That Was Then, This is Now: The Legacy of The Mosquitos

As a city kid, I always found Long Island a tough sell. If Queens was the struggling, scrappy, working-class melting pot to Manhattan’s gritty elite, then Long Island was an even farther outpost where families settled who wanted a bit more peace and quiet. A lawn, nice schools, clean communities. All the trappings of the American Dream. But for a kid with a chip on his shoulder looking more toward the wilder side of NYC, it seemed like the complete opposite of all I thought NYC was.

But age brings a different perspective. Especially toward the musicians who followed their 60s muse during a time when all you found were new-wave dance clubs and classic rock cover bands. Now THAT’S dedication. As the years went on it became more apparent that all over the US you’d find pockets of 60s fans swinging to their own beat in the most remote of places. And you can’t be any more remote and still call yourself NYC than Long Island.

Ad for The Mosquitos residency at Dream St in Huntington, LI. June 1986.
Ad for The Mosquitos residency at Dream St. in Huntington, LI. June 1986.

Just as New Jersey birthed the most amazing mod groups, Long Island had its own group of 60s-influenced pop and garage bands. And of all of the ones that existed in the mid-80s, none was spoken about in the most revered tones as The Mosquitos. Iain Morrison, Tony Millions, Steven Prisco, Vance Brescia, Pat Bishow, and Mitch Towse. Their original songwriting, harmonies, and live performances slowly accomplished what many of the other 60s-influenced bands couldn’t get….crossover appeal. 

With a strong pop sensibility more akin to British Invasion bands such as The Dave Clark Five, their catchy originals seemed familiar, yet fresh. Showcases and performances in Manhattan and Long Island just strengthened their fan base and made many wonder if this was the band that would finally break out of NYC’s nascent garage rock scene.

April 1984 Irving Plaza ad for a Friday night triple bill of the Vipers, Mosquitos and Tryfles.
April 1984 Irving Plaza ad for a Friday night triple bill of the Vipers, Mosquitos and Tryfles.

Alas, while the release of an eagerly awaited EP in 1985 didn’t really showcase the band’s potential, it did oddly provide a song for the then reuniting Monkees to cover. That Was Then This is Now was released as a new Monkees single in 1986 to top 20 sales. But things were already starting to crumble internally in Mosquitos-land. In classic VH1 Behind the Music fashion, various other factors soon led to the ultimate dissolution of the group. Some stayed active in music, while others did not. Most notably, lead singer and songwriter Vance Brescia became the musical director of the Herman’s Hermits live tours.

However, around 1997 promoter (and former Viper) Jon Weiss began organizing Cavestomp. A NYC-based garage music festival that not only showcased bands from the heyday of the 80s but also newer bands along with a select handful of original 60s groups still performing. And while that in itself is the makings of another post, interest in The Mosquitos along with groups from that time period began to grow once again around this time.

Well, it took another 26 years….but now the whole world can hear what only a few select people in NYC witnessed and experienced at the time. But, more significantly, it captures just how talented this band of kids was and how despite the passage of time, none of their original songs have lost their power. Songs that any garage band would give their left arm to have written.

The early Mosquitos with Patrick Bishow on drums.
The early Mosquitos: Steven Prisco, Iain Morrison, Patrick Bishow, Tony Millions, and Vance Brescia. Photo by Danielle Phillips. 

This Then Are…The Mosquitos is a labor of love from pals Blair Buscareno and Bill Jones who have been fans and supporters of this group for ages. I spoke to Bill recently about the new release:

SSA: Thanks Bill for taking the time to chat.

Bill Jones: No problem! Always happy to talk Mosquitos.

SSA: Ok I went over a very rough background of the band but my main question is how this idea come about.

A copy of a Mosquitos live compilation that made the rounds among hardcore fans.

Bill: Well, I can’t really talk about the idea of a compilation without first describing my friendship with Blair. We met at one of the many shows The Mosquitos played at Sparks in Huntington, and we soon started meeting up to see bands there, as well as in the city and in Hoboken. We also spent many Wednesday evenings seeing Vance play solo gigs at Gunther’s in Northport. To say we were fans of The Mosquitos would be a major understatement. We saw them play whenever we could and shared any recordings we could get our hands on. These were typically tapes of live shows, but we also acquired some unreleased studio material. When their EP came out in ‘85, we both felt it didn’t capture the band’s energy, and we’d talk about songs we’d choose if we could release our own Mosquitos album or single.

The 1985 Valhalla EP.
The Feb 21, 1992 issue of Blair Buscareno's Teen Scene.
Feb. 21, 1992 issue of Blair Buscareno’s Teen Scene.

For years after the band broke up, The Mosquitos remained our favorite topic of conversation, and we’d talk about how disappointed we were that so much of their great music would never be heard by the public. The five songs on their record were very good, but they had so many more that we felt should be heard. Blair started publishing his fanzine, The Teen Scene, which focused on the music he loves and bands he was out seeing a couple of nights per week, and he would sometimes write about The Mosquitos. A few years later, when I joined the power pop-oriented Audities email list, I’d occasionally mention The Mosquitos and share some of their songs in tape swaps. The idea of a Mosquitos retrospective actually began to seem like a possibility worth pursuing in the late 90s, and for me that was tied in part to my compiling an anthology CD for my friends, The Secret Service. In 1997, I wrote Vance and asked whether he’d be open to letting Blair and I put together a compilation of The Mosquitos’ music at some point, and he gave us a thumbs up without hesitation. This didn’t lead to any immediate action, but we gradually began connecting with Steve, Iain, and Tony, who were willing to look for and share recordings they still had laying around, though we really weren’t sure whether this was headed anywhere. 

