Gary James' Interview With Mike Uzzell Of


Nantucket was one of those bands that was just so good. When I first saw them in concert at Uncle Sam's on Erie Boulevard East in DeWitt New York in August 1978, I was blown away. They had it all. They had the songs. They had the look. They had this stage presence. They were as good, if not better, than the groups they went on to open for. And they shared the bill with the likes of Boston, Styx, Journey, The Doobie Brothers and the list goes on and on. After 34 years, I wanted to know what happened to Nantucket. And who better to tell their story than Nantucket member Mike Uzzell.

Q - Mike, on October 11, 2012, Nantucket was inducted into the North Carolina music Hall of Fame. Was the entire original band there to receive that honor?

A - Everybody except Kenny Soule.

Q - Where was he?

A - He would have been there but he had and engagement in Nashville or somewhere like that. Kenny lives in New York and has since like the year 2000. Jason Patterson is our drummer who is a Kenny Soule protégé. He played with us in the version my brother had out in the late '80s. He was also the drummer for Cry Of Love, with the song "Peace Pipe". But Mark Downing our guitar player and my brother Larry and Tommy Redd and Eddie Blair were all there. Mark was there, but he doesn't play with us now. It's Ronnie Waters. I've never seen anybody like Ronnie. We've got some recording we're going to do. Actually I have a friend who lets us go to his studio and we are getting ready to go there and record some more stuff. Ronnie Waters is like an expert in dressing mannequins, so to speak. You bring the basic part of the song or guitar part or whatever, it seems like it fits like a glove for that particular song.

Q - Who else was inducted into that particular museum?

A - Tori Amos in this particular class was inducted into it. The Shirelles, Fred Foster, a renowned Country producer. He started Monument Records. There was a Rap act, I can't recall the name. Andy Griffith. All types of different people. Pretty elite company, so to speak, to be associated with.

Q - I take it to get into the North Carolina Hall of Fame you have to be from North Carolina.

A - Well, born there because there are several people in it that when they got old enough to leave it, they left, as I'm told.

Q - What does it mean to you to be inducted into the North Carolina music Hall of Fame? How did you feel about it?

A - Well, it was definitely unexpected. It's kind of like a surreal deal where it hits you later, afterwards. It means a lot more to our fan base; that's not the right way to say it, it means more to the fan base because they were proud of the band, where it was from, North Carolina; people you went to school with, colleagues. People that grew up listening to that first and second record. That's who it means a lot to.

Q - Is there still a version of Nantucket that performs today? And where do you guys perform?

A - Yeah, there is. I've held it together for I guess the last 10 or 12 years. We play 18 to 25 jobs a year. It's basically in the Carolinas. It's festivals mainly, private parties believe it or not here and there and an occasional concert hall. We've done a few beach appearances down at the beach. Then of course you've got certain civic centers; we've done a few of those. We still have four of the or original six (members). Me and my brother and Tommy and Eddie and Jason Patterson on drums and Ronnie Waters on guitar. Tommy wrote a song called "The General Has Left Us", a tribute to General Norman Johnson. He (General Johnson) passed away and we got a little airplay on some North Carolina radio stations. They call them beach music stations down here. So, we said why not write a whole album of that type of stuff. And we did. Named the CD "You Need A Ride To Raleigh" and that was the title track. It took off and went to number two at the Big Surf in Myrtle Beach South Carolina last summer.

Q - Mike, what do you busy yourself with these days?

A - I try to keep what little business we do (together).

Q - How about your brother Larry?

A - He lives in Raleigh. He does various things. He coaches softball. Eddie Blair is in the real estate business. Tommy was in the movin' storage business 'til he hurt his knee and he's got two other bands he plays with, a Hank Williams Junior tribute and The Boogie Chillins. Jason Patterson has his own lawn company and Ronnie Waters is a foreman for a couple of farms in the county he lives in.

Q - Do you remember performing in Uncle Sam's in DeWitt New York?

A - I remember the name, but I don't recall any particular details. And that would probably change if we were to see the place again in the event it's still there. You're talking a long time ago.

Q - Oh, it's still there all right, but it's been boarded up four years.

A - Our biggest memory of New York, other than being in New York City, is, I believe it was Albany. We were playing with Golden Earring. Anyway, our roadie overheard their roadie talking. They said "I saw these guys last night. If you let them go on stage and open up for you all, we don't have enough lights and fog to overcome it." (laughs) So, as we are walking to the stage to play, we were set up, they handed me the money and said "here's your money. You're not going on."

Q - Who said that to you?

A - I don't know who it was, the promoter or the band, or a combination of both. The band went to the promoter and didn't want us to perform in front of them. They made something about the schedule running late. I forget what. That wasn't true because our road guy overheard the conversation. I thought that was kind of funny. I believe it was Blue Oyster Cult.

