Mike Zagari grew up in New Jersey, USA, and music has always been a staple in his life. Mike’s first musical obsession was Bruce Springsteen (still is), and his love of Rock ‘N Roll and all genres only grew from there. Mike teaches 11th grade US History and uses vinyl as an avenue for teaching as well as historical expression. It should be noted that some students think he’s cool, but most think he might have lost his mind! But in the end, Rock ‘n Roll is history, and history is Rock ‘n Roll! Mike lives on Long Island, NY with his wife and three children.
It is RSD, Drop 1 eve. As I sit to begin to write, I am currently spinning a UK/mono copy of The Association’s greatest hits. I am thumbing through the list and trying to figure out if I even want to partake in what was once a really cool, intimate event that has now turned into the complete opposite of what it was intended for. It has retracted from its organic beginnings into just another “money grab” to only hurt the indie store and the consumer…but I digress. I sit here and look at my collection that is made up of mostly 60’s Pop, Psych and Folk. Sprinkle in Jazz, Blues, R&B and Ambient with a Springsteen collection that Jim Rotello (Sirius Xm E-Street radio) would be proud of. I think to myself: I am 40 years old and most of this music predates me by 20 + years; how did I get here? What is my musical journey? Ahhh yes, the 1984 Ford Bronco.
It is the late 80’s into the early 90’s…the end of Reagan and into the Bush (41) years. I am an aspiring Rock ‘n Roll drummer that is about to embark on the most awkward years of my life…middle school. While most kids were listening to the latest by Dr. Dre (The Chronic), Nirvana (Nevermind) and Pearl Jam (Ten) I had 99.9 WODE-FM out of the Lehigh Valley. I grew up in central NJ so the PA area radio stations came in. WODE was an oldies station playing the hits of the 50’s and 60’s, and some early 70’s. Now, did I listen to Dr. Dre, Pearl Jam and Nirvana? Of course I did BUT my roots were in 99.9 WODE-FM. Now, this brings me to the title: 1984 Ford Bronco. In the late 80’s, my Dad drove a 1984 Ford Bronco and my Mom drove a 1988 Volvo 760. These two cars (sorry Mom, Bronco is a “cooler” titled than Volvo) were the classrooms to my music education. They drove on the road to my journey.
Now, being a teacher, there has to be an educational link…right? So, first we will go with the classes conducted in the 760 Turbo. Now remember, I am in middle school so I do not have a license. So, it was my Mother doing the brunt of driving to school for early morning Jazz band, lacrosse after school and the weekly drum lesson. Now the Volvo brought education in the notion of R+B, Motown and late 80’s, early 90’s Pop…yes you know who I am going with there: Michael Bolton, Richard Marx and the Phantom of the Opera Soundtrack. They all have their places in my collection but the R&B and Motown really have their roots here. This is where I was introduced to the likes of Sade and the Smooth Operator, Billy Ocean and his Caribbean Queen and any tape my Brother and I threw in. Now when the Volvo was parked and us kids were running around the house, music was in the backdrop as well. Remember the Sony BoomBox? Yup, that one. Well, that was the textbook to our “home schooling” prior to Google Meets and Zoom. And if the Sony Boombox was the textbook, the wooden spoon, hairbrush and countless other household items were the “writing implements” of a classroom; or in this case, implements used for air guitar, air microphones and air drum sticks. The pop coming out of the BoomBox and Volvp “system.” The Eurythmics, Sting, The Police, Madonna, Richard Marx, the Phantom Soundtrack (killer drum fills and a bit of Pink Floyd Echoes); basically anything you could sing to. While on the road, it was the Volvo system but when we were home it was the sweet, pop sounds of Magic 98.3 out of New Brunswick, NJ.
