History of Bad Medicine
Compiled by Harry Rado. Springfield, VA. Edited by Eothen Alapatt.

Bad Medicine was formed in Syracuse, New York on Halloween night of 1968. Four enthusiastic young musicians - Greg Johnson, Tom Corradino, Richard Clarke and Harry Rado got together in a tiny apartment and played music for two hours, after which they decided that they would work together and take on the music industry. David Morton joined the group shortly afterward. At the time, the word "bad" had just arrived on the underground scene – and was slang for “strong” and “unconventional.”

These friends put their band together to perform the music they loved--which was definitely not 1968’s bland Top Forty that ruled the airwaves. No, the band was enthralled with Blues, Rhythm & Blues and Soul, and also with the music that preceded and formed the basis for these styles (now commonly referred to as "roots music.") Bad Medicine listened to everyone from Meade Lux Lewis and Robert Johnson to Muddy Waters. They listened to Lightnin' Slim and Clifton Chenier alongside the Meters. They soaked up Booker T, James Brown and Dyke and the Blazers. They listened to Joe Turner and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. All with the same consuming excitement.

Bad Medicine focused on playing music that amalgamated, and respected all of these different styles. What is important, and perhaps difficult to understand in 2002, is that it was very hard to these kinds of records in 1968. The big record stores carried only the very top sellers on Atlantic, Stax, and Motown. For the more obscure soul and R&B performers, one had to search out a record store in an African-American neighborhood. The great old blues singles were only available from a handful of used record dealers. When a friend purchased an old blues 45, he'd throw a party and everyone would listen as that new find spun all night long. Thankfully, CD reissues have brought a tremendous amount of wonderful old material to light again and greatly eased the burden on fans searching for the sounds that today's music is built on.

Tom played guitar, keyboards, mouth harp, and accordion. Tom had started on the accordion at age six and moved on to piano and guitar, playing in a series of rock & roll bands throughout high school. Thus, he began learning how to play blues and R&B. When Tom heard zydeco music in 1963 - on Arhoolie's landmark album with Clifton Chenier, who played blues on a piano accordion - Tom absorbed the style and became one of the first non-Creoles in the country to play authentic zydeco. Tom performed in Central New York with fellow guitarist Harry. The two gigged together as a duo and in various groups, performing both electric blues and some acoustic material at rent parties and in the street. Harry learned the basics of the guitar from his father, who had a house full of 78 rpm records. The two were good friends with Greg, who was the bass player in the very popular bluegrass band "The Down City Ramblers," a band that featured the banjo of Tony "Toad" Trishka, who is today a hero of the avante-bluegrass scene. Greg's encyclopedic knowledge of black music and country music always informed his driving bass lines. They met Richard, a young but experienced R&B drummer with a wide-ranging record collection, who joined the band and became a tireless booster and source of ideas. Richard lived downstairs from Greg and Harry. Try to picture a shoddy Victorian house, cut into apartments and located on the edge of the Syracuse University campus in a neighborhood of graduate students and proto-hippies. It wasn’t until later that Greg and Harry were told that their apartment had recently housed another musician occupant, a young man named Lou Reed, who left for New York City to find an audience for his unusual music. But the Velvet Underground is another story altogether. A short while--perhaps a year--later and Dave Morton was added on sax. He significantly broadening the range of material that Bad Medicine could play effectively. Dave drove an ancient pick-up truck, keeping his Junior Walker and Stanley Turrentine tapes turned up louder than the rattles! The last addition to Bad Medicine was Johnny Crocitti, who played keys in the band for a while, traveling with his Hammond B-3 and electric piano. Similarly , there were various singers and others who worked with Bad Medicine for short periods of time - most notably Michelle Sobers, who was backed by Bad Medicine on her Enyx Records sides and young Soul vocalist Larry Mathis. The band added timbales and conga in 1975, played by a pair of cousins from Panama who were students at the University - Rico Wilson and his cousin “Champagne.”

