(The rooming house at 55 Highland Street, West Hartford, Connecticut.)

Not in vain did I stay up all those nights, listening to the dreaming murmuring of birds.

In that rooming house on Highland Street in West Hartford, Connecticut, where I lived when I was eighteen years old, I wrote many a song and poem in the quiet of those nights. The only sounds would be the clanging of the radiators, or the dripping of snow from the eaves in Winter. Or the occasional footsteps in the hall of one of the eccentric occupants.

We were a motley collection of souls. There was me, second floor back right, with the gable windows, the young musician in his first foray out of his family home.  On the first floor front room left, there was Wayne, the Frank Sinatra-obsessed postal worker from Torrington, who, though in his early twenties, sported a carefully combed and coiffed pompadour from the 1950s. He wore cardigan sweaters and Italian loafers and would invite me in to hear Sinatra records, enthusiastically gushing all the while, his voice steadily rising to an alarmingly loud volume. He was in a constant state of exasperation that the world didn’t seem to recognize the fact that Frank Sinatra was a genius and very possibly a saint.

Across from Wayne, first floor front room right, was Guy, the long-haired Swedish-American dude who spoke and moved at the pace of an rain-forest sloth. He worked in the kitchen of one of the clubs my band played in. He spoke so slowly, with heavy lidded eyes peeking out of his medieval-looking bangs, that you had to resist the urge to strike him squarely on the top of his head to get him to complete his sentences. He was always home.

Then there was Susan, the pretty older woman (thirty was practically ancient to me at the time) who played flute in a chamber ensemble and studied at Hartt College of Music. She was attractive in that Lindsay Crouse kind of way, in her wire rimmed glasses, intelligent and with the body of a cyclist. Knowing I was a pianist and sax player, she gave me a rosewood bagpipe practice chanter.

My nearest neighbor, in the second floor front right apartment, was a middle aged woman named Gladys. She was quite overweight and rarely left her room. I’m sure she was on assistance of some sort. Though it was against house rules to cook in your room, she would often fire up her hotplate and fry up large meals containing lots of onions, usually at midnight. At her request, I’d help her turn over her mattress every few weeks. I thought we were friends, until one night, while I was on the  hallway payphone with my girlfriend, she came storming out of her cave screaming at me “You’re the devil! I’ll piss on your head!”. Obviously she was mentally ill, and I gave her a wide berth after that.


(That’s my room in the middle on the second floor, with the two circular windows.)

I was working full time as accompanist for modern dance classes at The Hartford Conservatory during the day, and playing with my band Portrait Blues at night. I found it most efficient to compose music in the night hours, writing out the parts on music paper to give to my band members at rehearsal. I always loved writing music parts, and would give each musician a nickname, along with a drawing at the top of his part. Bassist David Stoltz was “Drake Cottony”. Drummer/blues harp player Ralph Rosen was “Smilin’ Corn”. Tenor sax/flute player Mark Kaplan was  “Triangle Reed Beard” and guitarist John Webber was “Little Johnny Stringshanks”.

The nicknames changed with each new part, but some, I hear, are carried forward to this today, with pride and affection, by the musicians themselves.


(Portrait Blues, 1970: left ro right, John Webber – guitar; Mark Kaplan – tenor sax, flute; Grayson Hugh – vocal, piano, organ, soprano saxophone; Ralph Rosen – drums, blues harp.)


To hear “Breezy Farm”, one of the songs written back then, click HERE.

To hear “Gray Day” click HERE.

Here are three poems I wrote while living there.

••• MUTE SNOW •••

we’re half here and half there
and all inbetween like the light

the moon is a half fish dune
like a lark in a black creek
and all i want to eat
is the white of the shadow
of the blooming pear moon

ah the night goes about to be
down dark where you can’t see
just like your dumb dark hair

then the pine trees clap
on all the hills
and the woods are white
with all those quiet spills

••• SOLO •••

the moon needs no name for its light
which wanders from itself
onto the new world earth at night

through the sky it falls also
into the sea and seen by fish
and onto all tree branches

outside above the streetlight
slow moths wake
and hover against no wind



In the rooming house where ten humans lived
I was lying awake several hours past midnight
listening to the college radio station playing undiscovered folk soul songs
and I turned it off to think

I thought about the shadows of moonlight
sliding slowly off the big leaves of trees
and dropping onto the summer grass outside
where lawn chairs
and birdless lilac bushes
stand silent in the scene

I thought about all the people who were inside now
curled up sleeping in their second floor burrows
dreaming their ornately unfolding big blossoms of dreams
their brains working unapologetic
and electric
all through the night
flashes and spasms of fear and desire
and long involved wanderings
and stumblings through childhoods

and I could hear the occasional car
softly slowly come and rip the quiet of the night
creeping like a shark
as it passed under the streetlight in front of the rooming house
a sad metal spirit dragging itself by

and there by myself in the vanishing summer night
I imagined how beautifully terrifying it would be
to suddenly
just for one second
be transported next to the gigantic breathing body
of a huge whale
in some deep dim sea

with his huge half asleep eye
he would look at my odd speck of a body
perhaps thinking I was a sudden large seahorse
or a dream vision

and I would be immediately transported back to my bed
with the glistening remains of a miracle
wetly draping my arms like seaweed hair

but I would remember
and have forever imbued in the water of my blood
the feeling of that giant whale body next to me

hearing his big warm heart slowly beating
floating in the hush and pulse of his thoughts
blessed with the brotherhood of living
by this lord of all oceans

and lying there in the rooming house night
i shivered with terror and joy
knowing for a fact that right then
and at any moment

a whale is breathing
he is there
with his dreams descending
all around him like a sea snow falling
down there in the dark water
without me

