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Story of the Shags

The rock & roll audience is a unique breed. More so than other music listeners, this group is exceptionally participatory. A jazz aficionado is not typically expected to be a performer herself, and neither do we normally expect opera lovers to sing arias for fun and profit. Often, however, rock & roll enthusiasts are driven to start their own bands. Fans not only entertain fantasies of creating an album or holding a concert that will make them immortal, but also feel entitled - or perhaps even required - to make a go of it. This injunction was perhaps never felt more strongly than in the mid-1960s, when a generation of kids who first got a dose of rock & roll values and attitudes with Elvis, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard came of age. Having enough disposable income to buy instruments, they gathered up enough courage to follow the example of the Beatles, the prototype for all rock groups to follow.


By Brent Hopkins

Carl Augusto

Many of us have been interested, in the past several years especially, in these 1960s "garage rock" upstarts. ("Garage rock" is somewhat of a misnomer, since these bands were by no means confined to the garage.) The draw is certainly not nostalgia, as many enthusiasts weren't even born when many of these now famous tracks were originally recorded. Most members of the groups themselves find the resurgent - or in some cases the first - interest in their music puzzling, if not downright amusing. As Carl Augusto, guitarist and vocalist of the Shags replied, when informed that most of his mid-1960's musical output has been released on CD, "That is very strange."


It's not that these bands were superior to, for example, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. Although some tracks are indeed worthy of the chart success of the better known tunes, in most cases the thousands of songs we have were primitively recorded by American teenagers with widely varying degrees of technical ability and musical talent. Of course, 1960s "garage rockers" made up for a shortage of professional skills with a surplus of enthusiasm - a passion strong enough to drive them to the same stages manned by their heroes. But this still does not necessarily explain the attraction. Plenty of rock groups over the last 35 years draw on the same youthful energy. There is something special about the gifted amateurs and semi-professional rock musicians of the 1960s.


The average American teenager was probably more likely to see a talented "garage band" live in the mid-1960s than she was the Kinks or the Byrds. Rock & roll is a set of values and practices that requires more than a few trendsetters to thrive. For every rock & roll celebrity, you need at least a thousand anonymous enthusiasts to heed the call, grow the hair, wear the clothes, and try to make a similar sound and statement. The '60's garage rock library that has been amassed by collectors and reissue labels is a testament to that impact. This generation led the charge.

Tom Violante

The fact of the matter is, the biggest appeal of this genre is that nearly all of these bands were the first generation to grow up with rock & roll. They didn't come from folk, country, or blues backgrounds, like many of the groups in the '50s. Most likely, the first music that truly resonated with them was rock & roll. After all, rock & roll from the '50s was considered just "kids" music, and they were the first kids to get a hold of it; it belonged to them. When they got old enough to learn to play guitar, drums, or bass, they produced thousands of singles from a crucible of pure rock & roll. The story of many of these bands is the story of early rock & roll itself.


Perhaps no other band from the so-called "garage era" could offer a better example of this story than the Shags. Weaned on rock & roll, founding members cut their teeth touring with the Five Satins, a '50's vocal group with the hit "In the Still of the Nite." With surf music, they discovered the raw power of electric guitar in its own right. After the Beatles announced the arrival of the counter-culture on the Ed Sullivan Show (less than three months after the assassination of John F. Kennedy), the Shags heeded the call, let their hair grow, and merged vocal harmonies with the power of big amps and the big beat. Eventually, some members would transform themselves into a Cream-inspired, proto-Led Zeppelin hard rock band. The journey they took not only mirrored the movements of Anglo-American rock stars; it reflected the changing tastes and concerns of 1960's American youth.


* * *

Future members of the Shags had great opportunities to hear early rock & roll in New Haven, Connecticut, where they grew up. They were close enough to New York City to tune in all of Gotham's great radio stations. In particular, 1010 WINS featured several pioneering rock & roll disc jockeys like Alan Freed, Bruce "Cousin Brucie" Morrow, Paul Sherman, Jack Lacy, and Murry the "K," forever associated with the early days of Beatlemania. In New Haven aspiring musicians could also listen in to rock & roll acts as early as 1956 on WELI's "Jukebox Saturday Night." A few years later, Connecticut had its own television Bandstand program as well, which featured big name acts and New Haven's own Five Satins.