Q - Mike, I always thought Nantucket had it all. I used to call Epic Records Publishing Office in New York and ask "what are you doing for the band?" And I never did that for any other group. As the years have gone by, I've come to the conclusion that you didn't have strong enough management to go into the record company and demand that certain things be done.

A - That's got a lot to do with it and could explain why. Lennie Petze, the guy who signed us to Epic in Miami, just thought we were great. But he left after the second album and went and formed Portrait Records. That had been in the works. "Heartbreaker" by that time was going great guns and along that time MTV was beginning to come into play. "Heartbreaker" never went to MTV. Nantucket never went to MTV. Every other band, I don't care who you were, how good they were, or how bad they were, if you went to MTV back then you became huge, and we never did. We were Nantucket long before Boston was Boston. The press in New York blames us for trying to name ourselves after a northeastern city like Boston did. Heck. We were Nantucket 10 years before they even thought about being Boston. Tommy Redd used to dress like that Slash, Guns 'n' Roses look in 1972. My brother had capes and make-up like the Alice Cooper scene back in 1972. It seems to me like we were always one step ahead of the game.

Q - Larry was every bit as good as a front man as Jon Bon Jovi.

A - A couple people said he never got his do as a singer and as a front man. Boston and Van Halen and all these bands either came out brand-new or with a record at that time. Van Halen is from Los Angeles. They sold 300,000 records in their hometown. We didn't have 300,000 people in eastern North Carolina! (laughs). And you know, Boston was from Boston. The Romantics were from Detroit. The Cars were from New York. The Cars opened up for us in Washington, DC. The Romantics opened up for us in Detroit. That's their hometown! And if I'm not mistaken, I'd have to figure some way to check my history on this, AC/DC opened up for us in the early days back in West Virginia one time. We had the opportunity to go with Aerosmith's manager, but we are Carolina boys from North Carolina. Our heads were in the clouds. We stuck with the people that were with us, the country boys stick with each other type theory. We stuck with management that betrayed us because instead of concentrating on us, they were concentrating on their management company, trying to make CMC bigger. They were out looking for other bands when they should have been in the office taking care of our needs.

Q - Is that why you left the band at one point and started managing the group?

A - I wouldn't say I started managing the group. When I left, the management had presented to the band that Epic Records had said that the first album didn't do any better than it did because we had a keyboard bass player and we needed a bass player. We got a guy named Pee Wee. That's the worst thing that ever happened to Nantucket. That's and another major straw that broke the camel's back. People don't like change. When I left, Epic Records was promoting us, me and my brother as the Heart Throb Brothers. We were in Kerrang Magazine in England and Hit Parader. We had boxes of fan mail that the management company never showed us. What it was all about was, I was a business guy in the band and would inquire as to what was going on and they didn't like that. They figured if they can get me out of there, they could do what they wanted. And sure enough, when I left and Pee Wee came in, I said "this is ridiculous." I played the keyboard bass my whole life. I didn't feel comfortable, so I left. Within a matter of months it came to light how much money they embezzled. Pee Wee wasn't in the band six months and he took Kenny and they left and formed a band called PKM. That was it with Epic. The next project was RCA. That record didn't do anything. The "No Direction Home" had some good songs on it, but Michael Flicker, the guy who produced Heart, produced that. My brother said that was another unbelievable situation in Los Angeles. He said he was hooked on downs. All the tempos were slow. He wouldn't let anybody in the band play their instruments. He made them rent everything from a music shop in Los Angeles, of which he got a kick back on. The bass player couldn't play his own bass guitar. He had to rent one. Something's not right about that. The RCA record didn't do much of anything and that was it. At about that time they had had enough of CMC. They had gotten into a lawsuit fight. They had them dead to rights. Eddie Blair, our sax player, comes from a conservative family and the management threatened to expose the band as a bunch of partiers. Eddie is the one that did all the research. He almost got a divorce over auditing those people. He had them dead to rights embezzling thousands and thousands of dollars and they settled out of court for $3000 because he didn't want them to start alleging untruths when the management themselves was partying just as much as the band was back then. So it's a long story. Lots of people can say things one way or another, but the bottom line is a lot of people have said we were the best thing going at the time. We played with bands like Foreigner in St. Louis, Kiss 12 dates. They wouldn't let us play with them no more. We started out having a 45 minute show and the next job was cut to 40 and the next job it's cut to 35. Then it's cut to 30 minutes and we are off the tour because we were being received so well.

Q - You guys put on such a great show!

