It starts with Spectropop. So much about the music in the general term "'60s pop" does these days. I'd posted several requests for knowledge about the Front Porch, who recorded three 45s for Jubilee in 1970 and '71. I also knew Al Gorgoni for a brief period, and had asked him for information, since he was the guitarist on some of the sessions, but he had no recollection of the group. (You'll see why later.) So, in January 2003, I did a search for Charles Purpura (pictured above, right), the composer of "Song To St. Agnes", the only original song the group released, and a longtime personal favorite. Discovering an e-mail address for him, I sent a note beginning: "I am wondering if you are Charles Purpura who wrote "Song For St. Agnes" recorded by the Front Porch on Jubilee Records in 1970." Unknown to me, Charles forwarded my message to fellow group member Marc Scott (above, left) with the note, "Marc - got this e-mail this morning. Can't escape the past." In May, Marc Scott told me the story of a band wanting to go one way that was pulled in another. Charles Purpura added some additional clarifying remarks. The tale begins here:
Marc Scott: Charles Purpura forwarded your e-mail to me, and I believe I can answer most of your questions (and more then you ever wanted to know) about the Front Porch.
Paul Payton: Could you please tell me about the artists, recording, creative process, etc.?
MS: Although my main instrument is the guitar, I also played bass on "Song to St. Agnes", "Shake, Rattle And Roll", and two other songs that we recorded at the same session: "Lodi" and "Only You Lady". It was recorded at legendary engineer/producer Brooks Arthur's Century Sound in Manhattan over several Saturdays and Sundays when the studio was free. Our friend, Jay Tropp, who was normally an assistant engineer there, was the engineer. The drummer was Butch Horowitz and the girls singing background were identical twins, Jennie and Judy. They were introduced to us by mutual friends when we were looking for back-up singers. Charlie sang lead and has been married to Jenny for more then 30 years. We're still best friends and are in touch several times a week. My electric guitar was a Fender Jaguar, the bass was a Fender Precision and Butch's drums were red. I think Charlie also played my Fender and maybe an acoustic.
Charles Purpura: Jennie and Judy's last names were Simeone. Now Jennie is Jennie Purpura, and Judy is Judy Harmon. In the picture, Jennie is the girl on your left. I think. You see, Jennie and Judy are "mirror twins". I never have trouble telling them apart, unless I see one or both of them in a mirror. In other words, the slight differences in their appearance is due to a "flipping" or "flopping" or their respective countenances.
PP: How did the Front Porch get going?
MS: The seeds for the Front Porch were sewn when we were about 16 or 17 years old and in an instrumental band in Brooklyn, NY playing the songs of the Ventures, the Fireballs and Duane Eddy. The personnel were Charlie on bass, Butch on drums, Jr. Guarna on lead guitar and myself on rhythm guitar. We had various names, such as the Firestrings and (don't laugh) The 4 Satins. We rarely worked because we were so young and because Jr., who was the leader, had a bad case of stage fright. We rehearsed after school, five or six days a week for years, and were an extremely tight band. We would play the odd gig at Jr.'s uncle's bar. When I was in art college, I met Chris Spierer who was a singer and guitarist. We started bringing our guitars into school and would play at lunchtime, mostly the same songs as the band played. We were offered a job to play at a college party. I told the Firestrings about it, but Jr. didn't want to do it. We revolted, fired him and asked Chris to join the band. With no rehearsal as a band, we went ahead and successfully played the gig. Chris even had the same matching blue Beatles Nehru jacket that we had. Coincidence, or ?
PP: What was your first recording experience?
PP: But all good things must come to an end
MS: When Chris quit the Living End and Butch got married, Charlie and I tried to continue. We wrote music for some off-Broadway shows under the name Gizmo Delicious with our friend Daffi Nathanson. Our music received better reviews then any of the shows!
CP: After the catastrophic break up of the Living End, Marc went to Europe and I went to "off-off" Broadway where I wrote music for a number of plays that went up and down all over the East and West Village.
MS: Also, there was one play that I wrote and performed the music myself. It was called Voyage To Arcturis. Daffi Nathanson played a giant chicken, and Herve Villachaize (before Fantasy Island) played a character called Solange who rode around on the chicken. Really!
