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This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the October 29,
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Holy Goats! It’s Real Music
Fans of classic blues and blues-rock remain ever
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
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
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
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
"We’re astounded by the response," says McCullough from his
Somerset home, in advance of the group’s Saturday, November 1,
at the Court Tavern in New Brunswick. After all, while it’s
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
except for their cover of the Rolling Stones’ "Stray Cat
"`On Your Knees,’ `Presence of Mind’ and `Keep It Rollin’ have
all been getting airplay on WZZO and WDHA," McCullough says,
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
"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
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
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
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
"Thus, the name `Holy Goats,’ in honor of my father,"
"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,"
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
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
"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
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
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.
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
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
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
`Thank God there’s something out there with some real roots to
— Richard J. Skelly
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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