The Thunderbolts

After leaving Sandu & The Scotties, drummer Marc Chapman, along with Bobby Lavigne and Jim Ricker, reverted back to their earlier band name, The Thunderbolts. Shortly thereafter, The Thunderbolts recorded Heart So Cold, a huge local hit that proved to be the second best selling single in Burlington, Vermont record stores in 1965.

An Interview With Marc Chapman (60s): How did you first get interested in music?

Marc Chapman (MC): When I was a little boy I used to watch parades go by on the holidays. I was fascinated by the drummers and the bands. I used to go home and practice on tin cans and pots and pans. I began playing rock ‘n’ roll in 1956 with Joe Gagnon, Warren Merriman and C.C. Miller. I was 14 at the time. I don’t remember the name of the band. I had a Radio King set, or maybe it was Gretsch. I didn’t even have high-hats. Just one cymbal! We did Elvis tunes, Duane Eddy and Rumble. There was no bass in the band. We won the first Battle of the Bands at Cathedral High School in Burlington, Vermont. At one point, a famous Canadian group, The Beau Marks, played at Memorial Auditorium in Burlington. They were debuting their first album, which featured Clap Your Hands. That was a big hit for them. Anyway, that was my first experience at playing with a professional group. They asked if there was a drummer in the audience who was willing to come up and sit with the group. Their drummer, Gilles, took his floor tom and moved to the front of the stage and performed an improvised rockin’ number. It brought the house down. I was sitting behind his kit playing while this was going on. At that moment I decided I wanted to make my career as a drummer in a rock band.

Following this band, I joined with some University of Vermont students and we formed a group called The Darts. I don’t remember their names! Our first gig was Middlebury College at a frat house. It was the first time I got inebriated! With Southern Comfort! In late ’62 or early ’63, I was asked to join Mike & The Ravens. (The band was comprised by) Mike Brassard, Bobby Lavigne on guitar, Jim Ricker on bass and myself on drums. The latter three later became The Thunderbolts.

Our first recording experience in a professional studio was at Ace Recording Studios in Boston. We recorded Living In A Dream. It was written by Mike Brassard and Stephen Blodgett, who was leaving the group. I played mallets on the song. Ace was one large room - probably 20’ by 30’ - with a control room above us. I remember it was like God talking to us from up there. The engineer was Herbie Yakus. We were quite nervous because we had a limited budget and not much time in the studio. The second song was "Oobie Doobie Do," which was an improvised jam similar to What I’d Say. This particular song went over particularly well in the clubs we played at, but it lacked the live feel when we did it in the studio. At the time of Mike & The Ravens we were playing in a club called The Cave in Burlington, Vermont. I remember it being quite a thrill at seeing the lines outside waiting to get in.

60s: An earlier version of The Thunderbolts was together prior to your joining. What do you remember about this group?

MC: The original group was comprised of Bruce Danville on lead guitar, Marshall Blaise on rhythm guitar and Karl Costin on drums. A later version had Fred Tusa on guitar, Al Roberts on keyboards and Dean Fesette on drums. They recorded some singles for Rondack Records out of Plattsburgh. After Mike & The Ravens broke up for good, Bobby Lavigne and Jim Ricker joined up with Al Roberts, Marshall Blaise and Dean Fesette. I replaced Dean Fesette.

60s: What year would this have been?

MC: I joined Christmas of ’63. Bobby and Jimmy were already playing with Al Roberts and Marshall Blaise. I quit college because the band was booked in Glenns Falls, New York at a place called The Cantina. While we were playing in Glenns Falls, we were booked at Sandy Hill Corporation party. On the bill with us - but performing by herself - was Sandu Scott. She heard our band and was thrilled by our sound. She decided that she wanted us to be her backup band. Saul Silver, who owned The Down Beat, The Playboy Club and Chez Paris in Montreal, was her boyfriend. He had connections with the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal and other well-known venues like The Latin Quarter in New York City. We rehearsed with her for eleven weeks prior to our first appearance with her at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal. From there we went to the Port St. Jean in Quebec City and from there we went on to The Latin Quarter in New York City, where we headlined for two months. During our performance at The Latin Quarter some scouts for THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW had seen our act. Consequently we were booked as healiners as Sandu Scott & The Scotties for the December ’64 Christmas Show.

60s: So Sandu Scott & The Scotties was the same line-up as The Thunderbolts...

MC: Yes.

60s: What song did you perform on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW?

MC: It was Hello, Dolly! We thought it was a poor choice for the show. Due to Sandu's poor performance on the show our second taping was never aired. We had recorded My Bonnie for that show.

60s: Dino Danelli and Felix Cavaliere were members of The Scotties...

MC: When Dino took my place I was very impressed with his drumming and the ease with which both of them fit into the new group.

60s: What was your initial impression later as The Young Rascals were climbing the charts?

MC: Envy!

60s: Why did you leave Sandu Scott & The Scotties?

