In 2009, after what can fairly be described as an epic level of success, John David Kalodner retired from the music business. One day, while looking through some old stuff in his basement, he came across a box marked WAX. It was the first band in which he had believed, and when he opened the box he found a master tape.
It turns out that in May of ’71, well after the record deal tanked and right before Levy and Jones left, Wax had gone into a New York studio, set the dials, and torn through their material, completely live. Not only had none of the band members ever heard the recording; they didn’t even remember doing the session. They simply assumed that high-quality recordings of Wax didn’t exist.
Kalodner, who is a bit of a recluse at this point, sent the tape to Hyman, who then shared it with his former band-mates. Then, in the summer of 2009, Jones was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Word reached his old friends, prompting some of those who had lost touch decades earlier to start talking again. Levy arranged a big get-together in Allentown with some old friends, including Hyman and Arnie Holland, who now runs Lightyear Entertainment, a movie and music imprint. After everyone had arrived, they turned on the tape and started listening to the music they had made a lifetime before.
What they heard made them giddy. For Holland, listening to the music with his “brothers” evoked a mix of “jubilation and wistful nostalgia.”
“The band was amazing,” he says. “The live tape is excellent.”
Kagan says he “couldn’t believe how original it still sounded—it wasn’t derivative of anything.”
It was more than just appreciating the quality of the music. Reconnecting with old friends “who had shared such a seminal experience was both joyous and emotional for all of us,” says Levy. “The magic was still there. It sounded great, better than anyone remembered.”
While they are all careful to share credit, each member of the band heard things they did not remember. Several mention Jones’s unusually melodic and pleasing bass lines. Now, with any bitterness and disappointment long behind them, they remembered all the fun they had. They also agreed on something else: that the recording was great and that people should hear it.
“We have to do something with this!” said Levy. (“Every group needs a guy like Rick Levy,” says Chertoff. “Someone who gets things done.”)
Holland, whose Lightyear label is distributed by EMI, said: “I got into this business because of Wax—let’s put it out!” Ironically, while the digital revolution may have “decimated the record business,” he says, “in this case it allows us to put the record out—digital shelf space is free.”
The next person they contacted was another old friend, Bill Sisca, who had gone on to a wildly successful career directing music videos and infomercials. He agreed to handle the business end. Team Wax was back in action—and this time they had a record deal that didn’t fall apart. Hyman, along with yet another Penn guy, John Senior C’77, set about mastering the tape at Hyman’s Elm Street Studios in the Philadelphia suburb of Conshohocken. (Senior, who also did the graphic design for the Wax album, is the man who inadvertently gave a certain post-Wax band its name by repeatedly calling the melodica Hyman played a “hooter.”)
Their excitement has been tempered by the sobering fact that Jones has brain cancer. (He has been receiving cutting-edge treatment at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania for his tumor.) But he has been “remarkably resilient,” according to Levy, and has handled adversity with characteristic calm. His friends and former bandmates are united in their affection for him and—much to their own surprise and delight—for Wax. (Editor's update: On September 3, Jones
Looking back, it turned out, was not so bad after all. They could hear the freedom. They could hear the youth. Their freedom, their youth.
Hyman laughingly describes Wax as “a no-hit wonder.” But who knows? Melted (which includes both the live-in-the-studio recording and the 45 promo version of “It Don’t Matter At All”) is being released on September 1, and downloads will be available two weeks later.
A few months ago, Levy contacted Bob Crewe, now 80 years old. His enthusiasm for the band still comes through in an email.
“WAX … I loved them in the ’70s … Just heard some of their stuff and they still get me way excited. Maybe this time?”
Geoff Ginsberg C’91 is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer who has operated around the periphery of the music world for longer than he’s capable of remembering.
Sept |Oct 2010 contents