© 1969, 2016 by Grayson Hugh


In that turbulent lustrum of the second half of the 1970s, as the stormy weather of my twenties raged, I was on a mission: to find a way to best express all my creative visions, which encompassed music, writing and filmmaking. Music won out, but there were some wacky detours, including a long visit with Martin Scorsese‘s mentor Haig Manoogian at New York University. But that’s a story for another time.

For two of those years, 1977 and 1978, I lived in quiet little country village in the northeastern corner of Connecticut called Coventry. My girlfriend was studying painting at The University of Connecticut, five miles away. I was the lead singer and pianist in a band that played the club circuit in Connecticut and Rhode Island. My cat, also in his twenties by cat years, was happy to explore the woods, brooks, and the yards and fields of the neighborhood. We were a household of strong, willful personalities.



(Front and rear views of my house at 7 Wall Street, in Coventry, CT. Photo by Grayson Hugh.)


(Looking down Wall Street. Photo by Grayson Hugh.)


(My cat enjoying the sunny spot on the floor. Photo by Grayson Hugh.)

We lived in the second floor apartment of an old white house on a hill that looked down onto Main Street, aka Route 31. The center of town was authentically rustic in the New England tradition: a Congregational church, an art gallery, a gas station, a general store/antique shop, an old mill. And of course a tavern.


(At the corner of Main and Mason Streets, Coventry. Photo by Grayson Hugh.)

During the days I would walk the four and a half miles from Coventry to the music department practice rooms at the college, where I’d find any empty one with a piano and work on music. It was a pleasant walk, giving me ample time to think about the songs I was working on. The practice rooms themselves ranged from claustrophobic to tiny, but once I started drinking my coffees-to-go and delving into the music, the spacious worlds of the songs opened up like movies in my mind.


(The Walk: Beginning from my house – on left – on the corner of Wall Street and Monument Hill Road – to Main Street below. Photo courtesy of Google Street View.)


(Heading up Stonehouse Road. Photo courtesy of Google Street View)


(Past Eagleville Lake and the bridge on the Mansfield/Coventry line. Photo courtesy of Google Street View)


(On the way, I’d pass this little store in Mansfield. In 1977, it was a natural food store and it’s where I first discovered Häagen-Dazs in the form of their long since discontinued boysenberry sorbet. Photo by Grayson Hugh.)

I still remember with vivid clarity the yards, sections of woods, hills, trees, brooks, frozen ponds, farm fields, horse barns, old stone walls and houses that I saw on that and other those long walks I’d take in Coventry. I began to look at my songs as sound and word paintings. And if I could find the right chords, rhythms and melodies to give me that indefinable feeling of the place and time I was trying to describe, it worked. That’s what I did in those practice rooms with pianos at UConn Music Department. Search for feelings.


(One of the old barns at Caprilands in Coventry, which was once a bustling center of herb gardens, herbal products and even dinners made entirely form herbs. The “First Lady of Herbs”, Adelma Grenier Simmons, owned and operated this amazing place. At Christmas time especially, the smells of all the decorations, packets, bunches and garlands of herbs were intoxicating. Photo by Grayson Hugh.)

I wrote several of my favorite songs this way. Having always been strongly affected by the different seasons here in New England, it was inevitable that I would write a song for each one.

WINTER: I worked on “Bluewhite” for months. It started with a poem about the snow and transmogrified into a song with (as Dylan Thomas used to say) “glacial speed”. The Blizzard of ’78 and long walks on those brilliant sunny days that followed it gave me a wealth of inspiration. Having completed it in March, I placed it in the “to be recorded one day” files. A little over thirty years later, I included it on my 2010 album “An American Record”.



(Under the bridge in the city dawn, April. Photo by Grayson Hugh.)

SPRING: “City Dawn” clocked in at a leisurely thirteen minutes. It reflected many of the sights I’d see while taking marathon walks or hitchhiking to places like Canada, or Maine or to my job as modern dance accompanist at Trinity College in Hartford. (I was always amazed that I successfully commuted from Coventry to the capitol city, for the entire 1977 Fall Semester, not with a car of my own but by hitching rides. Seemed there were a few Trinity professors that lived in Coventry.) The song is set in early April, when the new England nights “still give you chills”, but in the day you don’t even need your Spring jacket on. Cars “roll by like tumblweeds” and in the early morning light, so beloved by wandering folksingers, “there’s a mist still sleeping down by the river trees”.



(At the beach at Indian Cove, Guilford, Connecticut, August. Photo by Grayson Hugh.)

SUMMER: “In The Hour Of The Loon” takes place in the heat of August, at my cousin’s cottage on the Connecticut shore. I spent many weeks of the Summers of my youth there and continued to go there through the 70s and 80s. While living in New York, working on my RCA debut album “Blind To Reason”, I’d take the train to new Haven where my cousins would pick me up and take me back to Indian Cove where we’d spend the weekends sailing, eating roasted corn by the fire, swimming and walking on the rocks. This song recounts a “soul music dance party” I hosted at that cottage, with cousin Doug, when I was in my twenties.



