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DATE VENUE MAIN BAND SUPPORT SUPPORT AD TICKET PICTURES TAPE
November 4, 1971 Brown University, Sayles Hall Benefit Street Egg Brothers   YES      
March 11, 1972 Providence College, Student Union Benefit Street Toast   YES      

 

History of the band

information borrowed from courtesy of benefitstreetband,com

The life and times of The American Dream and Benefit Street 
The original four-man Dream
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L-R: Mike, Al, Rob, Dave
In the beginning, there was the American Dream – the dream where we were going to play in a band, be rock stars, and change the world with our music. Well, we fulfilled the first part of the dream – in two related bands, and most of us played in several others – and we bumped into but never became the other parts. But we were so close....

The band began as The Slithy Toves, after Lewis Carroll, founded in 1967 in Providence, RI, by lead guitarist Alan Silverman. Guitarist/lead singer Rob Carlson was the next to join, followed by drummer/lead singer Mike Parker and bassist/lead singer David Noyes Roberts. The Brown University-based group played dorm and fraternity parties and area clubs, where, said Rob Carlson, “one problem became immediately apparent: the name. While Lewis Carroll has a certain cachet on a college campus he is not well known in sleazy bars.” After being called “The Slimy Toads” once too often, the renamed American Dream cut a couple of covers for a single that became our and Bovi Records’ only release. ”Love Is a Beautiful Thing,” a Rascals cover, hit #8 in Providence. The initial pressing was 1,000 records, “but we even re-ordered another thousand,” noted Bob Bovi, owner of the label and Bovi’s Records & Music Stores and music manager of Bovi’s Tavern – a respected music club – where the band played. (Bob generously provided the record used for this album.) Both tracks were real crowd pleasers. “We recorded that on a four-track system in Utica, NY,” said Dave Roberts. ”The top voice in the background vocal stack is Debbie Edick, a young woman from Mike Parker's old high school who jumped at the chance to go on the road with the band because she had a huge crush on Mike - he seemed to have this effect on lots of 19-year-old girls. When it became clear that Mike wasn't buying what she was selling, and her college boyfriend showed up at one of our club gigs, she abruptly quit the band. I nearly became a castrato to cover her vocal parts.”
The American Dream in transition, 1969 at Brown
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L-R: Bill Barnes, Carl, Dave, Rob's head, Al's hat, Paul's back

 

The Dream's - and Bovi's only release
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Reached #8 on WICE, Providence, December, 1967
 

 

As our on- and off-campus following grew, the Dream introduced original material into their sets. We toured upstate New York with Parker’s friend, keyboardist Bill Bird, in 1968, and recorded two until-now unreleased tracks, “Bells of St. Stephen’s” and “Henry Hawthorne,” both written by Rob. But change was in the wind; Bill Bird remained in upstate New York when school began; and, according to Dave Roberts, “Mike Parker played with us through the summer of 1968, then went into the service to avoid the draft.” “’St. Stephen’s should have been their huge hit,” said keyboardist Paul Payton, who joined in the fall of ’68 along with drummer Bill Barnes, from Warwick, RI, who was half Native American. “Those chiming guitars and amazing harmonies made me love this band and want to be part of it.” But the new line-up didn’t have the same sound as the earlier version, and the Dream was over in May of 1969 with the departure of Barnes and guitarist Al Silverman. 
 
 
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With only two original members remaining, and learning of a Philadelphia-area group with the same name, the American Dream declared a fresh start as Benefit Street. The name came from “the hippest street in town,” which borders both Brown and Rhode Island School of Design, and has dozens of beautifully-restored colonial homes as well as off-campus student apartments. Rob Carlson brought two life-long friends from Westport, CT, into the fold: guitarist/vocalist Josh Barrett, then a student at Wesleyan in Middletown, CT; and drummer Tim Jackson, who had been in a college band in Ithaca, NY, with Larry Hoppen, later of Orleans and Buffalongo.  
   
