It’s kind of shocking to realize that one of the freshest, brightest sounding rock bands on the Boston scene today wrote finis to its first incarnation back at the end of 1978. But the quartet known as Fox Pass–-it’s a play on faux pas–delivers some of the most vivid, energetic, finely crafted pop anywhere, even all these years later and in reunion mode.
Friday night the foursome performed a sizzling 45 minute set at The Beachcomber before a blizzard-forecast-limited crowd of about 100 fans, with arrangements and vocal harmonies that were frankly, incredible. Founding members, songwriters and guitarists Jon Macey and Michael J. Roy always had a sort of Velvet Underground vibe to their work, but as Friday’s show proved they also write and arrange with a reverence for the kind of interwoven guitar textures and pinpoint vocal harmonies of bands like The Byrds or the Everly Brothers.
Macey and Roy first aimed for a blend of Bob Dylan’s sharp songwriting eye with Frank Zappa’s experimental rock, and you can hear echoes of that influence too. Later in their partnership the two guitarists added keyboards and flirted with ABBA-infuenced dance-pop, and that kind of soaring melodicism is evident too. It all makes for a heady brew: edgy rock, stiletto guitar leads, lush rhythms, tart lyrics, and the kind of smooth melodic hooks that made New Wavers fortunes back in the 1980s.
Today’s Fox Pass lineup includes Macey, a Waltham resident, Roy who lives in Brewster, Milton’s Steve Gilligan on bass, and Everett’s Tom Landers on drums. They all have day jobs now, and various other performing guises, but gig as Fox Pass two or three times a month. A video made for their tune “Hurry Cherie,” from last year’s album, has become a quick Youtube sensation, and the veteran musicians are hopeful it will lead to bigger things.
To summarize briefly, high school pals Macey and Roy started playing together in 1972, and their songwriting collaborations gradually evolved into Fox Pass, with Roy’s brother John Roy the first bassist. Along with their Dylan, Zappa, and Velvet Underground leanings, Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers were a huge influence. But the band’s poppy melodies put them somewhat at odds with the growing punk rock trend at the time, so a record deal was elusive. By the end of 1978, the frustrated then-22 year old musicians retired Fox Pass.
Macey and Michael Roy ended up in New York City, where they soon joined former Bostonian Tom Dickey. By 1980, Tom Dickey and the Desires, with all three men singing, was making waves as a New Wave antidote to the harder punk scene. Record exec Tommy Mottola took over their management, and tours opening for Hall & Oates and Cheap Trick raised their national profile. Their debut album at the end of 1980 contained the minor hits “Competition” and “Downtown Talk,” and Macey & Roy had the unusual treat of hearing their work on both rock’s WBCN and disco’s KISS-108. But by the time of the second Tom Dickey and the Desires album in 1982, problems had split that band apart, with Macey’s drug addiction a major cause.
Macey got himself clean by 1988, and began fronting his own band, Macey’s Parade, around Boston. He also earned his college degree in public health and counseling and began work at an area hospital, writing grants and helping structure addiction programs. The band work had drifted away, but Macey released his own solo album, “Actuality in Process” in 2003 to critical acclaim. Macey had worked with Stomper bassist Gilligan and Stompers leader Sal Baglio in a 90’s band called The Bittersweets, and also gone on to work as a duo with the Milton bassist. When they decided to put a band together to perform the latest Macey tunes, they contacted Roy, and the informal Fox Pass reunion was underway. Drummer Landers is the youngest recruit, a longtime Fox Pass fan who showed up at his audition knowing all their songs.
Macey and Gilligan released their own duo album in 2007, and that music is separate and distinct from their Fox Pass material. The duo’s music tends to be acoustic, folksy, even a little country-tinged. The re-formed Fox Pass, meanwhile released its eponymous debut in 2006. Last year’s “Intemporel” (French for timeless) is a 17-cut collection of both new material, and classic cuts the band had never recorded back in their first heyday.
Friday’s set consisted of lots of music from the latest CD, although it was tough to decided what was old and what was new, so captivating is the group’s sound. The rollicking verve of “You Don’T Know Me” was an early highlight, with Roy’s tangy guitar solo a harbinger of treats to come. His guitar leads are wonderfully melodic, yet striking for their cutting tone, and always economic in the best sense–a 30 second solo that grabs you.