A - Well, the configuration of it. You had a six piece band that was like a nine or ten piece band. That has been said about us to, is that we were too good. We were too diversified and too good. People couldn't really grab a hold of us. AC/DC is straight-ahead Rock, simplistic, that's what you get, take it or leave it. With us, you get "Heartbreaker" one minute, then you get "Born In A Honky Tonk". Then you get "Spring Fever", which is a ballad. Then you get a multi-vocal situation. Then here comes a harmonica and here comes a saxophone and here comes a horn section and here comes a slide guitar. It was all too talented. I guess if you look at it like a Jazz band, the musicians that played that music were great musicians, far superior to the Rock stars, but it's too complicated for the average Joe to understand.

Q - Mike, I believe the average Joe could understand Nantucket's music. Nantucket just didn't get the promotion you needed and deserved. One of the great mysteries of all time is why a record company would sign a group, invest so much money in their career, and turn around and ignore them.

A - We had a $250,000 record deal. That was unheard of in 1978.

Q - Is it fair to say that even though you went on the road with all those name groups, in the end it didn't do you much good?

A - It was heading in that direction, but if you look back at it, wheels started falling off the car when I left the band, not because of me. That and the management situation and the fact that we didn't go to MTV are your three biggest things. People didn't like change. We had boxes and boxes of fan mail, pissed. "Wow! What happened to Mike?" We found the stuff later. The fan base didn't like it. Right now we got songs that are strong like the first album was. A lot of Tommy's writing is real, real strong. If a record company today, let's say Maroon 5's people, if Andrew Lane was to grab a hold of us and put us in the studio with the songs we got right now, it would be the end of the story. The songs would be there again. We had that rock star image. In '78 and '79, that's half of what it was about.

Q - Would you really need a record company today? You have a "name." You have your own website. You could make your own CD and put it out.

A - Well, we can't get to the masses. In the Internet situation, you can get to certain people, but as far as the major industry appeal, how do you drive new kids to Nantucket on the Internet? They'll go to it once. They're aware of it, but we can't get on mainstream radio. We can't get on mainstream TV. The Rap and Country industry has totally dominated what's going on with it.

Q - Very rarely do you see a Rock act on the American Music Awards show.

A - It don't exist. In our day, Journey, Foreigner, Styx, Kansas, Nantucket, Boston, Aerosmith. I'm not even warmed up yet. But now, those type of acts don't exist. The only thing I can think of that resembles a band is something like maroon 5 or Big And Rich in the Country scene. That ain't nothing but Rock 'n' Roll / Funk, which if we were to do another record, that's how we would do it. It would be a party Funk thing, so it would cater to Country radio because that's the only major outlet you got. But, the politics are so strong that your chances are slim to none unless you get with the right person. We got a song called "The Hillbilly Jump". It's a straight-ahead line dance song. A killer song. We got a song "Highway to Hell". It's more of a Rock 'n' Roll / Country thing. Skip Black sent it to us. He sent us a couple others, but we haven't listened to them because we just got 'em. We are looking for investment to try and get up and running again. We don't need a whole lot. The band business is not an entity anymore as much as it is a part-time situation. Everybody else has their own thing that they are doing. So, there's really no budgets. Everybody's gone their own ways financially, so everybody can't contribute equally financially. Of course you got to look at the odds of it too, as far as the age demographics and the economy. Who knows what's getting ready to happen in this country?

Q - You put together Nantucket in 1969?

A - In 1968 we became The Staxx Of Gold in high school. That was named from Stax record label. We had a name contest in a bar in Jacksonville, North Carolina back then. You had to pick one because it was a contest. The final three names were Tumbleweed Connection, Nantucket Sleighride and Satan Symphony. We didn't particularly care for that. Tumbleweed Connection was an Elton John thing, an album title. We didn't care for that. And so Nantucket Sleighride is what we became. Nobody would say Sleighride. So, it just morphed into Nantucket band within a matter of months. That would've been in 1972.

Q - When you are starting out, you were a cover band, weren't you?

A - Oh, yeah.

Q - What kind of material were you playing?

A - Anything that was an R&B thing. Then we started morphing into playing "Black Dog" by Led Zeppelin. By the mid-70s we were a cover group doing obscure covers like "Love's Theme" by Barry White. What Rock band did that? We did stuff that nobody else could or would do. We started writing in the winter of 1974 because a guy at Virginia Beach let us practice in a warehouse. Tommy started writing. We formulated a formula so we would play a club and play "Walk This Way" by Aerosmith. Right after that we'd immediately go into something we did and in this particular case, "Born In A Honky-Tonk" off that first album. You'd go "Walk This Way" right into "Born In A Honky-Tonk", right into another cover to and not announce nothing. Don't even say the word original. Whenever we'd take our breaks, if somebody would walk into anybody in the band in the bathroom of the bar or anyplace else, and say "what was the name of that song you all played after Walk This Way" or "who did that song after Walk This Way?" If somebody did that, it told us the song had some weight to it. That's how we eliminated what didn't work.

