Rock and roll is filled with tales of triumph and disappointment. Some bands reach iconic status, while others struggle to achieve fame and fortune, but often fail. The “boulevard of broken rock dreams” has had many “casualties” who were extremely talented, but did not get the right breaks. The borough of Brooklyn, which produced underrated classic rock bands like Riot, Dust and Sir Lord Baltimore and innovative New Wave band, The Shirts, was also the home of a trio (originally a quartet), “Misfire,” whose tenure extended from 1976-79. As the seventies drew to a close, Misfire and the aforementioned Riot were the only notable Brooklyn classic rock bands producing original material in the disco era.The former never grasped the “brass ring,” but not due to a lack of song quality, musicianship or effort.
The humble beginnings of “Misfire” take us to Brooklyn’s Xaverian High School in 1972. It is the days of tie-dyed shirts and vinyl records. Peter Prinzivalli (guitar) and Frank Verrico (bass) met as sophomores and found that they shared an affinity for classic rock. Verrico also notices a Hackstrom guitar and Ampeg amplifier in his new friend’s parents’ basement. The pair, dubbed “the Dynamic Duo,” decides to form a band, with Verrico buying a no name bass at Sam Ash. They go through a couple of singers, eventually settling on Albert, who could replicate Robert Plant’s (Led Zeppelin) wailing vocals. They also add a drummer named Ray and rhythmn guitarist Brian Murach. Cover bands were all the rage in those days, so the quintet forms the band Tush (a nod to ZZ top) which plays Led Zeppelin, Cream, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath covers. This lineup played block parties and school dances up to Prinzivalli and Verrico’s senior year in high school when they told the rest of the band that they “wanted to be rock stars and write original material.” This was a turning point in the Misfire story because the others decided against it (they weren’t as serious about pursuing a music career) and Prinzivalli and Verrico quit the band to seek brighter horizons.
A common feature of a lot of music stores in those days were bulletin boards that would have thumb tacked index cards on them, put up by people who were seeking fellow musicians to join bands. The ex-Tush members, Prinzivalli and Verrico noticed a card in King James music store (a popular store at the time) that read, “Drummer and singer seek to join or form new band.” Enter drummer Tommy Saluzzi and singer Greg Castillo. The four young musicians hit it off in rehearsals and the first version of Misfire (named after a Queen song on the “Sheer Heart Attack” album) was born.
Verrico befriended Richie Primavera, who would play a pivotal role in the early incarnation of the band. Prinzivalli recalls, “He was a few years older than us and was very much into rock music. Frank would bring him to rehearsals and he (Privamera) said he was interested in managing us.” This scenario had a strange twist in that Primavera would frequent the band’s practice sessions and be quite critical of the incumbent singer Castillo’s vocal ability, who was falling into disfavor with Prinzivalli, Verrico and Saluzzi because of his habit of missing rehearsals. This eventually led to the band sacking their original lead singer and hiring Primavera for the second edition of Misfire.
This version of the band played landmark venues such as CBGB’s, [sharing a bill with Punk legends The Dead Boys], Copperfields and Maxwells, all popular clubs at the time. Frontman Primavera had the look and vocal talent to fill his new role of lead singer. He says that guitarist Prinzivalli and he had a “symbiotic relationship” on stage. “Pete’s guitar drove me and I drove Pete,” he noted. They recorded “Reckless” (See the end of this article), “Pretty Poison” and “Sultry Suzy,” three tracks that defined their sound- “in your face” rock and roll. They eventually met a studio owner, Joe Marciano, who offered the band a top notch studio (Systems Two) to work on their live repertoire and original material. He even let the band record for free during off hours. Marciano also started an independent record label called Tradewind and told the band he would like to record “Reckless” as a single (remember those).
However, what had started out so well eventually turned sour when Primavera left the band due to personal reasons.
Founding members Prinzivalli and Verrico concur that the reason behind Primavera’s departure was a woman who had entered his life and discouraged his being part of a band. “She didn’t like the idea of me being in a band,” Primavera recalls. This is common occurrence in the rock and roll world. Time taken away from the couple, gigs late at night and groupies are usually the aspects of a band that are most bothersome for a rock musician’s girlfriend or wife. Primavera also adds an additional factor that hastened his departure; the band’s music was taking a different direction. “The sound became too orchestrated and too technical. I was into a more straight ahead rock and roll sound.” Despite this, Primavera states that Prinzivall’s “crunchy guitar sound” and Frank and Tommy’s “proficient playing” still stand out in his memory.
Misfire’s founding members Prinzivalli, Verrico and Saluzzi went through a depressing period while auditioning a slew of singers for the lead vocalist slot. During this juncture, the three of them started recording new material and as Verrico recalls, “a power trio version of Misfire was born out of the ashes of the previous edition of the band. The problem was that during the period of 1976-1979, Disco music was big on one end of the spectrum and Punk Rock on the other. We were classic Heavy Metal rock and did not fit into the New York City music scene. We played CBGB’s (a Punk “Mecca”) a few more times and the audience looked at us as if we were crazy. Tommy would be setting up a huge drum kit with wind chimes, wood blocks and other stuff, I would be setting up my synthesizer with piano and bass pedals and my Rickenbacker (bass) and Pete had his Marshall amplifier and “beloved modified Black Les Paul Custom guitar.”
Prinzivalli adds, “Misfire was always trying to take the writing and playing up a notch. My heroes were Jimmy Page, Brian May and Eric Clapton and we found ourselves playing CBGB’s on the same bill as the Dead Boys. Misfire really didn’t fit in, but I recall one night there for some reason the audience loved us. It’s nice to say I played there back in the day.”
