|Best known for their huge local smash ‘It’s A Beautiful Day,’ The Bridge was another of the great bands that called New Haven, Connecticut home. Like The Shags and The Wildweeds, two other New Haven groups, The Bridge recorded at Doc Caviliere’s Trod Nossel Studios (Synchron) and left behind classic songs that are still fondly remembered. Drummer Dennis D’Amato co-wrote much of the band’s original material and was instrumental in helping shape the combo’s sound.
|The Bridge: Paul Tortora, Dennis D'Amato, Charley Claude, Leon D'Amato and Johnny Mariano
|An Interview With Dennis D’Amato
60sgaragebands.com (60s): How did you first get interested in music?
Dennis D’Amato (DD): My uncle Andy Mondo was a tremendous guitarist who played with The Dorseys and others in the forties and fifties. He also taught many of the great local guitarists. He always had his guitar around—a Gretsch White Falcon—and was always playing what was the forerunner of “hammering” and stuff like Django Reinhardt and Les Paul. So at a very young age, five or so, I was very aware of music. I remember listening to the piano in ‘Jailhouse Rock’ and saying that someday I wanted to do that.
When I was in fourth grade, the guy from the music store came to the school to get everyone to play an instrument. I said I wanted to play piano. The nun told me only girls played piano. With my masculinity being challenged at such a young age, I decided to play drums. I mean, what choice did I have?
60s: Was The Bridge your first band?
DD: I started singing with my cousin Leon D’Amato when we were very young. We used to sing stuff like ‘On Moonlight Bay’ in harmony all the time. As we got older (geez…maybe 12 or so) we started listening to Motown stuff and Phil Spector Wall of Sound stuff. We had a couple of other cousins who wanted to start a band, and we all got together and formed The Four Tymes. Creative, huh? We played ‘Secret Agent Man,’ some Kinks, lots of Temptations stuff; I don’t know if we sucked or not. But we did a mean ‘I Believe’ in the basement of St. Lawrence Church in West Haven, Connecticut and people seemed to like us. Our first gig—no lie— we played for peanuts. Literally. We played at some bar on Campbell Avenue, and the guy gave each of us a bag of Planter’s. We were professionals at last.
My mother was friends with Paul Tortora’s mother and/or we were related somehow. I’m not sure. But Paul was one of my Uncle Andy’s students and was asking around about people to play drummer who was older, and one was a bass player. They called themselves The Morticians, and I remember them doing stuff like ‘For Your Love.’ The bass player and Paul and I got together a couple of times and made some noise. I suggested that my cousin Leon could play guitar and sing. It took a couple of auditions, but they finally agreed. The last piece of the puzzle was a keyboard player who lived down the street from Paul. This was Charley Claude. We all got together to form The Symbolix. Creative again, huh?
60s: Where and where was The Bridge formed?
DD: The Symbolix, who became The Bridge, was formed in West Haven by Paul Tortora and me, if I remember correctly. I think that was in early 1967. The group consisted of Paul Tortora, lead guitar and acoustic guitar; Leon D’Amato, rhythm guitar, acoustic guitar, vocals, percussion and teenage sex appeal; John Mariano, bass guitar and vocals; Charley Claude, Hammond B-3, Fender Rhodes piano and vocals; and me, Dennis D’Amato, drums, vocals, percussion and Shure microphone box.
60s: How would you describe the band's sound? What bands influenced you?
DD: Early on, we were very much influenced by Motown groups: Temptations, Four Tops, and The Isley Brothers. We did some pretty good harmonies for our age and kept that thread going. Later, Hendrix, Cream, The Beatles (of course), The Who, Bee Gees, Buffalo Springfield, Lovin’ Spoonful, Crosby Stills and Nash, Blood Sweat and Tears (Al Kooper version!) and Electric Flag, Savoy Brown, Free…pretty mixed bag, really…all influenced us. We also did some oddball stuff like ‘Judy In Disguise’ for kicks.
We were pretty eclectic, I think. If I had to say we sounded like anybody, I’d say a cross between Buffalo Springfield and The Bee Gees. We had strong harmonies and solid guitar and keyboards. We experimented with lots of psychedelic stuff—lots of feedback and effects—but usually came back to the vocals. Toward the end of our run, we became somewhat of a jam band. We would do a first set of covers, and then do our original music and jams. It was a lot of fun and I think pretty creative.
60s: What was the New Haven rock and roll scene like in the '60s?
