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THE CHEST PAINS THEN & NOW - Coconut Times Entertainers of the Year
Written By: Brenda Golden
*Click images below to view larger versions.
THE CHEST PAINS THEN & NOW - Coconut Times Entertainers of the Year
The Chest Pains receiving their award at the October 1st performance at BJ’s.
THE CHEST PAINS THEN & NOW - Coconut Times Entertainers of the Year
The Chest Pains with Byron, Rory, Mike & Billy, ca. ‘85.
THE CHEST PAINS THEN & NOW - Coconut Times Entertainers of the Year
The original Chest Pains, Rory, Phil, Jeff & Byron, ‘81.
THE CHEST PAINS THEN & NOW - Coconut Times Entertainers of the Year
Flash to 2011, Jeff & Byron with Joe Mama & Chris playing at Fager’s Island. photo by Chris Clark
THE CHEST PAINS THEN & NOW - Coconut Times Entertainers of the Year
Drummer Joe Mama honored the memory of Michael Tracey White with this picture for their first performance at Fager’s Island.
    I wish all of you could have been at BJ’s when I announced that The Chest Pains (Byron Anthony, Jeff Davis, Chris Button & Joe Mama) are this year’s recipient of the “Coconut Times Entertainer of the Year.” They were so sincerely surprised and thrilled to be given this honor and added to the illustrious list to have received this recognition before them, beginning in 2000 with Jim Long followed by Danny Dolan (First Class), Opposite Directions (Darin Engh & Bob Wilkinson), Kevin Poole, Michael Tracey White, Joe Smooth, Kathy Denk & Lauren Glick, John LaMere & Chris Button (Crowded Outhouse), Randy Lee Ashcraft & The Salt Water Cowboys, Tranzfusion and in 2010, Full Circle.
    I suppose it’s fitting that I talked with Jeff Davis first who is also a member of Full Circle. Being one of the band’s original members, Jeff certainly knows a lot of band history; here’s what he had to tell me.

“I moved to Ocean City in 1978 and in September or October, I strolled into the Sundowner (later The Circus) for an open mic night. Two guys I didn’t know were setting up and one caught my eye and motioned, was I there to play. I nodded and he motioned to come on. That’s how I met Byron Anthony; we’ve been friends ever since. With him then were Billy Todd and Mike Myers, who also played at that time with Bruce and David Hudson.
    Byron and I played in maybe three bands before the original Chest Pains: Paradise Alley, Crosswinds and The Indicters. In 1980 Crosswinds featured Carl Bailey on keyboards who was also a great singer so we could cover groups like Styxx. We played at the Carousel, Electric Circus, etc., and had lots of fun. Byron and I both sported Afro hair, if you can picture that. We also had a girl singer so we did some Pat Benatar & Heart tunes.
    Right after Crosswinds Byron left for  Atlantic City to study to become a Craps dealer in the casino.
    I met Phil Scudieri who was a terrific drummer and we wanted to put a band together again. So, I made the trip to Atlantic City to talk with Byron who was a little disgruntled there. I remember that trip across the ferry, the last one of the night, and it was really rocky because of a storm. When I got there about midnight it was still raining like crazy. Byron met me at the bus station. So we set out and suddenly here comes this guy wandering across the highway. The brakes locked and we skidded on the wet road and hit the guy. So, off we go to the police station. Welcome to Atlantic City. When we got that straightened out, we went to a rock club, a converted old church from the 1700s called Little John’s. I told Byron I had found a great drummer and I wanted to start a band. Coupled with his dissastifaction with Atlantic City and our night’s misadventure, Byron said, “I’m comin’ home.”
    Then we found 17 year old Rory O. Hession, a guitarist and great vocalist. What might have been even more valuable to the band than his talent was the fact that Rory was a skateboarder and surfer and he and his friends listened to underground music; mostly from the UK. We started at places like Jocelyn’s and Fager’s Island where disc jockies from 96 Rock would hear these tunes and then get them on the radio here. The Clash, The Ramones, Billy Idol & U2 were UK imports at the time. So what was unique about the band is we were always staying ahead of the radio with our material. We would never have had this songlist and been on the cutting edge of the ‘new wave’ sound any other way but through Rory.
    The band needed a cool name so Scudieri and I went to see his cool friend, Root Boy Slim (& The Sex Change Band featuring the Rootettes) in Washington, D.C. This off-the-wall talented singer/songwriter (a Harvard grad) wrote such songs as “Christmas at K-Mart” and “You Broke My Mood Ring” and would capture his audiences by various antics to enter the stage; such as being pushed in a shopping cart, falling over and staggering to his feet - a crazy showman. As a sidenote: Ron Holloway played sax with this band; later with popular band Jr. Cline & The Recliners. So Root sits on the couch lighting a cigarette while Phil is saying that he’s excited to have a new band playing alternative stuff, and Root starts coughing and pounding his chest saying, “I got chest pains!” We looked at each other - in just a couple minutes, we had a name.
    When we got back to OC we asked everyone, “what do you think about The Chest Pains?” People laughed, loved it; always a good response. Root Boy came down to hear us play a few times.
    One night at Fager’s Island we were playing “Rock The Kasbah” and we were very animated. This was before Fager’s had an actual stage because, technically, they couldn’t have a stage since dancing wasn’t allowed. During the musical break in the song, I stood up on a chair and when I jumped up, my head hit the antique lamp globe and glass was flying everywhere. I saw {mgr.} Charlie Smith shakin’ his head, “Do you have any idea what you just did? You broke a hand-blown glass globe” that had the word ‘restaurant’ hand-painted on it from John’s parents from 1920. But they were so cool about it. Another night Byron & Rory both put their foot on a railing and it broke and fell over into the tables. The crowd loved all these antics so John just grinned; the place was packed. Tuesday night was the night for all the local professionals to get their freak on. It was like Halloween every Tuesday. The whole glam thing was going on. Our timing was perfect - New Wave and the band had all this hard-driving raw energy. It feels so right to bring all this great music back.”
    Davis, who has a background in fine arts, owns a sign business, Sudden Storm Studios. He’s responsible for many of the town’s business signs. He still plays bass with Full Circle, Crowded Outhouse, and Poole & The Gang, but he looks happiest when rockin’ it up with his old mate in The Chest Pains.

