S.J. & The Crossroads
Though his band, S.J. & The Crossroads, is very highly regarded among collectors of '60's garage rock, vocalist Sam Messina can't quite figure out the current "'60's Garage Punk Rock Band" descriptive that the band has at times been labeled with.  The group was, in reality, largely a cover band, and took their influences from all types of music, including British Invasion rock, Chuck Berry, Elvis, New Orleans and Soul and Blues.  There's no denying, however, that at least some of theor recorded sides are excellent representations of garage rock at its finest.
L-R: Mike Daleo (guitar), Philip Battaglia (bass), Johhny Serio (lead guitar), Sam Giglio (keyboards), Sam Messina (vocals) and S.J. Serio (front, drums).
An Interview With Sam Messina

60sgaragebands.com (60s): How did you first get interested in music?
Sam Messina (SM): My dad played trumpet before and during the war. He played in the LSU band and then the Navy band.  He got me to start playing in the school band.  From there I just went on with it.  There was always music around the house: Big Band stuff, Louie Prima (what Italian kid ever grows up without hearing Louie Prima around the house?), Elvis, Chuck Berry, Doo-wop, Swing, Boogie-woogie...you name it.

60s: Was S.J. & The Crossroads your first band?
SM: Not the first, but the first to go as far as we went. Most of the bands I played with were basically jam sessions.  When I went back to Catholic school they didn't have a school band so I got in with a group and played trumpet. We didn't do a whole lot of gigs, just minor parties and stuff.  We played Soul and Blues.  The Winters (Johnny and Edgar) lived next door to the drummer house where we jammed.  There's no telling what they thought when they heard those sounds coming from next door. We were mostly just kids. I was in the eighth grade. I always enjoyed entertaining.  My cousin and I would jam together also. He was learning drums and I was learning guitar.  We mostly just entertained ourselves.  A school friend of mine who later helped start The Crossroads and I would pick on our guitars and try to learn tunes. I remember we did a lot of Jimmy Reed-type things (who didn't?). He tried to teach me chords. I never took any lessons.  I tried to learn by ear. His name was Mike Daleo.  Mike, my cousin and I would jam at times.  Like I said, we were just kids having fun.

60s: Where and when was S.J. & The Crossroads formed?
SM: I believe it was during my junior year in high school.  S.J. sat in front of me in Religion class. He turned around one day and said, "Lets' start a band."  He had jammed with Mike and me a few times. On one of these jams his younger brother Johnny came out to the garage and played guitar. I believe he was only 14 or 15 at the time, but he was a killer guitar player.  He was better than me or Mike anyway.  So I told S.J. I would do it only if his brother would play guitar and if we could find a good bass player.  Anyway, we put a rehearsal together at S.J.'s house to see how it would work out.  I seem to remember we had a hell of a time getting Johnny out of the house to play.  He was real shy at the time. The first serious rehearsal that we had we learned ten tunes right off the bat.  S.J. proved to be a real good drummer.  He kept time real well.  I don't remember all the songs we learned that night but 'Treat Her Right' comes to mind as one of them.

You have to know something.  We all were friends from very early in our lives.  Our parents grew up together.  S.J. and Johnny Serio were cousins to Sam Giglio, our keyboardist.  Phillip the bass player and Johnny Serio had been friends since grammar school.  We were all of Sicilian descent.  Mike Daleo, Sam Giglio, S.J. and I were all in the same year a Kelly High.  Johnny and Philip were in the same year at Kelly.  We all went to the same school. We were either related to each other or related to people who were related to each one of us.  It was kind of complicated.

We started out with me doing vocals, S.J. Serio on drums, Mike Daleo on rhythm guitar, Johnny Serio on lead guitar, and Philip Battaglia on bass. It was five guys. We later added Sam Giglio on organ.  We were all Italian; a bunch of nice-a boys.  When I left the band, Gerry Mouton took my slot as singer.

60s: How would you describe the band's sound? What bands influenced you?

SM: You know, I keep seeing on the Internet where we were described as being a "'60's Garage Punk Rock Band." I don't understand where that comes from.  We sure didn't sound like what I hear as Punk Rock. We were mostly a cover band.  We played mostly what we heard on the radio at the time because that is what the kids in the area wanted to hear. We tried to copy the sound of the record we were learning. That was a big deal back then: "Hey, those guys are good, man,;they sound just like the record."  In some cases we succeeded. In some we didn't.  We did songs by The Animals, The Kinks, The Stones, older rock and roll (Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Buddy Holly, Jimmy Reed), stuff we heard coming out of Houston (Roy Head, The Fanatics and others), some of the New Orleans things, Fats Domino and Soul (James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave). Anything we thought the kids would dance to we tried to play.  And what band of that time didn't play "G-L-O-R-I-A" ?

Just about everything we heard on the radio at that time influenced us.  A lot of entertainers have come from what we call down here "The Golden Triangle." Just do your history. Johnny and Edgar, Janis Joplin, George Jones, Barbara Lynn, Lonnie Brooks, Big Sambo, Jerry Lacroix, and on and on. The Fabulous Boogie Kings were a big influence on me personally, as was Elvis and Chuck Berry. I like to hear them horns.

