ABOVE: Linc at the young age of 22 from the cover of "Twistin' at the Roundtable with the Orchids" Notice the lilac-coloured Jazzmaster. George Maxim had a matching one and Tommy Davis a lilac Precision Bass. Sadly, all three were left behind on a train and disappeared many years ago.
The following reminiscence is from Andy Chernak, a terrific guitarist with whom I played for several years:
"I remember going to the Canada Lounge on a Friday or Saturday night and listening outside to Linc's guitar playing. We would stand in the parking lot or out front, listening to see if we could learn something new from him. Since we were too young to get inside, we had no other alternative. It was fun and his playing seemed so unique that we often viewed it as a mystery to solve.
Eventually (through Art Betker), I took guitar lessons from Linc. Art and I would often go together on the train to Norwalk and then walk to Linc's house. I remember that we had to cross some train tracks on our walk. His house was about a mile from the train station and we would carry our guitars there. It was truly an expedition getting to those lessons.
The "thing" we wanted to learn was how he got those sounds. Linc let us in on those secrets. However, he was always more interested in playing jazz. Most of his lessons consisted of a type of jazz theory and note by note copying of jazz guitar tunes and solos that were popular at the time. Wes Montgomery was a favorite of every guitarist at the time and we often covered his work.
I should say that he always asked you what it was that you wanted to learn. So I imagine that other guitarists might have worked on different artists. The student would set the direction in which the lesson would go. Linc knew all the standards and the best covers of them and many, many guitar solos.
His own unique style that he employed at his nightclub gigs were only a small fraction of what he was capable of. The Orchids were a rhythm and blues band and his playing defined the band. Linc was the first player we ever heard who would stretch the strings. He also had the most incredible vibrato, and he did all this by using a banjo string for the high E string and moving all the other strings down one place. This was years before guitar string makers began making thinner gauge strings. It was (at the time) one of those secrets that allowed him to create sounds that were not heard in our area.
When I started studying with him (1965), I think Linc would charge $10.00 for a one-hour lesson. I went every other week for about a year. He raised the rate a couple of times and it became harder to continue, so I stopped taking the lessons and continued to explore the guitar on my own. I believed that he had offered me everything that I wanted at the time. He truly opened my mind to the guitar and the desire to learn and experiment with it.
I am equally sure that Linc never realized how he affected those students who came to him. He expressed himself directly to the point and many times bluntly. Linc was not eloquent in speaking and he made no attempt to be. He was for the most part an unassuming person when he was in a one-on-one situation with a student. However, he was not timid in telling you his thoughts. He did make you think independently and freely.
I think Linc would be very amused to know of this attention being paid to him now."
Clarifying the origin of Linc's very distinctive non-jazz guitar style, Art Betker provided the information for the following reminiscence:
When Linc was playing at the Roundtable, he was using a Fender Jazzmaster. A lot of local players, impressed with his ability (not to mention the Orchids), spread the word, and out-of-town guitarists would often drop in to see what was up. One of those was Robbie Robertson, then playing in Ronnie Hawkins' band. He showed Linc his restrung and rewired Fender Telecaster. (Robertson had apparently learned about the modifications from a Chicago bluesman.)
Linc went out the next day and bought a Telecaster (there's a photo on the "Linc Chamberland Pics" page), restringing it and then set about getting to know what possibilities the modifications opened up. According to Ray Pennucci, within a month Linc had far surpassed what Robertson had shown him and turned the technique into something distinctly his own.
Linc also had the strings on his Telly raised very high (making it virtually impossible to play by anyone used to the standard string height). He felt it gave the sound much more clarity, especially high up on the neck. In order to get the strings to the height he wanted, Linc inserted a popsicle stick under the bridge set screws on the guitar's tailpiece. He later changed this to a Gibson tailpiece which could be raised to the height he preferred without "additions". Linc also added a Stratocaster neck somewhere along the way.
Jack and Jim Hungaski (the Trudeau Twins of Orchids fame) tell the story of how the band came about:
"We got a call one day (1958?) from George Maxim. He and Tommy (Davis) and Ray (Pennucci) were looking for a lead guitarist for a band they'd formed. However, he got our phone number mixed up with someone else's and thought he was calling a guitarist. When we told George that the two of us were tenor sax players, we could hear the other two in the background saying, ‘What the *#$(@! do we need with two saxes?’ But we told George that we also knew a really good guitarist and said we'd bring him along to a rehearsal in Mamaroneck. That guitarist was Linc."
