Roger C. Reale on his "lost albums" and a place in his heart for New London
Bassist/singer/songwriter Roger C. Reale grew up in East Providence, R.I. In the 1970s, his family moved to Connecticut as he was getting into rock and starting to write songs. He then recorded two albums' worth of his delightfully energized and infectious power-pop songs with his band Rue Morgue in Wallingford at Trod Nossel Studios. Today, 40 years later, the mostly forgotten "Radioactive" first album and the second, "Reptiles in Motion," which was never released even though it featured legendary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame guitarist Mick Ronson, have finally resurfaced. Reale now lives in Branford, where he's a retired high school English teacher.
So why does Reale regard New London as the spiritual heart of his musical career?
"New London is special to me," Reale says emphatically. "If there was any musical home for me — if there was any headquarters for what I was doing musically at the time — it's New London. After the label I was on folded and the musicians went on to other projects, I formed the Roger C. Reale Band and we found ourselves playing more and more in New London. The Reducers were forming and that's where we met and became friends, and (nightclub) Baba O'Reilly's was getting famous because they'd only book original bands. That was huge and it was a place to heal and keep going with like-minded people. Man, I can't tell you the number of times I fell off the Baba O'Reilly's stage. That place was home."
In that spirit, it's probably appropriate that "The Collection," a single-disc package by Reale & Rue Morgue, will reconnect fans to both the 1978 "Radioactive" album and introduce old and new folks to the heretofore phantom "Reptiles in Motion" LP, is now out from New London's Rave On Records — a label founded by The Reducers.
Interestingly, because of ownership issues regarding the master tapes, Reale had given up on the records ever surfacing. Then, a few years ago, Richard Brukner, a longtime producer for The Reducers, entered the picture.
"I loved the 'Radioactive' LP when I first heard it as a student DJ at WCNI, and the college radio DJ in me still has the uncontrollable, perhaps insufferable urge to uncover and share hidden treasures," says Brukner, who'd gotten to know Reale a bit through their mutual friendships with the Reducers. Brukner wondered what had ever happened to "Radioactive" and started doing some legwork on who owned the rights to the album — and the unreleased "Reptiles in Motion" — and if a reconciliation of sorts was possible.
"I thought there was maybe an opportunity here, and it came down to asking, 'If not me, who?' I did pursue other options for release, but when it came down to it — and after a few heart-to-heart conversations with (Reducers guitarist/curator) Peter Detmold, we agreed that if it was going to be done correctly and respectfully, it should come out on Rave On Records."
Ultimately, they were succesful. It took Brukner a few years of casual conversations and negotiations with the Trod Nossel folks, but eventually all of the rights to the recordings and songwriting have reverted back to Reale, and "The Collection" came out Oct. 18. The 24-song package captures the crackling energy, greyhound rhythms and vitamin-strength melodies that seemed to percolate in Reale's brain in those important pre-New London years.
A bit of history
As a disciple of rock frontiersmen Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and Little Richard, and a kid who grew up enamored of British Invasion acts like the Small Faces, the Pretty Things, the Stones, the Beatles, the Yardbirds and the Who, Reale's listening habits had ingrained plenty of formulaic firepower for his burgeoning work as a composer.
Then, as he began to get truly polished, the UK transitioned with punk, glam and New Wave acts like Dave Edmunds, Elvis Costello, the Clash, Nick Lowe, Slade, Bowie, Mott the Hoople, Cheap Trick and the Ramones.
All these sounds spun like sugar in Reale's head and, along with his own innate sense of a hook and lyrical observations, by the late '70s, he had a strong batch of tunes that attracted the ear of Jon Tiven, the A&R man for American indie label Big Sound, which had connections at Trod Nossel Studios. Reale was signed and immediately put together a pretty stunning band to record "Radioactive."
Reale was friends with guitarist G.E. Smith (then of the Scratch Band and later associated with "Saturday Night Live," Hall & Oates and Bob Dylan), who immediately signed on. Tiven recommended drummer Hilly Michaels (Sparks, the Hunter/Ronson Band), who in turned recommended the second lead guitarist, Jimmy McCallister (Sparks, Mick Ronson).
"We all got along great and liked the same music, so it worked really well, really quickly," Reale says. "The songs were finished. The guys worked up their parts and we went into the studio with the idea of recording live for the energy and because it felt great playing them. And it worked."
