As part of the burgeoning 80’s LI music scene, Long Island’s Mosquitos were something of an anomaly. At a time when bar owners knew the easiest way to attract paying customers was by booking bands that performed classic rock tribute shows, The Mosquitos persevered by playing outstanding originals in a style more reminiscent of The Dave Clark Five. Not an easy feat considering their main stomping ground was a NYC suburb a good hour and a half away from Manhattan.
The band however did have a unique approach. As other Manhattan and NJ groups mined more esoteric mid-60s bands for inspiration, the Mosquitos were alone in championing four-part harmonies and catchy hooks served up with a solid 60s beat. Something that a younger generation of music fans had never really seen played live. This was not MTV fare by any means. And with YouTube a good twenty(!) years away, your best bet seeing an old performance was via fuzzy fourth-generation VHS tapes collected by the video enthusiast community.
To experience the Mosquitos live was therefore a revelatory experience for many. It was all but impossible to say you enjoy this genre of music and not be immediately won over by them. Even some of my punk friends into the hardcore movement walked away from their gigs astounded at their conviction.
So, when I recently had a chance to speak to original member Steve Prisco, I jumped at the chance.
Steve had recently premiered the digital version of a fantastic film about the group on social media. Made in 1983, the short shows a quasi-autobiographical day in the life of the band. Walking in the neighborhood, hanging out with friends, and just making do with small day jobs, waiting for the next gig.
While it’s only 17 minutes long, the film does an amazing job of succinctly showing the friendships, dreams, and aspirations of a local band. Except that this local band happens to be a 60’s beat group playing originals in the middle of suburban Long Island!
Shake Some Action: Steve, can you give me a very brief timeline of how the band originally started. Who was friends with whom and then brought the others in? As you guys were practically teenagers I imagine it was HS?
Steve Prisco: Well some of us were teenagers! Iain and I had been friends since high school but were in our late twenties when Iain met Vance who frequented the Sam Goody store where he worked. Vance was “only 17” as the song goes. Iain and I had been in bands together since our teens and had most recently been in The Fabians. Vance had been playing with Tony and Pat. So those two parties got together, with the idea of it just being a one-off show!
SSA: For some reason, the Northport/Huntington area seemed to be ground zero for the start of many 60s influenced bands and musicians. When I think back to how many talented music people came out of this area it boggles the mind. Any theories?
S.P.: It was a pretty special time in Huntington in the 1980s. I think it was a combination of having a bunch of bars who just wanted to fill up the rooms, along with a scene that was accepting of all kinds of original music. While there were 60’s influenced bands like us, there was all kinds of stuff happening, ska, rockabilly, and some really experimental artists.
SSA: The film is amazing in that it captures a perfect slice of life in the area at the time. I don’t know many outside of NY know how relatively quiet and suburban the area is.
S.P.: Well I don’t know about that! Things could get pretty wild every now and then.
SSA: Haha. How did the idea of making a film come about? And who financed it?
S.P.:It was a student film. I believe the brother of one of the filmmakers was a fan and pitched the idea.
SSA: Were the band members uniformly all for it or did it take a while for all to get everyone on board?
S.P.: We had the good fortune to get out of the gate pretty quickly as far as establishing an audience. Vance and Pat had a lot of friends and that, along with the active local scene, quickly built up a nice vibe for the band. Somebody wants to make a movie? Sure! I don’t recall anyone having any issues.
SSA: What town as the opening scene shot. The one where you and this young woman are walking down the street.
S.P.: That’s Huntington, pretty much at the crossroads of Main Street and 25A. And the young woman’s name is Roberta.
SSA: It’s pretty funny how everyone is shown in their natural habitat. Pat, Tony…What record store is featured? Did Vance actually work there?
S.P.: Yes, he did. The record store was One Way Records, owned and operated by the legendary Dave Laru. Dave was a big part of the music scene and put on these shows at a local club. Our first gig was at one of Dave’s shows.
SSA: Along those same lines, was that actually Vance’s room where you guys practice in the film? It looks like a temple to the 60s.
S.P.: Yep. It was pretty wild, but a comfortable space. He had all kinds of stuff, everywhere you looked. He was a real student of the music of that era.
SSA: The closing concert scene is amazing in that you get to hear the patter from your manager Scott Savitt. For me, that was always one of the highlights of your live shows. Just how over-the-top and entertaining he was!
S.P.: Unfortunately, various non-disclosure agreements prevent me from talking about Scotto! Only kidding, somewhat. Scott was endlessly entertaining and we loved to egg him on. He took care of us on the road and always fired up the crowd.
SSA: It’s telling that the film features Pat Bishow on drums. At what time did Mitch Towse join the band and why did Pat leave?
S.P.: I believe the switch was somewhere towards the end of 1983. Pat is an amazing guy, a talented filmmaker, and drop-dead funny. However, I always thought he might actually drop dead towards the end of one of our shows – it took a lot of energy and he needed to take a break. I remember it as being an amicable split. Pat was hugely instrumental in creating our sound.
SSA: Where there any plans to show this in any particular place? It’s actually very long for a commercial video. It reminds me of the sort of long-form videos they would show on the short-lived UHF music video channel U68 in 1985. A full two years after this film.
S.P.: Funny you mention U68. They played our second video quite a bit. I don’t know if this was intended to have any other purpose than a grade, being a student film. I am just glad that it exists, for the memories.
SSA: I heard you are starting a site dedicated to the band. That’s amazing and long overdue. I’m looking forward to all the great things you might upload to it.
S.P.: There is a Facebook page, The Mosquitos Appreciation Society. I’ve been posting some updated videos and things there. I am going to set up a YouTube page as you can post higher quality videos there than on Facebook.
SSA: Thanks for the chat, Steve. I just want to express how much fun it was to see your band back in the day and I hope that through your site more garage rock fans will be exposed to how incredibly talented you guys were. Feel free to let us know about any upcoming band news. We’re 110% pro-Mosquitos here.
S.P.: Thanks. I’ve just done a remix of “You Don’t Give A Hang About Me” from the original master tapes. We’ve got a few things in the pipeline. I’ll be sure to keep you in the loop!
My thanks to Steve Prisco (as well as his bandmates Tony LoGuercio, Vance Brescia, Pat Bishop, Mitch Towse, and Iain Morrison) for sharing this wonderful piece of history with us prior to the site launch. Stay tuned for the Mosquitos’ very own website coming soon.