The band’s four original members and Dave were equal partners in all decisions. They definitely wanted to avoid the employer-employee business model that characterized virtually all the other bands in Central New York. In those groups an agent contracted gigs with a bandleader, who then hired sidemen by the job or by the month. Inside Bad Medicine's egalitarian structure, however, it was Tom who arranged almost all the material and Harry who did the bulk of the booking. Everyone pitched in on load-ins and in the printing and hanging of Bad Medicine’s amazing show posters. The band was known for its eye-catching posters, many drawn by artist Bruce Metcalf, today a fixture of the New York art world.

Bad Medicine was formed in the time of the Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-Vietnam War Movement, when deep divisions split the country. This was a time of great social upheaval and unrest. In 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated. Then Bobby Kennedy was murdered. Then the Democratic convention in Chicago became a war zone as the pro-Civil Rights, anti-war protesters clashed with the Chicago police. Just days after Bad Medicine was formed Richard Nixon was elected to the presidency, having convinced a majority of the American people to stick with ”the devil they knew.” A vast cultural battle had begun. Bad Medicine knew where they stood in this battle. Bad Medicine quickly found an audience among the hippies, protesters, and the students of Central New York. They played in the many clubs near the campus or in the African-American neighborhoods that adjoined it After Woodstock the hippie trip became -for a few years -a kind of middle-class status marker. Thus, many fraternities asked the band to play gigs for them. Jobs across New York and into Vermont followed as the band developed and became more widely known. It seemed that Bad Medicine was always at odds with Central New York's musical "old guard." These jovial, cigar-smoking, middle-aged Nixon supporters used the musician's union to monopolize gigs at hotels, country clubs, and weddings - where they earned a living cranking out tired standards.

Not surprisingly, Bad Medicine was also constantly at odds with the "new guard," who were, literally, the sons of the old guard. The new guard played cover versions of whatever songs were on top forty radio that week, mainly at venues beyond the pale of the colleges. Bad Medicine's demeanor and material were considered unprofessional and in poor taste by the old and new guards, who ascribed these supposed “shortcomings” to the fact that Bad Medicine was from "the Hill," as the University area was called. Early on, thinking that an association with the biggest booking agency in Syracuse would bring them more work, the band signed on. For months they passed out the agency’s business cards But the only jobs that came from the agency were very last-minute, or very low paying. The band suspected a conspiracy. Finally, Greg called the agency pretending to be a fraternity social director wanting to hire Bad Medicine. The agent told Greg that Bad Medicine was, unfortunately, already booked for that night (Of course, they weren't already booked), and that the fraternity should hire another band (Not surprisingly, of the "new guard") that happened to be available and was, supposedly, at least as good – if not better than Bad Medicine. The agency was using Bad Medicine to generate leads which were used to sell other groups, and Bad Medicine was only called to cover jobs when the new guard was all busy or the pay was too low to interest them! Thus, Bad Medicine went back to booking themselves, and managed to become quite popular, despite being on the outside of the establishment. Or perhaps they became popular because of this very fact.

You’re probably wondering, what was a Bad Medicine set like? Well, the band might start with an original R&B instrumental number, before getting the crowd moving with tunes from the Olympic Runners, Ohio Players and James Brown. Then they might switch gears to play Jimmy Reed, Junior Wells, and Howlin' Wolf – as Tom pulled out his harps and joined in the fray in the most original of ways. Bad Medicine originals were always mixed in, and received well. The set would conclude with a couple of uptempo, dance floor fillers with a Memphis/Muscle Shoals beat. The group always enjoyed their reputation as a dance band, and dance floors at a Bad Medicine show were always full and jumping. But for the band's core fans, it was their original material that was really made a Bad Medicine show quite the experience. Combining unstoppable rhythms with frank lyrics, Bad Medicine could be angry or optimistic Sometimes both.

