Charismatic singer Myke Scavone talks about Ram Jam, Doughboys, Blues, 60s, and his long career

"You just have to have the basic chops and a whole lot of soul to communicate through music what’s running through your veins."

Myke Scavone: Portrait of this Artist as a Rock 'n' Roll Man

Myke is a great performer and singer who left his sign at 60s and 70s blues rock music with Doughboys and Ram Jam. The story started with The Ascots. The band formed in Plainfield, New Jersey in the Fall of 1964 played school dances and opened for acts such as The Vagrants (with Leslie West). Finally settling on the lineup of Myke Scavone, Mike Farina (from Ascots), with Richie Heyman, Mike Caruso, and Willy Kirchofer from Apollos, they changed their name to The Doughboys in 1966.

The group soon received a recording contract with Bell Records after winning a "battle of the bands" on Zacherle's Disc-o-teen TV show. The Doughboys played the tri-state area extensively as part of the WMCA Good Guys shows, playing shows with such groups as The Beach Boys and The Buckinghams. By the end of the decade, the band had folded and the members went in different musical directions. Lead singer Myke Scavone fronted the group Ram Jam.  Ram Jam was an American 1970s rock band, best known for their 1977 hit single, "Black Betty." In the early '90s the producers remixed "Black Betty" and got an international hit for their efforts. The band released two LPs: Ram Jam (1977) and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Ram (1978).

In 2000, Richie Heyman's wife, Nancy, decided to organize a reunion Doughboys show. Although the show was meant to be a "one off", the group played so well, that they decided to continue playing together. In 2007, the Doughboys released their first ever full length CD, "Is It Now?" In October of 2010, the Doughboys and several of their fans converged on Arlene's Grocery in New York City to film footage for a live DVD. The new album “Shakin’ Our Souls” are chock full of hooks, riffs, powerhouse performances & The Doughboys’ own brand of infectious & immediately immortal rock’n’roll, The Doughboys raise the bar for what new rock music can & should achieve in the 21st century.

Interview by Michael Limnios     Photos by Vanessa Joy

What do you learn about yourself from the music, what does the blues rock mean to you?  

That’s hard to answer. I can tell you that I love singing and playing Blues Rock. It gives me a sense of doing what comes so very naturally for me. The music seems to just course through my veins and comes from a place very deep inside of my being. It is the best of feelings to release that. It’s a very fulfilling experience.

How do you describe Myke Scavone sound and progress, what is your music philosophy?

My musical sound is just a reflection of all the things I enjoy listening to myself, the things that have moved me for year after year ever since I was a little boy. I can’t really address my own progress so easily; to me it just seems like an endless stream of movement. I feel that my voice has matured a bit in that I find it easier to hit notes and have much less of an issue with hoarseness than I did back in the early days.

I don’t have much of a musical philosophy other than to say that music should connect to that part of you that yearns for being free. To me music is always about having fun, I’m not much for all the melancholy or political stuff. I think music should be an enjoyable experience, not a drag on your head.

"I think music should be an enjoyable experience, not a drag on your head"

Photo by Vanessa Joy. New Jersey's photographer Vanessa is Scavone's daughter

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the music? How has music changed your life?

I’ve just picked up so many things from so many different people over the years. I can’t really say that there has been any one person who I’ve learned the most from. Willy Kirchofer (The Doughboys’ original guitarist) was a very influential person. Willy was the one who first showed me how to play the harmonica.

I’d like to think that music has enriched my life in many ways. There is a certain magic in the very experience of music. Oddly enough, there is also a very real amount of discipline you must have when you make music. Most people don’t think of musicians as being disciplined people but it is a very necessary part of the process in creating and performing music.

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

I’d have to say that the first time I heard “Black Sheep” on the radio was by far one of the biggest thrills for me, mainly, because it was The Doughboys first song that received a great deal of airplay. I’ve always wanted to hear The Doughboys on the radio.

