Gary James' Interview With George Mahoney Of
Alecstar made quite a name for themselves in Syracuse, New York and Central New York beginning in the late '70s and carrying through to the mid-'80s. They performed as far north as Canada and as far south as Florida. They opened the show for some of the biggest names in Rock, including Boston, Foghat, Loverboy, Johnny Winter and Eddie Money. Lead vocalist and drummer George Mahoney talked with us about Alecstar.
Q - George, you no longer call Syracuse your home. You're in Arizona. How long have you been in Arizona?
A - I've been in Arizona since the year 2000. I left Syracuse in 1985 and then I moved to L.A. I had at that point auditioned for a band out in the L.A. area as a drummer because originally I was drumming for Alecstar for a lot of years. I was lead singing from the drums, kind of like a Don Henley type thing. A friend of mine who had moved to L.A. had connected with Neil Young's producer at the time. He needed a drummer for his band so he asked me if I wouldn't mind coming out to audition for that band. At that point I was hoping that Alecstar would, as a band, make a move to a bigger city where there was a big music scene happening where we could get a little more exposure and ultimately land that elusive record deal. But that wasn't to be, so I went out there and got this gig with this band. So, that kind of led me out to L.A. and I moved out there and joined up with that band. We started doing demos with original songs already written and I added a few that I wrote to that mix. It was a cool experience. It led to a lot of things, other things, studio gigs, studio work and some writing opportunities in L.A. Still never quite that big record deal that we all thought that we were looking for. (laughs)
Q - And people who get a record deal are never satisfied. It's not what they thought it would be.
A - Yeah. Isn't that funny? The irony of it all.
Q - The record deal is really just the beginning. Then the real work starts.
A - I still had, with those contacts I established out in L.A., it was a good time for music. All those bands that were breaking out on Sunset Strip, Guns 'n' Roses, Poison, a lot of the hair bands that came out of the time. Quiet Riot. Everyone was breaking at that point. So, it was a real neat time to be there. So, I got to experience that and some of the publishers that were breaking big like A&M Records and Famous Music. They were placing songs from songwriters. I got to meet and get involved with them and submit songs, have meetings with those people. It was great. I appreciated that particular time of it. It was great. I was doing a lot song writing. Then I was in several bands out in the L.A. area, but as I soon discovered, (laughs) back in Syracuse in Alecstar, we were self-supporting. It was great in the sense that as young musicians we were able to completely support ourselves just on our music gigs, which is tough to do nowadays.
Q - I'm surprised you were able to do it then. There must have been club work for Alecstar.
A - Yeah. So, we were fortunate. We had a really great fan base and they were really supportive. Everywhere we played to the east of Syracuse, like in Utica, Albany, we had a great fan base. They were super supportive. They came out all the time. We had some great gigs. When I moved to L.A. it was more like you gotta get a job! When you played in L.A. you pretty much did if for the showcase aspect of it. So you were inviting people out to see your band, but you're basically playing for free unless you were some of the lucky ones that would really start to draw a following, but there were so many bands that were trying to do that and that's where the competition really got stiff because there was just a lot of bands trying to do the exact same thing and the saturation was crazy. To try and stand out became really difficult. Syracuse has some terrific musicians. Being in Alecstar, when you had that friendly competition, looking back on it, I whish I'd had the opportunity to really meet and hang out with Mark Doyle and Joe Whiting (Jukin' Bone) 'cause that would've been really great to have had a relationship with those guys through the years. Because you're young it's all about trying to get the best breaks for the band you're in. That friendly competition kind thing, "Hey, we're the greatest." It's pretty funny when you look back on it now. But it really led to some great bands. I think as a result of that, especially with the agency we were connected with, D.M.R. (Dave Rezak). They put us in some really good gigs. That was really great. The musicianship was great. We were always told you didn't need to move anywhere. You can have a livelihood right here and you can do really well in this market and we all believed that and we did really well. Our friend who was mixing us, Matt Forger, moved to L.A. and he got a gig at Westlake Studios. He connected with Quincy Jones and ultimately landed a really nice gig with the Michael Jackson camp that did all of his production, "Thriller" and all that. Matt was always encouraging the band and me. He said, "If you're writing songs you should probably think about coming out here because I know a lot of people and I can at least steer you in the right direction. So he was always giving me the encouragement to think about at least making that move for a career standpoint. So ultimately I did and Matt and I have stayed in contact over the years, although I haven't spoken to him in a couple of years. It's just one of those things that I know I could call him any time and just say, "Hey! What's going on?" (laughs) But, Matt is still out in L.A. That was part of the reason I wanted to move on to L.A., because Matt was there and I did have relations there as well. But I was hoping that first and foremost that Alecstar would be able to uproot and move together, but that, looking back on it now, was just an unrealistic expectation that I had. It just wasn't possible for everyone to do that. (laughs)
Q - If there's a central message to the online biography Mitch Tingiris wrote about Alecstar it's that you guys didn't have proper management. And that is a recurring theme in so many of the groups I interview. If Alecstar had Peter Grant as their manager, would your story have been different?
