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Out of all the major attractions from the Northeast region of the U.S., Mass has the distinction of being one of the area's most consistent and reliable groups performing on a regular basis. Holding up the metallic end of the area's Axis of Hard Rock -- a trio that includes the classic hit artist named after the city, the group Boston, and the arena rock sounds of the '70s/'80s band New England -- Mass has continued to refine its four-piece sonic assault with a passion that comes from loving what you do. Lead singer Louie St. August (born Louis Michael D'Augusta on April 29), drummer Joey Vee (Joseph Guy Vadala, born November 25), guitarist Gene D'Itria (born July 28), and bassist Michael Palumbo (born January 12) are the lineup, with Palumbo replacing original bassist Kevin Varrio. Originally signed to A&M Records by A&R man Hernando Courtright when they were known as Axes, their original manager had them tied up in publishing and management contracts and caused serious problems for the group (that same manager handled another Boston act that appeared on a BMG film soundtrack, but had allegedly promoted that group, Splash, with cassette tapes marked "Produced by Phil Spector" -- problem was -- the manager was the producer and Spector had absolutely no affiliation with the project, just one example of what Mass went through with their original representation). Other record labels began phoning people in the industry to get information on the act. Having seen their tapes at a recording studio in Burlington, MA, a contact was given to the interested A&R man, which only goes to prove that once there is a serious buzz, the major labels start looking over each other's shoulders. The problem was with management, though, and the A&M album got shelved with tracks finally surfacing on the Best Ones. Those 1982 sessions were produced by Tom Allom and still stand to this day as a document of a group that had the elements for stardom. They recorded a self-titled EP at The Record Plant, produced by Jon Mathias, and released it in 1984 and selling 10,000 units, bringing more record label attention. In 1985, they were signed to RCA and released the album New Birth, produced by Tony Platt. Their 45 rpm from that album, "Do You Love Me," entered the Billboard charts, the video got into rotation at MTV, and there was intense regional airplay, the single vaulting to number one on a local 50,000 watt radio station, just as "Dream On" did for Aerosmith more than a decade before. But "Do You Love Me" was not indicative of the band's sound and never got the chance for a "new birth" as Aerosmith's song did when "Dream On" became a phenomenon, going Top Ten in 1976, three years after it had climbed into the Top 60 on Billboard in 1973.
Unfortunately, RCA didn't stay with the band and it was another two years before Enigma Records released the John Rollo-produced Take You Home album. According to the group's website, www.geocities.com/massbelievers: "It sold tens of thousands of copies in the United States as well as England, Japan, and other countries around the world." Their fourth album was also released on Enigma and Voices in the Night attained a high level of creativity with Michael Sweet from the Christian rock group Stryper handling the production chores. It's interesting to note that Stryper has since moved to the Cape Cod area of Massachusetts, where Boston's first '60s rock & roll group, Moulty and the Barbarians started the whole thing. The Voices in the Night album was a critical and artistic success. They released a brilliant track, "Under the Gun," on The Best of Boston Music Showcase, Vol. 1 as their song was one of the most requested on 93.7 FM WCGY's local music program in 1992. That particular composition shows the evolution from the pop aimed at a teenage market that was 1985's "Do You Love Me" to a thunderous crunching mature metal sound seven years later. They headlined the major clubs in Boston, from The Paradise to The Channel and The Rock Pile, but never attained the stardom they worked so hard for and truly deserved. In 2000, Hernando Courtright and his wife, the former Doreen Reilly who was in A&R at Epic in the 80s, are still representing the group. The couple released the compilation Best Ones on their Fore Reel Entertainment imprint, the label that also has the debut from Deena Miller, daughter of the late Jimmy Miller, producer for the Rolling Stones. The Courtrights represent many major engineers and producers, including Jack Douglas and Eddie Kramer, and it is interesting and refreshing to see former A&R people still working with a band they encountered nearly two decades before. Best Ones is a good snapshot of the group from the very beginning to the new millennium, and features additional material produced by Rollo. The band has survived too many hardships to list here and they perform with professionalism and enthusiasm that is commendable. They deserve to tour on an Ozzfest, or another platform, as their albums comprise some of the finest hard rock ever to come out of the Boston area. ~ Joe Viglione
- Boston, MA