May 1, 2020

THE SPECTERS (East Providence, RI)

Cigarettes and scowls! From left: J. Carlos Maciel, guitar; Roger C. Reale, vocals/bass; Glenn Richards, drums; Karl Anderson, guitar; Taft Khouri, organ. Photo courtesy of Roger C. Reale.

Fans and collectors of 1970s-80s independent rock and roll will do doubt be familiar with Roger C. Reale, a Connecticut artist who released one LP with his band Rue Morgue (featuring future Saturday Night Live guitarist G.E. Smith) and a solo 45 in the heyday of the punk/powerpop era — the premier record collecting specialty of mine. So needless to say, I was thrilled when Roger reached out to me with exciting news bridging both of these worlds: he originally hailed from East Providence, R.I., and played in a high school band which cut an acetate demo disc. Whoa!

The Specters consisted of Roger C. Reale (then known by his middle name, Chuck) on bass and lead vocals; J. Carlos Maciel on guitar; Karl Anderson on guitar; Taft Khouri on organ; and Glenn Richard on drums. All were students at East Providence High School except for Anderson, a former art student from Barrington, who joined when he met Roger playing at a beach party. Roger recalls:
"The band was truly a garage band, playing at garage parties in the Kent Heights area. Our first paying gig was when we won $50 at a Battle of the Bands at Crescent Park, Riverside. The battles were a staple in the RI area, and The Specters were in many. Later, we became a regular band at Brown University and Providence College frat parties."
Another popular spot was the Venus de Milo restaurant, where Roger remembers playing with a band called The American Beatles (who were actually The Satans from Somerset, Mass., after they changed their name). "We also played at the Saxony Lounge in East Providence a couple of times, but got kicked out when the guy realized we were underage … except for Karl; he was already 21. What a riot."

As evidenced by the band photos simmering with attitude, this wasn't a lightweight band: The Specters' disembodied souls lay with the UK's rough inspired take on American blues/R&B.
"Of course, we did all the hits of the day … except Beatles, nobody could play that stuff, ha! We did everything from Berry, to the usual American rock: "Shout," "Little Latin Lupe Lu," "Louie Louie" … but we also did Stones, Manfred Mann, and many deep Animals cuts like "Hey Gyp," and "Club A Go Go" … I still have and use the same Fender Jazz, among other basses.

The Specters were more organ based … Animals, THEM, Zombies even, with Stones undertones. Our organist, Taft Khouri, was certainly the best muso in the group."
Roger and company had plans to release a single, and in 1966 they recorded two original tracks at the esteemed New England Recording Studios in Providence, "But You're Gone" and "Take My Leave" (both written by Reale with the latter co-written by keyboardist Taft Khouri). Had this been waxed back in the day, it would easily rank in the Top 5 garage singles from the Ocean State. You know a song is on a whole 'nother level when the singer growls the line, "Everytime I think of you, girl / Makes me wanna DIE!"

A proper release was not meant to be — only about 10 demo acetates were pressed — and now, 54 years later, we get to hear these fantastic teenage rock and roll cuts showing Reale as already a force to be reckoned with. His voice is distinctive and powerful beyond his 17 years, and the no-frills, melodic two-to-three-minute nugget would remain a blueprint throughout his 50+ year recording career.

The band stayed together for about three years through high school, and broke up when Roger's family moved to Connecticut in August 1966 after he graduated.

A double-CD collection of Roger C. Reale & Rue Morgue was released last year, compiling the "Radioactive" LP from 1978 plus his unreleased follow-up album from the following year, finally getting its due exactly 40 years later.

From Roger C. Reale's press release:
Reale continues to write and record to this day. His songs have been recorded by Buddy Guy, BB King, and Johnny Winter, among others. He has been twice nominated for a Grammy, and has also been nominated for an American Blues Award. Most recently, a compilation, Roger C. Reale and Rue Morgue, The Collection, was released by Rave On Records, in October, 2019, and he continues to record solo, and with his band, The Manchurians. His music is available through Amazon, Bandcamp, and the usual outlets. 
Glenn, Karl and Taft remained local, with Taft playing music into the 1990s. Sadly, J. Carlos Maciel passed away in 2010.

"You may leave RI, but RI never leaves you."
— Roger C. Reale, February 2020

Photo courtesy of Roger C. Reale.

But You're Gone / Take My Leave
New England Recording Studios, Inc.
(unreleased acetate)