The TANGERINE PUPPETS were a popular group based in Forest Hills, Queens in New York City in the late 60’s. There were many great musicians in that school including members of The RAMONES and The VAGRANTS. Before them came SIMON & GARFUNKEL as well as BURT BACHARACH. With budding virtuosos, Mark Mayo on guitar and Lloyd Landesman on keyboards, the TANGERINE PUPPETS believed in a serious musical approach and a dedication to their visual presentation. LESLIE WEST of the VAGRANTS was a big influence on the band and Mark’s relationship with Leslie paved the path for several opportunities. When the TANGERINE PUPPETS dissolved, Mark went on to play with VAGRANTS’ singer, PETER SABATINO. They were and acoustic duo that performed around New York, but Mark soon missed the heavy rock sound. He re-established a connection with drummer, MARK BABANI and they invited LESLIE WEST’s brother, LARRY to several sessions.
The INNOVATION UMBRELLA played a lot of shows around NYC, but they made their bones as a house band at hotels in the Catskill Mountains of Upstate New York. Multiple sets a day were on their menu but winning the season’s “Battle of the Bands” was the gravy. Their Sgt. Pepper’s medley helped; and having a beautiful and dynamic female vocalist didn’t hurt. After all, it was the Summer of Love… They became one of the more popular groups on the circuit in 1967 and 1968. They opened for the Chambers Brothers.
The Catskills was a major venue for live music in the summer and many acts filled the ballrooms of the hotels. It was a major event when the VAGRANTS made their yearly appearance up Route 17. INNOVATION UMBRELLA’S bassist and vocalist Mark Polott looked forward to that night. Everyone who was anyone on the circuit would be there. It was see and be seen. But most important, the VAGRANTS’ heavy sound, polished look and dramatic show spoke to him…
As fate would have it, after the PUPPETS disbanded, Landesman would join Polott in a revamping of the UMBRELLA whose current drummer and guitarist were from Forest Hills and knew Lloyd. After several rehearsals, waning enthusiasm and few gigs, the band dissolved. Lloyd returned to a new project that was in its fledgling stages with his former PUPPETS bandmates. He brought Polott along on bass, ironically to fill the chair that former VAGRANTS bassist, Larry West, sometimes occupied. This group became HAYSTACKS BALBOA, a riff on Haystacks Calhoun – a popular wrestler at the time. It featured Mark Mayo on guitar and Lloyd on Hammond Organ. They were soon signed to a record deal on Polydor Records after a hot summer rehearsing in basements and opening up for Paul Butterfield at the Pavillion at the old NY World’s Fairgrounds, a venue that both Mayo and Polott had played when the Fair was open, years before. Headlining the venue that summer were legendary bands such as Led Zeppelin, Procol Harum, Grateful Dead, Santana and Mountain. HAYSTACKS BALBOA was managed by Shelly Finkel, then manager of Mountain. He brought the band to PREMIER TALENT who booked their first show at the SCHAEFFER FESTIVAL, opening for JETHRO TULL. Their album was produced by the legendary Shadow Morton.
It was 1974. Lightning struck again with Polydor in a deal unrelated to our first. We found top management in Ira Blacker, a principal in the ATI talent agency, who wanted to branch out. We recorded an album at Electric Lady Studios produced by Ron Johnson and Al Gorgoni. Ron was looking for a new project after producing Wicked Lester, a group who would go on to become a somewhat successful band soon to be named KISS. We toured again with a great bunch of guys from very diverse backgrounds. This was reflected in the record… half funk and half rock. The band was christened Mercury, a moniker chosen by management. We wore silver suits, uncomfortably. Sadly, on the brink of release, there was a shake up at Polydor and we were one of it’s victims. A well crafted and eclectic collection of our original tunes would not reach the public. Singles were pressed from “ the forthcoming album” but commercial success eluded us again. Potential hits such as “Aw Shucks, Ain’t Got the Bucks” and “Lila” would remain underground. This tune would resurface 30 years later on another one of our projects, timeless, at the least. It was some of our best writing and we established a great cooperative spirit that lives on today. We toured, and for the first time we even flew to some gigs!