 
This new line-up came with new energy, and Benefit Street affiliated with Jimmy Israeloff, co-owner of the successful Beacon Record Shops, who set up Barefoot Productions and became our manager and financier. The initial idea was for him to underwrite the release "Bells of St. Stephen's" and "Henry Hawthorne" as a follow-up 45. These two Rob Carlson originals were recorded at the same studio as the previous 45, and we were hoping a single release would get us better local bookings. However, Beacon Shops had just been bought by ABC Record & Tape Sales, and Jimmy saw an “in” to get the group an album on ABC. Unfortunately, that quest amounted to only endless frustration and no release. So did several other tries at a major label release throughout the band’s lifespan, including Capitol, Columbia and Buddah. Paul: “We were always a heartbreak away from a contract.

 

Benefit Street, Sir Morgan's Cove, Worcester, MA,
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1970: Maddie singing; Paul on keyboards. The crowd liked us; they let us live!
 

 

As fulltime musicians, we needed money, and thus continued to work the local “clubs and covers” circuit; but our desire to play original music and be more “progressive” made us a difficult fit. The situation came to a head with our “great awakening” during the week of the Woodstock festival in August, 1969, when we were fired for “not being ‘Louie Louie’ enough” from a top 40 club in Pawtucket, RI. Our “consolation prize” was “exile” to a two-week gig on Block Island, which turned out to be a magical place where the band awakened to “what made Benefit Street more than just a college band that thought it might take a crack at the big time,” explained Josh Barrett. “Rob Carlson’s songwriting was lyrical and clever, and we came to understand it was all about the music and not about flash and ego. We played and recorded together as a band with a high level of musicianship, and we listened to each other and responded to each other’s ideas.” (Rob also developed a life-long love of Block Island, and has published both a history book and a novel about it.)

Josh again: “Jimmy Israeloff really was a prince to us in many ways – and didn't he pay for all these recordings?” Rob: “He was a mensch of the first order and did us many a mitzvah.” Those mitzvahs included being a true friend and fan, “lending” us money for equipment and living expenses, and underwriting our recordings. Benefit Street’s first session, at Intermedia in Boston, MA, in October of ’69, came just weeks after the band formed. It showcased Rob’s “Gingerman” (a beautiful crowd-pleaser previously performed with the American Dream) and a re-worked “Henry Hawthorne.” Both songs were produced by Martin Mull, whose band Soup (one LP on Vanguard) occasionally shared equipment with the American Dream and Benefit Street. ”Gingerman” was a winner, but while “Henry II” was good, it was much more effective by the Dream. This helped to point the way for us to concentrate on our post-Block Island “musical enlightenment.”

 

Our second session, at Natural Sound in Maynard, MA, reflected the new direction, and several sessions at Aengus Studios in suburban Boston, recording home of the legendary Andy Pratt (“Avenging Annie”), yielded even better results, including the timeless Carlson original “Seven Years.” But in 1970, bassist Dave Roberts, who had committed a year to see if the band would “happen,” departed the group in favor of his new family and the group’s sound got a bit harder and bluesier when then-husband-and-wife team Carl and Maddie Armstrong came aboard. Prior to joining, Carl had played guitar on Wadsworth Mansion’s hit “Sweet Mary.” This six-piece line-up played on the rest of our studio recordings, all at Aengus.

benefitstreetwebsite/bluetoothVT1971-01.jpgDespite being unreleased, our recorded songs found local success, being played extensively by WBRU, Brown’s 20,000 watt progressive rock radio station. “That became a double-edged sword,” said Paul. “We increased our local fame and exposure for our original material, but no album was released. With no album, we couldn’t get on a national tour. But with so many songs on the radio, local club-owners thought we did have an album, and were thus too expensive to hire. As a result, we fell through some very high cracks.” Dave again: “Think about how tied up (down?) we were by radio and the record industry. How would it have worked out if the internet and related technologies had been available to us?” In hindsight, selective exposure and local releases might have been a more prudent course. Nonetheless, we still played concerts with many major artists (some a better fit than others) including Janis Joplin, Edgar Winter, Sam & Dave, Deep Purple, Buddy Miles, Rhinoceros, Firesign Theater and The Stooges. (More below.) We also played between the J. Geils Band and Manfred Mann Chapter III at 1970’s Woods of Dartmouth Festival, a high point – in several ways!

