Gary left for California where he began working with Seattle native George Harp. George was an outstanding vocalist known for his incredible 4-octave range. Gary and George tried out several different combinations of players looking for the right mix of personnel but meeting with little success. Around the same time Bruce Botts was growing frustrated with the music scene in his hometown of Cincinnati. His desire to write and perform original music was constantly met with resistance. He decided to try his fortunes elsewhere and moved to California, first to Southern California then deciding to relocate again to San Francisco. Bruce was managing a guitar shop in San Francisco when a mutual friend introduced him to Gary as “the guitar player you’ve been looking for”. They hit it off immediately. The very first drummer who was auditioned was Scott McKenzie. At that first rehearsal everything clicked into place. For the next six months the band rehearsed in an Oakland warehouse 6 days a week, writing and arranging new material and forging a new sound.
At this point the idea of continuing under the Starcastle banner was not the intention, but they we’re focused on creating something new. However, during a visit from Matt Boston, Champaign native and Starcastles’ first roadie, after hearing the band rehearse, he suggested to Gary that if he was ever going to perform as Starcastle again this was the group to do it with. After receiving the blessing from the other original members, Gary announced to the rest of the band that they were now going to be writing and performing as Starcastle.
Starcastle began playing extensively gaining notice from people such as Bill Graham who was interested in signing the band to his management company. They continued to audition keyboard players, but were unable to find the right chemistry with anyone and so continued writing and performing as a three-piece band. Momentum continued to build along with positive reviews and airplay.
Much of the material on Song of Times was written during this intensively creative period, during which time the group wrote 20 to 30 songs in a period of two months.
However, internal conflicts surfaced and mounting differences in direction came to a head with Bruce leaving the group and heading back to the Midwest in 1986. Mark McGee was brought in to fill the guitar slot and the band carried on for another few months adding Jimmy Wagner on keyboards until George Harp left the band and relocated to Cincinnati to form another band, Pangea with Bruce in 1987. In 1990 Bruce decided to focus his time and energies on a video production company he and his wife had founded and to raise their new son.
Around this same time Gary had become disillusioned and decided to move back to Champaign and try to re-focus himself musically. He was unhappy with the way things had come apart with the various incarnations of the band. He thought that if he could bring together all the different elements that had comprised Starcastle over the years he could bring everything full circle and make everything right again. He began getting in touch with all the former members and testing the waters. To his delight everyone said, yes they would be interested in recording another album. It was very much Gary who drove this effort…..
Gary’s vision was to bring together all the various elements that had been Starcastle and create a work that reflected those people and their various influences. Due to geographic distances, financial concerns, finding a new vocalist and later Gary’s health problems, this became a very protracted endeavor. This was to be Gary’s final body of work and was a quest that kept him here longer than anyone thought possible..
Due to other commitments Terry was unable to devote himself fully to the band and so the band had to cancel their appearance at Progday in 2002. Rob LaDuca Promoter for Nearfest knew a vocalist he felt would be a perfect fit for Starcastle, Al Lewis of Alaska fame. He put Al in touch with Gary and Bruce. From the moment Al stepped into the studio and started singing there was magic. Gary called Bruce from the studio and was laughing and said, “listen to this”, playing back a song that Al had just performed and said, “we’ve found our singer”. Everyone was very excited as Al performed masterfully the 6 songs written during the California period and a song composed in the late 70’s by the original members but never recorded, and another he co-wrote. The last song Al sang after Gary’s passing was the signature “Song of Times”. Al’s infectious laughter and upbeat attitude has continued to bring fresh energy to the band.
In 2006 Starcastle was invited to headline the prestigious Rites of Spring Progressive Rock Festival in Philadelphia.
The obvious question was who would play bass? After numerous discussions, John Jowitt, the phenomenal bass player for IQ, Frost and Arena was slated to fill the position. It was at this point that Herb discovered that due to prior commitments he would be unable to take part. John suggested his good friend Oliver Wakeman to fill the keyboard slot, Oliver was contacted and expressed interest. A set list was drawn up and material sent to Oliver at his home in England. (Although they would not meet face to face until two days before the show, they effectively had one rehearsal plus a quick sound check, the audience was thrilled by Oliver’s amazing performance.) At this point John discovered a schedule conflict and had to withdraw. Al suggested a good friend of his, Nashville session player Woody Lingle. At their first meeting Woody fell into place perfectly. His skillful inspired playing was a wonderful blend of existing lines and his own incredible musicianship.
Oliver and Woody have continued on in their participation and have become the latest members of this legendary band.
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