Flash - Legacy Award
BMHOF Class of 2015
On Nov. 4, 1970, huddled in the basement of Aliotta’s on Hertel, they sat nervously waiting until the word came that it was time to hit the stage with their new brand of music. At the time, Aliotta’s was the premier music venue in Buffalo.
As the band squeezed its way through the crowd of over 300 people, the musicians could feel and hear the buzz that was about to change their musical careers and send them down a path that would forever guide their lives.
The band was Flash, an all-original, high-energy mixture of acoustic and electric guitars, Hammond organ, double-kick drums and a pounding bass that took listeners on a voyage that ranged from finger-picked intros to balls-to-the-wall outros. Truly a band of brothers, Flash included James E. Ralston on lead guitar and vocals, Phil Dillon on acoustic guitar and lead vocals, Larry Swist on bass, Richie Pidanick on drums and Dean Mooney on organ and piano. Managed by Joe Aliotta, they rehearsed endless hours creating a unique sound while playing all original music.
Regulars at Aliotta’s and the University of Buffalo’s Fillmore Room, Flash played to packed houses of loyal fans who soon knew every word to the Dillon/Ralston songs being played.
Former Raven manager Marty Angelo took an interest in the band and did some remote recordings from their rehearsal space. They recorded briefly with Buddy Brundo, who operated a recording studio above his family’s music store in Niagara Falls, but Flash eventually landed in the managerial hands of Gene Jacobs and Mike Lustan. Their plan was to take Flash to PCI Studios in Rochester to record with a young, talented engineer named Mick Guzauski; Guzauski had just completed the “Friends and Love” album with Chuck Mangione.
The band recorded an album’s worth of material and began juggling Buffalo area club dates with out-of-town concerts—sharing the bill with NRBQ, Brownsville Station and John Valby’s band, The Charles.
Rich Sargent was behind the band and became the liaison for Flash and Janus Records. A brief courtship with Janus Records resulted in a single recorded at Jerry Meyer’s Act One Recording Studio, but the relationship between band and label ended and the decision was made to take the group to Los Angeles.
Flash’s debut gig in Los Angeles was held at Gazzarri’s, on Sunset Strip. Other shows were played at Griffith Park and The Rag Doll but after just a few months, the band was encouraged to learn top 40 tunes, play local gigs and incorporate just a few of their originals. This was not the band’s original vision. After just a few months and with no offers from record labels, the band broke up. All but Mooney eventually returned to Buffalo.
It was inevitable that the others would get together again, though. Swist and Pidanick were living and working at Jerry Meyers’ Act One studio, Swist pursuing his passion for audio engineering fueled by his friendship with Guzauski, and Pidanick assisting Swist and picking up studio work.
As a unit they picked up sessions from players who needed backing when they cut their tracks, including recording sessions with local and out-of-town artists.
Dillon and Ralston continued writing, so it was off to Act One where the four-member version of Flash recorded a whole new batch of songs featuring Dillon on piano and vocals, Ralston on guitars, Pidanick on drums and Swist in the control room engineering and also playing bass.
A rehearsal space on Grant Street was rented with the intention of performing again. But the four-piece version of Flash never left the studio. Two years later and without much flash at all, it was over—but only for the band itself, not the band members.
Forty-some years later, the members of Flash continue to work and excel in the music industry.
Ralston has spent almost 30 years as guitar player and band leader for Tina Turner. He has played and recorded with Turner as well as the Del Fuegos, Joe Cocker, LeAnn Rimes, Cher, Elton John, Vonda Shepard, Carlene Carter and David LaFlamme. He has written with such formidable songwriters as Tony Joe White. He was inducted into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame in 2002.
Dillon has lived in Nashville since 1994. He has produced and recorded projects such as the critically acclaimed “Ainʼt No Stranger” CD by former Sea Level guitarist Jimmy Nalls. He also recorded and co-produced T. Graham Brownʼs album “The Present” with Mike Caputy. He plays, sings and engineers on recording sessions and has had his songs recorded by Lee Roy Parnell, Brown, Lisa Brokopand Nalls. Heʼs worked with Chuck Leavell, Wayne Jackson, Gary Mallaber, Harvey Brooks, Bob Moore, Bob Babbitt, Harry Stinson, Boots Randolph and has been a member of Brownʼs band since 2003, with appearances on the Grand Ole Opry, the Bluebird Cafe, GAC Television Network, the Wildhorse Saloon, the Trap and the Charlie Chase Show. He was inducted into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame in 2000.
Swist was a world renowned audio engineer with five gold and two platinum records to his credit. He was involved with nine different records that reached #1 on the Billboard charts. He worked with Mangione, SpyroGyra, Weather Report, Dizzy Gillespie, Bela Fleck, Bruce Hornsby, the Everly Brothers, Dionne Warwick, Jim Messina, George Duke and many others. Until his death in December 2013, he owned and operated Lawrence P. Swist Designs, an acoustical design company. Larry was inducted into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame in 2002.
Pidanick went on to play drums with Ike Smith and Free Spirit, the Jerry Hudson Group (which also featured Ralston, Joey Scinta and Donna McDaniel), the Donna McDaniel Band, and toured and recorded with Ned Doheny, Paul Williams, King Harvest, Mike Love, Sha Na Na and many others. He continues to pursue his passion of recording. Richie was instrumental in building the national chain of music stores known as Guitar Center; he is currently vice president of culture & values. Pidanick was inducted into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame in 2003.
Dean Mooney, a Julliard graduate, continues to play and teach music locally in the greater Atlanta area while enjoying his five Harley Davidsons. He also tends to his farm.
(Profile courtesy of Phil Dillon)