Gary James' Interview With Steve Marcone Of
Jam Factory was one of the most popular bands in Syracuse and Central New York in the early 1970s. Recording for Epic Records, Jam Factory would share the stage with Janis Joplin, Iron Butterfly, Hot Tuna, The Byrds, Joe Walsh, Ike And Tina Turner, The Beach Boys, Billy Joel, Chuck Berry, Issac Hayes and the list goes on and on. Jam Factory performed on the stage of both the Fillmore East and the Fillmore West as well as The Whiskey A Go Go. Steve Marcone talked with us about the band he played trumpet for.
Q - Steve, who came up with the name Jam Factory for the group?
A - I don't recall the actual origin. I think we all sort of came into it because we were a band that played songs, extended music, and therefore we got solos in the band. I think that's when it came up that we were more than just playing the tunes in and out and I think it fit appropriately at that time. I think we sort of evolved the name in maybe a meeting or a rehearsal in talking about it. But the band is an outgrowth of The Sidewinders, which was a much bigger band that was playing basically R&B and Stax and Motown stuff. That band at some point even had two singers. It was up to about twelve people. Then it went down to about nine or so and then we realized we were just doing covers. I think one of the original singers was really an R&B type guy, really like an Otis Redding. I think we realized at that point that if we were going to do something we would have to be a little more modern and a little more aggressive at the time. I think that was actually a time when Gene McCormick came in the band out of Florida and Joe English came in the band out of Rochester (New York) and I believe after that Earl Ford, who was the trombone player, who actually started the band in Boston. But the idea I think at that point was to be modern, to turn the corner. We became a band that was looking for a record contract and not doing cover records, but we would be doing covers of songs in our own style, plus original material.
Q - Jam Factory at one point was working six nights a week in clubs?
A - We were working six nights a week, six sets a night in Lake George. There was a Sunday matinee, so it was seven performances. Then we had Monday off. That was it.
Q - That must've been a lot of club patrons at one time.
A - Oh, yeah. It was the Hippie time. The Hippies were taking over that whole town actually. So there were many clubs actually. But supposedly we were in the premiere club two summers in a row. The first summer after we got the job we sort of stripped the band down in the sense of who's able to do it, who's not able to do it, and it just created this instrumentation that we have.
Q - I bet they threw in rooms and food with that gig too, didn't they?
A - No food. We had a shack next door to the place. Today it would be condemned, but that was part of it and we rehearsed during the day too. We had to rehearse new material because I believe at the end of the first year, or second year, we did a showcase in New York. So, you had to do a showcase with original material obviously. So, we were rehearsing, living together and playing six nights a week, six sets a night, 8:30 PM to 2:30 AM. For anyone who's a young musician, that really makes you a professional. When you're playing that much and that often it really does make you a professional. Every musician needs to go through something like that to turn the corner so that this is really what you want to do.
Q - The situation you and the other guys in Jam Factory found themselves in, doesn't exist anymore.
A - Very Rarely. Maybe something in Vegas, I don't know.
Q - I don't think it exists in Vegas anymore either. What you're describing is something similar to what The Beatles did in Hamburg, Germany.
A - Oh, yeah. Absolutely.
Q - Even the Holiday Inn doesn't run bands like that anymore.
A - Yeah. That's one thing we never wanted to be. We never intended that if we didn't make it, that we were going to be doing the Holiday Inn circuit with cover records. We made an attempt to show people our original material and our original ideas and then if it didn't work we were gonna go different ways. We still had sort of a life ahead of us.
Q - Your manager, Joe Leonard, was he a New York City guy or was he a Syracuse guy?
A - He lives in Tully, New York. I think he's retired now from Tully High (School). He was teaching in the Tully school system for about twenty years.
Q - He was instrumental in getting a New York City agency to book the band. Who was the agency that was booking Jam Factory?