(November frost. Photo by Grayson Hugh.)

FALL: Give me a cheatin’ girlfriend, a broken heart and I’ll give you a song. That was the case with “November Nocturne”. The stark beauty of Autumn trees, papery birch leaves and the Harvest moon (with a nod to one of my favorite Chinese poets Li Po) framed this song about a tortured love affair.



From a little country village came a whole bunch of songs. My broken heart healed and my address changed from rural to urban. I left the village for the big city, a pattern I would repeat several times.

I cherish the memories of the time I spent in that peaceful place. Though my life was at times anything but serene, the pain and progress of my spirit helped shape my music, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

Happily, in that resilient way of art, those songs, and I, have endured.



TALK IT OVER Single Cover copy 2

[The cover for the vinyl single of “Talk It Over”, released in May 1988.]

People have asked me about origins of my hit “Talk It Over”. It is an interesting one.

I discovered the song at the co-writer Sandy Linzer’s house in suburban New Jersey one day in 1986. It was gathering dust in a file of old song demos in his basement. I was trying to get a record deal and was looking for a song for my demo reel.  Sandy agreed to look for something that might fit my voice. Sandy, who had some big hits for people like Frankie Vall & The Four Seasons, Kool & The Gang and The Toys, had co-written and recorded a very rough demo of “Can’t We Talk It Over In Bed” along with co-writer Irwin Levine. He played it for me and told me Smoky Robinson had passed on it. He was about to play me the next song he had in mind, when I said “Stop! Let me hear that last one again!”

I immediately heard a hit in it, but it would need extensive changing around. With Sandy’s blessing, I took it home, slowed it way down, changed the key to fit my voice, added a few chords and wrote a very detailed arrangement, adding electric sitar, thick gospel- style background vocals, and used a warm synth sound I had designed which I called “exploding organ”. I had changed the attack and velocity, etc. on of the pre-set sounds on a Korg Poly 61 (preset #85, to be exact), and created something that could only described as a puffball exploding with a long warm echo tail.

In hindsight, I should have asked for a “co-writing” credit. I’ve heard songwriters that do less and get one. But suffice it to say, I was young and naive and I was happy to write the arrangement that would best suit my voice. So you could say that I breathed life into a song that would have just continued to languish as a demo in a forgotten drawer. I made it my own.

I recorded this arrangement and it became one of the songs RCA loved when they decided to sign me as an artist in 1987.

My producers, Michael Baker and Axel Kroell, didn’t want to change a note of my arrangement and RCA wanted to release it as my first single from “Blind To Reason”, which was released in September of 1988.

Mike Ax

[My producers Axel Kroell (eft) and Michael Baker (right) in the hallway of RCA Records in New York.]

Somehow Sandy obtained a “right of first release” for this song for Oliva Newton-John  with my own publisher, behind my back. I was not happy with this, to say the least. But legally we had no choice but to wait. Her version (which, by the way used my arrangement without crediting me of course) fizzled and died, and we then released “Talk It Over” as my second single. “Tears Of Love” was my first and did decently well. The video for it, shot in Big Sur, CA, enjoyed a modest run on VH1 and MTV.

But “Talk It Over”went on to become a big hit for me. It was number 19 in Billboard Hot 100 charts for 9 weeks in the Summer of 1989, number 9 in the U.S. Adult Contemporary charts for nine weeks and rose to number 4 in the Australian charts for 10 weeks. The video was featured in heavy rotation on VH1, MTV and BET.

And here’s the story of the video.


[RCA promo shot, 1988. I was doing my best Elvis impersonation.]

The song was climbing the charts in early ’89 and RCA wanted me to do a video for it.
So I left my band in Minnesota once cold wintry day. We had just played at the club Prince had made famous)  and flew to London. , where director Nick Brandt (who also directed videos for Moby, XTC, Michael Jackson, Jewel) had the sets all built and the actors all cast. And I never did figure out where he got a yellow cab in London!

We filmed the song several times, standing in a half-crouched position in oversized suitcases with no bottoms. By the time were done, my thigh muscles were burning and my lower back was about to fall off. But it paid off, with what became an award-winning video for a song that became an international hit for me. The video turned out to be a very popular one, shown alot on MTV and VH1. It even enjoyed a three month run on the silver screen in selected movie theaters across the U.S. and overseas as well.

Thanks again, Nick, for this great concept and production. And thanks to the actors/actresses that did such a superb job here – We were introduced, then we went our separate ways, but I’ve never forgotten how all of you added so much to this video.





(Indian Cove, Guilford, Connecticut.)

It was August 1966 and I was fifteen years old. I was just starting to write songs in earnest. I had a band called The Braekirk Aggregation, a pretty strong inkling that I wanted to do music for a living, a heart and head full of passion and angst and a cool, cute girlfriend with really, really long hair.


(The cottage that Uncle Carl Bergengren built, in the 1950’s, showing the shed and the big rock in the front yard where we all spat out a multitude of watermelon seeds. It’s a wonder a watermelon patch didn’t sprout up.)

