Sabattis interview with Larry Wegman and Rocky Kaler
Here’s another collaboration we made with great Guerssen Records. Check it out!
Sabattis formed in 1968. They were 19 and 20-year-olds that had been playing in bands in their high school years. Jim Marvin (guitars and lead vocalist), Gary Culotta (keyboards and vocals) and Larry Wegman (drums) had played in a previous band called The Image. They did only covers, and when that ended they decided to write and play their own music.
They needed a bass player and were fortunate to meet Rocky Kaler (bass guitar) through a friend. They had composed a few originals, “The Devil’s In You” and “Green Glass” and they had developed ideas for more stuff. They spent many months rehearsing in basements and attics, composing new songs.
They were influenced by a lot of music. Rock bands like Mountain, Grand Funk Railroad, Deep Purple to name a few, as well as blues, and even jazz artists. Most of the clubs in the area (Rochester, NY), were dance clubs, but they were not a “dance” band. They definitely preferred an audience that listened and became part of the song. So they did mostly college venues and concerts. In 1970, the band had the opportunity to record with Mick Guzauski at his small studio. Mick recorded and engineered seven songs that they hoped might land them a good contract with a major label.
They never got that contract, and the band just fell apart. Larry recalls: “We all went our separate ways and that was that. Rocky is still recording his own music with Jargon Records. And he played the studio tape of Sabattis for them. Jargon liked the songs, cleaned up the old recording and put the “Warning in the sky” CD out in 2011. We were just young kids but we had a message in our music. At least I think we did. All of the lyrics were written by me (Larry Wegman) except for “Bought and Sold”, those were Jim’s. “Conversation with Billy” was written with a cousin of mine in mind, who had some problems.”
Interview with Larry Wegman And Rocky Kaler of Sabattis
When and where were you born?
Larry: October 6, 1949, Rochester NY.
Rocky: April 27, 1951, Rochester NY.
How old were you when you began playing music and what was the first instrument you played?
Larry: I started taking drum lessons, reading music playing on a rubber practice pad in grade school. I was 8 or 9 years old.
Rocky: I started playing bass guitar at age 15.
What bands were you member of as a young kid and what types of music did you play?
Larry: I loved all the 50’s music, the “Doo-wop” stuff, Buddy Holly was a favorite, and Johnny River’s “Maybelline”. Then came the Beatles, Stones, Yardbirds, Kinks.
Rocky: I liked the Ventures, Del Shannon’s “Runaround Sue”, James Darin. Then came the Beatles.
Was there a certain event or concert, that had a major impact on who you became later on?
Larry: The Ed Sullivan show. Also I would go to teen dances at Clover Lanes and the YMCA to hear great local bands. I wanted to be on that stage.
Rocky: In 1963 I saw a few friends perform on stage at a high school assembly. I was hooked. Also 1963 on the Jack Parr show, the first look at the Beatles, before Ed Sullivan’s show.
What can you tell us about formation of Sabattis?
Larry: Gary, Jim and I were in a cover band that broke up. We wanted to reform and start doing our own original music. I had ideas for two songs that are on the “Warning In The Sky” album, “Green Glass” and “The Devil’s In You”. We needed a bass player and we were introduced to Rocky Kaler, and he was the perfect fit. We rehearsed for days in my basement and at a club called the “Stage Door”.
Rocky: I met Jim Marvin’s girlfriend in college, was attracted to her, she told me about the band Jim was starting and so I met Jim and Gary and Larry. We started rehearsing.
What are some memories from early rehearsals?
Larry: Smiling! Very excited, I had been playing with Jim and Gary doing cover songs, now OUR music was coming to life before my eyes and ears.
Rocky: We were all on the same page.
Improvisation might have been a big part of the band? What can you tell us about the song writing process in your band? What music, books or films inspired you at the time?
Larry: For me, some of the songs were all in my head, I wrote almost all the lyrics but some songs I had the melodies inside me but I could not play them on a guitar or a keyboard. So I had to scat the melody and let them figure out the notes and harmonies. It was a collaboration and open ideas were shared. It really was cool.
Rocky: No egos, we just jammed till it sounded right.
What was the scene and what other bands were around?
Larry: Most clubs were dance till you dropped or maybe got lucky. We were not a dance band. Our gigs were more like people sitting down, maybe stoned and in the “zone”, we tried to send a message with every song.
Rocky: 1970, there were some really good bands in town; we knew most of the players. RAIN, LINCOLN ZEPHYR, RED, WHITE and BLUES BAND (Werner Fritching, guitar, went on to form Cactus, got a contract on a major label) Herb Gross and the INVICTAS. We played at a place on St Paul St called “Mystical Dreams” a few times. We wouldn’t even start sometimes until 1 AM. The place was all black walls and florescent paintings. You Psychedelic Baby Magazine readers would have loved it!
