I’m not big into tribute bands, but when I read that the last concert of the season on the Guilford Green was an homage to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, we packed up the cooler and chairs and headed over to join our friends and another several hundred people on a beautiful late summer evening, singing along and dancing to the music that had such a huge impact on our younger selves.
Also moving to the beat were dozens of adorable little kids and their parents for whom the songs had no historical or nostalgic context. But it was amazing to read the lips of most of the “older” crowd and realize how many of us that listened to this music in high school could still remember every word.
Tony Renzoni, who grew up in Waterbury and lives in Branford, is one of those Baby Boomers for whom music of our generation is so important that listening to it, reading about it, writing about it, and collecting vinyl records (he has more than 10,000!) and other memorabilia is one of his biggest passions.
And we are lucky that he just compiled his vast research in words and photographs, and published his first book—Connecticut Rock ‘n’ Roll: A History that pays particular tribute to the wealth of musicians who lived and performed in our own small New England state.
Q. How long have you been doing the research for this book?
A. I’ve probably been focusing on the book for about five years. I’ve been researching rock ’n roll forever, but it wasn’t until my wife and daughter said, “Why don’t you write a book? You have all this information” that I started [the project]. The first proposal I wrote was to Arcadia Publishing in South Carolina. They had no idea about Connecticut rock ‘n roll. I enlightened them to all these incredible artists. They thought this was a great idea and published it!
Q. How did you get so interested in rock ’n roll—particularly the Connecticut scene?
A. My older brother Vincent inspired me and got me into it early on. It was the era of Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, some R&B groups. It fascinated me. He’d play side A, but always have me listen to side B, which no one listened to, so I got to hear all this great music. My older sister Marie would be on Connecticut Bandstand, and I’d see her dancing across the screen in black and white. Music was always in the foreground or background.
Q. What were your goals for the book?
A: First, to pay tribute to all these Connecticut artists who had achieved fame on an international, regional or local level and had been neglected by rock ’n roll historians. And I didn’t just want to list them, like an encyclopedia. I wanted to tell a story I knew—bring back memories for people. And I wanted people outside Connecticut and in Europe to relate to this book.
Second, to highlight as many cultural events as I could in the state. For example, there’s a tribute to Joe Sia in the book. He was a world-renowned rock photographer who shot Woodstock. I went to school with him at Sacred Heart University—he lived in Fairfield. He took the famous photo of Jim Morrison being arrested on stage at the New Haven Coliseum.
It was very heartening and complimentary when I heard from Christine Ohlman, Denis Dunaway (cofounder of the Alice Cooper band), and Ken Evans (of The Fifth Estate) their delight in the book. That made me feel good. I knew I was hitting something.
Q. Who are some of the local rock ’n roll legends spanning more than 60 years in the book?
A. The most famous doo-wop song ever made was recorded in the basement of St. Bernadette’s Church in New Haven: The Five Satins’ “In the Still of the Night.” The Ballads were formed as a vocal harmony group in 1955 while attending Branford High. Bob Dylan performed at the Indian Neck Folk Festival in 1961 when he was a relatively unknown teenager. The Carpenters (Karen and Richard) were both born and raised in New Haven. Christine Ohlman lives in Northford and continues to play everywhere...and, most recently, Nick Fradiani of Guilford, the 2015 winner of American Idol.
Q. People say it’s the music we listen to when we’re young, particularly as teenagers, that most influences us and stays with us throughout our lifetimes. Do you agree?
A. Yes, it’s incredible how many people formed their musical tastes in high school. Record stores were after-school hangouts, a kind of oasis for teenagers, a place they’d go and discuss music and their crises of the time. Today, a certain song takes me back to high school, I may have been going out with a girl or breaking up with a girl. It was more likely she was breaking up with me! And the song stays with you, a forever thing, it’s really amazing.
Q. Why have you continued to amass and listen to vinyl records with new technologies so available, and why do you think so many young people are now following suit?
A. Some of the bands are coming back with vinyl again. And a purist will tell you nothing sounds better than vinyl. I’m very fussy with all this stuff, I can tell in the first 10 seconds if the song is a remake or the real McCoy. For me, nothing was more exciting than the sleeves. It wasn’t just their songs, but when a band came out with other albums, to look through the artwork, the lyrics. I’ve kept lots of old albums, and I keep collecting them.
Q. Who will this book appeal to?
A. Definitely people my age. It’s also something I want my daughter—she’s a professional harpist and professor—and other young people, to learn more about, to understand the history behind the music.
To me music is universal, no matter who you are, what your political views are, music brings us together. Especially times like now, it’s what we have in common.
Connecticut Rock ‘N’ Roll by Tony Renzoni (Arcadia /The History Press) is $21.99, softcover. It is at local bookstores including Branford Book & Card Shoppe, 1020 Main Street, Branford, and available online.
Upcoming book signings include:
Saturday, Sept. 9—Wesleyan R.J. Julia Bookstore, 413 Main Street, Middletown, 2 to 4 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 4—Hagaman Memorial Library, 227 Main Street, East Haven, 2 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 24—Exile On Main Street Record Store, 267 E. Main Street, Branford, 10 a.m to noon
Saturday, Dec. 2—Blackstone Memorial Library, 758 Main Street, Branford, 2 to 4 p.m.
Wednesday, Dec. 6—Acton Public Library, 60 Old Boston Post Road, Old Saybrook, 6:30 to 7:45 p.m.
For a complete and updated list of appearances, visit www.facebook.com/connecticutrocknroll.
Amy J. Barry is a Baby Boomer, who lives in Stony Creek with her husband and assorted pets. She writes reviews for Shore Publishing newspapers and is an expressive arts educator. Contact her at www.aimwrite-ct.net.