Rock-and-Roll Is Here to Stay
It's all in the music for Vernon Miller
By Eileen Gefell
In 1965, they left school, hired an agent, moved to New York City and even appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. Their management agency also represented the Beatles, and Bob Bonus, the manager of the Beatles success, loved their sound.
Meet the opening act for the Beatles five-stadium historic last tour of 1966. Meet The Remains; singer-guitarist Barry Tashian, keyboardist Bill Briggs, drummer Chip Damiani and bassist Vernon Miller, a Livingston native, who is now in his twenty-eighth year of teaching music at the Maplewood and South Orange Middle Schools.
And The Remains? They broke up shortly thereafter. Miller completed his degree in music, and went on to earn graduate and postgraduate degrees in music composition. Tashian stayed in the music business and toured with Emmy Lou Harris throughout the eighties. Briggs played blues gigs around Boston; Damiani started his own business but rarely played.
Miller played trumpet, tuba and guitar through high school. He majored in tuba at Boston University, but it was the bass guitar that found him touring with bands the likes of Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, The Shirells, The Supremes and The Kingsmen. He also later formed an 11-piece blues band, while The Remains played only an occasional gig through the years.
Five years ago, the band was asked to reunite for The Purple Weekend, an international mod festival in Leon, Spain. They hadn't played together in seventeen years but remained good friends and collaborators. "We have always had an uncanny connection," says Miller. "We always knew what we are going to do before we did it, and as a band we took risks." Once, while on their way to an opening gig for the Supremes, The Remains heard the Rolling Stones sing "Satisfaction" on the radio. They went on stage and played it that night. "Barry and I also wrote the song we played on the Ed Sullivan Show the night before the show," says Miller. "We were never afraid to take chances. We rarely rehearsed in the old days and so we picked up right where we left off."
They reunited and flew to the Purple Weekend, where Miller says they were amazed to find a non-English speaking audience singing the words to all their songs! "It blew our minds," says Miller, "so we came back to the states and wanted to do more." Soon they had gigs in Boston, Las Vegas, New York City, and in the fall of 2002, The Remains released "Movin' On," a CD of all-new material. According to Star-Ledger critic Jay Lustig, "Their tracks have aged well. Their most striking features are strong songwriting, and an intriguing blend of British Invasion style and blues-rock bluster." And the new album is fabulous; it is resonant with the polish of life experience.
Sixties garage bands have never really gone out of fashion, and with a buttress of supports like Steven VanZandt's syndicated talk show, "Underground Garage," these bands have enjoyed a continual resurgence. In fact, there's a nifty little clip of The Remains on VanZandt's website, littlestevensundergroundgarage.com.
Just back from a weekend gig in Spain surrounded by instruments in the Maplewood Middle School, Miller mused on his twenty-eight years of teaching. "Young people have so many natural gifts. I believe they are not given the opportunity to honor and develop them," said Miller. "Kids are bombarded with conflicting messages all the time from media, parents and peers. I want to be able to guide them to make their own informed choices, not tell them what to do, but how to stop and think about it." Miller is very thankful for his life experiences. "I have been very fortunate. If I had not been given the opportunity to follow my passion, I would not have had the wonderful experiences I've had. If I can help these young people see that in themselves, to stay in touch with it, and help them discover their true passion then I will feel I've accomplished something. Everything I got, I want to give back."
Check out The Remains at theremains.com
Eileen Gefell plays very loud music while alone in her car. Every time her kids get in the car, they yell because she's forgotten to turn the volume down.
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