This trio edition of Misfire went back to its roots, so to speak as it played a “Save the School” benefit concert for St. Brendan’s Girl’s High School. They also played Brooklyn neighborhood bars like Costello’s and Everybody’s. This helped the band hone their live set in front of enthusiastic crowds, while performing songs that they would later record. The aforementioned Joe Marciano took the band into the studio where they recorded “Incidentally” and “Three Time Loser” as a single. Other songs put on tape were “Rock Warriors,” “She Didn’t Hear a Symphony,” “I Only Think of You,” “You’re There” (a ballad), “Hey There Girl” and “Don’t Try and Fake It.” The band also played CBGB’s again, but a change was in the air.
The musical landscape in New York was shifting dramatically in 1978. Disco and Punk were taking hold and classic rock bands like Misfire, who wrote original material, were finding it hard to sustain an audience following and commercial success. Sure, established classic rock bands like The Rolling Stones (“Some Girls”), The Eagles, Pink Floyd, Boston and Queen did not have a problem, but new bands trying to make it had an extremely tough road to tow. All this took its toll on Misfire. What is ironic is that in the ‘80s hair bands, AC/DC and other Classic Rock bands restored rock and roll to its rightful place. The band became frustrated with not finding enough places to play and major record labels giving them the cold shoulder because they were not a Punk, Disco or New Wave act. They felt like dinosaurs, even though they were only in their early twenties.
What had started out so promising had turned into a no-win situation for the trio and frustrations reached a boiling point when Saluzzi told Verrico that he had had enough and wanted out of the band. Verrico didn’t want to go through the painstaking process of looking for a replacement drummer and called Prinzavlli over to his house.
“The date was July 11, 1979,” Prinzavalli said. “I remember going over to Frank’s house for what I thought was going to be a night to hangout and maybe discuss some Misfire plans. I don’t recall if Tom (Saluzzi) was there or not yet. Frank told me that it was time to put an end to Misfire…I was shocked. I guess at this point we were all frustrated with the fact that there was no market for classic rock. Disco, Punk and New Wave were peaking and finding places to gig was just about impossible and the industry was not interested in our kind of music. I think the three of us were pretty burned out at that point. In retrospect, Frank and I agree that we should have taken some time off and figure out a new game plan. The three of us were only 21. We had a lot of good years left.”
Prinzivalli, who now resides in Florida with his wife and three lovely daughters, “didn’t touch the guitar for over a year after the breakup,” but became involved in music again even reuniting with Saluzzi (who Misfire has lost touch with). Through the years, he has recorded and preformed in various original bands and projects. In the mid ’90’s his band Reunion, featuring a dynamic female singer, worked with Tito Bastista (president of Black Rose Productions).The material he wrote for the band was published through BMI and released on a Black Rose Productions compilation CD which cracked Billboard’s Independent Release Top 100. They also received major interest from Atlantic records.
Verrico, now a retired New York City detective residing in New Jersey, has also been in numerous bands including Nu Direction, whose 2002 CD had a significant number of sales in the United States and Europe. He currently plays bass for Boomer (a popular New Jersey cover band) and Halley’s Vomit (an original material pop/punk band).
Primavera, on the other hand, took a year away from the music business after quitting the band and returned to it in the beginning of 1979 with the help of a recording engineer, Doug Di Franco, who introduced him to a bunch of musicians. Though many tracks were rehearsed, nothing was put on tape. He next ventured to Boston and became a member of a Toronto-based Punk band called The Aches. Primavera describes their approach as, “loosey goosey with lots of energy.” They played some shows in Toronto and Boston. In 1980, he took another break from the rock and roll world to embark on a successful Wall Street career. In 1994, he collaborated with rappers Sha and V. Bless of NQE in an effort to produce some Rap/Rock material.
Rock and roll is an art form that is exhilarating and heartbreaking. Misfire’s story is a prime example of that credo. The cream doesn’t always rise to the top, for reasons we all will never understand.It is not always just about talent, which the band possessed, but sometimes being in the right place at the right time. Despite this, the band got to live the rock and roll dream and is living it again, which is a lot more than I can say for most of us. Carry on boys. Long Live Rock.
There is a deeply personal connection to this tale as well. I got to know Prinzavlli during the tenure of the second edition of Misfire. He was my guitar teacher (an excellent one) and my friends and I used to go see the band play various gigs, living the rock and roll dream vicariously through them. It was a crash course in Rock and Roll 101 and I will never forget it. He has become an even better friend through the writing of this piece. Another interesting aspect of this article is the fact that Prinzavalli, Primavera and Verrico along with accomplished session drummer Peter Vega (Saluzzi was not present), whose credits include working with Julio Iglesias Jr., have reunited to rerecord “Reckless” (see bottom of article to hear song) at West End Recording Studios in Florida and The Jam Room in Howell, New Jersey, respectively owned and operated by Peter Masitti and Arnie Brown. Though true to the original version, “Reckless 2010” adds a current sensibility to a retro sound.It has been a wonderful experience for Prinzavalli, Verrico and Primavera to revisit an old song and rework it. Much time has passed since the original recording of “Reckless,” but this has been an enriching, fulfilling and creative period for these rock and roll veterans. Prinzavalli adds, “I’ve done a lot of stuff over the years, but always felt Misfire was unfinished business and it’s been surreal to be able to go back and hopefully finish what we started.”
Click the link below to listen to “Reckless.”