David Barber Dies at 60. the Face of “Straight from the Gavel”

 

Published in Woonsocket Call on July 12, 2015

David Barber, an award-winning broadcaster veteran with extensive experience in talk radio programming, radio and TV sales management, television programming and commercial production and ad agency and public relations expertise, died on July 4, 2015.  He was 60.

On a trip to Flint Michigan to attend a friend’s wedding, Mr. Barber died, Saturday, July 4, from a stroke and heart attack he had on Thursday, June 25, says his brother Larry Barber.  The family is planning to hold a memorial service in Rhode Island and will announce the specifics shortly, he says.

He grew up in Flint, Michigan, graduated from Mount Morris High School  and received his bachelor’s degree in business from Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.

A Watch Dog for the Public

The Flint Michigan native, a seasoned award-winning radio broadcaster on WTRX-AM (1130), WTAC (600), and WFDF (910) radio stations, became the watch dog for his listeners in his hometown and the surrounding area, using his microphone to protect the public interest.  Known as an outspoken and controversial and opinionated talk show host, Mr. Barber’s listeners regularly tuned into to see him taking on some of the biggest political heavy weights and corrupt elected officials in Michigan.

In 2006, recognizing the need to move up in his radio career, Mr. Barber took a professional risk relocating to Providence, Rhode Island radio market, taking the helm of  WPRO’s daily talk radio show, from 9:00 a.m. to Noon, the time slot formerly held by Steve Kass.  After a year, even after getting an excellent rating on his first job performance review, Mr. Barber was suddenly let go, when John DePetro, a former WHJJ radio host left his job in Boston and was hired by the station.   During his brief hiatus for WPRO, as a talk radio host he brought his liberal blue-collar views to New York-abased Air America Radio Network , specializing in progressive talk programming.

Mr. Barber made Talker’s Magazine’s Heavy 100, listing of the nation’s talk show hosts, getting this prestigious designation three times. His show was selected along with the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Don Imus, Dr. Laura Schlessinger and others.

Bringing the General Assembly to the People

Ultimately, when hired by the Rhode Island General Assembly’s Capitol Television in 2008, Mr. Barber traded in his WPRO radio mic for a hand-held mic on a state cable channel. .

As Capitol Television host, as the only on-air person, Mr. Barber interviewed the state’s elected and government officials and even cultural icons.  With experience gleaned from being a talk show host in the Flint/Twin Cities radio market, at WEYI Television NBC, he easily brought the mysteries of political sausage making (that is the political process) to the tens of thousands of viewers who tuned into “Straight from the Gave,” a half hour sit down segment with state legislators.  He was never happier being in a job surrounded by politics 24/7.

According to Capitol Television, considered Rhode Island’s C Span, it is estimated that Mr. Barber hosted 390 episodes of “Straight from the Gavel, and about 600 Capitol Spotlights, a five-minute stand-up segment with members of the state’s General Assembly.

As a Trustee of Slater Mill, Mr. Barber, considered by many to be a marketing wiz with his skills honed at Davison, Michigan-based Parr Media Advertising, brought the nuts and bolts of media and public affairs to America’s most historic mill.  Mr. Barber also served on the Board of Directors of the Salvation Army in Pawtucket and did charitable work for the Boys and Girls Club of Pawtucket.  Before relocating to the Ocean State from Michigan, he served on the Board of Directors of the American Lung Association and hosted television telethon’s for the Easter Seals Society, the American Diabetes Association, United Way and Big Brothers and Sister, among a few.

An entertainer at heart, Mr. Barber, an avid Frank Sinatra fan, would take any opportunity to sing the songs of  Sinatra, one of the nation’s best selling musical artist of all time.  On many occasions, he sang at Millonzi’s Bar and Grille in West Warwick and other local lounges, even taking the opportunity to sing with the legendary Cowsills, in Pawtucket’s Slater Memorial Park during the Pawtucket Arts Festival.

Work hard, play hard might have even been Mr. Barber’s mantra. After a long- work week, on weekends you might just see him, very tanned and immaculately dress,  puttering around South County on his creamed-colored Vespa to view “the majestic Narragansett surf” at Bonnet Shores Beach Club (he was a member), even enjoying an occasional ride over the iconic Newport Bridge.  Or may be you might have seen the Warwick resident leisurely reading a New York Times at his favorite East Greenwich breakfast joint, the Main Street Café.

