Ges' "My Old Friend" Is The Album Of The Year That You Can Only Hear Here
Updated: Apr 9
Editor's note: This story also appears in sister site BedrockSportsHawaii.com.
There's acquaintances and friends. And then there's real and deep friends.
Mr. Paul Geswell is one of my real and deep friends.
In 1987 while unemployed and not in a very good financial situation, I went with Ges (pronounced with a 'z' sound and also spelled Gez sometimes) to Marshall's on Rte. 20 East in our hometown of Marlborough, Massachusetts. So he says, 'Do you like those sneakers? ... What about that shirt?' "And this T-shirt and sweatshirt look good, too."
The bugger bought me at least $100 worth of stuff. I had no idea I needed it, but he knew I was relatively down and out.
Not that I didn't repay him. I did. Like Carl Spackler in Caddyshack, it's one of those "Oh, there won't be any money, but ... " things.
Instead, for Ges and many of the gang that we ran with in those days (aka, the people who footed the bill for ALL of those beers), my repayment was Entertainment.
What? You think it's easy to drum up fun? Well, it wasn't always easy, but heh-heh, I am (was?) a master. Four or five guys going out on an off-night? One of the questions: "Is Nick going?" I can remember one of the rare times (maybe the only time) I was not up for going out. It was like an intervention when roommates Matt Gardner and Pete Reynolds gave me the word that "no" was not an option. Hey, it was unsaid, but it was my job. Those Buds were not totally free, after all.
Please, anyone, tell me if any of this is more than a little exaggeration.
The main point is we had A LOT of Buds and we had A LOT of fun.
Paul Geswell was an integral part of that. Humble and quiet, but ready for a good time and a good laugh.
Paul Geswell, playing guitar in his basement with his dad, Richard Geswell (background) and John Alimo. (Photos courtesy of BKL Productions).
Ges was one of the musically talented among us. The other guy in our group with a lifelong melodious, mellifluous and tuneful drive was Mr. Mark Torre. Ahh, Marky Boy will be part of this here screed, but will probably be the main character of another tale to be told later. Like many of my friends, "Torox" has had an amazing journey that is begging to be told. I met him at age 9.
This little (or big) ditty of a story will concentrate on Ges, the singer/songwriter/guitarist who I crossed paths with in junior high days, but I didn't get to know until the late teenage years.
Ges And Good Old Rock and Roll
One of the first times I visited his house, we went into the basement to jam. Now, let's get it out of the way here as fast as possible: I am no musician. Yet, there we were, with mutual friend Bob McMahon, jamming. I sang (horribly off-key) "Substitute" and "My Generation" by The Who, "Blue Suede Shoes" by Elvis, and Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry.
I was more into The Who than the other stuff Paul played and wondered why he cared about those oldies. Well, it turns out that's because his dad Richard was also a guitarist who taught Paul the classics and to love that early rock and roll.
"So, what kind of beer are we going to drink tonight?" That is a line straight from Ges. It was about noon and we were driving to Cape Cod for summer fun. I laughed and wondered what made him think of asking that. Obviously, it was a minor matter for us to decide on hours later. Why think of it now?
Looking back, it was just his way of saying, "We're going to have fun tonight, aren't we?" Oh yeah, oh yeah, for sure!!!!.
Later on, thumping cowboy boots of another friend, Bob Battaglino, on hardwood floors at 3 a.m. signaled that at least one among us was far off the beaten track of mere beer. Like a mad chemist, Bob had discovered the pleasures of "Vodka and Vino" and didn't care if he woke anybody up to proclaim it. "Vodka and vino, Nick!!" he shouted.
That paragraph gets pretty close to the nut of what life was like then. Shake off the hangover and head out in the late morning to Seagull Beach, where we would invite every girl in sight to our party that night even if the kind and loving friend who we stayed with, Kristen Young, wasn't planning on any party.
Wow, are we digressing here? Where is the editor to keep me on track? Ehh, you get to flowing and ...
Where were we?
Acoustic and electric guitars and Ges-a-singing his songs. In Marlboro through the years, he was with many bands playing at clubs -- Cinema, Castle, The Gez Band, etc., but I moved out of state in 1989 and never really got to see that part. I was there for many of his (pre-touring) jams, though.
And after I moved, Ges got down to recording -- hard -- and sent me lots of his stuff on CD. I still have most of it, but I no longer have a CD player.
At this point, I should also mention some of his collaborators and band mates, some of whom I also didn't get to know, but who are listed on the CD jackets and on some MP3s Ges recently sent to me -- Paul Butler (lead guitar), Shannon Dobson (bass, backing vocals), Steve Busa (lead guitar), Barry Stainer (drums), Ben Russell (drums), Jimmy Cappello (drums).