    Next I caught up with Byron Anthony to get his take on the band’s early beginnings.

“A bunch of us jammed in high school (Stephen Decatur.) My first real band was Paradise Alley with Jeff Davis on guitar, Harold Shore, guitar, Bob Kaye, drums, and David Shore bass. I was singing Led Zeppelin, Tin Lizzie - all that hard rock stuff. This band didn’t last long; creative differences.
    Jeff and I started Cross Winds with Maryann Sciavone, Rob Halminski, Keith Goodman and Dave Docowicz. That band played a lot - in Delaware and Ocean City; The Marshall Inn (now J/R’s) was one of the venues. We did some private parties and there were little projects in between. Then I took off to Atlantic City until Jeff came and told me he wanted to put this new band together. Jeff already told you that story so you know the beginning of The Chest Pains with Phil, Rory, Jeff & myself.
    After four or five years a few players changed; with a drummer replacement being Michael Tracey ‘Bam Bam’ White, and new bass player Don Rice (Jeff went to Tranzfusion). We had a good 10-year run. We opened for the Ramones at The Playpen, Steppenwolf, Love Tractor, The Ravens, Crack the Sky at clubs like Scandals and we started playing a lot in Baltimore. Looking to the next ten years, we decided to take a different direction adding keyboards/synthesizer - a lot more techno - and became Institution of Faith - IOF. Michael, Rory, Don, Chris Bannister (keyboards) and I. We played 60 percent originals.
    We were on the verge of ‘making it big’ thanks to Michael (who wanted to be a big star) who was lining up big acts such as the Joan Rivers Show. Some big talent scouts came from New York; but personnel problems blew the whole thing. Working a day job and driving to Baltimore for gigs was taking its toll so I said ‘that’s it!’
    Time to set myself up in a ‘real’ job. I became a jeweler with Mark & David Liljenquist - who made me a vice president of the company after a year. I had met my wife Jill when playing at the Salty Dog. I saw her mopping the floor in a mini skirt and I said to myself ‘that’s the one.’ We were married within a year. So I was busy working and providing for a growing family (two sons and a daughter).
    My life took another turn when I went to Michael’s funeral. It made me realize that you never know how much time you have and it was time to get back into what I really love. I ran into Jeff Davis and a few others that day. Shortly after, I picked up a guitar again - yep, Michael sent me a message.
    In 2009 I met Mark Burmueller, a drummer, and we had similar musical tastes so we got a jam session together: John Egan on bass, Kevin Wolff, guitar, and me on guitar and vocals. We called it Retrolux. John left and I was able to coax Jeff into playing with us. We got that band up and running and there were more personnel issues. We were playing at Buxy’s one night and Joe ‘Joe Mama’ Wirt came in to hear us. When we took a break Joe said, “I wanna play in this band.”
    We got together with Joe, Chris & Jeff to see if we had the right chemistry. And we did. These guys are so easy - no egos, no issues. I’m amazed that with their calibre of musicianship, these guys have accepted me. We have some studio time lined up for this winter and will record some original tunes and some cover remakes. We’re gonna have some fun.

