Today I heard the sad news about the death of Jerry Burchard, the original keyboard player of the Aquashow band back in 1972 when we were playing my songs in the clubs of New York with the hopes of finding a deal with a record company. Jerry grew up in my hometown of Garden City; he was just a year older then me but already a local legend playing his Wurliltzer electric piano in bar bands around Long Island. When he was just 16 he and his girlfriend ran away in his parent’s baby blue Ford Galaxie convertible to drive down to Fort Lauderdale, Florida for a wild weekend that turned into a few weeks on the run as I remember. Of course, he had a triumphant hero’s welcome from all the kids in town upon his return. Not sure if the truth was exactly like that but as they say, print the legend! During the summer Jerry drove down to Jones Beach on a Honda Sport motorcycle, which in 1965 was very cool indeed. Hot weekend nights all of Garden City High School (or so it seemed) hung out on 7th Street and cruised around with car radios blasting, tuned to Murray The K, the self-proclaimed 5th Beatle on WINS radio. It was the Long Island version of American Graffitti for three action packed summer months and Jerry was one of the stars of the scene.
I first heard Jerry play in a band called “Two Plus Two” (2 guys + 2 girls) and I’d go see them perform in the local joints, getting past bouncers with my fake draft card ID (drinking age was 18 way back then in New York). Two Plus Two sang perfect harmonies on songs like “Tragedy” and carried their own PA with a tape delay. The lead singer was Chris Rundlett and he could belt out “What I Say” with close to Ray Charles ferver and sing all the dirty verses while Jerry pounded that historic piano riff. In fact, the Rundlett family played a strong role in my musical formation: Chris was a musical mentor and his sister Jann was the lead singer of “The Rapscallions” my band that won the 1966 New York State Battle of the Bands. Younger brother Peter Rundlett was an outstanding drummer who gigged with me a few years later. Both Chris and Peter are gone now and now Jerry too.
In 1967 I was starting to get serious about music and formed a band called The King James Version. On Weekend nights we played the 305 Lounge in Hempstead (Billy Joel played there as well) and the highpoint of the show for me was when I stepped up to the microphone to sing “Like A Rolling Stone.” One night the bar owner told us there was a writer there from Crawdaddy but he never showed his face. There was another real lead singer in the band, Paul Parisi, so mostly I played psychedelic guitar and stayed in the background. Jerry played a Hammond B3 Organ, a necessary part of the Long Island “sound” and we moved around quite a bit on stage trying to put on a real show like our idols The Young Rascals and The Vagrants. Just when we were starting to go places Jerry got an offer to join The Good Rats, a very successful club band who worked every weekend. So Jerry left and we were devastated but he made the right move.
The original Aquashow band which came five years later was a hometown affair I put together when I returned from Europe. We could have called it “Elliott Murphy and the Bayberry Avenue band” because that’s where we rehearsed – down in my basement. My mother had moved to New York City and left the house to her two sons – me and bassist Matthew – and soon our best friend and rhythm guitarist George Gates moved in. I don’t think we ever did the dishes. Our drummer was Greg Nickson and finally we convinced Jerry to join the band. We were very tight and began playing around New York City to good reviews in Penthouse and Variety and the unabashed enthusiasm of our friends. Then, as in Tale of Two Cities, it was the best of times and the worst of times: Matthew and I brought our demo to Polydor Records and they were interested and set up an audition. They wanted to sign the band… but only Matthew and me. The recording would be done with professionals and then I could start touring with my Aquashow band. But Jerry and Greg wouldn’t go for it; it had to be the whole band or nothing and I wasn’t ready to walk out of the deal with Polydor – it was like a dream come true – and so the band broke up. I got a small advance that I split with everyone but wherever my career was going Jerry and Greg didn’t want to go with me. George was understanding, and stuck by us and even came to LA for my aborted first recording sessions and played rhythm guitar when we opened for the Kinks and Jefferson Starship and many other shows. Matthew played bass and then as now kept his attitude positive and his smile wide.
Less then a year after the release of Aquashow George and Matthew had a bad car accident in a Porsche and I was on my own to go to LA to record my second album and so many others after that. George Gates went on to become a doctor (yes!) and Matthew a very successful tour manager. I know that Greg Nickson opened a music store in New York called “Night Owl” that catered to late night musicians but I never saw or spoke to Jerry again.
I heard he moved to San Diego and played in piano bars and I’m sure he was good as he was entertaining, funny and very likeable. Jerry was like the musician Billy Joel sang about in “Piano Man,” the unknown soldiers of rock ‘n roll. I don’t know if he was still so mad at me for going off on my own, I hope not, but I know it was the right move. Rest in peace Jerry and thanks for coming on the ride with me for a while.