So you could say Linc and the twins got connected with the Orchids because of George Maxim writing done a wrong phone number.
Linc had a phenomenal musical "ear" and seldom needed to listen to something more than once without picking it up. I've heard the story of the Orchids playing at a club in Philadelphia once where two bands were booked in to allow for continuous music (long before the age of DJs!). The other band had a guitar player of some repute who didn't want guitarists in the audience stealing his licks, so when he soloed, he would turn his back.
Linc couldn’t fail to notice, and having no liking for this sort of BS (he would never have done something like this, even though it was a common practice at the time), and also seldom missing the opportunity to take the piss out of someone who deserved it, when it came time for the Orchids to do their set, every time Linc took a solo, he turned his back on the audience and played the other guitar player’s licks! They went on to become great friends, starting that night, and each held the other in the greatest respect. That guitarist was Roy Buchanan.
I got the following from Doug Riley. It's a nice remembrance of Linc from a different angle:
How great it is to see Link again. I was a former student and good friend of Linc’s. I used to see him at the Canada Lounge (sneaking in the back door which was darkly lit down a long hall to where we would sit at the first table closest to the band just to see Linc. Let me tell you, I have been in the music business all my life, and after being a performer and writer, I have settled into the licensing end of the biz in Nashville and have seen every well-known guitar player live but nobody ever came close to Linc. I spent a lot of time with Linc.
I lived two houses from him and his door was always open and his house full of music. I was introduced to him by my drummer Patsy from our band when Linc was about 27. Because our group was the group that obtained a record contract in the Big Apple and was on the cutting edge, we hit it off with Linc only because we were serious. I spent a lot of time writing with Linc (wrote “Window Pane” for Gotham with him) and my band mate, Patsy, introduced Sky Ford to the group when Linc told me they were looking for a singer.
I remember sitting quietly in his basement and watching the Orchids rehearse. I was still in high school and from two houses away I could feel the band starting. I would run right over and Linc’s wife, Maureen, would get us in. It was really great -- real serious rehearsals and Linc took no crap from anyone. He wrote all the charts and knew who was doing what and it worked ! What a band!
Did you know that when Alice Cooper was real big, he was going to dump his guitar player because he wasn’t cutting it? Through Alice and the record label, they got Linc’s name as the best to teach (everyone underground knew Linc’s name ) and sent their guitar player to him 3 times a week for 3 months (let me tell you, one lesson with Linc was a mindblower) and after that, he had a permanent gig because he got so much better. I still see the limo dropping off this guy in front of Linc’s house every other day for a lesson. It was big news!
Anyway, I could go on forever. It is really great to see Lionel back!! Thank you for this site as it takes me back to those great days.
Jack Hungaski once told me that when the Orchids shared a bandstand with someone who was really good, "I'd think, hell, they're going to blow us right off the stage! Then I remembered that couldn't happen -- because we had Linc."
Here's a bonus for everyone who wants to hear some more (non-jazz) Linc. This is my favorite recorded solo: "Got My Mojo Working" from the Orchid's very rare "demo" recording. Just click on the start key to hear it. To the best of my knowledge that's Don Jordan (the Orchid's bass player at the time) singing. Sorry for the poor quality of the recording, but the LP it was dubbed from was in pretty rough shape and the quality of the recording wasn't good to begin with -- but it's certainly worth listening to! Remember, "Mojo" was recorded back in late 1963/early 1964. Nobody was playing guitar like this. Turn your volume up loud. And check out that drum fill by Ray at the end of Linc’s solo!
It is with profound sadness that we've found out that Jack Hungaski one of the Orchids' mainstays on sax over the years has passed away.
I know this is going to sound terribly pretentious, but since the dawn of music you can be sure there have been countless truly great musicians whose accomplishments have gone unchronicled and because of that, recognition of their unique abilities drifted into the mists with their deaths.