Oh, and if you find this story interesting, I ask one favor and that's to listen to the music, Ges and his friends' stuff. Or as the Doobie Brothers sang, "Whoa-oh-whoa, listen to the music."
Because that's what it's all about, right? Take the time. You might like it. I do and I always have.
Paul Geswell, circa 1981.
So, as sort of a glue to make all of this story fit together (a trick in itself), I asked Ges to send me his stuff, which he did.
My Version Of A Ges Album, 35 Years In The Making
After sending about 20 songs, I chose eight to fit in an album format. Those songs and my review of them will follow. Make sure to click and listen. All of the offerings are short, with only two of the eight topping three minutes.
I was there for one of Ges' first recordings and you can hear the engine and horn of my 1976 Plymouth Volare at the beginning -- my lone contribution to his music. That song is called "Shoes" and it is truly catchy. It also has McMahon (backup vocals and bass) and Torre (lead guitar) on it and we were somewhere in Framingham.
At that time, I thought about taking the song to radio stations and maybe trying to be a band manager/promotor type, but I never did.
"Shoes" is such a special song to me that I didn't put it on the album I pieced together. Instead, I put it at the end as a special bonus track. It stands alone.
I should also mention that I've been singing one of the album tracks -- "Summertime Breeze" -- for the last three days, a song that also includes Torre on lead guitar.
And just the other day, I put another tune, "Reggae Bar," on the truck stereo without telling my son E.J. what it was. By the middle of it, E.J. (a budding guitarist) was tapping his hand to the beat. After the song ended, he was singing a line.
I'm telling you, these songs are catchy.
When was the last time a song WITH NO AIR PLAY was in your head?
Mr. Ges, back in the day.
Before you listen, you should also know that these songs are not mega productions like you hear on music for purchase. So if it's not smooth enough for your ears, then that is why. Some of the songs are from more than 30 years ago, recorded on Torre's four track.
OKAY, let's delve into the album, which I have entitled "My Old Friend." GIGANTIC NOTE TO READERS: To hear the music, play it on a Safari browser. We are experiencing technical difficulties on Chrome that Bedrock Sports Hawaii's national affairs desk is working on fixing.
MY OLD FRIEND
1. REGGAE BAR, 2:43
This tune has a very nice GROOVE and was recorded live in 2009 with a noisy bar atmosphere in the background. I had a little bit of a dilemma in choosing which recording to put here. I prefer a faster tempo version, but the faster one Ges sent is not as polished as this one. Remember, though, as Ges, belts out: "Let's everybody join hands."
2. SUMMERTIME BREEZE, 2:59
This is a cassette demo recorded in 1987 on Torre's 4-track. Check out Mark's blazing guitar solo from 1:19 to 1:50. And, as Ges sings, it's time to contemplate: "Have you ever been up this high?"
3. ANGELS CRY (LEAVES FALL), 2:53
For sure, hands down, one of my all-time favorite Ges tunes. I love it. So much feeling and great backing vocals by Nina Golgata. This is a 2003 demo recording. It's about life and sadness and the never-ending cycle that is marked by leaves falling. Hey man, "Everyone knows leaves fall."
4. DON'T WASTE MY TIME, 2:51
A 1998 demo with the band Castle, this one has upbeat vocals with reverb, a driving groove and a sizzling guitar solo by Butler from 1:24 to 1:45. And, like Ges sings to those who try your patience: "Who cares anyway?"
5. IF I WERE YOU, 2:21
The passion is evident in this nugget, which was recorded as a demo in 2013. It's pretty straightforward, too: "RUN!!! to the sea and scream out who you want to be."
6. WE DO WHAT WE GOT TO DO, 3:52
Ges wrote a story about how he and Mark got together to make this recording in 1990. I will tag that nice tale at the end of this story. It was a memorable day for the two of them, as you will see. Torre's lead guitar is powerful throughout, and it includes a spirited solo from 2:30 to 2:47. It's one of those "getting through life" tracks. "What a mess that I'm in. That's the time to catch the wind."
---------------- 7. THE BEST DAY, 2:00
This 2011 offering is a love song with a rollocking backbeat from the drums and bass. "I am back in your arms and I keep singing my song."
8. MY OLD FRIEND, 3:12
This one is a an ABSOLUTE great song and a stirring tribute to friendship, with beautiful backup vocals by Pam O'Neil. It's delves into life's difficulties and melancholy, but gets a small feel-good moment of "I am sure that you can fly."
Bonus track: SHOES, 5:31
This one, written by McMahon and Ges, is a fun adventure. It's from those days when you couldn't get into clubs if you didn't fit the dress code, the days of mean-ass bouncers. We all know, though, that buddy, there's more to a man than what he wears on his feet. Dudes and dudettes, you gotta listen to this CLASSIC!!!! So, what was that? "You think you're Tad Martin in your Guccis and Kleins."
