From the twilight of music’s pre-digital era come two definitive collections of music by one of the most popular 80’s rock bands: DC Star. “The Best of DC Star Records” and re-release of their 1985 record album “Rockin In The Classroom” are officially licensed and digitally re-mastered from the original vinyl releases.
From the sweet pop harmonies of “Blue Sparks” and sing-along chorus of “Is It You?” to the bone crushing thunder of “Fortuneteller” and “I Wanna Rock Tonite” their sound was truly unique. For over a decade their high-energy performances captivated audiences and inspired a new generation of rockers throughout the northeast.
DC Star’s best known line-up consisted of vocalist Kenny Taylor, David Simmons on guitars and vocals, Jeff Avery on guitars, keyboards and vocals, Henry Farmer on bass guitar and Glenn Jones on drums.
The seed of DC Star sprouted when David Simmons got his first electric guitar in 1971. Tim Smith, a classmate at Surrattsville High School in Clinton Maryland, introduced David to his older brother Billy who was a capable guitarist. After a couple months of lessons David and Bill enlisted John Thomas and Warren Early on drums and they began to jam at Bill’s house. Billy’s older brother Henry Smith was playing guitar in the band Crusader Rabbit. Henry got his friend John Preveti (who went on to be the career bassist for guitar legend Danny Gatton) to help out the young musicians by rehearsing with them and Henry filled in playing bass at their early gigs.
After the newbie group had played a few parties it was apparent that finding a bass player was necessary to form a band. Bill had heard about a local 3-piece band named Syn featuring an incredible young guitarist named Jeff Avery, Billy “Breakbone” Baker on bass and Wade Richards on drums. The band blew David and Bill away with their impressive renditions of tunes by Cream, Grand Funk Railroad and Black Sabbath.
Drummer Wade Richards was recruited to play with Sassafras Tea, a popular band that was already working full time. So when David asked Jeff Avery and Bill Baker to join he and Billy to form a new band they quickly agreed. Since Jeff, David and Bill Smith had keyboard training the guitarists took turns playing keyboards to add more dimensions to their music. They claimed the name Spring Fever in 1972, John Thomas jumped in on drums, and they fervently began to practice at Bill Smith’s house.
A few months later, as the band was polishing off the last songs needed to play 3 sets, a stranger wandered in the backdoor of rehearsal. His name was Bart Windsor. Bart, who had heard the music from the other side of the neighborhood, was the lead singer for the very popular local group “Slow Rush”. The guys got along so well that Bart left “Slow Rush” and became the front man for “Spring Fever”. Bart was more experienced than the younger boys so he took the lead and before long his band of phenoms was playing regularly at high school teen clubs, colleges and recreation centers.
From Joe Cocker classics “Delta Lady” and “A Little Help From My Friends” to Eric Clapton’s “Layla” Spring Fever’s diverse material excited audiences all over Maryland and DC.
In the summer of 1973 Bart Windsor joined “Bush Hog” and went on a national tour opening for “The J. Geils Band”. Bill Smith also left to go to college so Jeff Avery, Bill Baker and David Simmons decided to stay together and form another band.
Drummer Warren Early was playing in a band named “Gideon” but when guitarist Ron Green left to go on sabbatical Warren Early jumped in with the other Clinton boys.
Now all they needed was a new front man …
In the fall of 1973 David put an ad for a rock vocalist in the Weekender section of The Washington Post. He got a lot of calls but most of the singers were older and wanted to work full time right away. He narrowed the list down to 3 guys but decided to meet first with the singer who was closest to their ages … it was 15 year old Kenny Taylor.
The first time they met Kenny he really looked the part, rough and tumble in his dirty jeans with the knees busted out and wife beater T-shirt. After the band blew Ken away by playing speed-rock instrumental “Bucks Boogie” by Blue Oyster Cult note-for-note, they compared song lists finding only 3 songs they all knew. The audition with Honkey Tonk Woman and then tore into Jumpin’ Jack Flash. When they were done beating out the last note of the song Kenny Taylor was in and new group complete. Kenny’s older brother David was an audiophile and conveniently became the band’s first soundman.