While I grew up in suburban NJ, My mom grew up in Irvington, NJ, a town over from Newark. Now coming with urban influence to white, middle/upper middle class suburban Bridgewater, NJ her motown songs were filled with stories of the Newark riots that were happening during the Long Hot Summer of ’67, a month after she graduated high school. These stories of “tanks coming down my street” would forever resonate in me; especially now, with our nation’s current social climate. Motown greats such as The Temptations, Four Tops, Diana Ross and The Motown record comps as well as countless others always have a nostalgia and historical importance in my heart. Moreover, it is just great music that has influenced artists to come after. When I hear anything from Darkness on the Edge of Town, The River and Born in the USA, I can’t help but to think Mighty Max used some of those Motown era drum licks, you know a tom with the right and and then into a ruff on the snare in his fill progressions. Think the opening drum lick to Dancing in the Streets by Martha & the Vandellas compared to ‘Hungry Heart’ off the River by the Boss.
Now, most of my schooling in Motown, R&B and pop took place after school, during the week. My 60’s pop (Motown included), hard and psychedelic rock took place on Sunday mornings religiously (pun intended) and on family trips to the Poconos to go fishing. This education took place in the classroom of the ‘84 Ford Bronco.
The ’84 Bronco had a long lasting impact, like the Volvo: it was not just a song on the radio to cut silence; it was a story that contextualized the history around it. While the Volvo classroom used the vocal performance of an artist, the Bronco classroom used the “groove.” My Dad was a drummer whose claim to fame was playing with Danny Federici. Yes, the original organ player for the E Street band. Danny lost his battle with melanoma in 2008 but I am glad I got to see him play with the E Street band, with my folks, during the ’99 reunion tour. So, with the drum instrumentation being centerfold, mostly the steering wheel used as a snare drum, 99.9 WODE was the soundtrack. Above, I indicated that “class” was held religiously on Sunday mornings. Yes, that is because when we would go to 9 O’Clock Mass, at the local catholic church (think the first few chapters of the Springsteen autobiography Born to Run) the classic hits of the ’60’s would be playing through the speakers of the bronco. This is where I learned about and fell in love with bands like The Rolling Stones, The Left Banke, The Animals, The Association and The Vanilla Fudge, just to name a few. My dad would always say, “This is what we would open with when I played in the Fanchers” or “To be in the lunch bags you needed to know Cherish by the Association.” Then came the discussion of the all powered Carmine Appice, drummer of The Vanilla Fudge. This was my introduction into the precursor of Hard Rock but a direct lesson on Psychedelia with an emphasis on the growling Hammond Organ (which would also lead into the Spencer Davis Group and Stevie Winwood) and the thunderous sound of Carmine Appice’s Ludwig Drums.
The lessons were not just conducted in the Volvo and Bronco; we also would go on field trips every summer. These field trips would be trips to The Garden State Arts Center (now PNC Arts Center) in Holmdel ,NJ, The Meadowlands (both the arena and Giants Stadium) and MSG. The first concert I went to, with my folks, was The Beach Boys; a group I will forever love and celebrate their entire catalog (for the most part). But, it was two field trips that would be my graduation of my musical education. The first was in 1999 when we went to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band during the reunion tour at the Meadowlands arena. The second was in 2005 when my dad and I saw Cream at MSG…WOW! Ginger blew me away! Looking back, these shows encompassed everything I was taught in my musical journey in both the Volvo and Bronco.
So, in typical classroom fashion, I leave you with a challenge (think of it as a homework assignment). Look at your RSD haul, Discogs, or just thumb your shelves: what does your musical journey look like? Was it a parent(s), sibling, friend, other relative etc who influenced it? Examine the emotions that come out of that musical journey. I know for me, there is not a Sunday that goes by where I do not listen to something by The Beatles, Left Banke, or the Association that doesn’t bring me back to Bronco. The ’84 Bronco is branded in my musical journey; what is branded in yours?
Dig this article? Check out the full archives of The Analog Chronicles, by Mike Zagari, here: https://vinylwritermusic.com/the-analog-chronicles-archives/