By Dave Hoffenberg
This Saturday at the Pickle Barrel, Killington’s longest running band will perform. The Savage Brothers have been playing here since 1985 and whether you’ve seen them a hundred times or never, it is a show not to be missed. They “bring it” every time they hit the stage. They hail from Windsor Locks, Conn. and are a six-piece funkin’, rockin’, and rhythm group. The band has performed over 4,000 shows all over New England, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, the Virgin Islands and Mexico.
The Savage Brothers have shared the stage with acts such as Tower of Power, Joan Osborne, James Cotton, Southside Johnny, Lisa Lisa, the Guess Who, Marshall Tucker, and John Cafferty. The Savage Brothers features Keith Kruser on keyboards, Mark Savage on trumpet, Tommy Savage on sax, Frank Cook on guitar, and Les Haley on bass and drums. I got a chance to interview my long-time friend and drummer of the band, Michael Savage, who is the youngest of the four brothers at age 47.
The band just celebrated its 30th anniversary. Its first official gig as the Savage Brothers Band was June 1, 1984 at JD Magnums in Windsor Locks, Conn. But prior to that, in 1983, they played “The Savage Bash” — a 500 person party in their backyard. Michael and his brothers Tommy on sax, Mark on trumpet and Steven on trombone played a 75-minute set and blew the crowd away. All the brothers have been playing music from a very young age. Michael didn’t pick the drums— he was told he was playing the drums when he was six years old. His first drum was an orange sparkle snare drum. Their father Joe taught them all their first year because he played all the instruments. After his lessons they went to the University of Hartford for private lessons.
When Michael was eight years old, he and his brothers, with their father, played at the Irish Festival in Glastonbury, Conn. They played six songs, all Dixieland songs. They each made five dollars but Michael accidentally threw his away. (Tommy, who was known to be a prankster, gave Michael his five dollar bill crumpled up so he thought it was a piece of paper and threw it away.) Michael says, “I actually threw away the first five dollars that I made. Isn’t that weird?” Michael has now been playing the drums for 41 years.
Tommy and Mark Savage had played in a band called Airborne, but the summer before Tommy started his senior year at University of Hartford, the brothers decided they wanted their own band. That’s when they started practicing and learning their songs and played the “Bash.” A month after Tommy graduated from University of Hartford, they hit the ground running and the band was in business. It wasn’t just a gig here and there- they had a full schedule in their first year! They came on the scene in ‘84 but exploded in ‘85. That’s when they started branching out to Nantucket and Killington. They used to play the Wobbly Barn five times a year and were the New Year’s Eve band 11 years in a row. They took the year 2000 off because of the new millennium, but that’s the only New Years Eve they’ve had off in 30 years! The Savage Brothers are the reason Jamie Livesey plays in Killington today. They got Jamie his first gig at the Wobbly with his old partner Sean in 1986. (They’re also the reason this author came to Killington because I discovered the Wobbly when I went to see them in 1989.)
In 2002, the Savage Brothers started playing at the Aqua Turf in Plantsville, Conn. and have been there ever since. It sells out 1,500 tickets every year. They’ve had some big shows over the years and some of Michael’s favorites are when he got to sit in with Tower of Power and when they opened for Dickie Betts and the Allman Brothers and also when they opened for NRBQ.
“Way back in the day we opened for John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band. Even though he was national, we were as big as him. The crowd was chanting for an encore from us and I was backstage and John Cafferty said, ‘Go, go back out, have a good time.’ I’ll never forget that.”
He also got to sit in with The Black Crowes on a night off from the band and that was very special for him, too.
Michael cites Led Zeppelin and Tower of Power as his major band influences. The biggest influence in his life is his brother Tommy, because he was the music grad. “All of our rehearsals were more like classes,” he said. Tommy laid down the law. He also was Michael’s legal guardian when they would play shows in bars, since Michael was underage. Tommy was lead guitarist Frank Cook’s legal guardian, too. Michael says what makes it all worth it to him is the crowd.
“When the crowd is going wild and they’re enjoying what we’re doing… The smiles on people’s faces. When we walk off stage and people tell us what a great night they had and they can’t wait to see us again,” he said, adding, “People have also told us that 20 years ago they met at one of our shows and now they’re married, and now their kids are going to the shows with them… The kids are in a completely different generation of music but they also tell us how much they love it. When that happens, everyone in the band is cooking. To be together as long as we have and still be tightly connected as a band is rare. I think we can do it for another 30 years.”
There is not a family band out there that has stayed together as long as these guys and Michael says there is no end in sight.
“The friendship we have with each other is special. We’re not just band members, we’re all friends. I believe most bands are not really friends with each other. They’re friends because they’re playing together. I hung out with Frank Cook before he was even in the band. My brothers and I are friends and we go on vacations together, where most people would probably be fighting to get away from each other, especially when they’re playing 230 shows a year. We all hang out on our days off,” he explained. This is a one time show so make sure you don’t miss it. “Come see the madness, we’ll make it madness, no doubt about it. I’ll have the band on fire,” Michael concludes.