NEW ENGLAND drummer Hirsh Gardner talks about being produced by Paul Stanley, touring with KISS and much more
The hard rock band NEW ENGLAND was formed in 1976 in the Boston area (of course!!) and rose to top 40 status on the heels of their single “DON’T EVER WANNA LOSE YA”. Paul Stanley (KISS) and Mike Stone (Queen) produced their self-titled debut album and the band toured extensively and released two subsequent albums, both different in their own way. After the band’s breakup all of the members went on to continue working in music, releasing solo albums and playing in bands like Alcatrazz. Drummer Hirsh Gardner turned a love of the studio into a new professional venture and recently talked with us about what he’s up to and of course about the great late 70s!! Read on………..
Q: Let’s go all the way back…you run a successful studio/production business and have played all your life…how was your childhood growing up and how did you get to be involved in music?
A: I think my earliest introduction to music was watching Mahalia Jackson on Sunday afternoons on TV. It was a gospel show from Detroit. They had the most incredible musicians, amazing singers…people singin’ and dancin’…drummers pounding away. I just loved that stuff. Then I saw the Gene Krupa story with Sal Mineo. Man I was hooked. Gene was killin’ it…I knew then that I wanted to be a drummer. I guess from there like most of us from that era, The Ed Sullivan Show, Beatles, Stones, Jerry and the Pacemakers, The Animals…all that music had such a profound effect on our generation.
From there I started playing in bands in my hometown Toronto. I would sneak out at night and hang out in Yorkville Village. It was like Greenwich Village in New York. Some of my peers back then were Joni Mitchell, Steven Stills, Gordon Lightfoot, David Clayton Thomas…most of those folks were older and welcomed in the new kid. I got hooked up with a band that played The Purple Onion in The Village called The Blues Faction. It was an amazing time. After the clubs would close we’d have jam sessions that would last til morning and then I’d head back to North York and go to school. I was totally dazed and confused if you know what I mean.
Q: We heard you attended Berklee College of Music….what was that like ?, did you get to know a lot of people you later met along the path of rock and roll like Frank from Angel?
A: Berklee was an amazing experience. I was thrust into a musical environment with the very best of the best in musical talent. It was quite intimidating. I immediately went for my comfort zone and put together bands that I could go out and gig with. The first was a jazz trio with a pianist, Pat Marks, she was an amazing artist. The bass player was Matt… something…great guy, played upright and was a mother!!! I then joined a band with Steve Grimm (later of Bad Boy) and Peter Stahl. Peter was in Steven Tyler’s first band Chain Reaction. That’s how we all got to know each…Tyler, Perry et al. We would gig with them back then at places like KKKKaty’s and the Lakeview Ballroom. I can’t tell you how much of an influence Joey Kramer was. I was blown away with his power and simplicity. It was at that point I turned my sticks around and became a butt end guy. Later on as a Ludwig endorsee, Bill Ludwig made me the first pair of butt end sticks that I know of!!! Loud and hard…that was the rule!
Q: Can you tell us your version of how your band Fatback transitioned to Target and then finally to New England? We realize that’s a hunk of a story…
A: Perfect question as it dovetails with the Berkshire story. Towards the end of my Berklee stint I met Jimmy Waldo at club that his band Fatback was playing at. These guys were out there…no guitar player, a bass player playing leads and Jimmy just hauling ass on everything that had a keyboard on it. Hammond B3, Melotrons, Rhodes pianos…good god, he took up the whole stage. So I come to find out that they weren’t happy with their current drummer-he’s out, Hirsh is in. We played together for a while with this combo and then the next casualty was the bass player. In comes Mr. Shea. At that point it was evident that we needed a guitar player if we were looking to be at all commercial so John (Fannon, guitar, vocals) is now in the band.
We played together for quite some time as Target, then Jack…kept changing the name so we could get gigs (just kidding). We toured everywhere, east coast, mid-west, you name it we played there. But…it was just not happening. In the end we all parted ways and moved onto the next chapter in our musical careers.
