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.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Art Can Jump Start the State’s Sagging Economy

Published in the Pawtucket Times, February 22, 2013

Rhode Island may be known as the nation’s littlest State. But if Governor Lincoln D. Chafee, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, and House Speaker Gordon D. Fox have their way, the Ocean State may be called the “State of the Arts.”

Even with the occurrence of a massive blizzard just two days before the February 11th Art Charrette, 110 art supporters (including 10 Senators), from government, the business community, academia and the nonprofit sector, did not let huge snow piles in some spots up to two feet high keep them off the streets. They traveled to Fidelity Investments headquarters in Smithfield to tell top State elected officials how art and creativity can rev up Rhode Island’s sputtering economic engine.

Fidelity Investment’s 500-acre campus off Route 7 features three buildings, including a 577,000-square-foot office building. It was the perfect place to talk seriously about art. Carol Warner, who has served as Fidelity’s Art Curator for more than 30 years, says her company has purchased over 1,200 pieces of art from 433 Rhode Island artists. The collection is showcased throughout the campus and is installed on the surrounding grounds. Warner enthused that the art “both enhances the work space and invigorates its employees,” in her comments to the gathered legislative and arts and cultural leadership attendees.

During her opening remarks Warner noted that Fidelity Investments supports local artists in Rhode Island and wherever they have a presence at nine regional campuses and 180 investment centers throughout the nation.

The Political Stars Align for Arts

Chafee, whose demonstration program put murals on four visible highway retaining walls and abutments along Interstate 95, noted that staggering statistics “underscore the plain fact that the arts are clearly one of Rhode Island’s premier [economic] assets.” He cited a New England Foundation for the Arts study, published last fall that found that 2009 direct and indirect spending by the non-profit arts sector totaled $673 million and supported nearly 8,000 jobs.

According to the Governor, just last year, a Washington, D.C.-based Americans for the Arts study found over 12,000 Rhode Island jobs were created in both the State’s private and nonprofit art sectors. The economic impact in Providence alone was greater than that of Delaware, Hawaii, South Dakota and New Hampshire…states with larger populations, he said.

“The arts and culture are also deeply intertwined with our state’s appeal as a tourism destination. They make Rhode Island a place where people want to spend time and – quite frankly – spend money,” added Chafee, whose proposed 2014 budget provides additional funding for the State’s Tourism Division.

“Rhode Island’s creative sector encompasses over 3,248 arts-related businesses and jobs that employ more than 13,000 individuals,” stated Paiva Weed, who spear headed the efforts to organize this idea gathering session. “Despite the lingering effects of the recession on most sectors of the economy, the creative sector in Rhode Island added 770 jobs and enjoyed a 16 percent growth between 2011 and 2012.”

Fox acknowledged the fact that Rhode Island needs to play to its strength in the arts, an observation that he garnered from a speaker at a recently held economic development workshop at Rhode Island College.

Don’t expect the final report generated from the Art Charrette to sit on a State bureaucrat’s dusty shelf. Fox, whose chamber initially hammers out the State’s budget, asserted that he will work closely with the Senate and Governor to review the final suggestions to ensure that arts are a key component of Rhode Island’s state’s economic turnaround.

For Executive Director Randy Rosenbaum, who has led the State’s Council for the Arts for 18 years, the gathering was a “pinch me” moment. For years his mantra has been “the arts are important for the economic vitality of Rhode Island.” With Chafee’s opening affirmation that Paiva Weed and Fox are “unified” in their belief that the arts are key to economic growth in Rhode Island, the State’s Arts Czar saw all the planets in alignment for bringing his “arts and economic vitality” mantra closer to a political reality.

RISD President John Maeda came bringing his greetings, too. Maeda, a designer, computer scientist, academic and author, took the opportunity to announce the February 14th, launching of STEM to STEAM, a new RISD-led initiative to add Art and Design to the national agenda of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). Co-chaired by Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL), the bipartisan caucus focuses on furthering the incorporation of art and design into STEM education for American students. The new Congressional Caucus also includes Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) and Jim Langevin (D-RI).

Neil Steinberg, President of Rhode Island Foundation, views arts as a “twofer” with the jobs that the sector creates and the quality of life for the people who come here and for those who stay. He notes that his group, one of the oldest and largest community foundations in the nation and the only community foundation serving the Ocean State, is committed to building the arts sector,

Break Out Session Generates Ideas

With the larger group split into three discussion groups, more than 85 suggestions were compiled by the Art Charrette organizers.

One suggestion was to create a branding campaign to establish an art identity for Rhode Island. It was recommended that state policy makers make the most of the State’s small size and high density of artists and art groups. Visual branding of arts districts along with art trails with eating establishments would promote incredible art work and great restaurants.