MC: Contractual disagreements. We were getting 50% of everything up until that point. She decided she wanted to put us on a salary basis. I think it was $250 per week per man, which was far below what we were getting at the 50% partnership. Disagreeing on the contracts, I quit the band. Consequently, Bobby and Jimmy also left. Al Roberts also left. Marshall Blaise was the only member that stayed and went with Dino and Felix to The Desert Inn in Las Vegas. I might add that Lee Greenwood was brought into The Scotties as a lead guitar player. That group broke up after one engagement. Dino and Felix returned to New York and formed The Rascals. Bobby, Jimmy and I returned to Burlington and reverted to The Thunderbolts.

60s: Where did The Thunderbolts typically play?

MC: Mostly nightclubs - The Haunted Castle, The Colony and The Red Dog. We also played at Catamount Stadium Racetrack. We also won the first Battle of the Bands put on by the Chamber of Commerce in Burlington.

60s: Do you recall any of the bands that you might have competed against?

MC: I remember The Green Men. There were probably nine or ten bands that played. There might have been The Volcanoes, too. There were 3,000 fans there! A year later we played again, but weren’t allowed to compete since we had won the first one. We made a guest appearance. The Twiliters played that year.

60s: What other local groups of the era do you especially recall?

MC: Freddie & The Freeloaders, The Volcanoes, The Vistas, The Bassmen (they competed in the Battle of the Bands). There were many more. I just can’t recall their names.

60s: How would you describe the band's sound? What bands influenced you?

MC: We were definitely British influenced. Our forte centered on strong vocal harmonies. We specialized in three-part harmonies since all of us sang.

60s: Did you play any of the local teen clubs?

MC: We plated the Hineberg Club. We also had a fan club. Somebody recently showed me their fan club card from 40 years ago! We also played the Hullabaloo Club.

60s: Did The Thunderbolts have a manager?

MC: Yes, Pete Murphy. He was our manager, but he also owned The Colony restaurant where we played on a regular basis. As far as management goes, he really didn’t do anything for our careers.

60s: How popular locally did The Thunderbolts become?

MC: Our record, Heart So Cold, was the second best selling record in Burlington music stores in 1965. We were the most successful band out of Vermont until Phish came along!

60s: How far was the band's "touring" territory?

MC: We played mostly in Vermont.

60s: The Thunderbolts released two singles. Where were the 45s recorded?

MC: Stereo Sounds Studios in Montreal. The head engineer, Paul Amil Monget, designed and built his own reverb unit, which is present on our recordings. We were quite impressed with his engineering abilities considering it was only a two-track studio. We recorded these songs live with no overdubs. There Was I b/w Without A Song was released on Allied in Canada. Heart So Cold b/w A Taste Of Honey we released ourselves. We also recorded Bandstand and In My Room. They were never released.

60s: How did you end up recording in Montreal?

MC: Because we had recorded there first with Sandu Scott. We liked the sound of the studio.

60s: Who wrote There Was I and Heart So Cold?

MC: I wrote the lyrics for There Was I and Bobby wrote the melody. I wrote the lyrics to Heart So Cold while Bobby and Jimmy supplied the melody lines. It was a collaborative effort.

60s: Do any (other) Thunderbolts recordings exist?

A: Yes, Something That You Do was released as an incomplete demo on Dionysus recently. I used to record as a hobby back then and now I have Saxony Recording Studios, which is a 16-track facility. I do have several live Thunderbolt shows that I taped in ’65.

60s: Did the band make any local TV appearances?

MC: We appeared on Channel 3 out of Burlington. It was a lip-synch deal, not a live performance. I doubt there is any existing footage of that. There’s no home movie film footage.

60s: Why did the band break up?

MC: I got mono in 1965 and Dean Fesette replaced me during those weeks. When I returned to assume my position in the band, Bob and Jim had decided they wanted Dean back in the group. Consequently I formed a band called The Triads. We bought the Saxony Hotel in Rouses Point, New York, where The Triads existed for 13 years. Many different members joined the group over the years.

60s: Did The Triads record?

MC: Yes. We recorded our live club shows.

60s: How long did The Thunderbolts continue without you?

MC: Four years.

60s: What keeps you busy today?

MC: I ran Saxony Studios for many years. At one point, I bought a board from Criteria Studios. Many famous albums had been recorded on that board - Hotel California, Saturday Night Fever, We’re An American Band and 461 Ocean Boulevard to name just a few! Jimmy, Bobby and I recently started rehearsing again. We’re going to play at the Naked Turtle in Plattsburgh, New York on September 5. It’ll be the first time we’ve played in public since 1966!

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

MC: Enjoyable. I'm looking forward to composing some new material! The sex wasn’t bad either!