DD: Let me put it this way: The New Haven rock and roll scene in the ‘60s was one of the most vibrant and talent-laden culture in the U.S. Someone said there were 10,000 bands in Connecticut. I don’t know if that’s true, but it seemed that way. And there were places for us all to play. Some of the truly great bands to grace that stage included The Wildweeds, The Shags, The Five Satins, Tri-Power, The Chosen Few, Harvey, The New Breed, Fancy, Strawbed, The Warlocks, Fancy, The Scratch Band, The Marble Collection, The Bone, North Atlantic Invasion Force (NAIF baby!), Eastern Alliance, Erasmus, Jasper Wrath, The Van Dykes, The Bone, Tommy and The Rivieras, Climax, Tension and Pulse. I couldn’t possibly remember all of them, and I apologize in advance for leaving anyone out. We were especially close to guys from The New Breed, Marble Collection and Strawbed. But it was a pretty tight knit group in general.
Some of the great players to come from that time include G.E. Smith, Jeff Pevar, Steve Buslowe, Joey Melotti, Randy Burns, Tom Harper, Al Anderson, Christine Ohlman, Bobby Torello, Dave Coviello, Bobby White, Ed Cherry, Mike Helski, ,Jeff Cannatta, Bobby Sheehan, and Joe Mendyk; again, the list goes on forever. I honestly think there was a greater concentration of incredible musicians in New Haven than in San Francisco.
The great thing was that, for the most part, everyone was pretty supportive of each other, and there was a real culture (sub-culture, perhaps) of musicians, roadies and such that was pretty tightly knit. We were all sort of figuring it out together, and it was really exciting.
60s: Where did The Bridge typically play?
DD: We played wherever there was electricity. In the beginning, we played at a place called The Horizon Club on the beach in East Haven. We played adult club, where lots of bands claimed to be people like The Coasters or whoever. I don’t think they were, but we believed it. We opened for lots of them. We played a lot of CYO dances; you’d be amazed at some of the great bands who played them regularly then. We played high schools, town halls, Yale colleges, University of Connecticut, church fairs, Elks clubs and some private parties.
60s: Did you play any of the local teen clubs?
DD: Yeah, that was a pretty cool thing about New Haven at the time. There were lots of places to play. There was The Mod Scene, The Trapezoid and Bill Miller’s Cheri’s Shack. The Shack, as we called it, was one of the best gigs in the area. It was in a barn that was actually a dance studio by day. A mirrored wall made it look twice as big. It had balconies, and a great stage and sound. We also played some of the adult clubs in the area like The Red Garter, The Polynesian Room, Actor’s Colony, The Mad Russian and The House of Zodiac. The “Zoid” as we called it was a somewhat exclusive place to play—and a great one as far as I remember. Another place was Arthur in New Haven. We played there over 30 nights in a row. The only night we had off was to record our first record.
We also took part in creating a place in West Haven called Neb’s Furnace. This was up on the top floor of a church on the West Haven Green. It was just a bunch of kids putting the club together. It became one of the hottest places in town, and bands would show up on Sundays to jam with us for hours at a time. After it got established, they gave all of us a share in Neb’s Furnace Corporation. We played in old English tuxedoes and didn’t charge the charity. It was a really great night that meant much to us. Again, that was just part of the culture.
60s: How far was the band's "touring" territory?
DD: Mostly Connecticut, but we played in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and sometimes Rhode Island.
60s: Did The Bridge participate in any battle of the bands?
DD: Actually, a battle of the bands was a very important part of our history. We won a battle of the bands at Turkey Hill Road School. First prize was getting to open for The Young Rascals at The New Haven Arena. After winning that, lots of doors opened up for us. I’m not sure, but I think the great Joey Melotti was in the band we placed out for the prize. It sort of came to us hard and fast after that.
Later, we hosted a battle of the bands at West Haven High School. We were not in the competition. It was judged by Tommy James and he liked our set. He was instrumental in getting us signed to Roulette Records. But that’s another story.
60s: Did The Bridge have a manager?
DD: Our manager was Art Van Dyke. Artie was a keyboard player and singer in a band called The Van Dykes and later The Van Dyke Five. They were an incredible band; our version of The Four Seasons. They had a couple of local hits records, but tragically their lead singer, Frankie Ruggerio, drowned in a swimming hole. After that, the band sort of slowed down.
