The Road Goes On
40 years after their hit single "Back When My Hair Was Short" rocketed to the Top 10 in AM radio markets around the country -
Gunhill Road is back.
In November, 2013, the trio - Glenn Leopold, Steve Goldrich and Paul Reisch (who replaced original Gil Roman in the summer of 1973) – returned to the studio to work on the long-awaited third recording, a 19-track CD due for release sometime in 2014.
The band was formed in Mount Vernon, N.Y. in the late 1960s, and first performed at New York’s premier club The Bitter End. Soon after, they began to open for many of the top acts of the time, and were considered one of the best opening acts in the business.
They shared the stage with such well-known and diverse names as George Carlin, Carly Simon, Lily Tomlin, Kris Kristofferson, Robert Klein, Jim Croce, Bette Midler, Poco, Harry Chapin, John Sebastian, Cheech and Chong, Gordon Lightfoot, Soupy Sales, Patti Smith, Blood, Sweat & Tears, John Sebastian, Chick Corea, Mongo Santamaria, The Carpenters, Bill Haley and the Comets, Ace Trucking Company, Andy Kaufman, Ry Cooder, Brownsville Station, John Prine, It’s a Beautiful Day, Dr Hook ,The Persuasions, Charlie Daniels, Mel Tillis, Martin Mull, Livingston Taylor, John Hartford, and Zippy the Chimp (animal acts are always the toughest to upstage).
Managed by the legendary Paul Colby, the owner of The Bitter End, Gunhill Road recorded two albums in the early 1970s. Their debut LP, "First Stop," was released on Mercury Records in 1971 under the name Gun Hill Road. (In fact, the final track on the album is a song called "Gun Hill Road.") Despite minimal promotion by the record label, the album got a bit of FM airplay, most notably the first single, "42nd Street."
Within just a few months of "First Stop"'s release, Gunhill Road was off Mercury and on the move, this time to to Kama Sutra Records, a subsidiary of Buddah Records. They headed to Los Angeles to begin recording their next LP with country singer Kenny Rogers at the helm as producer. Recording in both Torrance, California, and New York, the band laid down 10 tracks of melodic folk pop filled with strong lyrics and great harmonies. Shortly after its release, the band was back in the studio for a few changes and additions that would alter the course of Gunhill Road's career..
To facilitate these changes, Neil Bogart, head of Buddah Records, brought in producers Kenny Kerner and Richie Wise (who were instrumental in the discovery of the band KISS.) to supervise the recording of the new version of BWMHWS, as well as three other tunes -- more uptempo versions of "Sailing" and "42nd Street" and a new Leopold song, "Mr. Keyboards," with rollicking piano work by Steve Goldrich.
Sure enough, the new "Back When My Hair Was Short" was released as a single and promoted and Bogart's prediction of a hit proved true.
The revised "Gunhill Road" album, with the four Kerner/Wise -produced songs added, was re-released -- making the first version of the album, with its different versions of "Back When My Hair Was Short," "Sailing", and "42nd Steeet" a collector's item (not to mention the printed lyrics insert that wasn't included in the second release.)"
During the summer of 1973, “Back When My Hair Was Short” cracked the Top 40 of all three major trade publications (Billboard, Record World and Cash Box, reaching the mid 20s on the latter two), made the Top 10 in several different AM radio markets, peaking at different times in different regions throughout the U.S. This unusual trend kept the song from charting higher nationally since it was charting in different places at different times.
The band made the most of their sudden fame, augmenting their frequent tour stops with appearances on such TV shows as American Bandstand" with Dick Clark and "Midnight Special" with Don Kirschner.
Later that summer, Paul Reisch took over on bass/guitar and background vocals from Gil Roman, who had been the lead singer on "Back When My Hair Was Short." The new trio continued to tour into the mid '70s. The follow-up single "Ford DeSoto Cadillac," a high-energy 50s-type pop song didn't chart, and one more single, a re-recording of "She Made A Man Out Of Me" from the second album was released at the end of 1973, but failed to make inroads on the charts.
By the mid 1970s, it was time to move on and the members of Gunhill Road went their own ways, their friendships intact. Leopold headed west to California and has enjoyed a successful career writing scripts and music for television. Goldrich stayed in New York and joined his father’s business. Reisch, after spending time in Colorado, returned to New York as well, where he started his own business but also continued to play music professionally.
Gunhill Road was, for several decades, just a great memory -- for its members, for its friends, and for its fans that
loved -- and still love-- their music. "Back When My Hair Was Short" continues to get airplay on the "oldies" stations
and, in fact, is in the rotation on SiriusXM's "70s on 7" channel.
Back On Track...
Wounded Bird Records released a newly mastered version of the CD Gunhill Road, which included all of the songs that had appeared on both versions of the Kama Sutra LP (meaning both the original and revised versions of "Back When My Hair Was Short," "42nd Street" and "Sailing") as well as "We Can't Ride The Roller Coaster Anymore" (the non-album track which was the B-side to the 45 version of "Back When My Hair Was Short") and "Ford DeSoto Cadillac."
Coincidentally, just two weeks after the release of this CD, the trio of Leopold, Goldrich and Reisch took the stage together for the first time in 35 years as part of the star-studded lineup of a benefit concert for Paul Colby. The Montclair, N.J. concert event on November 4, 2011, was part of the series staged by the Outpost in the Burbs, with the proceeds going to benefit local humanitarian organizations. Also on the bill that night were such luminaries as Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary, Garland Jeffreys, James Maddock, and Happy Traum, in recognition of the major role played by Colby in the New York music scene.
The show was hosted by legendary WNEW-FM DJ Pete Fornatale in what would be one of his last appearances in such a role. Fornatale, a gentleman who had given nearly every act on that stage new generations of listeners by playing their music over the years, passed away in April 2012. The combination of the enthusiastic crowd reception and the enjoyment the band members got out of playing together again led to discussions over the next two years about heading back into the studio to record a long-overdue third full-length CD.
The Next Stop
Those discussions became reality in the fall/winter of 2013 when Leopold, Goldrich and Reisch, along with several other musician friends, spent several weeks at Sweatshop Studios in Katonah, New York, laying down tracks for 19 songs. Some came from the coffers of what would have been Gunhill Road's third album in the 1970s. Some were tunes written by Leopold in the intervening years. And, for the first time, a few of Goldrich's original tunes have also become part of the Gunhill Road oeuvre.
The yet-to-be-titled CD is expected to be released in 2014.
Also in production is a documentary film chronicling the life of the band. It will include clips from the Montclair concert, a peek at rehearsal and recording of the new CD, and interviews with band members and friends about the past, present and future of Gunhill Road. The film is currently in work by A2A Productions, LLC.
In February. 2014, Universal Music digitized and released GUNHILL ROAD: FIRST STOP as a digital download. Finally available after 43 years, Gunhill Road's maiden effort can be ordered from iTunes or Amazon.
*A Bit of Trivia
Contrary to some popular belief, the band members are not from the Bronx, where the thoroughfare Gun Hill Road (also spelled Gunhill Road) is located. Rather, the name was chosen randomly from a subway stop they'd ride through during their frequent trips between their Mount Vernon homes and New York City. "Location" names were popular during that era -- think Chicago, for example -- and for a band that needed a name in a hurry, that one seemed as good as any.