Corrections or additions?

This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the October 29,

2003

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Holy Goats! It’s Real Music

Fans of classic blues and blues-rock remain ever

hopeful

about a revival in popularity of the forms. Just as the endless beats

of modern rap have soaked the commercial radio airwaves, some younger

fans of rock ‘n’ roll are yearning for something more melodic: real

music, played with real instruments, backed by a real drummer.

At least one central New Jersey group has been getting radio airplay

on commercial classic rock formatted radio stations and found a niche

with local college radio as well. In August the Holy Goats found

themselves

performing at the massive Bethlehem MusikFest in Pennsylvania to a

crowd of several thousand teenagers and 20-something kids.

Todd McCullough of the Somerset section of Franklin Township founded

the Holy Goats in 2000. He has not strayed from his original artistic

vision, to play the essential ingredients of melodic rock and serve

it up with a straight shot of blues. What he and his band mates were

not prepared for — they haven’t played all that many live shows

in New Jersey — was the success of their self-titled debut

recording

on the region’s classic rock radio stations.

McCullough and others in the blues-rock and classic-rock community

figure their success is due to fans seeking a return to a more

traditional

blues-rock sound that hearkens back to the great blues-rock bands

of the 1970s like Humble Pie, Foghat, Led Zeppelin, Bad Company and

other Brits who brought the emotion and excitement of blues back to

largely white American audiences in a modified format, often called

blues-rock.

"We’re astounded by the response," says McCullough from his

Somerset home, in advance of the group’s Saturday, November 1,

appearance

at the Court Tavern in New Brunswick. After all, while it’s

well-recorded

and well-mixed, it is the band’s first album and they haven’t

played out live nearly as much as other bands from the New Brunswick

area. All the songs on "The Holy Goats" are originals by

McCullough

except for their cover of the Rolling Stones’ "Stray Cat

Blues."

"`On Your Knees,’ `Presence of Mind’ and `Keep It Rollin’ have

all been getting airplay on WZZO and WDHA," McCullough says,

"and

college stations like WNTI in Hackettstown and WRSU in New Brunswick

have picked up on it."

"As tough as it is to break in to the format of a station like

Q-104.3, we’re happy to be getting some airplay there," he says,

"and we tied for first place in WDHA’s `Battle of the Bands.’"

In August, WZZO-FM in Allentown, Pennsylvania, which sponsors its

own stage at the Bethlehem MusikFest, brought the band to several

thousand screaming fans right after Steve Winwood performed on the

same stage.

"There were over 3,000 submissions and we were one of five bands

that they were willing to sponsor," McCullough says, "and

we managed to get in there at MusikFest despite the fact that we’re

from New Jersey! We figure people just want to hear this kind of

blues-rock,

which I like to think of as laced with soul-based vocals. I think

it’s encouraging for anybody that likes blues and roots-rock in

general,"

McCullough sings, plays harmonica and rhythm guitar, and he’s backed

in the Holy Goats by Deek Mason on lead guitar and backing vocals,

Kevin Fenlon on bass, Steve Crawley on drums, and Barbara Quinlan

on vocals and percussion.

McCullough was born and raised in the Avenel section

of Woodbridge Township. He works as a machinist for a pharmaceutical

company contractor and has been based in Somerset for the last 10

years.

He began playing guitar as a five-year-old, thanks to his father,

Ronald. His father died in 1996 at age 64. His father worked at the

GM plant in Linden and everyone, friends and family, called him

"goat."

"Thus, the name `Holy Goats,’ in honor of my father,"

McCullough

says.

"Like my dad, I’m also born in January, which is Capricorn, and

they used to call him `the Goat’ all the time, so it’s fitting that

we would carry on the tradition of his love for music and do this

in his honor," he adds. "He died way too young, especially

when you consider how healthy he was the rest of his life,"

McCullough

explains, "he had a pulmonary embolism, and he was in Florida

at the time, and the hospital care there is just lousy. Had he been

in the Northeast, he would have had access to better health care."

McCullough credits his thoroughly modern father, who loved rock ‘n’

roll, with helping to nurture his interest in performing.

"My dad was a vocalist and he sang in nightclubs and lounges in

Jersey City and lower Manhattan. He sang jazz and contemporary music,

but he also loved the blues, and had a background singing the

blues,"

he says. McCullough adds he has one older sister, who is tremendously

supportive of the Holy Goats, and who herself sings gospel music in

a mixed gospel choir.

"I got all my love for jazz and blues from my dad. I knew Coltrane

when I was like seven years old," he says. "When I was 10,

I was listening to Coltrane and Blind Lemon Jefferson, and that was

a great way to get a start on music. It took off from there."

His father retired early after 28 years at the GM plant in Linden,

where "he did a little of everything," McCullough says, and

then barely had time to enjoy his retirement before tragedy struck

in Florida.

"The kind of music I grew up with was the roots, the blues, the

jazz and soul that was happening in the late 1970s and that included

the rock ‘n’ roll of the ’70s as well," he says. "I think

that gave me the soul part of the blues and that’s really where we

get our soul-driven vocals from, groups like Sly and the Family Stone

and singers like Al Green."

"That kind of music spun me off in my directions, and I combined

that with Humble Pie, the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith and the

Faces,"

he says, adding, "the combination of blues, 1970s rock ‘n’ roll

and ’70s soul kind of got me where I’m at, musically, today."

Listening to the Holy Goats’ debut CD, the songs are about loves won

and lost, to be sure a blues theme, but the music is also punctuated

by high energy dueling guitar solos, energetic bursts of drums and

throbbing bass, and great harmony singing. Every track on the album

is a winner, and the weakest track may be the band’s take on the

Rolling

Stones’ "Stray Cat Blues." The band’s debut album was recorded

at the Grip Weeds’ House of Vibes Studio in Highland Park.

What makes the Holy Goats so unique is their commitment to rehearsals

and a constant infusion of new material into their live shows.

McCullough

and the members of the Holy Goats make an effort to bring fans of

the band new music and new tunes at nearly every show, this in

contrast

to so many bands that are plain predictable in their set lists.

"Every year, we take off the period from January to March to learn

new material," McCullough explains, "and next year, we plan

on heading into the Jersey Shore area to see what kind of progress

we can make there."

Clearly, it’s not only aging baby boomers who are listening to classic

rock formatted radio stations. It appears the Holy Goats’ music is

striking a chord, "because a lot of our sales on the website and

at our live shows are to younger people. We’re really happy about

that. I mean, my bass player has a son who is 13, and his son has

sold about 50 of the CDs at his school. We’re figuring there’s enough

on there for them to relate to."

And ultimately, the younger fans in their teens and 20s are the people

most likely to support the band at their live shows. "That’s

really

where the record buying market is. People are tired of being forced

to listen to the stuff that’s on a lot of commercial radio, and we’re

just getting flooded with E-mails from people out there who are

saying,

`Thank God there’s something out there with some real roots to

it.’"

— Richard J. Skelly

Holy Goats , Court Tavern, 124 Church Street, New

Brunswick, 732-545-7265. The Holy Goats (www.holygoats.com) with Big

Water and Golden Seal. Saturday, November 1, 10 p.m.


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