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...... ale_house.jpg (71827 bytes)
summer86.jpg (108680 bytes) 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 Witness Schedule

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!

bmfmm.jpg (70664 bytes)
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" nights.

At Right, a summer 1987 Witness Schedule. 
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.

summer87.jpg (92340 bytes)

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.

billy.jpg (43002 bytes) 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. 

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 that. 

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 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! 

Mitch- " We sadly replaced Marc with a Guitarist named Mark Eskey...who came from the band, Network"

Meanwhile, things were not working as planed with Alby:

promo1993.jpg (157110 bytes) Mitch -" 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 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 Joel.. etc. The band played it's last gig at Walsh's Tavern in Warminster in October of 1993."

So, this should be the end of the story, right? 

It did result in a 14 year hibernation  But...................... 

We are talking about Witness     ;)

On to Part Four of our Witness Story -   

"Something's on the Move!"

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