CP: The woman who directed it became famous, but we can't remember her name. Starting in the late spring of 1971, Marc would bounce back and forth between the States and Europe and whenever he was around, we'd do stuff together. During one of his returns, he also worked with me on some of the theater productions as part of my group Gizmo Delicious. I have some demo tracks of songs I wrote for a production called Merlin In Autumn which went up at LaMama E.T.C. on West 4th Street back in the 1970's.
MS: Another interesting note: after we stopped working together as the Living End, Charlie briefly formed a band with Shere Hite who years later wrote The Hite Report.
PP: When were the Front Porch's songs recorded?
MS: We recorded all four songs of the "Shake, Rattle And Roll" sessions, as they've come to be known in the industry - that song plus "Song For St. Agnes", "Lodi" and "Only You Lady" - between the end of 1969 and the beginning of 1970.
PP: I particularly like the Dylan-esque lead vocal on "Song To St. Agnes" and "Shake, Rattle And Roll".
MS: Bob Dylan was an enormous influence on the two of us, then and now as well. I remember the first time I saw him on TV in '62 or '63 on a long forgotten late night TV talk show, The Les Crane Show. I called Charlie the next day and told him about this weird guy who sang "even the President of the United States must sometimes have to stand naked". We were hooked. Once, when the Living End played at the Coney Island Pub, the girl playing dance records on our breaks asked Charlie and myself to spin the disks while she went to the ladies room. We put Dylan on and brought the place to a screeching halt! Needless to say, we were told to never go near the records again.
CP: The arrangement on "Shake, Rattle And Roll" occurred to
me when I discovered that "Shake, Rattle And Roll" was a phrase
associated with Pentecostal Protestants. In their worship, they seek a
state of mind that leaves them "speaking in tongues" and writhing
on the floor (shaking and rolling) in spiritual ecstasy. So I got the
idea to try "Shake, Rattle And Roll" as a hymn.
MS: Record World said in their review of "Shake, Rattle And Roll": "This is a freak. It's the Joe Turner/Bill Haley oldie done acoustically in a gentle way. It's an excellent record." It was Charlie's idea to slow it down, but we all worked out the arrangement.
PP: "Song To St. Agnes" has unusual counterpoint in the female vocal backup as well as the juxtaposition of the contemporary rock band instrumentation with a slow doo-wop ballad feeling. I hear the lyrics, but perhaps because I am not Catholic, I don't understand many of the references. Also, who was St. Agnes, and what does she symbolize?
MS: St. Agnes was Jennie and Judy's school, and other then that, there's no real meaning to the song. I asked Charlie about the cryptic lyrics, and like Dylan, he said you shouldn't read anything into it, it just sounds nice.
CP: I admit it is lyrically somewhat stream of conscious. But there are references in there to meditation ("Lonely takes the time away"). You know, shutting down the outside sends you inside, beyond time and space. There are also references to St. Peter, the Fisherman ("Peter is mending blanket and sail") and St. Joseph, the carpenter, Jesus' father ("Joseph is hiding hammer and nail"). In some way, in my head, these two guys understood the sadness and loneliness of following a spiritual path. I was heavily involved in one at the time. Still am, I guess. Anyway, I wasn't committing to any one story or meaning, just pulling Christian and Catholic images and icons out of my head. And as Marc mentioned, St. Agnes was the Catholic School that Jennie and Jude attended.
MS: One of the other songs from the session, "Only You Lady", is in a time that we still can't figure out. If you heard my guitar break, you'd understand what I'm talking about. I was totally lost and cringe every time I hear it now, but my bass part is great! [The song, in demo form only and never released, is actually in 6/4 time. - PP] I don't know how I came up with it. I'm basically a 2/4 or 4/4 guy. As for the writing process, Charlie said there was no magic or mystical process, he just wrote it.
CP: "Only You Lady" is about Mary, the mother of Jesus. I think.
It should be clear to you by now that at the time I was still heavily
influenced by my Catholic upbringing. As the Jesuits say, "Give us
their first seven years, and we'll have them forever". In any event,
I'm better now.
MS: "Wonderful Summer" and "Under The Boardwalk" were produced by Brooks Arthur with arrangements by Jimmy "The Wiz" Wisner. None of us played on those tracks. It was all session guys, hence the difference in sound. Brooks Arthur has more gold and platinum than Tiffany's, including all of Adam Sandler's recent comedy records.