Making a Home in Rhode Island

It was not easy for Mr. Barber to leave his family and friends to relocate to a new state where nobody knows who you are.  “The move was far more difficult than I expected,” he says in a 2010 blog, posted by Rich Frost with What The Hell…

“I did not know a single person and to be honest with you, I don’t know if I would have made a move if I knew what I know now,” noted Mr. Barber in his interview.

Television Director Jason Golditch, who directed many of Mr. Barber’s programs at Capitol Television, Television Director, noted that Capitol TV’s new host ultimately adapted well to his new state.  “Over time he truly grew to love this state,” Golditch says, noting that his colleague would often say, “It doesn’t get much better than this, can you believe it.”

According to Golditch, when a film shoot took place, the Capitol Television’s only on air person would just start talking to people and they got along so well they began swapping stories. “He would find so much joy in meeting new people and talking with them on any subject,” he says.

Adds, Editor Carlos Diaz, at Capitol Television, Mr.Barber was a “real friend,” to him and hundreds of others who could count on his help at any time of the day or night.  “He helped who ever he could, even those he did not know,” he says.

“There were postings on Face Book from people all over the nation, from all walks of life, friends he made throughout his 60 years of living,” says Diaz, all praying for his recovery. “That was amazing,”

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

 

The Cowsills to Play the City’s Slater Park Fall Fest

Published August 9, 2013, Pawtucket Times

Some may think that the American musical sensation, The Cowsills, coming to the City of Pawtucket to jam, is as likely as a lightening bolt striking the same person twice. For one of the most successful family musical acts of the 1960s, this pop and rock ‘n roll group who came from Newport, was recently honored at the RI Music Hall of Fame and they are coming back to Pawtucket.

It was obvious to Slater Park Fall Fest organizer, Patty Zacks, that this would be a perfect match for Slater Park. When she watched the Cowsills perform at their April 28th ceremony at The Met, as they were inducted by the Pawtucket-based Rhode Island Music hall of Fame (RIMHOF), that this was a group she needed to present to her Event Planning Committee as a consideration for the Slater Park Fall Festival. The four surviving members (Paul, Bob, John and Susan, including two of their children) brought the house down at the Met, bringing back memories to the aging baby boomers surrounding the stage who danced and swayed to the familiar music they listened to more than four decades ago.

With the decision to book them for the Slater Park Fall Festival, the Comfort Inn, Hope Global, Lens Hotdog Haven, TD Bank, Tunstall Health Care, Webster Bank, all came to the plate to cover the costs of booking America’s musical family.

On September 22, 2013, the Cowills will open for the Pawtucket Teachers’ Alliance Pops in the Park concert, beginning their 80 minute set at 3:30 p.m, concluding at 5:00 p.m. (In case of rain look for their performance to take place same date and time at Tolman High School.)

During their opening act the Cowsills will play tribute to the decade of the 60s. While playing their own hit tunes, that will also play scores in tribute to their two deceased brothers Bill and Barry. Look for songs of the Partridge Family and other great songs musical hits from the 60s to be played.

Coming Home Last April

Looking back, Bob Cowsill says being inducted into the RIMHOF was just a blast. “It was such an uplifting, positive experience,” he said. “We had friends and relatives in the audience and it was very special for us to have them there,” especially seeing our fans.

As to the honor of receiving RIMHOF’s prestigious recognition, “When your home state comes calling and wants to recognize something that you accomplished in your life, well it does not get better than that”, notes Cowsill..

Cowsill actually had heard about the upcoming Pawtucket Arts Festival, noting that “we had great hope that we would return to perform. It is the same way a baseball team prefers to “play at home” that’s sort of what if felt like coming back to Pawtucket, a home where there would be many family members and friends scattered throughout the audience, he noted.

The Rhode Island Years

The Cowsills grew up just an hour’s drive from Pawtucket, on Aquidneck Island, where their names are still carved into a tree on the family homestead. The band was founded by four of the Cowsill brothers (Bill, Bob, Barry and John) in 1965. Within two years, it would encompass the entire family, with brother Paul, sister Susan, and their mother, Barbara (called “Mini-Mom” by her children) coming on board. Their father, Bud, became their manager. (Bob’s twin brother Richard is the only sibling who never joined the band.)