A - What happened was Joe was a friend in Syracuse and I think he was a doctoral student or something. He was a pretty smart guy. He wanted to manage and we said okay. We didn't know anything about management. I've gone on to actually run the Music And Entertainment Industry Program here at William Paterson (University). We have all the way up to an M.B.A. in Music Business. So, I really got into business and the business side. I wish I knew then what I know now. But I was basically just a trumpet player and arranger. So, Joe had a room mate named Ron Rainey, who's still an agent in L.A. Ron, I believe, had the ties to the agency in New York or he might have been working there already. I think it's now I.C.M. (International Creative Management). And he got an agent to come up and see us.
Q - Before I.C.M. what was the agency called?
A - I think I.F.A., whatever that stands for.
Q - International Famous Agency.
A - Might've been. He had the agent come up and then the agent wound up bringing other people up with him several weekends in a row 'cause it was easy to find us. (laughs) We were working six night a week in Lake George. So, we finally convinced him to come up and then we did a showcase in a week in New York City where more and more people came in. Joe Leonard could probably remember the number of record companies and agencies that came in. We were always a great 'live' band, so we did a great job in terms of the showcase.
Q - Is that club in Lake George still around?
A - You know, I was back in Lake George with my daughter and sister, three or four years ago. It's a different name. I think it's just a steak house or something. It was called The Airport Inn because there as an airplane over the bar inside the club. I think now it's just a restaurant.
Q - So, Joe Leonard and your exposure to I.F.A. led to a record deal with Epic Records?
A - Yeah. When we did the showcase I think we had the choice of a couple, but I think we wanted to go with CBS at the time. They had Sly Stone, Chicago, Blood, Sweat And Tears, Electric Flag at one point. We liked those groups, so we were really happy that they were interested in us. I think it was December of '69 that we did our record in two weeks, we recorded it in New York. If I remember correctly, I think it was either Simon or Garfunkel got sick and canceled two weeks of studio time, so we jumped on it. We did it with a producer and I believe the producer was going through his period with cocaine. So he wasn't getting much done. We actually got more done after about, I don't know, the early mornings, maybe one or two o'clock, not that early that he went home. Then we did more work. So we were actually doing it ourselves. Then it was mixed by him. He left CBS and went to another label right after us. So we thought the album should be re-mixed. So the band voted me to go down and re-mix it with the engineer and that's why there's an assist on the production of the album. I didn't know anything. What did I care? If I would've negotiated, I would've negotiated to be the producer. That's not a job of mine as the member of the band. That's the job for the manager to negotiate all that. And that didn't happen. Then we were blessed by the following Summer to be one of the few groups on CBS that gets to go to the Columbia Records Convention and to show off. You got something like twenty minutes to wow all the field reps and everybody that's there. Clive (Davis) of course was running the label at the time. So we had twenty minutes. They flew us down. We wowed them. Clive came up, hugged us and said, "I'm gonna make you stars." Of course, it didn't happen, but he said that. And he invited us to stay the rest of the week. So we stayed the rest of the week. This is when Miles (Davis) was there, Mahavishnu Orchestra was there. It was a wonderful time in the music scene in general. We did that and subsequently we were in San Francisco and I think we were at the Fillmore and we did a single in San Francisco. We did actually in Chicago and San Francisco do a single. We put the single out about a year later. But we didn't have management in New York or L.A. or Nashville. We didn't have anyone making this record a priority except its own legs. Competition in the company as well as the rest of the business was too much. Too many promo men pushing other stuff.
Q - That's a common theme of Syracuse groups that got a record deal. If they didn't have strong management, they were in trouble.
A - Yeah. Exactly.
Q - I guess it's safe to assume CBS didn't do much promotion for Jam Factory.
A - No. Did we get a shot? I think we did get a shot. We would never blame Epic for not giving us a shot, but we were left basically because I believe our management, not being familiar management to them or a strong enough management, that we never became a priority. I mean, to get invited, out of all the groups, to the Columbia Records Convention was quite a feat really. Whatever number of groups were on the label at the time. I want to take a guess and say two hundred. To get chosen as one of the new groups for the field reps to watch. I think they did give us a shot, but we didn't have all the pieces to make it happen.
Q - Is it true that Jam Factory was paid $1,500 for the Bonfire at E.S.M. in October of 1970? The Vice-Principal was kind of upset that he had to pay the group that much money.