Given their musical style and outlook, Bad Medicine played with a number of big-name acts, mainly blues acts. The group opened for acts such as Lightnin' Hopkins, Muddy Waters, and Mitch Ryder. This brought Bad Medicine fans out to hear the band's favorite entertainers, and exposed Bad Medicine to fans of these seminal bluesmen. Successful in this role, the band was booked to open a big show featuring John Lee Hooker, who was himself just starting to gain a wider audience. Radio ads filled the airwaves. Unfortunately, someone involved in promoting the event discovered that Bad Medicine hadn’t paid their Musician’s Union dues. The band had dropped out of the union because the union venues wouldn't hire a white band that played "black" music - whether they were union members or not. The union called the club and stated that if Bad Medicine took the stage, then the club would be blacklisted. Thankfully, a deal was cut whereas Bad Medicine paid up their dues and was allowed to go on without incident. When student anti-war protesters shut down the Syracuse campus in the spring of 1970, Bad Medicine - darling of the hippies that they were - was called in to play its distinctly non-corporate music.

Around this time Bad Medicine released its first single, containing "She's Taken All My Money," a slide-guitar blues sung by Tom, backed with "Bulldog," a Memphis-sounding groove written by a guitar slinging, boogie-woogie piano playing, friend of the band named John Weissman. The decidedly low-fi, self-issued single - which had been recorded in a chicken shack converted into a studio on the outskirts of Syracuse - appeared on the tiny Orbit label. Around this time, Richard befriended the owner of a local record store who wanted, in the best R&B tradition, to start his own label. Thus started Bad Medicine's association with Arthur Lane and Enyx Records.

Arthur wanted to record several singers he had discovered, and wanted to realize an instrumental groove that he had created. Bad Medicine recorded rhythm tracks for several songs featuring Michelle Sobers, a budding soul diva. Then they cut Arthur’s instrumental - "Trespasser -" and several songs from Bad Medicine's stage repertoire, including "Second Man Blues" (not a blues at all, but an original soul-style song written by Tom, who sang and played guitar with a rhythm influenced by the Afro-soul bands like Cymande) and "Get Next to Yourself," a dance tune written by Harry, with a feel suggesting that some Muscle Shoals studio players were vacationing in the Caribbean.

The now well-known “Trespasser” began as an idea that Arthur played on the piano for the band. It was a two-chord pattern played to a dance rhythm that Arthur felt would become popular. Working with this, Tom and Greg created a bass line that fit the harmony and rhythm, and together the band developed an outline of how the song should be structured and developed. The musicians came up with a head arrangement. Everything was polished and practiced at Bad Medicine's rehearsal studio fittingly located in the basement of the old Zett Brewery, in an industrial neighborhood on the north side of Syracuse. A huge room -with brick walls and a thick steel door that, decades earlier held cool kegs of freshly brewed beer -contained a plywood rehearsal stage and an array of ancient stuffed chairs, couches and big garbage cans that quickly filled with empty bottles of cheap Canadian ale and discarded paper bags from the then-new McDonald's Hamburger Stand. “Trespasser” was eventually cut at George Day’s studio. After the rhythm tracks were laid down, and David’s sax solo recorded, George added a synthesizer and Richard added percussion.

Bad Medicine came to an untimely and unexpected end in December of 1975, when Tom was seriously injured in an automobile wreck on a snowy road. The band was doing very well, with a full calendar of jobs scheduled, but Bad Medicine decided not to play them without Tom. Harry moved to Washington, DC, and settled into a day job. Richard played with several bands before moving to Buffalo and then on to DC. Greg went on a long journey that took him to California, Hawaii, before he eventually landed in DC as well. Dave stayed in New York and is currently a furniture designer in New York City. John eventually went to New Orleans, and today lives in San Diego. Tom, when he had recovered enough to become mobile again, moved to New Orleans, where he spent most of his time soaking in the music of Professor Longhair and Clifton and the rest of the regional greats he admired so.