    Let’s talk with the youngest member of the group, Joe ‘Joe Mama’ Wirt. We’re starting with Joe stoppin’ in to the Salty Dog to hear Retrolux.

“Yeah, I didn’t want to insult the guy who was playing but I really wanted to play in a band again - it had been awhile. Byron was looking for some stronger players and he had heard me and Chris {Button}. I really didn’t even know Byron except having met him at Michael’s {Tracey White} funeral. I didn’t know about the early Chest Pains; guess I was too young. So after that meeting I went to Byron’s to jam with him and we clicked. We both had a love of the music that we wanted to perform. Other bands were doing such a broad spectrum of music and we wanted to focus on that particular alternative rock. He hoped to build a band with a better chemistry and wanted to talk with Chris too.
    Then Byron came out to hear Chris and I play and that led to us getting together as a four-piece (with Jeff) in Sept. of ‘09. At that rehearsal it was the first time that the four of us had played together. We had a list of songs on the wall that we wanted to play and as we flew through at least ten of them, we knew that we had it. We rehearsed thru November under the banner of Retrolux but we were really undecided about it. Chris and I plus several others were going to play the Coconut Times Christmas party so we thought it was a good time to debut the band. While discussing a band name with our ladies it seemed that every time we talked about Retrolux, it always came back to talking about The Chest Pains. I hadn’t known that Michael had been the drummer in that band. I remember we were standing around in a circle talking about it and decided there’s a history of the band with our friend Michael having been in it, so as a tribute to him and to the history of their former band, it just seemed right. So, when we played at  the party, that’s when we debuted as The Chest Pains.
    On New Year’s Day, 2010, Crowded Outhouse (John LaMere, Chris Button Jeff Davis and myself), played. We brought Byron onstage and The Chest Pains played for about an hour; that turned into an audition. Sound man Greg gave us a date in May and we spent the next four months rehearsing, at least twice a week, and sitting in with other bands whenever possible to get our name out there. Our philosophy was to present the music as a very entertaining show with exclusive performances. We wanted to be something special that you wouldn’t hear every week. We love the music we’re playing and people who don’t even know us can see that we’re enjoying ourselves performing this music. There’s a different energy there when we play together - maybe it’s because it’s a full band mentality; not just ‘sittin’ in with someone. It just feels great coming together as a band and doing music that we love, and we hope that others enjoy it as well.
    People may not know that I actually DJ’d when I was 17-20, in ‘87-’90. I was lifeguarding with the Fenwick Island Beach Patrol at that time and hanging out at Libby’s Upper Deck. There were two turntables and a microphone with no one behind them so one night I slid in and started playing classic alternative, new wave rock, and they called it ‘Critter Nite.’ The music that I played was the music that the Chest Pains were playing at that time. Ironic that I was too young to be in the clubs so I had never even heard of The Chest Pains;  but I was playing the same kind of music.
    Not until Michael’s funeral (2006) did I know that he had been in The Chest Pains. That’s when I met Byron and saw all the old pictures. That was a new discovery to me - learning the history of the band and how my friend Michael connected then to now.
    After graduating from college (SSU) I moved to Harrisburg, Pa., to continue playing drums as a member of the drumline in the Westshoremen Drum & Bugle Corps for the next six years. Then I moved to Philadelphia in search of a musical career.
    I moved back to Fenwick when the call came to  be a captain on the Fenwick Island Beach Patrol. I met Kevin Poole and started playing music with him in 2001. Through him I met other musicians such as Michael, then Chris and a whole circle of musicians with whom I played, and still do, such as Dave Sherman and Opposite Directions. When John LaMere returned from Long Island, he and Chris formed Crowded Outhouse and I drummed with them whenever they could play as a trio. I became so busy playing with all these different musicians that in 2003 I was able to leave my job and fulfill that dream of becoming a musician.
    I feel very fortunate to be able to make a living in a place that I love, doing what I love. It means a lot to me to be a part of this revamped The Chest Pains. I feel that tie-in with Michael who I still miss so much; like we’ve come full circle and that Michael has led me to it.