The group’s music continued to grow and develop in a series of successful engagements booked in upstate Vermont in 1970-71. That club scene appreciated original music and audiences even requested our original songs. Josh Barrett: “How lucky we were to have those Vermont gigs.” We even worked for honest club owners – Jimmy Conley of The Blue Tooth in Burlington and Sugarbush (pictured center with Paul, left, and other friendly Vermonters) and Gar Anderson of The Rusty Nail in Stowe – who became friends and fans as well as employers. And we had “adventures.” “I seem to recall Tim swathed up like Claude Rains as the Invisible Man after a skier landed on him,” Rob remembered. “Did we actually all go skinny dipping under a bubble at ten below zero? And was there actually a guy called Scumbag?” Paul: “Yes, a good guy – a friend of Carl and Maddie’s.” Bill Bird recalls: “In the summer of 1970, between semesters, I took a temporary church assignment up near the Canadian border, and the band all came to visit.  I can still remember the little old parishioners’ jaws dropping when this group of long-haired hippie freaks walked in, especially Josh – long-haired bearded Jewish guy who looked a lot like the picture on the church wall.  Some must have sworn it was the Second Coming!”  

 

This is a good place to give special thanks to our two road managers. John Cooney, now a lawyer in Washington, DC, spent the summer between graduating from Brown and law school keeping us alive and well., mostly on our Vermont excursions. (John has been married for many years to Lisa Kimball, Rob’s former wife.) First keyboardist Bill Bird went to theology school in Boston and became our “roadie for lots of gigs almost every weekend – Boston College with Grand Funk Railroad, Bucknell University, Skidmore at the Casino in Saratoga, jobs with J. Geils, B.B. King, Firesign Theater [Paul: “Not many – if any – other bands can say they opened for Firesign!”], several outdoor concerts, a bunch of bars.  I would drive the truck and schlep gear, set up and be the sound guy. As I recall, we continued to do the weekend roadie/groupie thing through the next school year.”  More about Bill below.
 
          
Despite the good times, the usual things that plagued unsigned bands, like lack of money, kept closing in on us. And Josh left the band due to family issues in the summer of 1971. He was replaced by Leo Genereux of Pawtucket, RI, a talented right-hander with a unique style and tuning, playing left-handed with strings tuned upside-down in an open E chord, often resulting in an unusual lead style, frequently played in the middle register. (Self-taught, Leo originally tuned to an open E-flat!) Again, the band’s sound shifted, and although Benefit Street kept working clubs and concerts, the original dream – an album of our original songs, essentially this one – never came to pass. After September, 1971, we continued with five members when Paul departed and wasn’t replaced; and, tiring of the clubs-and-covers scene, Benefit Street came to its final stop sign in late 1972.
                      
Post-Benefit Street, many different roads were followed, yet many intertwined throughout our lives. Upon leaving The American Dream, Mike Parker’s Army stint earned him Military Policeman of the Year in 1970 – “I suspect because of my initials.” After the service, he graduated from Miami of Ohio and played in a band called Avalanche with Al Silverman. He was a golf pro in Florida, then worked for Sports Illustrated in Chicago, LA and New York, became a publisher and eventually an investment banker now living in Connecticut.  In one of those "intertwinings," in 2011 and 2012, Mike joined the new group, "Rob Carlson & Benefit Street," on-stage at two Connecticut venues to sing his original harmony vocals on "The Bells of St. Stephen's." "They were experiences we all hope to repeat," says Paul, "since the vocal blend was still outstanding!"
                         
 
First keyboardist Bill Bird was a minister for several years, and is “married to Mike's sister Pam and have been for 15 years in August [2010].  I work for the New York State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities managing a staff that relates to 85 non-profit agencies that provide services for us to people with developmental disabilities in central NY.  Pam and I went to hear Rob Carlson and his group [Modern Man] in Saratoga a few years ago. I also helped officiate at Rob’s wedding to Lisa Kimball in Westport." Bill continues: "Many years ago, when I was just past the preacher stage of my life, I took a date to see Robin Lane and the Chartbusters at Hamilton College, not knowing that Tim Jackson was her drummer.  As we watched the show, the drummer's style really caught my eye (and memory) and I realized it was Tim.  I hung out to catch him after the show (much to my date's embarrassment; she was sure I was going to look like an idiot), and when Tim came out it took him about 2 seconds to recognize me. It was great reunion!  We (my date and I – she was totally amazed) took him out to some of the local dives in Utica and had a great time.” 
 
