SOMERS, Conn. — The 1980s were a great breeding ground for, among other things, high school rock bands starting up in the basements of family homes. Thirty years later, few bands are still rocking. The Savage Brothers Band is an exception.
Four brothers — Tom, Mark, Steve, and Mike Savage — founded the band in 1984 in the basement of their Windsor Locks home. One month later, they were playing live gigs in Hartford and Manchester and gaining a steady following.
The band recently celebrated its 30th anniversary at Joanna's Café and Banquet Hall in Somers, adding one more show to its roster of more than 5,000. The group currently consists of Tom (saxophone, vocals, flute), Mark (trumpet and vocals), and Mike Savage (drums), as well as Frank Cook (lead guitar), Keith Kruser (vocals, keys, guitar), and Les Haley (bass and vocals). Steve Savage left the band two years ago to pursue other interests.
The June 6 celebration at Joanna's drew a sold-out crowd of at least 400. Had it been held at a larger venue, that number could have easily been doubled, Tom Savage, the band's manager and eldest member, said.
"But this isn't about the money or attendance numbers, as much as it is to say 'thank you,'" said Tom, 51, who has two daughters and lives in Somers.
Aside from band fandom, Tom is grateful for the support he's received from the community. Last summer, he was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus and liver. This past fall, the field hockey team at Timothy Edwards Middle School in South Windsor, where Tom teaches music and directs several of its student bands, raised $5,500 to benefit the St. Francis Hospital Patient Care Fund for those undergoing cancer treatment.
Amazingly, Tom's condition has not prevented him from singing and playing music, nor teaching it.
With the cancer at stage 4, his doctors are unsure exactly how long Tom has to live; it could be months or years, he said. He uses this uncertainty as motivation to perform at the highest level on stage and in the classroom.
"The cancer could get me whenever, but music is an outlet that pushes me to keep going," he said. "The band will go on."
And teaching has been his lifeline.
"Teaching is very rewarding for me, it helps me forget about the cancer," he added. "I want to get kids to understand the important place music has in our society."
The other members of the Savage Brothers Band also work other jobs. Haley, 45, of Mystic, is a freelance musician; Cook, 44, of Windsor Locks, works for UPS; Kruser, 45, of Agawam, Massachusetts, is a consultant with ATC Audio in West Springfield and plays with another band, Guitar Dudes; Mark, 49, of Windsor Locks, is a computer technician; and Mike, 46, is a private music instructor in Windsor.
The Savage Brothers Band, which plays weddings as well as concerts, is thankful for a strong fan base throughout Connecticut. The band has more than 6,500 fans on Facebook and hordes of dedicated followers who attend its concerts.
"We knew 90 percent of the people at (the 30th anniversary) show," Tom said. "It's a privilege to have a business in which you know so many people who believe in what you do."
The fans at Joanna's Cafe were a good mix of originals and newbies, but all were equally ecstatic to be celebrating the band's milestone.
"I heard them two years ago in Nantucket and loved the music," said Michelle Romanella of North Branford. "Then I met them after the show and I was hooked."
"The whole family is wonderful, they're just very cool people," said Jean Pogalitsch of Vernon.
There's a lot of music running through the Savage family's bloodline. The patriarch, Joe Savage, 80, was in a band of his own in the 1950s and had his sons taking private music lessons at the University of Hartford before they reached high school.
"I've always thought they've had the talent to play with the best of 'em," said the elder Savage, before joining his sons on stage to sing the closing song at Joanna's during the 30th anniversary show, Bobby Darin's "Mack The Knife."
Tom singled out his parents, Joe and Bernadette, 78, as his biggest musical influence, remembering how they would always be playing jazz or swing in their Windsor Locks home, where they still live. Joe would sing and Bernadette would dance, and eventually the children started to get involved.
"Those times were a huge influence on how we appreciated music, and as we grew up we incorporated that into our style," Tom said.
With a great mix of shrill trumpet and sax, passionate vocals, and hard-hitting drums and bass, the Savage Brothers Band is able to cover a wide array of tunes. At Joanna's, they did justice to funky classics like "Brick House" and "Play That Funky Music" and showed versatility with country jams such as "Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)" and "Wagon Wheel."
A resurgence in funk/disco music on pop radio has boded well for the Savage Brothers. The band has mastered a cover of Robin Thicke's smash hit "Blurred Lines," which melted hearts at its recent performance for Simsbury High School's Senior Ball.
"Their music seems to inspire people of all generations," said Joe Metta of the Broad Brook section of East Windsor, who's been a fan since the very beginning.
"So much of the music you hear today is synthesized but they make such a natural sound," Metta said.
Despite the growing popularity of computer-made music, that "consistently perfect sound" will never replace the experience of a live concert, Tom said.
That being said, Tom acknowledged that the music industry has changed significantly since innovations like MTV and the Internet.
"Before MTV, the only way you could see what a band looked like was to see them live," he explained. "Now people can sit and enjoy the musical experience from the comfort of their homes."
The Savage Brothers Band has remained solid because of its musical versatility, as well as its willingness to play in a variety of settings. The band has been playing everything from weddings to clubs to concerts on the green, private parties, fundraisers, and more, Tom said.
The band plays familiar covers at most gigs, but it also has a catalog of original songs. Its most recent album, "Population 6," has sold more than 5,000 copies since its 1992 release.
Some of the band's fondest memories include opening for Los Lonely Boys and Tower of Power, when it got great receptions from crowds of several thousand people. One not-so-great gig was around 25 years ago at Post University in Waterbury, where the band played to an empty field in the cold, pouring rain.
"We call those the 'humble gigs,'" Tom said.
Such "humble gigs" probably won't be an issue for the Savage Brothers Band from here on out. Demand for its funkin,' rockin' rhythm is as steady as ever, with 15 shows already booked for 2015.
This year has several dozen more shows left on the band's schedule.
The band plans to continue playing as long as its members are able to balance band life with family life, teaching, parenting, UPS driving, and the rest of their endeavors.
Information from: Journal Inquirer, http://www.journalinquirer.com