From the twilight of music’s pre-digital era come two definitive collections of music by one of the most popular 80’s rock bands: DC Star. “The Best of DC Star Records” and re-release of their 1985 record album “Rockin In The Classroom” are officially licensed and digitally re-mastered from the original vinyl releases.
From the sweet pop harmonies of “Blue Sparks” and sing-along chorus of “Is It You?” to the bone crushing thunder of “Fortuneteller” and “I Wanna Rock Tonight” their sound was truly unique. For over a decade their high-energy performances captivated audiences and inspired a new generation of rockers throughout the northeast.
DC Star’s best known line-up consisted of vocalist Kenny Taylor, David Simmons on guitars and vocals, Jeff Avery on guitars, keyboards and vocals, Henry Farmer on bass guitar and Glenn Jones on drums.
In the beginning
The seed of DC Star sprouted when David Simmons got his first electric guitar in 1971. Tim Smith, a classmate at Surrattsville High School in Clinton Maryland, introduced David to his older brother Billy who was a capable guitarist. After a couple months of lessons David and Bill enlisted John Thomas and Warren Early on drums and they began to jam at Bill’s house. Billy’s older brother Henry Smith was playing guitar in the band Crusader Rabbit. Henry got his friend John Preveti (who went on to be the career bassist for guitar legend Danny Gatton) to help out the young musicians by rehearsing with them and Henry filled in playing bass at their early gigs.
After the newbie group had played a few parties it was apparent that finding a bass player was necessary to form a band. Bill had heard about a local 3-piece band named Syn featuring an incredible young guitarist named Jeff Avery, Billy “Breakbone” Baker on bass and Wade Richards on drums. The band blew David and Bill away with their impressive renditions of tunes by Cream, Grand Funk Railroad and Black Sabbath.
Drummer Wade Richards was recruited to play with Sassafras Tea, a popular band that was already working full time. So when David asked Jeff Avery and Bill Baker to join he and Billy to form a new band they quickly agreed. Since Jeff, David and Bill Smith had keyboard training the guitarists took turns playing keyboards to add more dimensions to their music. They claimed the name Spring Fever in 1972, John Thomas jumped in on drums, and they fervently began to practice at Bill Smith’s house. A few months later, as the band was polishing off the last songs needed to play 3 sets, a stranger wandered in the backdoor of rehearsal. His name was Bart Windsor.
Bart, who had heard the music from the other side of the neighborhood, was the lead singer for the very popular local group “Slow Rush”. The guys got along so well that Bart left “Slow Rush” and became the front man for “Spring Fever”. Bart was more experienced than the younger boys so he took the lead and before long his band of phenoms was playing regularly at high school teen clubs, colleges and recreation centers.
From Joe Cocker classics “Delta Lady” and “A Little Help From My Friends” to Eric Clapton’s “Layla” Spring Fever’s diverse material excited audiences all over Maryland and DC.
In the summer of 1973 Bart Windsor joined “Bush Hog” and went on a national tour opening for “The J. Geils Band”. Bill Smith also left to go to college so Jeff Avery, Bill Baker and David Simmons decided to stay together and form another band.
Drummer Warren Early was playing in a band named “Gideon” but when guitarist Ron Green left to go on sabbatical Warren Early jumped in with the other Clinton boys.
Now all they needed was a new front man …
In the fall of 1973 David put an ad for a rock vocalist in the Weekender section of The Washington Post. He got a lot of calls but most of the singers were older and wanted to work full time right away. He narrowed the list down to 3 guys but decided to meet first with the singer who was closest to their ages … it was 15 year old Kenny Taylor.
Some lineup changeS
The first time they met Kenny he really looked the part, rough and tumble in his dirty jeans with the knees busted out and wife beater T-shirt. After the band blew Ken away by playing speed-rock instrumental “Bucks Boogie” by Blue Oyster Cult note-for-note, they compared song lists finding only 3 songs they all knew. The audition with Honkey Tonk Woman and then tore into Jumpin’ Jack Flash. When they were done beating out the last note of the song Kenny Taylor was in and new group complete. Kenny’s older brother David was an audiophile and conveniently became the band’s first soundman. The band signed a booking contract with Jim Mothershead the owner of custom van business Goodies Galore. Mothershead quickly had STARZ working weekends and touring the rod and custom van show circuit supporting southern rockers The Daylight Band. The Daylight Band’s members were older and more experienced and fostered their new young opening band.