               
Long-time recording engineer and producer Alan Silverman now runs Arf Mastering in New York, and, according to Rob, “is one of America's better mastering engineers.” Before starting Arf, Al engineered at Electric Lady and A&R, two of New York’s foremost studios. Involved with over 40 Grammy-nominated albums, his credits include work with Patricia Barber, Judy Collins (for whom he also produced), Shawn Colvin, Norah Jones, Chaka Khan, The Kinks, Earl Klugh, Medeski Martin & Wood, Dolly Parton, Cheap Trick, and Bebo Valdes (five-time Grammy winner), as well as mastering Rob’s solo album, "Pieces of Paradise," and the new Rob Carlson & Benefit Street's debut CD. He also teaches at NYU.  
 
          
Dave Roberts left music, briefly worked at Beacon Shops, then went on to graduate from Harvard Business School and have a large family and a very successful corporate and entrepreneurial career. After HBS, he joined Bain and Company, the major consultancy, in which he was a business and golfing partner of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who is “still a personal friend.” Dave adds: “Most interesting [thing in my time at Bain] was the 3 ½ years I lived in Tokyo launching and running the Asian business.” He currently lives in Colorado where [as of 2010] he’s launching two new digital ventures.  Their websites are at the bottom of this page.                    

Josh Barrett still sings and plays guitar. He's in an eight-piece blues and swing band with his wife, Julie Adams (who sings in the house band for NPR’s “Mountain Stage”), and also plays acoustic gigs. His “day job” is as senior partner in a very successful law practice in West Virginia, “working for the good guys.”

Paul Payton resumed what became his long radio career as a Music Director and on-air personality in New England and a voice-over talent in New York. Never losing his love for music, he released three singles on Presence in the ‘80s and ‘90s under his own name and with The Fabulous Dudes, a doo-wop group, who are slated for an album on Presence in the near future.

Drummer Tim Jackson made the first post-Street recorded appearance, on a Columbia album by John Paul Jones in the early 1970s. He also recorded with numerous artists as diverse as Tom Rush, Stormin' Norman & Suzy and Lavern Baker. “I contributed to many John Sayles soundtracks,” said Tim. “I also did three albums and tours with Robin Lane & The Chartbusters (on Warner Brothers), who landed the 11th song on MTV, and have worked with some 20 bands over the years including my own band of 25 years, The Band That Time Forgot. I’m an assistant professor at the New England Institute of Art, have directed two documentaries, and am working on a third. Unable to quiet the acting bug, I also piddle away as a part-time actor.”

Rob Carlson joined with long-time friend Jon Gailmor for the 1974 “cult classic” album on Polydor, “Peaceable Kingdom” (the title cut and "Thank the Island" remain under-appreciated classics). He has enjoyed a long career in Modern Man, a folk-comedy trio with David Buskin and George Wurzbach with several albums to their credit. A regular contributor to The American Comedy Network (a national syndicator of radio comedy), “Ramblin’ Rob” also runs "The Producers," his own Creative Services studio in Connecticut, from which he has created dozens of radio commercials and comedy segments over many years. “Pieces of Paradise,” his new solo album, was released in 2009, and his just completed a novel about Block Island, “Long Kate,” has gone to press in summer, 2010. The Benefit Street connections continue as well: after 39 years  Paul started playing with Rob in a trio touring to support "Pieces of Paradise," which evolved into the new Rob Carlson & Benefit Street. The new band's debut album was released in September, 2011 on What Cheer (a partnership of Presence Records and Inverted Turtle Records). Both "Paradise" and the group CD were mastered by original guitarist Alan Silverman.                           

