The Real Deal

SGR celebrates the release of The Tenby Chase May 19 at the Trocadero in Philadelphia. The band will come north to Trenton for a performance at Kat Man Du June 1.

By: Susan Van Dongen

From an original punk-ska garage band sound — Green Day meets the Mighty Mighty Bosstones — SGR found themselves evolving into a blend of new and old styles, but always upbeat and very musical.

   A vintage ’60s Hammond B-3 organ weighs a ton, takes up a lot of space on stage and presents a challenge to find spare parts.
   The members of SGR don’t care. The band is dedicated to the distinctively fat, retro sound of the instrument and willing to throw out a few back muscles to haul a B-3 from gig to gig.
   In fact, a large part of SGR’s budget is spent toting around instruments and equipment. It’s not like a self-contained singer-songwriter taking his guitar, harmonica and microphone on the road. When you’re a nine-piece rock-ska-punk-jazz extravaganza, complete with a horn section and that gargantuan Hammond, getting around is almost a military operation.
   "The (van) rental fees are hell on our budget," says David Rossi, founding member and drummer for SGR. "But the guys are so dedicated, it’s not that difficult."
   It looks like the schlepping has finally paid off. After five years of playing colleges, clubs and church halls, SGR celebrates the release of The Tenby Chase (Sonance Records), with a rousing concert and dance party May 19 at the Trocadero in Philadelphia. SGR will cross the Delaware and come north to Trenton with a June 1 performance at Kat Man Du. The band’s sound is the perfect kick-off to summer. Mr. Rossi says they’ll also be playing a series of dates at the Jersey shore throughout June, July and August.
   From an original punk-ska garage band sound — Green Day meets the Mighty Mighty Bosstones — SGR found themselves evolving into a blend of new and old styles, but always upbeat and very musical. There’s the Jersey attitude of the E-Street Band, the hyper-kinetics of English ska bands like Madness, the Specials and the English Beat mixed with the "chops" of Earth, Wind and Fire’s Phenix Horns or even early Chicago.
   Mr. Rossi likes the latter comparison, but notes, "That’s pre-schmaltz, pre-Pete Cetera Chicago, back in their ‘Make Me Smile’ days. In fact, we do that in our shows. Old Chicago (songs) are really musical and they’re not given the attention they should get. So we’re out here fighting the good fight for the music."
   Original members Jeff Cressman, John Butts, Frankie C. and Mr. Rossi met at Eastern High School in Voorhees. The name came about when they entered a local battle-of-the-bands contest and one of the guys suggested "Smokin’ Glass Richard."
   "We didn’t know what it meant but it was kind of catchy," Mr. Rossi says. "We submitted our application but the high-school administrators objected to the word ‘smokin" in our name. So we shortened it to SGR. We won the contest, treated ourselves to a huge meal with the prize money and never bothered to change the name."
   Moving on to college at Rider and The College of New Jersey, the core group met some talented horn players and decided to expand its sound. Larry Butts, Pete Silipino, Dave Hunter and Bryan Havoc came onboard. That’s also when keyboardist Sean Hur joined the band and brought along his Hammond B-3.
   "We just kept evolving," Mr. Rossi says. "We were always really musical, but when we picked up these great musicians in the horn section, we kept going with that sound. A couple of the guys were music majors at TCNJ, and they’re great musicians, with so much training. We’re really lucky to have them. Our trombone and trumpet players have had a lot of other offers, but we got them first."
   A breakneck cover of the Police’s "So Lonely" shows off the tightness of the horn section, as well as Frankie C’s biting vocals and Mr. Rossi’s supple, muscular drumming.
   "When you cover a band like the Police, you have to put a lot of work into it because they’re such a good band. We tried to make it respectful but also something that reflects our style," Mr. Rossi says.
   "Overlord" emphasizes another side of the band, opening with a heavy metal-sounding organ solo à la early ’70s Deep Purple.
   "We’ve been doing ‘Overlord’ for about five years," Mr. Rossi says. "It’s a real pick-me-up number in the live set. We usually only do it live, but we finally caved in and decided to record it."
   For the past few years, SGR toured up and down the East Coast, playing a total of about 600 concerts at colleges and all-ages shows. They became regular fixtures at Philadelphia’s Theater of Living Arts on South Street and landed appearances with the Vans Warped Tour in 2000 and 2001. The group caught the Philly music scene’s collective ear and in 2000 was voted "Top Local Group" by Philadelphia Magazine. Meanwhile, they recorded two independent releases, For the Crazy Indian and Livin’ the Good Life, which eventually got the attention of Philadelphia-based Sonance Records.
   "The record deal was huge for us," Mr. Rossi says. "Being invited to join Sonance was the ultimate compliment. It’s also a responsibility, like they’re saying ‘Now, let’s see how hard you can work.’ There’s this myth that once you get a record deal, everything is going to be great. But you have to tour to promote the record and work on new stuff constantly. So yes, it’s a great honor but also a huge challenge."
   Now that they have a recording deal, airplay on college stations and a CD in wider distribution, perhaps SGR will be able to afford some roadies to help haul that Hammond B-3. In an age of sampling and lip-syncing superstars, it’s nice to hear the real deal sometimes — musicians playing their hearts out on wind instruments and pre-computerized keyboards.
   "That’s what we’re going for, an authentic, very musical, very appealing sound," Mr. Rossi says. "When you listen to what’s on the radio now, a lot of the songs lack something musically. We want to be part of this wave of better bands coming out."
SGR celebrates the release of The Tenby Chase with an all-ages show at the Trocadero, 10th and Arch
streets, Philadelphia, May 19, 3 p.m. Tickets cost $10. For information, call (215) 922-5483; and at Kat Man
Du, 50 Riverview Executive Park, Trenton, June 1, 10 p.m. Ticket prices TBA. For information, call (609) 393-7300.
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