    This brings us to the fourth member of
The Chest Pains, Chris Button, who has been wowing us for years with his guitar wizardry.

“I started playing in high school bands at 15 in Long Island, N.Y. I met John LaMere through a few other musicians I was playing with and we started playing as a duo and with a band called Shore Thing. We started coming here, Ocean City, and  played at Fager’s Island, the old Scandals and Charlie’s Bayside; that was around 1992. (editor’s note: some of you may have seen a picture of those long-haired dudes). John moved down here permanently (it was supposed to be) and I came and played with him a few times over the summer. Every time I did, he kept trying to get me to stay. So I did move down by the next year.
    We were just billed as John LaMere then with me playing lead guitar and doing some backup harmony vocals. About a year later, John went back to Long Island, so I put together some new players, Tom Cooper, drums, Eric Bomhardt, vocals and Joe ‘Daddy’ Klempner on bass, and we called ourselves Grass Daddy. We played at such places as Talbot St. Cafe, The Dungeon, Seacrets, Fager’s Island, BJ’s and Terrapin Station.
    I did that for a couple years and then split and hooked up with solo player Simple John: now called Johnny ‘Mojo’ Karahasan. We played as an acousti duo called Simple Truth at such places as Whiskey Joe’s, Cottage Cafe and M.R. Ducks. After about a year or so, we met Joe Mama at one of the Sunday afternoon jams at Whiskey Joe’s. So Joe joined us for a couple years until Johnny Mojo left town. Around the same time I began sitting in with Michael Tracey White at his shows while Joe and I continued doing just duo stuff. Then I played some shows with  Michael with Chuck DeMartin on drums. Both of us, Joe and I, were playing with Michael Tracey White at the Plim Plaza, and on a couple Batman Booze cruises, and some other random gigs.
    John LaMere returned in 2005 and we continued our duo act calling ourselves, tongue in cheek, Crowded Outhouse. I think Bob Wilkinson (Opposite Directions) might have had something to do with that. At this time we added Joe Mama playing most of the gigs. When we could play with four, we had Eddie Saah on bass for awhile and sometimes we had Jeff Davis sittin’ in.
    Other projects Joe and I play with would include Kevin once in awhile as Poole and the Gang, Dave Sherman as Two Guys and a Mama; and Under the Outhouse with Walt Farozic for about a year when John LaMere had again left town.
    I’ve always played music for a living since high school. I played solo gigs through my college years until I hooked up with John in New York. After coming here, I did work in the kitchen at Fager’s Island for a few years to supplement that income. I also gave guitar lessons at Beach Music when Darin Engh first opened his shop in West Ocean City.
    I have a recording studio in my house and I recorded one of Kevin Poole’s CDs and Wes Davis’ CD, plus my own back in 2003 called Mood Swings consisting of original jazz and rock tunes plus a few covers.
    So how did I get involved with The Chest Pains? I had been playing with Joe and Michael and I had played with Jeff before. After Michael passed away, I was eventually introduced to Byron Anthony who said he wanted to put together a new band. We kinda connected through our mutual friendship with Michael. Byron had a band called Retrolux at the time and after Joe and I came and jammed with him, he asked us to join the band. It was still called Retrolux at that time.
    We started rehearsing, picking tunes and thinking over a new name, but it kept coming back to The Chest Pains - with two original members and a great history in the area, it made it sense.
    The Chest Pains is probably the best thing I’m doing right now. It’s good that we’re not playing often; just once in a while. We’re all still pretty busy with other projects. But it’s good getting away from acoustic and getting to play more electric and function as a full band.
    I look forward to doing more of the same in the future and adding more songs to our repertoire. We’re going to put together some of our originals and write some together and record over the winter. Ultimately, we would love to take our act to a few bigger venues in neighboring cities. All for the love of the music.
Hear them tonight, Oct. 21, at The Steer Tavern.
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