In late 1976 STARZ changed management to American Talent and Entertainment and shortly thereafter got a recording contract from Secant Records owner Caltrick Simone. Simone was an understudy of Tony Bonjiovi (John “Bonjovi”’s uncle) who owned the prestigious New York Studio “The Power Station”. For the sake of the recording sessions Pat McGowan who was a snappier drummer with studio experience replaced Wade Richards. Bassist Steve Davis also left when Henry Farmer offered to rejoin the band. “Blue Sparks” and “Keeper of the Keys” were recorded at TRACK Studios near Washington DC. The sessions were produced by Caltrick Simone and assisted by multi-talented song writer Jefferson Antel.
Just before the record was released the band conspicuously received notification from Casablanca Records that another group they managed was using the name STARZ and that the DC band would have to change their name. Although their claim to the name STARZ was very strong, David Williams from Cellar Door Productions advised them that people in the business knew the real story and that it would be bad business to enter into an expensive legal action with the major label. So with the debut of their first record the band changed their name to DC Star.
By the time the record was released DC Star was working 5-6 nights a week as one of the “house bands” at hot spots like “The Stardust” in Waldorf MD, “The Leonardtown Wharf”, “Someplace Else” in S.E. DC, “The Crazy Horse” and “The Bayou” in Georgetown and “Juniors Inn” , “The Act III”, "Coast to Coast" and "The Seagull Inn" in Baltimore Maryland.
Before the band aimed their focus on breaking the New York market they replaced drummer Pat McGowan with Glenn “Dr. Gonzo” Jones in1978 and the DC Star line-up was set. The band assaulted the northeast and became as popular in the New York region as they were on their home turf. Over the next 2 years DC Star established a power packed reputation from the Carolina’s all the way through New England thanks to the hard work of their personal manager David A. Sherbow.
The group signed a development deal with Media Max New York in 1980 and spent the next 5 years working in the studio with the band members of Billy Squier and Billy Idol, iconic recording engineer Michael Brauer and producer Hilly Michaels. DC Star also did 2 recording projects at RCA Studios in New York working with producer Eddie DeJoy, all the while playing 5-6 concerts a week between their recording sessions.
DC Star released the 2 singles on Secant Records, a 5-song EP Picture Disc in 1982 and full length album “Livin’ in a Rock and Roll Whirl” in 1984 on Escape Records; the later of which was re-named “Rockin’ in the Classroom” and released on Atlantic Records ATCO subsidiary Mirage in 1985. The majority of DC Star’s material was co-written by band member David Simmons and lyricist Ray McCrory.
As a result of winning Miller High Life‘s national “Rock to Riches” contest in 1983, DC Star played at The Beacon Theatre in NY with special guest John Bonigovi (Bonjovi) and received a two year deal with Miller, recording their radio commercials including “Welcome to Miller Time” and Miller’s banner 1984 ad “Made The American Way”. They also released songs on 7 of Baltimore, Washington & New York’s most popular radio station compilation records in the process.
Find out more about the Miller Rock Network and tie-in to Bon-Jovi below.
During their impressive 12 year career DC Star provided opening support for iconic bands including Journey, Judas Priest, The Ramones, Twisted Sister, Blackfoot, Blue Oyster Cult, Molly Hatchet, Zebra and many others before headlining the same arenas. The band set up headquarters in Baltimore Maryland to cover the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast and was based in Norwalk Connecticut to cover New York and New England. In their heyday they employed a full time road crew of 6 and office staff of 3.
When the national drinking age went up in 1985 the rock scene took a massive hit. Compounded by shifts in music and changing trends the club circuit all but collapsed along with many groups whose largesse depended on it. Vocalist Ken Taylor left the band in 1987 and was replaced by Sean Crosby and then by John Frederick. Drummer Glenn Jones also left in 87 and was replaced by drummer Myles Evans.
