Benefit Street & The American Dream | Benefit Street - The American Dream

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Benefit Street - The American Dream

by Benefit Street & The American Dream

One band with two names and evolving members, The American Dream had a #8 local hit in Rhode Island with "Love Is a Beautiful Thing" in 1967, and evolved into Benefit Street, a more progressive band; 17 of the 19 tracks are previously unreleased!
Genre: Rock: Country-Rock
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Bells of St Stephen's (American Dream)
The American Dream
3:14 $0.99
2. Henry Hawthorne (American Dream)
The American Dream
2:10 $0.99
3. Love Is a Beautiful Thing (American Dream)
The American Dream
2:32 $0.99
4. Jug Band Music (American Dream)
The American Dream
2:37 $0.99
5. Seven Years
Benefit Street
4:48 $0.99
6. Cowboy Stuff
Benefit Street
2:22 $0.99
7. Joshua
Benefit Street
3:50 $0.99
8. Gingerman
Benefit Street
2:53 $0.99
9. Sharon's Tune
Benefit Street
3:01 $0.99
10. Think I Must Be Going
Benefit Street
2:31 $0.99
11. Daddy Was an Obelisk
Benefit Street
4:28 $0.99
12. Holy Roller
Benefit Street
6:23 $0.99
13. 20 Pound Turkey
Benefit Street
1:41 $0.99
14. Voice of Eternity
Benefit Street
4:05 $0.99
15. Follow Down
Benefit Street
5:43 $0.99
16. See It Together (feat. Rob Carlson & Paul Payton)
Benefit Street
3:16 $0.99
17. Henry Hawthorne (Benefit St version)
Benefit Street
2:19 $0.99
18. Journey Home (feat. Paul Payton)
Benefit Street
2:41 $0.99
19. Benefit Street and Me
Benefit Street
3:34 FREE
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
In the beginning, there was the American Dream – the dream where we were going to play in a band, be rock stars, and change the world with our music. Well, we fulfilled the first part of the dream – in two related bands, and most of us played in several others – and we bumped into but never became the other parts. But we were so close....

The band began as The Slithy Toves, after Lewis Carroll, founded in 1967 in Providence, RI, by lead guitarist Alan Silverman. Guitarist/lead singer Rob Carlson was the next to join, followed by drummer/lead singer Mike Parker and bassist/lead singer David Noyes Roberts. The Brown University-based group played dorm and fraternity parties and area clubs, where, said Rob Carlson, “one problem became immediately apparent: the name. While Lewis Carroll has a certain cachet on a college campus he is not well known in sleazy bars.” After being called “The Slimy Toads” once too often, the renamed American Dream cut a couple of covers for a single that became our and Bovi Records’ only release. ”Love Is a Beautiful Thing,” a Rascals cover, hit #8 in Providence. The initial pressing was 1,000 records, “but we even re-ordered another thousand,” noted Bob Bovi, owner of the label and Bovi’s Records & Music Stores and music manager of Bovi’s Tavern – a respected music club – where the band played. (Bob generously provided the record used for this album.) Both tracks were real crowd pleasers. “We recorded that on a four-track system in Utica, NY,” said Dave Roberts. ”The top voice in the background vocal stack is Debbie Edick, a young woman from Mike Parker's old high school who jumped at the chance to go on the road with the band because she had a huge crush on Mike - he seemed to have this effect on lots of 19-year-old girls. When it became clear that Mike wasn't buying what she was selling, and her college boyfriend showed up at one of our club gigs, she abruptly quit the band. I nearly became a castrato to cover her vocal parts.”

