George Righter’s Music Biography

I started playing guitar when I was 16 years old. It was around 1982, and I had entered high school. A friend across the street played guitar, and I thought it was really cool. So I asked for a guitar and finally after 2 years of begging, purchased a white, left-handed Hondo electric guitar for $119, along with a Fender Studio lead 50 watt amp for $279 I believe. I still have those pieces today.

I started guitar lessons at A-Z music in Morrisville, PA with Vince Piselli. Vince was mainly a classical player, with a PHD equivalency degree, who read music very well. He started me on the Mel Bay book, learning the notes, how to read them. Then he showed me the 12 bar blues in E. I was never a fast learner, but once I got it, I had it down good.  In those days I was most impressed with fingerpicking—that sounded like real guitar playing to me. My first finger picking tune was “Dust In The Wind.” I would put quite a lot of time into my lessons, and I think Vince recognized that.  He told me  I would be a good player because I had a genuine interest in learning.

I would jam a lot with my friend across the street, who mainly would show me bass lines to Police material. Then I discovered The Who, and of course John Entwistle. The Who show at JFK in 1982 was my first “big” concert, and only my second concert at the time. My mother took me to the Spectrum a few days before Christmas in 1981 to see George Thorogood and The Destroyers. My goodness! GT was dressed in a red—possibly snakeskin-outfit from head to toe—shoes and all. He had energy and charisma, that to this day, I have never experienced that again—and I’ve been to over 100 shows.  GT became my idol, and Vince showed me some open tunings, and some slide guitar. It was fairly easy stuff.

John Entwistle had an impact on me after I listened to The Kids are Alright. His bass really cut through,  and I thought I was just like him—shy and quiet.  The Who Concert was not a good one—no light show, and I missed Santana, The Hooters, and most of The Clash. I was familiar with most of the Who material, since I knew  “It’s Hard” inside and out.

My Uncle took me downtown to 8th street music to buy my first bass. It was a burgundy Hondo, lefty, that looked like a P bass. It cost me $169. I also purchased a Peavey TKO 65 watt amp. I would later convert the bass to a fretless, and sell it.

The initial days of jamming are fresh in my memory. We would jam across the street in Mike Toft’s basement. Mike’s older brother was in a band, and they had the amps, drums, and Moog Taurus Bass Pedals.  The basement was extremely musty, and one of the amps had a bad ground. I can remember one kid tuning up, touching someone else’s stings, and going “ahhhhhh”.  We would mainly play Sabbath, Van Halen, and Police. We never formed a band though. I wasn’t good at all at that time.

Then I ran into a drummer at school who needed a bass player. I joined his band and we played Rush, Van Halen, AC/DC—the usual stuff. These guys were really into rush, and the guitar player was very good. I recently learned that he is a guitar neck inlay specialist, who married his degree in marine biology with fish inlays. The drummer was a nice guy, but I later heard he had some heart trouble at an early age.

In the meantime, I had met up with a guitar player from Chemistry class. He was in interesting fellow—his parents were flower children, and Dylan was a very good pianist and guitar player. He could finger pick and figure out songs by ear—quickly.  He and I would jam quite a bit—mostly Who Material, and Floyd. He showed me quite a lot of material. We also wrote some originals, that I am hankering to dig out and give a listen to.  We then started jamming with an artist drummer friend named Dana Rockel. He purchased the very first electronic drum snare, and was into rush and punk. We would practice at Dana’s house, and play classic rock. Dana wasn’t into the material, and Dylan at the time, was more interested in fixing his AMC Hornet. We played a couple of parties, but that’s about all.

The next band up was with a few guys in the Langhorne area. We played the usual stuff—AC/DC, Van Halen, etc. The  singer was an older guy, older than us anyway, who was able to mimick the sound of certain singers. He did Angus Young, and even Micheal Jackson very well. That band never made it out of the living room.

In the meantime, I would continue to get together with Dylan and we would mainly write originals. In 1985 I located a used lefty Rickenbacker at Zapf’s music for $325. That bass is now worth over $3,000 (1979 4001 model) and still smells the same—I love opening the case.  Around that time I also found a used Gibson ES-335 guitar for $375. I grabbed it, as it was a great guitar for rhythm.

Dylan and I were able to find a drummer, and we would jam every weekend. A lot of originals, and looking back, a lot of fun. We never played out, except for a few private parties.

When I returned from college in 1990, I had practiced on my own and had written material. I regret not being in a band while at State College PA.  The first thing I did after graduation, was to purchase a Tascam 688 midistudio, and a Yamaha rhythm machine.  The 688 was an 8 track cassette unit, and was $2400—a lot of money for me. Prior to this, for years, I had used 2 tape decks, and would layer tracks the old fashioned way—then bounce them back and forth.  I am thankful I learned that on my own.