Tom eventually also moved to DC, where he began another career under a new stage name, Little Red. His New Orleans R&B/zydeco group, Little Red & the Renegades, featured Tom on accordion and piano, Harry on guitar, and Richard on drums. Over an eleven-year career Little Red & the Renegades performed at Washington's biggest rock clubs and at the Kennedy Center. They even traveled to the New Music Seminar in New York (the band was featured on the "Best Bands" tape) and were showcased at South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. But that's another story!

Arthur Lane Interview

Enyx Records owners Arthur Lane and William Armstrong met while in the US Air Force in the early 1960s. By the latter portion of the decade, the two were living in Syracuse, New York, running Record Kingdom, a small store that specialized in vinyl of the seven-inch variety. Richard Clarke, a white drummer, lived a block from the store. “He was always buying these down-home blues records,” Lane laughs. “I asked him ‘Why’s a white boy buying blues records?’ He said, ‘Well, you’re black, if you don’t know there’s something wrong with you!’ ”

After discovering that Clarke led a band, Lane went to Syracuse University to hear the sextet perform. Impressed, he brought Armstrong out to hear Bad Medicine’s bayou-influenced funk. When Lane and Armstrong formed Enyx Records, Bad Medicine assumed residency as the fledgling label’s house band. In 1974, Lane offered the group a chance to record a seven-inch single. “I wanted a real bottom heavy funk groove,” co-writer Lane recalls. “We felt we could merchandise them better if they were leaning into the heavy soul thing. Listening to ‘Trespasser’ you couldn’t tell if they were white or black. And that was exactly the idea.”

Below, Lane reflects on making funk happen in beautiful upstate New York.

E: Was Record Kingdom a one-store deal?
A: Yes, we only had one store. I owned it with William. We met in the US Air Force in the early 60s – we both loved music. Our store sold mainly r&b, soul and some jazz. And during those years the biggest thing were 45s. We sold a lot of those.

E: This store spawned your career as a record mogul.
A: (laughs) There was a very small recording scene in Syracuse. I’m from New York City, in comparison Syracuse is really small. The black music scene was smaller than the white scene in Syracuse.

E: And the Bad Medicine guys were white – but recorded black music.
A: Richard Clarke, the drummer for Bad Medicine lived a block from the store. He came in and bought records. We started talking. He was always buying these down home blues records. I always asked him, “Why’s a white boy buying blues records?” (Laughs) You know what I mean? He said, “Well, you’re black, if you don’t know then there’s something wrong with you.” We became friends. The more he came in, the greater our friendship became. He was younger than I. I was in my late 20s or early 30s. He was in his mid 20s.

E: He hipped you to his band.
A: Yes, he told me he had a band. I didn’t believe him at first, so I went to Syracuse University to see him play. They were playing the bluesy stuff. They had a love for the stuff by The Meters, Dr. John – the New Orleans connection. Like Professor Longhair – “bayou funk” they called it. So me and Bill would go see them on the weekends. We decided to work out a (recording) deal. We had a female singer named Michelle Sobers at the time. But the problem we were having was hooking her up with a black band. The more I saw Richard, I thought, “Why don’t we ask him?” Michelle was black. Michelle’s mother didn’t like the idea of her hooking up with a white band. We caught much heat about that! The bottom line, we told Michelle, “You’re a singer - you’re here in Syracuse. You have no choice. Nobody else wants you.” So grudgingly she came in and tried it out. We figured we’d hook a black singer up with a white band and since (Bad Medicine) were touring and stuff Michelle would get the exposure. Bad Medicine were constantly gigging - Buffallo, Albany, Rome, New York.

E: Tell me about the genesis of “Trespasser.”
A: That came about by myself and William giving a concept to the band. We felt like we could merchandise them better if they were leaning more into the heavy soul thing. So we felt that “Trespasser” would be the thing to do it. It was all funky. You couldn’t tell by listening to the music if they were white or black. And that was the idea, exactly.