The current video vehicle, “Hurry Cherie” is your basic frantic fellow in love, delivered with a blast of alternative rock fervor and jittery guitar lines. Macey told the crowd that “Here Comes the Karma” was inspired by the Tom Landers philosophy of life, and it was a bit darker, midtempo piece, whose guitar textures suggested a psychedelic version of The Wallflowers. (Which would be, after all, a contemporary distillation of that Dylan influence.)
“Hit or Miss” might have been the most quintessential Fox Pass number at the show, starting with Macey in stripped down Lou Reed mode, and bursting into full-blown chiming guitars and vocal harmonies, as if Reed had joined The Byrds. Macey, Gilligan and Roy are all more than capable singers, and the variety of lead and harmony vocals the threesome can achieve is really extraordinary.
Roy sang lead on “Front Page Girl,” a jaunty tune about the shock of seeing a past love in a tabloid headline, full of mordant wit. “Downtown Talk,” that biggest of minor hits for Tom Dickey and the Desires, was penned by Macey and has been a staple of his shows with whatever band he’s with. Friday’s rendition was superb, a careening, punky garage rocker with serrating guitars and a melody that snuck up on you.
The swirling, uplifting “Love for Love” that ended the set featured more of those exquisite vocal harmonies, delectable guitar textures and irresistible rock energy.
“We brought back some of the songs we wrote in the old days but never recorded,” Macey said afterwards. “And other songs were older ones fans had asked about on the internet. Some of the ones we do were only released as 45s in those days. Generally I think the more power pop tunes are the old ones, and our newer stuff tends to be a bit more esoteric. But we’ve been amazed at all the fans who found us on the internet, and we’re enjoying this second time around, and the brave new world of music today. Heck, we broke up when we were all 22–what did we know?“
Fox Pass in 1974
THE WHOLE ENTIRE TALE OF FOX PASS
PART ONE: THE FIRST FOX PASS ERA
The first era of FOX PASS was from 1972 to 1978. Formed while Jon Macey and Michael Roy were still in high school, the original concept was Bob Dylan-styled folk music played with a Mothers of Invention influence (Freak Out, We're Only in it for the Money, etc.). The Mothers influence did set the stage for Fox Pass as Performance Art, most likely a confusing aspect of the band for the public and a confounding state of affairs for some of the band members. Clearly, even the name "Fox Pass" was designed to create an ironic distance and a deceptive veneer for the band to carry out various psychodramas. The first shows were as an acoustic duo in places like the infamous Cambridge Common Concert Series. By 1973, Michael's brother John Roy had joined on bass, and there was a series of local drummers. Early gigs were notable for the quick evolution towards the New York City sound of 2 swirling rhythm guitars, epitomized by the Velvet Underground. The chaotic pounding and 'Sister Ray' guitar jams drove most of the drummers away, as it was not the typical Boston night club thing. Finally, in 1974 Ricci LaCentra became the drummer, with an empathic understanding of this new sound, and the band started to take off with a solid line up. The sound grew into an art-pop Boston version of the Velvet Underground, but the actual main inspiration for the sound came from the Modern Lovers, who were role models for Fox Pass in the early days, especially for Jonathan Richman's heart-on-my-sleeve approach to rock music. Michael, Jon, and John all sang leads, giving them interesting stage interactions. FP wore black clothes, had a large gay and artsy cult following, and appeared to be punk before there was PUNK due to the influence of 1960s bands like Richard and the Young Lions and The Seeds along with the Reed/Dylan/Richman lyrical bent. The evidence shows that they had the NYC sound and look before many of the CBGB bands even existed. But, at that time in Boston, it was hard finding venues to perform in, as most clubs wanted cover bands or blues bands during this era. The much-worshipped music scene of the late 1970s was just beginning to flourish underground, but none of the bands had a central focus and there was no real sense of a common scene. The NYC new wave/punk thing started catching fire, and Boston began to really emulate it, around 1975. But by 1975, the band was discouraged and turning away from their formative influences, as it seemed that neither the general public nor the record industry was interested. The