HODGDON, Maine — It’s the esoteric language of music and a more than five-decade shared history that keeps an Aroostook County band screaming for the hard notes, sliding big daddy blues riffs and drumming a killer “Wipe-Out” at private parties and local events.
For the four original members of the 1970s band Rock Renaissance, music erases the pains and wrinkles of aging. Sure, three- and four-hour gigs are more than tiring. There’s the set-up, the tear down and the exertion of performing for several hours, but a painful hip or aching feet be damned, they love it.
“It takes me to a place that I want to be. I don’t know what that place is but when I am performing I’m in the moment and that’s where I want to be,” said vocalist and bass player Tim Humphrey, who is 77. “I’ll stay there as long as I can stand up.”
The youngest member of Rock Renaissance, lead vocalist and guitar player Bob Frame, 73, chimed in, laughing.
“When I went to the doctor this year they asked if I was depressed,” he said. “I said, ‘No, man, we just got the band back together.’”
And like the iconic rockers of the 1960s and 1970s — the Rolling Stones, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan — Rock Renaissance, after a 40-year break, is back bringing their music to fans.
Spending an hour or so with this group of old friends — Humphrey, 77, vocals and bass guitar; Emack, 78, lead guitar; Frame, 73, lead vocals and guitar; and Dave McGillicuddy, 80, drums — is reminiscent of a 1978 Martin Scorcese interview with Robbie Robertson and The Band for the film “The Last Waltz.”
They’re offbeat and funny, and as the story of their journey unfolds, song lyrics pop up into the middle of sentences and side tales about some guy they played with, bawdy bar brawls or memories of teens packing parking lots outside venues emerge.
Rock Renaissance started playing music when teens could legally drink in most states, almost everybody smoked cigarettes and legal penalties for marijuana were steep. It was a time when kids were listening to Motown, Elvis, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire” on transistor radios under the covers at night.
Emack, who also played for two years with the Cobras, one of Maine’s hottest bands at the time, said his mother sent him to a guitar teacher who tried to get him to learn scales. But he didn’t want to play scales, he told his mother after his lesson.
“Ma, I really want to play ‘Don’t be Cruel’ by Elvis,” he said. “That was the start of my guitar playing.”
According to Humphrey, he was doing some deejay work and playing solo at the Hidden Spring Winery when a couple people who had been fans of the band in the 1970s suggested they get back together.
“I’m 80 years old. I left the band in 1976. Then five years ago I got a phone call from Tim,” McGillicuddy said laughing. “He asked,’Would you like to start this group up again?’”
Emack jumped into the conversation.
“I said, ‘I don’t know, David goes to bed at 5 p.m.,’” Emack said. “We all talked it over and said, ‘yeah.’”
And boom, it happened, Humphrey said.
Emack stopped playing with the band for a time after its rebirth. But as they said, Frame gave him “a kick in the butt,” and he came back into the group.
“Bob’s been really good about dragging you out of the nursing home,” Humphrey said.
The first time Emack came back to the band, the crowds were thrilled.
“When fans saw Scottie here for the first time a few months ago while we were playing out at the winery, I mean it was just crowds of people venturing over to him everytime we stopped playing,” Humphrey said. “He is so much a part of the group, we can’t do it without him.”
The band has a regular monthly gig at the Hodgdon winery and their schedule is booked with other private parties and events as well.
Emack and Humphrey met at Houlton’s Ricker College in 1969. Emack, who was teaching freshman English at Houlton High School, had the reputation of being the best guitar player in The County, Humphrey said.
With the help of local musician matchmaker, Rod Palmer, Humphrey, Emack and McGillicuddy started as a trio, playing at the old Ivey’s Motel, they said.
After about a year or so, they added Patten vocalist Kathy Pond to the band. When Pond left, Frame joined the band in 1973, singing lead vocals.
The Eagles’ “Hotel California” album had just come out, Frame said.
“I wrote out all the lyrics and I screamed in my parents’ cellar room until I could finally hit most of the notes,” he said. “It was a long hard process. I kept doing it while driving and I started hitting some of the notes from Led Zeppelin, Doobie Brothers.”
The band’s popularity grew and in addition to Ivey’s they played at the Silver Fox, a rowdy place almost on the border, they said.
It was packed every night they played, the band members said.
But as life moved along, so did they with careers, families, kids, loves and losses, and even though they were no longer playing together, they kept practicing.
Frame moved on to playing venues for several years in Florida, and Emack, Humphrey and McGillicuddy taught in the Houlton school district.
As they aged, Humphrey lost his hearing from playing for so many years in front of huge speakers. Emack had a failed hip surgery that makes walking difficult and he currently lives at the Madigan Estates Nursing Facility in Houlton. And McGillicuddy said that turning 80 was psychologically tough.
“I thought, ‘oh man you’re on the downside.’ But the fact that we were playing, it’s like you’re not really aging,” he said. “Things are going well and we’re getting all sorts of compliments. It’s a real incentive for me.”
Next week Rock Renaissance is playing for a private party in the area, they said.
“I hope we keep playing together for a long time,” Humphrey said.