Doug: Hi, there Sal. I just want to start off by thanking for for talking to me...and thank you for entertaining me & my friends for the better part of 25 years!
Sal: I am totally stunned at the attention this thing has drawn. I was very amused with all the blog entries. Absolutely hysterical!
Doug: Thanks Sal, I'm so happy to find that you have a sense of humor about "Jesus is a Friend of Mine" and your former band, "Sonseed". I have so many questions, I hardly know where to start!
Sal: I would love to give you the whole "Sonseed" saga.
Doug: Sal, you don't know how long I've wanted to hear those words! Okay, first of all, what was the name of the TV show you guys were on? I get the feeling it was some cable access show...
Sal: The name of that TV show was "The First Estate". It used to air on WNBC (channel 4 in NY) on Sunday mornings at 11AM. It dealt with religious issues and , yes, was multi-denominational. The host was Dr. Russell Barber. They had never had a musical act on before; usually priests or rabbis discussing what ever the hot topic of the day was. They weren't quite sure how to shoot us or how it was going to work out. By the way, we had no say about what songs were going to be taped for air. "Jesus is a Friend of Mine" was selected by Dr. Barber because it was different.Doug: Yes I grew up watching WNBC - I actually remember that show. There were always those weird Sunday-morning religious shows with strange names like "The First Estate" or "Lamp Unto My Feet." The titles seemed scary to me, especially "Sunday Mass for Shut-Ins" - it sounded like hostages were being held or something. I'm glad that Dr. Barber selected "Jesus is a Friend of Mine", because not only is it the best song on the album, it's one of the few where you actually do lead vocals!
Sal: I wrote the song in about 10 minutes. We were getting ready to record the album and I was not singing any of the songs initially selected for it. I thought, "Damn, if I want to get to sing on this record I'd better write something". The rock n' roll portion of the group (guitarist Frank Franco and drummer Nick Sciarra) liked the song - so I was in.
Doug: Wow. That's amazing. To think, if you didn't write "Jesus is a Friend of Mine" there would be a lot less happier people in the world! I think another outstanding track on the album is the cover of "Oh Happy Day". I am not a religious person at all, but somehow that song makes me wanna believe.
Sal: Our white-boy-R&B version of "Oh Happy Day" was not part of the original session but decided upon at the last minute. Both vocals, by the way, ("Jesus.." and "Happy Day") one take! Hoo-wee!
Doug: One take? I'm impressed! Oh, before I forget - what was "Salvation Army" and "Punch & Judaism"- were they other topics coming up on "The First Estate"?Sal: Yes. First there was an officer from the S.A. touting their accomplishments and asking for money. "Punch and Judaism" referred to this troupe of puppeteers who used puppets dressed like Bible characters to teach moral and biblical lessons. Sort of like "Godspell" on strings. It was interesting but it got a little creepy after a while.
Doug: Okay, I need to know about the band. Did I match everybody's name up correctly? I know I got you, Frank and Nick correct, but what about "Sleepy" - is that guy Brother John? What about the two back up ladies? We all totally love the woman in the glasses who I called "Inez" - Is that Melody?
Sal: It sure is. And a real sweetheart as was the other older woman Anne Lessing. "Sleepy" was indeed Brother John.Doug: And "Groovy Guy" is ________?
Sal: Wait for it.....wait....Jim Archer.Doug: Now I can sleep at nights! So how did you all get together? Did you belong to the same church in Brooklyn? Were you guys all Catholic? With all those Italian names...Sal: Sheer coincidence. Joseph Ciccone was the one who got us all together. He was involved with his church (Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Brooklyn) and was put in charge of the music for some special ceremony. He called in all his markers and Frank, Nick, Patricia, Anne, Karen and Jimmy Archer and myself (and a few others) met for the first time and rehearsed for this special Mass. It went so well and we got along so well before too long we met once a week at varied locations to hang out. Being Born Again Christians at the time there was usually a bit of praying going on. Someone suggested we form a group (Frank, Nick, Steve and myself had been in various bands for years, so we knew what was involved) and travel to different churches playing Rock-type versions of church songs. We would pass the hat for donations. With about 20 members originally we weren't going to make any money, so we pooled our income to buy equipment and pay for gas. We became pretty popular, selling out church halls and college lunch rooms all over Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island. Eventually more and more original music became part of our shows.