The worst was when I realized that after all the work and effort that went into Ram Jam and all the records we sold I was still not going to see one thin dime in royalties because we had been screwed by multiple people affiliated with the band, including one of the band members. That’s all I will say about that.

What is the “feel” you miss most nowadays from the 60s feeling, and Apollos, Ascots, and early Doughboys era?

Wow, that’s a loaded question. The sixties were a historical decade unlike any in my lifetime or probably anyone who’s living today. The changes that the world went through, socially, politically, spiritually, musically were all so unprecedented.

I miss the feeling of youth and discovery and experimentation and hearing, feeling, touching things in life for the first time. The music of the 60’s was all of that and so much more. The energy of the music doesn’t really exist in modern day music.  It’s like they’ve tried everything to deliver that energy but have only been able to come up with louder volumes and grungier sounds to try to replace it and it’s just not the same thing. It’s an external form of energy rather than the internally released energy that the music of the 60’s had. It’s very hard to describe. I guess you just had to be there to know what I’m talking about.

"Don’t give up on yourself. Don’t let lack of success stop you. If anything let it drive you to get better at your craft." Photo by Vanessa Joy

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?

I’m going to pass on this question because it would take a book to answer this one. Let me just say that it has to do with meeting my wife of 33 years and our amazing children. I’ll let you know if I ever write that book.

How has the music business changed over the years since you first started in music?

In a word, drastically! The whole Indie movement and the internet and downloads and I-pods etc. have made it a whole new world for musicians. The record labels used to control everything. The suits ran everything; told you how to look, how to act, how to dress, when to smile, what to play, you name it. Now they have been minimized. The fact that we now have total control of what we do and how we do it is such a tremendous freedom and it really feels good to be master of your own destiny in a manner of speaking. The opportunities are much greater today.

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?

My main bit of advice is don’t pursue a music career for money or fame. Do it because you love it. If you pursue music for any other reason than that you love doing it, you’ll find it’s just another job and you’ll come to hate it. In addition, don’t give up on yourself. Don’t let lack of success stop you. If anything let it drive you to get better at your craft. We are never done learning anyway, so why not let it be a motivator?

Why did you think that Myke, Ram Jam, and Doughboys continues to generate such a devoted following?

I can’t think of any reason for that other than the simplicity and fun of the music on all 3 fronts you mentioned.

"Being on the road with RAM Jam was a crazy experience". Ram Jam's promo  photo: Blauvelt, Scavone, Bartlett, Santoro, and Charles

Are there any memories from Ram Jam, which you’d like to share with us?

Being on the road with RAM Jam was a crazy experience. When we first got to Hollywood, the hotel we stayed at wouldn’t let us register to stay there unless we gave them a $2,000 deposit because we were a Rock n’ Roll band. That got us all a little perturbed. As it turned out though, they knew us better than we knew ourselves. We would get bored during the day and we just got a little stir crazy at times. One day we decided to amuse ourselves by starting a pillow fight. By 20 minutes into it the bed was broken, the door to the room was torn off its hinges and the window ended up in the swimming pool. It’s one of those things that you just never forget.

Tell me a few things about your meet with Ram Jam, which memory from makes you smile?

I was actually a studio drummer doing demos for Kasenetz and Katz (our producers) when Ram Jam was looking for a front man. They asked my friend, Steve Tracey, an amazing singer, if he wanted to try out for the gig. He wasn’t all that into the idea of hard rock and said, “You should ask Myke, he loves singing that kind of music.” They had no idea that I even sang, except for backgrounds. So I tried out and the rest is history.

 I’ll always remember the good times hanging out with Peter (our Drummer) and Howie (Bass). They are both deceased now and I miss those 2 guys most of all. They always made me smile. We were like 3 peas in a pod.

What the difference and similarity between the BLUES, GARAGE ROCK, and ROCK feeling?

Well they all have their roots in the basic, simplest forms of music. They all have an energy that comes from within and a depth of feel that connects with a very broad spectrum of people. The differences are just a matter of the level of that energy and the rawness in how it is performed. To me, it’s all very closely related.

