An Interview with Joe Mack
Drummer for one of the top bands in Newburgh, New York during the ‘60s
[Interviewer’s note: Though The Argonauts were together for only the better part of a year, they were one of the top bands in the Newburgh, New York, area during the mid-Sixties. During their time together, the band traveled to New York to record a single that unfortunately was never released. Drummer Joe Mack doesn’t perform much any more, but has fond memories of his time spent with his teen rock band.]
[Mike Dugo] How did you first get interested in music?
Joe Mack I started playing clarinet in the third grade. I listened to the latest music of the times—late ‘50s. I loved rock and roll. Then, when the Beatles happened, that did it for me.
[Mike Dugo] Was The Argonauts your first band?
Joe Mack The Argonauts was my first band. I walked along with my band mates calling ourselves a band before we even had instruments.
[Mike Dugo] Where was The Argonauts formed?
Joe Mack The band was formed in Newburgh, New York, in the summer of 1965.
[Mike Dugo] Who comprised the band?
Joe Mack Joe Mack - drums; Steve Clemente - lead guitar; Jimmy Crisci - rhythm guitar; Terry Barberie - bass guitar; Clifford Smith - vocals.
We had a keyboard player, Dave Kurz, for a bit of time. He started on the accordion, of all things. We also had a singer before Clifford. His name was Frank Biengardo.
[Mike Dugo] Where did the band typically play?
Joe Mack We played at school, parties, dances and block dances.
[Mike Dugo] How would you describe the band's sound? What band's influenced you?
Joe Mack We were pretty rock and roll at the time: Stones, Animals, Dave Clark 5, McCoys . . . that sort of thing.
[Mike Dugo] Did you play any of the local New York teen clubs?
Joe Mack No. We didn’t play any New York City clubs. We were upstate New York.
[Mike Dugo] How far was the band's "touring" territory?
Joe Mack Only Newburgh. We were only, like, 14 and 15 years old at the time.
[Mike Dugo] Did The Argonauts have a manager?
Joe Mack We had a manager, Cookie Vari. She was a hairdresser.
[Mike Dugo] How popular locally did The Argonauts become?
Joe Mack At the time we kind of blew away most of the competition.
[Mike Dugo] What other local groups of the era do you especially recall?
Joe Mack The Sapiens were big. (I also remember) The Stingrays, MG and The Knockouts, Phaeton IV, which Armand Assante was in, and an assortment of others.
[Mike Dugo] Did The Argonauts participate in any Battle of the Bands?
Joe Mack We did do Battle of the Bands kind of things in the summertime—outside kind of gigs. The first one we did we were horrible, but as we got better we were always a hit. I remember doing some Beatles and Stones stuff, and the one that got the audience moving was "Shout."
[Mike Dugo] What were the circumstances leading the band to New York to record your single?
Joe Mack We had a couple of originals and our manager put up the money for us to record two of them. It was quite the experience.
[Mike Dugo] What were the titles of the songs on the single?
Joe Mack The A-side was a song called "Kabasie." The B-side was "Be My Girl." They were never picked up by a label, I'm sorry to say.
[Mike Dugo] What do you remember about the recording sessions?
Joe Mack We were amazed, being so young and in a studio. I was pretty pissed actually, because we all brought our own equipment with us, on the bus no less, on taxis through the city, and who has the most to lug? The drummer. When we got there, I found out I never needed to bring my kit after all. I was supposed to use the set they had there and that was miked already.
[Mike Dugo] Who wrote the songs?
Joe Mack Most of the stuff we did was collaborations. We (wrote) quite a few.
[Mike Dugo] Do any other Argonauts’ recordings exist? Are there any vintage live recordings, or unreleased songs?
Joe Mack I wish there were, but no. They were acetates and time has not been kind to them. You can't even play my copy, and I am not sure [if] any of the other guys have their copies.
[Mike Dugo] Did the band make any local TV appearances?
Joe Mack No.
[Mike Dugo] Why did the band break up?
Joe Mack Bands have their way of breaking up and breaking up friendships. We were together for the better part of a year. But Steve and I had words on one last gig and didn't speak for the next two years. We finally renewed our friendship.
[Mike Dugo] Did you join or form any bands after The Argonauts?
Joe Mack Well, for a time I was in a group called The Banned. This friend of mine called me up and said, "Hey Joe, do you need a guitar player?" I said, "no." He asked, "Do you need a bass player?" I said, "No." He then said, "Well, you got them. We need a drummer." I played a few months with them.
[Mike Dugo] Was that the same Banned that recorded some singles for Fontana?
Joe Mack It wasn't the same band. We never recorded. The names, as I remember them, are Jeff West on guitar and vocals, Bill Wright on guitar, and Paul Mctamaney on bass. We were just a three-piece group. I think they had another drummer before me. I don't know why he left and don't really remember why it broke up. We played some parties, and a school function from back then called "Up with Christ" of all things. That was an every-couple-month thing that seemed to take the place of weekly religious instruction. We were the musical entertainment in the cafeteria, as I remember.
Then that was it until the early ‘70s. I played in Mothertrucker, a funky kind of bluesy band, then The Jack Daniels Group (we all loved that stuff), [and] then The Worms. My son now is a bass player in a local band and on and off I still get to jam with him and some friends. We did a couple shows together with a few other guys doing classic rock stuff. Oh yeah . . . and my son and I had a garage band kind of thing when he was like 16. He’s 28 now [and] his name is Mike. We called it Sons and Moses. His band now is Nuts in the Blender. They’re one of the top Newburgh area party bands.
[Mike Dugo] What keeps you busy today?
Joe Mack I am a Construction Project Manager and Estimator for the Federal Government at West Point. I don't really play much (other than) a couple times a year with my son.
[Mike Dugo] How do you best summarize your experiences with The Argonauts?
Joe Mack What a way to spend a couple years at that age. (We were) never in trouble and had a ball. We got to feel like rock stars when the field was wide open, and we got a lot of attention.