By Max Sullivan
Hampton Union, June 17, 2014
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
HAMPTON BEACH — Earlier this year, the Spectras held their first rehearsal since founding member Dick Ray's passing.
The group's trombonist, Marc Keroack, said it was a little different, more of a democracy than the "benevolent dictatorship" that the late Ray maintained for 50 years, but he believes that the band will pull through for their 50th anniversary season this summer, two of the five confirmed shows being on the Seashell Stage at Hampton Beach.
"It's hard to fill (Ray's) void," Keroack said, "(But) it will work itself out...; it's coming together pretty well, sort of like almost riding a bike where we're not doing any new tunes, (rather) some people doing different things than they had before."
Ray passed away in February after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Before he died, he told the Spectras that he'd like them to play this summer without him, celebrating their 50th anniversary. The lineup — featuring Keroack on trombone, Bob Lassonde and Alan Eaves on trumpet, Gary Anderson on saxophone, Ray's son, Thom, on bass and vocals, Bruce Hawkins on organ and his son on guitar and vocals — will be carrying that out this summer.
"It was his wish that we put in this year," Lassonde said, "To me, the Spectras ended when Dick died, and we're doing this, carrying out this 50th year, for Dick, so he knows that his band lasted 50 years. He's not here to see it, but that's what he wanted so that's what we're going to do."
Reflecting on his time with the Spectras, Keroack said he joined the group in 1967 while he was a student in the University of New Hampshire's music program. The year before, Ray and fellow founder Chris Quackenbush had gotten the Spectras a gig as the house band at the Club Casino, and Ray was looking for a new way to set the group apart. As a result, he invited Keroack to join the band on trombone, as well as Lassonde, Ed Gibbs and Willie Spanos.
At first, the horns only joined the group for three or four songs, but soon Ray had come up with enough horn arrangements to feature the band on most of the material.
Ray was a confident band leader. Not only did he make the logistical decisions, but he arranged the music for the band. He wasn't a music major like Keroack, but he had a passion for understanding the technical side of music, qualifying him to write sheet music for the horns. The Spectras played the pop and soul hits of the day, but it was important to Ray that they try to push the limits of the Motown sound with creative arrangements.
Ray stirred both admiration and envy in the young Karoack, the trombonist admitted.
"I envied and hated, both," Keroack said, laughing a bit. "He had such talent in so many different things. He was a great singer, a great leader...; musically, emotionally, logistically, he did so much great stuff for the band."
While Ray was the face of the group, Quackenbush played a secondary part in leading the band. Particularly, Quackenbush made sure the group looked good on stage every night — even if, in hindsight, some of the outfits he recommended were dated.
Keroack said he couldn't even tell you what the Hampton Beach strip was like in the late 1960s. While others partied, he and the Spectras drove from day jobs to gigs and back. Slaving away, the group became tightly knit.
"We basically grew up together," Keroack said
As the house band for the Club Casino, the Spectras crossed paths with a number of big name acts, like Led Zeppelin, the Doors and Simon and Garfunkel.
The Beach Boys even invited them to party at Hampton's own Lamie's Inn after their show one night.
Despite famous stories of Brian Wilson on LSD and other drugs, Keroack said there wasn't anything too crazy going on, and if there was anything like that, the Spectras probably wouldn't have had anything to do with it.
"I don't remember any drugs," Keroack said. "We were a very straight band."
Keroack also recalled an encounter with Janis Joplin, with whom the Spectras were sharing a dressing room. He said she was exactly what the legends describe — drinking straight out of a bottle of Southern Comfort, sucking a lemon upon finishing it.
At one point, Joplin asked of her band members in the room something that has stuck in Keroack's mind ever since.
"Do you think it's sexier if I wear panties under my leather pants or not?" she asked nonchalant.
"In my innocence and youth," Keroack said. "That kind of zapped into my brain, and I've remembered it ever since."
On one occasion, the Spectras had a gig opening up for Jimi Hendrix in northern part of New Hampshire. When it came time for the show to start, however, Hendrix was nowhere to be found. He would be two hours late.
Consequently, the Spectras, a clean cut group with a pop/soul sound, went on in front of a crowd hungry for acid guitar rock. The audience was furious.
"It wasn't a really fun gig," Keroack said.
Keroack left the group in 1970 but returned 20 years later in 1990 for a UNH class reunion. The band had been on hiatus since 1980, and upon reuniting they began playing again regularly. Keroack then left again for career-related reasons in 1999, before being invited back when his work slowed down in 2009.
In all those years, Ray maintained a biting sense of humor. When Keroack received an e-mail last August from Ray that began with "Some very, very sad news," he thought it was a joke.
Then the reality began to sink in — Ray really did have cancer.
"I'm reading it, and I said, 'Oh my god, Liz'," Keroack said to his wife, who was sitting next to him. "'You won't believe this.'"
It was hard to believe, especially since Ray's wife, Candice, had passed away just three years earlier of brain cancer.
"It was just like, 'This can't be'," Keroack said. "It didn't fit what would happen to Dick. You just didn't expect him to die of cancer after his wife had died of it just three years previously...; it was shocking."
Ray had kept his illness from them until that day when he e-mailed Keroack and the rest of the band, taking everyone by surprise. The memory of that day is still painful for Keroack.
"I still get choked up now," Keroack said. "It was awful."
The good things Ray took with him, his bandmates still reminisce over. Keroack golfed often with Ray, and he said that he can still hear Ray teasing him over a bad swing. He said he'll joke when he's on the course with other members of the band, "I'm glad Dick's not here to give us a hard time about that shot."
There are still many times where the memories of Ray, as well as Quackenbush, who passed away in 2008, make the Spectras wish time had yet to take them away.
"You think about Dick and Chris and say, 'Wow,'" Keroack said. "We wouldn't have become famous, but it would have been wonderful to have those guys around for more years."
The Spectras will play at the Seashell Stage on July 6 and Aug. 3, taking the stage from 7-9:30 p.m.