Big Sound was excited; the music had 1000-watt punk energy and clever songs with blueprints that utilized superior interlocking musicianship. And Reale was and is a terrific rock vocalist with plenty of power along with fluid melodicism.
"Big Sound loved the record. They approached Decca/London in the UK and that worked," Reale remembers. "They even sent over (elite music graphics outfit) Rocking Russia to do photos and design the album cover. G.E. was on the road with Dan Hartman, so me, Hilly and Jimmy did the photo shoot. They spent a whole day with us, and it was pretty exciting." He pauses and barks a quick laugh. "I have no idea what happened to any of it."
The release is a huge and pleasant development for Reale, and something he'd assumed would never happen. Frankly, those two early albums, while a musical source of great pride and memories, were both victims of industry bad luck. "Radioactive" came out on the American indie Big Sound label with British distribution by the mighty Decca/London outfit, and reviews overseas were strong.
Though Rue Morgue played one live gig, the decision was made to immediately record a follow-up album. This time, as Smith already had commitments, help came from a genuine British guitar god named Mick Ronson. Not only was "Ronno" a genuine star as a member of several seminal David Bowie albums and tours, he also played in Mott the Hoople, released several hit solo LPs including "Slaughter on 10th Avenue" and "Play Don't Worry," and was in huge demand as a session player and producer.
"It's still hard to believe Ronno played on my album," Reale says with a genuine note of awe in his voice all these years later.
It turns out Michaels had played the "Radioactive" album for Ronson and, Reale says, "Apparently, he loved it. And when Michaels mentioned they were about to record a second Rue Morgue album and had lost Smith to another gig, Ronson wanted in.
"I'll tell you what, I was nervous," Reale says. "I felt good about the songs and knew Mick liked the first album, but he was STILL Mick Ronson. And he was the most unassuming, soft-spoken, friendly non-star you could imagine. He put everyone at ease immediately. And we just got to work."
As Reale had already written the songs, the musicians sat on stools in Trod Nossel Studios and nuanced the rough arrangements so McCallister and Ronson could figure out their parts.
"Another thing I was worried about was that these were quick, punchy songs; I'd written them expressly so there weren't any solos or lead parts," Reale says. "And both Jimmy and Mick were completely fine with that. It seemed like Ronno really enjoyed being in the studio as just one of the guys in a band."
When the album was completed, Reale was pumped. A single was released in the UK, the presence of Ronson on the album provided much added credibility, and there were talks about a European tour. Then ... nothing happened. Ronson had already been committed to the Hunter/Ronson Band, and Michaels and McCallister eventually took other gigs. Ultimately, Big Sound faltered and then went under and, without money or distribution, "Reptiles in Motion" languished on the Trod Nossel shelves and "Radioactive" went out of print.
"I didn't have the rights to the music," Reale says, "It's as simple as that."
A Manchurians candidate
Reale has never stopped writing or performing, from the Roger C. Reale Band and those New London heydays and into the new century. He's written songs for a variety of performers, including Johnny Winter and Buddy Guy and been nominated for two Grammy awards. In 1999, he formed the Manchurians, which, for a number of years, featured his son Mat on drums, and the band is still active and has released two albums, "Deliverance" and "One for All."
When Brukner broached the idea of getting the Rue Morgue rights back and indicated that it was indeed possible, Reale said sure, why not?
"It's not really a dream come true because I never dreamed it was possible," Reale says. "I didn't fret about it; I just thought it was part of life. But this is pretty exciting."
In addition to elation over the news, Brukner and Reale went to work remastering the two albums and sorting out publicity and distribution through Amazon, streaming, and various brick and mortar establishments. "The Collection" is available in both vinyl and CD editions, and both Reale and Brukner say this is only the beginning.
"It's been a lot of hard work, and it isn't finished, but the response from fans and the media has been very gratifying and rewarding," Brukner says. "Now we'll continue to do everything we can to make it successful."
As for Reale, he continues to play with the Manchurians and, though that band has its own following and songs, they've added a few Rue Morgue tunes to their setlist. "They're all my songs and I'm proud of them," Reale says. "And Richard says we've gotta stay ready. The reviews are great. I'm older now and you don't just hop in a van and tour the world. But I'd never say never, either."
Who knows? Maybe he'll play New London.
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