A - Wow!
Q - Looking back on it, for a band that had a record deal and did as much road work as you did, $1,500 was probably right.
A - Yeah.
Q - That was a lot of money back then.
A - Yeah.
Q - But any group from Syracuse getting that kind of money today wouldn't have all the credits Jam Factory had.
A - Right.
Q - Being a trumpet player, maybe you can answer this for me. Why have we never seen a horn group that could duplicate the sound of Herb Alpert And The Tijuana Brass?
A - (laughs) Herb was the owner of A&M Records.
Q - Right. But I'm talking about his trumpet playing. Why is it that no horn band could duplicate his sound?
A - To tell you the truth, I don't think anybody wanted to as a trumpet player. They never respected it.
Q - Why would that be? Was it considered too commercial?
A - Yeah. It was too commercial. He was not a very good player and we were thinking as musicians think, more as musicians rather than the marketing and the whole idea of two Tijuana Brass and what it could do. We don't think that way. If we did, maybe it would be different.
Q - You're telling me the success of Herb Alpert And The Tijuana Brass had more to do with marketing and promotion?
A - Yeah. Absolutely. Sure.
Q - Jam Factory shared the stage with some real legends of Rock music, people like Janis Joplin. Did you meet her?
A - Yes. We played a couple of dates with her.
Q - What kind of a woman was she?
A - Well, I didn't sit down and have hours with her. There were several groups we had hours with. She was very kind and listened to us and was sweet. I don't have anything negative really to say about her. I know it was a college we played in the mid-West with her. I think she would do this on occasion. She went up to the college in the afternoon and went to the Student Center and just hung out with the students before the show. She was that type of person. See, there were very few people that were affected at that time that they are today. I think most of us were in it to play original material and if you like it, great, and if you didn't like, we were going to move on. It wasn't so much dollars and cents as it is today. And it wasn't that expensive either to play these clubs or these performances. It's all changed now. At that time we all had something new and different and we were going to lay it on you and see if you appreciated it or not. So, if we had opened up for so many people and we shared locker rooms with The Dead and had conversations with them and heard that on a gig we weren't even on with them, they mentioned our name as a group to watch, that was all just part of being in it. Nobody was paying The Dead to trump somebody at the time. It's a shame that we've lost that. Of course it's become big business and branding and corporate.
Q - It sounds like people like Janis Joplin were approachable not only by musicians but by fans.
A - Yeah. I think that period, and this might be stretching it a little bit, if you were living in Haight Ashbury and you were going to play the Fillmore club and you happened to be the light guy, you lived on the third floor and the guy who did the hamburgers lived on the second floor and the band lived on the fifth floor. There was no real separation. We were all in it as part of the counter culture. No one gave anyone any less respect for doing lights instead of playing. It was just sort of one large thing to get the performance off and make everybody enjoy themselves or have everybody enjoy themselves.
Q - The guy who owned the Fillmore was Bill Graham. Did you meet him?
A - We didn't have a lot of contact with him, but I saw him moving equipment. He was out there. Of course he's a legend. Very much a hands-on guy.
Q - You also did a show in Philadelphia with Jimi Hendrix. Did you meet Hendrix?
A - Well, I can only claim that Jimi was on the bill. We played at noon and he played at midnight. So, I didn't have any time back with him. It's true we opened for him, but there were several groups in-between.
Q - I don't suppose you ever met Jim Morrison, did you?
A - No. We never played with The Doors.
Q - You did a show at the Onondaga County War Memorial in Syracuse with Sly And The Family Stone?
A - I don't think we ever opened for him. I think we heard rumors that we were such a great opening act that Sly didn't want us to open for him. It was silly because no one was better than Sly at the time as a 'live' act.
Q - Do you remember playing The Whiskey A Go Go in 1971?
A - We played in L.A. yeah. We played on the strip.
Q - That's a pretty famous club.
A - Oh, yeah.
Q - Did you have any famous musicians in attendance that night watching the band?
