I sure didn't know what I was in for that summer night three years ago.
The night I first saw The Badlees.
I didn't know that over the next few years, I'd spend literally hundreds of hours listening to the phenomenal Central PA's band's music.
I didn't know that I was seeing what was soon to become my favorite band.
"Who is that guy?" I can recall thinking, watching the lead singer's crazy on-stage antics from my seat at Jitterbugs.
"What the hell is he doing?"
I'm referring, of course, to Pete Palladino, who was singing while hanging upside down like a bat over that stage.
It wasn't just for a few seconds either; Pete seemed to be hanging there forever.
Later, with the band tearing through the theme to "Hawaii 5-0," Palladino was striking surfing poses and had the crowd in hysterics. No question: as far as stage presentation, there was definitely something very special going on here.
But there was much more happening on stage than Pete's zany escapades. The band, which had just released its first full length album, "Diamonds In The Coal," was also dishing out some of the best rock music I'd ever heard. And I, like thousands of others throughout Pennsylvania, was immediately hooked.
Since that time, Pete's calmed down quite a bit on stage, and my work here at The Times Leader has allowed me to not only monitor this group's progress as a fan, but also as a journalist.
The first story came in September of 1993, upon the release of the group's dazzling second LP, "The Unfortunate Result of Spare Time." Tunes on that album such as "Laugh To Keep From Cryin'" and "Easier Done Than Said," quickly became, and will always remain, some of my favorite songs.
The following summer we were talking to The Badlees again, this time recounting their trip to China and performance at the Tsingtao Beer Festival. A rare opportunity for an American act, they fondly recounted the friendliness and kindness of the Chinese.
In December of last year, the group won The Times Leader's "Sound Choice" reader's poll, earning their second major feature in our Friday "Weekend" section. Garnering over 40 percent of the vote, readers lauded the group's dynamic showmanship and stellar songwriting, and — as always — genuine friendliness.
By the time "River Songs" was released in February, we had already interviewed the band three times, (four actually, WZMT's Dave Donati originally did a piece on "Diamonds" for The Times Leader back in '92) and I decided it was time to put on paper what I was thinking. "River Songs," I decided with our editor, would be a straight-out review. I could only hope it would match the standard the group has set on "Diamonds" and "Spare Time."
I admit to preparing for disappointment.
What came in the mail that week simply was one of the greatest albums I'd ever heard.
"River Songs" is a triumph, displaying the type of skilled songwriting, singing and playing that comes across a writer's desk only a handful of times in a career.
"You get it," said a smiling Palladino at Jitterbugs the next day, thanking me for the kind words in the review. "Oh, believe me," I said, "I get it. I know exactly what you guys are doing."
I'd been "getting it" for two years.
In March, it was off to New York City for another story — this time to cover the group's performance at The Rodeo Bar. Attended by two bus loads of fans from Pennsylvania, The Badlees' performance that night was unforgettable. Passionate, intense — and important — I knew the room was full of record company big shots, and that it wouldn't be long before one of the labels would snatch up this incredible band.
Then, again, I thought that back in '93.
Thus, there was a great sense of satisfaction, pride, and joy on Wednesday when word finally came that The Badlees had signed a national recording contract with Polydor/Atlas records. (It meant at least two records and national exposure and promotion). Now, America will have a chance to see (and hear) what many of us have known for years — The Badlees are the real deal.
"We thought the album was very strong," said Nick Gatfield, president of Polydor/Atlas. "There's some great songwriting on there."
Palladino was equally enthused about the deal, and although several labels were courting the band in recent weeks, he's confident the band made the right choice.
"One thing that really attracted us to the Polydor/Atlas/A&M people was the fact that those companies are really based in music," he said. "They've never forgotten that music is paramount — and the reason why we do this whole thing... I think it's going to be a great relationship."
So to Pete Palladino, Bret Alexander, Jeff Feltenberger, Paul Smith, Ron Simasek, and manager Terry Selders, road manager Scott Berger, sound technician Keith Barshinger and co-songwriter Mike Naydock goes a heartfelt congratulations.
Over the years, The Badlees and I have developed a unique writer/artists relationship that has turned to a friendship. There have been six Times Leader stories, a first-place finish in our reader's poll, two trips to New York and even a trip to the Jersey shore.
Jitterbugs, Gallagher's, The Oscar, Market Street Square, The Rodeo Bar, The Staircase, The Under Acme, The Metropolis, Memory Lane, The Oasis.... dozens of memories of this band are forever embedded in my mind, and despite our friendship, it's always been their incredible music that has remained the focal point of my interest.
Believe it or not, I did hear from a few naysayers over the years. Those who said the Badlees would never make it — that they'd never get a record deal. They didn't "know the right people." They didn't have "the right connections."
All they had was the best music this area has ever produced.
And so now, as the group enters a new phase of its career, it's refreshing to know that sometimes hard work still pays off.
Sometimes the music is so good it simply demands attention.
Sometimes, the good guys still win.