60s: What was the local rock and roll scene like in the '60's?
SM: Nothing like it is now.  Bands don't have the loyalty today that they had then. If you were with a band then you stayed with them through the good, bad, and ugly. There were a lot of good bands here then.  I think it comes from the gumbo of this area.  We had a lot of great groups to compete with then: The Cambridge Lads, The Basic Things  (I really liked those guys), The Kids, Deep Six, The Impalas (a great soul band lots of horns).  We were all trying for the same gigs.  

60s: Where did the band typically play?
SM: We played proms, school dances, private parties, concerts opening for bigger acts, and a lot of college fraterities parties (I liked those the best).  I believe we played at a drive-in theater once but I'm not sure (remember it was the '60s).  We also played CYO dances. 

60s: Did you play any of the local teen clubs?
SM: There was The Rose Room and The Crown Room, both in hotels downtown. I remember a club in Baton Rouge. Later, after I left the band, they played a few other teen clubs but I don't know the names. Once we opened for The Sir Douglas Quintet at some little club out in Nederland. We thought they were from England.  They were from San Antone. There weren't many as I remember until maybe 1968, '69 or '70. By that time I was out of the band.


60s: Did S.J. & The Crossroads participate in any battle of the bands? .
SM: Yea.  We went up against the local stock--mostly guys younger than us.  I didn't really do those to compete so much as just get another chance to play music.  I don't remember a lot about them or how many there were.  I remember the local shopping center having a few BOBs  as I called them.  I seem to remember that on some of these we were more like headliners than competing. They were mostly done outside.  The sun was hot. That I remember.

60s: Did S.J. & The Crossroads have a manager?
SM: KAYC Radio sponsored a teen dance at the Hotel Beaumont in what they called The Rose Room.  The Rose Room was usually rented out for parties and wedding receptions.  KAYC Radio personality Al Caldwell along with Gus Keriotis (Jim Keriotis' dad) would have these dances on Friday and Saturday nights during the school year and Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights all summer.  After rehearsal one night I, my brother Joseph, and Johnny Serio went to The Rose Room to hear a group out of Houston called Neal Ford & The Fanatics (an awesome band). The place was packed.  I went over to the deejay table to talk to Bob McIntyre, one of the deejays at that time, and heard someone make a comment on how many people were there (300+ at that time). I turned around and said to Al, "Oh, we draw a bigger crowd than this!"  Now up to this point we had played very few gigs. And those were mostly "after ball game sock hops."  Al said to McIntyre, "Yea! You think they're ready?" McIntyre nodded. Al asked, "How do I book you?"  I told him to talk to our manager (we didn't have one at that time).  When I told S.J. what I did he crapped all over.  We had a band meeting after rehearsal one night to figure out how we were going to fill The Rose Room with all of our fans (which at this point equaled to all of ten).  S.J.'s dad, Sal Serio, agreed to manage the band for this gig and he talked to Al.  Al booked us for one night.  S.J. and I got on the phones and started calling everyone we knew. We told them to call five people each and to tell those folks to call five people each and so on. 

The night of the gig we went to set up like we normally did (30 minuntes before showtime) and we couldn't  get to the stage because of the crowd.  Everybody  and their brother was there.  When Al saw this he booked us for just about every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday that summer.  S.J.'s dad became our agent, road manager, chaperone, and protector.  We called our record label after Sal and S.J.'s mom, Mary: "Salmar."  From then on her name to the guys in the band was "Mar." Later we had to have two guys as roadies and bodyguards to help us out.  

60s: How popular locally did S.J. & The Crossroads become?
SM: I guess reasonably.  We had a few records on the radio that were popular locally. The KAYC bunch kinda helped us out with that. Back then you could go to a radio station and say, "Mr. Dejeay, play my record" and if it was good he would put it on, usually late at night, till it caught on.  Now days they won't do that.  Sometimes we took a little flak from other groups because our stuff got played. Jealously I guess.  I know we played a lot of gigs in the two years I was with them, almost every weekend during the school year and three-four nights a week in the summer.  That's a lot for the area we lived in and the type of band we were. We also did a lot of autograph parties at local record shops to promote our records. A big thank you to those folks for making us feel like rock stars.

60s: How far was the band's "touring" territory?
SM: When I was with them we played mostly around what we called The Golden Triangle: Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange. We played in Houston once or maybe twice.  We played in Baton Rouge.  I had a cousin who worked for Montel Records and he wanted us to play there and to record for him so he set up a gig at a teen club there. I don't remember its name.  It was on Florida Street across from the Alamo Motel where the band stayed.  What a hoot.  I stayed at my cousin's that night and he took me out and got me drunk. We went to see The Boogie Kings at some club.  I was up all night.  The next morning we had a recording session.  Man, I couldn't hardly talk much less sing.  Needless to say ole Sal was pretty upset with me.  We recorded anyway.  I don't think we released any of that stuff though.