Where all did you play?
Larry: R.I.T, U of R, MCC, all colleges in Rochester, NY. The Cave in Brockport; the big concert in Highland Park at the Highland Bowl. We opened for the Savoy Brown Band at the CLUB on Gould St. They were international recording artists, so we were kicked out of the dressing room to accommodate them.
Rocky: Same time as the gigs Larry is talking about, Rod Stewart was making his 1st American tour, as well as Black Sabbath.
In 1970 you decided to record your music. I heard that everything was made in DIY style and you were recording this at your home?
Larry: OK. We had a guy that managed a very popular group in the area, and we wanted him to help us. He said we needed a demo tape, to market the band. We latched on to Mick somehow. Mick Guzauski, (now a multiple Grammy Award winner!) had a studio in his parent’s basement. A nice recording studio, at the time, it was very good. So we made the arrangement with him, and went to record 7 songs. (Congratulations Mick Guzauski on winning a Grammy Award for mixing Pharrell Williams best urban contemporary album GIRL! We love ya Mick!)
What were some of the strongest memories from recording and producing this LP?
Larry: BIG problem. Gary played a Hammond B3 organ. That is why the keyboards are so rich and full. Well, the Hammond would not fit down the stairway to the studio. Gary had to play upstairs, with us down in the studio. Mick had headphones for him and he was miked, but he was blind. No eye contact, I guess you had to be there to understand. In this little studio, we recorded on 2 TRACKS, the 7 songs. TWO tracks, on tape. The guitar had a double track on two songs and I added maracas in a couple. We did some songs in one take, and a couple took two or three. As Gary was playing with just headphones, Mick’s mom was going back and forth, in front of him with laundry.
What gear did you use?
Rocky: I played a 1957 Fender Precision bass through a very cool STANDELL Super Imperial amp.
Larry: Jim played a Gibson SG3 I think, through double stacked Marshall. He also used a Martin acoustic. Gary had the Hammond B3, through a wood cabinet Leslie speaker and amp. I played a set of Ludwigs at the time.
Did you manage to release a few copies or did you only have a demo? Let us know about the circumstances behind your album?
Larry: Two songs stand out as concepts, the rest on the tape from the session stand as just ideas or grooves or melodies that became songs. Sometimes the lyrics came first, sometimes the music. “Warning in the sky” was a true concept that began with my lyrics. I was raised as a good Catholic boy, taught by nuns, was an altar boy, and went to a Jesuit High school. The religious theme in the song is obvious, as we put it together, we all worked at keeping the theme, the mood and the message intact.
“Conversation with Billy” was a song I wrote with a cousin of mine (Billy) that had some tough issues growing up. I gave the lyrics to Jim and he put a melody together. Then the band worked on the arrangement. That is how we did most songs, by committee.
(Ed. Note: The Sabattis demo tape was never pressed on acetate or vinyl back at the time. It remained unreleased until 2011, when Jargon Records put it out on CD)
How do you feel about the fact that, after so many years, the album is out and available worldwide?
Larry: I never thought this could happen after so long. I have played a lot of good music over the past years, gave a lot of time and sweat to making it good for people to enjoy. These songs, these 7 songs are who we were back in 1970. We had a feeling, somehow we had a place to go, a place to be. Take what you want from this, but take something, because it belongs to you.
Rocky: I am proud. We shared an important time in pop music.
We are really impressed with the overall sound of the album…
Larry: Credit Mick Guzauski for that.
What about the cover artwork?
Larry: The photos, my sister-in-law took, Sue. They were taken in my front and back yard. We were on the cheap.
Is there a story behind your name?
Larry: Good question. Jim Marvin (vocal and guitar) his girlfriend, me and my wife Helen (I was married and had a baby boy) went camping in the Adirondack Mountains. There is a town not far where we camped from, Sabattis. Named after a famous guide, Michael Sabattis. He lived in the 1800’s. Well, we needed a name for this band, something nobody had heard of or would connect to anything other than us. Jim and all of us sat around a camp fire, he played his acoustic. We enjoyed it, the smoke and the music. One of us said “Sabattis” that will be the name, so we came home and everyone agreed. Not a mysterious name, not satanic, a place in the mountains named after an Indian guide.
What were some musical endeavours following the dissolution of the band?
Rocky: I have played over 2000 gigs with a lot of good people. I have recorded 4 albums. One solo album “Cherryday” that was two years ago. Also, I record and play with “Special Blend”.
Larry: I played with a bunch of good musicians. Never did another recording, but a few great shows. I was pretty much just a drummer for hire… I did have one good band that was together a few years, “Armadillo, sort of country/Texas swing music.
What currently occupies your life?
Rocky: Still playing gigs, biking, and gardening.
Larry: Not playing out any more. I am working on short stories, hope to publish a book.
Thank you very much. Long live Sabattis.
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar/2015
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