At BedrockSportsHawaii, we're proclaiming "My Old Friend" as album of the year. Enjoy it.
And so what's up with Ges these days?
"I'm still working on full-time, still playing, singing, writing an occasional song," he said,. " 'People ask me why I scream and I shout and I just say it's in me and got to come out.' Peter Wolf and the J. Geils Band, Jus' Can't Stop Me."
Ges Meets Two of the World's Greatest
And while we're rocking and rolling with Ges, I'd like to add a little bit about two interesting times in his life involving stars who died within the last year.
One, about Eddie Van Halen, is something I just learned.
"I got to meet Eddie Van Halen, possibly the best rock guitarist in the world," he said. "It wasn't for a long time, but he was very nice and fun to be around. A friend, Mike, was Eddie's guitar tech, so it was backstage.
"I do recall people telling us not to shake hands with Eddie since his hands were how he makes a living and the first thing Eddie did when I met him was put out his hand so I shook hands with him."
Ges, at left, with Eddie Van Halen, right. Van Halen drummer Alex Van Halen and bassist Michael Anthony are also in the photo.
Another story is how Ges got to know Marvelous Marvin Hagler when the latter was middleweight champion of the world. It was the 1980s when Paul was working for his uncle at a screen printing business in Avon, Mass., one town over from Hagler's hometown of Brockton.
"My old friend Marvelous Marvin Hagler passed away," Ges texted to me recently. "Me and my uncle got to spend one afternoon with him 35 or so years ago. We had lunch and I got to go to his house and hang out and he bought some screen printing equipment for his family members. I told him I would fight him for the title for one minute. Then he put me in a brief headlock and he told me to stick with the music. He wasn't much taller than me, but he was ripped, in great shape.
"I really wish I had some photos with Marvin, although at the time I sensed that Marvin really liked that we were not asking him to take photos and asking for autographs and not making a big deal out of him. Instead we were in the moment, enjoying just hanging out and joking around together."
About the music Ges sent me from days past, he added: "Most of the demos/CDs I was never really happy with, but I used them as a reference in case I wanted to play a particular song live with whomever I was playing with at the time," he said. "The demos were done at very low cost with a low-cost recorder. Still probably good to have them. A few songs came out OK, I guess.
"I always wanted to record many of the originals professionally somehow, someday, but this working for a living got in the way. It's really hard to write even one really good song. Over the years, there were months I tried to just stop playing so I could try focusing on other things in life, but over time I ended up being unhappy without it. I guess it may have saved me in some strange, unexplainable way."
'We Do What We Got To Do' / A short story by Paul Geswell
I just finished writing a song called, "We Do What We Got To Do." I called my friend Mark Torre on the phone to let him know I had written a new song. Mark asked me to play it for him, so I put the phone down and played and sang through the phone receiver.
Mark said, "We should record it," which is what I was hoping he would suggest. I drove to his house with my guitar that Saturday morning. Mark had his 4-track cassette recorder, guitar, microphone, and drum machine ready to record the song demo.
Back then, unlike today, we didn’t have computer/copy and amp; paste/auto tune/digital tools for recording. When you played a song while recording and messed up, you had to rewind the cassette and start from the beginning and try it again.
Recent photos of Paul Geswell.
I have always felt it’s about expression, not chasing perfection. Do the best you can. After a few hours. we both were getting hungry and most of what we needed was recorded. We went out for a walk to the local sandwich shop. We ate our lunch outside. The sun was bright that day and it was also very cold, but we didn’t care. It’s one of the times in life when you're just plain and simple. HAPPY. Happy to be alive. Happy to be doing music. Happy to be with my friend. Happy to be recording something that was not there yesterday. We talked and walked back to finish up the song. I thanked Mark for his assistance and then proceeded to play the cassette of the finished song on my ride back home to Marlboro. --- ALSO AT BedrockSportsMarlboro.com: Time Traveling With Assabet Valley Aztecs And Marlboro Shamrocks Kicker Pat Caruso ---
Mark and I are still good friends and we try to stay in touch, even though life keeps us both busy. Mark and I both always wanted to do more collaborating together, but so far we haven’t been able to make it happen. Mark now resides in Florida. I hadn’t spoken to Mark on the phone in long time, a year? Maybe two? And decided to call him to see how he was doing with the pandemic. Mark said he was doing OK and then stated to me: "You’re not going to believe this; I was recently listening to our recording of 'We Do What We Got To Do.' It is what everyone everywhere is doing right now. Doing what they have to do."
Mark also mentioned this was one of his favorite projects he has worked on over his long musical journey. I replied, "That is really cool, Mark, and I could not have done it without you."
Songs never really go away, especially if a particular song has meaning to someone. They will continue on through the decades.