Q - Was it hard to write original songs?

A - Tommy Redd would design the mannequin and the band would be the fashion designer. They put that clothes on it. Kenny Soule was a music major at East Carolina. Eddie Blair played music all his life. So you had very knowledgeable music people. My brother played high school trumpet. I took piano lessons when I was nine, ten years old. So we all had musical backgrounds. He knew what a major third or a minor third sounded like and what worked with what, what kind of chord would sound good. It was a trial and error thing. Basically, once Tommy brought the mannequin in, we trialed in errored it until we thought it sounded like it should. Of course, the producer has a lot to do with that in the future. Like some of the stuff we've got right now, the right producer, it would be unreal.

Q - As you look back, what do you think about the way your albums sounded?

A - The first album did well, but it sounded suppressed. Squashed to death in mastering. The second album? Some people say it's one of the best records we ever did. They liked "Your Face Or Mine" and "Just The Devils Way". The third album, "A Long Way To The Top", everybody liked the song, but the album didn't do nothing. Also at that time, and New York told us this, they said "y'all need to shave those beards off and get rid of that jewelry. That's not what's going to be fashionable." What they were talking about is bands like The Cars, The Ramones. That look was what was going to become popular and that's exactly what became popular. Other bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd wouldn't be Lynyrd Skynyrd if it wasn't for "Sweet Home Alabama". That's one of the top five songs in the world of all time, that and "Satisfaction" by The Stones, "Margaritaville" by Jimmy Buffett. You can't find anybody in the world that hasn't heard those three songs.

Q - Mike, you have to be yourself. Wouldn't You agree?

A - Well, that's why we just got a record deal I guess. We were ourselves. But think about the songs I just mentioned to you, how simple they are. Simple. Easy to remember. A 12-year-old can pick up a guitar and learn to play the chords pretty quickly. You are not going to pick up a guitar and learn to play the chords to "Heartbreaker" or "Born In A Honky-Tonk" pretty quickly.

Q - How big of a draw was Nantucket in your cover band days?

A - It was stupid. We'd come show up in Charlotte or Charleston, South Carolina or Atlanta, Georgia. We wouldn't even start until 10 o'clock. We would do a sound check at 7:30 and there would be lines around the block. It was stupid. We already had record deals. It even had to do a lot with the stuff we played. We had the energy.

Q - What kind of deals were you getting? Were you getting a flat fee versus a percentage of the door?

A - Yeah, a lot of the times back in that day we did $1000, $1500, $1200, $2000 a night. A couple of times people would say "are you crazy? We ain't paying you that much!" A couple of times we'd take a door deal and walk out with $3500. I remember after our first album came out, we asked for $3500 and a guy told us we were crazy. "Give me the door then. We'll do the door." We walked out of there with about $10,000. He was sick. Laughs. I can't count the amount of people that come up and say "man, I snuck in to so-and-so club and saw you guys when I was 14 or 15 or 16." Countless people say that. We were 26, 27 when that first record came out, but our fan base was anywhere between 10 and 12 years old, upwards of 18 to 20 years old, just like it is today.

Q - Epic records caught your act where, Florida?

A - Our theory behind that was you're not going to get New York record labels to come see you in North Carolina or Virginia or South Carolina or even Georgia. Our concept was to go play at West Palm Beach for a week, regardless of what the club pays us, and that entire week have record companies come down there. We had no problem whatsoever getting A&R people to come out of New York, to fly to West Palm Beach for obvious reasons. The A&R people wanted to do it because it's Florida. We have a bidding war. It ended up with Epic and Atlantic. Had we gone with Atlantic records, the song that would have been the single, "What's The Matter With Loving You" off of that first album. Instead we went with Epic and it was "Heartbreaker". "Heartbreaker" used to be "Let's Boogie" in '74.

Q - Had Nantucket signed with Atlantic records, would that have been better for the group?

A - That's a question you'll never be able to answer. The greed and the obsession of CMC management, had they concentrated on us instead of concentrating on taking advantage of us, using our name to pursue other acts. Maybe they could have done something themselves, but they couldn't see the forest for the trees. It all boils down to greed. I never saw one dime in royalties. Not one damn dime. Neither has my brother. Neither has the sax player. Tommy has gotten a crumb here and there as a writer. Other than that, I've seen no checks, no statements, no nothing.

Q - Mike, all I can tell you is there's still tomorrow.

A - Well, that's why for some particular reason we are still around. We're still together and four of the six original members are still there. The drummer has been with us 20-plus years. Most bands masquerading from the late '70s, early '80s, don't even have one member that's in it. It's a bunch of roadies or somebody else that took off with the name. Even Lynyrd Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet. There is very few people in the bands that were in the band when they made it.

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