Part 3 - 1986
and Beyond !
Although Witness had been together since 1977, there is more than a little
truth to the concept that Wildwood gave birth to the band that we all knew. In
some respects, the health of the band seamed to parallel the health of the
Wildwood club scene. In the late 70's and early 80's, Wildwood was a
"Party" town! "The Strip", as we all called it, was a
section of Pacific Avenue (and connecting side streets) that contained The
London Ale House, The Penalty Box, The Hurricane, The Rainbow, as well as about
a half a dozen other good clubs. The drinking age was 18, and the level of enforcement
on that was somewhat lax. You could party on the boardwalk during the day, and
then at night hit "The Strip." The town was overwhelmed with teens
that loved to party.
|New Jersey had raised their drinking age to 21. The town council decided to
grab on to this and change the image of Wildwood. They wanted Wildwood to be
known as a "Family" town, not a "Party" town. 21 would be
enforced, and clubs would be fined. Another move, that served as one of many
death nails in the club scene, was a decision to close Pacific Avenue. For
Real! They tore up the street and replaced it with a bricked over
"pedestrian mall." The result was a parking nightmare for the
clubs! It was hard to even drop someone off in the area, or car
pool! Between the promotional changes, the physical changes, and the
out-of-control "rent-a-cops" (My wife was almost arrested for
possession of marigolds), the crowds disappeared. All the clubs suffered.
Indeed, the town council succeeded. A good friend of mine, the late John Bourn,
was forced to move his business (Seashore Stereo) from Pacific up to Rio-grand
because people were not crossing the bricks to get to his store. (The Floyd song
"Brick in the Wall" comes to mind.) It is into this environment that
we tell the third chapter of the Witness story......
||The summer of 86' represented the last time Witness would do full weeks at
the shore. Full might be a misleading term. The band would actually play
Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays on the road, and then play the Ale
House Thursday through Saturday. The damage done to Wildwood showed in the
smaller crowds at all the clubs including the Ale House. Eric Rudy had left the
band and a new bass player was hired by the name of Flip Britton. Many fans will
remember that Flip and his brother Marc were members of Syn, which was a band we
had played with at the Playpen. Flip and Marc had both played on stage with
Witness several times, so the chemistry was known. To make things even more interesting,
Flip played flute, and sure enough, the Tull show was back!
At Left, a summer 1986
Despite the new enthusiasm, the club circuit was hurting and the fall of 86
saw the band fall into a three day workweek. Usually, it was a special
appearance on Wednesday, and a Friday/Saturday gig. The pressures of
a developing home life, and the lower monetary scale forced another
member to resign in 87. This time it was a key Witness institution-
Steelman. Jim moved to Connecticut with Jill. He loved the band and on
several occasions he drove down to perform with them.
Mitch- "Marc Britton (Flip's
brother) came to see us at The Silo, where he got onstage with us to jam,
and agreed to join the band.
Marc was a perfect fit, and he was onstage with us with very little rehearsal involved.
Now...Witness was truly a local "Super-group", as it contained members from all of the top club bands...
Witness, Pegasus, & Syn!"
For the second time in its history, Witness now had
a pair of brothers doing a Tull show!
||Mitch- "Steelman's last night was an event.
We were playing at The Red Garter in Upper Darby, and that night...almost everyone came out to see the band, and Steelman's last night.
All night long we had guests coming onstage to jam with Steelman, and we all said our goodbyes to him onstage.
It was an amazing ,but sad night for the band. The great Steelman was leaving!
Marc Britton played with us the very next weekend."
At Left, a YouTube Video
of some of Steelman's last night
|By the summer of 87, Witness was down to a Friday/Saturday performance
schedule. They still played the Ale House, but even that was limited to the
July 4th weekend, and about a half dozen "special appearance"
At Right, a summer 1987
Only about nine days were scheduled at the London Ale House.
Still, the show was strong and the band had a good draw. The
Britton Brothers were a powerhouse of talent. In addition to progressive
rock, a new comic character was introduced- "Cecile Erkel"
(Played by Flip Britton) Cecile would heckle Billy from the audience, and
then be invited on stage where "he" would perform a Talking Heads
show. Despite all of this, the club circuit was simply dieing. More
clubs closed, and new clubs were not opening to take their place.
Meanwhile, with Witness functioning on a two night a week schedule,
Billy was getting offers to do acting and solo work out of state. Rather
than leave the band, he would perform on the weekends, and try to schedule
his other work on week nights. This worked for a while, but by 1990, he was
running into serious conflicts between schedules. The band was now playing
some weekends with Billy, and others without.
||1990- Billy Movie Announcement on Feb. Schedule
Mitch- " Billy was attracting interest in the world of film, and we wanted all of the Witness fans to know about it.
Original Witness bass player, LROY was brought back into the band to help fill the void that Billy was leaving, with the idea that Roy and Flip could share
front man duties in Billy's absence.
Billy would appear with the band during this period about 2 weeks out of every month...and when he was gone, Flip & Roy did indeed share the
front man duties."
Needless to say, this dual version of Witness freaked out club owners,
who would complain that they would get the band without Billy, only to have
their competition get the "Billy" version the next week. Pressure
and tension grew between club owners, the agency, Morgen, and the band
members. Still, this arrangement actually continued all the way up to the
end of 1992. The deals that had to be made drove down the asking income the
band could get. More frustration.
|END OF AN ERA...
A final meeting was held to try to find a
solution. What happened at the meeting was very predictable. It doesn't
matter what the actual text was, the outcome was that Billy would be
leaving at the end of 1992. No one, including Billy, was happy about
At Right, a YouTube Video
of the final goodbyes the night Billy left,
filmed at the Green Pine.
Mitch- "So....Billy was leaving, and Flip also made the announcement that he was leaving, but we decided not to replace
him, as Roy would take over the full time bass duties, which he was sharing with Flip.
We knew that Billy would be leaving the band on Dec 31st 1992...so we set out to find a new
front man ahead of time....
Freddy Baker insisted that a singer he knew named Alby Miller would be "Perfect" for the band, so we had a meeting with him and on the strength of a demo tape, and
Freddy's good word, we hired Alby Miller."
So, you may wonder what more could go wrong? Don't ask! In February of
1993, Marc Britton had a heart attack!
We sadly replaced Marc with a Guitarist named Mark Eskey...who came from the band,
Meanwhile, things were not working as planed with Alby:
Alby was a great singer, and a really good guy....but our fans were used to Billy, and his high powered show.
Alby was much more laid back...and the fact that the band learned a ton of "new" tunes from
Journey, Kansas, Def Lepard, and groups like that... our public missed the Billy Joel and Genesis...and so did the club owners!
Our stock started to drop quickly...so...after the summer of 1993, we let Alby Miller go.
It was at that time that we announced that the band would be splitting up...but we had some
commitments to fill...
So....I knew a singer named Nick Sinnot, who worked as a salesman at Georges Music, and was also from the band "Treason".
We asked Nick to come in and help us fulfill our last few months of gigs...which he did amazingly well.
Nick was a lot like Billy....going out in the audience...standing on tables....singing Billy
The band played it's last gig at Walsh's Tavern in Warminster in October of 1993."