The Cowsills later became the creative inspiration behind the 1970’s television show, The Partridge Family, still in syndication today. In 1969, a twenty-something Michael Eisner, who would later become Disney’s CEO, came to visit the Cowsills’s at their home in Santa Monica, California. “He checked us out and quickly realized we were just musicians not actors,” Cowsill remembers. Wes Ferrell and Tony Romeo who wrote “Indian Lake” for the Cowsills would ultimately pen “I Think I Love You” for the Partridge Family theme song,

Even with the Cowsills not getting a central casting call to act in the upcoming television series, the Partridge Family, “the family angle just continued to evolve,” says Bob, stressing that it should not be considered “premeditated.” When it became difficult to interest musicians on Aquidneck Island to join the fledgling band, Cowsill notes that it became obvious that the younger siblings were the answer to filling the empty slots.

He notes that the group’s first big career break in 1964 came after playing in the basement disco of the MK Hotel, 38 Bellevue Ave., in Newport. From this performance came an invitation to play on the Today Show. Their 20 minute performance caught the attention of singer Johnny Cash and the group signed their first recording contract with his JODA Records label, releasing their first single, “All I Really Want To Be Is Me,” in 1965.

Taking on Simon and Garfunkel

Cowsill recalls how his group’s first single was pitted against “The Sound of Silence” on a WPRO radio contest. When the votes were tabulated, the Newport band “won by a landside,” with their family and friend’s overwhelming the switch board with their votes. Over forty five years later, he still laughs when remembering the Cowsills’ victory over America’s most recognizable musical duo, Simon and Garfunkel.

From the late ’60s into the early ’70s, the Cowsills appeared on many popular television shows, among them: The Ed Sullivan Show, American Bandstand, The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, the Mike Douglas Show, and the Johnny Cash Show. They even hosted their own NBC TV special called “A Family Thing.”

Cowsill remembers singing with Johnny Cash, especially the spiritual tunes sung by the great Country Western singer. He says that getting booked on The Ed Sullivan Show was like climbing to the proverbial mountain top. “It was live television back then. If you goofed up, you goofed up. There is a lot of pressure with the whole country watching you,” he says.

“Bewilderment,” says Cowsill, thinking about his two performances on The Ed Sullivan Show. The group had contracted to appear ten times which would have put them on Sunday’s most popular show more times than The Beatles. But a fiasco over a microphone that was accidentally turned off between Sullivan’s son-in-law and Bud Cowsill resulted in the cancellation of the remaining eight shows, he said. “Dad was just a hot head, he just crossed the line one too many times. In this situation it just cost us appearing on eight Ed Sullivan Shows.”

Before the young Cowsills had their first hit record, they were hired as one of the headliners, along with Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, The Byrds and The Beach Boys (all Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees) for Soundblast ’66 at Yankee Stadium in New York. “We were in pop wonderland. It was just unbelievable. Somehow, my father worked magic and got us to Yankee Stadium for this show. We were not famous at the time but apparently good enough to play for the crowd.”

“I still can’t believe we got this gig,” the aging Cowsill said. “I am 16 years old and playing in Yankee Stadium with these nationally recognized musical groups. At sound check, he and his brother Paul sat on a bench in the dugout just watching everything. “My jaw must have dragged on the floor,” he said. .

A Gold Record to Remember

In 1967, the Cowsills first MGM release, “The Rain, The Park & Other Things,” sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold record. This song would ultimately reach No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 1 in Cash Box and Record World.

One year later, the band scored another near million-selling hit with the song “Indian Lake,” reaching No. 10 on the charts and in 1968, the band hit No. 1 again with their version of “Hair,” a three-million seller which brought them a nomination for 16 Magazine’s Best Group of 1970. “Hair” was banned from Armed Forces radio in Viet Nam for being too controversial, noted Cowsill, stating that “we were amused at the time because our brother, Richard, who was in Vietnam reported back that they were playing it everywhere!”

The Cowsills would become spokespersons for the American Dairy Assn. (ADA) with their “Milk Song” appearing in commercials and their images in print ads promoting milk. The group would be referenced in trivia game questions and twice on David Letterman’s Top Ten List.

In 1969, The Cowsills became the first rock group to record a theme for a television show, “Love American Style.” Their melodic sound has also been featured in movies such as “The Impossible Years” and “Dumb and Dumber” and other TV shows including “The Wonder Years” and “The Simpsons.”