60s: What were the circumstances leading to the band's opportunity to record?
SM: It was summer and we were rehearsing in the Serios' garage. S.J. had it set up like a studio.  We'd roll the cars out, and roll the carpet down.  The walls and doors had acoustic tiles on them.  One night Sal came home, stopped dead in his tracks and said, "You guys are sounding better.  Would you like to record?"  So we worked out some stuff. None of us really knew anything about how to write songs.  Al Caldwell convinced us that the best thing to do was to record something that was already out there.  I think if I remember correctly he suggested the old Jesse Hill song, 'Ooh Poo Pa Doo".'  We went to Jones Studio in Houston (I believe in the Heights area), along with Al and some others,.and recorded the song along with I believe five other tunes.  Al arranged the song.

It was a lot of fun.  I never heard my voice on tape like that.  We recorded everything as a band.  The only thing we overdubbed was back ground voices.  We wanted a good live sound like playing a gig.  If you listen to the beginning of 'Ooh Poo Pa Doo' it sounds like we are playing in a club.  We added our own voices to get the crowd noise.  We were all just repeating the word "rhubarb" over and over.  Then the guitar kicked in.

60s: Did SJ & The Crossroads write many original songs? 
SM: I wrote 'Darkest Hour' along with Johnny Serio.  I did the lyrics and came up with the concept for the music.  He wrote the solo.  S.J. and I collaborated  on 'Breakdown.'  We more or less shared a lot on that kind of thing.  Somebody's has to appear on the record as writer so we shared that sort of thing.  It really didn't matter to us one way or the other who got the credit.

60s: Do you recall how many of the band's songs you performed on?
SM: All but two.  That's Gerry Mouton on Get Outta My Life Woman' and 'Play Your Game.'

60s: Do any other S.J. & The Crossroads recordings exist? Are there any vintage live recordings, or unreleased tracks?
SM: Not that I know of, unless they did some things after I left the band.  I know S.J. had a reel-to-reel and we probably recorded some of our practice sessions early on.  I don't think it was much to write home about though.

60s: What about 'London Girl' and 'Funny Woman'?  Both were unreleased recordings at the time that appeared on later CD compilations...
SM: I hardly remember them.  They might have been recorded in Baton Rogue.  That could be me singing...or not!?

60s: Did the band make any local TV appearances? 

SM: Not while I was with them. I left the band in '68 and I went into the service in '69.  I know they carried on.  What they did I don't know.  I was way out of touch.  I remember Sal took a lot of stills.  Years after I got out of the service S.J. brought a scrapbook over with all these pics in them.

60s: Why exactly did you leave the band? 
SM: Gerry Mouton asked me this question a couple weeks ago. It was my doing.  I don't think anybody in the band actually knows the reason I left except S.J. and me. 
We were playing a lot.  We used to rehearse every night and play every weekend.   It seemed to me the guys were getting burned out.  We didn't play with the spark and fire we started with two years before. We were making a lot of mistakes on stage even on songs we'd been playing since we started.  We were not learning any new material; we would just show up at the gig, get on stage and go through the motions.  The crowds must have noticed also; they were getting fewer and fewer.  One night we played the Crown Room at the King Edward Hotel.  Few people were there.  It was late. We started a song and for some reason it fell apart before we got into it good. We had been doing that kind of thing all night.  I got the ass and walked off stage and headed for the dressing room.  S.J and I got into an argument and that was that. 

60s: Did you join or form any bands after S.J. & The Crossroads?
SM: When I left S.J. I tried to put together another group.  The military drafted my musicians from under me so I more or less gave it up.  Pretty soon I got my notice so I joined The Air Force.  I didn't play music again until the early '90s.

60s: What keeps you busy today?

SM: I am a piping designer.  I work for an engineering company in Beaumont.  I started playing music again in the early '90s.  I've had a few bands since then, most recently Deja Blues.  We were playing quite a bit but we have slowed down. Mostly now I just call the guys together for a good paying gig or a benefit.  We're a Blues band.  None of the guys in the band played back in the sixties.  Right now my nephew plays drums with me.  He's around 24 years of age.  Once a month there's a Blues jam here.  I'll make that and it's great fun.

60s: How do you best summarize your experiences with S.J. & The Crossroads?
SM: It was great fun.  A really great experience.  Dig this: You're 17 or 18 years old, cruising with your friends or that girl you've been trying to impress, you flip on the radio, you hear your record being played...What could be better?

No...really.  It kept us out of trouble, believe it or not.  It was 1966/1967.  The drug culture hadn't taken over yet (at least not here in Beaumont).  We never played the beer joint thing so we never had that to contend with.  I only saw one fight and that was at the Rose Room one night at a private party.  This guy tried to crash it.  The fraternity parties were the best (check out Animal House.  That really happens.).  The guys I played music with, though we hardly see each other any more, are life long friends.
 


L-R: Johnny Serio (lead guitar), Philip Battaglia (bass), Sam Giglio (keyboards), Gerry Mouton (replaced Sam Messina, vocals) and S.J. Serio (front, drums).