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Publication: Syracuse New Times
Date published:
Language: English
PMID: 58875
ISSN: 0893844X
Journal code: SYNT

Sometimes David "Rock" Feinstein gets concerned about a few things. First, that his claim to fame is playing his guitar with his butt, moving it back and forth like a bath towel, as he did with the band Elf with his cousin Ronnie James Dio back in the 1960s.

Local music historian Ron Wray remembers it with a laugh, "Jack Bell {well-known concert promoter in the 1970s and 1980s} thought it was the greatest thing he ever saw."

His other concern is that maybe his later band, The Rods, aren't with Arista anymore because of the time he spilled a drink all over legendary record producer and music industry monster Clive Davis. "I was doing my thing, throwing the guitar around and I walked out onto the table and I must have shaken the table or kicked his drink and it went all over him," he says shaking his head. "I don't know if that had anything to do with it, but it might have."

He tempers those concerns with laughter, just little stories plucked out from more than 40 years in the industry. His victories are greater.

Feinstein, who refused to reveal his age, began his career with his cousin Dio in the band Ronnie Dio and the Prophets, which later became Elf in the 1960s. Although that band alone received enough worldwide recognition to put Feinstein on the map for life as a guitarist, several years later he formed The Rods, who would continue to play together until 1986. Feinstein went on to release three solo albums in the 2000s and after taking a break with The Rods until 2005, the band regrouped and is currently touring and recording again. Their latest album is Vengeance (Niji, 2010).

Although Feinstein lives in Cortland, where he owns the famed Hollywood Restaurant, his history with Syracuse is long and full of memories. "We used to play certain clubs: that one that always got flooded, The Brookside {now the DeWitt Town Hall on Butternut Drive}, the Yellow Balloon {now Lost Horizon}. We would always come to Syracuse and play these places," he remembers.

Feinstein formed other Syracuse-based relationships as well during the years with Elf and early on with The Rods. A young singer-guitarist, Dave Porter, remembers seeing Feinstein with Elf while he was attending SUNY Cortland. "I became friends with Rock and all those guys," Porter says. "We used to play poker every Monday night."

The mutual admiration persists and the two are visibly excited about being inducted in the same year, considering their intertwined musical roots. But the direction Porter took after returning to Syracuse in 1975 was far removed from the gritty, hard, heavy rock of Feinstein.

Porter (photographed at right) had a band, Harpy, that started doing "weird things on stage," he admits. The music was simpler than his next band's would be, but the theatrical aspects of the show carried over. Pyrotechnics, 10-foot pythons and blowing things up became part of the routine. But for a variety of reasons, Harpy broke up and Porter went on the lookout "for people who were really wizards on their instruments." After extensive auditions he found bassist Greg Liss (also called Creamo), keys player Ed Vivenzio and drummer Frank Briggs as well as guitarist, vocalist Ron Cunningham (who was with the band until 1980), and formed 805 in 1977.

Shortly after Cunningham's departure, RCA signed the band while it was playing what Porter recalls as a "dive of a place" in Little Falls. The band enjoyed quick success with RCA and had the chance to record at Electric Lady Studios in New York City. But within a few years, the excitement faded and in 1983 they were on their own. The band continued playing with the original lineup until 1986 and other lineups until 1989. Since then there have been several reunions, but the original lineup with Porter, Liss, Vivenzio and Briggs only played a few tunes at a 2003 appearance at the Turning Stone Resort and Casino. Putting the pieces back together has been a daunting task.

"We've got like four hours to try to relearn these kind of complicated songs," Porter says. "They're in weird time signatures. If you're playing a song that's in 7/8, in those beats, it's hard to make them sound smooth to begin with unless they're played right. We'll see how good we are after all these years."

Although the band won't be able to spit fire or blow things up this weekend, the stories haven't lost their luster. Porter recalls a show where they did their usual routine at the end-a set themed to old age and death that called for a concussion bomb to go off while Porter magically changed from an old man (he'd rip off a mask and old, worn clothes) to a beautiful young man in shining white clothes. In this instance, they set off the bomb and blew off half of the club's ceiling. Porter still recalls looking out and seeing a dazed, blinded crowd covered in debris.

"They just sat there," he says in disbelief. "They didn't even move." At the end of the night Porter slunk to the bar owner's office, fearing 805 would be banned from the club, forced to pay for the damage and denied their night's pay.

"He {the bar owner} goes, 'You blew half the ceiling down.' I go, 'I know, I'm sorry,'" Porter re-enacts. "He goes, 'That was fucking amazing! Do you know how many people are gonna be here the next time you play?' I was so surprised."

It's with fond memories of ceilings falling, bombs going off and Creamo sending fireballs rolling above the crowd (Porter claims they only had to douse Creamo once) that 805 returns, finally getting recognition for the contributions to music, theatrics and Syracuse.

Although other members couldn't make the interview, Porter is quick to remember those who will join him on the Sammys stage for the performance on Friday night. "Unlike Rock, who is getting himself put in the Hall of Fame, it's 805 that's going into the Hall of Fame," he says thoughtfully. "The other three musicians that surrounded me I guess that was my big talent. The ability to surround myself with really incredible musicians. I pale in comparison to any of the three of them."

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