The Rockin' Ramrods

The Rockin' Ramrods need no introduction to anybody checking out this website. Though Len Cirelli joined the group after their formation, and after their appearance in the classic flick Disc-O-Tec Holiday (aka East Is East), he was with them during the heights of their greatest popularity. Previously a member of Robin & The Hoods, Len unfortunately quit playing professionally after leaving The Rockin' Ramrods. Though he regrets having never further pursued a musical career, he looks back on his days as a Ramrod with great fondness.

An Interview With Len Cirelli

60sgaragebands.com (60s): How did you first get interested in music?

Len Cirelli (LC): I started showing interest when I was young - around age eight or nine. I played the accordion and listened to the radio. When Elvis came out, I was a huge fan; I still am. I canít remember the year but I went to see Danny and The Juniors who had a hit with At The Hop. I loved the whole experience of watching them on stage and knew at some point I would be up there.

60s: You joined the Ramrods in 1965, right before the Rolling Stones Tour. Were you in any bands prior to the Ramrods?

LC: The very first band I was in was called Franny and The Impressions. The only place we played was in my basement. Then I joined a group called Robin and The Hoods. The lead singer was Robin McNamara who went on to have a one hit wonder with a song called Lay A Little Loviní On Me and also starred in the play Hair all across the country. We were together maybe two years playing local gigs around New England.

60s: Were you at all familiar with the Rockiní Ramrods prior to being asked to join them?

LC: I was kind of a regular at the Surf Ballroom where the Ramrods used to play and open the show for big name acts of the time. I remember seeing them open for The Kingsmen. I thought they were very good-looking, very classy and sounded great. To just be able to set foot on the stage of the Surf was a dream for me at that time.

60s: The Rockiní Ramrods had appeared in the movie Disc-O-Tec Holiday, and were produced by Freddy Cannon - all before you joined. How did you hook up with them?

LC: I joined the band shortly after the movie, which was produced by Fran Slay, was made. The original title of the movie was East Is East and is now a real classic. Before I joined the group, The Ramrods had backed up Freddy Cannon many times. I never got the chance to meet Freddy but backing him up during his hit years helped the band get a lot of exposure. As far as I know The Ramrods never played on any of Freddyís records but the fans thought they did. The guys in the band always had good things to say about Freddy. I wish I could have met him back then.

The Ramrods were very popular in Massachusetts. Our manager, Bill Spence, owned three "ballrooms". One in Nantasket Bach, one in Hyannis, Massachussetts, and one in Salisbury Beach. So we always had a place to play.

After the original guitar player, Bill, left, they got a keyboard player named Scott. They went on tour with The Kingsmen. My band Robin and The Hoods filled in for The Ramrods at the Surf while they were on the road. Scott left the band during the tour and just never surfaced for a long time. When The Ramrods came back they asked me to join the band.

60s: Who comprised The Rockin' Ramrods at the time that you joined the band?

LC: Lead guitar was Vinnie Campisi. Bass guitar was Ronnie Campisi, who was Vinnieís younger brother. Bobbie Henderson was on drums, and I played keyboards.

60s: You mentioned that you were managed by Bill Spence. How active was he in promoting the band?

LC: Bill owned the Surf Ballroom in Nanatasket Beach, right on the ocean. Later he purchased the Surf in Salisbury Beach and the Surf in Hyannis. He did a lot to promote the group. He booked big name acts at the Surf and we always opened (for them). He had booked the Stones for three dates and in the negotiations got the Ramrods to be the opening act. I am sure Bill could have done more promotion-wise for the group. We got lots of exposure on the Stones tour but things happened very fast and I think we were all unprepared. I remember Bill as being a very honest, family man type. I recently read that he is President of a steamship company here in Boston.

60s: Through Spence you became houseband for the Surf Ballroom...

LC: I am not 100% sure exactly how it all happened but if I remember correctly Bill and the Surf got interested in the Ramrods through Freddy Cannon who appeared at the Surf several times.

60s: What other local venue did The Rockiní Ramrods typically play?

LC: The Ramrods played a lot of high schools, local dances, and clubs. We played at one of the Surfs on a regular basis. I remember sharing the stage with The Ventures, The Rascals, The Swingin' Medallions, The Lovin' Spoonful, The Left Banke, The Tremeloes, The Doors, and Tommy James and The Shondells. At one time or another, while I was in the band, we also played with The McCoys, Paul Revere and The Raiders, Sam the Sham, and The Chambers Brothers. The best live bands I ever saw were The Rascals, The Swingin' Medallions, and The Left Banke. Seeing Jim Morison on stage at the Surf was something I will always remember.

60s: What are your recollections of the 1965 Stones Tour? Did you associate with Mick and the boys?

LC: I remember the first time I saw the Stones was in Montreal. I remember thinking how small they were. They were larger than life in my mind. The first night of the tour there was huge riot. We all had to hide and take cover from the Stonesí fans. It was the first of many nights like that as we came down from Canada and worked our way across the states from east to west. Satisfaction had just been a monster hit for them and Get Off My Cloud was just out.

