December 22, 2012


The Petrified Forrest standing on a pile of crushed cars off of Allens Ave. in Providence. A fitting metaphor? From left: Phil Plante, Richard Long, Ed Damota, Peter Stevens, Ken Grady, Phil Damota. Courtesy of Ken Grady.

Sure, the saying is trite, but sometimes, you really can't make this stuff up. Enter a young Rhode Island band, a tough Kinks cover and some offbeat major-label shenanigans.

The band — Coventry, R.I., pals Ken Grady, Phil Plante, Peter Stevens and brothers Phil and Ed Damota — at the time was going by the name the Offbeats, following stints as the Sixpence and the David Smock Five. Some recordings were made at Planet Studios in Providence (one song called "Nickels And Dimes" was recalled), but nothing was ever committed to vinyl or acetate, and whatever tapes existed have been lost to the ages.

The Offbeats' managerProvidence disc jockey, music director and band producer Vik Armen — had an "in" with New York City producer Warren Schatz, who had a major-label recording studio to himself on Sundays. Schatz had written and produced a ballad with some studio musicians, "She's The Only Thing That's Kept Me Going," along with a particularly strong cover version of the Kinks' "So Mystifying." The deal Schatz proposed was that the Offbeats would get six hours of studio time in exchange for "becoming" the band that released these two tracks: i.e., gigging to promote the record. The band made up the name Petrified Forrest on the spot in the studio, and recorded two of their original tunes during the session that afternoon in New York. Unfortunately, these compositions have met with the same fate as the earlier Planet tapes. The Fontana label released the recordings from Schatz' studio project in July 1967. (Oddly, Schatz' version of "So Mystifying" also was released in June 1966 on the Laurie label under the band name the Shapes Of Things, with a different b-side. It's unknown if any impressionable teenage band was recruited to promote this version as well.)

The band rode whatever momentum could be gained by promoting a record whose centerpiece was a nearly three-year-old Ray Davies tune — that they didn't even play on! The newly christened Petrified Forrest performed many shows and opened up for Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs and the Young Rascals, and headlined at Brown University. They also played the Sugarberry dance series sponsored by WICE radio in Providence (see photos below).

Ken Grady recalls: "WPRO radio and Channel 12 television were in the same building on Mason Street back then (maybe co-owned at the time), so Vik Armen got one of the Channel 12 photographers to take the pictures [for the Sugarberry brochure]. The WICE connection was Bill Corsair. We did a lot of appearances with him. Back then, WICE was a great Top 40 radio station at 1290 AM."

After the Petrified Forrest ran its course, members Ed Damota, Phil Damota and Peter Stevens teamed up with David Smith, Joanne Polana and Peter Joubert to form the nucleus of Toast, a successful Coventry-based cover band that lasted throughout the 1970s. Ken Grady went on to teach at Coventry High School and started the school's radio program, which is still intact to this day.

The Petrified Forrest find themselves in fine company with the Barbarians and the Left Banke as performers at Sugarberry,  a dance series that WICE AM radio held at the Alhambra Ballroom at Crescent Park in East Providence. Courtesy of Ken Grady. (Click photos for full-size view.)

So Mystifying / She's The Only Thing That's Kept Me Going
(F-1596) July 1967

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