The first collection I put together I called “Self Starter.” It was 10 originals. Then I recorded “Angle Rider” which had a couple of decent recordings—I was still learning a lot about mixing. Dylan would be very good at mixing, and we re-recorded a song called “Dileana” and called our project “Wingside”.

Both of us took a class at the local college called “Electronic Music”. I learned about sequencing, and apple software. The teacher was a trombone player, and a heavy smoker named Dr. Benson. We chatted a lot.

After college in 1991 or so, while living in NE Philly, I ran into a drummer named George Emme who knew my uncle—he was an older guy. He is to this day the best player I ever played with and he taught me a lot. Both of us spoke about forming an oldies band. He knew a guitar player named MB, who was very good. MB and I clicked right away, and before long became “The NE Extension”. We played Beatles, Some oldies, CCR, and the typical classic rock stuff.  I had purchased a used lefty Fender P Bass for $400 at this time for more bottom end than the Ric. George was always preaching being a specific type of band. We agreed that we needed to hone the band, and jammed a few times with Jeff-0. Jeff-o is an interesting cat—still lives in the 50’s. He was a super musician—singer, guitarist, and sax—and made a living booked as a one man band. Jeff was nice enough to show me some walking bass lines, and I am fortunate I had the opportunity to jam with him. We auditioned some piano players, other guitar players, which would have been “The Houserockers”, but Jeff felt there was nothing there.

At this time, George and I spoke with MB and told him we wanted to hone into an oldies act. He obliged, and we brought in Bobby Capriotti for sax and keyboard. Bobby was formerly with Cookie Jar and the Crumbs. He had a glass eye.  We auditioned about 15 lead singers, and had no luck. There was a guy who would hang around the rehearsal joint, and ask us to sit in and sing on occasion. As it turns out Pat McCenna became our lead singer. Pat took vocal lessons and was able to quickly learn the material. The Jidderbugs recorded a demo and ended up booked regularly at the Chase Lounge 2 and sometimes 3 nights a week. My take home pay was $55 a night; $100 on a good night. Ultimately, the monotony, and my full time work schedule made me realize that is was no longer fun.  I was the first one to leave the band, and the band folded a month after that. It is a shame, and looking back I should have stuck it out for longer—we were a real good band.

All along, at least on and off, I would continue to take lessons from Vince. I had him show me some walking bass, along with a lot of jazz guitar theory, scales, chords, etc. I would learn how to arrange and play chord melodies.   Vince then invited me to his house once a week, for free, and I would play bass for jazz standards. He arranged 5 sets of music, and we ended up playing some Italian eating places in Trenton.  The drum machine was cheesy, and after auditioning drummers, settled on a big fellow from Bensalem.  He was laid back, and was fine just brushing. What a nice break from a snare drum! Unfortunately, Vince and he had an argument that almost ended with a fist fight. That was the last time I jammed with Vince in that era; luckily we captured some recordings. That was in 1997.

In late 1997 my Daughter was born, and I think the only recording I made around that time was called “In The Crib”. I would take a hiatus from music for a while. Then while my daughter was in pre-school, I ended up jamming with one of the parents. He was a great drummer, and I figured it would be fun to get together with a guitar player—I was mainly bass by this time.  We ended up as a 4 piece with MB and a lead singer who never learned his parts. We played a few parties, then decided to make Fast Foot Howie a 3 piece power trio with simple vocals. We mainly played oldies, which I feel got us some private party gigs, and VFW gigs.  This was around 2005, and in 2007 we played a festival in Bethlehem. I think we were at our peak then. In 2008, I ended up stuck with 2 mortgages, and became depressed. In 2009 I tore my ACL and that kept me down for about a year. Whenever FFH would get together, even if we hadn’t jammed for several months, we were tight as nails. We had been adding some 80’s material, and what I call a variety of classic rock, that took us away from oldies.  Then MB wanted to add a set of 90’s material along with his son as lead singer. I was thinking of trying to find a pro singer for some higher end places, but in the end, classic rock was not bookable—at least non danceable classic rock.

I then auditioned with a different band, but decided that classic rock was worn out for me. A classic rock tune would come on the radio and I would just change the station. I started listening to a lot of jazz again, and at the moment, swing is my thing! I am lucky enough to be jamming again with Vince, and I am in the midst of dusting off the material from 1995-1997. Thank goodness I dated all of the recordings over the years.

George Righter

About George Righter

American composer and musician who lives for the outdoors.

07. November 2011 by George Righter
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