My Adventure Becoming a Member of a Historic Rock Band
By Michael Harrison
My history with this colorful band goes back to 1971 when I played them just about every day on my WNEW-FM, New York morning show. They released two albums (Mercury Records and Kama Sutra Records) in that era that received critical praise and lots of airplay on FM album rock stations in NYC and beyond. They also had a hit single on AM top 40 radio – “Back When My Hair Was Short” in the early 1970s.
Named for an iconic street in the Bronx, this three-man ensemble from Westchester was a local band that sounded in the same league as many of the superstars we played on that storied Big Apple station. Thus, it was a natural for “progressive rock” jocks like me and my fellow pioneers of the AOR genre (eventually to become classic rock) such as Richard Neer, Dennis Elsas, and the late Pete Fornatale, Scott Muni and Alison Steele to pay special attention to them in terms of airplay on New York FM rock radio.
For a few years in that golden era, Gunhill Road was reputed to be the “best opening act” in the NYC club scene. They appeared on the bill with some of the biggest names in music at such historic venues as Paul Colby’s Bitter End and began getting live bookings around the country augmenting their frequent tour stops with appearances on TV shows, including “American Bandstand” with Dick Clark.
The group was founded in 1969 by Steve Goldrich (above, left) and Glenn Leopold (below, right). They were joined by Gil Roman who performed on these early albums but dropped out in 1973 to be replaced by Long Island-based guitar virtuoso Paul Reisch (below, left).
By the mid-1970s the touring and record sales slowed down. The original members went their separate ways on to successful careers outside of music. Glenn Leopold moved to Los Angeles to write music and scripts for Hanna Barbera and Steve Goldrich became a leader in the hotel and hospital disinfectant industry. After playing guitar for several years in Colorado, Reisch moved back to Long Island where he became an accomplished artisan and furniture maker (as well as resuming his status as a regional musical star performer.)
However, they kept the spirit of Gunhill Road alive through the decades by never losing touch and after 35 years, they reunited as a musical group when invited to join the star-studded line-up at a benefit concert honoring Bitter End owner Paul Colby. It was a magical evening during which it became apparent that Gunhill Road was still quite fresh, original and darned good.
The digital age has a way of inviting our pasts back into our lives. Social media revealed that Gunhill Road had a dedicated worldwide following that remembered and appreciated the group’s old music.
In the midst of this transition into the 21st century, an independent label, Wounded Bird Records, bought the rights to many of the Gunhill Road recordings and released a newly-mastered version of a large segment of the group’s catalogue, which included all of the songs that had appeared on the Kama Sutra LP and more. They were back in business as old fans found them again and new ones discovered them for the first time.
By 2014, interest in Gunhill Road began to really swell on the internet and Goldrich, Leopold and Reisch responded by recording and releasing a mammoth new 19-track album of original songs on their own label (Gunhill Road Records) titled, Every 40 Years, that chalked up respectable airplay across the country and earned positive reviews. (I jumped at the invitation to pen the liner notes for that collection.) It even spawned a documentary feature film about the band that made a splash on the independent festival circuit and Amazon Prime streaming TV. They also performed a sold-out concert at the Bitter End that became the basis of a live concert video (which I emceed). The group was back and I was again involved with them… and having a great time.
Fast forward to 2020 and the era of COVID-19. The band went back into the studio (via Zoom and other remote technology) to record new stuff (including a pandemic parody, “Back When We Used to Hug,” based on “Back When My Hair Was Short”) and they picked up two new members in the process – Broadway musical renaissance man Brian Koonin (left) and me. Koonin was available as a producer, arranger and musician for the project because his current gig as a member of the “School of Rock” show orchestra had been put on hold due to the pandemic’s closure of Broadway and he had a lot of extra time. In the process, his contribution as a performer to the ultimate sound of the new album was so profound that he was invited to become a member of the group. The result is the group’s fourth album titled, What Year Is This! being released this week. It contains a total of 13 new tracks most of which have already been leaked to YouTube.
I wrote the lyrics to the song “I Know You’re Real” which actually appears twice on the album. One in spoken word form with yours truly reciting the lyrics and the other with Brian Koonin singing them.
The song is a spiritually uplifting anthem to animal welfare… which has long been one of my main personal interests and guiding themes.
Both versions were just posted on YouTube and I’m excited to share them with you (below). My son, Matthew B. Harrison (TALKERS associate publisher) co-directed the video which people will, hopefully, find uplifting and moving.
If you have love and respect for all of Earth’s sentient creatures, please take a look and listen to the two versions of the song and share the links with friends who might enjoy and appreciate them as well.
I’m also interested in appearing as a guest on talk media shows to talk about the song and its emotional message about animal welfare (which is not exactly the same as the animal rights) as well as what it was like for a five man band with back-up singers and string and horn sections to record and produce a full album via Zoom and other remote technology.
To arrange for a guest booking, please call Barbara Kurland at TALKERS, 413-565-5413 or email me directly at email@example.com.
Gunhill Road “I Know You’re Real” featuring Michael Harrison speaking the lead vocal role (words by Michael Harrison, music by Steve Goldrich and Paul Reisch). Please click here.
Gunhill Road “I Know You’re Real” featuring Brian Koonin singing the lead vocal role (words by Michael Harrison, music by Steve Goldrich and Paul Reisch). Please click here.
Michael Harrison is the founder and publisher of TALKERS. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.