Maddie's current vocal group, TVS
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L-R: Suzanne Boucher (Tim Jackson's wife), Maddie, Sally Sweitzer
 

The Armstrongs, although separated, joined Jean-Do Sifantus in Road Apples which had an album and #35 national single (#1 in Boston), “Let’s Live Together,” on Mums in 1976. The group broke up shortly thereafter and so did Maddie and Jean-Do. Maddie: “For twenty years I ran a non-profit I founded which combined music, elders and ministry, and became a Unitarian Universalist Minister, serving congregations in suburban Boston and becoming active in the church organization.” Still active musically as well as spiritually, she also sings in TVS (The Vocal Section) with Tim’s wife, Suzanne Boucher.  

Carl Armstrong “continued as a working musician (a/k/a playing for drunks) from ‘74 to ‘85 until the toxic lifestyle was no longer tolerable. (If you want the thrill of bands...I've been through the mill of bands.) I then morphed into an electronic engineer, a career choice that to this day has served me well. I am currently living in Buffalo NY and playing kirtan music. (Think Sanskrit hootenanny...Namaste!)” The second drummer for The American Dream, Bill Barnes, still lives in Rhode Island; and manager Jimmy Israeloff is retired in Florida.

Benefit Street's last lead guitarist, Leo Genereux is in Australia, possibly in Tasmania, playing with a group called The Dreamtime Brothers. In December, 2011, we received an update from a woman named Kate (no last name given), who had read this website and knew Leo when they both lived in the Pacific northwest. Her comments follow, verbatim: 

"I lost contact with Leo in 1985 when he went to Australia. He is a person who sought adventure, backpacking by himself in Guatemala, sailing for about a year as entertainment and sailing mate. He lived in a mountainous area in California where movie stars live,,,then he came to live in Grants Pass, Oregon, where I met him. Then he moved to San Francisco and became a certified hypnotherapist; shortly after that, he was Ken Keyes Jr. assistant (Keyes who wrote Handbook to Higher Consciousness). That was 1985, the last I have seen of that dude. I have googled his band 'Dreamtime Brothers' and typed Leo's name with it. There are 3 CDs his band has made. I recognize Leo's voice in the music I have listened to. It's fun to see that he is still a wonderful musician after all these years. I think the music keeps you talented people forever young."

The last line-up, summer, 1972
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Last Blue Tooth gig in Sugarbush, Warren, VT: Leo, Carl, Maddie, Rob, Tim

But wait, there’s more….

In April, 2009, Rob Carlson contacted the band members about digitizing our music for The Rhode Island Popular Music Archive, which became the impetus to finally release this album. There was also an “encore” presentation! Rob: “I had this song called ‘Benefit Street and Me’ written 35 years ago just as Benefit Street was breaking up. I never did anything with it, but this seemed like an opportunity to do something fun.” For the “new” song, Rob produced a virtual session in late 2009 and early 2010, with all band members invited to add parts; all six of the last recording unit contributed, making us still a band, even if a long-dormant one. Josh again: “I think our music holds up even today, 40 years later. It has an organic feel that makes it more than the sum of its parts.” The session also led to the ultimate establishment of a new band, Rob Carlson & Benefit Street, which released its debut full-length CD in the fall of 2011.

From the exuberance of “Bells of St. Stephen’s” to gem-like “Seven Years” and the wistful “Benefit Street and Me,” we’re still a band never too old to rock & roll – or to be sweet and folky. On reflection, we all think we cut some pretty decent tracks (including our new one) that are still worth hearing, and on a good night, we know we were as good as the best of them. Dave Roberts gets the last word: “Overall, I had a great experience on many different dimensions, and I certainly wouldn’t trade those years for a more conventional college/post college life. In my terms, we were successful in spite of all the craziness and obstacles — we had fun and great adventures, made good friends and produced a body of work that holds up pretty well after 40 years in the vault. Not bad for a bunch of 'barefoot boys' in our early twenties!”

 
Winter publicity photo, Vermont, 1971-72
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L-R: Rob, Carl, Leo, Maddie, Tim

 

CONCERT MEMORIES:

*Note: if you were there and would like to share your memories, pictures or tape please send it info@rirocks.net

 

 

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