Every Summer my family would usually stay for a week or two with my mother’s sister’s family at the house Uncle Carl built in a little bay on the Connecticut shore called Indian Cove, in Guilford, Connecticut. This Summer my parents heard about a cottage on Lower Road available for rent in that little community of beach bungalows. So they splurged and rented it for two weeks. And my best friend Deke came to stay for one of the weeks.


(Our rented cottage on Lower Road that faced the salt marsh. It did not have these stairs and deck when we were there.)

That Summer it seemed you could not turn the radio on without hearing a great song. In all kinds of styles, too. I’m talking about Soul. English Rock. American Rock. Pop. Psychedelic Blues Rock. Folk. Folk rock. Folk pop. Punky Frat Rock.  People like The Four Tops. The Temptations. Wilson Pickett. The Isley Brothers. Sam & Dave. James Brown. The Beatles. The Byrds. The Hollies. The Kinks. The Animals. The Beach Boys. The Lovin’ Spoonful. Cream. The Young Rascals. Johnny Rivers. Richie Havens. Donovan. The Standells. The Troggs. Bobby Hebb.  The Cyrkle. The Righteous Brothers. Percy Sledge. The Supremes. The Dave Clark Five. Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs, just to name some.

To hear “Bus Stop” by The Hollies click HERE.

To hear Wilson Picket’s “634-5789” click HERE.

To hear “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by The Beach Boys click HERE.

To watch the original video for “Sunny Afternoon” by The Kinks click HERE.

To watch The Cyrkle perform their hit “Red Rubber Ball” click HERE.

To watch Bobby Hebb perform his hit “Sunny” click HERE.

To hear “You Can’t Hurry Love” by The Supremes click HERE.

To hear “I Saw Her Again” by The Mamas & The Papas click HERE.

To watch The Lovin’ Spoonful perform “Daydream” click HERE.

Staying in that cottage, perched on a hill with a steep sloping yard of boulders, grass and scrubby pine trees, we perfected a schedule. We’d wake up around 6 or 7 am, with the sunlight streaming in all the windows, and make a pot of coffee. Deke and I and my brother Dave would take our coffee out on the porch. Robbie was too young for the stuff so he stuck to orange juice. We’d turn on the portable radio and listen away. Our mood just got better and better as we heard one fantastic song after another. After an couple hours of listening to all this exciting music, we’d head out to the beach, the boats, the walk along the rocks and the land of Summertime girls.


(The public access, through someone’s yard, that led to the “rock walk” at Indian Cove.)


(The public access steps to the rocks and beach.)

Falkner's iusland Seen From The Rock Walk, Guilford CT 7:5:15

(Falkner’s Island, seen in the distance from the one and half mile “rock walk” that we’d take from Indian Cove to Sachem’s Head in Guilford.)

The loud, chiming 12 string guitars and fourth and fifth harmonies of the Byrds’  “Eight Miles High”. That one alone made you ecstatic to be a live breathing teenage boy. The explosive quarter note drumbeat thumping of The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black”. Primitive and wonderful. I could already see myself performing this at the next Junior High dance. And their madrigal fancy-lad song “Lady Jane”; I performed that one as well, with my band The Braekirk Aggregation, in my best cockney accent. The unabashed romantic soul of “Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers. I’d be slow-dancing big time with my girlfriend to this one. The snare drum-like bombs and cheerful Californian harmonies of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by The Beach Boys, who I was just starting to take more seriously and end up loving. The dense, meandering melodies, harmonies and sharp, jagged guitar lines of “Bus Stop” by The Hollies. And when the radio played “Good Lovin” by the Rascals, forget about it. We’d be up and dancing like Frankie Avalon! That song was tailor-made for me, too: Felix Cavaliere played the  organ and sang lead. Hello! That’s what I did!

To watch The Byrds performing “Eight Miles High” on American Bandstand click HERE.

To watch The Stones perform their hit “Lady Jane” live on Ed Sullivan click HERE.           (It’s interesting to see Brian Jones playing dulcimer.)

To watch The Rascals performing “Good Lovin” live on Ed Sullivan click HERE.

Since a Summer vacation is a way to escape the heat and crowds of the city, it was fitting that one of the biggest hits that August was The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer In The City”. The car sirens, snare drum shots like a weapon, and great electric piano and guitars John Sebastian’s unique voice, all created one of the main theme songs to that season.

The soulful growl of David Ruffin on the Tempations’ hit “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg”. The knee-droppin’, gospel-style pleas of James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s World”, with those iconic piano chord triplets. The elastic, sliding vocals of The Isley Brothers on “This Old Heart Of Mine”. The kings of soul Sam & Dave singing “Hold On, I’m Comin'”. Besides those amazing voice straight out of the the church, and the unstoppable groove of a runaway trolley train, this tune had the strong-as-gravity staying power of Steve Cropper’s guitar curls and stabs.

To watch The Temptations performing “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” click HERE.

To hear The Isley Brothers’ “This Old Heart Of Mine” click HERE.

To watch James Brown performing “It’s A Man’s World” click HERE.

To hear “Hold On, I’m Comin” by Sam & Dave click HERE.


(On the rock walk, looking back towards Indian Cove .)


(Pausing on the rock walk.)


(Sea grass and good diving rock, seen from the shore along the walk.)

