Gary James' Interview With Bob Murray Of

This band was so good, I can't even tell you how good they were. They were that good! I am talking about the 1970s Central New York band Wale. Fronting Wale was Bob Murray. Bob spoke with us about his group. Did I mention how exceptional this band was?!

Q - Bob, I actually saw your group at The Lost Horizon in Syracuse, New York on a Saturday night in the early 1970s.

A - That would be right at the freakin' peak of Wale days. That's when we were really rockin' out!

Q - I'll say. I've never seen anything like it before.

A - (laughs).

Q - For a Central New York group at that time, you were so polished. You were nothing short of incredible!

A - We were on the road a lot you know. I remember once doing 60 nights in a row. We did one tour we were out literally 60 nights. It was crazy. When I first met Steve Tyler, from Aerosmith, 'cause we played with those guys, we did gigs with those guys, he used to say to me, "How the hell can you sing like that night after night?" I said, "That's because I sing night after night." It's like working out.

Q - When you came offstage, you were talking to me about a club in Chicago, owned by the Rock group Chicago, that you had either just come from or were going to. Does that ring a bell?

A - Beginnings it was called. The bass player from Chicago owned the club. Boy, that's way back in the day! We did do that gig. The one thing that impressed us about that club is it had a nickel plated dance floor and really luxurious dressing rooms. It felt like you were in a Hollywood movie.

Q - Unlike The Lost Horizon of old.

A - Oh yeah. I played a lot of dives. We didn't really care as long as there was a crowd. If we had some people, we were happy. We played in Detroit quite a bit. I remember doing a club in Detroit where no one had heard of the band. There was a small crowd in the place. Once we got going, everybody got pretty crazed and the whole place went crazy. We got all kinds of gigs around Detroit to the point where I remember driving in with the boys in our big old Cadillac, driving into Detroit and we were on the radio. Someone got their hands on a bootleg tape and we were listening to ourselves on the radio station. It was pretty crazy.

Q - Was that an AM station or an FM station?

A - Back in the '70s, hard to say. But there we were and they were playing Wale tunes on the radio. Then another thing that was big in that day was that cable TV was just coming into its own. We played a club in Rochester on a pretty frequent basis called The Fantasy Swing. Fantasy Swing was one of the first clubs to advertise on Channel 13 along with The House Of Guitars and in their advertisement every single week they featured our band as like the front end logo. They showed a picture of our band while they were advertising their club. What we didn't realize was, that was being broadcast all across Ontario in Canada. So, when we drove into Canada, we played Toronto pretty frequently and played a lot of the other cities in Canada, people already knew who we were because they were watching Saturday Night In Concert. Do you remember that show?

Q - I remember In Concert being shown on Friday nights.

A - Okay, well maybe it was on a Friday night. I was out at gigs most of the time. It was on weekly and they featured national acts. Well, this guy bought all kinds of spots, so every single week for like a half a year or so, he'd do two or three spots during that show on Channel 13 and that got broadcast all across Canada. So, that helped us a lot. We spent a lot of time in Canada. Almost half of our time was in Canada, especially in Toronto. We used to play The Piccadilly Tube, which is where the Eaton Centre now is. Piccadilly Tube was a really popular club back in the day on Younge Street and it was underground. You had to walk downstairs to get into it. It was like a remake of a London subway station.

Q - Or maybe The Cavern.

A - Yes, like The Cavern. We also played The Gasworks a lot. And then this big, big beer hall called Knob Hill Hotel. The place would do almost 800 people a night. So, it was huge.

Q - Back in those days, if you wanted to see a band, you had to go out and see a band, unlike today where you can turn on cable TV or your PC.

A - That's right. And the drinking age was 18. So, we had a very large 18 to 20 crowd.

Q - Are you the guy who put Wale together?

A - Yes.

Q - What year would that have been?

A - It started out around 1969.

Q - In Rochester, New York?

