“In the beginning the gods created the Pony (or the Poney to some) … they saw it was good. Maker and breaker of many a hopeful lot. Time passed and many a legend was born and sent out into the world to make good. Some did. Some didn’t. But time is a funny thing …. ha! Just when you expect just another R&B clone, fate deals you a joker. Enter … “The Human Element.” Why the Pony? And why such a place for their very first gig? These and many other questions can only be answered … in time!”
First entry in The Human Element scrapbook … Joe Streno 1986
Post Updated: 06/07/2009 added photo of The Human Element T-shirts.
For all the posting I’ve been doing here of other faces and other places, I thought it was time to start posting something about my band … The Human Element. As the story goes, sometime back in early 1986 I auditioned for a group of guys who were trying to put a band together. They liked reggae, ska, and other types of music and so I figured … that sounds like a match. When I went to audition, it wasn’t like I could play other people’s music … part of that D.I.Y. self taught punk ethic … I could only play my own. One of the drawbacks(?) of being self taught. But they didn’t mind. I’d start going through some reggae or ska things I’d been working on and they’d be right there in the pocket. It felt like I’d played with the drummer Fred Bennett, and bass player Chris Melvin many times before … even though this was our first meeting. They felt it too. There was another guitar player (who’s name I’ve long since forgotten or blocked out … I’ll call him Bob) and he was a writer too. So we tried to come together and form something from the songs I was writing and the songs Bob was writing. After a few weeks I knew nothing was jelling and told the guys I was done. Bye-bye.
A few weeks later I called back Fred and Chris and asked them if they’d like to get back together without Bob. The only stipulation was, this band would be a “democratic dictatorship.” I would write all the material and arrangements, but the others were all free to add themselves to a song … I always got final say if it worked or not. We added Chris’ brother Dennis Melvin on keyboards and we were off and running.
We woodsheded for a month or more working on all my original material, and getting tight tight tight! When we practiced a song we were using a drum machine as a metronome. For some reason when we came to a certain break/stop in the song we’d all be off when we came back in. We’d sit there scratching our heads. Chris said, the drum machine is just another computer and the problem, as he saw it, was not the drum machine it was the “Human Element.” I looked at him he looked at me, we both smiled. He said, “that’s the name of the band now … isn’t it.” I looked at him, smiled and said, “… it sure is!” And on that day the The Human Element was born.
Our first show was a Chris Barry showcase at the Stone Pony. We were playing with three other bands, but we lucked out. We were the second band to go on. The first band did warm up (so to speak), so by the time we went on, the place was packed. On a work night you don’t want to be going on at eleven or twelve o’clock. My good friend Cande Roth, who was a local radio DJ and later of Shadow Traffic fame, introduced us. In an instant I’m hearing Fred’s sticks counting off the beat to our first song, “Freedom”. The moment I heard my voice boom out over the Stone Pony sound system, I was hooked! It was the most potent rush I had ever felt. Ever. Better than any drug I might (or might not) have ingested in my lifetime. But mind you I was straight as an arrow on that night … well drug-wise I mean. ; ) What an incredible moment!
We were so tight, and so good that night, when “Freedom” finished, the crowd roared. And that’s no exaggeration. We played our set and the crowd was appreciative and responsive. Hell we even got them dancing to unheard originals. But by the time we got to our ska version of “Midnight Confessions” … we tore the roof off the sucker! No lie! People were piling out on the dance floor. A great time was had by all! To top it all off my friend Gary Crosslin A.K.A. Junior Smoots was there. It was the first time he had ever seen us. He walked up to me put his arms around my shoulder and said, ‘You done good Joe.” Hearing those words come from his mouth was like receiving praise from a Zen master or a sense. He was not only a friend, he was a mentor. “Now let me buy you a beer … ” he said, “you’ve earned it!”
Throughout that summer and into fall we played clubs on the Jersey Shore circuit. We played The Stone Pony as well as The High Tide Cafe, Mingles (Down Under), and the Brighton Bar. It was all so much fun. We had a hardcore following of some great people. I(?) designed a Human Element T-shirt and had those to sell at our gigs. What I wouldn’t give to have one of those!
06/07/2009 : Fred Bennett eMailed me this photo of The Human Element T-shirts over the weekend. The funny thing is, after my sister read my Mom this post over the phone, she dug up a T.H.E. T-shirt buried in a shirt drawer somewhere in her house. I gave it to my Dad back in the 80’s when it was new. So now I have a photo of both colors & a size medium shirt of my own that I am going to frame. Sometimes you actually get what you ask for! :)
One of the things I don’t have, is very many pictures of us live on stage. There are the few below taken by one of my relatives on a crappy 110 camera of the era. I did have promo photos that I asked my friend Dorian LaPadura to take, which you can also see below. I always loved these photos especially the one taken on the spiral staircase of Howard Johnson’s on the Asbury Park boardwalk. I believe the other photos taken at “the wall” were in Deal, NJ. If anyone knows different … let me know. It’s been a while. : ) Taking the photos were a ton of fun. Of course I also tried to play “art director” but it’s a bit difficult when you’re on the receiving end of the camera. Plus we were all trying to perfect our serious all knowing gaze off into the distance. I think we got that down cold!
I also have music I will post another time. The only problem is most of the songs are demos of the songs I wrote and we played out, while others are just our songs recorded on a boom-box during practices. In any event, I will try to get that up soon.
To all of you that may have been there in Asbury and the surrounding shore areas in 1986 and saw us play … you know the drill. Leave a comment. It would be great to hear from you. Thanks and enjoy!