Doug: Was there only one album? And how long did you all stay together?
Sal: The album came about because people wanted something to take home with them after the concerts. Joe Ciccone, who at the time was an Art Director for Dancer-Fitzgerald Ad Agency designed the album cover as well as the "Sonseed" logo (with the cross inside the heart) which we had been putting on tee-shirts for years. I was not involved in much of the album other than playing and singing on it. I have no idea how many were printed or sold but it must have been quite a few. I believe I still have five or six of them un-opened. We were together from the late 70's until around 1983. It got to be a lot of work. It was impossible to replace departed members as we couldn't offer any money, just prayerful support (which, as you can guess, didn't buy much even then). It was simply too much for the few members we had left. We booked Xavarian HS auditorium for a huge farewell concert. We charged $1 just so we could have an idea how many people would show up. We sold out in two hours so we added a matinee. I do have the original VHS recording of that concert. We really were something.Doug: I may need to borrow that VHS tape! Joe's logo is brilliant. Okay, I need to know. Do you keep in touch with any of the other band members? Do you have any idea what they are up to now? I hope they're all still around.
Sal: One, unfortunately, is not. Our dear friend Nick Sciarra passed way around 15 years ago. Frank Franco is now a grandpa and is a computer programmer. He also still plays guitar in an oldies band (Reparata and the Dell Rons I believe). Joe Ciccone left the ad game some time ago and became a Paulist priest. Last I heard he was stationed at Clemson University.
Doug: I'm sorry to hear about Nick. What about the organist lady?
Sal: Oh yeah, and Patricia Costagliola. We were married from 1978 to 1989 (no kids, thank God). After Sonseed Frank, Nick and myself became Patricia's back up band as we continued for the next few years playing her original inspirational music. Although we didn't do the "married" thing well we always got along professionally. Patricia recorded two albums "Walk Forward" and "Give Your Love Away" which were pretty amazing. I can't believe she didn't "make it". She is now a Professor at The University of Washington (Doctor Patricia Costa) and is doing well.
Doug: Wow - you married the organist! Who knew? So since "Sonseed" has disbanded you've done a lot of musical theater. I expected to see "Godspell" and "Jesus Christ Superstar" on your resume, but I actually found shows that I like - "Cabaret" and "Annie" are among my alltime faves. Are you acting full time? Are you in a new show at the moment?
Sal: Funny you mention Godspell. From 1972 to 2000 I've been in 13 different local productions of it totalling around 150 performances. I've done 85 shows, all locally (being a big fish in a small pond isn't so bad!). I was John Adams in "1776", the Engineer in "Miss Saigon" and the Baker 3 different times in "Into the Woods". I'm currently playing Charlemagne in "Pippin" which opens mid-September. All this while working full- time for Verizon as a field tech and playing off-weekends in a 60's-50's rock band. Yep, we manage to stay pretty busy.Doug: Is there anything you'd like to say to any old or new fans out there. You know performance artist/singer/actress Ann Magnuson once commented that your skin was "flawless".
Sal: In case anyone's interested, I'm 56 years old now. A little heavier and a little thinner up top. But my skin is still flawless.Doug: And you still have that bad boy attitude. Are currently single?
Sal: Sorry. I met a beautiful young lady doing "Pippin" 19 years ago. She's 14 years younger than me but let's face it; with all the gay guys hanging around the theater there wasn't much competition. Donna and I were married in 1991 and have two lovely, talented children.
Doug: See how we gays help bring people together! I met my partner John around the same time you met your wife and we have two adorable mutts. Not married yet, though. :)
Sal: Hey, anyone that names a Russ Meyer film in their top 10 (Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill)! is OK in my book!
Doug: Just the fact that you know about Russ and Pussycat will impress a lot of my readers! Be well, and thanks so much again for being a good sport. I still can't believe that we connected!