The Shatzkin Files


Music stories: a bit about The Drongos


My wife, Martha Moran, and I managed a rock and roll band 25 years ago. They were called The Drongos. They were four intrepid young New Zealanders who had come to America with an itinerant theatrical troupe and stayed when the itinerants moved on. They made pretty close to a living playing on New York street corners through little Mouse amps and passing the hat. They’d been a band for a couple of years when we started to help them in 1981.

There were four Drongos. Stanley John Mitchell, the drummer and principal songwriter, now lives in Brooklyn with his wife Alice Barrett, a film, TV, and commercial actress. Richard Kennedy, the lead guitar player and a lead vocalist, has stubbornly made his living as a solo performing guitarist and singer, based in Frome, England. Tony McMaster, the bass player, and Jean McAllister, keyboards/guitar/vocals, are the married parents of four children in Auckland, New Zealand, and still very much involved in music there. 

The Drongos were established performers on a circuit through upstate New York: Woodstock, Albany, Ithaca, Rochester, Binghamton over the 4 years or so we worked with them. We never made the match for a record deal with a major label — there was a lot of conversation but it never quite jelled. So we put out our own records.

Fortunately, but quite coincidentally, I was consulting at the time for a UK-based company called Proteus Books, which had bought into my idea for a niche strategy. We published books, mostly bios, on pop music and film. Only. The idea was that we’d do books in an assembly-line way that could sell in all English speaking markets and through bookstores, music stores, and record stores. That allowed us to have an integrated, rather than a book-by-book, marketing campaign. It also gave me a passable front for our self-produced, self-delivered records (and they were, primarily, vinyl records at that time.)

There are two reasons I’m telling you about The Drongos.

One is that I am proud of the promotional flyer I slipped onto the back cover of every copy of their first record. At the top it says, “If you like this record be sure to call your local radio station. It helps.”

And below it says, “The very best sound qualify of The Drongos Album is available only on Proteus Records or Tapes. No home taped version may lawfully be offered for sale. However, home taping to spread the word about this album is encouraged. Please buy your blank tape in a store carrying this album.”

That was my doing. How many of us have such a well-documented record of seeing through the folly of self-defeating copyright protection before there was digital distribution? (And this is documented. Our old friend and major Drongos fan Ira Nonkin has a reproduction of the flyer on his Facebook page. I’m not hip enough on Facebook to know what deal you have to make with Ira to see it, but it’s there!)

Here’s the other reason.

Richard Kennedy is an amazing guitarist. He’s a lefty who plays a normally-strung guitar upside down. You have to see it to fully appreciate it. I just discovered this YouTube video of him playing and singing Don’t Touch Me, which was probably the Drongos’ most popular song. It was a rocker back then; it isn’t in this version, but it sure is amazing. I hope you’ll enjoy it. (If you do, here’s a bit more.)

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  • David Shea

    Hi Mike,

    I love the Drongos! Great blog! Will now be going to Facebook and looking for Ira.
    I’m also going to go and see if the slip of paper is still in my LP, I only played it 3 maybe 4 times, the tape I made (1 LP on each side) has been played probably 1,000 times over the past 25 years.

    :-D

    • http://www.idealog.com/ Mike Shatzkin

      Thanks for the note, David. Nice to smoke out an old Drongos fan. We know there were many thousands of them in New York back then.

      • Uncle Tom

        To all. Glad you liked the Drongos. Alice Barrert is my sister. Stan is still whipping it. Hired gun for many bands In Brooklyn, NYC. I guess IM predjucied, but the guy can play. Wish I had his gift.

      • /blog Mike Shatzkin

        Thanks for stopping by the blog, Tom. Glad you found it!

        Mike

  • Chris Kerr

    Great to see a DRONGOS mention and especially good to learn that they are all doing well. We still have the music you gave us. It was a great sound, and we loved our brief flirtation with “groupie-dom.”

  • David Christie

    Thanks for the story, Mike. My old vinyl Drongos discs are burried somewhere in storage, but my buddy made me two cd’s from his records. I live in Ithaca, and have many fond memories of Drongos shows from the late 70s, early 80s. Maybe it is the fifty-something in me, but I have been wishing there could be a Drongo’s reunion show sometime – that music was/is really special.