Artie owned a record store down in the Savin Rock section of West Haven, and we would go in there and bust his chops about getting us gigs. He broke down one night and came to listen to us at St. Lawrence School gym. He told us we were OK but our dynamics sucked. He started booking us pretty much right after that. He moved the record store to the center of town and I worked there on and off for a couple of years.
Artie was a very decent and dedicated guy. I don’t know how hard he worked at it, but we always had gigs—sometimes five or six a week. We made some pretty good money by any standards. Not many bands today come close. He made sure we recorded and he plugged us with the local radio stations to get us airplay. I can honestly say there wasn’t one day that went by when Artie was not there when we needed him.
60s: What were the circumstances leading to the Co-Op 45?
DD: That was not our label. It was owned by the people who owned the Yale Co-Op, hence the name. I believe but am not sure that a local disc jockey/record store owner/manager named Barry Cobden had something to do with the label, and helped get us signed. The record was sold at Barry’s store, and Cutler’s in downtown New Haven. Cutler’s was a great place back then: Lots of old music and some rare new stuff. It smelled like old records. I loved it. Anyway, that’s how that happened.
‘Love Is There’ was originally released on our own label. We were kicking around changing the name of the band to Ozrik. I mistakenly came up with this name because I thought it was the gravedigger’s name in Hamlet. It was something like that anyway. When I couldn’t get the band name changed, I lobbied for the reverse of the name for our record label. So we called it Kirzo. Damn…were we creative, or what? So the record was first released on Kirzo Records.
As I said before, Tommy James heard us play a set at a battle of the bands we were hosting. He liked us, and Artie got involved with Tommy and got us signed to Roulette. There were some conditions to the signing. One of them was that our record would not be released within thirty days of anything Tommy James and The Shondells released, so we would have a shot at a hit record. We got released the same day as ‘Tighter and Tighter’ by a band called Alive and Kicking. It was a better record I suppose, and it went on to be a hit. I found out later that Alive and Kicking was actually Tommy James plus or minus a Shondell or two. Oh well.
The record broke with 105 and a bullet, topped out around 80 or so. Not bad for a bunch of kids, I guess. I once got a royalty check for 18 cents for it.
60s: Where did The Bridge record?
DD: Like many of the bands in the area, we recorded at Trod Nossel Studios in Wallingford. Trod Nossel Studios was owned by Doc Cavaliere. Doc was responsible for launching the career of Al Anderson and the incredible Wildweeds, Pulse and so many others. It was a great studio at the time, and it continues to be to this day. It was an 8-track studio and, of course, my memory of it is that it was the most exciting place in the world at the time. Rich Robinson was the engineer. To this day, I can recognize his “formula” for recording stuff. I recorded there over the years with various other artists, and the studio continued to change with the times. I believe they had the first digital studio in the area.
The studio itself was a huge room with a control booth. As I recall, we often had to stop recording when trains went by—sort of like the Bulls in Brewster’s Millions. It was a trip. But the sound was tremendous. I remember the first time we heard a playback on the first record. We knew we were a good band, but hearing yourself in a professional studio for the first time is something you just can’t describe or forget. It was always a trip to take a copy home from the studio. They had one of those vinyl cutting machines in studio. Boy, times have changed, huh? But I don’t think they were able to stop the trains.
Probably the most notable thing I recall is that my cousin Leon had his hand closed in a car door outside the studio the first day we recorded. Fortunately, he could still sing. Leon had one of the sweetest voices you ever wanted to hear. He still does. We also added a verse to ‘Love Is There’ in the studio. We jammed when we played it live, so we didn’t know how short it was.
60s: Did The Bridge write many original songs?
DD: Yes, we had a couple of sets worth of original material. Some of it was pretty damn good. Most of it was never recorded though. We did a tune called ‘The Valley’ that we were particularly proud of. It centered around the days of the depression era, people standing in line for food and the frantic desperation people must have felt. It ended with a plea to people to stop all of that and come to the Valley to find peace. Kind of corny, I know. Maybe today is a good time to redo it. I don’t know.
Most of our stuff was collaborative. Our first song, ‘It’s A Beautiful Day,’ was co-written by me and a guy named Marty Markiewiecz. He was a friend of Artie’s and a pretty good songwriter. I was involved in most of the other songs. Leon was also. Charley was a pretty good songwriter as well. I didn’t realize how good he was until the band broke up. He was an incredible musician.