A - Yes. It actually started out as a show band, literally doing Chicago. I was a horn player. I wasn't even the lead singer. I played horn. What happened was, they found out I could sing and next thing you know they decided to boot their lead singer and they wanted me to become the lead singer. When I say I put the band together, let me back up: I joined the band called Backstage Review and then over a period of time we replaced all the members including the manager and I became the manager.

Q - Double duty!

A - Yes. I did all the business dealings with the band. We had different booking agents. We had an agent, DMA out of Detroit. They used to book Bob Marley. I used to call them and say "This is Bob Murray from Wale." They immediately would think it was Bob Marley from The Wailers. Then we had Music Shoppe International in Toronto they did all our Canadian bookings. We had the same agent that Aerosmith had in Boston and we had a guy named Charlie Leone in Rochester. So, they pretty much did most of the booking, but after a while when we were on the road, because we were working with these different agents, our guy locally would get lazy. We'd come back and he wouldn't have any gigs booked. So, I finally said to hell with it and started booking the gigs myself in our area.

Q - Now you're the manager, the agent and the lead singer!

A - Pretty much.

Q - Triple duty.

A - But, it was easy enough because we had a good relationship with the clubs we played. So, I just had to pick up the phone and call them and tell them what dates I had available on the calendar. This guy in Rochester, he'd literally kicked a band off the schedule if he found out we were available during that time. We drew a lot of people.

Q - You ever play this club in Syracuse called The Brookside?

A - We did a lot of gigs at The Brookside. When Sammy Hagar was with Montrose, we played there with him. I think we played The Brookside at least once a month, or at least every six weeks for a weekend.

Q - You also played with Black Sheep. That must of been in the days when Lou Gramm was in the group.

A - As a matter of fact, at the War Memorial in Rochester they were our warm-up band. Talk about how times change. I used to know him when he lived in Gates. His name is Louie Grammatico. Just like Steve Tyler. I knew him when his name was Steve Tallarico. We played with Elvin Bishop. We did Melissa Manchester. We did a gig with Cheap Trick. Alice Cooper. We did about four gigs with J. Geils. We did lots of gigs with Aerosmith.

Q - Opening for Melissa Manchester, that must've been a strange gig.

A - It was at an outdoor concert in Manhattan Square Park in Rochester and we were playing Toronto. They wanted an opening act that would draw. So they stuck us on a plane, flew us into Rochester in the afternoon to do an afternoon gig, outside with her. Then we went back to the airport, flew back to Toronto and played there at night.

Q - How did Melissa Manchester treat you?

A - Well, we gave her a dozen roses and she was just totally thrilled with it. I know her music is dramatically different than ours. I can't tell you why we were booked on that ticket, but we were.

Q - In all the time you guys were together, were there any record company offers?

A - Yeah. We had Mercury Records was talking to a manager that we had. He's the reason the band went out of business. He embezzled all our money. He embezzled a huge amount of money. That's really why there was no more Wale. He was talking to Mercury Records. Then there was another label in Long Island that actually offered us a contract, but by that time I knew enough about contracts to realize it wasn't worth doing. So, past that we took some demo stuff to Capitol Records, but we never really got a solid offer. This one company out of Long Island, the studio, he gave us a contract, but it didn't have any of the components you need to have a good record contract. No tour support. There was all kinds of holes in it where the record company can give away promotional copies. That gets billed back to the band. So I mean, if you have a record that starts to sell and they give away 100,000 promotional copies, you don't make anything. They get paid but you don't. Anyways, the bottom line on the whole thing is we turned that down. Then it got to be too late by the time we discovered what this guy was up to. He was with Bachman - Turner Overdrive. He was a road manager. He saw us and asked us if he could become our manager. We thought he had all these connections so we let him do it. Next thing you know he got into the checkbook and started creating checks between our Canadian and American accounts. We were on the road so much we didn't realize it until the amount of money he embezzled was huge.

