Joe Accardi Remembers His Garage Band, No Left Turns
They ruled southern Wisconsin during the '60s
Interviewer's note: Considering the thousands and thousands of bands that sprang to life after the initial wave of "Beatlemania," it was only natural that not all of them would be fortunate enough to record and release a 45. The No Left Turns were one such band. Although the group did not leave behind a slab of vinyl as proof of its existence, bass guitarist Joe Accardi has many fond memories of life in a 1960's garage band.
[Lance Monthly] How did you first get interested in music?
Joe Accardi I was always exposed to music. When I was a kid, I had my own 78 rpm record player and a collection of those old yellow and red discs with stuff like "Teddy Bears' Picnic," "Big Rock Candy Mountain," "Hand Me Down My Walkin' Cane," the theme from "Zorro," etc. As I got a little older, I'd watch Your Hit Parade, the Perry Como Show, and other music programs on television. I'd even stand in front of my parents' phonograph pretending to conduct the orchestra while they would play show tunes from "The Music Man," "My Fair Lady," and the like. I never had a problem remembering all the lyrics to those songs. When I was in fifth grade, my mother signed me up for saxophone lessons and I learned music. Then I started listening to rock and roll. By eighth grade in 1963-1964, I wanted to play guitar, sing and form a band . . . like the Beatles. My folks bought me a cheap guitar and amplifier from a mail order catalog (Alden, I think), and I taught myself chords from a Mel Bay chord book I still have to this day.
[Lance Monthly] Was the No Left Turns your first band?
Joe Accardi Sort of. I originally got a band together in the spring of 1965 when I was a high school freshman. My cousin, Mike, with whom I had been very close, got a guitar and amp around the same time I did. Another friend, Carl, was already an accomplished piano player. He had a guitar too and could play lead runs. Our first drummer was a guy named Dan who had one snare drum and one cymbal. So . . . Carl played lead and taught Mike and I the rhythm chords. Dan . . . well . . . he was Dan and found he would rather play football and basketball than drums. I remember we played one time together publicly at a party with other kids from our class. The only songs I remember for sure from that gig were "Little Honda" and "Louie Louie" (complete with made-up lyrics), though I'm sure we knew at least a couple more. That band had no name.
[Lance Monthly] So this unnamed band led to the No Left Turns?
Joe Accardi In the summer of 1965, Dan left to go practice football and I replaced him with a real drummer, Bruce, who actually had a complete drum set and had played music other than marches. So now we started to LOOK more like a band, though we still were plugging cheap microphones into our guitar amps. The mics themselves were taped to old wire music stands. We started to sound more like a band, too. Bruce had an older brother who was a photographer, so he took some B&W pictures and made up some business cards for us. We got our first gig that fall, at the Beloit YMCA for a sock hop. We knew a few more songs, but found ourselves repeating stuff and extending instrumental parts for far longer than normal. Some of our more popular covers were "Hanky Panky," "Wipe Out," and "Shapes of Things" . . . quite a variety! I had started to play bass runs on my six-string guitar, turning the bass knob all the way up on my amp. Eventually, I bought a real bass (a Kalamazoo) with money I had saved up from mowing lawns, etc. So it was Mike on rhythm, Carl on lead, and Bruce on drums, and me on bass. We got the name No Left Turns as we were sitting in a coffee shop trying to think of names, when I looked out the window and saw a "no left turn" sign on a post in the parking lot. I suggested it, and it stuck . . . as silly as it was.
The 1965 original cast featured Joe Accardi on bass guitar and lead vocals; Mike Mealey on rhythm guitar and vocals; Carl Chekouras on lead guitar and vocals; and Bruce Bartholomew on drums. The 1966 cast consisted of Joe Accardi on bass guitar and lead vocals; Mike Mealey on rhythm guitar and vocals; Tony Mauhar on lead guitar and vocals (he replaced Chekouras in late 1965); Bruce Bartholomew on drums; and Jim Forrestal on Farfisa organ. He joined in mid-1966.
[Lance Monthly] Where did the band typically practice?
Joe Accardi The No Left Turns always practiced in the basement of my parents' house, usually one or two nights per week. My mother actually liked listening to us improve over the course of time. My father worked until 9:00 pm every night, so he didn't mind. It was just before Tony replaced Carl that we decided to pool our resources to upgrade our equipment . . . new amps, new P.A. system, Shure microphones, better instruments, etc. We had support and encouragement from our parents except for Carl, which I think is the main reason he left the band. We built our own speaker cabinets and floodlight boxes.
[Lance Monthly] What type of gigs was the band landing at this time?