As our on- and off-campus following grew, the Dream introduced original material into their sets. We toured upstate New York with Parker’s friend, keyboardist Bill Bird, in 1968, and recorded two until-now unreleased tracks, “Bells of St. Stephen’s” and “Henry Hawthorne,” both written by Rob. But change was in the wind; Bill Bird remained in upstate New York when school began; and, according to Dave Roberts, “Mike Parker played with us through the summer of 1968, then went into the service to avoid the draft.” “’St. Stephen’s should have been their huge hit,” said keyboardist Paul Payton, who joined in the fall of ’68 along with drummer Bill Barnes, from Warwick, RI, who was half Native American. “Those chiming guitars and amazing harmonies made me love this band and want to be part of it.” But the new line-up didn’t have the same sound as the earlier version, and the Dream was over in May of 1969 with the departure of Barnes and guitarist Al Silverman.

With only two original members remaining, and learning of a Philadelphia-area group with the same name, the American Dream declared a fresh start as Benefit Street. The name came from “the hippest street in town,” which borders both Brown and Rhode Island School of Design, and has dozens of beautifully-restored colonial homes as well as off-campus student apartments. Rob Carlson brought two life-long friends from Westport, CT, into the fold: guitarist/vocalist Josh Barrett, then a student at Wesleyan in Middletown, CT; and drummer Tim Jackson, who had been in a college band in Ithaca, NY, with Larry Hoppen, later of Orleans and Buffalongo.

This new line-up came with new energy, and Benefit Street affiliated with Jimmy Israeloff, co-owner of the successful Beacon Record Shops, who set up Barefoot Productions and became our manager and financier. The initial idea was for him to underwrite the release "Bells of St. Stephen's" and "Henry Hawthorne" as a follow-up 45. These two Rob Carlson originals were recorded at the same studio as the previous 45, and we were hoping a single release would get us better local bookings. However, Beacon Shops had just been bought by ABC Record & Tape Sales, and Jimmy saw an “in” to get the group an album on ABC. Unfortunately, that quest amounted to only endless frustration and no release. So did several other tries at a major label release throughout the band’s lifespan, including Capitol, Columbia and Buddah. Paul: “We were always a heartbreak away from a contract.”

As fulltime musicians, we needed money, and thus continued to work the local “clubs and covers” circuit; but our desire to play original music and be more “progressive” made us a difficult fit. The situation came to a head with our “great awakening” during the week of the Woodstock festival in August, 1969, when we were fired for “not being ‘Louie Louie’ enough” from a top 40 club in Pawtucket, RI. Our “consolation prize” was “exile” to a two-week gig on Block Island, which turned out to be a magical place where the band awakened to “what made Benefit Street more than just a college band that thought it might take a crack at the big time,” explained Josh Barrett. “Rob Carlson’s songwriting was lyrical and clever, and we came to understand it was all about the music and not about flash and ego. We played and recorded together as a band with a high level of musicianship, and we listened to each other and responded to each other’s ideas.” (Rob also developed a life-long love of Block Island, and has published both a history book and a novel about it.)

Josh again: “Jimmy Israeloff really was a prince to us in many ways – and didn't he pay for all these recordings?” Rob: “He was a mensch of the first order and did us many a mitzvah.” Those mitzvahs included being a true friend and fan, “lending” us money for equipment and living expenses, and underwriting our recordings. Benefit Street’s first session, at Intermedia in Boston, MA, in October of ’69, came just weeks after the band formed. It showcased Rob’s “Gingerman” (a beautiful crowd-pleaser previously performed with the American Dream) and a re-worked “Henry Hawthorne.” Both songs were produced by Martin Mull, whose band Soup (one LP on Vanguard) occasionally shared equipment with the American Dream and Benefit Street. ”Gingerman” was a winner, but while “Henry II” was also good, it was much more effective by the Dream, pointing the way for us to concentrate on our post-Block Island “musical enlightenment.”
Our second session, at Natural Sound in Maynard, MA, reflected the new direction, and several sessions at Aengus Studios in suburban Boston, owned by Andy Pratt (“Avenging Annie”), yielded even better results, including the timeless Carlson original “Seven Years.” But in 1970, bassist Dave Roberts, who had committed a year to see if the band would “happen,” departed the group in favor of his new family and the group’s sound got a bit harder and bluesier when then-husband-and-wife team Carl and Maddie Armstrong came aboard. Prior to joining, Carl had played guitar on Wadsworth Mansion’s hit “Sweet Mary.” This six-piece line-up played on the rest of our studio recordings, all at Aengus.