In 1988 DC Star stopped gigging full time but the original five band members reunited for shows in the Baltimore, Washington and New York markets annually until 2002.
David Simmons took deteriorating master tapes from DC Star’s records & recording sessions to Les Lentz @ LSP Studios in 2001. The two of them digitally re-mastered tons of analog material and created a CD in 2002 tentatively titled “The Best of DC Star Records.” No sooner was it completed than singer Kenny Taylor became seriously ill and the group was unable to support the new release. After receiving radical treatments Ken Taylor’s health improved. By 2003 he had returned to teaching vocal lessons and working on solo projects but was still unable to perform.
In 2008 Sam McCalsin, the president of Retrospect Records tracked down members of the band. Sam and copyright holder David Simmons agreed to co-produce 2 collections of the band’s material. Technical details and setbacks held up the project until the 2 CDs were finally launched early in 2010. They were “The Best of DC Star – Record Classics” and “The Best of DC Star – Volume 2”.
LoSS of a great talent
Unfortunately after years of valiantly fighting ravages of leukemia Kenny Taylor passed away May 21, 2011. More information can be found on Ken’s memorial blog here.
With Kenny's death the world surely lost one great vocalist and performer.
the Band'S neW ReleaseS
In order to avoid needless issues arising from copyright disputes “The Best of DC Star – Record Classics” and “The Best of DC Star – Volume 2” were taken off sale and replaced by two new releases.
DC Star’s 1985 Mirage / Atlantic record “Rockin’ In The Classroom” has been digitally re-released by Canadian label Unidisc Music and a newly re-mastered anthology of DC Star’s earlier record releases “The Best of DC Star Records 1977-83″ is now available from David and Goliath Music!
Even if you didn’t party through the 80’s with DC Star, one listen will throw you back to when rock was fresh and new but just as today the road to stardom was paved with heartache, heartbreak & hard-knocks.
David & Goliath Music
Music Producer / Songwriter / Guitarist for DC Star
The Story of The Miller
Rock to Riches National Finals Concert
Light years before Star Search and America’s Got Talent … in a world far, far away ….
In 1981 a national music contest deemed to be the largest talent search ever done debuted as the Big Music America Corporation contest. The company collected 10,000 songs from radio stations in 41 major markets and selected 10 winners from each market. The 41 radio stations released compilation albums with the winners in their respective markets, sold albums for $3.98 and then held a competition for the winner of their market. Each local winner got $500 and a shot at 1 of 5 regional concerts, from which one winner would go on to a national final. Regional winners got $5,000 and the national show winner got $25,000 and $25,000 worth of RAMSA sound equipment.
The first year program generated so much excitement that in 1982 advertiser Miller Brewing Company took over as the major sponsor, changed the company name to “The Miller Rock Network” featuring “The Miller Rock to Riches Contest” and hired a Houston TX marketing firm Starstream Communications Group to push the music and handle publicity. In 1982 the contest involved 60 major radio station markets and was so impressive that Atlantic Records also agreed to add a national single release with an album option as the grand prize to the winner of national finals.
In 1982 DC Star submitted, and then won, for releases on 101.5 FM WPDH in Poughkeepsie NY and 105 FM WAVA in their home market of Washington DC.
Miller High Life loved the band’s heavy version of “Welcome to Miller Time” and used it nationally to promote the brand. In return DC Star got endorsements from Gauss Cetec, Audio Technica, MXR, Hammer Guitars and $10,000 worth of gear.
By the end of 1982, with well over 20,000 submissions nationally, the Rock to Riches program had gotten bigger than Miller ever imagined. So in a “genius” marketing move, they extended (postponed) the contest deadline to 1983 and signed some of their popular artists to marketing contracts.
In 1983 Miller received 30,000 submissions from 73 major radio station markets. DC Star won the album contests once again on WPDH and WAVA’s second releases, along with a song on the first album from 102.3 WBAB in Long Island NY. By this time the national sales of Rock to Riches albums had exceeded 400,000 records.
Starstream Communication then released the first national Miller Rock Network album featuring a track by DC Star and other hand picked finalists. DC Star’s second submission for an advertising jingle “Made the American Way” won them another $10,000 in endorsements and ran on rock radio stations nationally.