A pre-teen Carl Augusto, future guitarist and vocalist of the Shags, was introduced to rock & roll by his sister. The song was "Party Doll" by Buddy Knox & the Rhythm Orchids. Although this Texas rockabilly rant, according to Bill Dahl of the Internet's All Music Guide, "wasn't quite as raw as that of his Memphis cohorts at Sun," it was enough to get Augusto fired up. "There was a little riff," he said, "a very simple riff. I heard that and I said, 'I wanna play guitar!'" Soon thereafter, he went out and found a guitar instructor who showed him how to play '40's and '50's pop, but like so many other aspiring rock & roll guitarists throughout the years Augusto learned mostly by playing along with rock & roll 45s. By the time he turned 16, Augusto knew his way around the neck.


On June 8, 1962, his 16th birthday, Augusto was ready to move his amplifier from the garage to the stage of a dive bar in New Haven. Armed with a Guild guitar and a cheap Sears & Roebuck amplifier, he and a few high school friends formed the Deltons, a group whose repertoire - like many others at the time - consisted mostly of surf music, '50's-style covers, and Link Wray tunes. Besides Augusto, personnel included Phil Vallie and Howie West on guitars, Andy Smith on organ and vocals, and Johnny Tangredi on drums.

Billy Hall

After the Deltons played locally for a couple years, the notable manager and producer Sam Goldman of New Haven's doo-wop group the Five Satins, took notice. Having introduced the Five Satins to the rest of America with the hit "In the Still of the Nite" (1956), Sam needed a group to back them up on the road for about a year on a new tour. He realized that the Deltons fit the bill. In 1963, then still in high school, Carl and the rest of the group jumped at the chance - and honed their playing skills in the process. Eventually, the Five Satins would be honored with a plaque in the New Haven church where "In the Still of the Nite" was recorded. (To see the plaque, visit St. Bernadette Church on the corner of Townsend Avenue and Burr Street in the Morris Cove section of New Haven.) After backing the Five Satins, as the group's 1950s sound was already fading into history, the Deltons released their own single called "The Glory of Love", a doo-wop cover, backed with an instrumental called "Gear". Only around 100 copies were pressed, but the song could be heard on local radio stations briefly.


As the Deltons' popularity faded, Augusto became available as guitarist and singer at just about the time that future Shags co-founder Tom Violante was getting the itch to form a Beatles-type rock band. Both were seniors in Notre Dame High School in West Haven and knew each other only casually until Violante suggested to Augusto that such a band could be in demand very soon. Augusto agreed and suggested that he and Violante get together and rehearse a bit to see if they could produce anything worthwhile. In fact, the initial grouping of musicians that laid the foundation for the pre-Shags band Hollywood High Drop Outs began as a quintet: Augusto on lead guitar and vocals, Violante on rhythm guitar and vocals, Rich Ventura on guitar and vocals, Eddie Staffieri on drums, and Robert Irwin on vocals. However, this was little more than a get-together, as the actual performing band evolved into a quartet. Augusto and Violante, the founding members of the Hollywood High Drop Outs, added Mike Goodwin on bass (who had a PA system the band badly needed) and Jeff Cannata on drums (who eventually founded the group Jasper Wrath).


This seminal Hollywood High Drop Outs group played its first gig at Frankie's Villa Pompeii restaurant on the Boston Post Road in Milford - an Italian wedding, no less. Because they only had twelve songs in its repertoire to cover a four-hour wedding, the group had to repeat each song at least twice, varying the tempo and mood of each repeat to make it sound like a new tune. In addition, Augusto did ten-minute renditions of instrumentals including "Sleepwalk," "Pipeline," "Walk Don't Run," and "Hava Nagilah" to fill in the time. They earned $100 for the gig and thus became "professionals."