The biggest stumbling block to their notoriety outlasting their deaths has to be that they could leave behind no permanent record of their performances. There have been plenty of accounts of the early 1800s in Vienna telling us what a brilliant improvisor Beethoven was, but so what? The music was never written down and we're left taking someone's word for what it sounded like. And even when we do have the manuscript for a sonata by Beethoven, we have little idea of how he would have interpreted it at a piano. A written description of a musician's abilities is a very poor substitute for actually hearing them perform. Many fabulous musicians were never even written about, either, and because they didn't compose, we don't even have compositions to judge them by.
With the advent of recording, that problem was largely solved. No longer do we have to rely on someone telling us how good a particular musician actually was. We can now hear -- and judge -- for ourselves. It is, therefore, doubly tragic when a person richly deserving of lasting recognition for their superior talent and ability does not receive the accolades (and remembrance) they undoubtedly deserve -- mainly because so few people have heard them play, either live or through recordings. This is my small attempt to rectify what I feel is a particular "musical oversight", and bring to wider public notice an incredible musician whose memory is slipping into obscurity.
LIONEL "LINC" CHAMBERLAND was the finest guitarist I have ever heard. There is no doubt about that in my mind. From those lucky enough to have heard any of his rare recorded performances, or even better, got to enjoy this masterful musician playing live, I don't think I will get too much disagreement. But in one of those great ironies of life, he never reached the audience his magnificent and totally innovative playing deserved. Linc could play anything: Jazz, Rock & Roll, R&B, even Country. Once you've heard his playing, you'll know it anywhere because of its distinctiveness and originality. No one ever played quite like this. His lightning fast technique, incredible finger vibrato, as well as his musicality make Linc's playing unique. The list of his former students reads like a who's who of the best guitarists around. Everyone who studied with him proudly lists Linc Chamberland at the top of their resume. Small wonder. He was a gifted teacher, as well as an ultra-dynamic player. By great good fortune, I had the opportunity to hear him play many times but in an odd sort of fashion. More about that later.
(Sidebar 1: What you're listening to is a Linc composition, "The Cat's Meow", recorded by the Orchids sometime around 1965 and is an excellent demonstration of his R&B/Blues style. (He was even more adept playing Jazz). Former bandmate, Jack Hungaski, told me that Linc came up with the tune on the way to the recording session. That vibrato you're hearing is done only with his fingers [there was never a whammy bar on that old Telecaster he used] and the volume work at the beginning and fadeout is Linc playing with his little finger on the guitar's volume control. Musicians on the recording are (to the best of my knowledge): Linc Chamberland, guitar, Jim and Jack Hungaski, tenor saxes (one of the saxes might also be Vic Serman who was in the band around this time, replacing Jim Hungaski. Can any of the Orchids advise me on this?) Al DelMonte, trumpet, Frank Salvo, baritone sax (although it's hard to hear the trumpet and bari to the point that I'm not 100% positive that they're actually there. Anyone know for sure?), Don Jordan, bass, and Ray Pennucci, drums. NOTE: If you're not hearing anything, your browser needs a plug-in which will play Mp3 files.)
Growing up in Mamaroneck, NY, a town just north of New York City in deepest Westchester, every aspiring R&B musician knew THE band in the area was the fabulous Orchids. The main driving force behind the band was their leader, Mr. Lionel Chamberland, and every aspiring musician (especially guitarists) spoke his name in a hushed voice. The Orchids first came to prominence as a "twist band", during that dance craze of the early ’60s, and were one of the regular acts at the Roundtable, a posh nightclub in Manhattan. At the height of the twist era, the band put out a live album for Roulette Records, "Twistin' at the Roundtable with the Orchids" and several 45s. The playing might strike one as rather "hokey" by today's standards, but back in 1962, this was Hot Stuff and there weren't a lot of bands that played this well. Even with the poor recording quality and the dated-ness of the material, there is no denying the musicianship of the band.
(Sidebar 2: The Orchids had two sax players [not very common in this period], twins who used the stage names Jim & Jack Trudeau, their actual last name being Hungaski. In speaking to them this past August , it was explained to me that they thought The Trudeau Twins sounded pretty cool as a "showbiz" name.)
ABOVE: The Orchids, circa 1960 (l to r): Linc, George Maxim, Tommy Davis, Jim Trudeau, Jack Trudeau and Ray Pennucci (kneeling). Handsome lads all, aren't they? Click HERE if you would like to see the "Orchids Scrapbook" we've put together. It's got some very interesting (and rare) memorabilia for fans of this great band.