PP: In my search for information on the Front Porch, I had even asked Al Gorgoni, who was on the two "cover" 45's, if he remembered anything about the group, but your answer explains why he didn't - he wasn't at the vocal sessions!
MS: I think he worked a lot at Century Sound with people like Artie Butler and Artie Kornfeld.
PP: By the way, Al Gorgoni is still in business, doing what he always did. I forget the name of his company, but he put out a new Evie Sands album a couple of years back, maybe 3 or 4. She still sounds great.
MS: I went to junior high school with Evie Sands, although she had a different name [Evie Rosen] back then. I think she was a grade lower then I was, and her brother was a grade higher. Also there was another singer, Bobby Pedrick Jr., who was a friend from kindergarten, that went to the same school and had several hit singles, "White Bucks And Saddle Shoes" and "Stranded", on Big Top Records. He became Robert John, and hit again with "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and "Sad Eyes". I also went to high school with Bobby Rivera, of Little Bobby Rivera & the Hemlocks, who did "Cora Lee" [a New York doo-wop classic].
PP: Are there any stories you'd be willing to share about the "care and treatment" of the Front Porch by Jubilee? I always thought the recording and the label to be an odd match.
MS: I always thought our releases on Jubilee were a strange match, too.
As for our relationship with them, there was none. We never met anyone
from the company. We believe, because of "Shake Rattle And Roll",
and through Brooks, there was some kind of production deal for a couple
of follow-ups. Our originals were so much better than what Brooks had
done with the two follow-up singles. As a very successful engineer and
producer, he should've understood what we were trying to do. Had he produced
our vision instead of his, I think we would've had something great!
MS: There was never an album. I only have one of the actual records, a promo copy with "Wonderful Summer" on both sides. If you have copies of anything we did, we'd love one. By the way, what were the B-sides?
PP: I only have DJ copies with the A-sides of "Under The Boardwalk" and "Wonderful Summer", so I guess we're both still looking for whatever Jubilee put on the flip. Were your demos "Lodi" or "Only You Lady" perhaps the missing flipsides? [The usually thorough www.recordmaster.com only shows the two sides for "Shake"/"Agnes" - 45-5700; it only shows one side for "Boardwalk" - 45-5717; and also shows "Boardwalk" as the flip of "Wonderful Summer" - 45-5720. - PP] Am I correct to assume, Charlie, you are the same Charles Purpura who wrote Heaven Help Us in 1978?
MS: Charlie became a screenwriter and has had two releases, Heaven Help Us (a great film, rent it!), with Andrew McCarthy, Mary Stewart Masterson, Donald Sutherland, Yeardly Smith (the voice of Lisa Simpson), Kevin Dillon, Larry "Bud" Melman (from the NBC Letterman days), and others who went on to have great success. I saw it in Paris where, for some unknown reason, it was called Tutti Frutti. He also wrote Satisfaction (not a great film), starring Justine Bateman. It was Julia Roberts' first film. Liam Neeson was also in it, as were Debbie Harry and others who I can't remember who went on to bigger things. He also won an Emmy for something he wrote for TV, and now teaches screenwriting at NYU. I'm trying to convince him to work together again on some music. I have a feeling that it'll be a fun summer project.
CP: The "development" road is generally a long and tedious one, leading nowhere. When I first got into the film industry behind Catholic Boys/Heaven Help Us, people in L.A. were treating me like I had discovered a cure for cancer. It blew my mind when I was told that in a town with virtually only one industry, only about 5% of any of the thousands of projects out there ever got made. So that put me in the top 5% of people in the industry that other people in the industry wanted to hang out with. You see, nobody knows why some projects get made and others don't, why some films are hits and other aren't. Oh, they have they research teams and testing people and theory guys and gypsy fortune-tellers. But the fact is nobody knows anything. So they all wanna hang out with the guy who's got something going. They figure, "Hey, he must know what to do." Or they just want some of that good karma to rub off on them. I'm outlining a book project I want to do about my adventures in Hollywood. I'm gonna title it Promised Land Calling, subtitled And The Poor Boy's On The Line.
PP: What happened when the Front Porch dissolved?