Then there was the good-natured quirkiness of “Yellow Submarine” by The Beatles, featuring Ringo’s happy go luck singing. And the song you had to love, even though it sounded like it was written for your parents: “See You In September” by The Happening. I never could remember that band’s name. And there was Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”. I really liked the blues shuffle of the song. It was fun and a good Set Two closer for my band, in those days of playing three and four sets at clubs. And there were the great stupid songs. Songs with lyrics you knew were inane, but they were just good old rock ‘n roll, begging to played by your band for screaming girls, even if it was in your basement, and the girls were your little brother’s friends from the neighborhood. And you played them LOUD. Songs like “Hanky Panky”, by Tommy James & The Shondels. “Dirty Water” (The Standells). “Cool Jerk” (The Capitols). And the menacing testosterone-laden “Lil’ Red Riding Hood” by Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs. A good follow up to “Wooly Bully”.

To watch The Standells performing “Dirty Water” click HERE.

To hear “Cool Jerk” by The Capitols click HERE.

To hear “Hanky Panky” by Tommy James & The Shondells click HERE.

To hear “Wild Thing” by The Troggs click HERE.

These were the songs that fueled my dreams, both romantic and musical, in the Summer of 1966. They played on our transistor radios, in our minds as we walked down the dirt roads to the beach, as we rode in cars into town to buy corn and clams and hot dogs and soda. They played all day, all night, ALL SUMMER LONG!

To this day, when I hear these songs, I can taste the salt of the ocean air in my mouth, and feel that same happiness I felt on those sailboat rides through the Thimble Islands with my cousins, uncle, aunt and brothers and on those long walks along the rocks and down those wandering beach roads.

To hear “Paperback Writer” by The Beatles click HERE.

To hear “I’m Only Sleeping” by The Beatles click HERE.

Here’s a more complete list of the songs that blasted out of those radio speakers that Summer:

HOLD ON, I’M COMIN’ (Sam & Dave)
BUS STOP (Hollies)
634-5789 (Wilson Pickett)
HANKY PANKY (Tommy James & The Shondells)
PAINT IT BLACK & LADY JANE (The Rolling Stones)
AIN’T TOO PROUD TO BEG (The Temptations)
THIS OLD HEART OF MINE (The Isley Brothers)
WOULDN’T IT BE NICE (The Beach Boys)
GOOD LOVIN’ (The Young Rascals)
I’M SO GLAD (Cream)
SUMMER IN THE CITY (The Lovin’ Spoonful)
MORNING, MORNING (Richie Havens)
RAINY DAY WOMEN #12 & 35 (Bob Dylan)
IT’S A MAN’S WORLD (James Brown)
LIL’ RED RIDING HOOD (Same The Sham & The Pharaohs)
COOL JERK (The Capitols)
SUNNY (Bobby Hebb)
DIRTY WATER (The Standells)
MONDAY MONDAY (The Mamas & The Papas)
I SAW HER AGAIN (The Mamas & The Papas)
A GROOVY KIND OF LOVE (Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders)
PLEASE TELL ME WHY (Dave Clark Five)


(The beach at Indian Cove, where the rock walk began on the right.)


(The diving board at the beach, at high tide. When the tide was low, you could walk out to it.)


(One of the houses and lawns we’d see along the walk.)

IN BACK OF INDIAN COVE July 5, 2015 copy

(Walking down a back dirt road at Indian Cove, through marshes.)

Sailing through Thimble Islands with Charlie and Doug

(Mother In Law Island, one of the Thimble Islands. I took this photo in 1978, sailing with cousin Charlie and Uncle Carl.)

Thimble Islands, Egret copy

(One of the smaller Thimble Islands, with egret.)


(Coming over the hill to the Indian Cove entrance on the right.)








(The Grayson Hugh Quartet, 1981. Left to right: Rob Gottfried – Drums; Me – Lead Vocals, Piano, Hammond B3 Organ; David Stoltz – Bass; Tom Majesky – Guitars, Vocals.)


As a lifelong night-owl, I have always liked to write in the solitary dark hours when all is quiet around me except for my imagination. One such productive period was from 1979 through 1986, when I lived at 19 Whitney Street in Hartford, Connecticut. It was an old brick three story building in what is called “the West End” – those several streets that descended east off of Farmington Avenue from the West Hartford border. They were big old house streets with names like Prospect, Beacon, Oxford, Tremont, Whitney, Kenyon, Girard, Lorraine, Owen, Buckley, Sherman and Warrenton. I lived at various times on seven of them: Warrenton Avenue (at my dad’s house), Beacon Street (with my oldest friend Deke, who was attending UConn Law School after Harvard), Tremont Street (with a girlfriend), Buckley Avenue and Owen Street (with my cousin Frank),  Girard Avenue (with my cat) and Whitney Street.

19 Whitney Street, Hartford CT 2

(19 Whitney Street, Hartford, Connecticut. The original Nineteen Recording Studio, owned by Ron Scalise and Jonathan Freed – and later our rehearsal space – was the large, high-ceilinged loft that you entered through the light blue door at the far left.)

I shared 19 Whitney Street with two other friends: Bernie and Tom. The population later increased to include Tom’s two girlfriends Kris and Gina (at different times, mind you; this is not Fellini’s” 8 1/2″) and a friend of Tom’s second girlfriend named Lisa. I had the third floor to myself, until Lisa moved into the little front bedroom on that floor. We rarely saw each other, except in the hallway.


