It was an exciting time in rock and roll. Not everything had been done yet, and the better bands were often highly original. Loosely speaking, Wax might be considered progressive rock (a genre that didn’t even exist then), though that label often means only that the music has pretensions to complexity and the musicians are technically proficient (and play as many notes as possible in the time allotted). You can hear echoes of Procol Harum, the Band, Traffic, and Frank Zappa in Wax’s repertoire, but on the whole the sound was unique.

“We’ve been called everything—jazz, blues, rock, hard rock, acid rock, country,” Levy told The Pennsylvania Gazette in 1971. “We pick up pieces of whatever sounds good.”

One thing you will not hear is needless showing off. While there are long instrumental sections, the music is structured and composed, with a cohesive group sound at all times. Kagan has a warm, harmonious voice and delivers lyrics with feeling. Levy’s guitar solos have a jazzy edge to them, and avoid the psychedelic excesses of the era. Hyman’s piano playing in those days, while intricate, was percussive in nature—more Elton John than Keith Emerson. In the engine room, Jones plays very tuneful, sometimes surprising bass parts, and Chertoff is all over his drum kit like Keith Moon, but with the touch of Levon Helm.

At its essence, Wax’s music captures the sound of freedom and youth. The hallmarks are an eclectic mix of musical talents and songs that turn on a dime.

Each band member was “incredibly open to what the others were writing, playing, and conceptualizing,” says Kagan. And, adds Levy, “somehow it worked.”

“It was five guys throwing in ideas with no editing involved,” says Hyman, and a lot of ideas were thrown into each song—something you don’t worry about when you’re young, the ideas come easy, and you don’t have the sense to worry about them drying up. Chertoff still can’t believe that “the ideas were coming so fast,” or that “we could remember those arrangements without practicing all the time.” Which, he quickly adds, “I guess we did.”

In the spring of 1970, Sisca and Kalodner booked Wax into Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound Studios with engineer Joe Tarsia (who by now has garnered more than 150 gold records). The idea was to come up with a promotional record that could be played on the radio. They recorded the simplest and most straightforward song they had, the slide-guitar-oriented “It Don’t Matter At All,” which also happened to be the song that just about wrote itself that first day at the clothing-store rehearsal space. The managers had it pressed on a 7-inch, 45-rpm record—one side in mono, the other in stereo, as was customary for a promo record then. (The record was never sold in stores, nor was it intended to be.)

The band’s ambitions were definitely … waxing. As Levy told The Philadelphia Sunday Bulletin Magazine in November 1970: “Besides creating music, the whole purpose is to be really big. We do want to make a good contribution to the whole music thing. We also want the recognition we deserve.”

Eric Bazilian C’75, whose later collaboration with Hyman would lead to fame and fortune in the form of the Hooters, was in high school when he read that article.

“I was somewhat surprised at seeing such an in-depth story on a local band I’d never heard of,” he recalls. “I remember being quite impressed with how professional the article portrayed them as being.”

A few weeks later Bazilian got to see Wax perform as one of the opening acts for the Byrds. “My first impression, besides Rob’s sideburns, mustache, and bell bottoms—and the fact that Rick Chertoff looked like Keith Moon—was just how long and hard they had obviously worked on the musical arrangements,” he says. “Every song was like a suite, with tempo and meter changes prescient of the progressive rock that had yet to reach the mainstream.” It never occurred to him that, several decades later, “the bearer of the aforementioned facial hair would figure in as the primary collaborator in my life’s work as a musician.”

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FEATURE: When Wax Was Hot By Geoff Ginsberg
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