internal pressures of the struggle had eaten away at Fox Pass, and John Roy and Ricci LaCentra ended up leaving the band, which then got a professional manager, turned up the volume, and landed in the burgeoning 'punk rock' scene in Boston. After the first breakup of the band, Fox Pass quickly regrouped in early 1975. They were joined by John Jules on drums and David Godbey on bass. These two musicians were well known locally and they brought a harder sound to the rhythms, which fit with Jon Macey and Michael Roy’s move towards Sidewinders meets the Who-influenced power pop. The band became flashier and theatrical, and Macey adopted a Bowie/Reed/Ferry Glam stage presence. Gone was the wistful, innocent Dylan Velvets 1960s veneer of the early line up. They also met Bruce Miner, a local businessman, who became their first real manager. Bruce brought a new level of professionalism to FP and soon bookings increased and their profile rose in the Boston music world. This coincided with the spotlight on New York and Boston due to the ‘Punk’ revival and FP was abruptly in the middle of it all. FP released their only 45 single in early 1976; "I Believed" b/w "Prized Possession". In those days, radio would play local tapes all the time (most bands had tapes rather than records), and FP had many songs on key radio stations in New England (sadly, none of these songs were pressed into records). Press followed airplay and the boys were packing houses around Massachusetts and playing regularly in NYC. Yet, FP and Miner felt alienated from the "Punk" tag, seeing it in a negative career light, and they made statements and gave interviews that distanced them from the scene. Major record companies flocked to the sold-out shows, but only smaller labels offered punk deals and FP turned them down, hoping for the big prize. To top it off, even though FP was one of the biggest of the ‘Rat bands’, band and management decided not to appear on the infamous "Live at the Rat" LP, which, history has proven, was a huge mistake. What happened was that, despite the fact that Fox Pass were Boston music scene pioneers, they missed out on the record deals because they were not lumped in with the rest of the Rat bands. In early 1977, David Godbey left and they hired bassist Max Camfield and their first keyboard player, Steve Couch. Macey was an early lover of ABBA, and the new band could perform the more sophisticated Macey pop songs, and they reverted to the multiple lead singer format, with four part harmonies. The whole thing flew in the face of the punk new wave trend just as it finally was gleaning record deals for some of the bands that followed in Fox Pass' foot steps. The band still held a very high profile in the media, but this abrupt change confused their audience. What happened next was that FP lost its place in the urban race towards New Wave stardom, but at the same time they played even more New England gigs and actually were much more popular on the suburban college circuit. Airplay and NYC gigs continued as well, but they could see that they were being left behind, and that had they packaged themselves as PUNK, they would have rode the trend along with other East Coast bands. Feeling defeated, they fired manager Bruce Miner (mistake), hiring a manager with more lucrative agent connections. After a year or so, this line up fell apart, and Macey and Roy decided to pack it in and relocate to NYC. But before they did, they reunited with their original members, John Roy and Ricci LaCentra, adding Bob Toomey on piano, and played the last six months of 1978 in a series of final shows all over New England, reviving some of their early sound. Characteristic of their whole saga, these last shows may have been the most successful streak of gigs in the FP history. They packed the Inn Square Men’s Bar, sold out the first Boston Rock Revue at the Paradise, and the very last show was broadcast on WCOZ from The Club in Cambridge. They put the whole audience on the guest list for that show, 12/27/78. Soon after, Jon Macey and Michael Roy moved to New York City, joining Tom Dickie and the Desires. They finally got the big record contract and a couple of hit songs, but they were not identified with Boston any more. Many bands broke out of Boston after the first wave of “Rat” bands faded. The first Fox Pass era ended before the real explosion of Boston music that came in the early 1980s and therefore they are somewhat obscure in history, except for those who were there. They left behind many unissued studio and live recordings spanning their whole career.