E: “Trespasser” sounds completely different than the Michelle Sobers release – and sounds much different than the bayou funk that Richard and the guys recorded up to this point.
A: I more or less showed Richard the chord progressions, the speed, the changing of keys and (I stressed) maintaining this real bottom heavy funk groove. We experimented heavily on top of it.

E: Right, I noticed some tape edits myself.
A: That was not a regular record. The guys’ hearts were always into the bayou funk thing. We were going to continue on with them, but the store got burglarized. We lost everything. “Trespasser” was made in the winter of 1974. By that summer we were ripped off. They wiped us out. Bad Medicine went their own way. The burglary broke up the continuity of the idea.

E: Richard was a big part of the success of the band, correct?
A: One thing that made Richard so important was that he was a good talker. We had him go to Buffalo, New York. Buffalo has this place called Bess and Gold distributors. You couldn’t release a record in New York State without going to Bess and Gold. Richard hooked up with them, but we could never recover from the burglary.

E: Man…
A: Once the store was broken into, it took us four months to find new jobs. I was forced to live off the monies set aside for Enyx Records budget. It took me almost a year to get back on my feet. By this time the disco scene was really catching on big in Syracuse. That kind of hurt Bad Medicine. The disco scene kinda limited their gigging. They didn’t like disco. They didn’t play it. We told them, “Why don’t you think about it?” They said no. We were friends still, but weren’t on the same page.

E: So you recorded Shelia Skipworth, and that was that.
A: They were still out there playing. I made a deal with Richard. I told him we’d honor what they wanted to do. In early 1976 we were willing to record them again even if it was cajun Funk/bayou flavored music because we really appreciated Bad Medicine helping us out with Michele Sobers in 1973.But something happened within them, they were having internal problems. I know one guy lost his wife. They decided to move on. So one by one Tom Carradino (guitar & Richard's best friend) and Harry Rado (bass) and Richard drifted to Washington DC. John Crocittti (Piano) went to Florida; David Morton (Sax) stayed in NY; Greg Johnson (Rhythm Guitar) moved to Maryland. By that time disco was real big and we hooked up with a disco group from Syracuse University.

E: That disco band - the C. Henry Woods Troupe right? Did they do well for you when you recorded their song “The Stranger?”
A: “The Stranger” sold 17 thousand copies! Only because "The Stranger" was picked up by a New Jersey distributor and included in a compilation album of obscure disco tunes. That happened only because William was high school buddies with a guy who worked there.

E: How many copies did “Trespasser” move?
A: In truth, "Trespasser" sold almost 3 thousand copies. This November I will be 60 years old so my memory is not as sharp as it was years ago.

E: Do you keep in contact with the Bad Medicine guys today?
A: I’ve talked to Richard. Richard is with The Krewe of Renegades. Tommy has a new group too - Little Red. He’s in Virginia. All of the rest are married, with children.

E: Now there were some big names to come out of upstate New York…
A: Wilmer (Alexander, of Wilmer and The Dukes) was the biggest thing out of Syracuse. And Larry Ellis. We still play Chess together

E: The Larry Ellis? As in “Do Your Funky Thing?”
A: Yup, he’s from DC. He was with Al King. Al really liked Larry. He told him to come down to New York City and record. I’ve been telling Larry how popular his records are – but Larry can’t find a copy of any of his records!

E: Damn, you guys were fighting the same battle. Trying to get out progressive music against all odds.
A: I always felt that the odds were definitely against small labels making it. But even though we lost money, we lost time - I feel like it was all worth it. I didn’t even care if I sold one copy, as long as I had enough money to live. . You know, although we were the ones with the record shop and record label, it was Bad Medicine who really broaden our horizons in different ways toward many types of music we never acknowledged.

E: And now you’re…
A: …retired. As is William.