King of Broadway
The Music Box was a record shop located on Union Tpke. It was owned by Keith West, a singer and a larger than life personality. Many of the Queens rockers would congregate there and some solid friendships were born. Paul Stanley was a regular. It was a place to hang and talk music, girls, and guitars amidst a mixture of band competitiveness and cameraderie. Keith was the founder of the Brats. They were a very popular group at the very beginning of the Glam era in NYC. KISS got their start at a Brats loft party. Their rhythm guitarist, Rick Rivets, was a neighbor of Polott and an original NY Doll, before their meteoric rise. They both attended High School with Dolls bassist, Arthur Kane who briefly played rhythm guitar with the INNOVATION UMBRELLA. The Brats and the Marks were good friends, still are.
After a shake-up, Keith was looking for a new lead guitarist and bassist. Mark Mayo and Mark Polott had their own thing, but the suggestion was made that they fill in at gigs during the search and this was appealing. They weren’t exactly the type and the image that the Brats projected. but they could ROCK!
This was an exciting period of great live shows, some of which would later become a live CD on Whiplash Records. The boys recorded a 45 of Mayo and Polott’s “If You Can’t Rock You Can Roll” with an explosive B side, the crawling Brats original “Keep Doin’.” The Marks wrote “Dancing in the Backseat” just for them, and they added “First Rock Star on the Moon” as a featured number in their set. The Brats rendition of this tune appeared on the historic Max’s Kansas City album. It was also covered by Jaimey Holiday’s Vampyr Bunnies, then out of Baltimore, now out in LA. The song was first heard on the unreleased Mercury Album on Polydor as was “If You Can’t Rock…” The Brats still perform and still do some Mayo/Polott songs in their set. The friendship lives on…
Slipping Away-The Feeling is Right
The club scene in NYC was exploding. There seemed to be a million bands and most looked to separate themselves from the rank and file. Lack of musical skill was often overcome by a great image, crazy name or just plain charisma! Far from being “pretty boys,” Mark and Mark had to rely on their strong material and musicianship to get and keep gigs. This dilemma gave birth to Murder Inc. The boys gathered a great group of musicians and developed the Murder Inc. show to help create some buzz amidst the crowded scene. The band secured many shows upstairs at Max’s Kansas City and further downtown on the Bowery at the Great Gildersleeves. They had a tune on the Gildersleeves album, “Slipping Away into the Night.”
Maybe it was the gangster suits, maybe the slide show or the dueling lead guitarists. Whatever it was, the band had a good run as outsiders, surrounded by the world of Punk and New Wave.
And the Wave was big and swept up the boys. They morphed into a tight, groomed pop band. The personnel changed by adding some close friends who had the right vibe and an MTV look. The pompadours grew and the tunes were commercial. A little reggae was introduced. It was a genre they often visited. And they peppered in some cool instrumentals to showcase their melodic bent. The set became a polished assault of shorter catchy tunes. Through it all, they played their hearts out and enjoyed many memorable nights on stage. The name came about when it was decided during a fierce naming marathon, that the next name suggested would be it, no matter what! Someone said the Eskimos and after the laughter subsided and composure was regained, they landed on Igloos. Original, if nothing else.
Just A Little Bit
The simplicity of our sound coupled with a complexity of chordal structure led us to pursue a new challenge. We have always felt, and still do, that our songs were our most marketable commodity. We craved a way to further embellish our creations. We decided to take a leap into uncharted (no pun intended) territory and form a big band. We added a horn section. Initially it was two trumpets, a trombone and two or three saxes. The line up and instrumentation varied during the life span of Raccoon Lodge, but was consistently a dynamic live unit and really fun in the studio. We played out a fair amount, the highlight being a night at the Hard Rock Café on 57th Street in Manhattan. Our undoing was the complexity of running an eight piece band… too many scheduling conflicts, too many phone calls and too many egos. The recordings live on as a testimonial to our power and energy. It was a blast singing in front of the massive sound coming off those seemingly tiny stages. We would also meet some great sax players that would influence our sound, even up to today.