"The other most memorable time was in 1967 when The Doughboys opened up for the Beach Boys" Doughboys: Myke, Richie, Gar, and Mike. Photo by Vanessa Joy

What are some of the most memorable gigs and jams you've had?

There have been some really great times when a bunch of us were just sitting around with acoustic guitars and a fiddle and harp and just playing what came to us. Those were really fun times. I think other than the tours I did with Ram Jam, which had us on the stage with some of the really great bands of the 70’s, I would have to say that being able to share the stage with members of one of my favorite groups, The Yardbirds, was by far the biggest thrill of my musical career. Those guys were my heroes growing up and to be able to play with them was like dying and going to heaven for me. It was unlike any other show I’ve been a part of. The other most memorable time was in 1967 when The Doughboys opened up for the Beach Boys. Our set ended with me and Dennis Wilson (Beach Boys Drummer) entwined in an all-out brawl right there on the stage in front of the whole audience.

Some music styles can be fads but the blues rock is always with us. Why do think that is?

Again it’s just the simplicity of the music. Most everyone can relate to it and for most musicians it’s very enjoyable to play because you don’t have to be a Julliard graduate or highly trained musician to play blues rock. You just have to have the basic chops and a whole lot of soul to communicate through music what’s running through your veins.

How do you describe your contact to people when you are on stage?  

I like to look at my audience, to see their reactions to what we’re doing. So many musicians and singers either play/sing with their eyes closed or are staring into space. I think they are missing the best part of performing, which is watching the crowd’s reaction. I like to move around and encourage the crowd to do the same. Let the music move you.

"I like to move around and encourage the crowd to do the same. Let the music move you" Photo by Vanessa Joy

Do you know why the harp is connected to the blues and what are the harp’s secrets?

I think the harp has a certain moan all its own that makes it a perfect instrument to communicate the pain of blues or the wail of the soul releasing all that pent up energy. I feel that playing the harmonica is just an extension of my vocal chords.

When we talk about blues and rock, we usually refer to memories and moments of the past. Apart from the old cats, do you believe in the existence of real blues rock nowadays?

Of course I do. I think there is still as much pain and sorrow, questions and soul searching today as there ever was. In fact it may have become magnified over the years.

Why did you choose “Black Betty”? Do you believe that Leadbelly would ever like to jam with the band?

Actually, I wasn’t the one who chose Black Betty. Bill Bartlett, Ram Jam’s original guitarist (who was later replaced by Jimmy Santoro on the second Ram Jam album) was the one who found the song and did the whole re-work on it. As for Leadbelly, it’s hard to say whether or not he could keep up with us on our version of Black Betty. I found out a few years ago that James (Iron Head) Baker actually recorded that song even before Leadbelly did. There’s an Alan Lomax recording of Hammerhead singing the song in prison. Go to youtube for check it!

Do you believe that there is “misuse”, that there is a trend to misappropriate the name of blues rock?

I don’t really know of anything that sinister going on deliberately, but there is no doubt that people can make bad judgments about what category of music a particular song might belong to. The Doughboys have been categorized as everything from Hard Rock, Garage Rock, Roots Rock, Blues Rock, Alternative and just plain old Rock n’ Roll. I don’t really care how we are categorized as long as people enjoy what they hear.

"I think the harp has a certain moan all its own that makes it a perfect instrument to communicate the pain of blues or the wail of the soul releasing all that pent up energy" Photo by Vanessa Joy

Which incident of your life you‘d like to be captured and illustrated in a painting? 

You really don’t believe in asking easy questions do you? I’d have to say if you could capture the night I met my wife (she was in High School) and how I won her heart with the very simple gesture of giving her one of my harp’s as I left her on the doorstep to her dorm would make an interesting “Portrait of this Artist as a Young Man”.

Happiness is…..

... knowing that I am who I am supposed to be and I’m where I’m supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to be doing in the grand scheme of the Almighty God of creation.

The Doughboys - Official website

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