By 1983 a new radio station 103.5 WAPP was rocking the New York metropolitan area. Radio investment group Doubleday had purchased the station, renamed it The Apple, and on June 14th they went on the air with “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who and broadcast all summer long commercial free. Needless to say, they kicked the ass of their monolith rock rivals and took over as kings of rock radio in NYC. I remember hanging out in Long Beach NY that year, listening to WAPP pumping out song after song, album after album, non-stop, all day and night.
When WAPP decided to release a Miller Rock Network album DC Star jumped on the opportunity. Due to the success of their song “Is It You” on other releases when they submitted the song to WAPP, the station put right into their rotation.
As WAPP returned to commercial radio and the race for the rock and roll throne of NY radio intensified an unknown talent popped into view. The WAPP Rock to Riches album was being finalized when an artist who was producing jingles in their advertizing department submitted a song. The artist was John Bonjiovi. WAPP had a band featuring several DJ’s, particularly E.J. Crummy and Bruce Figler. They had formed “The Apple Jam Band” in order to submit a track for the Miller record. Aware of John Bonjiovi, and fans of what he was doing, they encouraged him to submit a song that John had played for them. The song was “Runaway”. So John recorded the song with some studio musicians, submitted a demo for the WAPP record, got into the top 10 for a slot on their vinyl release, and landed a huge invitation to the NYC regional concert at The Fountain Casino.
There were over 4,000 people at the Fountain Casino show that featured top southern rockers Southern Cross, Twisted Sister, DC Star, Bonjovi (then John Bonjiovi), Equinox, Manzarin, EJ Crummy and 5 other groups. DC Star had opened numerous shows with Twisted Sister but got to meet John Bonjiovi and his band members (some of whom they knew from other NY bands) that, at the time, didn’t include Ritchie Sambora. That was one awesome concert for the ages.
Ironically, John Bonjiovi’s uncle Tony Bonjiovi (Motown producer, owner of the Power Station Studio in NYC and manager of The Ramones, The B-52’s, and The Talking Heads) had designs on DC Star while John was still in high school. In fact Tony had flown to Baltimore several times in the late 70’s to see DC Star. DC Star’s 1977 single “Blue Sparks” (backed by “Keeper of the Keys”) was produced by Tony’s understudy Caltric Simone and Bonjiovi mastered the release.
When the buzz from the Fountain Casino concert had died down and the votes were tallied from the WAPP release, a winner was selected: John Bonjiovi, with DC Star as the runner-up. WAPP had acquired so much momentum in the NYC market, they partnered with Miller High Life to sponsor the “Final” 1983 Miller High Life National Finals show at the infamous Beacon Theatre in NYC with “Bonjovi” as the headliner.
By this time the first prize had jumped to $35,000 along with $35,000 worth of RAMSA gear for the winner with another $10,000 in endorsements and a single record release on Atlantic Records. But the “catch” was that any band that accepted a winning deal had to sign a publishing contract for one of their with Starstream Communications for a national vinyl release titled “Miller Music”.
Before the announcement that Bonjiovi had won the WAPP album contest, John signed a major recording deal with Mercury Records. Mercury would not relinquish publishing rights for any of Bonjiovi’s songs, so John was disqualified. So as 2nd runner up, David Simmons signed a 1 year publishing agreement for their song “Wasted Time” from the WBAB record in Long Island NY and DC Star was crowned the winner of the NYC - WAPP album contest and nominated to go on representing New York at The Miller High Life National Finals show.
Everything had happened so quickly that DC Star had to scramble to accommodate appearing at the Beacon Theatre Finals show. Since they already had a show booked at The Mad Hatter in Long Island for the same night, Miller supplied an amp line and drums up for the NYC concert while DC Star’s road crew set up their lights and stage show in Stony Brook. It was expected to be a packed house after DC Star’s recent concert supporting “Quiet Riot” at Stoneybrook College.
Starstream Communications orchestrated a balls-to-the-walls campaign for their 2-year Rock to Riches Finals show. It was both filmed for a special presentation on the USA network and the music from the event was to be released nationally on a “Miller Music” double “Live” record album. With aggressive promotion and the selection of Howard Hessman (Johnny Fever from the WKRP in Cincinnati TV show) as the show’s host, it was all poised to make national headlines.