Living In the Street
The Blue Period
The 90’s were winding down. It was a time to scale it down, have some fun and still be on the scene. A series of groups followed, featuring the great Ken Plum, a hot tenor sax player from the Lodge and Jim Taormina, a keyboardist they met through an old drummer friend from the early 70’s known as Dippy. This core was augmented by a series of female vocalists. Blue Zone became Blue Lagoon when the boys added Val Kinzler up front and an old friend, the amazing Joe Franco who sat behind the drum kit. Joe had left the Marks in Haystacks many years before to join the Good Rats and remained a good friend of theirs for decades. His career has been stellar with stints with Leslie West , Dee Snider and Twisted Sister. This line up recorded a nice demo at Avatar and played several gigs around town. This didn’t quite work out but they remained Blue.
Here To Stay
One of the defining characteristics of a Mayo-Polott project is diversity. Some might see this as a strength, but it can easily be a roadblock to success. The music business has always been about genre, trend and pigeon holing. Putting a label on a sound seems to be an important marketing tool. Being funky one moment, heavy the next, and having a comfort zone within almost any genre has always described Mark and Mark. That being said, they were always children of the 60’s and grew up on the blues of the original masters and more importantly, on the sounds of Clapton, Beck, Hendrix and Page. Strangely, they never fielded a pure blues band, it might have been too restrictive a path for their writing muse, but the blues was always a big part of their set.
Urban Blue was born out of this “problem.”
After the events of September 11, 2001, Kenny moved West.
The group added Dave Painchaud on trumpet and a new saxophonist, Senien Hicks. Backed by gentleman drummer Doug Sako, the music simmerd. They were many gigs at some great venues.
In 2004, Urban Blue recorded it’s first cd, “It’s Different Today.” Mayo and Polott were helped out by Lloyd Landesman who co-produced and engineered. Lloyd was the keyboardist in Haystacks Balboa, over thirty years before. It’s a rollicking fourteen songs including a reggae influenced cover of ‘Crossroads” and the title cut, their post 9/11 ballad. The music is available on iTunes and CDBaby.
It's Different Today
Then another watershed moment. After the sax chair became vacant, Urban Blue added the amazing Lars Haake on alto sax. His killer sound and melodic creativity took the band to new heights. The energy coming off the stage was infectious and the Berklee School of Music grad’s musical knowledge pushed at the band from all angles. He was more than the perfect compliment to Mayo’s guitar. They had a great chemistry and the musical sparks flew. Many nights the band would be on fire. Onward and upward…
They became a great party band that could, and did, play late into the night. The formula mixed a great variety of original material with the cover tunes they grew up on and loved. At shows you could “expect the unexpected.” Urban Blue became a regular draw at Lucille’s Bar and Grill inside BB King’s in Times Square.
After awhile, to rev up the ensemble, Mark and Mark added some old friends again. David Donen was an exciting rock drummer they knew since the early 70’s. Another player from the musical melting pot of Queens, he sat in with the guys now and then over the years and always cooked. They all seemed to be cut from the same piece of wood and clicked on many levels. Their material fit like a glove over his groove. The time was ripe for collaboration.
She's Not There
Polott met Frank Cervantes in college. Over the years he was a frequent partner to some of the Marks’ musical shenanigans and a member of Mercury for a brief time. A one-time Mayo guitar student, they played seamlessly together and magic happened. Frank was always the funky rhythm king with the energy of Pete Townsend and a falsetto from another era. Urban Blue was ready to bring this unit into the studio and create ten great new tracks.
Sadly, Frankie unexpectedly passed away. This hit the boys real hard and they de-railed for a while. Mayo and Polott immersed themselves in the studio, working real hard to make this project their best ever. When they listen to Frankie’s tracks, he is in the room, pickin’ and dancing…
A Thousand Stories Never Told was released right as 2016 began. It is now available worldwide on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and CDBaby through this website (www.urbanblue.com.)
On it, the Mayo/Polott power ballad “Waiting for the Real You” contains the line “Can’t see the future, whatcha gonna do?” That about sums it up.
No one knows what’s next, but with this new release the adventure continues…