Artful Dodger

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Originally called Brat, Artful Dodger was formed in 1973 in Fairfax, Virginia, out of the remains of two local bands, Homestead and Badge. Creatively, the key members were Gary Herrewig (guitar) and Billy Paliselli (vocals), who wrote most of the songs as a team, and Gary Cox (guitar and vocals), who also wrote songs (usually by himself). Steve Cooper (bass) and Steve Brigida (drums) formed the rhythm section. Brigida was an ideal foil for the band's songs, combining the steady time-keeping of Charlie Watts with the flash of Keith Moon. The group's first release was a self-produced single, "Not Quite Right", which never made it onto an LP, with "Long Time Away" as the B-side. "Long Time Away" was re-recorded for their first album with an increased tempo and more pop feeling. Armed with a demo tape, Gary Cox traveled to New York City in search of a record deal and received an offer from the Leber-Krebs management firm, whose biggest act was Aerosmith. They were signed to Columbia Records and paired with Aerosmith producer Jack Douglas. After being forced to choose a new name (another Brat had prior claim), Artful Dodger released their self-titled debut album in September 1975.[1] Produced with a refreshing lack of clutter by Jack Douglas (Aerosmith, Alice Cooper), Artful Dodger was a near-masterpiece that combined the best aspects of hard rock and Beatles-derived pop. "Wayside" has become the acknowledged classic, but the rest of the album, particularly the explosive "Think Think" and Cox's ballad, "Silver and Gold," is outstanding. Reportedly, the label's choice of the latter song as the album's lead single (not to mention a stunning lack of sales) was the beginning of a rift between Cox and the rest of the band. This didn't seem to make much of a difference, however, on the next album, Honor Among Thieves, which expanded upon the band's mastery of classic pop with a harder edge and more accomplished performances. Co-produced by Douglas and Eddie Leonetti, the album featured the power ballad "Scream" as the single. Once again, however, the record failed to sell. The press was supportive and the band toured relentlessly, but to no avail. They even did a stint during the summer of 1976 opening for KISS. By the release of Babes On Broadway (1977), the strain of the band's experiences in the star-making machinery (including writing and recording three albums in three years) began to show. Produced exclusively by Eddie Leonetti, critical accolades on Babes On Broadway were fewer, with "Can't Stop Pretending" standing out as the pick-to-click. It didn't, of course (click, that is), and Artful Dodger found themselves back on the street sans management, record deal, and founding member Gary Cox. Happily, the band regrouped with piano/guitar whiz Peter Bonta (previously with The Nighthawks and Rosslyn Mountain Boys) filling in for guitarist Cox, and they signed to Ariola Records in 1980. The intervening three years had been eventful ones for rock music - punk happened, and power pop coalesced into an identifiable, coherent sound. On their first and only Ariola release (and their last overall), Artful Dodger is perhaps guilty of a self-conscious attempt to jump on the very bandwagon they helped create. The redeeming factor is, they succeeded magnificently. Artful Dodger's Rave On is an unqualified (if unheralded) power pop classic, contrasting starkly with Babes On Broadway in that highlights are difficult to pick among a record so consistently fine. Certainly, however, "She's Just My Baby" warrants mention as an absolutely perfect pop single; Rave On, in fact, stands toe-to-toe with albums as great (and famous) as The Raspberries' Fresh and Badfinger's Straight Up. Artful Dodger plays as if they had something to prove (they didn't) and as if their life depended on it (it did), and their energy fairly leaps from the grooves. Everything, including continued praises from the critics, seemed to point towards success at long last, but it was not to be. In a marketplace cluttered with skinny-tied popsters (and poseurs), Artful Dodger had become just one more band for the industry to toss against the wall of public taste, hoping they'd stick. Billy Paliselli, whose raspy, impassioned vocals and pretty boy looks were key to the band's appeal, left to spend more time with his family (he eventually opened a motorcycle shop in Amissville, VA) and in 1982, a dispirited Artful Dodger broke up. The rhythm section of Steve Cooper and Steve Brigida partnered with Washington DC guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Jeff Smith and continue to record and play live with Smith as the Band of Steves. Peter Bonta opened his own recording studio, Wally Cleaver's, located in northern Virginia. He produced, engineered and played on solo projects for Gary Herrewig (the unreleased Four Gone Conclusions), Billy Paliselli and Gary Cox (a set of country demos shopped unsuccessfully to Nashville). Bonta also found steady work recording and touring wi