WAPP aggressively pursued Mercury Records to let “Bonjovi” be a headliner at the national show, Mercury declined and only allowed John to do one song as a special guest. So the show opened with EJ Crummy and the Apple Jam band, followed by John Bonjiovi doing “Runaway”, followed by Atlantis and DC Star, who went on second so they could leave for their other show.
The concert was surreal. DC Star broke their backs for 3 years to get established in the region. It was apparent that they succeeded as half of the audience at the Beacon came from the suburbs and were wearing classic white DC Star logo T-shirts. The show took off with the WAPP Apple Jam band playing a couple tunes, followed by John Bonjiovi rocking the audience with “Runaway”.
It was hard for the DC Star members to watch the first finalist Atlantis, because they had to be ready to attack their l5 minute “or less” delivery. DC Star had done many presentations for college program directors with the same format. When the performer is introduced a green light hidden from audience view goes on for 12.5 minutes, then a yellow light comes on for 2 minutes, followed by a red light for 30 seconds after which the electricity goes off.
When Atlantis hit their last note, DC Star took the stage and, to the delight of their cheering fans, delivered “Is It You” and “Makin’ Time” right on cue. As DC Star’s skeleton crew packed up the equipment, the 3rd group “Killer Whales” from South Carolina did their impressive 3-piece blues set. With our vans loaded and ready to roll out, I’ll never forget watching the next act, “The Sussman - Lawrence Band” take the stage. The group resembled a Duran-Duran tribute complete with their thin neckties and fitted suits. But by the end of their 2nd song the front-man had stripped down to his tie and polka-dotted underwear and was wailing on a gold saxophone. As the DC Star van sped toward the LI Expressway on the way to Stoneybrook, the band agreed that winning the competition was a long shot.
The group arrived at The Mad Hatter to a sold-out crowd that was already chanting “D.C.Star … D.C.Star … D.C.Star …”. The boys took the stage, opened their first show with “Sinner” by Judas Priest, and proceeded to blow away the audience. When the band took a break between shows, manager David Sherbow got a call from the staff at the Beacon Theatre. After the last band Artist played, the winner of the 1982 contest “The Stompers” did their most popular song. The audience was going crazy until the winner of the contest was announced, “The Killer Whales”. Although the Killer Whales were very good … the audience, flushed with DC Star fans, were displeased with the decision and revolted. The Boo’s from the crowd reached a fevered pitch and there were reports of people turning fire extingushers onto the crowd and slashing the seats. It was a disaster that resulted in both the TV Special and live album to be scrapped.
DC Star members understood unpredictable letdowns and accepted the decision handed down by the judges. But a week after the show Starstream notified DC Star that Miller High Life was disappointed with the outcome of the event and that the band would receive the first-prize award of $35,000. They also received $10,000 more in equipment endorsements and a contract extension to be a Miller Rock Network touring band through 1985.
The band was honored to have gotten so far and accomplished so much just to reach the top of the 3-year contest: How ironic it was that one of the most monumental accomplishments of DC Star was inadvertently ruined by their fans. John Bonjiovi got his start through the support of WAPP and after changing the band name to Bon-Jovi constructed one of the most successful careers in rock history.
DC Star open a dozen shows for Twisted Sister who was at the point of break up in 1983. But they signed a back door deal with Warner Brothers in the UK and their single “We’re Not Gonna Take It” exploded and the album went platinum.
In the last wave of NY hair band signings DC Star, along with notable groups Streets, White Lion and Fiona Apple, secured record deals in 1985 with Atlantic and Mirage Atlantic records. DC Star’s self-produced album “Livin’ In A Rock And Roll Whirl” was re-titled “Rockin’ in the Classroom” by Atlantic and re-released after adding the band’s rendition of Brownsville Station’s “Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room”. Unfortunately the Atlantic release of “Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room” by Motley Crew (which were both released because an Atlantic executive owned the publishing for the song) overshadowed the DC Star record which then shipped directly into the cut-out bins west of the Mississippi.
