A CLOSER LOOK: Michael Kaye – Musician, Vocalist, Band Leader

“A Musician’s Musician”

Pianist, keyboard player and vocalist Michael Kaye joined Hap Snow’s Whirlwinds around 1960, first meeting James K. “Hap” Snow through guitarist Dick Maine, a university classmate of Kaye’s who had played with the Whirlwinds on a number of occasions.

Whirlwind Michael Kaye in 1963

Michael Kaye in 1963

Michael Kaye, an experienced musician and seasoned performer who had first appeared on stage at age 8 and had started leading groups at age 15, became a full-time member of the Whirlwinds almost immediately. Less than a year later, Snow formed a second Whirlwinds’ unit to be able to take more bookings during busy periods. Kaye, who’s spirited version of “What’d I Say” became the band’s biggest crowd pleaser, was asked to lead the second unit.

Whenever the band divided into two, Snow led one group that typically included a rhythm guitar player, a bass player, a drummer, and Snow on lead guitar. Kaye led a second outfit that featured one guitar player, a drummer, a  saxophonist, and Kaye on Hammond organ or piano. This experience helped lay the groundwork for Kaye’s own popular bands in subsequent years.

Top of Fun handbill

Top of Whirlwinds’ “Fun” Handbill with Michael Kaye Photograph in upper right-hand corner

Whirlwinds’ founder Hap Snow recalls that Kaye was always serious-minded in his approach to music and to the band. Snow stated simply: “he was a musician’s musician.” Not surprisingly, Michael Kaye came from a musical background spanning generations–his father played professionally from the 30’s through the 50s and even had a band of his own for a while. “There was always a piano in the house,” explained Kaye.

Hap Snow’s Whirlwinds’ “She,” an unreleased track includes Steve James on rhythm guitar and lead vocals, Bill Elgart on drums, Michael Kaye on piano and vocals, and James K. “Hap” Snow on lead guitar and vocals. This track, recorded at a home studio in Massachusetts in 1963, is on SoundCloud:

Talent Recruiter

Michael Kaye’s addition to the band was pivotal in a related area, personnel. The Whirlwinds had gone through a lot of players from their early days at Williams College in western Massachusetts through to their move to Weston, a suburb of Boston. One day Kaye was asked if he knew any guitar players. He offered the name of his cousin, also a fellow Northeastern student, Steve Fradkin (known in the band as Steve James). As it turned out, besides playing rhythm guitar, Fradkin was a gifted vocalist who soon would become one of the Whirlwinds’ lead singers throughout the band’s final six years.

Hap Snow's Whirlwinds circa 1963

Michael Kaye, Steve James, Hap Snow, and Frankie Mento circa 1963

In addition, Michael Kaye rediscovered Billy Elgart, a promising musician he knew in childhood, and brought him into the fold. “A masterful, energizing drummer” in the words of Kaye, Elgart played primarily with the second unit including one of the band’s two summers at The Coffee House on Cape Cod. Elgart is also heard on three recordings made around 1963: “She,” “He Can Have Her,” and “Whole Lot of Rockin.’” Ultimately, however, Elgart, a musician Snow once confided was “too good for rock and roll,” left the band and turned to playing jazz exclusively.

Bill Elgart from Eric Watson, John Lindberg, Bill Elgart - The Fool School (1993) CD booklet

Bill Elgart from Eric Watson, John Lindberg, Bill Elgart – The Fool School (1993) CD

A third musician joined the Whirlwinds due to Kaye, as well, Frank Chiumento, an old high school acquaintance of his. Kaye heard he had recently switched from piano to drums. Chiumento (known as Frankie Mento in the band) ended up being the regular Whirlwind drummer from that point on. Thus, Michael Kaye was directly responsible for the recruitment of all the main Whirlwind musicians between 1961 and 1966 other than himself, bass guitarist Ted Pina, and the one constant in the band, Hap Snow.

An original Whirlwinds’ song from 1963, “Whole Lot of Rockin,'” that features Billy Elgart on drums, Michael Kaye on piano and vocals, song author Fradkin on rhythm guitar and lead vocals, and Snow on lead guitar and vocals, is on SoundCloud:

Service Overseas 1966-1967

Shortly before Hap Snow’s Whirlwinds ended their run in 1966, Michael Kaye left for military service. As a 1965 graduate of Northeastern University, Kaye had been active in the campus Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program and was commissioned in the army, ending up at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, a well-known launch pad for service in Vietnam in the mid-60s.

Michael Kaye in Vietnam circa 1966-1967

Michael Kaye in Vietnam circa 1967

Upon volunteering for service in Vietnam, Kaye was assigned to a political warfare role within a PsyOps battalion headquartered in what was then known as Saigon. He completed his two-years of active duty there. Kaye’s lifelong love of music meant he occasionally found time to sit in with local bands and American performers in the clubs catering to his fellow soldiers. He also played piano on the Arthur Godfrey Show performing in Da Nang and notably served as producer/advisor of a number of musical programs on the military-run radio stations.

Co-Founded Popular Trio

With the Whirlwinds no longer active upon his return Stateside, Michael Kaye began working with various bands, eventually co-founding The Lou Jolli Trio, along with saxophonist Frank Barberio.