(The hallway inbetween the Nineteen Recording Studio and the connected second floor apartment was a frequent gathering place for coffee drinking and newspaper reading. Left to right: Jonathan Freed, Norman Campbell, Bernie Kornowicz, Ron Scalise.)

We all saw each other in passing, but also at rehearsals. Tom and I were in four bands that rehearsed, again at different times, there: Haiku (a trio that performed my arrangements of classic soul songs); the full band version of Haiku (that included the former Parliament Funkadelic and Brides of Funkenstein drummer Tryone Lampkin); The Grayson Hugh Quartet and Grayson Hugh & The Wildtones (which included a woman who is now my wife named Polly Messer).


(My band Grayson Hugh & The Wildtones. Left to right: Polly Messer -harmony vocals, me, David Stoltz – bass, Tom Majesky – guitar, vocals; Rob Gottfried – drums This photo was taken in the back of 19 Whitney Street.)

This venerable brick edifice was a thriving musical community as well as a haven for colorful characters. It was also the first location of the well-known Connecticut recording studio The Nineteen, which eventually moved to South Glastonbury.

The “front yard” of the place consisted of (and still does, I believe) a CVS parking lot that got so hot in the Summer, you’d run through it so your sunglasses wouldn’t melt. It was convenient when you needed cassette tapes, which I needed often, since they were the medium of my song sketches. The backyard was the parking lot to a restaurant called “Moe’s”, known for its filling, carb-laden breakfasts.

19 WHITNEY STREET pano street view copy

Some of the illustrious characters associated with this house: a homeless woman named Kathy. My introduction to her was by sound only. From the overgrown vacant lot outside my bedroom window, I was awoken by nerve-shattering wails. It sounded like a very pissed-off bobcat. Then I noticed the sound had what seemed like English words in it. Yes, it was a human voice and it was screaming something like “Ahhhhrrrraaaaaagggaaiee!”

One of the original house renters was Bernie Kornowicz, who shortly afterward began renting with Tom. I knew Bernie through our time spent in the band The Last Five in 1965. I was fifteen years old, playing Vox Continental Organ and singing lead vocals and he was seventeen and playing the bass. Bernie was also a very accomplished martial artist. He is the only person I ever knew that actually attended Ninja Summer Camp. Bernie was the most gentle, mild-mannered fellow you’d ever care to meet, but, if pressed, he knew of at least forty eight ways to end your life. Not that he would, of course. He once taught me how to break a cinder block in half with my bare hands, then he used his Chi Gong training to get rid of the splitting headache I got from doing it.

Then there were the many cats that lived there. Tom had several over the years, the most famous of which was a fine feline I first met in 2007 named Black Kitty, a wise and friendly soul. I had my grey tiger cat Pubo (short for “Pugh Boy”) who went on to live on East 84th Street, The  Mayflower and Grammercy Park hotels, Southampton and East Hampton ,New York, and Newington, Connecticut, passing away at 24 years of age.

Characters all.

Many times, late at night, when I had an idea for a song (or when I was looking for an idea) I would go downstairs, make a cup of French Roast coffee and bring it into to the studio, closing the big, thick, sound-proofed doors behind me. I’d turn on my Yamaha CP-70, my Korg Poly-61 synth, my mic, 4 track recorder and, using headphones, start improvising and recording. I could sing and play away without fear of disturbing anyone in the rest of the house. I wrote many songs this way, all alone in the quiet dark, in the cold of Winter, in the humid heat of Summer. Some sketches would make it into the studio, some were performed by one of my bands, some remained ideas that I have to this day.

“Night Don’t Go” is one that was performed by my early 1980s band The Grayson Hugh Quartet. I also recorded it, with Tom, Dave and Rob, at Ron Scalise’s Nineteen Studio across the Connecticut River, in South Glastonbury. It’s about all those hours when the world is hushed, and your imagination comes alive. It’s about not wanting the perfect stillness of a love to end.

I remember the scenes I was thinking of when I wrote the lyrics to this song, way back in 1979. They are very specific places. The fields mentioned in the song are at two locations: the meadows in back of a club in Simsbury called The Inn Place where my band (and Polly’s old band Eight To The Bar – and many others – used to play). Now it’s back to it’s original name The Old Well Tavern.


(The Old Well Tavern, before it became The inn Place and, even later, Gemini’s.)

The other field I thought of was at the Albany Avenue side of the West Hartford Reservoir, on Avon Mountain, where I’d often either exit by foot or ride by on my 10 speed bike on my way to Avon. One bright Summer day I saw a red fox in the tall grass there and I stopped to take a photo.


(I took this photo with a disposable camera, of a Red fox in a field, at the Albany Avenue entrance of the West Hartford Reservoir in West Hartford, CT.)

In the beautiful introductory section to his novel A Death In The Family, describing a childhood Summer night in 1915 Knoxville, Tennessee, James Agee wrote one of my favorite sentences in English literature:“Now the night is one blue dew”.

I never want the night to end, or that blue dew to dry up and fade away.