Mick and Keith really kept to themselves. Brian Jones was still in the group then and was really a great guy. Bill and Charlie were really friendly and they were always listening to old blues records. We had a chartered plane but the Stones really had to be hidden and brought into places where there were no crowds. Sometimes we had to be decoys for them, which was fun for me. Also on that tour was a group called The Vibrations, and Patti LeBelle and The BlueBells who had a hit called I Sold My Heart To The Junkman. Of course Patty went on to become a superstar and two of the girls had success of their own also.

The Stones tour was a great experience. I think everyone, including the Stones, was somewhat overwhelmed by all the success and screaming fans. The Stones were very protected from the public by their management and did not have a lot of personal freedom at the time.

60s: How far did The Rockiní Ramrods touring territory extend? Did you travel much across the country?

LC: As a member of The Ramrods, I went to the Dominican Republic on a USO tour, toured most of the States and Canada on the Stones tour and traveled all over New England. On the USO tour we met Joe Jones of You Talk Too Much fame, a girl group from New York called The Reasons, and a country singer named Bobbie Martin.

60s: I've interviewed Travis Pike, and he informed me that The Rockiní Ramrods performed on a series of cruises with his group, Travis Pike and The Tea Party. Do you recall these cruises?

LC: Sorry - I never played with Travis while I was in the group. We did a lot of cruises on Boston Harbor. I remember one night Ronnie said "Welcome aboard the Titanic" as a joke and the Captain really got angry and wanted us off the boat. It was pretty funny at the time.

60s: The Rockiní Ramrods released many singles. Do you have any specific recollections about the recording sessions?

LC: I remember we used to record at night in New York. I canít recall the name of the studio. I remember once we saw the Andrew Sisterís there and we did not know who they were. We were very impressed when they started to sing. I do recall seeing other popular groups of the time at the studio but I cannot remember who. For me the sessions were hard work and the detail was incredible. I preferred playing live. We were never satisfied with our recordings and never felt like we were able to capture our sound on a recording.

60s: The Rising Storm covered two of Ronnie's songs for their LP. Do you recall how that association came about? Did you interact with the Rising Storm at all?

LC: Ronnie wrote most of our songs. I am not familiar with The Rising Storm at all.

60s: Do any (other) Ď60ís Ramrod recordings exist? Are the any vintage live recordings? Or unreleased songs?

LC: As far as I know there are no live recordings of the band. Someplace I have the 45ís of Bright Lit Blue Sky, Donít Fool with Fu Man Chu, Mr. Wind and maybe a few others. I know there is a "Best Of" CD that is out. I am sure Ronnie has some of his unreleased songs on tape. I remember the old reel-to-reel tape recorder that he used to put all of his songs on.

60s: What about TV appearances - did the band make any? Or does any 8mm or 16mm film footage exist of the band?

LC: At the end of the Stones tour we did Dick Clarksí Where the Action Is in California. On the show were Paul Revere and The Raiders, The Statler Brothers, and other acts. I remember once we did a local show called New Hampshire Bandstand. We lip-sinced to our record and they played it at the wrong speed at first. Also, no guys showed up at the studio that day and we had to dance. It was humiliating at the time, but very funny now. Other than the movie, East Is East, I donít know of any film that exists.

60s: The Rockiní Ramrods later changed their name to Puff. You were not a member of Puff, correct?

LC: Yes that is correct. I was not a part of Puff.

60s: How did your association with the Rockiní Ramrods end? What year would this have been in?

LC: Ronnie Campisi was the leader of the group. He wrote the songs and produced the recordings. Ronnie left the group and although we replaced him with Dave Ryan (who went on to become part of Sha Na Na, but passed away not too long ago) it was never the same. I did not really care for Ronnie all that much but we could not hold it together after he left. I cannot remember what year I decided to call it quits but I would guess it was around 1968-1969.

60s: Did you join or form any bands after The Rockiní Ramrods?

LC: After I left The Ramrods, I really never played professionally again. I sat in with bands and played at the Surf with Sha Na Na. I played in a duo at local bars for a while. My big dream was to start a Rock and Roll orchestra much like Brian Senser of The Stray Cats has done, but it never got off the ground. I got married, settled down and had kids.

60s: What keeps you busy today?

LC: I am still interested in music and listen to a wide variety. I have two grown kids and my wife and I work and live in Massachusetts and have a summer home in Raymond, Maine, where we spend all of our spare time. Maine is a great place to listen to music. I plan to retire and move to Maine within the next two years. I am extremely proud of my small part of Rock and Roll History.

60s: How do you best summarize your experiences with The Rockiní Ramrods?

LC: I regret that I listened to family telling me to get out of the music business. I have always wanted to be an entertainer and at times wish I stuck more with it. I enjoyed being on the road and meeting different people and seeing different ways of life. All in all the experience was a positive one that I am very proud of. I learned a lot about people, good and bad, and the music business. I would do it all again in a minute.

POSTSCRIPT: We contacted Robin McNamara about his days in Robin & The Hoods: "Robin & The Hoods was a high school band in the mid-'60s. We played many cover tunes but were also one of the first bands to play original stuff in the New England area at that time."




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