A - Probably. He managed Zeppelin and Bad Company. That guy definitely was a presence in the music industry, like Bill Graham and all the people that he brought into the mainstream Rock arena at the time like Journey, Eddie Money, and I think he may have been involved with Jefferson Airplane, Starship, Santana. Looking back at it all, when you're going through it, it's easy to kind of look at things and go, "This didn't happen so the results are bad. We didn't make it." But the bottom line for a lot of groups is, even if you have the great management, the chops, and the great songs, it's still about the relationships and really who you know and just where you're at at a particular time and what's happening on the scene at the time. So, there is a lot of luck. It's tough to predict where all that stuff is gonna end up. If you look at the bio Mitch wrote on Alecstar, at the time it was all going down, he names names. I look back at our manager, and our manager, for what he was doing for us at the time, did a great job I think. Really at that level where you were at locally he had us at the top of our game. We were getting top billing for things and we were really earning a lot of income and it was because of his push and drive that helped us do that. So, I don't regret that at all.
Q - We're talking about Jack Belle, who was also a promoter?
A - Jack Belle was a promoter in all the Upstate (New York) area. He was a friend of ours actually through our guitar player, Dick Murphy. They were super good, close friends. As a result of that relationship Jack helped the band out because Dick was in the band. That's fine. That put us on the map some of the shows we were able to do. We were able to open for Boston on their very first tour of that very first iconic album that came out. I was 18 years old and that was a dream come true. I couldn't believe it. We played the Albany Palace Theatre. We opened for Boston! You know how hot that album was. Everyone was playing that album fifty times a day! (laughs) It was incredible. Jack was a promoter. I guess if we want to call him a manager, he may have been like our manager at the time, but Matt McDowell was our manager and he really took care if all the bookings and all of the financial stuff for us.
Q - Did opening for groups lie Boston lead to better bookings for Alecstar?
A - Yes. Now, when we opened for Boston it was in Albany. It was Alecstar and another band called Starcastle. I think they were the U.S. version of the sound-alike of the band Yes. They had a hit out at the time. Then it was Boston. So, Jack put us in at various things, not super huge concerts. That Boston thing was definitely the big one. But Jack helped other bands too. He was helping New York Flyers. I think he was helping out Doyle And Whiting. Jack was really active himself on the local scene as well as promoting all the big concerts. He definitely had an influence on the music scene in Syracuse when he was around. We really appreciated him for that. It did help us out ultimately with the bookings, the the exposure and just with the fan base. Through the later years we've done some reunion shows like The Turing Stone with Alecstar, and we'll just have a boatload of people show up for those, which is great. It's really nice. It's because of that stuff that's helped kind of build a legacy for us which is kind of cool.
Q - Besides Jack Belle, you had D.M.R., Dave Rezak in your corner. You had WOUR d.j. Jerry Kraus.
A - He was huge in helping us.
Q - You had Howie Castle and Tommy Nast from 94 Rock.
A - Oh, yeah. (laughs)
Q - You had Dave Frisina from 95 X. You had everybody behind Alecstar.
A - Yeah. It was great. Those guys were really instrumental in helping us and all of the other bands at the time too. It was that friendly competition, 805, Jukin' Bone, Bob Halligan. He was like a neighborhood guy. I was in a band with Bob Halligan when I was 16 years old. He was really good. We got a gig at The Yellow Balloon at the time and my parents wouldn't let me play it because they didn't want me playing in a bar at 16 years old. (laughs) It's crazy.
Q - Do you remember the name of the group?
A - I don't remember the name of group.
Q - Was it Steak Nite?
A - It was way, way before Steak Nite and Pictures that Bob was in. But Alecstar was around at that same time that Pictures was around and that was pretty cool. Wed go out and see them and they'd come out and hear us. That was a lot of fun. You look at all that stuff and it's like, "Wow!" There was a lot going on. The music scene was really healthy.