It was noted that the State is already known as a design State. Given the presence of RISD and other education institutions, Rhode Island is in a position to become a leader in the nation’s design community. The State might easily become a workshop for the arts and industry.

Strategically use the State’s marketing budget for arts branding and to promote the tax free purchase of one-of-a-kind art in the certified Arts Districts throughout the Ocean State.

It was suggested that all municipalities incorporate the arts in their Economic Development Comprehensive Plan. All Cities and Towns should have an arts advocate who specifically serves as the person responsible for economic development activities.

Use the State’s taxing and bonding authority to advance the arts in Rhode Island. Rhode Island has nine legislatively created arts districts. Expand this tax policy to every city and town.

Also, better data must be collected. One recommendation called for the compiling of the true economic impact that includes not just data from restaurants, but from hotels, parking, art and entertainment activities, too.

Next Steps…

For this columnist: For more than 14 years I have seen the arts revitalize Pawtucket’s stagnant economy, bringing new life to its mills and tax dollars into the City’s coffers. Yes, redeveloped mills increase property values that bring in more property tax dollars to run a cash strapped city.

It is clear from last week’s Arts Charrette, the state’s political leadership now see the arts as a key sector in bringing dollars to the State’s coffers by attracting more tourists and convention business. Leadership must now sift through the dozens of suggestions and craft a comprehensive arts policy to be funded in Rhode Island’s 2014 Budget. If lawmakers walk their talk, Rhode Island truly will become the nation’s Art State, where artists make a living with their creative talents and Rhode Island becomes the newly emerging renaissance State.

For a detailing of Art Charrette suggestions, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMx45FXkVEs&list=UUMCPC8hUqIQQeq107tm5VAQ

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He promotes the arts by serving as Pawtucket’s Economic & Cultural Affairs Officer.

Activist Richard J. Walton’s Great Adventure in Life and Death

Published January 4, 2013, Pawtucket Times

Throughout his 84 years, Richard J. Walton served as a role model for generations of activists, watching out and protecting Rhode Island’s voiceless citizens, showing all that positive societal changes could be made by making sound arguments. With his last breath, he even taught us how to face death.

Walton, age 84, died on December 27 at Rhode Island Hospital. He had been treated for leukemia for about six months, says daughter, Cathy Walton Barnard, of Simsbury, Connecticut, who noted his last words, “I’m going on a great adventure.”

Walton Touched Many Lives

Even with many in Walton’s vast progressive and activist networks knowing about his illness, people were caught off guard by his sudden passing one week ago, stated Rick Wahlberg, a computer consultant and a former president of Stone Soup Coffee House, who worked closely with Walton on the nonprofit’s Board of Directors for over 20 years and developed close personal ties. “We considered him part of our family just like many others did,” he said. .

According to Wahlberg, a Cumberland resident, Walton was part of New York’s intelligentsia scene, [mingling with writers at the Lion’s Head, a bar a few steps down from Christopher Street] in Greenwich Village, where he lived making a living as a writer.

Wahlberg viewed Walton as a “great example of morality, humanity and a supporter of nonviolence,” noting that his friend led an amazing life that help shaped his progressive point of view and that of his two daughters. When his oldest daughter, Corinne, heard of Walton’s passing, she remarked, “he did more in one lifetime than most.”

Over the years, Wahlberg, 59, and his wife, Barbara, attended Walton’s birthday parties that would raise large sums of money for his favorite charities, attracting the state’s powerful political and media elite right to his family compound, located at Pawtuxet Cove in Warwick. This legendary fundraising event occurred from 1988 to 2011, bringing hundreds of people each year to celebrate his progressive causes. Due to his health in 2012, for the first time, Walton’s birthday was held at the Roots Cultural Center in Providence.

Joyce Katzberg, 59, folksinger and a founding organizer of Stone Soup Coffee House, spent decades protesting with Walton at vigils, rallies and picket lines. She remembers him as a kind, honest person. When necessary, he was not afraid of using the “F word,” she quipped, noting that this word stood for fascism. His social advocacy “has left many ripples and impacted many Rhode Island nonprofits,” she adds.

“Richard called things for what they were, said things in ways that were hard to argue with because he had the facts, knew the background stories and did his home work. He cared enough to tell the truth,” said Katzberg, stressing how he excelled at moderating views between people with differing positions.

Bruce McCrae (a.k.a. Rudy Cheeks), a co-author of Phillip and Jorge column in the weekly Providence Phoenix, who knew Walton for over 30 years as a social activist, educator and a strong advocate for traditional American Folk music, had his thoughts about his recent passing. “There is no doubt in my mind that Rhode Island would have been a much different and poorer place without his constant presence. He was a mentor to generations of students and social activists and one of the strongest voices for peace and equality that Rhode Island has ever known,” he said.

