Gary James' Interview With Tony Guadagno Of
They are Rhode Island's answer to The Beach Boys. Since the mid-1960s they've been making a name for themselves on the East Coast. They opened for Gary Lewis And The Playboys in 1965. They opened for The Rascals in 1999. They are The Driftwoods and keyboardist Tony Guadagno gave us the low down on his group.
Q - Tony, you're gigging quite a bit in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, aren't you?
A - Sure.
Q - What kind of places are you primarily playing? You're not playing clubs, are you?
A - No. We're not playing clubs. Primarily we do corporate events. There's a number of private events we get asked to do. We do a lot of community concert series, outdoor series starting in May. We work 'til probably the end of October. We get to open for some national acts on occasion.
A - The original band started in 1964. We were all in high school. We were together for about three years in Rhode Island primarily, doing a lot of radio station jobs. The AM stations at the time were hosting a lot of events. A lot of the Rock bands at that time basically did those types of shows. We did a lot of contests, jam sessions, private events. We just did what bands did. We were teenagers. Again, the bands at that time weren't playing in clubs unless you were an established R&B artist. Kids like us were playing high schools and colleges.
Q - Are you a life-long Beach Boys fan? Is that why you decided to put The Driftwoods together?
A - (laughs) You know, it was funny. We were singing before we even heard The Beach Boys. You know, just at the playground. There was always music in my family. My mother was a singer. My father was a piano player, a trumpet player. So, there was always music in the house. I listened to everything that everyone listened to in the '50s and the early '60s. We started singing stuff like "Tom Dooley", all the classic Folk songs that were on the radio. Listened to a lot of different acts. It was pretty interesting. I listened to stuff on the radio and the jukebox. I listened to the early stuff of The Beach Boys. They had four part harmony, so it kind of sounded good. We weren't playing instruments. I played sax. My brother played trumpet. My brother did play drums. And a friend of ours. We would just sing. One thing led to another and got some friends of ours who played guitars and we just put the band together. We just started with The Beach Boys 'cause we could sing. The other bands at the time were kind of influenced by the early Beatles and The Rolling Stones and there was usually just one guy singing and four guys playing. In our band, we basically had four guys singing and playing, so it was pretty cool. Just fell into it naturally.
Q - You never see a band were there's four singers.
A - Yeah. Now there's five of us that sing. But we always had four part harmony that we worked on to the point where it was almost like automatic. If we learn a new song, we'd find our place in that harmony. We're just real comfortable doing it.
Q - Any idea how many Beach Boys tribute bands are doing what you do?
A - Well, I always felt in the '60s that we were the only one. Obviously we weren't. But I always felt we were. Prior to the internet, you know what we were exposed to. We were kind of unique and no matter where we played, we were the only ones. If you go online, there's a number of sites you'll see, depending if it's Florida, Virginia or California, Italy, places all over the world where there's Beach Boys tribute bands. I would say there's probably fewer than twenty that I can see on the internet. I can't speak to how good they are. I'm sure some of them are very good. I've seen Papa Doo Run Run. They're excellent. It's a good niche. If you do it well, there are opportunities.
Q - Do The Beach Boys know about you guys?
A - Yes. I say that because of a couple of conversations I had with The Beach Boys. We sang for Brian Wilson. Brian played with his new band four or five years ago in Boston. He was promoting, I think it was "Pet Sounds" at that time. He played at a place called The Avalon, which is a Rock club in Boston. It's a pretty famous club. We went to see the show and one thing led to another and we got an opportunity to go backstage and meet Brian after the show. So, we went into his dressing room. He was there with his keyboardist. He was sitting on the couch. The guy who took us in said "Brian, these are The Driftwoods." He said "Oh, the guys on the internet." So we got to sing "Barbara Ann" for Brian Wilson. He loved it. Friends of ours are in John Cafferty And The Beaver Brown Band. So, a number of years ago when they were opening for The Beach Boys we went onstage with them. We did two numbers, onstage vocals. Kind of like when they do their finale. I've met them many times as a fan, spoken to them about what we've done. So, they know about us.
Q - Did you ever meet Carl Wilson or Dennis Wilson?
A - I sat down to dinner with Carl at the Springfield Civic Center. This is when we were there with Cafferty. I actually met Dennis Wilson in 1966 at Providence College. It was in May of '66. We were going to the concert. I parked my car. I got out of my car and I happened to look at a Ford Econoline van. As I'm getting out of my car, I'm looking to my left and who's next to me but Dennis Wilson, in the passenger seat. I went "Dennis!" He looked and smiled. So, we actually followed him back behind the stage and we had a half hour conversation with him. A great guy. I met him a couple times, different times.
Q - How about Al Jardine?
A - My brother Sal met Al Jardine. We've talked to these guys a couple of times as fans, that type of deal. Sal met Al Jardine in Italy two years ago. He happened to be at the Spanish Steps and he looked and said to his wife "That's Al Jardine." Al Jardine was having his wife take a picture of him on the Spanish Steps. Sal went up to him and introduced himself and Al said "Yeah, I've heard of you guys. I've seen you guys on the internet." So, they had like a half hour conversation. It was great, talking about some dinner places to go to.
Q - It must be a great feeling to meet the actual members of the group you're playing tribute to. What could be better than that?
A - What could be better than that? No, it's great. Every time we've met them, they've been really, really nice. Great people. One of the times I saw Dennis Wilson was in the late '70s. I had a fifteen minute conversation with him and he thanked us for going to the show. He walked away, stopped, turned around and looked at us and said "I just want to tell you guys, God Bless You." He always had that side of him that everybody writes about and knows about and I guess that he personified. He was just a very likable person the few times I met him.
Q - How about the father, Murray Wilson. Did you ever meet him?
A - No. I would say that probably had he not been the force behind them, they probably never would have reached the heights they did. He really pushed 'em and put them in situations where they had an opportunity to be heard.
Q - I'm glad that you realized that.
A - I don't care what you do. There are so many people that are great singers, great players, great artists and it's wonderful, but they'll never be famous. They're just not at the right place at the right time. Who knows?
Q - How much work is there for this group? How may gigs are you doing a year?
A - It depends. There's certain years now we're doing forty gigs. We do thirty to forty a year now. We play a lot between May and again the end of October. And we'll do two or three jobs during the winter. It's kind of nice because if we were playing steady, there would be a point where you would say this is kind of enough. So, what happens is, when we finish, it's nice that we're finishing in October, but the end of November, December, we're starting to think about what we're going to do when we get back in February and start rehearsing and can't wait. So, it's good. It works out well.
Q - You've either recorded or are recording your own CD "Bamboo Bedroom"?
A - It's our tentative title, yeah.
Q - This is original music, right?
A - Right.
Q - Will it be heavily influenced by the Beach Boys' sound?
A - It's gonna have a lot of melodic lines to it. It's gonna have some harmonies. The topics are not necessarily going to be what people might think are Beach Boy topics, but some of them are. It's a little bit of both. We've gone to jobs where the audience is sitting out there listening and it's nice to throw something at them that's a little bit different than The Beach Boys. A lot of times they appreciate that. We've been places where we played at the Boston Government Center. I guess it was an outdoor concert venue where they were having tribute bands in. We did one song that was not really a Beach Boys song and the promoters were on the side" "Don't play that song. Stop. Play Beach Boys." (laughs) So, it is what it is. People come to see us do The Beach Boys, so yeah, it is an influence in my music.