The Frankie's job was the first and last gig to feature Cannata on drums, as he had his own aspirations to start a band. Former Deltons drummer Johnny Tangredi was brought in as his replacement. After about six months with Goodwin on bass, Augusto and Violante decided they needed a hipper bassman and recruited Billy Hall from the rhythm & blues show band Bobby Bennett and The Realms, for whom Goodwin would now play bass. The initial quartet that would become the Shags had taken shape.

John Tangredi

Augusto thinks his sister probably came up with the Hollywood High Drop Outs name; one that they hoped would project a rebellious image. Sam Goldman suggested an even more abrasive name change to The Creeps, but the band thought that was a bit over the top. "We weren't really creepy looking," Augusto said jokingly. "I mean, who knows, if we were really creepy looking, it might have worked out." Goldman needed the name change to release the groups' first record, "Wait and See", on his Nutta label, so the boys set to work on selecting a new name they could all live with.


Deltons organ player Andy Smith suggested the Shags. The name would stick, and by September 1964, enthralled by new musical possibilities ushered in with the Beatles and the British Invasion, the group officially transformed themselves. Although the Austin Powers spy movie satires might lead us to think otherwise, they took the Shags name after the shaggy hair they were inspired to grow themselves after seeing the Beatles for the first time on the Ed Sullivan Show.


Despite the way many films depict American life in the mid-'60s, having long hair was by no means typical. When Augusto started college in 1964 at the University of Connecticut, his longish locks were somewhat of an oddity, and he took a lot of flak for it. "Sometimes you really had to watch it," he said. "More than once I had to run like mad from guys that wanted, literally, to knock my head off because of the hair on top of it."


There was no shortage of groups called the Shags in the mid-'60s. There were Shags across the country in states such as Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, Florida, Indiana, and Canada - not to mention New Hampshire's rhythmically-challenged, all-girl, double-g Shaggs. The New Haven Shags, however, were by far the most well known, successful, and influential, and they actually hold the registered trademark of the name for performing musical groups. (Violante registered the name in 1965.) They were also one of the first bands in New England to adopt the Beatles' look and sound. "Even as the Deltons," said Augusto, "we started both harmonizing and playing guitars, which was not typical. Most groups in the area were either instrumental surf bands or doo-wop - one or the other. I think the Shags were trailblazers in that respect in New Haven at the time."


The line up at this time included John "Aaron" Perkins on vocals and tambourine (now deceased); Carl Augusto on lead guitar and vocals; Tommy Violante on rhythm guitar and vocals; Billy Hall (now deceased) on bass; and Johnny Tangredi on drums. Interestingly, Carl, Tommy, and Johnny took stage names: Carl Donnell, Tommy Roberts, and Johnny Stanton, respectively. Perhaps they thought their surnames would confuse their anglophile audiences. At any rate, they wouldn't be the first performers to drop "ethnic-sounding" last names. Of course, this doesn't explain John using "Aaron" as his first name on stage. Maybe he just thought "John" sounded square.


In the winter of '64-'65 Sam Goldman brought Augusto, Violante, Hall, and Tangredi - Perkins would only sing live - to New York City's A-1 Sound Studios (former home of Atlantic Records) on 56th street to record three sides: "Wait and See", "It Hurts Me Bad", and "'Cause of You". Violante sang lead on "Wait and See" and "'Cause of You" with a cold that day, and Augusto took over lead duties on "It Hurts Me Bad", with the others filling in the harmonies. The three songs were recorded primarily live in the studio on a two-track recording machine, with vocal or guitar-solo overdubs added later. "We didn't have a lot of studio time, so there were usually a lot of mistakes," Augusto said. "We tended to be pretty conservative in the studio so we could get things right, but a lot of the live excitement was lost in the process."

Myron Frame

The group was accompanied on their trip by a rather dodgy entourage of locals. "I don't know how this happened exactly," said Augusto, "but we had some real tough guys from the neighborhood come with us. I would call them 'wise guys,' but that has too much of a mafia connotation. They were from Grand Avenue - the Italian section of town. I mean, these guys were considered 'hoods,' and we were a little nervous. They managed to convince us to let them get involved in the recording. A guy named Whitey - I think his name was - did a tambourine in the background, and he wasn't that good. But we were afraid to say anything to him!" In fact, Robert Irwin also accompanied the band, having sung with Augusto and Violante at their first get-together.

