In my opinion, The Silos of the late 80’s and early 90’s were a unique real Rock ‘n Roll band. The band had limitless potential and could have set the tone for a generation of guitar-based rock bands. Those of us involved with the band knew it right away. Although our RCA record got rave reviews, the way the Gainesville/RCA sessions played out was a complete disappointment. The record was a fiasco. (The band’s best recording is a live bootleg recorded on tour by our sound man, Joe Chianicci.) This version of the band remained intact until 1992 and was a powerhouse on tour across the US and Europe. I stuck around a bit longer than JD Foster and Bob Rupe, recording more tracks that ended up on later records. My last tour with the band was a grueling six-week van tour through Germany, Austria, Spain and Switzerland. The following is the story of my involvement with the band and our only major label recording.
In 1987, bassist Richard Ford had just finished working with Joe Jackson and was settling into the independent music scene in New York. Richard had also played with Bill Nelson of Bee Bop Deluxe and many others. Originally from England, Richard came to the US and lived near my hometown of Randolph, New Jersey before settling in Hoboken. He recommended me to work regularly, for which I will be forever grateful. He is a true musician and would be greatly missed by The Silos at the time of his departure from the band.
The Silos had just been voted best band in america by a Rolling Stone magazine critics poll and were looking for a new rhythm section to bring them to major status, getting them signed to a major record company. Richard was asked to play bass and he recommended me for the drum chair. The Silos line-up consisted of Bob Rupe and Walter Salas-Humara on guitars and vocals. Me and Richard Ford on drums and bass.
In addition to a new rhythm section, the band also had a new business manager; Hoboken real estate agent Mark Zoltak. Mark was a former DJ from New York and was the motivating muscle behind the band. He had great ideas and knew the songs better than us in the band. He regularly spoke his mind and had strong opinions about music. For Mark, music was either great or it sucked. There was no middle ground. Mark really understood the essence of Los Silos. He got it. He devised a business plan to unleash the improved band and sign it to a major label. The band quickly became a live act like no other, playing dozens of industry showcases throughout Los Angeles and the Northeast. The plan worked. In March 1989, the band was signed to RCA Records by the label’s president, Bob Buziak. The trick now would be to capture the true essence of the band on a studio recording.
A one man band
I wasn’t involved in the band’s day-to-day business, so I can’t explain the logic behind most business decisions. As the September recording date approached, it was obvious that there was a power struggle going on within the band. Specifically, Walter was letting us know that the band was its creation (Subtext: “The record deal is all mine!!”) Although Walter was a strong songwriter, he wasn’t even a appropriate singer or guitarist It was Bob Rupe’s Otis Redding’s voice and Neil Young’s guitar styling that fleshed out Walter’s contributions. It was the way the ensemble performed the songs and the way we played together that made us a great band. I was hoping that Bob would hold his own as co-leader, controlling Walter’s takeover. However, to my dismay, Bob assumed the role of second in command.
To make matters worse, Walter started hinting about playing drums on the next record. Oh! Just what he needed, right? A month before our scheduled sessions, he invited me to his apartment for dinner. After eating in awkward silence, he turned on the stereo and played songs by great drummers like Al Jackson and Levon Helm. Next, he played some of our demos, which I played drums on. Out of the blue, he delivered this mandate: “Start playing like one of these drummers or I’ll find someone else to play drums in the band.” I thought, “What a douche bag!” Granted, those are two great drummers, but not really suited to the guitar rock of The Silos. Also, not the drummer you sought out and hired for greater success – ME! Please do not get me wrong. Most of my job as a drummer has been listening to others and performing their music as they hear it. It’s also been my experience that when someone does shit like this, there’s usually an ulterior motive. This was the first of many drum moves on our recordings. It was this need for control that would trump everything else. Even if it meant sabotaging the band’s record deal and their chances for success.
There was a great irony in the fact that the guy who was the worst singer, guitarist, bassist, drummer, and producer; in fact, the worst musician in the band was the one who wanted to play all the instruments and do everything himself. Walter had no interest in being a member of the band, unless maybe it was a one man band. His desire to play drums would weigh heavily on our next recording sessions in Gainesville and would eventually crush my desire to work with him entirely. Meanwhile, during a coffee break from one of our many Hoboken demo sessions, Richard revealed to me that he was quitting and that he would not be joining us in Florida for the recording of the record. For me, that was the beginning of the end.
We move on. Austin-based JD Foster would replace Richard on bass. Cowboy Junkies producer Peter J. Moore was brought in from Toronto. Ed Bair would handle the house/stage sound, and Peter Yianolis would be the recording engineer and mobile truck operator. On September 25, 1989, the band and crew settled into rented apartments in the city of Gainesville, Florida, ready to record.
During this period of The Silos, my real home was on Bergen Avenue in Jersey City. Richard, Walter, and manager Mark Zoltak lived in nearby Hoboken. Bob lived on the lower east side of Manhattan. We were all within a few miles of each other and a short drive from downtown Manhattan, home to dozens of the best recording studios in the world. Despite this, Walter somehow convinced the RCA executives that recording our record in New York would be too distracting (from what?). Instead, we would have to record in Gainesville, Florida. The fact that there were no proper recording studios in Gainesville led us to an abandoned theater. We use their stage and hallways for live sounds. A mobile recording truck was parked next to the building and was where the producer and engineer spent most of their time. It is true that this made an interesting story and good press. For us, however, that’s all we got. While we were rehearsing at the theater, we received the news that RCA President and Silos’ #1 fan, Bob Buziak, had been fired.