A time and a place...Ontario, Canada...mid-August. The Strawberry Fields peace Festival is in its third and last beautiful day. The sun was beginning to set as five unknown musicians were introduced to the 200,000 people that covered the Canadian hillside. Not many of which were turned around by the unfamiliar name of the group on stage.
The music begins and it is as together as all those beautiful people who were slowly being raised to their feet. And beneath the pounding rhythm you could hear everyone asking: Who did they say that was? - Hog who? - Where did they come from?
By the time the sun had disappeared completely, Hog Heaven had arrived...completely.
There are many reasons why a person or a group affects their public as they do. But in the case of Hog Heaven the love of what they're doing and the people they're doing it for must be held most important.
Mike Vale and Pete Lucia have been entertaining for about five years as members of Tommy James and the Shondells. But still after a period of time that causes a lot of entertainers to cop a "grab the money and run attitude", Hog Heaven is still deeply into people as well as music. Mike once put it this way: " A group sells a million records. Right? So the extent of their relationship with others is a piece of plastic. That's cool, but when you do a live thing, you're exchanging deep personal energies and vibrations." "Strawberry Fields", adds Pete, "proved to Mike and I that our concepts and ideas for a new group and different sound was really on the right track. Fantastic reaction from the great crowd confirmed what we had done."
Let's take a look at Hog Heaven on a more personal basis. Mike Vale is 29 years old, and was born in Greensburg, Pa. He has been influenced musically by a mixture of country, blues, and rock, all of which at one time or another are evident in the new Hog Heaven compositions. Did someone say compositions? Mike has either written or co-written such songs as Crystal Blue Persuasion, Sugar on Sunday, Ball of Fire, She, Theme from a Thought, and others. Beside continuing his role as a bassist, Mike is now sharing responsibilities of producing, writing and arranging for both Hog Heaven and other recording artists with this new partner and close friend, Peter Lucia.
Peter was born in Morristown, N.J. and though lived most of his 22 years in the N.Y. area, his head and musical taste can be found in California. Peter has indulged in some composing himself, penning such hits as Crimson and Clover,(which was #1 in the nation for weeks) I'm Alive, Theme from a Thought, and many others. He has, however, set aside his role as a drummer which he did so well, to make time for producing, writing and lead vocal requirements of Hog Heaven. Peter's performing abilities are already compared to those of the superstars.
Incidentally, this sounds like a hype, a rave, an endorsement or tout---RIGHT ON! You will probably feel the same way when you enter - Hog Heaven.
Hog Heaven Bio by Mike Vale 1/3/2008
Most rock musicians learn early on that there are several avenues of achieving thier artistic highs in this crazy business we love. One is performing, another creating and arranging. Those who do both are usually satisfied, those who do just one or the other are frequently not. But any artist who takes on the challenge of burning the candle at both ends for 5 nonstop years will tell you there's a price to pay.
Thus the birth of Hog Heaven. Though the split with Tom was amicable, it was abrupt leading to some very serious hurdles in the path of Hog Heaven. First of all, you don't go on the road without Tommy James and attempt to "sell" Crimson and Clover. Not only that, we were no longer The Shondells and had no desire to get into a pissing contest with Roulette Records over the name.
The answer - create a persona for Hog Heaven and do it fast. We spent the first month or so writing and rehearsing new material in Ed Gray's home studio in Scottdale, PA. While doing whatever gigs we could drum up playing "Court of the Crimson King", and "Cinnamon Girl" and other personal favorites.
We also made a decision, based on his great entertainment skills, to put Pete Lucia "out front" and recruit a new drummer to take his place. Phil Falcosscio who was and is the best drummer to ever come out of our home city of Pittsburgh was the unanimous choice.
The first two songs we came up with were Glass Room and Wilma Mae. I was immediately encouraged. On the strength of what we had written and were in the process of writing, our manager Howard Beldock, of the law firm Beldock and Kushner, started testing the waters for possible label deals.
After completing about five new songs, we decided to aggressively approach several record companies in New York. The reaction was very positive leading to a couple of offers.
About the time we made up our collective minds to go with Buddha, I received a call from Morris Levy at Roulette. He had heard about our trip to New York and wanted to know why he had not been given "a shot".
That call led to Pete and I returning to New York to talk to Morris. Morris used the argument that we would "get lost" in the pool of talent at Buddha at that time such as Captain Beefheart, Melanie, The Lemon Pipers, and various bubblegum acts, and that since Tommy James was his only recording star, Hog Heaven would have a higher profile at Roulette. I'm not sure if it was his argument or simply intimidation, but he convinced Pete and me to go with Roulette. That decision would prove to be our biggest mistake. First, because it would lead to the second group restructuring within six months, but also because what Morris promised would never come to fruition.
Suddenly Pete and I were facing two new hurdles: 1) Replace Ron Rosman, Ed Gray and Phil Falcosscio (who left because of the Roulette decision). 2) Complete the writing and recording of the album in an unreasonable and artificial schedule established by Roulette.