Vocalist Kenny Taylor left DC Star in 1986 and was temporarily replaced by Shawn Crosby from DC hair band “Teacher’s Pet”. Vocalist John Frederick joined the band after Shawn left and although the group had several great singles they weren’t able to secure the deal for a second release with Atlantic Records and ceased full time operations in 1987.
After the Beacon show, WAPP’s ratings began to slide and in 1986 Doubleday sold the station to Emmis broadcasting. On August 15th the station played “It’s All Over Now” by The Rolling Stones, and after the sound of an explosion, The Apple changed to “Hot 103” and flipped to a CHR/Dance format. WAPP was gone and the faze out of pop metal began in earnest with radio stations all across America.
The original members of DC Star reunited for numerous reunion concerts between 1988 and 2002. But after vocalist Kenny Taylor was diagnosed with Leukemia and Lymphoma in 2003 the group decided that without their iconic front man, continued appearances were pointless and threw in the towel.
DC Star Swan Song- The Video Project-
This DC Star video has been many years in the making. And the final story is as crazy as any other in the history of the band. Original DC Star concert videos on VHS tapes were sent to a reputable company in the mid-west to be digitally transferred in 2014. A year went by and after months of additional stalling they notified us that the films had been lost. And shortly thereafter the company’s phones were no longer working.
Infuriated, I googled law firms in the city were the business was located and called the first firm on the list. One of the principal attorneys answered and when I told her what had happened she said, “I’ve heard of that business. In fact it’s only 3 blocks from here. I’ll stop in on my way to lunch and see what’s going on.” Lol … Later that evening, she called back and said she spoke to the owner and told him to locate and return all my videos to which he agreed.
It was 2016 by now so I was skeptical. But lo and behold three weeks later the videos were returned, in the same unopened box they were shipped in. I called the lawyer and thanked her profusely adding, “I’ve never had a lawyer help me for free!” And haven’t since. I sent her a box of chocolates.
In 2017 another film transfer company was located in Columbia MD so I had them do one short video. They were a franchise so after successfully transferring that film I gave them the concert videos to move forward with the projects. After a year of waiting they delivered the transfers on 8 discs. Unfortunately the original VHS films were damaged in the process and destroyed. Later, when the discs were reviewed and it was discovered that the sound and video were transferred at different sample rates and couldn’t be synchronized … Surprise; that company had also closed.
In 2018 a producer in Philadelphia committed to helping finish at least one DC Star video. He strung the project along through 2019 when he got swamped with a major TV network job and backed of our agreement.
Early in 2020 after hearing about my plight Chris Koawl, a fellow musician and TV station engineer, reached out and offered to help produce the video. Chris’s 80’s band Glass Mirage had opened for DC Star several times so he was aware of the group and their material.
With all of things considered the final YouTube video “DC Star – Swan Song” is as good as we hoped for. This is all to the credit and generosity of Chris Koawl and the production skills of his assistants Erik Cloyd and Taylor Thomas.
Special thanks as well to Susan Singer of Reach Digital Management for the support and encouragement that helps keep David and Goliath Music and DC Star alive.
Video & Audio Sources
Although DC Star did reunion shows until 2002 the live video clips for “Swan Song” were taken from DC Star reunion concerts circa 1988-1994. Some of the videos were shot by a good friend of the group Michael Delia at venues including Daytona’s in Rivera Beach, The Chance in Poughkeepsie NY and a reunion show at The Strand in Fallston MD that featured special guests “Great Train Robbery”.
The record jacket montage that begins “Is It You” is an anthology of DC Star’s vinyl and digital releases and the second montage (near the end of “Makin’ Time”) features Miller High Life Rock To Riches album covers that featured DC Star songs. The 2nd montage is a tie-in to the audio track that came from a never-released double album test pressing of the 1983 Miller Rock to Riches National Finals show that took place at the Beacon Theatre in NYC.
Half of the still photographs are favorites from the DC Star website photo gallery. The other half are digitally re-mastered from color slides taken by (the groups manager) David Sherbow’s brother Robert and (band front man) Kenny Taylor’s brother David Taylor who were professional photographers. Sadly both Bob and David have since passed away.