Q - I hate to hear stories like that because I hear stories like that all the time.

A - Yup.

Q - And there's no way you could have recovered any of the money?

A - No, because he fled the country. When we finally found out, we found out by accident. I just happened to check the bank account and there was $5000 in the bank account. I said how's that possible? We were on the road trying to break into these new markets and were not making that much money and we just bought a truck. There can't be $5000 in the account. So, I called the banker. I was in Detroit at the time and the banker said, "Well, I see a deposit is here for $5000 in your Royal Canadian account, the Royal Bank of Canada. I see another $5000 going back to the Royal Bank of Canada and here's another one for $5000 a week or so earlier from the Royal Bank of Canada account to your American account." Back then there was no electronic transfer. So you could actually buy a week when you wrote a check. If you made a deposit from another account, it took a week to clear, especially between the countries. The bank honored all our checks because we had such a good credit rating they never put a hold on anything. Well, this guy discovered that and what he was doing was keeping all the cash that we made at the clubs and instead of depositing it in the banks, he was writing bogus checks back and forth between the two accounts, our Canadian account and our American account.

Q - Was this guy physically present at all your gigs?

A - Pretty much.

Q - At the end of the night you guys must've needed money for expenses, didn't you?

A - Oh, yeah, we had money. We had what we needed. He didn't steal all the money. If he gave us a check, it wasn't backed up by cash. That's what was going on. It was backed up by making fraudulent deposits in the bank to make it look like he put the deposits in where he was actually stealing the cash.

Q - When did Wale end then?

A - We fizzled out around 1978 or 1979.

Q - What did you do?

A - I put together a Canadian band called Razor. Good guys. We actually did a lot of Wale tunes. Then we did some copy material. But after about a year of that, it wasn't the same thing. Didn't have the same feel. They certainly didn't have the same spark that the guys I was used to had. I had some really good players as you know.

Q - Not only that, you guys were all dancing on stage, in unison.

A - Oh, yeah. We played so much together it was almost second nature. We didn't even have to think. We could stand there and jam and make up a tune and barely even look at each other and just roll with it. That's what happens when you were together eight years. Start to finish it was about eight years.

Q - After Razor what did you do?

A - Then I said I've had enough of this. I went looking for a job and got hired by a telecommunications company in Rochester. When I was younger, I actually worked for the phone company when I got out of high school. The band was secondary. It was a secondary gig because I was young. Then I started making so much money in the band, and of course it was a lot more fun, that I quit the phone company and went off for eight years doing the rock 'n roll business.

Q - What were you doing at the phone company?

A - I was a technical guy, what's called a Central Office Switchman. I went to all kinds of telecom schools. I was basically the one that made your telephones work inside the central office with all the equipment. So, when I got out of the music business, I went back into that field, except it of course had evolved substantially over the years. It all became digital. After five years of doing that, I actually opened up my own place.

Q - That brings us up to today.

A - If I had a shot to go into a recording studio, not because I have any aspirations of cutting a record, that environment intrigues me because we were just really learning how to record when the band broke up, the subtleties. You can't go into a recording studio and slam like you do on stage because it just doesn't sound right.

Q - You don't need to go into a recording studio anymore, you can buy your own home studio.

A - (laughs) I know.

Q - Studios are a thing of the past too.

A - Isn't that true.

Q - Technology is so advanced.

A - If we had the equipment they have now back then, we'd have been millionaires.

Q - So, you are not in a band then?

A - Not really. I play a little keyboard. Once in a while I grab a little harmonica. Once or twice a year I jam, but that's pretty much it.

Q - Do you miss it?

A - If I could go back, yeah, but I really don't have the time or energy to learn a bunch of new lyrics. I've got kids. I'm engaged to be married and I don't have time to go out in the clubs. I don't miss the stage because I think there's a certain mentality back when you are younger and people are screaming and cheering for you, and I don't require that anymore. I'm not hungry for that.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.