Psychedelic Blues Woody's Truck Stop Was Rolling To Success, But Didn't Get The Big Break.

Posted: May 04, 1990

It's the 1960s, and starry-eyed kids in tie-dye and love beads, bell bottoms and paisley, are flocking to the Second Fret, the Second of Autumn, the Artist's Hut, Town Hall, the Trauma, the Electric Factory, the be-ins, the love-ins.

A scraggly troop of guitar-rending, mind-bending rock bands fills these Philadelphia clubs and halls, but the psychedelicized blues of Woody's Truck Stop fills them the most.

"They were the kings of the hill at the time," remembers Bill Eib, who manages rockers Pretty Poison and Robert Hazard nowadays, and who was involved in the local music biz back then, too.

"They were one of the big bands on the scene, definitely," says WYSP-FM DJ Ed Sciaky, who rattles off some of the others, too: American Dream, Elizabeth, Mandrake Memorial, Edison Electric.

Woody's Truck Stop was also the first rock band out of the area in that era to get signed to a major label. Never mind that by the time the group got around to recording its LP Woody's Truck Stop for Smash/Mercury, guitarist Todd Rundgren had left to form Nazz and bassist Larry Gold had bowed out to start Good News, a classical-folk duo, with Michael Bacon, actor Kevin's older brother.

And never mind that by the time its 1968 album came out, Woody's Truck Stop bore little resemblance to the outfit that had blown away audiences with its searing renditions of Motown hits, its James Cotton and Buddy Guy covers, and its own thumping Day-Glo anthem, "Color Scheme" ("Girl let me into your color scheme").

This is a group whose last lead vocalist was someone named Indian Debbie. A group that went through drummers the way drummers go through drumsticks.

"We essentially had drummers who were psychopathic or who couldn't keep time," jokes (sort of) Alan Miller, 42, the Truck Stop's deadpan co-founder and guitarist, who now lives in Quakertown, where he restores 18th-century American furniture for clients such as Sotheby's and the Winterthur Museum. It is a craft, he says, that he fell into out of "a desire to do honest work."

In its nascent days, Woody's Truck Stop was just Miller and Bob Radeloff (harmonica and vocals), joined shortly thereafter by Arthur Heller on (ahem) drums, and Carson Van Osten on bass.

It was 1966, and the band - living communally, girlfriends et al. in Powelton, on the defunct Blackberry Alley (near Eighth and Locust) and, for a summer, near Woodstock, N.Y. - was making a name for itself on the local scene.

It wasn't long, either, before the Truck Stop was also making a name for itself in the local press - in stories about band members getting kicked out of their respective high schools for refusing to cut their shoulder-length locks.

Soon after the band's formation, Heller - who now lives on Passyunk Avenue, near South, and who did not want to discuss either the band's past or his own present for this story - was replaced by Joe DiCarlo, a Somerdale kid who joined with Upper Darby slide-guitar man Todd Rundgren. Rounding out the ''beat combo," as it was termed in a '66 story in The Inquirer ("Musical Long-Hairs Sacrifice Schooling and Barbershops") was Bob Radeloff's brother, Ken, on keyboards.

At some point Van Osten was replaced by Curtis School cellist-turned-rock- bassist Gold. And Bobby Massari came on board as a vocalist and drummer - although everybody pretty much agrees he couldn't sing or play the drums. (This was after DiCarlo bolted with the band's drum kit. The set had to be reclaimed by the group in a Keystone Kops-like stakeout in the Northeast.)

There was another putative bassist along the way: a guy named Creed, whom the band picked up hitchhiking along Interstate 95.

"He was incoherent musically and downright hostile on stage," says Miller, who remembers getting a call from the FBI looking for Creed after he had left the group.

And there was another lead singer-songwriter, Mark Oberman - whose Bay Area-inspired compositions comprise the majority of the one-and-only Truck Stop album. (It was Oberman who steered the band from its R & B roots to a more pop/psychedelic sound.) And another rhythm guitarist, Ken Radcliffe. And another bassist, Ron Bogdon.

"The group had an awful lot of members," says Larry Gold, who is 42 now and works as an arranger and producer out of Philadelphia's legendary studio, Sigma Sound. "It was the hippie days. There was a lot of coming and going."

Gold, whose writing and production credits run the gamut, from rap to TV jingles to songs for Sesame Street, says that along with all its members, Woody's Truck Stop also boasted a swarm of groupies and hangers-on.

Despite its ever-changing personnel, the band remained consistently busy: playing outdoor concerts on bills with the Doors, the Electric Flag, the Byrds. Ken Radeloff, now a 44-year-old landscape architect in Glenmoore (his company's called No Bull Landscaping), remembers one concert at Swarthmore where he really sang his heart out. "I had my eyes closed and I was heavily into the music," he says, "and I heard all this laughing in the crowd. It turns out the mike wasn't on. I made a complete fool of myself."

And there was the time Rundgren threw fruit at the audience - a show at the old Town Hall on Locust Street, with Woody's sharing a bill with the then- legendary Blues Project.

And then there was the summer the Truck Stop was the house band for a WCAU- TV (Channel 10) replacement show, Summer in the City, hosted by the vampiric '60s DJ and TV personality Count Zachary.

But dissension in the ranks - fueled by differing views on the direction Woody's should take, and inflamed by your basic personality clashes - continued.

"Todd left by treaty," recalls Miller. "No one at that point could essentially stand anyone else."

"My memory of it," says Ken Radeloff, "was that the real personality clash was between Alan and Todd . . . but there's no question about it, Todd loved the music more than anything. He was utterly determined to make it. So he and Carson Van Osten went off and started Nazz."

And Woody's sort of trucked its way into oblivion.

One of the reasons the group never made it on a national level, muses Gold, ''is that the promise of so much success was put on Woody's Truck Stop, but when you put the promise of success on a bunch of hippies, it doesn't work."

Of Woody's myriad members, only a few are still in the music business: Gold, whose love for R & B remains passionate; Bob Radeloff, 41, who manages heavy-metal bands and is based in Los Angeles, and, of course, Rundgren, who, in the words of onetime Woody's co-manager Jay Zeitlyn, "went on to be his genius self."

Bob Massari changed his name to Robert Younger, moved to New York, and got into theater and graphic arts.

And Indian Debbie and Creed have not been heard from.

"The problems for bands of our time that were primarily interested in black pop music and rhythm-and-blues," says Miller, "is that we were occasionally competent instrumentally, seldom palatable vocally and involved in a lot of adolescent squabbles. We were being pulled apart by all these different elements in the band."

There are still alumni of Woody's Truck Stop who will not talk to one another, or who refuse to talk about that time altogether. Heller, citing a need for privacy, said, "That was a long, long time ago."

Then again, there are happy feelings, too.

"It was fun while it lasted," says gardener Radeloff. "I have good

memories of those days."

comments powered by Disqus