All the songs on the album are instrumentals, even though the Orchid's bass player, Tommy Davis was an excellent singer, (the cover photo shows him doing just that with George Maxim, the rhythm guitarist, covering bass). The standout guitar solo on this album is on a song called "Backwoods" which shows Linc at his inventive best. No one I've heard from this period EVER played guitar like this -- or this well. All through the record, Linc provides ample evidence of just how good he was. Jim and Jack Trudeau were also not slouches when it came to improvising, either. An organist, Leroy Glover, was also brought in to play on this live recording and his playing is also superb.
(Sidebar 3: Linc's name is spelled on the liner notes with a "k" and I know of several other occasions where it was also used (he autographed Art Betker's "Roundtable" album with the same spelling), hence the reason I spelled it that way when he's mentioned in my novel, Shooting Straight in the Dark.)
The next album the Orchids made was a self-funded demo in 1964 in hopes of furthering their cause with booking agents, and to pick up a little extra cash by selling them at their gigs. Consequently, this is a very rare LP. While the recording quality is not everything one would hope for (the engineer, to the band's disgust, threw WAY too much echo on at the mastering stage), the evolution of the Orchid's sound from the Roundtable album is quite astonishing, having added a killer trumpet player (Al DelMonte) and a bari sax player (Frank Salvo), as well as a full-time singer, the incomparable Bobby Lindsay. Linc's playing style had changed radically in the interim to something more jazz-oriented (see Art Betker’s reminiscence to the right). The arrangements on this album are Linc’s, my favorite being "More Soul" during which the Orchids sound like the smallest "big band" you've ever heard. Two solos from Linc on this outing that still do it to me are a soulful, two chorus' on "You're the One I Adore" and his killer job on the blues classic,"I Got My Mojo Working". Listening to what he does, it’s hard to believe "Mojo" was recorded in 1964.
(Sidebar 4: If you ever get a chance to hear this album, check out the guitar opening of another song, "Move on Down the Line". I've often wondered if John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival used the lick for inspiration for the background of his band's first hit, "Suzy Q". Turns out according to his longtime student and good friend, Art Betker Linc copped the idea from the original version of the song which came out in the '50s and applied it to his own arrangement. Subsequently, I've found out that Roy Orbison actually penned this song, calling it "Go Go Go (Down the Line)" but the guitar part is nothing like what Linc plays. Did he get the guitar idea from some other song and graft it onto this? What's going on here? Any old Orchids or someone else know the answer? What's the story? Help!
Around this time, the band also put out a single, the A side being "Freedom's Band" and the B side "The Cat’s Meow", which now that you've heard it, I'm sure you'll agree is pretty amazing. The tenor sax solo also stands up well against Linc's playing. I'm not sure whether it was played by Jack Hungaski or Vic Serman (something I hope to clarify with further research). An amazing little single...
My personal exposure to Linc Chamberland and the Orchids began in 1966 when they were the permanent weekend band at the Canada Lounge in Mamaroneck. By this time, they were using three saxes (the twins and Frank Salvo) as their horn section, Tommy Davis, having long since left, had been replaced by a new bass player, Don Jordan, and Ray Pennucci had been drafted. (Tommy wound up with Joey Dee (of "Peppermint Twist" fame) and later tragically died in a car crash. Ray eventually made it out of the service in one piece, thank heaven, and went back to drumming with the Orchids.
(Sidebar 5: Most of the time I stood outside of the Canada Lounge, the drumming was done by Billy McLean, a former member of James Brown's band, who played the most awesome funk on a kit consisting solely of kick drum, snare, hi-hat and ride cymbal. He sat on his trap case.)
I made the long walk from my house down to the Canada Lounge to hear them many times in all kinds of weather, but since my friends and I were under age, we couldn't get into the bar, so we had to stand outside and freeze our buns off through the fall, winter and spring nights. It was all worth it to get to hear these guys live. Frankie Salvo had such a clear sound when he played alto, it almost sounded like a trumpet. Billy was messing with my brain with his totally off the wall funk beats and I could listen to Linc wail all night long. Along with Art Betker (who studied with Linc and eventually took over for him when the Orchids re-formed in the '80s), Andy Newmark (ever heard of this monster drummer?) and occasionally my brother Ted (also a drummer) and Andy Chernak (the guitar player in the band I was in), we spent many nights standing around in front of or behind the club, soaking up everything the band was doing. We'd then walk home and practice late into the night trying to get our fingers (and brains) wrapped around what we'd just heard. Art (no slouch on the guitar himself) can still play many of Linc's solos note for note. It’s a pleasure to hear.
