The City of Brotherly Love is rich with talented vocalists, musicians, songwriters, and composers, and it always has been. From classical to hip-hop to gospel, Philadelphia has an especially rich and diverse soundtrack.
For David Uosikkinen, the drummer for and founding member of the Hooters, that special Philadelphia sound has resonated with him since his childhood in Levittown, in lower Bucks County. That’s what motivated him to create the digital singles project, “In the Pocket: Essential Songs of Philadelphia.” Along with some of the city’s most talented musicians, Uosikkinen has been recording some of the best pop, rock, and alternative songs that have come out of Philadelphia in different eras.
He and a rotating group of folks also known as In the Pocket (or ITP) have been appearing live to spread the word about the project, rocking audiences with performances of such nuggets as Todd Rundgren/The Nazz’s “Open My Eyes” and the Dovells’ “You Can’t Sit Down.”
ITP will give a free outdoor concert at Pettoranello Gardens at Princeton Community Park, Saturday, July 9, kicking off this summer’s series of Blue Curtain Concerts. Singer-songwriter Williamsboy will open for ITP.
In addition to Uosikkinen, who has also played with Cyndi Lauper, Patty Smyth, Taj Mahal, and many others, ITP features fellow Hooters John Lilley and Fran Smith Jr.; Jeff Thomas of the Queue, another Philly band; and lead vocals by Richard Bush of the ’80s group the A’s. The group also welcomes guitarist and Lawrence resident Thomas (T.J.) Tindall, a noteworthy lighting designer and owner of the Light Gallery, his family’s business located in the Princeton Shopping Center.
For years, Tindall was a very busy session musician, working with Philadelphia International Records’ producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff and producer/arranger Thom Bell, recording at the famed Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia. He was part of the label’s house band MFSB (Mothers Fathers Sisters Brothers), laying down the smooth Philly sound of the early ’70s, backing groups like the O’Jays, the Spinners, and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.
In 1974 MFSB had a huge instrumental hit with “TSOP” (“The Sound of Philadelphia”), which was also the theme song for the TV dance show, “Soul Train.” Tindall was later in the Salsoul Orchestra.
Tindall has also worked with and produced records for Bonnie Raitt and played with Michael Jackson. His discography is extensive and although he has been focused on lighting design and the business, he recently started playing again.
Uosikkinen says it was Tindall who suggested he bring ITP to Princeton for a concert.
“He was the catalyst,” Uosikkinen says, speaking by phone from his home in Radnor, PA. “This spring I played with (fellow Hooter) Eric Bazilian at the Record Collector in Bordentown, and T.J. came to see us.”
Each song of “In the Pocket: Essential Songs of Philadelphia,” along with a video, can be downloaded for 99 cents at http://songsinthepocket.org A portion of the proceeds benefits Philadelphia’s venerable Settlement Music School, whose alumni include Kevin and Michael Bacon, Chubby Checker, Stanley Clark, Kevin Eubanks, G. Love, and Buddy Greco.
‘There are a number of schools and a total of about 15,000 students,” Uosikkinen says. “They’re great people, and they do really good things at Settlement. Since funding for the arts is being cut, we felt this was a worthy cause. When times are tough, the arts make life livable.”
Producer/director Steve Acito of Blue Wire Media has been making a documentary video to go with each song. Shot in part at fellow Hooter Rob Hyman’s Elm Street Studios in suburban Philadelphia, the videos give a fascinating inside look into the complexities of recording. The video for the most recent single Uosikkinen and ITP have done, “You Can’t Sit Down,” features singer-songwriter Tommy Conwell (of Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers) on lead vocals.
“When it came time to record ‘You Can’t Sit Down’ for ‘In the Pocket,’ I knew the only guy who could pull this off with total command was Tommy Conwell,” Uosikkinen says. “He does not disappoint.” Also featured on the video is longtime Philadelphia-based DJ and pop/oldies historian Jerry Blavat, who has been rocking the airwaves and dance floors for some 50 years. The colorful, loquacious Blavat does his signature “boss with the hot sauce/geator with the heater” radio patter, and provides a detailed background to “You Can’t Sit Down,” taking it back to before the song even had lyrics.
