|The live gigs and the promo-record version of “It Don’t Matter At All” were fast earning Wax some important fans. One was Cassidy, a disc jockey at the fledgling WMMR-FM. Another was the legendary DJ Hy Lit, who recommended them to a producer named Bob Crewe—an industry giant who had produced smash hits for Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels and Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons. Crewe was starting his own label, the Crewe Group of Companies, and in November 1970 he showed up at Wax’s rehearsal space at Third and Market. Crewe, says Levy, was “movie-star handsome like Troy Donahue or Tab Hunter, but very flamboyant at the same time,” and the fact that he arrived in a stretch limo didn’t hurt. After Wax performed three songs—the good-time jump-blues number “Elmira Lane”; “Things She Likes To Do,” which had a (very) early Elton John feel to it; and “On and On,” which sounds a bit like the Who would a few years down the road—Crewe agreed to sign Wax to a recording deal on the spot.
They quickly found their way to a young lawyer, Lloyd Remick W’59, who was charmed by the heavy Penn connection.
“It was a great group of kids,” says Remick. “They were incredibly motivated and talented and very bright—not only with the music; they had the smarts to ask a lot of questions about how the music business works.”
After intense negotiations, Remick arranged for a $50,000 advance—half up front and the other half when the record came out. Oddly enough, though, Wax did not want Crewe to produce them. Crewe was famous as a producer of huge hit singles, while Wax saw themselves as an “album” band. According to Chertoff, Wax had Remick “write into the contract that Crewe would not produce the record, but that we would produce [it] ourselves. That showed incredible chutzpah for a young band” whose entire team’s collective experience in the recording studio amounted to one song.
“Since Crewe was looking for something different, that was actually fine with him,” says Chertoff. “Now I feel like that was a blown opportunity to learn from a master, but things were happening so fast, who could blame us for thinking we knew better?”
Perspective, adds Levy, “was hard to come by for talented and stoned 22-year-olds.”
Less than two months later, Wax found themselves at the Record Plant, the legendary New York recording studio. They were in pretty good company. On one side was John Lennon, working on Imagine. On the other was the Who, doing the sessions that would become Who’s Next. It was a heady experience for the Penn lads, and even though they didn’t interact with the musical giants flanking them, the mere fact that they were there gave the band confidence and momentum—stardom was clearly within reach. Having rented a spacious apartment on East 61st Street, they had spent a good chunk of their advance on new equipment, including a wall of Sunn amplifiers and a set of chrome Fibes metal-shell drums. With Bill Sisca listed as producer, the band spent December 1970 and part of January 1971 recording. In Chertoff’s estimation, they “got to work with some of the best engineers anywhere,” including Shelly Yakus, Jimmy Iovine, and Roy Cicala.
(Chertoff also had a powerful epiphany in that studio, one that would lead, within months, to a major career change. See sidebar for details.) When Kagan fell ill with throat issues, he was prescribed steroids—the first time any of the band members had even heard that word. His voice recovered, and the band spent a full month recording and fine-tuning a dozen of their best original songs.
Then disaster struck, in the form of the Internal Revenue Service. Crewe, it turned out, had some serious financial problems, and the IRS shut down the Crewe Group of Companies. The Wax LP was shelved—permanently, as it turned out. Worse still, the band did not own the tapes. After all that work, they were left without so much as a cassette to listen to.
When the shock and disappointment of losing the record deal set in, so did other hard realities. Jones was told he “could be sent to South Korea at any time”—better than going to Vietnam, certainly, but not exactly what the mellow, laconic bass player was hoping for. (That would be Conscientious Objector status.)
Levy had a different set of issues to contend with.
“I graduated in January ’71, was getting married, and I was looking at a situation where I had to make a living right away,” he says. “Rob and Rick weren’t sweating out adulthood yet, as they still had another year to go at Penn, and they were looking to take the band in another direction.”
By the spring of that year, artistic differences, fueled by disappointment, stress, and confusion, had morphed into animosities. Though there were no big blow-ups or angry resignation letters, in June 1971 Levy and Jones left the band they had founded.
“Beau was totally caught up in working on his Conscientious Objector status, and I just needed to regroup my priorities altogether,” says Levy. “We felt lost, devastated.”
Wax moved on without them for almost a year, but the magic was over. Initially Wax did not replace Levy and Jones, but instead added another drummer and keyboard player.
“We were going for a more Allman Brothers/Grateful Dead jamming sound,” Chertoff says now. (How exactly you play guitar-oriented music with no guitarist is not clear, even to the principals, who can’t quite reconstitute the necessary brain-cells to remember what the heck they were thinking.) “I’m not sure what we sounded like—we just played very loud and bluesy, but beyond that I am really not sure,” says Chertoff with a laugh. “I wish we had recorded something—it would be interesting to hear what we were doing.”
Levy, who had gotten married and moved back to the Lehigh Valley, saw the band he had founded perform just once after he left it.
“It was interesting and great to see the guys play,” he says, “but deep down it was bittersweet at best.”
For Kagan, that iteration was “completely different” from its predecessors. “The last version of Wax was more funky and performance-oriented,” he says.
The band recruited Bazilian, a Penn freshman, to play guitar. Though he and Hyman would later spur each other on to international success with the Hooters, Wax had lost its momentum. The band members moved on, and let Wax go quietly into oblivion. Hyman, Kagan, and Bazilian resurfaced a short time later with a new band, Baby Grand. That was pretty much the last anyone heard of Wax for a long, long time.
FEATURE: When Wax Was Hot By Geoff Ginsberg
| ©2010 The Pennsylvania
Last modified 8/25/10