Joe Accardi Primarily, we played high school and junior high dances in southern Wisconsin (Beloit, Janesville, Orfordville, etc.) after football and basketball games. We also played a frat party at Beloit College. We played one wedding reception, which was a disaster with all the adults who wanted to hear stuff we never would have thought to play like the "Anniversary Waltz" and country-and-western music. When we were booking under Adamany, we added some teen nightclubs in places like Monroe, Wisconsin and Savannah, Illinois.
[Lance Monthly] Do you remember the names of any of those teen nightclubs?
Joe Accardi Most of our venues were dances at schools and halls that were rented specifically for teen dances (e.g. American Legion Halls, etc). I don't recall that the No Left Turns played anywhere that was exclusively a "teen night club." There were only two such clubs in the Beloit area at that time: the Pop House in Beloit, and the E.J. Dalton Youth Center in Rockton, IL. Volume One played both of those venues, but not the No Left Turns. Unfortunately, we were too young to play the bar scene in Madison at places like Dewey's, Snoopy's, and the Nitty Gritty, which were popular if you were 18-years-old or had a fake I.D.
[Lance Monthly] How did the No Left Turns hook up with Adamany? Were they a major "player" at the time?
Joe Accardi The No Left Turns were playing a gig in Janesville, Wisconsin. I don't remember the exact one but I think it might have been the disastrous wedding reception at the VFW Club in Janesville. There was an older gentleman there whose first name was Mike. He had an Italian last name that I can't remember. Anyway, he said he worked for a booking agent named Ken Adamany and offered to introduce us and be our manager. Even though we were starry-eyed and naive, we proceeded cautiously with this guy but eventually took him up on his offer. We didn't meet Adamany right away, but we did sign a contract with this guy to be our manager and get us bookings. Up to that point we simply were booking ourselves.
The first booking we were offered through Adamany/Mike was a two-night gig at Isabelle's, a bar somewhere in northern Wisconsin. Don't forget . . . we were all in high school and under 18-years-old. At that time, drinking beer at age 18 was legal in some counties and there were a number of beer-only bars around the state. Needless to say, as supportive as my parents were, they were not going to let me go up north for a couple of nights during the school year to play in a bar. So, we had to explain to our "manager" Mike that we could not do this and asked to please limit bookings to more local non-bar venues. To make a long story short, we eventually "fired" Mike because he wanted 10% on top of the percentage Adamany was getting for the bookings.
Eventually, we met Adamany in his Janesville office shortly after a gig he booked for us at the YMCA in Janesville. I remember he told us that from his information, people either loved us or hated us. He did arrange for posters to be made for us to promote our gigs. The poster photo is the one of the five of us standing around the Stop/No Left Turn sign post. We continued to book ourselves quite a lot, but did get a few bookings through Adamany. I remember him as a reasonable guy, considering he was dealing with a bunch of teenagers. All in all, I think being associated with Adamany was very positive for us. You know, he also owned a legendary Madison music venue called the Factory where he brought in big-time acts like Hendrix, BB King, and others. Otis Redding was on his way there to perform when he died in a fatal plane crash in Lake Monona.
[Lance Monthly] What about Fran DeSarbo? Was she helpful in actively promoting the band?
Joe Accardi Fran DeSarbo was a cool lady. I believe she was in the South Beloit American Legion Women's Auxiliary. She started running teen dances in the Legion Hall on weekends. The No Left Turns were a favorite there, and it was one of our favorite places to play. Hundreds of kids would come to the dances. It was during this time that we started to become a popular cover band.
[Lance Monthly] How popular did the No Left Turns become?
Joe Accardi Hundreds of kids would come to the dances where we played. It was during the time we were playing the Legion that we started to become a popular cover band. (Sidenote: it was also during this time that we started to get our drivers licenses so we had more freedom to get gigs in places where we didn't have to rely on parents or friends to cart us around. Mike's dad--my uncle--even built us a trailer to haul our stuff around. It was very cool with the band name painted on the sides, along with our individual names. My dad provided me the use of his Studebaker Lark to pull the trailer. I wish I had pictures of it!)
[Lance Monthly] How would you describe the band's sound?
Joe Accardi We were definitely Top Forty! Our big influences were the Beatles, the Monkees, and the Rolling Stones. As we improved we added the Doors, Hendrix, and others. Personally, I always liked blues and folk music. So, I'd always sneak stuff into our repertoire from the likes of John Mayall and Bob Dylan. Mauhar and I typically figured out the songs and did the arranging. I usually sang lead, but there were a number of songs Mike and Tony sang.
[Lance Monthly] Did the No Left Turns write any original material?
Joe Accardi Unfortunately, no. We sort of jammed around at rehearsals, but we just didn't seem to be able to come up with any good hooks.