On their first two singles the Shags were making the transition from '50s-style rock & roll to a more '60's Beatles sound. Their vocal harmonies were featured up front, and they added plenty of nice guitar arpeggios and made good use of minor chords and keys - styles exploited successfully by a number of New England bands of the period. 

The first single, consisting of "Wait and See" and "It Hurts Me Bad", was released on Goldman's own label, Nutta, and it stayed at #5 on the local charts for three weeks. "Wait and See" had a 1950's, Danny & the Juniors-feel with some early Beatles minor chords, harmonies, and guitar flourishes added to update the sound. Breaking out of the conventions of early rock & roll into the post-Fab Four '60's with "Wait and See", the Shags showed how adept they were at using minor chords intelligently and composing a solid song structure. The song also had a driving eight-note guitar and bass pump that would sound appropriate twenty years later. "It Hurts Me Bad" revolved around a Kinks-inspired guitar riff. The song began with a bad-boy menacing sound and then exuded a nice-guy vulnerability in the chorus with sophisticated chord changes. The combination worked with listeners, since this song, like its A-side, shot up the local charts on radio stations WAVZ, WPOP, and WDRC.

The follow-up single, the ballad "By My Side", backed with "'Cause of You", didn't fare so well. "'By My Side' came out on Sammy, also Goldman's label," Augusto remembers, "but it bombed. The record debuted in the 30s on the charts and then abruptly died." "By My Side" is an expansive tune reminiscent of the very early Beatles' takes on pop standards such as "'Til There Was You." "'Cause of You" is a little ditty with a more '50's approach, supplemented by Beatles-style guitar rhythms. 

Goldman and the Shags lost interest in each other after the second single failed to match their chart expectations. However, around that time, as luck would have it, a dentist friend of Tangredi's, who worked at a local health club, had just decided to become involved in the music business. He would eventually buy Synchron Sound Studios in Wallingford, Connecticut, and produce rock & roll bands. Thomas "Doc" Cavalier, who died January 1st, 2005, gave the Shags their first real recording contract in the autumn of 1965. The Shags would be the first of many Connecticut acts that Doc would produce and manage, and his successful recording studio
Trod Nossel thrives today. In addition to working with the Shags, he recorded New Haven's Bram Rigg Set and Hartford's own Wildweeds, an incredibly talented, blue-eyed soul combo whose guitarist, Al Anderson, later went on to play with the famous NRBQ. (Anderson has also garnered several songwriting awards and written many Country music tunes, most recently "Trip Around the Sun" on Jimmy Buffett's License to Chill.)

The future looked bright and full of possibilities for the Shags. Although right around that time the Lovin' Spoonful were exploding in popularity, very few American groups were actually hitting the charts. "The British Invasion was still in full swing," Augusto explained, "so we thought we could really be one of the few American groups to break out in a big way. Of course, everybody else thought that, too."

As 1965 progressed so did the Shags. Their hair got longer, their clothes hipper, and their guitar sound harder. The next song, sung by Augusto, was titled "Don't Press Your Luck" - advice they weren't prepared to take themselves. Backed with "Hey Little Girl" (Violante singing lead) on Doc Cavalier's own Taurus Records, this is the song twosome that would make the Shags a New England phenomenon. Although Augusto and Violante fought over what would be the A-side, both tracks received significant airplay. "Don't Press Your Luck", however, was the Shags' definitive breakout hit.


"Don't Press Your Luck" is perhaps the best known of the Shags' songs, and it's not hard to understand why. The song manages to rock even with minor chords dominating. Augusto's guitar work pierces through and accentuates the warning of the song. Both the message and the song structure were similar to "(I'm Not Your) Stepping Stone," although at this point the Monkees were still only a gleam in a TV producer's eye. "Hey Little Girl" is a folk rock jangler worthy of the Beau Brummels, if not the Byrds - a great example of the Shags' exceptional vocal harmonies.