“We just called Jerry, and he came down to the studio and said, ‘what would you like me to do?’” Uosikkinen says. “He was so gracious. We said ‘go,’ he did his thing, and he was brilliant. It was a gas.”
ITP’s version of Rundgren/The Nazz’ “Open My Eyes” is smoking hot, and its version of “All My Mondays” by the short-lived ’80s band Youth Camp, led by the late Joey Wilson, is heartfelt.
“If you blinked, you might have missed Joey Wilson and Youth Camp,” Uosikkinen says. “Joey was a cult figure in the Philly music scene, whose talent should have gone far beyond. He left a big influence on me as a songwriter and vocalist, and I wanted to get his message (in the song) across. It was a no-brainer for me to pay homage to him.”
Born in 1956, the son of Finnish immigrants, Uosikkinen especially absorbed his love of music from his father, a construction worker and jazz aficionado, who used to take him to the Lambertville Music Circus to hear such luminaries as Harry James, Buddy Rich, and Duke Ellington. His mother was a homemaker.
“That was his hangout,” Uosikkinen says. “We’d go over there and see these great people, and I have such great memories.”
The young Uosikkinen picked up the trumpet around age eight but never really cared for it. However, he discovered he was able to keep a beat on the drums almost from the first time he held drum sticks in his hands. “I played snare drum in school and could always lay down a rhythm, from early on,” Uosikkinen says. “I found that if you could play drums, you could always find someone to play with. I loved jazz, especially Buddy Rich, but it was seeing the Beatles on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ (in 1964) that put the hook in me. I got so swept up in Beatlemania that I had Beatles boots just a few weeks later.”
The Kinks, the Rolling Stones, and other British bands were also a big influence, and Uosikkinen especially likes the rawness of those recordings from the ’60s. “I like a lot of lo-fidelity recordings,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be perfect to be interesting.”
After taking private lessons with various teachers, Uosikkinen studied with Joe Cusatis at his drum studio, the Modern Drum Shop, in New York. “He inspired some great drummers, and although I was only with him for a few years, he cracked the whip and changed my life,” Uosikkinen says. “He didn’t care if you were famous.”
Uosikkinen leapt from high school right into performing with Philadelphia-area groups, eventually joining Hyman and Bazilian to form the Hooters in 1980. Although he doesn’t recall ever performing in Princeton, he has fond memories of playing at Trenton’s now-shuttered alt-rock club City Gardens.
Rising to rock-star status in the ’80s, the Hooters opened three huge musical events of the ’80s and ’90s: the 1985 Live-Aid concert in Philadelphia, the Amnesty International “Conspiracy of Hope” concert at Giants Stadium in 1986, and Roger Waters’ staging of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” in Berlin, 1990.
In 1990 Uosikkinen left the Philadelphia area to settle in Los Angeles, then San Diego, returning to the east just a couple of years ago. He is working through a divorce and his 20-year-old son, Sam, continues to live in California.
In January, 2009, Uosikkinen launched Dave U Drums, an internet service where musicians send him an outline of a song, pay a recording fee, and Uosikkinen will deliver a finished drum track. “Send me a file, and I can play drums for you,” he says. “It’s the same kind of idea as ‘In the Pocket,’ using technology to broaden the music experience.”
In the Pocket, Blue Curtain Concerts, Pettoranello Gardens, Princeton Community Park, Route 206 and Mountain Avenue, Princeton, Saturday, July 9, 7 p.m. Outdoor oncert featuring Hooters’ drummer David Uosikkinen and musicians performing legendary songs that came out of Philadelphia during different eras. Williamsboy opens. “In the Pocket: Essential Songs of Philadelphia” on the Web: http://songsinthepocket.org Free. 609-429-0505 or www.bluecurtain.org
Blue Curtain also presents Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana on Saturday, July 16, 7 p.m. Caridad Martinez’ Purple Ballet opens.