The Lou Jolli Trio’s “Cab Driver,” recorded live at the Framingham Motor Inn, Massachusetts in 1973, features Arthur “Butch” Pimentel, Frank Barberio, and  Michael Kaye:

Michael Kaye later developed a lounge act that he has been performing throughout the Northeast United States for several decades. As gigs would sometimes be quite far from his Massachusetts’ home (from the Canadian border to the shores of Lake Erie), he often piloted his own plane to and from those jobs.

Screen Shot 2016-06-17 at 5.28.13 PM

The Michael Kaye Duo with Gary Feldman in the mid-1970s

Michael Kaye performing a classic piano lounge tune live in 2009, Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind,” is here:

A Michael Kaye medley featuring Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell’s “Georgia on My Mind” and “Baby Grand,” also by Joel, was recorded live in 2009:

A Few Odds and Sods

When asked recently about his experiences with Hap Snow’s Whirlwinds, Michael Kaye replied, “He [Hap] converted me to rock and roll. I grew up with jazz, big band, swing, etc.” He also remembered some of the colorful details that help to shed light on life in the band. For example, even back in the early 1960s, Snow was a keen fan of bluegrass music, always playing it in the band’s car when they were able to pick up a bluegrass station from West Virginia [translation: Snow has been playing bluegrass music in his car for about 50 straight years…].

Delta Tau Delta, the Fraternity House Renamed "Bones Gate" in 1962

Delta Tau Delta, the Fraternity House Renamed “Bones Gate” in 1962

Kaye recalled the time the band members came across a poster for the famous country singer Hank Snow. Apparently, it was decided to “retouch” the poster so that it promoted Hap Snow’s Whirlwinds rather than Hank Snow… And then there was the time in 1962 when the band pulled up to their regular gig at the Delta Tau Delta fraternity house at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, “Delta House,” a frat long-acknowledged as an inspiration for the movie “Animal House.” The Greek letters had been removed and the name “Bones Gate,” along with a skull and crossbones, stood in their place. A fuller account of this surprising story will appear later this month.

Michael Kaye performing “Chantilly Lace,” a rock ‘n’ roll classic written by Jerry Foster, Bill Rice, and The Big Bopper (J. P. Richardson, Jr.) is online. This unreleased live recording was made at a function around 2009. All vocals and instruments by Kaye except the saxophone by Peter Stefan

Last Hurrah in New Bedford

The last time Michael Kaye appeared on stage with Hap Snow was 1979 at Louie’s on the Wharf in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Knowing Snow lived in the nearby community of Dartmouth, Kaye invited him to come down and sit in with his band.

Hap Snow school photo from the 1970s

Hap Snow in the 1970s

Michael Kaye recalls, “he brought his electric guitar, plugged in, and played each old Whirlwinds’ number flawlessly, note for note, starting with one of Hap’s most popular with the Whirlwinds, Bill Doggett’s “Honky Tonk.” It was like no time had passed since our last performance together in 1965.”

New Music from Michael Kaye

Several years ago Michael Kaye was blessed with the birth of a seventh grandchild by his wife’s daughter. So inspired the first time he gazed upon her in the hospital nursery, Kaye composed the following song, “A Lullaby for Emily”:

Michael Kaye continues to make and perform music in 2013, splitting his time between Massachusetts and Florida.

one set of Michael Kaye's Juno keyboards

Michael Kaye’s Juno keyboards located in a home studio in Massachusetts in 2014

An updated Michael Kaye Sampler, a selection of songs recorded between 1997 and 2015 including the just-added live versions of “I Can’t Fight This Feeling,” “Medley: Georgia on My Mind /Baby Grand,” and “New York State of Mind” and something very special, Kaye’s version of Boz Scaggs’ “Sierra” that he sang to his wife at their wedding in 1997.

Michael Kaye singing "Sierra" to wife at wedding in 1997

Michael Kaye singing “Sierra” to wife at wedding in 1997

Knowing it was her favorite song when they first met, he arranged for it to be played as their “first dance.” Kaye provided the DJ with a CD containing his own performance of the musical background track and, as the music began, he surprised everyone by pulling out an unseen wireless microphone and sang this first song on this sampler:

A YouTube playlist of Michael Kaye performances from 1978 to 2010 starts off with a newly-added medley of rock standards including “Splish Splash,” “Walk, Don’t Run,” and “Wipeout” recorded live at The Driftwood in Revere Beach, Massachusetts in 1985 and ends with a studio version of Kaye’s “Fiddler on the Roof” medley recorded in 1978 (engineered by Barry Kaye):

2016 Update

Michael Kaye’s most recent composition, dedicated to his newest grandchild, has recently been uploaded to SoundCloud:

The latest Hap Snow’s Whirlwinds’ video features Bill Elgart on drums, Steve James on rhythm guitar and lead vocals, Michael Kaye on piano and vocals, and James K. “Hap” Snow on lead guitar and vocals and includes the following tracks: “Whole Lot of Rockin’ (Version),” “She (Alternate Take),” two sections of “He Can Have Her (Early Take),” and a reprise of the opening edit.

4 thoughts on “A CLOSER LOOK: Michael Kaye – Musician, Vocalist, Band Leader

  1. Thank you for your interest! It has been a real pleasure interviewing your husband for this piece and others. His participation has been invaluable. I am as much a fan as anyone, so I also look forward to see what new music, photos, and anecdotes will turn up in the future. By the way, yesterday I added a link to a music image gallery hosted on flickr that includes that two marvelous shots of you when Michael sang “Sierra” at your wedding. I truly love that story!

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