Under Doc's direction, the Shags really started to take off. In early June 1965, they appeared at Yale's Woolsey Hall with Lesley Gore, Chubby Checker, and a smattering of other local groups. The show was sponsored by actor Danny Thomas to raise money for a hospital. Having gotten some local attention, Augusto couldn't believe that the Shags were only the opening act. "I mean, we had the hit record," he laughed, a little embarrassed at his youthful bravado, "and Checker and Gore were has-beens!"


But the band's self-confidence was not unmerited, and this show gave them a real taste of what it was like to be on the receiving end of Beatlemania. "After the Woolsey Hall gig," he said, "We were chased by all these screaming girls. You know, as far as everyone was concerned, we had hit the big time. Just like in A Hard Day's Night, we had to race into our old limo - clawed and grabbed from all sides." Their other car was a hearse that they had refitted to carry the musical equipment. "Our name was painted on the side in Old English lettering," Augusto said. "That was our trademark."


Local fame also brought endorsements, and at one point The Baldwin Company gave The Shags guitars and amplifiers. The band played them for a few months but hated them. They mostly used Fender guitars, and briefly, Rickenbackers. Augusto's first rig was a Jazzmaster guitar and a beige Fender Bandmaster amplifier, a popular choice among bands of the period. Eventually, they acquired two Vox AC-100 amplifiers and a Vox bass amplifier - exactly what the Beatles used. Violante settled on a red sunburst Rickenbacker 360 12-string, and Augusto acquired a matching 6-string version. Tangredi's prized Slingerland white pearl drum kit was the jewel in the group's equipment crown, and he still owns the kit today.


Although the Shags never made a great deal of money, Augusto did earn enough to provide him with books and weekend spending money through his college years. By this time the Shags were performing every weekend at some sort of event. During the summer, they were booked up to four times a week, gaining popularity throughout New England.


The next Shags release was a cover of The Beatles "I Call Your Name". Augusto explained, "We knew that the Buckinghams had done a version, but they were based in Chicago. We thought that there was still room in the charts for an East Coast take on it. I have to admit, I didn't like what the Mamas and Papas did with it." The Shags had high hopes for their fuzz-drenched rendition of the Beatles-penned number. On the record the group was tight and made competent tempo changes, and eventually the song climbed to the 80s on the "Bubbling Under the Top 100" list. The B-side, "Hide Away", was notable for its sophisticated songwriting. In the hands of the pre-Invasion Beatles, or perhaps the Beau Brummels, this song would have been a hit.


The Shags had to fight with Laurie Records to lay down "I Call Your Name", however. "Believe it or not," remarked Augusto, "they wanted us to record 'Snoopy and the Red Baron, but we would have none of it. The Shags were a serious band, and we weren't about to be known nationwide for a novelty song." Later, when the band saw the Royal Guardsmen hit the national charts with the song, they were unrepentant. "We just said 'Good! Let it be number one!' We didn't want the stigma of having done a joke song." Perhaps they weren't so crazy. Florida's Royal Guardsmen never did much of anything after that, besides a couple of other Peanuts-inspired numbers, anyway. The Internet's All Music Guide classifies them as "novelty" and "bubblegum," while the Shags are honorably mentioned as being "garage rock."


By the time "I Call Your Name" was released, University of Connecticut student Lance Biesele - Lance Gardner on stage - was playing bass. "Lance was more of a precision player than Bill," remarked Carl, "but he was unfortunately much more clean cut, as opposed to Bill's rocker look." Throughout their brief career, the Shags also had a series of energetic and charismatic front men when they played live, such as Aaron Perkins and Myron Frame. However, these singers almost never participated in studio recording sessions, where either Augusto or Violante would sing lead.


At the peak of their success, the Shags did a lot of traveling up and down the East Coast from Boston to Washington, DC. They were very popular in their home state and opened for groups such as Paul Revere & the Raiders, Peter & Gordon, the Byrds, Chad & Jeremy, and the Animals when they performed locally. "It was a blast hanging out with all those great acts," said Augusto. "But they were never very interested in us - and who could blame them? They were surrounded by all of these beautiful, excited girls. And then, of course, there were the drugs. The hard drugs I saw were just not something I had encountered before."