PART TWO: THE MIDDLE YEARS When Fox Pass passed from existence at the very end of 1978, the oldest member was only 24 years old. But they were weary veterans. The next stage of the story takes place in New York City, where both Macey and Roy moved in 1979. Jon Macey and Tom Dickie had become friends during the peak of the Fox Pass at The Rat days. Tom Dickie was in a band called ‘Susan’ who had performed on the Live at The Rat album and were one of the top bands in Boston in those days. Fox Pass and Susan were very dissimilar bands, but Dickie and Macey had a lot in common: a love of songwriting craft, Bob Dylan, Lenny Bruce, and most importantly, ABBA. Susan relocated to NYC in the late 1970s and got a deal with RCA and released one album. In 1979, after the demise of both of their bands, Macey moved to NYC to form a songwriting partnership with Dickie. Michael Roy followed a few months later, and they auditioned a series of drummers, settling on Ronnie Ball, an early member of Twisted Sister. Macey switched to bass guitar during the gestation phase of the band, and he ended up staying with that instrument for the life of the band. The Dickie/Macey songwriting team modeled itself after Bjorn and Benny, Frey and Henley, Lennon and McCartney, and the 1960s bubblegum teams like Cordell and Gentry. POP was a huge undercurrent, but the actual sound of the band was NYC rock. The psychological edge from Fox Pass was transferred to these new songs. They had very strong vocals, as Dickie, Roy, and Macey were all accomplished singers, and they exploited this in song arrangements. This particular aspect set them apart from many of the bands they played with at Max's and CBGB's and allowed them to integrate the harmonic sensibilities of pop with the blasting city sounds. Tommy Mottola had managed Susan, and thus Mottola also managed the new band, initially called the Tom Dickie Combo. Tommy Mottola was a powerful and well-connected music figure, most known for managing Hall and Oates, and having the song ‘Native New Yorker’ from Saturday Night Fever written about him. With Mottola's clout, they were able to tour with many national acts of the time and, from their first NYC gigs, record scouts were coming to see the band, and soon Peter Lubin signed them to Mercury Records. During this time, they changed drummers again, getting Peter Charles of ‘Black Betty’ fame. They also added hotshot keyboardist Gary Corbett. Mottola’s people christened them Tom Dickie and the Desires, after the 50s tune ‘That’s My Desire’. Once the deal was inked, Lubin nixed Peter Charles, and brought in the then-unknown Mickey Curry on drums for the recoding sessions. Many producers were contacted (including Bjorn and Benny!!) and they hired British producer Martin Rushent, of Stranglers and Buzzcocks fame. They recorded their first album, "Competition," at Electric Lady studios in December 1980. Released in March of 1981, the LP yielded two radio hits across various US regions: 'Downtown Talk' and 'Competition', the latter actually released as a single in the US and England, as well as some Euro countries. Boston radio especially played both of these songs, with WBCN pushing 'Downtown Talk' and 'Competition' hitting number eight on KISS 108. The album charted in Record World and a promotional tour was scheduled. However, after a few big shows with Hall and Oates, Mickey Curry was promptly removed from the band by management and delivered to Hall and Oates, a gig that would pay off big time for him. Chuck Sabo was hired to do the tours and the videos for both songs featured him on drums. The band set off on their biggest tour, highlighted by huge dates in the Mid-West with Cheap Trick. The band faced many stumbling blocks. One key issue was that they were being promoted as 'New Wave' by Mercury and subsequently viewed by the critical intelligentsia as latecomers to the party, aping Costello, Petty, and the Cars. This hurt because the truth was that Dickie, Macey, and Roy had all been doing this since the early 1970s, and were actually forerunners of some of those artists. Another big snafu was the relationship with the management, who were used to acts like Hall and Oates and a string of Adult Contemporary and Disco acts, and did not get the true soul of the band. They couldn't understand the ABBA meets Dylan meets the Clash vibe at all. And they did not empathize with the band's intense idealism. Tom Dickie especially took umbrage at this, and it soured his relationship with Mottola. But the biggest self-defeatng factor during the entire history of the band was the reckless drug abuse of some members. With all these forces bearing on the situation, the later tours were fraught with internal tensions. The band really had no support other than each other, and the strain on them made it impossible to remain a united front. By the summer of 1981, it was time to plan another album and Martin Rushent was called in again, but he declined to proceed. Ed Sprigg, who had worked with John Lennon, became producer. The band was really becoming great in concerts but internally things were not so great. Macey and Dickie were becoming fractured as a team as they cooked up a new batch of songs and did pre-production with the band between tours. Throughout the first part of 1982, Roy and Dickie had to do most of the work overdubbing the basic tracks of the album because Macey was a ghost during the sessions. The aptly titled album, 'The Eleventh Hour,' was released in the summer of 1982, just as Macey abruptly quit the band. Tom Dickie and the Desires played more gigs and did some touring, but the label and management abandoned them quickly. The promise of the band at the beginning, to merge sharply crafted lyrics to the elusive power pop sound, lay in the dust of misfortune as the band dissolved. Their legacy is on the 2 released Mercury albums. There is enough material for a third Tom Dickie and the Desires album recorded and stored in boxes. After that, Jon Macey and Michael Roy parted ways for quite a while. The pain of defeat for two very promising bands, after so much hard work, had worn them down. But, the real culprit was the advanced state of Macey’s drug addiction. Although this problem had been present all along, as is so characteristic of that issue, it just kept getting worse. By the end of the Desires, it was an overwhelming nightmare. Sadly, the two friends fell out over incidents related to the drug addiction and they rarely communicated for almost ten years. Michael was in a succession of NYC-based bands, including Prisoners of Beat (with Chuck Sabo from the Desires), Crash Conference (with Lee Crystal and Gary Ryan the rhythm section of Joan Jett & the Blackhearts), Secret Chiefs (with Michael Monroe of Hanoi Rocks) and AJAX. Jon moved back to Boston in the mid-1980s and formed the short-lived band The Score, but he struggled with the drug addiction until 1988. He managed to get back in the game and led Macey’s Parade well into the 1990s and then worked briefly with The Bittersweets (who included Steve Gilligan on bass).
