If there’s anything I’ve learned from watching musicians and music fans mix and mingle at the Syracuse Area Music Awards since the debut edition in 1993, it’s that everybody digs the reunion set.
This year’s spotlight band will be Jam Factory, the Sammys organizers announced last week at a news conference at The Palace Theatre on James Street, where the shiny black black trophies to honor the best work in the music scene will once again be handed out on Friday, March 4. That’s the night after this year’s class of Hall of Fame inductees are honored at Upstairs at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. Tickets for Upstairs at the Dinosaur are $25. Send payment to SAMMYS, Box 11196, Syracuse NY 13218. Tickets for The Palace are $20, with information available at the Sammys site.
Jam Factory is one of the bands going into the Hall of Fame that night, along with The Bells of Harmony, George Rossi and Savoy Brown. Jam Factory and The Bells of Harmony are both celebrating their 50-year anniversary of starting in the business.
Syracuse University student Howie Wyeth was the idea man behind Jam Factory in 1966. But its first incarnation was called the Sidewinders, a big rock band with a horn section.
Because I was just a kid down on Long Island back then, I’ll let the dean of Syracuse music history, Ron Wray, describe Jam Factory’s origins from his site.
In early 1966, Howie and Ian Taddeo were playing Lorenzo’s in downtown Syracuse. At this point Howie auditioned and brought together 25 of the best musicians the University had to offer. The result was the “Sidewinders.” Its first version was finally limited to 11 members — Mark Hoffmann (guitar), Bill Storm (bass), Paul Petruccelli (vocals), horns: John Hall, Steve Marconi and Mike Mattia, sax — Dave Scribner, Ron Johnson and Ian Taddeo (who later formed the Stompin Suede Greasers), singer Charlie Brown (SU football player) and drummer Howie Wyeth.
In their three years of existence, the Sidewinders went through many changes. In the fall of 1967, Charlie Brown graduated and was replaced by singer Eddie Freeman. Bill Storm was replaced by ex-Tradewind bassist Kent DeFelice, and Jon Huston was added to the horn section. By 1968, the group was cut to eight — Freeman, Wyeth, DeFelice, Hoffmann, Marcone, Mattia, Taddeo and Alan Sislan. The summer of 1968 they could still be seen playing Deb’s but it brought major changes: Mattia and Taddeo left and Earl Ford of Boston was brought in to take their place. Also departing were Sislan and Eddie Freeman, while Daytona Beach’s vocalist Gene McCormick was added during the fall. Wyeth’s departure was filled by Rochester drummer Joe English. …
Early in 1969, the remaining Sidewinders (Hoffmann, Ford, English. Marcone, McCormick and DeFelice) changed their name and continued as “Jam Factory.”. They recorded an album for Epic Records “Sitting In The Trap” and a single “Talk is Cheap” (1971).
Hoffmann is still playing in Syracuse’s scene today.
Fellow Hall of Fame inductee band Savoy Brown also will be performing at the Sammys ceremony, along with Carolyn Kelly, Ohne Ka and the Burning River, and Joe Driscoll.
Guitarist Kim Simmonds started blues band Savoy Brown in England in the 1960s, when he was considered a contemporary of Eric Clapton. Simmonds rocked the U.K. for decades, touring the world as well. In the 1990s, he moved to Oswego County, some 30 miles north of Syracuse. Since, he’s enlisted a long list of distinguished Central New York musicians to join him on his world travels as he continues to play his favorite hits from then and write and record new music.
While covering the music scene for the big daily, I had the pleasure to interview Simmonds many times and catch Savoy Brown in concert as well as his solo set. He’s a true treasure of the business.
Charles Cannon put together some of Syracuse’s finest gospel singers in 1966, and The Bells of Harmony have been bringing joy to the world since. The group consisted of his brother Homer Cannon (deceased) and his cousins Otis (deceased), Ben and Eugene Starling. Deacon Willie “Ed” Knighton was the young group’s first manager and spiritual advisor. Members as the decades rolled by included Howard Wright, Dwayne Cannon, Floyd Hodges, Kelvin Cannon, Keith Cannon, Shaquan Kirby, Glen McArthur and John Kirby. When I saw Cannon lead The Bells of Harmony on the big stage at the M&T Syracuse Jazz Fest, in addition to the glorious vocal harmonies of the singers, one of the finest elements of the group was the rocking musicianship of the young players Cannon had enlisted to back them up and continue the tradition.
George Rossi took on a personal put together a big band and started a downtown Syracuse phenomena in the 1990s that he was able to take up and down the East Coast. Lil’ Georgie and the Shufflin’ Hungarians carried New Orleans style boogie and swing to the contagious extreme at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que and Styleen’s Rhythm Palace that those joints would be packed with dancing, happy Central New Yorkers. Rossi’s Queen Bee Records captured the vibe on a two-disc live set for posterity, too. Of course, keyboardist and singer Rossi’s Central New York history goes further back than his Lil’ Georgie days. He also played with The Works, Masters of Reality and The Bogeyman, the last two of which were signed to national record deals.
Mark Murphy was a big deal in the international jazz scene for many decades. The Lifetime Achievement Award winner was known for sticking to his own way, traveling the world, and encompassing a diverse view in his vocal work that spanned 40 albums. Murphy, who died in October at the age of 83, earned and extensive obituary in the Washington Post that lauded his career.
Music Educator of the year Mark Copani has a solid guitar player resume to point to as he teaches his students. He credits seeing the Beatles for his start in music at age 9. His teacher back then was Sammys Hall of Famer Buzz Cua, father of noted musician and record producer Rick Cua. Copani went on to become a noted jazz player fluent in any style who’s played with Dave Hanlon’s Cookbook, Ronnie Leigh, and many other local bands, including the Central New York Jazz Orchestra and the Mario DeSantis Orchestra since 1991. His notable recording work includes three albums with national group Cabo Frio and a pair of great albums for his own group, Eye Level. In 26 years of teaching, he’s instructed 100s of students.
Hall of Fame
George Rossi, The Bells of Harmony,
Jam Factory, Savoy Brown
Brian Bourke Award for Best New Artist
Will be announced at ceremony
The Moonshine River Band
Best Hip Hop or Rap
Steve Cook & Cyph
Street Rock Mafia
World Be Free
Early Bird Trio
Molly and the Badly Bent Bluegrass Boys
Rabbit in the Rye
The Brothers MacRae
Mountains & Valleys
The Golden Novak Band
Best Hard Rock
Fall of Humanity
One Step From Falling
Best Jam Band
Allison and Zoe
Best Other Style
Nick and Noah