Inspired chemistry, and a brilliant, iconic, legendary LP
By Aram Heller
No one really knows how legends get their start. They just do. In music, some bands become legendary during their active career. Others become so with the passage of time. It can start as a consensus among an elite few, perhaps because their music affects everybody differently, or perhaps because no one can seem to describe what sets them apart.
I first heard The Rising Storm at their 1981 reunion in Boston. It wasn’t until I listened to their first album, Calm Before, that I recognized they were unique.
I still can’t put it into words, but if you compare this album to others released in the mid-’60s, there is no mistake: The Rising Storm are the best.
Perhaps it’s because they dared to record originals at a time when most bands relied on cover versions of well-known songs. Perhaps it was the chemistry of the six band members. Certainly it was the times. Maybe it was all of these things, possibly none.
All that really matters is that The Rising Storm existed, and left us a brilliant LP that continues to be cherished more than 30 years after its release.
The saga began at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., one of the many prep schools that dot the New England landscape. During the ’60s, Andover was home to many bands that provided the music for the “mixers” where the Phillips student body would socialize with girls from neighboring prep schools.
Many of these groups released LPs as a keepsake of their days at Andover — a tradition began in the early ’60s. The Torques, the Apostles, the Satans, and the Invictas all chronicled the popular songs of the day on albums consisting mostly of instrumental and frat-rock covers.
The Ha’ Pennies, who graduated in 1966, cut an album that was slightly more progressive. They, too, recorded cover versions, but picked their material from the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and other mid-’60s artists. Unlike those before them, they dared to include an original song, “Love Is Not The Same,” on their album.
Birth of a band
Into this backdrop, in the fall of 1964, came The Rising Storm. They were Bob Cohan, Todd Cohen, Charlie Rockwell, Tom Scheft, Tony Thompson and Rich Weinberg. They began like most bands, a few friends jamming on borrowed equipment, playing songs like “Wild Weekend” or “The McCoy.” But even in their infancy, they were experimenting with original music.
In the spring of 1965, they began to play at a few mixers as The Remnants. Then, fearing their moniker too closely resembled another, more popular band’s name, they changed to The Rising Storm, a term taken from their American history syllabus to describe the turbulent period before the American Revolution.
Thus, a band was born.
In 1966-67, their senior year, they acquired a reputation as a good live band scoring extra points with their peers by extending the slow dance numbers.
During spring break, they followed the tradition of previous Andover bands and recorded an album. They chose Continental Recording Studios in Framingham, Mass., on a recommendation from the Ha’ Pennies, who had recorded their album there the previous year.
For $1,000, they had the studio to themselves for a week and received 500 copies of the resulting LP. When the record was released, they sold for $3 apiece — a far cry from the price-tag affixed to that album these days.
The following year, the band went off to college and The Rising Storm was no more. Or so it seemed. In the late-’70s, while members of the band were busy building their careers and families, interest in Calm Before was reawakened by record collectors.
Soon the inevitable occurred: One determined collector tracked down the members of the band and convinced them to get back together. In early September 1981, a three-show reunion took place in Boston. Nine months later, at their 15th Andover reunion, they played again. This show was recorded, and eventually released by ARF! ARF! Records in 1983 as Alive Again at Andover.
Prepping in D.C.
In January 1992, the band assembled once again to prepare for their 25th Andover reunion. They took their preparations seriously. Gathering in Washington, D.C., for a series of rehearsals, they kept in touch during the next six months while practicing on their own.
This time there was more at stake. An LP version of Calm Before, faithful to the original album — down to the heavy cardboard covers — was to be reissued by Stanton Park Records from the master tapes and original art. ARF! ARF! Records issued a CD containing all of Calm Before and most of Alive Again at Andover.
‘Ain’t Dead Yet Tour’
Besides the Andover gig, two well-publicized club dates and a recording session at Synchro-Sound — a studio once owned by the Cars — were booked.
The band had developed a lot of original material, and at Synchro-Sound they recorded five new tracks produced by Erik Lindgren and Andy Paley, who had filled in for Todd on bass during the 1981 reunion.
Two songs from this session, “Signed DC” and “Trying To Fool,” were released in 1994 by Stanton Park as part of a double-45 tribute to The Rising Storm titled Frozen Laughter. “Signed DC” and “Love Starvation” were included on an ARF! ARF! compilation called New England Teen Scene – The Next Generation.‘Second Wind’
All was again quiet on the Storm front until early 1998, when word circulated that the band might record several more tracks to complete a new album.
E-mails and phone calls flew. Demo tapes of new originals and a few cover songs were mailed around. And vigorous deliberations ensued.
In August 1998, the band assembled at Erik Lindgren’s newly opened Sounds Interesting Studios in Middleborough, Mass. Unlike the 1992 reunion, bassist Todd Cohen was unable to make the session, and his spot was humbly filled by yours truly. Rich Weinberg was also unable to attend, having just recently become a father.
After a few days of rehearsals and sound checks, six new tracks were recorded, and again the band had time to catch up and reminisce. They were having so much fun that it seemed like they were back in high school. Their hard work became Second Wind, which was released in 1999.
Opening for The Remains
But the best was yet to come. Ever since their beginnings, the members of The Rising Storm had been huge fans of another local band, The Remains. (The Storm’s original name was The Remnants, a tag they retained as their record label).
In late 1998, The Remains had played two reunion shows, one in Spain and one at the Cavestompgarage festival in New York but, strangely, no Boston gig.
In early 1999, rumors started circulating again. When the details were fixed, a show to amaze any garage fan was arranged for March 20, 1999: The Rising Storm, The Lost, and The Remains.
The Storm could not believe it. Not only would they get to see The Remains again, but they would actually get to open for them. The Storm music machine swung into high gear again and the e-mail boxes filled up with all manner of discussion as to what songs to play, what order to play them, and even what to wear.
Two serious rehearsals prepared the band for the moment Peter Wolf (Hallucinations, J. Geils Band) introduced The Rising Storm to a packed house of rabid fans.
As the band took the stage, the crowd erupted into frantic applause. In all their years of playing, they had never received a welcome like this. In the next 30 minutes, The Rising Storm tore through several tracks from Calm Before, including a rousing version of “Baby Please Don’t Go” that wowed the crowd.
And that is the story of The Rising Storm, for now. The Storm continues to brew, and interest remains high, so anything is possible…
…Storm rising, yet again
[Since 1999, when Aram Heller wrote about the genesis and evolution of The Rising Storm, we have kept the beat going.
[Two of our best originals from the album have been reissued on a vinyl ’45. And “Frozen Laughter,” another original from Calm Before, has been released on Sky Girl, a foreign compilation.
[The Rising Storm got together in August 2016 for a week in Maine to rehearse for our 50th Andover reunion in June 2017, when we played during our class dance. We also worked on new original songs. And documenting the Maine get-together was a California film crew making a documentary about Calm Before and the band.
[In January 2018, Sundazed Music reissued Calm Before on vinyl and CD. It also is available on Apple Music.
[And calm before… the rising storm, a 30-minute documentary movie about The Rising Storm and Calm Before, had its premiere in August 2018 at the second annual Jukebox International Film Festival in Carson City, Nev., where it received first place in the documentary short film category.
[It now has been shown at 18 film festivals, received top awards at eight of them, and will be screened at four more in 2023. It was named one of the 10 best rock documentaries of 2018 by rock writer Richie Unterberger.
The Storm abides.]