MS: I was the only one to continue with music. I moved to London in 1971 and stayed for ten years. I had some success as a guitarist-singer-songwriter. I had a group that went by the name of Sweetfeed and also Roberts, Rice, Bandell and Scott. We recorded with Roger Daltrey on his solo album "Ride A Rock Horse", and also with Brian Eno on his album "Here Come The Warm Jets". We never had any of our own recordings released or achieved commercial success, but our fans included David Bowie, Rod Stewart, Gary Glitter, Bryan Ferry, the Supremes and all of London high society, including members of the royal family. We worked all the time. After I left Sweetfeed, I worked with Marianne Faithfull, Mickey Finn from T-Rex, Guy Pratt from Pink Floyd, Cleo Lane and Johnny Dankworth, Lulu, the Sweet, the London Festival Ballet, Robin Millar (the producer of Sade, Fine Young Cannibals and Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead) and many others. I also had a solo release, "Rock And Roll Legend in 4/4 Time" b/w "Don't Bite the Bullet" on the Aura label, #AUS 104, as Johnny B Scott. Awful name, awful record. It was actually an incomplete demo.
PP: You also sang doo-wop, didn't you?
PP: Thank you, Marc and Charlie; you've really answered all of this fan's questions and more that I didn't know to ask.
MS: The more we got into it, the more it turned into something else, didn't it?
I've always found it a little strange, but very flattering, when people express an interest in music that I've been involved in, especially 33 years ago. But, as a music fanatic myself, I've done the same thing to other artists. When I lived in Florida, I was introduced to Jimmy Gallagher from the Passions, and was barely able to speak to him. I wanted to know everything, but was too star-struck to ask anything. I've met and worked with bigger artists, but his music had such an effect on my life. Same thing when I lived in Nice, France and met Mickey "Guitar" Baker at a mutual friend's recording session. Man, that guy was there at the very beginning of the music that changed everything. Talk about stories! I got to see and hear him play. I was three freakin' feet away. Blew my tiny little mind! We even corresponded for a while.
PP: I've seen Jimmy Gallagher with the Florida Legends, which include Tony Passalacqua of the Fascinators, Frank Mancuso of the Imaginations ("Hey You") and Steve Horn, the bass from the Five Sharks, all sharing leads. I was tongue-tied, too. I don't know if you've seen this particular aggregation - Ronnie I brings them in to UGHA [United in Group Harmony Association] in New Jersey periodically - but they are astonishing, even better than their records! And I'm an original-version freak.
MS: Small world. When I was playing and recording with the Decades, we played at one of Ronnie I's' UGHA shows, and also sang live on his radio show. [Meanwhile,] I recently saw an ad in The Village Voice for another group called the Front Porch. They're playing somewhere in Manhattan!
PP: [In January, 2004 I contacted Marc Scott and Charlie Purpura for an update on the latter-day adventures of the Front Porch.] I was wondering if The I Fell Down And Can't Get Up Band ever got up with you in it! If not, what are you doing these days?
MS: The I Fell Down And Can't Get Up Band is no more. I left, as did all of the original members, because the guy putting it together was a control freak and insisted on choosing all the songs and doing everything his way. He disbanded the group shortly after and moved to Maine.
PP: And how's your mobile studio doing, Marc?
MS: I'll be starting a new advertising campaign in the very near future, so I believe business will pick up. If you know anyone who needs a mobile recording studio - anywhere, anytime - please pass them my name and e-mail. [Marc Scott can be reached at email@example.com - Ed.]
PP: Did you ever get together with Charlie and do any more writing?
MS: Charlie and I weren't able to come up with anything new yet. We saw each other almost every week during the summer [of 2003], but never made an attempt to write anything. However, he'll be having a new film made, probably this year. They already have the producer. I don't remember her name, but she's very successful. I saw a read-through at NYU last week. It was great!! It's called Death, The Musical!
CP: Death, The Musical is being developed by Susan Carsonis, president of Windancer Films (What Women Want, Where The Heart Is, Company Man). She's currently looking for a director. [But] the "development" road is generally a long and tedious one, leading nowhere.
MS: I did get some really good news recently. One of the albums that my group Sweetfeed sang on in London, Brian Eno's "Here Come The Warm Jets", has been voted by Rolling Stone as one of the 500 greatest albums ever made!! As you can imagine, I'm really thrilled about that!
[I'm grateful to Marc Scott and Charles Purpura for going out of their
way to share the music of the Front Porch, information, pictures and so
much more with me, and for giving their permission to pass it along to
Presented by the Spectropop Team