Recently, a feature-length film, “Family Band – The Story of The Cowsills,” which documents the rise and fall of the group was featured on cable TV in March, running for five months. The Showtime documentary took eight years to produce. “The strength of the move comes from the story line itself,” Cowsill said, stressing that it drove the hour and a half documentary. Many of the viewers saw their families in his family’s drama, he said.

Today, Cowsill and his siblings John, Susan and Paul, plus two of the band member’s sons, continue to play concerts across the country at casinos, fairs and music festivals, and this year on Sunday, September 22 at 3:30pm – they will perform for us at Slater Park. For more than 27 years, the sixty-three year old musician has been playing at Pickwick’s Pub in Woodland Hills, California, every Friday night, once again performing the songs of the Beatles and The Byrds. During the day, Bob Cowsill coordinates medical conferences across the country, providing medical coding services to emergency departments, and assists in developing and installing software for use in emergency rooms.

For more information about the Cowsills, to leave a message on the group’s guestbook, or to sign a petition to get them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, visit: http://www.cowsill.com.

Like the Energizer Bunny, Steve Smith & The Nakeds Keep Going…

Published in the Pawtucket Times, April 5, 2013

          Following months of speculation, The Rolling Stones have announced their upcoming 50th anniversary tour leaving many fans in awe of their continued energy, stamina and staying power. And like the venerable British rockers, Rhode Island’s own Steve Smith & The Nakeds, currently celebrating their 40th anniversary, have also proven their staying power as they continue to enjoy a full touring schedule and an ever-growing fan base.

 Fondly called simply “The Nakeds” by their legion of fans, this band of middle-aged musicians operate just like the Energizer Bunny – they keep going, and going, and going… 

         The band began in 1973 as Naked Truth and Steve Smith and the 62 other guys who have passed through the band’s ranks are among just a handful of Rhode Island musicians who can claim that milestone. (They became The Nakeds in 1981 to avoid confusion with a Long Island band also called Naked Truth; the word “truth” remains with them to this day “hidden” within their logo.)

          In recognition of their success and their impact on the Rhode Island music scene, on Sunday, April 28, 2013, Steve Smith & The Nakeds will be among the nine new inductees into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame (RIMHOF).

 The Younger Years 

         Looking back, Smith clearly remembers a Saturday night tradition in his family – a musical talent show – when he and others would perform in front of the refrigerator. The sixty-one-year old’s singing career began at his family-built seaside retreat on Carpenter’s Beach in scenic Matunuck, Rhode Island, where as a four year old, he would sing Pat Boone’s “Love Letters in the Sand” to his family and friends.  

           At the tender age of seven, Smith’s father, recognizing his son’s growing vocal range, enrolled him in classical voice training.  In 1964, the elder Smith, a traveling salesman who loved to listen to the radio while on the road, knew talent when he heard it and gave his teenaged son a newly released album, “Meet the Beatles,” and told him, “These guys are gonna be great and I want you to listen to them.”  His father’s sage advice ultimately led young Smith to form his first band with his cousin, John Cafferty. The newly formed rock group of junior high students, The Nightcrawlers, would go on to win a Battle of the Bands contest held in Smithfield area in the late 1960s, beating out several established and seasoned college-aged bands. (Steve’s cousin John would find fame in the 1980s with his band Beaver Brown’s score for the motion picture “Eddie and The Cruisers.”)

 The Long Journey

         Looking back, Smith, a 1973 graduate of ProvidenceCollege, never thought he would still be performing  in his sixties. As the group’s band leader recently noted, “We figured we would keep playing as long as the phone kept ringing.” And that it did!  

        During the band’s early years, Smith remarks that business was booming. He had a jam-packed calendar of bookings at concerts, clubs, and special events.  However, in 1984, lawmakers reinstated the 21 year old drinking age and the band saw its bookings dwindle.  “We went from playing seven days a week to only performing on weekends,” he said.   

         But, Smith would put his hard earned College education in graphic design to very good use, a career that would ultimately help him to survive the lean economic times.  

         According to the life-long Smithfield resident, his band’s longevity and success was tied to the “high caliber of the musicians who played in the group” throughout its four decades. Smith’s strong vocals, combined with a five-piece horn section and a guitar, keyboards, bass and drums rhythm section, gave The Nakeds its own unique style of Rock ‘n’ Roll and Rhythm & Blues.