PART THREE: THE NEW FOX PASS ERA By 1996, Macey had decided to go to school and was working in the Public Health field, and his music efforts were in building a professional home studio and playing the occasional fundraiser. By 1998, he was back in touch with Michael Roy (who had moved to Cape Cod) and John Jules, and they, among other musical friends, contributed to the recordings that became "Actuality in Process", a Macey solo comeback CD, which was released in 2003. Wanting to play as band again, Macey, Roy, and Jules enlisted Steve Gilligan on bass, and The Score name was revived. Jon Macey and The Score played a series of well-received shows around Boston, getting rave reviews. It soon became clear that this band was playing for keeps and needed to record. Since the core of the band was in Fox Pass (and Stephen Gilligan had kind of always wanted to be in Fox Pass) the decision was made to use that name for this band. After 30 years, Fox Pass recorded its debut album, with Barry Marshall (who always wanted to produce Fox Pass) as producer. It was released in November 2005. Universal praise followed the release of the CD. Check out the reviews page on this website. Timing being everything, they finally got it all together just as the sale of recorded music plummeted and the market was flooded with myspaceflybynightamatuers and getting the attention of the general public was nearly impossible. Locally, Fox Pass had a good Boston following, playing the major clubs in town and always pulling big crowds. Jules, however, became disenchanted and resigned his drum stool in late 2006. Replacing such a key member proved difficult until Fate shined her light on the situation. New drummer Tom Landers was the cousin of the late Ron Doty, who was an enigmatic associate of Macey and FP since the mid-1970s. Tom had been a huge fan of FP and Tom Dickie and the Desires, even performing 'Downtown Talk' in his bands. He contacted FP upon the Jules departure and walked into an audition knowing all the songs from the current CD. Tom played a few gigs and did some recording, and then joined the band. FP was newly invigorated with Tom's driving energy and they began to record a new CD. It was finally completed in near the end of 2009. The new CD was titled INTEMPOREL. The CD featured many new songs plus a selection of immortal FOX PASS hits from long ago to answer the requests of their fans. The release date for INTEMPOREL, their long awaited double LP on CD, was calculated for world wide release on the palindrome date of 01/02/2010. INTEMPOREL is French for 'timeless, not of this world.' It also translates as ATEMPORAL in English 'independent of time.' FOX PASS has consciously created a classic double album: four distinct sides of music. Seventeen songs take the listener from the power pop opener HURRY CHERIE through 12-string heaven in COOL DREAMER to rootsy 70s rock of AMTRAK to the elegiac closer A LONG GOODBYE. In between are soaring melodies and harmonies, driving drums, pop hooks, jangly and rocking guitars, and multiple singers. The songs also possess clever word play and, in some songs, address serious themes about existence and dimension. Mostly, though, INTEMPOREL is the sound of a band at the top of its game, sending out sounds that need to be heard, unaffected by trends, technologies, or temporary culture.
Next Tom Landers left the band to be replaced by Stompers/Bittersweets drummer Lenny Shea. Fox Pass played lots of shows around Boston until 2015 when they finally stopped gigging. Lots of vides on You Tube. Lots of information, some of it is actually true, on the web. Main members continue to record and perform. Look around for Jon Macey, Michael Roy and Steve Gilligan.
FOX PASS says goodbye and be Happy! Love one another!