•          •          •          •

 words & music by Grayson Hugh

Early in the morning
before the sun has risen
as I watch you sleeping
I feel it’s then I’ve got something to say
I see you sleeping
I feel like weeping
I feel so sad to see the day
taking the night away

Deep in the night time
the midnight moonlight
shines on the dark sky
it shines in fields so far away
it shines on flowers
it shines for hours
it shines in meadows where rabbits play
it never fades away

Night don’t go
night don’t go
moonlight show
if you may

Deep in the night time
the midnight moonlight
shines on the dark sky
it shines in fields so far away
it shines on flowers
it shines for hours
it shines in meadows where rabbits play
it never fades away

Night don’t go
night don’t go
moonlight show
if you may
Night don’t go
night don’t go
moonlight show
if you may

© 1979, 2009 by Grayson Hugh/Swamp Yankee Music/ASCAP



DAD'S CHILDHOOD HOME, 99 Lonsdale Rd., Hammersmith

[Here is the house Dad grew up in – 99 Lonsdale Road, Hammersmith, London, England.]

My father, Ivor Hugh, who would have been 89 today, was born on May 1, 1927 in London, England, in the neighborhood of Hammersmith. He came to this country in the late thirties, served in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II as a “sparks” (or radio operator) where he acquired “the radio bug” as he put it. And radio was what he got into, along with a few forays into children’s television as Flippy The Clown on Channels 8 (in New Haven) and 18 in Hartford, and “Ring Around The World”, with my stepmother Beth Hugh on Channel 30 in West Hartford.

[On left: Dad as Flippy The Clown; On right: Dad and my stepmother Beth Hugh on the set of their show “Ring Around The World”.]

Dad was a well-known classical radio host in the early “golden days” of radio, starting on WCCC, which broadcast from the basement of the grand old, red-carpeted Bond building on Asylum Avenue in Hartford. He interviewed all the acts that performed upstairs there in the Bond Ballroom – people like Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Tommy Dorsey and Duke Ellington. I remember even meeting the Mousketeers on his show. (I had a bad crush on Darlene..) He was also Host for the Hartford Symphony Young Peoples Concerts, introducing countless people to the beauty of Bach, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Bernstein, Copland and Stravinsky with his deep British- accented voice.


[The early days at WCCC in Hartford, Connecticut. Here Dad is joined by his alter ego Leroy The Duck, one of the key characters in The Friendly Forest. My father came up with the stories, the characters and did all the voices.]

These were the days that radio stations actually had grand piano in a studio next door, where you could even record an acetate disc on the spot. Many family interviews with visiting aunts, uncles and cousins were recorded there, after his work hours ended. I still even have a recording, long since transferred to digital format, of a 7 year old me reciting a poem I wrote, and an impromptu interview of my South Carolinian Aunt and Uncle who had come to Hartford to visit us.



My father instilled in me not only a love of music, nature and stories like “Wind In The Willows”, but the importance of treating others with courtesy and kindness, and always looking on the bright side of life, with courage, British cheer and humour. His artistic dreams kept him going and young, as they do me. He was, quite simply, my hero. When I felt down and discouraged, he really did say to me “Cheer up and carry on”, reminding me that, with a positive outlook, we can survive all the challenges we encounter in life.

So in honor of my dad’s birthday this May 1st, I’d like to also share this wonderful interview he did with WNPR Host Colin McEnroe in July of 2013, just two months before he, in his own words, “made the transition”.

His spirit is always with me. I hope you find it entertaining and even inspiring. Happy Birthday Dad. We will all carry on!




VANDBERBILT"S DRUG STORE a few years before my time copy

[A photo of Vanderbilt Drug Store, from sometime in the 1940s, photographer unknown. For decades, all throughout my childhood and high school years, this store stood on Farmington Avenue in West Hartford, Connecticut, between Walkley and Vanderbilt Roads.]

I love the novels of Thomas Wolfe. His poetic descriptions of his hometown of Asheville, North Carolina are some of my favorite rivers of prose from any writer. That being said, I have to disagree with the title of his novel “You Can’t Go Home Again”. Actually it wasn’t his original title. It was the title given to edited segments of his unpublished “The October Fair” by Wolfe’s editor Edward Aswell.  It was published in 1940 after the author’s death in 1938.

Mr. Aswell, I beg to differ, and somehow I feel Thomas Wolfe would have as well. You can indeed go home again. That’s what art is all about. Words, music, painting all transcend the boundaries of time, space, flesh and earth.

I submit the following story as my own testament to the possibility of returning.

•     •     •

Vanderbilt Drug Store was just around the corner at the end of our street. It was the halfway point on our short walk to and from both Elementary and Junior High Schools. It was a popular meeting place, a frequent destination and almost like another room in our house.

It’s where we got the Sunday paper and where I got all my comic books. It’s where I gathered with my friends for candy, before and after school. There were packets of mouth-puckering, sour/sweet Lik-M-Aid, handfuls of red licorice, molar-destroying rock candy, those bizarre chewable wax lips that melted into thick, congealed puddles on the sidewalk, boxes of spearmint leaves, packets of sunflower seeds so salty your eyeballs puckered, red-hot jawbreakers that nearly dislocated your mouth, not to mention those wax six-packs of brightly colored sugary syrup called Nickel Nips and, of course, the ubiquitous and endless packs of baseball cards with those flat powdery sheets of bubble gum that lost their sweetness within seconds. Though we were only ten years old, we traded those cards like inveterate gamblers.