Q - Are you still involved in music today?
A - I have a band, but we're just doing cover songs. I'll do a couple of original songs, but it all cover music that we're doing and it's in restaurants because what we're finding is that most of the people that are coming out that are our age group, by nine, ten o'clock, they're done. No one's hanging out after nine o'clock. In the restaurants and clubs, everyone is going home. It's like time to go to bed. Gotta get up in the morning and work. (laughs)
Q - Before Alecstar you were in Thrush. How successful was that group? Didn't you release a 45?
A - No, we didn't release anything. That was just a three piece group with Jack Murray. He ended up with me in Alecstar, playing bass, and Don Christy was our friend. Don, after Thrush, landed a gig with D.M.R., so he was helping book Alecstar. For the past five years Dan and Jack are playing with Tim Sharp in a band called Smart Alec. I don't know if they're still together or not.
Q - Alecstar won $2,000 worth of equipment from King Biscuit, but you never got the equipment? What happened there?
A - Did you read that on Mitch's online bio?
Q - Yes, I did.
A - I don't recall the exact scenario of what happened with that. I don't recall if that was a contest we entered or how the heck that worked. I'm gonna have to plead the fifth on that because honestly I just don't recall the details of how that went down.
Q - $2,000 worth of equipment probably would have helped you guys out, wouldn't it?
A - Yeah, definitely. Back in the day we were all carting around, and people laugh nowadays, a twenty-two foot truck that we packed from front to back with equipment that we would come into a club and set up. It would be like Journey coming into a club, (laughs) setting up and playing. It was hilarious. Everyone did that at the time. That was not an unusual thing. The New York Flyers did twice as much! They had two trucks. It was hilarious.
Q - The Buddy Grealy Band would draw a thousand through the doors at The Lost Horizon. Wilkesbury Brigade would draw hundreds of people at The Poor House North. Was Alecstar getting those crowds?
A - Yeah. That's the same thing we would be doing. We'd be doing all that stuff too. We would play at The Poorhouse for a weekend, Friday and Saturday, and just pack it out each night. It was great. That's when the fans were really supportive.
Q - Those were the glory years of Syracuse Rock 'n' Roll.
A - I feel really fortunate to be around when all that stuff was happening. You look back at it now and you see where music is at, 'live' music, and wow! Who knew, right? We were just kind of living it day to day. I really look back at that time with a lot of fond memories. All of that kind of stuff really shaped who we are and for a lot of us what we've become ultimately, whether it's in music or not. Fortunately for me it just worked out musically because that's pretty much all I've done through my life. I ended up owning a couple of music stores in Scottsdale (Arizona) for like fifteen years. I just sold them last year after fifteen years. At one time we had up to twenty teachers, teaching kids how to play instruments. I'm talking about instruments inclusive of Rock 'n' Roll guitar, drums and singing. I would put those kids in groups, like School Of Rock, and we'd go out and do shows with them like the glory days. I felt like I was giving back to the kids. That was at the time when Guitar Hero was out. That proved to be a real resurgence and interest in some of that Classic Rock stuff, that Areosmith stuff, and they got really popular again because of that game. Then you see all these classic bands suddenly touring again and getting back together because their songs were included in the Guitar Hero game. Then all of the kids wanted to play guitar. So they were coming to our music store. They wanted lessons, so that was a really cool time. That was maybe just ten years ago. That was a lot of fun. The music scene has changed so much even since then.
Q - You're telling me business just dropped off?
A - Oh, yeah.
Q - No need for twenty teachers?
A - Actually the teachers are still there, (laughs) but I think it was the interest more in the bands, kids wanting to play in bands. I saw the focus being shifted a little bit more towards that singer/songwriter thing because of American Idol and The Voice. You saw all the glory was going to those singers and so all of the kids want to be those singers, those soloists. Even though these shows have an accompanying 'live' band for those singers, that wasn't the focus. I saw a lot of kid not playing guitar or dropping out of learning guitar and either they wanted to just straight-on sing or they were doing something else. It's real interesting. And now with the electronic instruments and the electronic keyboards and all the sampling, I see a lot of the kids doing that sort of thing as well. So, everyone has a recording studio on their computer now.
Q - Has Alecstar ever been nominated for a SAMMY (Syracuse Area Music Award)?