There were a lot of venues in the New Haven area, and the Shags often played at a place called the Shack in Waterbury, Connecticut, where they drew large crowds. "Girls would dance enthusiastically right up in front of the band," Augusto remembers, "and all I can say is that I was the most naive person in the whole place, because I never took advantage of that. Of course, the reality is, it was really difficult for me to get a good look at them. By that time I was well on my way to blindness." (Today, Augusto is totally blind.)


The Shags played and promoted their singles live, in addition to covers of the Beatles, Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones, the Animals, Dave Clark Five, and the Beach Boys to keep their audiences dancing. They performed mostly for high school kids and some college students. Very often, the group and local teens would travel over the Connecticut border for shows in Brewster, New York. "The fact that the drinking age was eighteen in New York at the time," remarked Augusto, "didn't hurt!"


However, Augusto and company were primed to present their original material to the masses - at least, the local masses - on television. In 1966 the Shags, along with the Bram Rigg Set (whose name was taken from an old gravestone in a local cemetery), appeared in a New Haven TV pilot on WNHC (now WTNH) called The Show With A Very Long Title. The idea was to feature local bands lip-synching their hits in proto-video format, not unlike Help or A Hard Day's Night, while young women modeled the latest teen fashions in and around the Yale campus. Despite the draw of sixteen-year-old knockouts and hip, longhaired rockers, and producer Steven Geller's persuasive promotion to TV execs, the program was never actually aired. (Geller wrote the underground hit movie Pretty Poison that starred Anthony Perkins and Tuesday Weld.) The concept was interesting, nonetheless, considering that the show predated the debut of the Monkees' prime-time effort by a few months.

Live at the Zodiac Club

The Shags were still going strong in 1967 with the release of two more singles. With "As Long As I Have You", the group took their cue from the Lovin' Spoonful, proving that they could integrate vaudeville and music-hall style into rock & roll as competently as anyone. This was a "spotlight song" on WDRC in Hartford, so the band thought that this could be their national breakout single. Distribution of the single wasn't bad, since the Philadelphia-based Kayden was a division of Cameo, the company that signed ? and the Mysterians. "As Long As I Have You" did make the top 20 in New Haven and Hartford, and it had to be a regional hit somewhere, since the for the first time the Shags actually received royalties - around $25 each. The B-side was a tight, fuzzed-out stomper called "Tell Me". The main riff sounds a lot like the Beatles' "Day Tripper," and the introduction chimes in with a psychedelic backwards-looped guitar. Heavy feedback leads into the instrumental break.

"Breathe in My Ear"
, which revolves around an adamantly beat-out drum introduction, backed with "Easy Street", a proto-hippie vaudeville number with great walking bass work, followed soon thereafter. Interspersed with a great bee-sting, fuzz guitar lick by Augusto, "Breathe in My Ear" is the most unabashedly fervent rocker by the Shags. He says that the group came up with the drum part one day while practicing at the Shack, and everything else fell into place immediately. "All of the sudden," he remembered, "we said, 'Wow! - That is fantastic!' I came up with the music and most of the lyrics, and Tommy came up with, I think, the brilliant 'breathe in my ear' line, which I loved. When we put it all together, we were absolutely sure that this was it!" (Tangredi received songwriting credits on this one as Johnny Stanton, since he inspired the driving double-bass drum beat intro for the tune.)

"Breathe in My Ear"
made it into the national charts, hovering between 101 and 120 but never breaking into the top 100. Basically, the song suffered from a lack of distribution. "In Albany," said Augusto, "they had us really shooting up the charts. We played there for about three or four days, and a local DJ said, 'Everybody loves your song, but they can't get their hands on it! If you can't get distribution here, you're gonna lose out!' I think it was also in the top ten in Akron, Ohio, or something - at least, that's what we heard." However, in the fundamentalist religious South, stations banned the song. DJs sent their copies back to the distributor with gouges in the tracks and notes that the lyrics were "too suggestive" and "too sexy" for youth to listen to.