The New England story began in “76”. John and I had been in touch and we decided to record a couple of his tunes at Intermedia Studio in Boston. We then invited Jimmy and Gary to play on the tracks and the union was now complete. From “77” through “79’ we rehearsed just about every day with the thought “the next gig we do will be at Madison Square Garden”…and it turns out that it was…not literally, but the next GIGS were a national tour of which one of our stops was THE GARDEN.
Q: New England really made some amazing music and it stands the test of time, P.U.N.K. and songs like that sound as good today as they did years ago, what memories do you have of making that first album and having Paul Stanley around during production?
A: So many memories…I was having a little trouble getting the verse harmonies in tune on “Don’t Ever Wanna Lose Ya”. After several tries and Paul Stanley telling me I was flat or sharp, or do it again, rhythmically its off…I said, “hey Paul, you come in and sing the part. So he did. That’s actually Paul singing the verse harmonies on Don’t Ever Wanna Lose Ya.
We would often party at the Rainbow in LA after our sessions. It was pretty cool sitting there with Paul, Bill Aucoin, Mike Stone…and the other celebs that would join us. I’m not so much the “oh wow I sat with so-and-so” type person but it certainly made you feel like you were part of that crowd. Hopefully some of the vibe made it onto our record.
We were very bad on the road, very mischievous. One night while traveling in our tour bus we decided to open the roof canopy of the bus and shoot fireworks at our equipment truck that was traveling behind us. Unfortunately we set some fires on the interstate and unfortunately the cops pulled us over and unfortunately we were in Arkansas. Fortunately they let us go several hours later after paying a huge fine. There were many such stories…
Q: You guys were shopping around different management places before settling on Bill Aucoin who is of course famous for KISS and Billy Idol among others. At that point what attracted you to Aucoin management and do you think that by and large they did a good job with you?
A: We were brought to Aucoin by a former manager (who by the way ended up in jail). The question can be answered on so many different levels but for the most part it was a great thing. We auditioned for our first record deal with several labels. Clive Davis came to Boston to see us in our rehearsal studio, Chris Wright from Chrysalis records came, Al Coury…Bill Aucoin was huge at that point and could get any of the major players to come and see us. Bill also got us with Mike Stone, producer/engineer just off the Queen Bohemian Rhapsody sessions. So you see, we were escalated right to the top with Bill at the helm. For all that it was great…. BUT, we were also involved with the manager of KISS. At that time they were faltering with the four solo albums not selling well. Did they demand that Bill spend his time with them? Don’t know…that’s why I say your question can be answered on so many different levels. Soon after New England broke up, and KISS left Bill who then had tremendous success with Billy Idol.
Bill recently passed away. I miss him. I met with him a few times over the years and he was always so gracious and giving of himself. I really think that had things been a little different, just a little nip and tuck here and there, Bill would have guided us to the top.
Q: Once a band becomes associated with KISS it tends to follow you your entire life good or bad depending on how you feel about it. I can say this with all due respect since they’re one of my favorite bands but your band was starting to take off and KISS was starting to fall apart at the time. They were in a transitional period and really on a comeback of sorts after an absence and the solo albums. Can you tell us what it was like playing on the DYNASTY tour with KISS and being around the guys?
A: The KISS tour was huge for us. It put us in front of 10’s of thousands of people every night, created a situation through record sales where we were the number 1 most added album in the country and gave us a Top 40 hit Single. And yes, the KISS association followed us but it’s interesting now to read some of the comments that people still make about the band on CD Baby, Amazon and other sites…the band certainly held its own, even opening for the mighty KISS sisters !!!
Q: New England played in front of some very large audiences and did both headlining gigs and support tours? Gary told us you played some shows with our hometown boys Cheap Trick and you also even played some gigs with the RAMONES….Do any particular moments or tour alliances stand out to you after all these years?