SSA: I remember both of you often bringing up the band. Those live tapes were a great topic of conversation as they showed the band firing on all cylinders. So, this puts us in the early 2000s. Where did it go from there?

Bill: Well in 2003, Steve put together his own compilation for fun called “Sha-Doobie! The Rest of The Mosquitos” and sent me a copy of the CD.  The sound on it was great, and it included odds and ends like studio demos, recordings from live shows, alternate mixes of EP tracks, and radio promos. A pretty slick production. The comp really made me happy, and it got me thinking more about which songs would be included in a comprehensive collection. In fact, I recently came across an email I sent Blair on 3/4/2005, in which I wrote:

Let me be candid - one of my hopes is that someday, someway, a Mosquitos compilation CD will be released.  I may be beating my head against a wall, but with each day that I listen to a decent quality recording of the band, I'm reminded of what a special group they were.  But I also realize that view is highly influenced by the "time" we were in, and what we were experiencing as 18 and 19 year olds, having the time of our lives...  I don't mean to sound too big-headed, but I don't foresee anyone having a better chance of making this come to fruition than the two of us...As for album titles, here's one that I've considered for years:
"The Mosquitos - This Then Are Mosquitos!"

SSA: That’s pretty amazing Bill.

Bill: Blair and I knew that if more Mosquitos music was ever going to be released, it would involve a lot of effort, and the two of us hoped we’d be up for it if the opportunity arose. Over the next decade or so, there were occasional emails between us and the band members where the idea of a compilation would arise, and there would be some discussion of tapes or photos that had been located, but then the idea would be tabled. There was just no obvious path to finding a label that might want to release something, and we also weren’t sure how much work would be required.

SSA: So the wheels were greased….it just wasn’t moving quite at that moment. But you never gave up hope.

Bill: In early 2017, I proposed a Facebook page dedicated to The Mosquitos, and Blair came up with the name, The Mosquitos Appreciation Society. So that was another way we chose to keep alive the memory of this band that had broken up 30 years earlier. Over the next few years, we’d occasionally post songs from tapes and have fun with the FB page. We got a bunch of old friends to join us, but we didn’t spend much time focusing on it.

Facebook’s Mosquitos Appreciation Society page.

SSA: It’s funny how it seemed like you were always on the verge of putting something together but didn’t quite get there for some reason or another. When did the current CD start finally come together?

Bill: In August of 2020, the year the pandemic began, Paul Martin from The Vipers posted a random comment on our Facebook group: “The Mosquitos need to have an album.” While this had been a long-time dream for me and Blair, this comment by a peer of The Mosquitos from the 80s NYC garage scene kinda served as a spark that got the compilation project rolling, and it eventually became a reality.

The effort kicked off in the fall of 2020, and the initial participants from The Mosquitos were Steve, Iain, and Tony, along with the two fans (ie: Bill & Blair). We once again searched and shared with each other the band’s recorded material, including various studio sessions, different mixes, lots of live tapes, etc., but this time we planned to see it through to the end as Blair happily found interest from a few labels. The project took a few twists and turns, and then Blair, Tony and I spent quite a bit of time over the past couple of years discussing and debating all aspects of it.

The Mosquitos’ double CD on Kool Kat Music. Art and Photo by Greg Gutbezahl.

We got very lucky when Blair connected with Ray Gianchetti of Kool Kat Musik, who proposed releasing a double CD, which blew our minds. We had to significantly increase our efforts at that point, as we realized we’d now be able to include ALL of the band’s original songs, something that until then hadn’t been anywhere near a possibility. We also had to figure out how to fund this expanded project, and our friend Jeff Shore really stepped up to the plate as our benefactor. Most of the band’s originals had not been recorded in a studio but rather had to be taken from live tapes, and fortunately, some were well preserved. Mike Fornatale cleaned up the chosen recordings so there was a consistent sound for the listener, and Greg Gutbezahl did a great job understanding what we were seeking with artwork and offered suggestions to help bring it all home.

SSA: Thanks for the information, Bill. It makes me really happy that you guys were able to give this band its due. To say they deserve it is just putting it mildly. Are there any other things we can look forward to in the future?

An uncirculated flyer with art by Steven Prisco. Originally the hero was supposed to be manager Scott Savitt!
An uncirculated flyer with art by Steven Prisco. Originally the hero was supposed to be manager Scott Savitt!

Bill: We are looking at a record release for later this year, and fortunately most of the work is already behind us! 

My thanks once again to Bill Jones (and by extension Blair Buscareno) for making this available to the world. If you’d like to order a copy please head to Kool Kat Musik or Bandcamp. And of course, all are welcome to The Mosquitos Appreciation Society on Facebook. You can thank me later.

Catch Us If You Can: The Mosquitos Make a Film

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?

Vance Brecsia on stage. Photo courtesy Steve Prisco

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?

Tony “Millions” LoGuercio. Courtesy of Steve Prisco.

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.

Iain Morrison. Courtesy of Steve Prisco.

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.

Steve Prisco. Courtesy of Steve Prisco.

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.