Mike is the bass player for The Gill Street Band and has played in groups in the New York City area and State College for about 40 years. Born May 22, 1955, Mike grew up in Mineola, Long Island, New York. Mike and his wife, Kim, moved to State College in 1993. Mike’s father was musical (a pianist and classically trained tenor vocalist) and Mike was interested in music from an early age. He started with piano lessons but switched to guitar in Junior High (1967) taking classical and electric guitar lessons for three years.
As a child Mike listened to a wide variety of music from classical and big band to rock and pop. Because of the close proximity to New York City, Mike could listen to many city and local rock and pop music radio stations, both AM and FM, starting in the late sixties until his move to State College. Listening to the songs over and over, the soul, pop and rock music of the mid to late sixties became permanently imbedded in Mikes’ musical subconscious. He found that he gravitated to music that featured a harder driving guitar edge balanced with good vocals and harmony. Mike’s early rock influences include Cream, Steppenwolf, Iron Butterfly, Jefferson Airplane, Mountain, Grand Funk Railroad, Yes, Jethro Tull and The Who.
Along with his school friends, Mike got caught up in the excitement of the success of the Beatles and the Monkeys and they thought it would be “very cool” to start their own band. Being that this was the “Psychedelic Era”, they took their cue for naming their new band from groups like the Strawberry Alarm Clock and Vanilla Fudge. Hence, the powerhouse quartet of “The Stainless Steel Eggplant” was born with Mike on guitar and vocals. Eggplant played one gig at the Mineola Junior High School and disbanded shortly afterwards. But the performing bug had bitten and Mike was eager to perform in bands from then on.
The nearness of New York City also allowed him the opportunity to attend many concerts in a wide variety of venues. As a result, Mike became a big fan of live musical performances and he was fortunate to see two concerts in the now legendary Fillmore East Theater before it closed in the early 1970s. At one the headliner was Mountain (Mike’s first concert) and the second one was to see the warm up act which was, at the time, a quirky, little known theatrical rock group called Alice Cooper.
As a freshman in high school he heard his first Frank Zappa album and immediately became hooked by Frank’s compositional and lyrical talent, guitar playing style and sense of humor. Mike has remained a Zappa fan to this day. With his new found love of the unusual and less-mainstream side of the music world, Mike started to explore the music of lesser known artists such as the before-mentioned Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, Captain Beefheart and synthesizer pioneer Walter (now Wendy) Carlos. In time he added King Crimson and The Tubes to his list. For a while he listened to Ravi Shankar and Indian classical music and dabbled with the sitar for several years. During high school Mike sang in the Glee Club and played guitar at the folk masses at his church and school.
In 1973, Mike went off to college and met the friends with whom he would continue his musical journey. They all had similar tastes in music and formed a band that played for free beer in the Stevens Institute of Technology Rathskeller. Known as “The International Silver Screen Submarine Band” (Little Rascals fans please take note) they were a rock/ comedy/ performance group that was heavy on audience participation and long jams to make up for their lack of rehearsed songs. But they were locally popular and continued to grow and improve. Fortunately, they never matured. Mike played rhythm guitar, sang and acted as the band’s master of ceremonies. During this time Mike became a fan of Steely Dan and of jazz fusion pioneers such as Return to Forever, Weather Report and The Mahavishnu Orchestra. This led to a growing appreciation of jazz and horn arrangements.
Around 1976 the same group of talented loonies formed a band to play at frat parties called Lumpy Gravy that quickly blossomed into the juggernaut that was Captain Spuds Probers. A 12-piece band with a 3-piece horn section, the Probers, as they were affectionately called, took the experience of their Ratshkeller days and turned into a hard hitting, fun loving musical experience. With music by Tower of Power, Steely Dan, Jeff Beck, and of course, Frank Zappa, and highlighted by impromptu audience participation events like on-stage beauty pageants and dance contests, the Probers delighted and perplexed audiences in the New York City area for four years. Again, Mike served as rhythm guitar player, vocalist and mc, sharing mc duties with the group’s bass player Steve Legensky.
In the 1980s, the core members of the Probers formed a five piece blues band called Stonehead Johnson and the Juniors. They performed in around New York City until Mike moved to State College. Mike assumed the same trio of roles for this group as he had for the previous groups.
After moving to State College in 1993, Mike’s musical “career” lay dormant for a while. Around 2003, he signed up at his church to be part of the 11 AM mass choir. He listed his abilities to sing and to play acoustic and electric, six and twelve string guitars ……. and bass guitar. At the time Mike had not played bass, he didn’t own a bass, but he was confident that he could play one since it was the lower four strings of the guitar tuned down an octave. How hard could it be and what were the odds that this “skill” would be needed at church? Ha-ha…… famous last words.
As luck would have it, the choir director wasn’t looking for guitar players – he was looking for a bass player and approached Mike to fill that role. Mike said, “Yes.” Immediately, he looked around for an instrument to play. He remembered that a friend had bought a fretless bass to learn how to play, became disenchanted with it and left it behind when he moved out of town. It was still where he left it so Mike borrowed it to play at church. He soon found out that the fretless was very challenging but also a lot of fun. He then purchased the bass from its previous owner and bought a bass amp so that he could stop playing his bass through his guitar amp. Soon Mike began jamming with some friends from church and the formed a group calls the MILIUJO Jazz Quartet.
One day, Mike was asked to be part of a new group that she was forming that would specialize in Soul, Funk, Motown and R&B. Mike immediately said “yes” and he now plays bass and provides background vocals for The Gill Street Band.
Mike currently plays a fretless Fender Jazz Bass Special with smooth wound, nylon wrapped strings through an Ibanez Sound Wave 100 bass amp. The signal is run through a Digitech Bass Compressor, Digital Delay and Bass Chorus. Mike’s bass playing influences are Mark Egan, Tony Levin and Jaco Pastorius.