McCrae, 62, says his efforts for social change extended internationally to Africa where, in 1960, he worked on a number of documentary films on the emerging independence movements on that continent and to Latin America, where he started the Sister Cities Project between Providence and Niquinohomo, Nicaragua, helping to build a medical facility and school there.

One of the City of Pawtucket’s most visible social advocates, Maggi Burns Rogers, remembers Walton as someone who worked hard to improve the world without forgetting how to enjoy it. “He loved to laugh, eat, drink, was an avid gardener, knew his music, read literature and even traveled the world.” (In between his social activism, teaching and writing, during his long life Walton traveled to over 50 countries, making return trips to many of them.),

“Richard won’t be remembered for just one thing because he brought his talent to so many different nonprofits,” says Rogers, including Amos House, the George Wiley Center, Stone Soup Coffee House, Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, and the Pawtucket Arts Festival Executive Committee to name just a few.

With his long white beard, President Betsy Florin, of the Pawtucket-based George Wiley Center, viewed Walton as a Santa Claus-like figure. But unlike Santa, he gave every day of the year, all of his life, she said. “His real gift was not something tangible that could be wrapped in a pretty box and placed under a tree, it was, rather a gift of imagination combined with activism.”

Walton “imagined a world of decency and fairness and then sought to make that happen,” said Florin.

As to Walton’s daughter, Barnard, 52, even in her earliest childhood memories she remembers her father as being an activist, who once marched with his young daughter at a gay pride parade. While not being an activist to “his degree” the Preschool teacher is very politically active in her local community.

Today, Barnard is a diehard New York Mets fan. When Barnard and her brother visited their father in New York, he often took them to watch the team play at Shea Stadium. (As noted in an Op Ed penned by Walton in 2000, throughout his life Walton’s favorite baseball player and hero was Hank Greenberg, a Jewish baseball player who played in the major leagues in the 1930s and 1940s, primarily for the Detroit Tigers. He was considered to be one of the premier power hitters of his generation. Walton noted that Greenberg, who experienced anti Semitism, would encourage another player subject to slurs from the sidelines, that was Jackie Robinson.)

Six Lifetimes Jammed into One

Walton’s life is richly detailed in Wikipedia, a web-based free content encyclopedia.

Born in Saratoga Springs, New York, Walton grew up in South Providence in the 1930s, graduating from Classical High School in 1945. After taking a two year break from his studies at Brown University, serving as a journalist mate in the U.S. Navy, he returned to receive a bachelor’s degree in 1951. He whet his appetite for music by working as disc jockey at Providence radio station WICE before enrolling in Columbia School of Journalism where he later earned a masters in journalism degree in 1955.

Walton’s training at Brown University and the School of Journalism at Columbia propelled him into a writing career. During his early years he worked as a reporter at the Providence Journal, and the New York World Telegram and Sun. At Voice of America in Washington, D.C., Walton would initially put in time reporting on African issues, ultimately being assigned to cover the United Nations.

The prolific writer would eventually publish 12 books, nine being written as critical assessments of U.S. Foreign policy. In the late 1960s, as a freelance writer, he made his living by writing for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Village Voice, Newsday, The [old] New Republic, Cosmopolitan, even Playboy. He was also the former UN Secretary-General U Thant’s personal editor for his memoir, “The View from the United Nations.”

In 1981, after 26 years of living outside of Rhode Island, he would return, ultimately becoming one of the most recognizable social activists around, fighting against hunger, homelessness and poverty. The journalist would run for political office and was active in the Citizens Party [the predecessor to the Green Party]. He ran as the political group’s vice presidential candidate in 1984 with the radical feminist Sonia Johnson. They did not win.

For over 25 years, Walton has taught writing to thousands of students at Rhode Island College (RIC). Walton fought to successfully establish a union at this university, hammering out a contract, ultimately serving as its first president until his death. With his death, RIC President Nancy Carriuolo called for lowering the flags on campus to half-staff in his memory.

Walton was married to Margaret Hilton and Mary Una Jones, both marriages ending in divorce. He is survived by his daughter Cathy Walton Barnard and son Richard Walton and three grandchildren.

Big Shoes to Fill

Walton, with his long white hair and beard, wearing his trademark blue overalls, bandana and Stone Soup baseball cap, serves as a role model to the younger generations of social activists, those who will take up his worthy causes to fight for justice, to end poverty, hunger, and homelessness. He taught us how to live life to the fullest, exploring the world while not forgetting to help those in need.

Walton’s life turned out to be a grand adventure. But even with death approaching he taught us to take that leap of faith into the unknown, recognizing that death, too, can be and even grander adventure.

The family is planning a memorial service to be held the first weekend in June.

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