Despite being unreleased, our recorded songs found local success, being played extensively by WBRU, Brown’s 20,000 watt progressive rock radio station. “That became a double-edged sword,” said Paul. “We increased our local fame and exposure for our original material, but no album was released. With no album, we couldn’t get on a national tour. But with so many songs on the radio, local club-owners thought we did have an album, and were thus too expensive to hire. As a result, we fell through some very high cracks.” Dave again: “Think about how tied up (down?) we were by radio and the record industry. How would it have worked out if the internet and related technologies had been available to us?” In hindsight, selective exposure and local releases might have been a more prudent course. Nonetheless, we still played concerts with many major artists (some a better fit than others) including Janis Joplin, B. B. King, Edgar Winter, Sam & Dave, Buddy Miles, Rhinoceros, Firesign Theater, The Stooges and Grand Funk Railroad. We also played between the J. Geils Band and Manfred Mann Chapter III at 1970’s Woods of Dartmouth Festival, a high point – in several ways!

The group’s music continued to grow and develop in a series of successful engagements booked in upstate Vermont. That club scene appreciated original music and audiences even requested our original songs. Josh Barrett: “How lucky we were to have those Vermont gigs.” We even worked for honest club owners – Jimmy Conley of The Blue Tooth in Sugarbush and Burlington and Gar Anderson of The Rusty Nail in Stowe – who became friends and fans as well as employers. And we had “adventures.” “I seem to recall Tim swathed up like Claude Rains as the Invisible Man after a skier landed on him,” Rob remembered. “Did we actually all go skinny dipping under a bubble at ten below zero? And was there actually a guy called Scumbag?” Paul: “Yes, a good guy – a friend of Carl and Maddie’s.” But due to family issues, Josh left the band in the summer of 1971. He was replaced by Leo Genereux of Pawtucket, RI, a right-hander with a unique style and tuning, playing left-handed with strings tuned upside-down in an open E chord, often resulting in an unusual lead style, frequently played in the middle register. Again, the band’s sound shifted.

Benefit Street kept working clubs and concerts, but the original dream – our own songs on hit albums, or even any albums – never came to pass. After September, 1971, we continued with five members when Paul departed and wasn’t replaced; but, tiring of the clubs-and-covers scene, Benefit Street came to its final stop sign in late 1972.

Post-Benefit Street, many different roads were followed, yet many intertwined. Upon leaving The American Dream, Mike Parker’s Army stint earned him Military Policeman of the Year in 1970 – “I suspect because of my initials.” After the service, he graduated from Miami of Ohio and played in a band called Avalanche with Al Silverman. He was a golf pro in Florida, then worked for Sports Illustrated in Chicago, LA and New York, became a publisher and eventually an investment banker living in Connecticut. Bill Bird was a minister for several years, and currently lives near Utica and works for the State of New York; he also married Mike’s sister. Long-time recording engineer and producer Al Silverman now runs Arf Mastering in New York, and, according to Rob, “is one of America's better mastering engineers.” Involved with 30+ Grammy-nominated albums, he also teaches at NYU. The final drummer for The American Dream, Bill Barnes, still lives in Rhode Island.
Dave Roberts briefly worked at Beacon Shops, then went on to graduate from Harvard Business School and have a large family and a very successful corporate and entrepreneurial career. He currently lives in Colorado where he’s launching two new digital ventures.

Josh Barrett still sings and plays guitar. He's in an eight-piece blues and swing band with his wife, Julie Adams (who sings in the house band for NPR’s “Mountain Stage”), and also plays acoustic gigs. His “day job” is a very successful law practice in West Virginia, “working for the good guys.”