A: Man…so many moments!!! Playing with Rush and having to go on stage knowing Neil Peart would be playing soon…dressing up as a Viking and a horse and going on stage in the middle of an Outlaws show chasing Huey around the stage…sitting in a limo as a Ludwig drum endorsee with Carmine Appice, Vinnie Appice, Ginger Baker, Alan White and Bill Ludwig III…Pontiac Stadium in front of 80000, Madison Square Garden (talked to my Dad on the phone moments before the show-he said don’t be nervous, just do what you do), opening for the Ramones and getting spit on (and befriending Marky years later)…jeeze, I could go on forever.
Q: You not only played drums for the band but were responsible for a great deal of singing as well including lead vocals on occasion. Did you enjoy that end of performing and does it take a while to learn the foot and arm independence to do both at the same time?
A: Yeah…some songs are trickier than others but a lot of that co-ordination comes naturally. And yes, I really enjoy singing. I’d love to front my own band.
Q: The band started learning some new techniques and experimenting a bit on the next two albums, as a drummer and timekeeper how did you feel about the changes and songs going into the Explorer Suite album?
AL It was all a natural progression for us. The song Explorer Suite is one of my favs. We all loved the prog bands back then, although they weren’t called that back then. Yes, King Crimson, 10cc…so to do songs with a little more sophistication was challenging and musically gratifying for all of us.
Q: You guys worked with Todd Rundgren on the last album and you recorded a solo album that people ought to check out. Did all of that time in New England sort of lead you into this new career you have in producing and engineering?
A: I was always interested in producing. The engineering part of came as a necessity…I was alone in the studio a lot so I had to plug in all this stuff myself.
The solo album came about as I was always writing songs and song ideas, lyrics etc. I recorded one song as an experiment…just to see if I could play all the instruments and see how good or crappy it would sound. At that time my partner at GB Music, my record company, was dealing with the Japanese record label Marquee Avalon. Gary sent them that track and they immediately made me an offer (that I couldn’t refuse) to do an album. So over the next 8-9 months I wrote and recorded “WASTELAND FOR BROKEN HEARTS” which was released on the Japanese label, on MTM in Europe and on GB Music in the States. For me it was experimental to see if I could actually do the whole damn thing…I think there are some good moments on the CD!!!
Q: You worked with one of our favorite, yet troubled guitar players Vinnie Vincent in his pre-KISS band Warrior. Can you tell us a little about how that was for you personally and what that period of your life was like?
A: Vinnie…hmmm. Talented, great singer, great songwriter, great guitar player. And there you go!!!
Q: You’ve worked occasionally with the NEW ENGLAND guys over the years and recently played with singer John Fannon at his solo shows….is it still a fun thing to be involved in playing that material and will there be any further action or developments with the band or future releases or shows? We’re trying to push for an ANGEL reunion can we also push for a reunited NEW ENGLAND to join the fray????
A: We’ve done a couple of re-union shows that were sensational. I think the best part of it for me was that my daughters got to see me play with the band. Obviously they had heard about this band and all that we had accomplished so it was a treat for me to have them see us live.
We will probably play again at some point…as of right now we don’t have anything in the works but the idea is bubbling I’m sure.
Q: Thank you for agreeing to do this Hirsh….is there anything else you’re working on or anything to promote? Anything you’d like to say to the fans who’ve been following your career all these years?
A: Well, the song is certainly not over yet!!! I continue to produce in my two studios and do a lot of mastering of projects released on my label GB Music. We have several releases…Scott Kempner’s Tenement Angels, 3 Elliott Murphy releases coming up, and the Willie Nile CD’s (his last two) that I have produced and mixed. Oh!!! I’m working with a fabulous new artist Josef Hedinger (check him out on youtube).
So to the fans…Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!!!! The kind words, emails, comments on line, letters, mean more to me than I can express. Even this interview after all these years is a pleasure and lends credence to a band that affected so many people in a positive way. Music is therapy…and if I’ve played a part in making someone’s moment through my music then I’ve done something good for that someone.