This sort of thing was typical for bands at the time. If you could cut a decent single, you had a much better chance than today of getting airplay - not just locally but in different cities around the country. Local DJs had a lot more freedom to play what they wanted, and almost every major radio station had its own top 40 - not to mention an enthusiastic audience that paid attention to it. If a good record got into the right DJ's hands, a band like the Shags could gain fans hundreds of miles away. However, just like today, a single still needed major label backing to become a truly national hit. The advent of FM radio, although pioneered by independent college DJs, eventually ended the phenomenon entirely.

Even though Kayden supposedly promoted the record nationally, remarked Augusto, kids "couldn't get their hands on the singles, and so it never went anywhere." In addition, Augusto says that the Shags weren't really sounding as good as they used to. "I don't know if it was the 'rock & roll lifestyle' we were increasingly living, or whether that we simply couldn't retain a good bass player that was causing us problems. Lance was gone because of some big artistic disagreement with Tommy, we lost Myron (who went on to form his own group, the Farme), and the Shags just couldn't recover." It probably didn't help, either, that the Summer of Love was in full swing, transforming musical tastes and ushering in album-oriented rock and the prominence of FM radio. Soon after the disappointment with "Breathe in My Ear", the Shags called it quits.

They left behind several unreleased tunes previously recorded during their sessions at Synchron, as well as at Cameo-Parkway Recording in Philadelphia. "Two Flowers Talking" is a sweet, mid-'60s pop expedition that wouldn't seem entirely out of place on a Harper's Bizarre album. For a few seconds of "Too Many Highways", one could almost imagine what Simon & Garfunkel would have sounded like if they had actually tried to rock. "I'm Gonna See Her Tomorrow", co-written and sung by their sometime live front-man Myron Frame, could convince one that the Talking Heads ripped off the bass line for "And She Was." Recorded at Cameo-Parkway, "Shoop Shoop Song" is a heavy cover of a soul classic, and "When I Get Home" is a nice, soulful groover as well. "Holiday Hill", which included performances by Augusto and Violante as well as members of the Bramm Rigg Set, is sunshine pop as good as you'll find, and they should have sold "Don't Let this Happen to You" to the 1968 Monkees.

However, that wasn't the end of either Augusto's or Violante's musical careers. With help from a number of other musicians, whose names have been lost to time but probably include most of the Shags and some of the Bram Rigg Set, both recorded a few more singles at Cavalier's Trod Nossel Studios. Unfortunately, none of these studio forays was ever released. Instead, Augusto and Violante went back to the drawing board at Cavalier's studio with former members of the Bram Rigg Set to form Pulse, a truly heavy and competent rock unit whose sound reflected the dark mood of 1968. "1968 was one of the most tumultuous years in American history," remembers Augusto. "It started with the Tet Offensive in Vietnam where Americans got slapped into reality; Lyndon Johnson decided not to run; Martin Luther King and [Robert] Kennedy were assassinated; race riots occurred in major cities in the summer; and then there was the violence at the Chicago Democratic Convention. That was a very, very, very scary year, and, you know, some of us were wondering - is this country really gonna make it?"

With this angst coming through in Augusto's singing, Pulse (originally named "The Pulse of Burritt Bradley," after a name they saw on a grave stone) released two singles: "Can Can Girl" / "Burritt Bradley" and "My Old Boy" / "Another Woman". Pulse initially included Augusto, Violante, Bennett Segal (drums), Peter Neri (lead guitar), Richard "Sno Whyte" Bednarzcyk (organ), and Paul Rosanno and Lance Gardner both playing bass. The group honed their skills for almost a year just jamming in the studio, but by the time their first album was released both Violante and Gardner had departed. The self-titled LP Pulse was a real accomplishment. Not only was the playing and songwriting solid, the heavy style and complex arrangements seem a few years ahead of their time. The fact that the band had not yet heard Led Zeppelin is, indeed, remarkable. Kids in Germany and France took particular notice, and the band received overseas royalties from these recordings. "I was amazed a couple of years ago," said Augusto, "when a colleague of mine found the Pulse album on It had been pressed to CD by a small label."

lasted only as long as the Shags did, however, since Augusto was not satisfied with his singing. "My voice wasn't bad," he said, "but I knew that I wasn't good enough to make it big. I was in graduate school to be a rehabilitation counselor for people who are blind or visually impaired, and that began to eclipse my ambitions to be a rock star." His decision to leave Pulse seems to be the right one, since Augusto is now the President and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind, headquartered in New York City.

