The Fools Of Ipswich
There are fewer things sadder for a rock band than the inability to roll. That is the message from two of Ipswich’s rock stalwarts, Mike Girard and Stacey Pederick of The Fools.
The interview was virtual, with Stacey safely tucked into his Ocean Drive home and Mike at his place in Kensington, NH.
“We did a show on March 13 of last year, and then the world shut down,” Mike recalled. “We were able to do one outdoor date in Manchester-by-the Sea in August, and that has been it. We lost 30 to 40 shows.”
Music Is The Glue Between People
For a band that has been together for decades and has toured North America and Europe with the likes of Van Halen, Rush, the Ramones, the Knack, the Doobie Brothers, and the J. Geils Band, the pandemic shutdown has clearly been hell for them — and their fans.
Although they now largely confine their gigs to New England, they have a very loyal following, especially on the North Shore.
“In recent years, we’ve had three generations from the same family attend our shows,” said Mike.
Stacey nodded. “Some of the parents come up and tell us they actually met at one of our concerts. Music is the glue for some families.”
Music has certainly been the glue that has kept Stacey and Mike together. They grew up within shouting distance of each other and emerged on the scene in the 1960s, at a time when Ipswich was booming musically. Folkies had the King’s Rook (later Stonehenge); jazz fans and classical fans had Castle Hill concerts; rockers had the Teen Club and a phenomenon called “Battle of the Bands.”
Battle Of The Bands
The latter was a strange hybrid involving judges voting on a group’s musical performance and presentation style, including fashion sense. Think Olympic ice dancing.
One of these competitions, which I witnessed, took place at the then-new Hamilton-Wenham High School. Stacey and Mike were at this point members of a band called The Islanders, competing against a brace of others, including Brian Farina’s Crying Shames.
I have no recollection who finished first, but I do recall the Islanders were relegated to second place because Mike’s too-long belt had missed a loop, hanging down and dangling semi-obscenely between his legs. Fatal style points deduction.
“When you think about it, the whole idea of bands battling is pretty strange,” Mike said.
The Fools Are Born
In those days, they were performing other artist’s work, including that of Roy Orbison. Mike, who from the start was lead vocalist, had an uncanny ability to project in a similar style; hence, his nickname “Orba” in high school.
Over time, The Islanders morphed into The Rhythm As, and, finally, in 1975, the Fools, comprising Stacey, Mike, Rich Bartlett, Doug Foreman, and Stacey’s younger brother, Chris.
By then, they were mostly writing and performing their own material and had several hits, including “Psycho Chicken” (a parody of “Psycho Killer” by the Talking Heads), “A Night for Beautiful Girls,” and “Life Sucks … and Then You Die” (which is probably getting a lot of play right now on Spotify). Fueled by MTV appearances and ample WBCN exposure, they found steady work, often as an opening act for groups on tour.
There were a couple of periods of hiatus, but the band never really broke up. They would just reassemble and rock on.
The Secret To Staying Together And Making Music
The history of rock ‘n’ roll is littered with bands that have blown up. From the Beatles to the Eagles, discord of one sort or another has been the norm. A few years ago, I spent a day with Robbie Robertson of The Band and Last Waltz fame. I never did get up the courage to ask Robbie what happened between him and bandmate Levon Helm.
“So,” I asked Mike and Stacey, “How is it you guys are still together, after — what? — 55 years? What’s your secret?”
“Basically,” said Stacey, “We like each other enough to hang out together — and that was true as kids, before the band.”
Mike agreed. “It’s about hanging out together. If we hadn’t had a band, we might have had a bowling team. Also, we never had ‘rehearsals’ — which sounds like work. It was always ‘let’s go play.’”
I am still trying to imagine Mike Girard, who bandmate Richie Bartlett once described as “a tempestuous hood ornament” for his on-stage antics, bowling.
Both Stacey and Mike said it also helped that their spouses, Rita and Ginny, are best friends as well.
Advice For Aspiring Musicians
And what of the future? What advice do they have for aspiring musicians?
“Take it as far as you can. Play whenever you can. Don’t wait ‘til you’re ‘ready,’” Stacey said.
Mike agreed, adding, “No other job gives you such immediate feedback, be it applause or boos.”
But they said it is difficult for up-and-comers, even before COVID.
“Most of the clubs are gone. WBCN is gone. MTV is not what it was,” Mike lamented. “Starting out today is really tough.”
The good news for Fools fans is that they are already plotting their return to live shows. Mike, Stacey, and Rich Bartlett hope to do scaled-back, three-man shows in late spring or early summer, with all five assembling in late summer or fall.
“Once we’ve all had our shots and it is safe, we’ll play with our usual reckless abandon,” concludes Mike.