As Kenny’s vocals quickly improved David Simmons began orchestrating the new band’s affairs. Bassist Billy Baker left the band to work for BMG Music and was replaced by Henry Farmer. Henry’s bass playing was flashy and more solid and he brought new musical influences like Blue Cheer, Cactus and Mountain. They built an impressive song list topped by Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and eclectic songs by less known bands like UFO, Budgie, Moxy and Pat Travers, all driven by their masterful playing and Kenny’s astonishing vocals. The band took the name Medusa from the debut album by British rockers Trapeze whose rocking material was also part of their powerful repertoire.
David Simmons and Warren Early graduated from high school in 1974 as Medusa was beginning to work every weekend. After a long period of pressure, Warren’s parents made him quit the band. Warren became the regional A&R Rep for Polygram Records and went on to be the head of national hard-goods sales at Warner Brothers.
In an ironic twist of fate drummer Wade Richards, who had just ended his 2-year run with Sassafras Tea, rejoined the other Clinton boys and Henry Farmer temporarily left and was replaced by bassist Steve Davis. When Kenny Taylor and Jeff Avery graduated from high school in 1975 the band changed its name to STARZ, and they took off playing full time throughout Maryland, Washington DC and Virginia.
The band signed a booking contract with Jim Mothershead the owner of custom van business Goodies Galore. Mothershead quickly had STARZ working weekends and touring the rod and custom van show circuit supporting southern rockers The Daylight Band. The Daylight Band’s members were older and more experienced and fostered their new young opening band.
In late 1976 STARZ changed management to American Talent and Entertainment and shortly thereafter got a recording contract from Secant Records owner Caltrick Simone. Simone was an understudy of Tony Bonjiovi (John “Bonjovi”’s uncle) who owned the prestigious New York Studio “The Power Station”. For the sake of the recording sessions Pat McGowan who was a snappier drummer with studio experience replaced Wade Richards. Bassist Steve Davis also left when Henry Farmer offered to rejoin the band.
“Blue Sparks” and “Keeper of the Keys” were recorded at TRACK Studios near Washington DC. The sessions were produced by Caltrick Simone and assisted by multi-talented song writer Jefferson Antel. Just before the record was released the band conspicuously received notification from Casablanca Records that another group they managed was using the name STARZ and that the DC band would have to change their name. Although their claim to the name STARZ was very strong, David Williams from Cellar Door Productions advised them that people in the business knew the real story and that it would be bad business to enter into an expensive legal action with the major label. So with the debut of their first record the band changed their name to DC Star.
By the time the record was released DC Star was working 5-6 nights a week as one of the “house bands” at hot spots like “The Stardust” in Waldorf MD, “The Leonardtown Wharf”, “Someplace Else” in S.E. DC, “The Crazy Horse” and “The Bayou” in Georgetown and “Juniors Inn” and “The Act III” in Baltimore.
Before the band aimed their focus on breaking the New York market they replaced drummer Pat McGowan with Glenn “Dr. Gonzo” Jones in1978 and the DC Star line-up was set. The band assaulted the northeast and became as popular in the New York region as they were on their home turf. Over the next 2 years DC Star established a power packed reputation from the Carolina’s all the way through New England thanks to the hard work of their personal manager David A. Sherbow.
The group signed a development deal with Media Max New York in 1980 and spent the next 5 years working in the studio with the band members of Billy Squier and Billy Idol, iconic recording engineer Michael Brauer and producer Hilly Michaels. DC Star also did 2 recording projects at RCA Studios in New York working with producer Eddie DeJoy, all the while playing 5-6 concerts a week between their recording sessions.
DC Star released the 2 singles on Secant Records, a 5-song EP Picture Disc in 1982 and full length album “Livin’ in a Rock and Roll Whirl” in 1984 on Escape Records; the later of which was re-named “Rockin’ in the Classroom” and released on Atlantic Records ATCO subsidiary Mirage in 1985. The majority of DC Star’s material was co-written by band member David Simmons and lyricist Ray McCrory.