"Back then, I think a lot of us lived two lives," said Augusto. "I mean, you lived the straight life, you went to college, you studied, you looked to your future, and then, you know, the weekends you're smoking pot and wearing weird clothes. I knew I had to live in the real world, but there was a powerful urge to escape pulling at me, too."

Tommy Violante currently works in public relations for a regional VNA in Connecticut, but he is still quite active musically. He fronts the
Key West Trio, a Jimmy Buffett-inspired band that also does Beach Boys songs and a few '50's and '60's covers, performing mainly in the Northeast. The group also includes a member from the '60's group the Roadrunners, Eddie Gerosa, and an '80's-era Shags member, Joe Zukowski, on drums.

Violante and Tangredi reformed the Shags in the 1980s. Augusto saw them play in the mid-1990s at the Oakdale Theater-in-the-Round in Wallingford, Connecticut - site of one of the more enthralling shows of the 1960s Shags. After Tangredi left and Zukowski re-joined, they cut covers of their original hits that remain unreleased, though Violante said that might change soon.

The Shags leave behind perhaps more than just their recorded music as a legacy, however. "A guy named was Orrin Bolotin was one of our roadies," said Augusto. "I remember being over at his house one day and Orrin saying 'hey my little brother Michael has a real soulful voice, listen to him.' I may be imagining this, but afterwards I remember patting him on the head and saying something to the effect of 'maybe someday you'll get into a great band like us.'" Violante recalls that Augusto taught the 11-year-old Michael how to finger chords on his acoustic guitar as well. Michael would later change his last name to "Bolton," and the rest is history. Could it be that the world has the Shags to thank for Michael Bolton?

Karen Carpenter and her brother, Richard, lived in New Haven, Connecticut, until 1963 when they moved to California. "According to someone in the Shags fan club," recalled Augusto, "the Carpenters liked the Deltons, an early incarnation of the Shags, and they saw us play." Would the Carpenters have been inspired to become a successful recording duo if not for the influence of members of the Shags? We'll never know.

* * *

The Deltons
The Glory of Love/Gear (Drum, 1964) 

The Shags
Wait and See/It Hurts Me Bad (Nutta 101, April 1965)
By My Side/'Cause of You (Sammy SA-1 01/2, August 1965)
Don't Press Your Luck/Hey, Little Girl (Taurus 1881, May 1966)
I Call Your Name/Hide Away (Laurie 3353, August 1966)
As Long As I Have You/ Tell Me (Kayden 407, April 1967)
Breathe in My Ear/ Easy Street (Kayden 408, June 1967)
Don't Press Your Luck on New England Teen Scene (CD, El Diablo Records, 1994)
Breathe in My Ear on Fuzz, Flaykes, & Shakes, Vol. 1: 60 Miles High (CD, Dionysus Records, 1999)

Come Back To Me, Two Flowers Talking, Too Many Highways, I'm Gonna See Her Tomorrow, Shoop Shoop Song, When I Get Home, Holiday Hill, Don't Let This Happen To You 

Make A Record With The Shags, WAVZ Radio Jingle, Specter's Teenage Boutique Radio Spot

Can Can Girl/Burritt Bradley (Atco 6530, 1968)
My Old Boy/Another Woman (Poison Ring 711, 1968)
Pulse (LP, Poison Ring, 1968; CD, Black Rose Records, 2000)

Carl R.Augusto
Tommy Violante
The New Haven Sound: 1947-1976 by Paul Lepri. New Haven: United Printing Services, Inc., 1977
All Music Guide