Mike Brassard Recalls The Start of Mike & The Ravens

My interest in music started when I was very young...My grandmother had an old record player - the wind up kind - and one day I discovered how to use it. As I remember it, she had only two records. The Big Rock Candy Mountain was my favorite and I would sing along with it and look out the window. This fixation - looking out the window and singing about candy - kept me busy and out of my mother’s every once in a while she would purchase another record for me to master so I wouldn't be under foot.

My second record was a Mario Lanza tune. It started, Overhead the moon is beaming." It was quite different from the candy mountain song; it was a love song. It must have been something in 1947 to walk past my house as I stood in the window singing my ass off. As the years went by my collection grew...and so did my repertoire. Years later I would sneak out to the garage at night and listen to my father’s radio in the car. I could pull in stations from all over and there was one that played a lot of a kind of music that gave me goose bumps. I remember the name of the program was Black and Blue. It came on late, about 12 O’clock. I didn't know what the blues was but they would pull me out of bed and into the car every night. Of course I would run the battery down and my father was getting suspicious.

One night as I was trolling for a station I heard, "Come on outta that kitchen and rattle those pots and pans." It just talked to me and my stomach did flips. I was smitt'n. A few days after that I went to a movie called BLACK BOARD JUNGLE and when "One ..two, three O’clock, four O’clock rock" came slamming out of the screen the whole theater went crazy. Bill Haley and rock and roll had hit the screen in my town and nothing would ever be the same.

Our first band was called The Throbs. Peter Young, Brian Lyford and Steve Blodgett had met while caddying at a resort in the Adirondacks one summer. I had been in New York City that summer having some adventures. When I got back I convinced my father to get me a Sears Roebuck electric sunburst guitar.

I was in heaven. I had learned a few chords using three strings and my thumb on an old Gene Autry guitar. Let me tell ya, it was hard looking cool playing that damned guitar. Gene’s face (with his) cowboy hat and horse graced the front of the god damned thing; it was pathetic. When I plugged in my $89.00 Silvertone sunburst arched-top three pickup I thought I was in heaven. It sounded cool to my little pee pick'n ears...and there wasn't a cowboy in sight. I spent the next few months pissing off the neighbors with my attempts at making music.

I began making up songs. They were crude - electric and loud - but they rocked. I rocked. The garage floor was shak'n; that's all that mattered. I took my guitar to WDEV Radio one day and whistled and sang a couple songs for the disc jockey. He liked them and recorded me. He entered one of my songs in a Coca-Cola contest, and my song Rov'n was played all over the USA. It was a thrill to hear it on the radio. I knew music was for me so I spent a lot of time dreaming and getting my stage moves down. My father said I looked like I had the rickets.

One day I went over to my friend Joe Rossi's house. He had a fender-type guitar and was playing along with a Ray Charles record. I soon found that I had a lot to learn. He was older than me and he could play. I couldn't…so I faked it. Later that month, Peter Young invited me to his basement where he had an old set of drums and a Wallensack tape recorder. It was at that moment - with those drums thrashing - that we began the torture of his parents. Day after day we would thrash away. We found a mic somewhere and that made things even more uncomfortable for his folks - but nothing could deter us.

On one fateful Saturday I met Steve Blodgett. He could actually play five or six chords...and man what he could do with them. He was cool and very talented. I liked him. He played a Ricky Nelson song for me, and he sounded better than Ricky did. He was definitely in – (and) a band was in the throes of conception.

At some point Bryan Lyford joined us. Bryan also was cool – so cool that when he picked up the base for the first time, he became the best base player in the world to our ears. He would run his fingers all over the neck. He had lots of energy and attacked his base with a stunning virtuosity. The truth was he overplayed it if anything but he was so cool and anyone that could make a base sound like that the first time he picked one up, well…he was in!

So there we were, in Young's cellar, rock'n our asses off and driving his parents to drink. My memory is terrible but I think our first gig was in the basement of a Catholic church. I don't believe we had a name yet for the band. I think we knew five or six songs and as far as we were concerned we were ready for the big time. Five or six songs were enough. As it turned out, they were. We would just keep hammering away. Steve and I loved to sing harmony and we would jam and make stuff up. I remember the Priest, Father Buckley, walking in and turning purple as he watched his Jr. Catholic daughters shimmy and shake to our music. He was not a happy camper, and we wouldn't be asked back. I'll never forget his sermon that Sunday. It was all about the evils of this new music called rock and roll.

My father was upset and the first thing he did when he got home was to give me a dollar and insist that I cut my hair. I didn't...he did! But our gig was a success with the kids and we of course learned fast that playing in a band attracted the ladies and – more importantly – that even Catholic girls loved to rock! And… roll!

You can hear the music of The Thunderbolts on Dionysus Records' recent Heart So Cold CD, compiling all the great bands from the North County '60's scene.

Special thanks to Will Shade for arranging the interviews with Marc Chapman and Mike Brassard.

"Copyrighted and originally printed on by Mike Dugo".
"Listen live, online to their music at Beyond The Beat Generation, 60's garage and psychedelia".