By the late ’60s, the Orchids, after some relentless and pretty disheartening touring experiences, eventually becoming a weekend bar band (at places like the Canada Lounge), packed it in. Linc had worked as a tree surgeon with Don Jordan for awhile, as well as teaching guitar on the side, and began focusing on that more and more as time went on. There are a lot of guitarists who hopped on a New Haven train bound for Norwalk, Connecticut, (later New Milford) to hear what Linc had to say and show them. (see sidebar to the right)
After the Orchids, Linc's playing interest began to focus more on jazz (his real love), although there were a couple more funk-oriented projects: a band called Sawbuck which eventually became Gasmask, but most notably around 1971, he played with a killer band that started life being called The New York Street Band, but after they signed with Motown, the name got changed to Gotham. This band included Jim Strassburg (drums), Chris Qualles (bass), John Eckert (trumpet), John Gatchell (trumpet), Frank Vicari (sax), Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis (sax) and singer Sky Ford -- some pretty elite company, since the musician's resumés include working with people like James Brown, Sam & Dave, Woody Herman, Maynard Ferguson, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Band). Sadly, the project never went very far, but it was a fabulous band. If you can find the album, "Pass the Butter", snap it up! Linc wrote and arranged all but two of the songs and his playing, while not always up front, is quite ingenious throughout, and when he wails, he wails!
Around this time, Linc also put in a stint with the Young Rascals (not a good fit since he never could seem to play "simple enough" for the band). He got more studio work, but was really loathe to go on the road after the Orchids’ touring experiences. (He even turned down Miles Davis because Miles wasn’t offering more money than Linc could make just teaching!)
By 1975, Linc, completely fed up with how R&B "had gone pop", had put away his trademark Telecaster and picked up an L5 (bought from Art Betker) which he used to record the first of two jazz albums for Muse, "A Place Within" (1976). The supporting players were Dave Liebman (sax), Lyn Christie (bass) and Bob Leonard (drums). Four years later, his second Muse album came out, "Yet to Come" (1981) with David Friesen (bass) and Gary Hobbs (drums). At the same time, he was playing a weekly gig at Rapson's in Port Chester, NY/Stamford, CT (from which these albums come). They are now both sought-after collector's items --- if you know anything about jazz guitar. The music on them is intense, high-octane blowing of incredible musicality and technique. My personal favorite? "I Hear a Rhapsody" from "Yet to Come". These are both superb albums that are occasionally available from vintage record dealers on the Internet.
So why isn't this great musician better known? Basically, because he chose not to be. He only cared about playing as well as he could. The business of music bored him and he hated phonies and being phony. (Anyone who knew him will tell you that Linc was always incredibly blunt and there was NO bullshit when he was asked his opinion.) Jazz DJ Jim Motavalli once attempted to get Linc to talk about his music and drew a dismissive wave. "It speaks for itself," he said. If you're lucky enough to get the chance to hear any of Linc's recordings or to have heard him live -- indeed it does.
Sidebar 6: this is the third version of this essay. I spent several very enjoyable days in July 2003 interviewing people who knew Linc, played with him, studied with him and even fished with him. Especially in his later years, Linc lived more for fishing than playing guitar). Click HERE to see a photo of another side of Linc -- and one that was perhaps more important to him than guitar playing.
I'd like to extend my special thanks to Jim and Jack Hungaski, Ray Pennucci, Bob Berman, Art Betker, Andy Chernak and Bob McLaughlin for their exceptional generosity of time and resources. And Doug Riley for writing to me with his reminisence. You're the greatest, guys!
The more I dig into this story, the more it seems there is to tell. Check back from time to time as I add more. Who knows? This may become a book somewhere along the way...
-- Rick, August 1, 2004 (edit April 2, 2013)
You are visitor
Home | Biography | Appearances & Signings | Media | Reviews | View Guestbook | Sign Guestbook | Rick's Links | Contact Rick | When Hell Freezes Over