    Dave

    • Vinny G

      David,
      Is there a way that you could send the files from the CDs via
      e-mail? I have had incredibly poor success in finding any form or
      fashion of Drongos songs since my brother left the house with the
      vinyl. Any assistance would be truly appreciated.

      • /blog Mike Shatzkin

        Dunno who David is but there will be a website at TheDrongos.com with audio
        samples and video and the albums will be on iTunes by the end of the year.'
        Mike

      • Vinny G

        Thanks for the heads up. Will be on the look out for both

    • Vinny G

      Not sure if previous request for help went through.

  • http://katzkomments.blogspot.com/ Jeff Katz

    I remember Richard so well. The first time I saw the band was on Broadway outside the miserable office I worked in during the summer of ’81. I went to SUNY-Binghamton and saw them up there as well.
    The song is as wonderful acoustically as it is on the 45 I still have.
    A great lost band, long may they live!

  • David S.J.

    I can only crank it up when the wife is out of the house. What better record to play than the Drongos first LP, a serious D.I.D for twenty five years. Oh what a pleasure…What a band! First time opening for Joe King Carrasco, then an in store gig at Tower Records. And many outdoors. Met Richard opening for NRBQ at Tramps years ago. He was shocked I recognized him. I told him how much I missed and loved the band. He was gracious and surprised. Read the post and saw the flyer for the first time! Never realized it was in there. We need more music like that. Tony and Jean, come back to NY and lets throw some shrimp on the barbie!

  • http://www.hindisonglyrics.info Hindi Song Lyrics

    I heard about Drongos many times. I heard about them through my relatives i mean my older relatives and read lot of article about time because of their great music, great and good songs.

  • Dottie

    I can't believe it! I finally found some info on The Drongo's. I was a hard core fan back in the day. I lived in Ithaca and everytime they played I was there. So much dancing…so much fun! I have their first album and sooo wanted it on CD. I drive my family crazy with playing the album (my son didnt know what a record player was until I dragged it out to play “The Drongos”. I live in Philly now but if they ever played in NYC again….this “old lady” will be on the train!

    Great memories!
    Dottie R.

    Fabulous

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      Dottie, I loved getting your note. You can be sure I'll pass it along to
      Richard, Stan, Tony, and Jean and they will love it too.

      Mike

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  • Puffer

    Unfortunately, I was not aware of the Drongos when I lived on Long Island. After I moved to California in 1982 I discovered two vinyl Drongos recordings and have loved the group ever since. I enjoyed this blog very much, thank you for posting it.
    I particularly enjoy “Eye of the Hurricane,” “Life of Crime,” and “Move You.” This group deserved more than it got, that's for sure. pass on my best to them. They have brightened my life more than they could imagine.

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      Thanks so much for this note. I will definitely let the band know! You're
      right; their music was fabulous.

      When we were managing them, the record companies all resisted the idea of
      “three lead singers.” They all said “pick the best one!” One record company
      said, “It's Jean.” One said, “It's Stan.” One said, “It's Richard.”

      By the songs you picked, I can tell you were in the “It's Jean” camp!

      Mike

  • Don

    Finallly got an USB turntable so I could break out the LP's and put them on my ipod. The first to be converted was my Drongos album. I hadn't listened to it in years and now I can't stop. The look on my 16 year old's face when he asked who that was, and I stated “The Drongos”, was priceless. It's not always fair that some bands explode and some don't. Thanks!

    Don

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      Wow, Don. Thanks so much for the note. I'll forward it to the members of the

      band. They'll love hearing it.

      Mike

  • Matt Rosenberg

    Loved the Drongos so much that I found Martha’s number in the NY phone book in 1985 and booked Stanley and Richard’s seemingly short-lived second band, Crazy Not To on my live show on WESU in CT.  I really miss that guitar-pop sound and wish they’d broken bigger and for longer.  Hi to Martha and the band! 