         The Nakeds fame began to spread after the release of their first album in 1984, “Coming To A Theatre Near You,” and they appeared on MTV’s  “Basement Tapes.” They signed on with Miller Beer’s “Rock Network” promotion as one of the best unsigned bands in the country and were featured on a RCA Records compilation album.

        Over the years, Smith and the band often shared the stage with Bruce Springsteen’s saxophonist, the late Clarence Clemons, mounting a series of critically acclaimed national tours which included a 1994 appearance with President Bill Clinton at his health rally at Liberty State Park in New Jersey. Clarence and another E Street band member, Nils Lofgren, contributed heavily to the band’s best-selling 2000 album, “Never Say Never.”

          In 2009, the band’s 1984 indie hit, “I’m Huge (and the Babes Go Wild)” was featured on the DVD for the sixth season of “The Family Guy.” The often-controversial Fox Network cartoon, which takes place in the fictitious town of Quahog, Rhode Island, would immortalize the group when a YouTube posting of the video went viral and the group were offered a Sony Records deal. The “I’m Huge” album, a best-of compilation from their earlier releases, became the biggest selling album of their career. The video remains a fan favorite and is approaching 400,000 views.

          Steve Smith & The Nakeds will take their place among Rhode Island’s musical greats when they are inducted on April 28th into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame as members of the Class of 2013. RIMHOF Vice Chair and Archive Director Rick Bellaire has this to say about the band. “With a new album, “Under The Covers,” just out and a full schedule of shows on the horizon, there’s no doubt in my mind that The Nakeds will be around to help us celebrate the Class of 2023 during their 50th anniversary tour! We are extremely proud to honor them with this induction and they are stoked to pull out all the stops for their induction concert on the 28th.”

 Introducing the other 2013 Inductees:

        In announcing RIMHOF’s Class of 2013, Bellaire notes that “sometimes it’s easy to forget, and it may be hard to believe, that such world-acclaimed artists actually have roots right here in Rhode Island just like the rest of us.”

          Bellaire says, “For the smallest state, Rhode island has produced an inordinately large number of truly great, successful and important artists,” and that their devoted local fans helped to place them on the word stage.

         Bellaire adds some of his thoughts about the other new RIMHOF inductees: 

        Cowsills – A family band in the truest sense of the term – six siblings and their

mom! They sang their way out of Newport all the way to the top of the charts.

(The Cowsills were feature in my January 25, 2013 Commentary.)

         George M. Cohan – The pivotal figure in the development of the modern Broadway theater tradition grew up in Fox Point;

         Sissieretta Jones – One of the greatest sopranos in the history of modern opera headquartered and managed her career from Pratt Street on the East Side of Providence;

         Bill Flanagan – A guy from Warwick who went from writing about music in all of our local papers to editing Musician Magazine and then became the Vice-President of MTV and VH-1, but continued to promote and advocate for Rhode Island music along the way;

        Jimmie Crane – From the 1950s through the ’70s, he wrote a long string of huge hit songs for such stars as Eddie Fisher, Doris Day and Elvis Presley, all the while maintaining a successful jewelry manufacturing business in his hometown of Providence and assisting dozens of up-and-coming musicians;

         Bobby Hacket – Bobby was born on Federal Hill, but spent most of his youth in Olneyville where the action really was: Jake E. Conn’s Olympia Theatre and Petteruti’s Twin City Music store. He became one of the greatest – and most acclaimed- improvisors in the history of jazz;

        Eddie Zack & The Hayloft Jamboree – The Zackarian family of Providence virtually introduced Country & Western music into Rhode Island and the Northeast at large, recording for Decca and Columbia Records and broadcasting nationwide on the NBC radio network, but always maintained their home and headquarters right here in Rhode Island;

         Paul Geremia – The world-acclaimed acoustic artist, who has not only helped keep the folk-blues tradition alive, but has brought it into the modern era with his unique guitar style and voice, grew up in SilverLake!  

         “As the organization grows,” RIMHOF Chair Robert Billington says, “the Hall of Fame will be committed to developing programs and services aimed at promoting and strengthening Rhode Island’s musical heritage and ensuring that music continues to play an important role in the lives of all Rhode Islanders.”

         Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door for the evening ceremony event and $10.00 in advance or at the door for the afternoon ceremony event. The Cowsills and other inductees will perform. Tickets can be purchased at http://www.rhodeislandmusichalloffame.com.

         Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.   He also serves on RIMHOF’s Board of Directors.