“I’ll give you Roberto Clemente for Harmon Killebrew.”

“Well, how about Sandy Koufax for Hank Aaron?”

“No, I’m hangin’ on to Willie Mays.”

“Mickey Mantle? You got The Mick? You lucky dog! Lemme see…”

Vanderbilt’s is where I had my first job at age 14 (paid under the table) cleaning the store. It was a thankless chore, scrubbing the counters and ice cream containers, mopping the tile floor, that nevertheless made me feel proud and manly.

It’s where I bought my first girlfriend an ice cream soda at age thirteen, feeling incredibly grown up as I handed over the coins.

Marie was the lady who worked the soda fountain for all the years of my childhood and adolescence. She wore the standard white soda jerk uniform with jaunty cap and sported glasses with pointy corners as big as Cadillac fins. I remember that she was dating a helicopter pilot, which made her very, very cool.

I must have walked through the door of that establishment five million times. One Sunday morning, when I was fourteen, I walked up our street to get our Sunday paper. I had, just an hour prior, answered the door and listened to a rather boring lecture by two Jehovah’s Witnesses. I told them, probably with a bit of the attitude I could have at that age, that I disagreed with them and that I did not feel their religion was the only true one.

Shortly afterward, as I walked through Vanderbilt Drug’s front door, I heard a loud crash and the breaking of glass. A woman had accidentally stepped on the gas instead of braking and had just driven through the plate glass window. I had been a mere couple of seconds away from getting severely injured, if not killed.

When I told my parents what happened, my mom said dryly, “Well, I guess that’ll teach you to mouth off to Jehovah’s Witnesses!” A missionary’s daughter with a sense of humour.

You know what? Ever since then, I have courteously listened, at length, whenever door-to-door proselytizers have come knocking. Even if I disagree with their claims of having “the only true way”(and I always do), I don’t give them anything but my respectful attention. I figure it’s just good karma, shattering glass window reprisals or not.

One of our neighbors was a Swedish American bachelor named John Hyberg. He lived with his elderly mother in a little house way down at the end of the street where Walkley became Dorset Road, after crossing another short road called Frederick. The Ahearn girls lived on Frederick Road, and I loved all five of them.

John used to walk to Vanderbilt’s most evenings around dusk for a coke. On those heavy, humid Summer nights, my brothers and I (and often one or two cousins and friends) would be sitting with our parents on lawn chairs in the cool dark of our front porch on Walkley Road, drinking root beer floats or mint iced tea. We would see the slump-shouldered shape of John Hyberg approaching under the dim streetlights. When his barely visible self reached our house, he would say, without fail, the exact same thing, directed to my mother, in that distinct, adenoidal voice  of his: “Hot enough for ya, Jean?” That phrase came without variation out of his mouth automatically as he passed, as if our front porch triggered it from deep within his chest.

We would laugh and imitate his voice (waiting til he got out of earshot) and I would feel privately a little guilty for making fun of him. I wondered about his lonely life. I imagined him making toast and coffee for his Swedish mother very early in the morning before riding his bicycle down Farmington Avenue to his job as a guard at The Wadsworth Atheneum. I had heard it was the country’s oldest museum and I thought at the time he must be the country’s oldest museum guard. He definitely was the only museum guard that rode a bike with a flag on ths handlebars to work.

And I wondered, in later years, how he likely could never have imagined how comforting the ritual of his nocturnal walks past our house were to me.

His nightly walks, in fact, were a sign that all was right in our neighborhood, in our sleepy little town, in the whole state of Connecticut full of hills, rivers and forests and quite possibly in the whole wide world.

•     •     •

Whenever I find myself in my old hometown, I like to take a drive down my old street. My heart always caves in slightly to see how our old house has long since been trimmed of all it’s original warmth. The side gardens have been chopped down, the mint and lilies of the field are gone, the backyard lilac bush and wisteria vine are gone. The grand old trees in front of the house, indeed many of the original ones on the whole street, have vanished. And Vanderbilt’s on the corner is no more. It too has been long since changed into not one but two different businesses: a laundromat and a liquor store.

But you can go back. 

All you need to do is to remember and you are back inside the warm light of Vanderbilt Drug Store. You need only to dream a bit while you’re awake to be back there again, sitting on the front porch of 32 Walkley Road, watching John Hyberg walk by. And there’s your mother and father right next to you. Because all of the changes caused by the passage of time don’t really matter in the end.

Yes, you can go home again. 

Because the spirit of love forever stays the same.

•     •     •

To hear “North Ohio” (from my 2010 album “An American Record”) click here.

To hear “I’m Goin’ Back T’ Walkley Road” (from my 2009 album “The Invisible Daylight Brothers”) click here.


 [A view of my old street Walkley Road. It was 1956 here, and it looks like my mother was trying to encourage me to pose for a photo. We are standing in front of our house on the sidewalk  that John Hyberg used to come walking up.]

FOUR ROADS CROSSING elnarged size copy.jpg

[A photo of the “four roads crossing” from my song “North Ohio”. This scene is on the northern Ohio/Indiana border, in Salem Center, Indiana. The four roads intersect corn fields and farms, and directly up the road from this spot is the graveyard on a hill where many of my maternal grandmother’s people are buried.]