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      Thanks for the post, Matt. I’m going to let the band know you made contact.
      Mike

    • Stan Mitchell

      Hey Matt, Stan here (drummer) if that’s the show we played live on then I remember it well. Yes, it’s a pity things couldn’t have worked out better  but burn out is burn out. We greatly appreciated the support though. There’s still talk of getting websites and such up and running so stay tuned. Cheers.

  • Dick Henry

    Mike,

    I was feeling a bit nostalgic tonight and started browsing through the record collection (thousands of albums), and came acrosss the Drongos. It has been a while since I played their music so I sat down to enjoy it once again.

    I was a BIG Drongos fan in Ithaca and worked closely with Bobby Joe Mann who ran the sound rig for the shows at the Haunt. I was also a local DJ at that time and gave their music constant air play whenever I could. I would venture to say that I probably was at the Haunt for most of the shows and became friends with the band, especially Tony and Jean. I last contacted them about two years ago in New Zealand. I believe Tony was teaching at a local college.

    I have both albums and they are in pristine condition. I have a small project studio and will run them through audio Cleaning Lab and get them to CD and mp3. I had forgotten just how much I enjoyed this music and how amazed I still am that they never got picked up by a major label. Truly awesome music and way ahead of the market trends of their day.

    As noted, Richard was an outstanding (and unconventional) guitarist who coaxed some pretty amazing sounds out of his “upside dowm” guitar. I think that is what gave his playing that totally unique sound and made it memorable. As I relisten to the albums, I also enjoy Stanley’s solid, driving drums holding it all together. His riffs are subtle but always interesting (reminds me a lot of Dino Danelli of the Rascals).

    Anyway, I am glad I stumbled across your post and had an opportunity to express my thoughts about this truly amazing group of musicians.

    Dick Henry

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      Thanks, Dick. The biggest “commercial” success we enjoyed in the years we worked together was the airplay “Don’t Touch Me” got in Ithaca. Thanks largely to you, I guess. Bobby Jo Mann was a fabulous sound engineer and a wonderful easy-going guy. I’m sorry we lost track of him over the years.
      You’ll want to go to YouTube and find a few Richard Kennedy solo videos that are up there. There’s some amazing stuff.

      Mike

  • Dick Henry

    Mike,
     
    I last talked with Bobby Jo about three years ago. He is out in the Indianapolis area and still involved in the music business. From what I remember he is doing sound system design and consulting for church installations. He is also very active in the Christian music scene. I believe that he has a daughter who is in her early teens and inherited a lot of Bobby jo’s musical talent. He has been producing some music with her and has achieved some level of success (though he wants to be careful that he doesn’t push too hard; he would like any career decisions to be her choice).
     
    I am long overdue to try to contact him again, and when I get his contact information updated I will be sure to forward it to you.
     
    Regards,
     
    Dick

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      I remember both Indianapolis and the Christian music connection being part of Bobby Jo’s life back in the 1980s. He’s a wonderful guy and I’ll bet any kid(s) he raised is (are) fabulous. I’m sure everybody connected with the Drongos remembers him with great fondness.

      Mike

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  • Helenblack

    The Drongos played at my wedding 32 years ago!

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      I’ll bet lots of people were dancing!

      Mike

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.hermanos Steve Hermanos

    I loved that band. Used to see them tear through “The Haunt” in Ithaca. One of the greatest bar bands I’ve ever seen. I was stunned one night, at home, when Paul Schaffer (sp?) on Letterman, made a Drongos reference. What a great, up-beat, ripping sound. Now I gotta find a CD somewhere…

    • http://idealog.com/blog Mike Shatzkin

      Hey, Steve. Good to hear from you. Sooner or later, we’ll get the stuff on iTunes. You can find a lot of Richard Kennedy playing guitar on YouTube, including a couple of amazing versions of Don’t Touch Me!

      Mike

  • Michael

    I saw the Drongos three times. First time they were playing a party at SVA in Greenwich Village…they played their own songs plus some covers (“Last Time” by the Stones?). Then caught them at some downtown clubs. Bought the album (the yellow one…still have it). Loved them!

    • http://idealog.com/blog Mike Shatzkin

      Never remember them playing The Last Time. Interesting. The Drongos look at this page. Maybe one of them will comment. And that album cover is more white than yellow. You’re talking about the self-titled album, right?