[Lance Monthly] I don't believe the No Left Turns ever recorded any singles. Do any recordings by the band exist?
Joe Accardi You know . . . I had a AIWA open reel monaural tape recorder that I would use sometimes to record our rehearsals. We even sent a little 3-inch tape reel to Mike's brother who was in the Navy. Long after the band broke up and I went away to school, my mother cleaned out all my stuff and threw most of it away . . . tape recorder and tapes included.
[Lance Monthly] What do you recall about the Beloit Jaycees Battle of the Bands that the No Left Turns competed in?
Joe Accardi There were about ten or twelve bands from the area: The Marauders (Beloit), The Prodigal Sons (Janesville), and many more whose names I don't remember. There were stages at both ends of the Beloit Memorial High School gym. While one band played, another was either setting up or tearing down at the other end. We were pretty nervous. I think we were to play three songs. I can't remember what the first two were. But I remember the third one because until that night, we had not played it before publicly. It was the great party song, "Shout." We did a helluva job with it, having only rehearsed it a few minutes before in the restroom with our unamplified guitars. We even had a little dance step routine to accompany it. I know we really connected with the crowd. They were dancing and singing along. Musically, we were satisfied, but ultimately I believe it was our stage presence that won the competition for us.
[Lance Monthly] What other local bands of the era do you particularly recall?
Joe Accardi A couple I mentioned above: The Jaywalkers, The Marauders, The Prodigal Sons, and The Midnight Raiders (Janesville) come to mind as fellow garage bands. More professionally, a couple of really good bands from the area at that time were The Pagans (Rockford), The Esquires (Belvedere), The Beau Gentry (Janesville) and The Wylde Heard (Janesville). These last two bands did make some recordings. I know The Heard is on at least one garage band compilation with a song called "Take It On Home." Also, as I mention on the web site, The Grim Reapers (Rockford, IL) who later became Cheap Trick. I think these last three bands all booked under Adamany.
[Lance Monthly] What did you think of the Grim Reapers at the time? Did you personally think they had the talent to make it (though years later)?
Joe Accardi Interesting question. We always admired the Grim Reapers and considered them to be one of the best bands in the area. I bought my Vox violin bass from Nielsen's Music Store in Rockford, which was owned by the father of Rick Nielsen (Grim Reaper --> Cheap Trick guitarist). My cousin Mike bought his guitar there also. I don't think we ever thought about whether or not they'd make the big time. We simply were fans.
[Lance Monthly] Why did the No Left Turns break up?
Joe Accardi The usual shit: Petty arguments over talent, bookings, money and girls.
[Lance Monthly] After the No Left Turns, you were in a band named Volume One. What can you tell me about that group?
Joe Accardi The finest group of garage band musicians in southern Wisconsin . . . I am convinced! We formed out of three bands: the No Left Turns, The Jaywalkers, and The Marauders. We definitely were leaning toward a harder rock/blues and psychedelic sound, doing covers by Cream, Hendrix, Vanilla Fudge, etc. This would have been the band to make it if we hadn't all been so scared of being drafted and going to Vietnam. Most of us either went on to college or joined the reserves. The members were Joe Accardi on vocals, guitar, tambourine; Joe Szokody on vocals, guitar, trumpet; Tony Mauhar on lead guitar, vocals; Mike Mertes on rhythm guitar, Farfisa organ; Dick Armstrong on drums, vocals; and R. Dean Herold on bass guitar.
[Lance Monthly] Volume One also participated in a Battle of the Bands, correct?
Joe Accardi The Meadow in Janesville was a roller skating rink, converted one weekend night per week into a psychedelic, Filmore-like environment for bands to play and people to enjoy some live music. Bands like the Cryan' Shames and Buckinghams played there. We got invited to a regional Battle of the Bands with some bands we never heard of from Lake Geneva and other places. I think there were about six bands, all very good. We came in third, even though I thought we were dazzling. I do remember the band from Lake Geneva was pretty good though I can't remember its name.
[Lance Monthly] Did you join any bands after Volume One?
Joe Accardi While in college, I played some folk music in campus coffee house type places. I was in a '50s/'60s revival band for a while in the mid-1980s in Janesville called Heavy Chevy & the Circuit Riders. We just fooled around mainly, but had some paying gigs at a couple of church dances and one or two private parties.
[Lance Monthly] What about today? How often, and where, do you perform?
Joe Accardi I only perform with my acoustic guitar, solo, for friends and family. I am the Dean of Resources for Learning at Harper College in Palatine, Illinois. My real career is all laid out on my resume.
[Lance Monthly] I hope you enjoyed reminiscing about your band, Joe.
Joe Accardi It was fun. Thanks.