The Reock and Roll Revue, a consortium of some of the Trenton-Hamilton area’s most talented and enthusiastic rockers, is doing it again. Every year or so, the group tackles one of classic rock’s outstanding albums and performs it in its entirety. A few years ago, the Revue did the Beatles’ “White Album” to celebrate its 40th anniversary. Then came the challenge of the Who’s “Quadrophenia,” a bear of a rock opera, maybe less-known than the group’s “Tommy,” but more complex and muscular.
Now, the Revue is presenting Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young’s “Deja Vu,” plus a musical and video journey that chronicles the paths these musicians crossed to get to the recording of this classic album. This multi-media event takes place Friday through Sunday, February 17 to 19, at Mercer County College’s Kelsey Theater.
The first part of the show highlights music from groups such as Buffalo Springfield, the Hollies, and the Byrds, the musical roots of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.
Before CSN&Y, David Crosby was a member of the Byrds and helped create the dulcet sound of such songs as “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Turn, Turn, Turn.” As sweet as its harmonies were, the band was also known for its volatility, and Crosby quit after just a few years.
Neil Young and Stephen Stills were in the short-lived Buffalo Springfield, which had success with “For What It’s Worth” and is said to have broken ground for country rock.
Graham Nash, who turned 70 in early February, was in the Hollies, who, in the 1960s, had a string of hits almost to rival that of the Beatles. While Nash was in the Hollies, he co-wrote, sang, and harmonized on such songs as “Carrie Anne,” “On a Carousel” and “Bus Stop.”
The second part of the show features “Deja Vu” in its entirety. Released in March, 1970, this is the album that brought the world “Our House,” “Woodstock,” “Teach Your Children,” as well as the title song.
“The first half is kind of the road to ‘Deja Vu,’ how did David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, and Neil Young get there,” says Tom Reock, who leads the Roeck and Roll Revue. “Although early on their lyrics were not all that political, we’ll have bits of what was going on in the news and culture of the ’60s. It’ll be more about their growing from teens into young men.
“We start off a cappella, which has been a real challenge,” he continues. “In fact, this has been a really different project because of the vocal harmonies. Graham Nash has been known to say, `You can sing the same notes as us, but you can’t sound the same,’ and that’s the truth. We know our notes now but we’re really working on the vocals. It keeps a bunch of old men on our toes.”
In addition to Reock, who
doesn’t wish to call himself the Revue’s “leader,” but who hosts the rehearsals at his home and studio in Hamilton, the band includes Pennington resident Chris Grace on bass guitar and harmonica; Hamilton’s Bud Belviso on guitar and keyboards; Pennington-area resident Joe D’Angelo on vocals and drums; Mario DiBartolo of Hamilton on guitars; Jerry Steele of Princeton on guitars and vocals; and Michael White, a Hamilton resident, on vocals, percussion and drums.
“Michael is Ernie White’s son,” Reock says, referring to the longtime rock and blues guitarist from Trenton, as well as a longtime friend and bandmate. “Michael’s a phenomenal talent, in fact, a graduate of the Berklee School of Music (in Boston).”
As for the elder White, “I’ve been his sidekick for 17 years,” Reock says. “He’s a legend. He’s been my mentor, he made me grow up as a musician, and to this day I’m still learning from him.”
For the “Deja vu” project, Reock has added Marty Paglione on drums and vocals. Commuting from Sparta to rehearse, Paglione also plays with the Ernie White Band.
Reock says it was D’Angelo who suggested trying to do a concert focusing on CSN&Y and the group’s roots. He praises D’Angelo for tackling the lead vocals for the Revue’s “Quadrophenia” shows, saying he’s the only friend with the fortitude to even attempt to sing like the Who’s Roger Daltrey.
“We needed someone who has the nerve to do it, especially at our age, and Joe has the perfect personality — he’s not afraid to sing with his shirt open,” Reock says. “He does an incredible job.”
Growing up in Kendall Park, where his parents still live, Reock, 53, says he took classical piano lessons as a very young child, but only retained the basic piano skills his grandmother taught him. His father, Ernie Reock, is professor emeritus at Rutgers University, having worked in the Rutgers Center for Government Services for 42 years, most of that time as director. Though retired, he still goes to work every day, doing research on state and local government in New Jersey, fielding questions from reporters, and teaching a few classes for public employees.
His mother, Jeanne, served as president of the South Brunswick Board of Education in the late ‘60s, then worked as a lobbyist for the New Jersey School Boards Association, retiring in 1991. Reock says his parents always loved music, and there was always music in the house.
“My parents were more than supportive of everything I did, in fact, they still are,” Reock says. “There was a large dose of show tunes and folk music on the record player, then we all saw the Beatles on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show,’ and everything took a different turn at that point.”
It was an older sibling who had Beatles albums, especially the “White Album,” which Reock listened to through and through, probably never imagining that he and his friends would recreate the thing in its entirety 40 years later.
“To me, 1968 to ’77 was the greatest time period for rock and pop,” he says. “There were no barriers, people were going in all kinds of directions. On FM radio, you might hear Deep Purple one minute, then James Taylor the next, a little bit of everything. You don’t get this on radio stations anymore.”
Instead of college, Reock opted to pursue a professional music career and went right from South Brunswick High School’s class of ’76 to “the road,” planning to move to California and find his way in the music business out West.
“I made it as far as Philadelphia, turned around, and came home,” Reock says. “I was waiting for my moment to come, and it never came. But here I am, and have been making my living with music for the last 20 years, performing, recording, helping others with arranging, and producing.”
When he’s not playing out at night with White and other friends, he runs Squirrel Ranch Studios, a small recording studio with a busy clientele of all musical genres. “We have the usual 15 to 18-year olds and their thrash metal bands that come frequently, as well as a number of songwriters,” he says. “Some don’t play an instrument, in fact, they’re taking up songwriting in their later years, their 50s and 60s. I help them with their writing and arranging. So, it’ll be a heavy metal morning, then bluegrass in the afternoon, and then church songs in the evening. It’s all over the place. We call it Squirrel Ranch Studios, because we had squirrels in the attic at another place, and their noise used to come through on the recordings.”
Reock says his wife, Fiona, is as passionate about music as he is. She adds creative touches to the revue’s concerts, such as decorating the theater with apples and candles for the Beatles’ shows, an homage to the group’s Apple recording label. She regularly puts together a smorgasbord for the guys to eat on rehearsal nights. “She’s done so many things for us,” Reock says. “She’s the best band wife anyone could want, supportive of everything we do.”
Although arranging, rehearsing, and performing such quintessential classic rock albums as “Deja vu” is a months-long challenge, Reock enjoys plumbing the sounds of the late ’60s and ’70s, rediscovering the albums for himself and bringing them to listeners.
“You re-learn the records, and you hear so much good stuff,” Reock says. “We especially like turning younger kids on to these records. When we were young, we didn’t have this. We didn’t listen to music that was 40 years old and get interested in it. You’d think kids in their 20s would think groups like the Beatles and the Who are old people’s music, but their favorite bands are influenced by these records.”
Deja Vu Reock and Roll Revue, Kelsey Theater, Mercer County Community College, 1200 Old Trenton Road, West Windsor. Friday and Saturday, February 17 and 18, 8 p.m.; and Sunday, February 19, 2 p.m. Musical tribute to Crosby, Still, Nash, & Young with a performance of the “Deja Vu” album in its entirety as well as classic hits from the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, the Hollies, and solo Neil Young. A video presentation documenting the time period will be screened. For more information visit www.kelseyatmcc.org/dejavu. $20. 609-570-3333 or www.kelseytheatre.net.