The first challenge ended up being less ominous than expected. Some mutual musician friends recommended guitarist Chuck Demorat and drummer Ron Hand, a couple of Jersey boys who played their butts off. Then, one evening I was watching a TV broadcast out of Toronto and saw a steel guitar player named Buddy Cage playing with Ian and Sylvia's Great Speckled Bird. A phone call led to a trip to Toronto to recruit Buddy who joined the group and was destined to become renowned as one of the greatest steel players in the world.
I vividly recall the frustration and concern at the time regarding the mountains to be scaled by five guys, most of whom only weeks earlier didn't even know each other. Most groups don't even consider recording until they've gone through years of playing gigs together, then slowing refining their writing skills, then over time developing a reputation, building a business team, signing recording contracts and booking agency agreements, etc.
What, as The Shondells took us years to accomplish, we were trying to achieve in weeks and months. "Will we ever be able to do this?" I recall wondering.
Pete Lucia rented a beautiful farm in Bloomsbury, New Jersey where we spent most of our time rehearsing and writing songs when we weren't in the city. Sometimes I think that farm, and my wife Val, were the only things that kept me sane.
The group jelled very well, and we were able to complete the first album within about six weeks while at the same time working our concert act which was starting to garner attention through our new booking agency, Action Talent. One of our first bookings was the Strawberry Fields Peace Festival in Ontario, Canada. What a tremendous experience! We played to 200,000 people and were so well received that it may have given us an inflated opinion of what the future held.
Roulette released Hog Heaven 1 and pulled "Theme from a Thought" backed by "Glass Room" as our first single release. I was thrilled because, to this day, I love them both. But, a funny thing happened on the way to the bank. Did we throw Shondell fans a curve? Did Roulette not know how to promote the F.M. or "underground" type of music single these songs represented? Or, were the songs just not as good as I thought? Well, I have my opinion, and I'd like to hear yours someday.
However, the album was still picked by the trades as a "winner" and played a lot around the country, especially "Happy", "Come Away", "Wilma Mae", as well as the new single's B side, "Glass Room".
Concert dates were picking up as well. We did a three-week tour with Badfinger and The Grass Roots, and several weeks with Emerson, Lake and Palmer. It was around that time I became acutely aware of the competition for F.M. airtime Hog Heaven was facing. We were good, but those guys were goooood!!
Not long after, we got word that Roulette was releasing "Happy" backed by "Prayer" as our second single. I like "Happy" a lot, but it wasn't the direction that Pete and I were trying to steer that ship. Not only that, did Roulette really give "Theme" and "Glass Room" the time and energy it needed?
When we returned to Pete's farm from the E.L.P. tour we began working on Hog Heaven 2, and for the first time since the Hog Heaven "fire drill" began, I started to get the impression that a strong identifiable direction was being established. That combined with good early returns on "Happy" gave us enough of a comfort level to take a couple of weeks off.
When we returned to Bloomsbury to pick up on the writing and rehearsing, the news had turned from promising to pitiful. We learned that Jerry Garcia was leaving the New Riders of the Purple Sage to join the Grateful Dead. No - that wasn't the bad news. We learned that Buddy Cage was leaving Hog Heaven to take Garcia's chair with the "Riders". Ouch!!!
It was terribly disappointing, but who could question someone's decision to take advantage of such an opportunity. Here we go again. Now what?
Chuck Demorat had a friend by the name of Jack McNicol who was an excellent guitarist and agreed to join us at the farm to assist in completing Hog Heaven 2 material which was already in process.
After a month or two of touring, writing/recording Hog Heaven 2, watching "Happy" climb and then slide from various local and national charts, Pete and I approached Morris Levy with these subjects. One was a demo of a song I had written for Hog Heaven 2 titled "If It Feels Good, Do It", which we thought had potential. Morris agreed!!!
The second subject was the perception that Pete and I had that maybe Hog Heaven's music and Roulette's business model were not a good fit. Morris didn't agree!!
The third was the misconception that Pete and I had that we would actually be compensated financially consistent with the contract we had signed with Roulette. Wow! You'd think we had pruned his family tree!!!!
The dictate stemming from that discussion was as follows:
Morris - "You will immediately cease all recording effort on the Hog Heaven 2 album except for "If It Feels Good Do It". Complete that song and bring it to me!"
Mike and Pete -- <Gulp!> OK!!!!!
The beginning of the end? - or was it, as I now see it, the end of the beginning.
We did as Morris, ummmm, suggested, and delivered the last single. Pete and I knew before we delivered it that it would be the last, even if it were a hit.
We had had enough and decided to disband the group to pursue other dreams rather than ride the Roulette express to bankruptcy. And maybe, resurrect Hog Heaven after our Roulette deal had run its course or when we believed the time was right.
Who would have thought it would take 37 years?
I miss you Pete.