A - Well, we've always had people coming through because if we were an opening act they were coming through to see the headliner, so they would catch us. I remember one night we were someplace in New York and I didn't see him, well, I saw him. Jerry Garcia was sitting in for a friend of his in a band. I understand George Harrison was in the wings. He and Jerry were just talking all night basically. The Whiskey, I remember we had become friends with Buddy Miles who was a drummer, guitarist who passed away. I think we were sitting in the dressing room of The Whiskey that overlooked Sunset Strip and he always wore the flags in red, white and blue. He came up in a motorcycle and we screamed at him and then he wound up sitting in with us on guitar, not drums, playing Blues. But yes, we did play The Whiskey, I do remember that.
Q - Is that the only club on Sunset Strip you played?
A - I don't think we played anywhere in L.A. but that. Then we went up to San Francisco and came back down. We had played in Aspen for a week maybe prior to that.
Q - How were you traveling back then?
A - Cars, and we did have a truck. The long hauls we had to fly, but it was very rare that we flew.
Q - I'm trying to give the reader an idea of what life was like for a Rock group back in the late 1960s, early 1970s.
A - Oh, it was tough. In the early '70s we played Fort Lauderdale. We were an integrated band. We played as far South as Roanoke, Virginia. Then, we didn't play again 'til Daytona and South. So we got down to Lauderdale looking for a place to stay for the week and one of those strip motels, we knocked on the door and said we wanted a room. She pointed to the White guys and said, "You can stay, but they can't." So we all left, obviously. But we were even seeing that in Southern Florida in the early '70s.
Q - Did you have contract riders back then?
A - The headliners had some riders. They certainly weren't as elaborate (as today). You have to understand if you require a 32 by 64 stage, I'm making it up, and you get there and it's a 21 by 20 stage, who looks bad? You do. The band. Not the promoter. So, the requirements were out of necessity in the early days. Then they grew and grew and grew because you had pyro and you had to put that in. If you needed more amps than the building had, most of these were arenas for sporting events so they had to get auxiliary generators and run and so on and so forth. As it grew, the riders grew, but rightly so. When you look at a rider there's very little crap. You have to understand if a band's doing a four or five month tour and that's their home, they don't go to McDonald's, nor does the bus drivers or the crew go to McDonald's either 'cause they're going to get sick. You've got to have a healthy crew, so you got to put in that kind of food. You might have kosher people. You might have vegans. It's all got to go because that's your home. Showers. A place to rest. All of that. So, it becomes really a necessity to ask for that kind of stuff. The old story of brown M & Ms with Van Halen, the reason for that is simple, it had nothing to do with Van Halen. It had to do with the road manager who was very busy because they're always trying to be one show ahead of the show. So if he walked into the room and he saw there was still brown M & Ms in the bowl, then he had to go through every inch of that contract to make sure it was right. But if he saw there was no brown M & Ms, he knew the promoter took it seriously and probably the rest of the contract and the production requirements would be correct. So, it wasn't Van Halen saying we hate brown M & Ms.
Q - Jam Factory broke up in what year? 1973?
A - Yeah. I think it was late '72, '73. We formed another Jam Factory in Syracuse for a little while and that wasn't going to happen, so most of the band went South to live with The Allman Brothers in Macon, Georgia. I stayed in Syracuse. Mark Hoffman stayed in Syracuse and Kurt went to New York to be an ad man. Then unbelievably in a matter of three or four weeks in January I got a job part-time teaching at the University, which evolved into full-time and I stayed until '84.
Q - You're still teaching now, are you?
A - Yeah.
Q - Are you a professor? Do you have a PhD?
A - I have what they call an EeD, but yeah, I have a Doctorate.
Q - From what you've told me about life on the road, I would guess you're through with that life.
A - I still play. I think when you're a musician you continue to play. I played in Syracuse for years, and down here (New Jersey) as well, but certainly not on the road. What's interesting is, I would say almost still to this day if there's a person that was in the industry when we were doing it, in the early '70s, they remember the band. They go, "Yeah. What happened to that band? You guys were great." It's happening less and less now, but I'm sort of always in contact a little bit on the outskirts of the industry, but I have all those people that come in and lecture. It's amazing the impact we made. It's amazing how small the business still is.