60s: Do any other '60's Bridge recordings exist? Are there any vintage live recordings, or unreleased tracks?
DD: There are two 45 releases. The first, on Co-Op, is ‘It’s A Beautiful Day,’ a bubble gum teeny bopper tune we did as a filler, and ‘A Life In A Day,’ very heavy, Vanilla Fudgey kind of tune that we really wanted to release as the A-side and that we paid a lot of attention to in the studio. We did the other in one take. Guess which one was the hit?
The second record was ‘Love Is There’ on the A-side, and one of my favorite Bridge tunes, ‘Gotta Get Back’ on the B-side. We never recorded anything else together. Sadly, we were not into recording live gigs. I guess we thought it never would end. To my knowledge, there are no such recordings and very few if any live photos. If you run into anyone who has any of that, I’d like to know!
60s: Did the band make any local TV appearances?
DD: We made one local TV appearance on The Brad Davis Show. He had us superimposed on a bridge somewhere playing ‘Love Is There.’ Again, how freakin’ creative was that? As we speak, I have a friend of mine who is a producer for one of the local TV stations trying to find out if those tapes are in existence. Randy Burns and The Morning did one, and Joe Mendyk did one. Did I mention Randy before? If not, I’m mentioning him now.
60s: What year and why did the band break up?
DD: We broke up in 1971. Paul and I went to Southern and were sort of growing away from it I suppose. We didn’t’ really break up for any particular reason that I know of. We were all just sitting around one day and one of us said maybe we should break up. We said OK. And that was that. It was that simple. Anyone who says breaking up is hard to do never was in The Bridge.
Our last gig together was incredible. It was at the Ansonia Town Hall. Ansonia was a great place for us. We had a very loyal fan base there. Nobody was supposed to know it was our last gig, but Artie leaked it out. The place was packed that night. Our last song together was the Joe Cocker version of ‘A Little Help From My Friends.’ Charley sang it probably better than Joe. Before we started the tune, we invited people up on stage with us. There must have been 80 people behind us doing the “ooooohhh-oooooohh-ooooohhhs” at the end. I remember thinking that maybe we should have stayed together. Sometimes I still think so.
60s: Did you join or form any bands after The Bridge?
DD: Paul played with some other players after the band broke up, but for the most part he was finished as a professional musician. He went on to do incredible things for the City of West Haven as an educator. He was responsible for bringing computers to the system, and later became the Superintendent of Schools. I’d say that he served a much more important purpose in that capacity.
Johnny and I have lost touch with each other, but for years after the band broke up we ran into each other from time to time at pick up gigs. He really turned out to be a pretty damn good bassist and one of the nicest guys I ever knew. Johnny, if you’re out there, get in touch man!
Leon and I drifted apart over the years. He plays mandolin and guitar, but mostly keeps to himself. As I said, Leon has one of the sweetest voices you ever want to hear. And he’s an incredible guitarist. We played in some bars together as a duo into the mid ‘70s.
Charley, from what I hear, is still playing keys somewhere. I think he’s kind of on the nightclub circuit. As I said, he is quite a player. Very raw talent and ballsey blues voice.
I played with a few other bands—Cranberry Lane for one with the great Bobby White, Harry Jeroleman and Mike Helski from The Chosen Few. They went on to bigger and better things without me. The tremendous jazz guitarist Ed Cherry played with them for awhile. I did some recording with a guy named Bill Wrinn over the years, and got to play and record with my little cousin John D’Amato. John is tearing it up in Nashville today with a new CD release. He’s a helluva guitarist. Those Bill Wrinn sessions yielded some good tunes at Trod Nossel, and included some great players. Marion Meadows and Dan Cipriano, two of the most accomplished sax players in the world played on those records.
Somewhere along the line, I learned how to play acoustic guitar. I played in a bluegrass band called Uncle Bill and Floobey and The Hot Meranguie Orchestra Featuring the Incredible Dr. Mombo and Phil. We did a lot of “Old and In The Way” stuff and traditional bluegrass. We were pretty good, but we had to break up because we couldn’t fit the name on the album cover.
60s: How do you best summarize your experiences with The Bridge?
DD: Well, how do you summarize something you did seven days a week for five years where you made some of the best friends you ever had, experienced things that influenced and helped shaped your life, gave you the chance to meet and play with outstanding musicians and even had your record at Number 1 while The Beatles’ ‘Let It Be’ was number four?
It didn’t suck.