that similar sounding bands gained success and Kelakos remained virtually unknown?
Carl Canedy: Really interesting comparisons. I personally have never felt resentment or disappointment at anyone’s success. Foghat was the first arena tour the Rods did. A cover of Savoy Brown’s “I’m Tired” was the first studio recording I ever made. The Good Rats were a band I’d always heard about. People loved them. They weren’t an influence for me, but since we were all from the same area perhaps something in the water connected us. I know many of us in the band loved Santana, Hendrix, Neil Young, The Beatles, the blues, etc. I would have to agree with your assessment of the music and our influences. We made an album we were proud of and people are now discovering it. I can’t consider that anything but a true success.
Linc Bloomfield: The legendary artists and recordings that inspired each of us to pursue music are part of the DNA in everything we wrote and the way we played. Reading the reviews of “Uncorked” this year by experienced rock writers, we have enjoyed the references they make to various influences of rock, pop, jazz, blues, boogie, country, R&B and fusion in the 15 original songs. That wide spectrum of styles came from years of gigging together. Back in the 70s, every Kelakos performance, large or small, was much more than a club date. In our minds every time we took the stage it was a musical event – a concert. George was a charismatic force in the spotlight as the band leader, combining his strong and beautiful voice with awesome guitar playing. Combined with Carl behind us on a platform playing his chrome double-bass drum kit there was a lot to attract our audiences. Mark and I filled out the sound with his versatile rhythm and solo guitar work along with my bass, and all of us sang harmonies and took some lead vocal turns. We played everything from lush mellow ballads to the most intense rock, and the crowds reciprocated our passion and energy. So we felt appreciated by our fans. And while we did not get picked up by a major label, we have always been proud of this musical legacy.
Rockpages.gr: Would you consider doing a special gig or even recording a new album just for old times sake?
George Michael Kelakos Haberstroh: Never say never! There would be lots of logistic problems but if it did happen the music would be white hot!
Carl Canedy: A gig would be fantastic! Perhaps a Greek Festival? I hope that at the least, we’re able to record some new material. Our years together on the road gave us a musical bond that would be fun to revisit. I want to personally thank you for your support of this album. It’s truly appreciated!