As a result of winning Miller High Life‘s national “Rock to Riches” contest in 1983, DC Star played at The Beacon Theatre in NY with special guest John Bonigovi (Bonjovi) and received a two year deal with Miller, recording their radio commercials including “Welcome to Miller Time” and Miller’s banner 1984 ad “Made The American Way”. They also released songs on 7 of Baltimore, Washington & New York’s most popular radio station compilation records in the process.
During their impressive 12 year career DC Star provided opening support for iconic bands including Journey, Judas Priest, The Ramones, Twisted Sister, Blackfoot, Blue Oyster Cult, Molly Hatchet, Zebra and many others before headlining the same arenas. The band set up headquarters in Baltimore Maryland to cover the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast and was based in Norwalk Connecticut to cover New York and New England. In their heyday they employed a full time road crew of 6 and office staff of 3.
When the national drinking age went up in 1985 the rock scene took a massive hit. Compounded by shifts in music and changing trends the club circuit all but collapsed along with many groups whose largesse depended on it. Vocalist Ken Taylor left the band in 1987 and was replaced by Sean Crosby and then by John Frederick. Drummer Glenn Jones also left in 87 and was replaced by drummer Myles Evans.
In 1988 DC Star stopped gigging full time but the original five band members reunited for shows in the Baltimore, Washington and New York markets annually until 2002.
David Simmons took deteriorating master tapes from DC Star’s records & recording sessions to Les Lentz @ LSP Studios in 2001. The two of them digitally re-mastered tons of analog material and created a CD in 2002 tentatively titled “The Best of DC Star Records.” No sooner was it completed than singer Kenny Taylor became seriously ill and the group was unable to support the new release. After receiving radical treatments Ken Taylor’s health improved. By 2003 he had returned to teaching vocal lessons and working on solo projects but was still unable to perform.
In 2008 Sam McCalsin, the president of Retrospect Records tracked down members of the band. Sam and copyright holder David Simmons agreed to co-produce 2 collections of the band’s material. Technical details and setbacks held up the project until the 2 CDs were finally launched early in 2010. They were “The Best of DC Star – Record Classics” and “The Best of DC Star – Volume 2”.
Unfortunately after years of valiantly fighting ravages of leukemia Kenny Taylor passed away May 21, 2011. More information can be found on Ken’s memorial blog here. With his death the world surely lost one great vocalist and performer.
In order to avoid needless issues arising from a 2014 copyright dispute with Unidisc Music, “The Best of DC Star – Record Classics” and “The Best of DC Star – Volume 2” were taken off sale by mutual agreement and replaced by two new releases.
DC Star’s 1985 Mirage / Atlantic record “Rockin’ In The Classroom” has been digitally re-released by Canadian label Unidisc Music and a newly re-mastered anthology of DC Star’s earlier record releases “The Best of DC Star Records 1977-83″ is now available from David and Goliath Music!
Even if you didn’t party through the 80’s with DC Star, one listen will throw you back to when rock was fresh and new but just as today the road to stardom was paved with heartache, heartbreak & hard-knocks.
David & Goliath Music
Music Producer / Songwriter / Guitarist for DC Star
The Best of DC Star
Records 1977 – 1983
– FEATURING –
Blue Sparks, Is It You, Don’t Call Me Punk, No Friend of Mine, Wastin’ Time, Stop the World From Turning, Both Feet on the Ground, Keeper of the Keys, Love Me Love Me Drive Me Insane, Makin’ Time
“Rockin’ in the Classroom”
– STUDIO TRACKS –
I Wanna Rock Tonight, Rockin’ in the Classroom, Do You Know What I Mean, Feelin’ Good to Me, Fortuneteller
-LIVE TRACKS –
Comeback to Me, Tell Me Like It Is, Call Her The Wild, Welcome to Miller Time, Livin’ in a Rock and Roll Whirl