Tampa Bay Garage Bands


J.W. Fonte

Born: NYC, Groundhog Day, 1950
Taught basic skills with tone, harmony and rhythm from my father, Al Fonte. Rock and Roll, courtesy of WMCA, WINS, Alan Freed and Dick Clark on TV (my Mom liked watching those shows). It was a subliminal mantra. Poodle skirts, Chain Smoking babysitters, Calendar Girls. Blew Trumpet and Baritone Horns, and sang in the Chorus in Hicksville during my Elementary years.

Moved to Tampa in the summer of '61. Finished elementary school at Town and Country. At Pierce Jr High, marked time with the band but was more interested in playing Accordion. Studied under Angelo Presti, my cousin. (he ran Presti Accordion School on Henderson Blvd for many years). Angelo was the most underrated jazz accordionist (zero records) in town. His thing was jazz. He had several gigs in the old Golden Triangle (Polish American Club on St Pete beach, Las Novadades, Café Pepe', etc). He NEVER saw a New Year's Eve off the Bandstand. His drive, passion, technique and counterpoint was a true inspiration to me, as well as many other Accordionists in Tampa (Charlie Cuafaro, Susie Roberson, Betsy Vyles). His arrangements were hand scribed by a wonderful woman named Viola. His student accordion bands played all over town. He turned me on to Galla-Rini, Charles Magnante, Paul Czerny, and Art Van Damme. Heavy cats in the accordion world (as square as that may sound).

In High school (Leto, 65-68) I laid off music and pursued writing. For cigarette money, I worked at the old Hullaballoo Club, owned by my dentist/neighbor. Lots of groups (Noah's Ark, Blues Image, Lost Element, Blues Magoos, one of Captain Ron Goedert's bands, Lewis Clark, Mama's Boys, Split Ends,) played that funky black light venue. I once got into a serious writing exchange with John Brummage, who managed Noah's Ark, and Buddy Richardson. It was hilarious.

I hung out at Beaux Arts in Pinellas, and became interested in the Folk Scene. Met Don Couch (harp player extroidinaire), Dan Finley (who later went on to play with the Kinkster (Kinky Friedman), Stanley Powell (a master of the acoustic finger pick styles), and was witness to several guest shots by Rick Norcross.

For kicks, there were the dancehalls in Tampa. I was heavily into Rand B music. But, with the emergence of the San Francisco groups, easily fell into a more improvisational style of playing. By this point I was interested in guitars, harp and electricity.

While attending USF the music scene in Tampa was undergoing a subtle, but massive change. USF was an exciting learning environment, but I was a Virgin Boy With Stuff To Do, despite Vietnam.

I gravitated out to San Antonio Texas for about a year, enrolled in San Antonio College and became involved in several rock bands out there. It was while in Texas that I picked up the Fender bass. The group "Touchstone" featured two singers. We opened up several neat shows for Blue Cheer, Smith (an ABC "Downhill" band as John Phillips called that label), MC5, Frank Zappa (Estrada, JC Black, Aynsley Dunbar, George Duke, Flo and Eddie) (this information is contained on www.mikesbandtrivia.com. It was a good time to be in Texas, despite the Nixonian hoodoo that was afoot.

I returned to Tampa in the Summer of 1970, and spent the next 2 years playing with several groups, most notable being Rat's Rump (Bill Mann, WAZ, Jim MacNealon and the occasional Monty Yoho ((on loan from Outlaws))) and Jas Grubbert (AKA Amanda Jones, Jeff Bailey, Mike Yelton, Michael Regar and Rick Johnson). This was at a time when I was becoming interested in the Blues. I played bass with Jerry Newman's Barefooters (State Fair, Tampa, Central Florida State Fair in Orlando, and several juke joints in the territory that is now Disney World Entertainment Empire).

In '73 I moved back to San Antonio, Texas, fell in with some old friends and played coffee/brewhouses with Coyote Brothers, and then second lead guitar in a group called Tailwind, while working at the SA Express/News, and later as a record store called Record Hole. That was where I met some serious sound freaks and got to appreciate the Tri-Amping technique and the "mas e mas" Db on the Half shell sound reinforcement barrage we worked with and blew beer glasses off tables with.

The lifestyle I lead was getting me nowhere, so I enlisted in the US Air Force in 1977. While stationed in Germany (1983-1990) I started writing and recording my own music.

I retired from Active Duty in 2000, and now am a line haul driver with Yellow Trans-portation. The computer occupies most of my free time now, but I have the gear to record with, as well as some cool guitars and plenty of #2 pencils to write songs. I am living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which is a pretty jumping music scene.

Hope somebody reads this. Tampa is a good place and I love it.

jwf -- 10/6/2003

Jan 30, 2004, Bo Diddley celebrates his 75th birthday here at the El Rey.
Alex Maryol is a  tall, young blonde kid who plays a mean blue Telecaster.
El Rey was once one of four theatres on Central (Old Rt 66), that once featured hispanic flix. Two bars, a basement under the stage, good sound and this HUGE Swamp Cooler blowing all the smoke out. Bo Diddley with The Cadillac Bob Band and Alex Maryol. Check it all out below...

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