Paul Payton resumed what became his long radio career as a Music Director and on-air personality in New England and a voice-over talent in New York. Never losing his love for music, he released three singles on Presence in the ‘80s and ‘90s under his own name and with The Fabulous Dudes, a doo-wop group, as well as producing this CD.

Drummer Tim Jackson made the first post-Street recorded appearance, on a Columbia album by John Paul Jones in the early 1970s. He also recorded with numerous artists as diverse as Tom Rush, Stormin' Norman & Suzy and Lavern Baker. “I contributed to many John Sayles soundtracks,” said Tim. “I also did three albums and tours with Robin Lane & The Chartbusters (on Warner Brothers), who landed the 11th song on MTV, and have worked with some 20 bands over the years including my own band of 25 years, The Band That Time Forgot. I’m an assistant professor at the New England Institute of Art, have directed two documentaries, and am working on a third. Unable to quite the acting bug, I also piddle away as a part-time actor.”

Rob Carlson joined with long-time friend Jon Gailmor for the 1974 “cult classic” album on Polydor, “Peaceable Kingdom” (the title cut remains an under-appreciated classic). He has enjoyed a long career in Modern Man, a folk-comedy trio with David Buskin and George Wurzbach with several albums to their credit. A regular contributor to The American Comedy Network (a national syndicator of radio comedy), “Ramblin’ Rob” also runs "The Producers," his own Creative Services studio in Connecticut, and has . “Pieces of Paradise,” his new solo album, has just been released, and he just completed a novel about Block Island, “Long Kate.” And the Benefit Street connections continue: after 39 years Paul is again playing with Rob in a trio touring to support his new album, "Pieces of Paradise," which was mastered by original guitarist Al Silverman.

The Armstrongs, although separated, joined Jean-Do Sifantus in Road Apples which had an album and #35 national single (#1 in Boston), “Let’s Live Together,” on Mums in 1976. The group broke up shortly thereafter and so did Maddie and Jean-Do. Maddie: “For twenty years I ran a non-profit I founded which combined music, elders and ministry, and became a Unitarian Universalist Minister, serving congregations in suburban Boston and becoming active in the church organization.” She also sings in TVS (The Vocal Section) with Tim’s wife, Suzanne.

Carl Armstrong “continued as a working musician (a/k/a playing for drunks) from ‘74-‘85 until the toxic lifestyle was no longer tolerable. (If you want the thrill of bands...I've been through the mill of bands). I then morphed into an electronic engineer, a career choice that to this day has served me well. I am currently living in Buffalo NY and playing kirtan music (think sanskrit hootenanny...Namaste!).” Leo Genereux is in Australia, playing with a group called The Dreamtime Brothers; and manager Jimmy Israeloff is retired in Florida.

In April, 2009, Rob Carlson contacted the band members about digitizing our music for The Rhode Island Popular Music Archive, which became the impetus to finally release this album. But wait – there’s more! Rob: “I had this song called ‘Benefit Street and Me’ written 35 years ago just as Benefit Street was breaking up. I never did anything with it, but this seemed like an opportunity to do something fun.” For the “new” song, Rob produced a virtual session in late 2009 and early 2010, with all band members invited to add parts; six of us contributed – making us still a band, even if a long-dormant one. Josh again: “I think our music holds up even today, 40 years later. It has an organic feel that makes it more than the sum of its parts.”

From the exuberance of “Bells of St. Stephen’s” to the wistful “Benefit Street and Me,” we’re still a band never too old to rock & roll – or to be sweet and folky. On reflection, we all think we cut some pretty decent tracks (including our new one) that are still worth hearing, and on a good night, we know we were as good as the best of them. Dave Roberts gets the last word: “Overall, I had a great experience on many different dimensions, and I certainly wouldn’t trade those years for a more conventional college/post college life. In my terms, we were successful in spite of all the craziness and obstacles — we had fun and great adventures, made good friends and produced a body of work that holds up pretty well after 40 years in the vault. Not bad for a bunch of ‘barefoot boys’ in our early twenties!”

There's more about Benefit Street - stories, photos and links - at



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