I often start these articles with a throwback music experience of mine. Today I’m going back before my time. In 1981 a massive party was underway on the tiny island of Devil’s Foot in Great Harbor, Woods Hole. A local band called Paradise Rock was set up on a beached float, their electric guitars fed by a nearby generator. They played crowd favorites by the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and others as well as their own original songs like South Falmouth. Revelers BBQ’d and danced in the sand. Passing yachts dropped anchor to take in the surreal scene.
The beach where this took place on the south side of Devil’s Foot is no longer there. As the local geography changes and shifts over time so does the local music scene. Devil’s Foot is still in Great Harbor though and Paradise Rock is still playing those classic rock hits and original “Cape style” jams.
Remaining original member, singer/songwriter/guitar player Craigo Carlson has recruited a new lineup. Paradise Rock now spans generations mixing classic and current influences and infusing experience with youthful energy.
Craigo, 59, moved to Woods Hole from Oxford, near Worcester, in 1968. Here he nurtured two great passions of his: music and the ocean. As well as being inspired by Woodstock era acts like Jimi Hendrix and the Doors, he loved old blues artists like Robert Johnson and Howling Wolf.
One day while Craigo watched the sunset at Stony Beach over a couple cold beers with friend and original drummer Tuck Hayashi, someone looked out over the bay and uttered the phrase “paradise rock.” The name stuck and the band was born.
They cut their teeth playing at the MBL Club, a small venue on Water Street in Woods Hole that once featured live concerts weekly, all summer long.
“It was different back then,” Craigo told me, “It was wild. I don’t know how much of it could be printed in the paper!”
One particular night at the MBL Club that stands out in his memory is July 4, 1981. He says over 400 packed the tiny venue and concert goers rolled in their own kegs of beer on hand trucks.
As he grew up, started his own landscaping company and had a daughter, things settled down a bit but his passion for music remained as strong as ever.
“Music sets your soul free,” he told me, “from all the pressure of work, bills and life. It’s like Bob Marley said, ‘one good thing about music is when it hits you feel no pain.’ ”
I asked if he ever thought about hanging it up when things got tough, and without hesitation, he said, “No way. Never crossed my mind. I always have my guitar and I’m always gonna play.”
The current lineup of Paradise Rock is Justin Sawyer on lead guitar, Randy Gummow on bass, Nate Chu on drums and Eric Hayden on keys. Sawyer, 30, of Falmouth grew up watching his parents play in Paradise Rock at different times. When Craigo asked him to join the band two years ago the transition was easy. He already knew most of the songs and had sat in with the band on multiple occasions. He and the rest of the current lineup bring new perspective to the classic sensibilities of Paradise Rock.
Craigo’s daughter McKenna is now 13 years old, writing her own music and occasionally performing with the band. Her mother, Kim Walsh, jumps in to play flute from time to time. Craigo speaks with obvious pride when talking about McKenna and her interest in music.
After a summer of playing the TD Bank summer concert series at Peg Noonan Park as well as other gigs, the band is currently booking shows for the fall and winter. Craigo also plans to get in the studio and record some of their original music soon. As far as inspiration goes, he doesn’t have to look far.
“It’s the water,” he says, “It’s inspiring being on the water. Being surrounded by the water. It’s that Cape style.”
Paradise Rock indeed.
You can check out Paradise Rock Friday, September 5, at Grumpy’s Pub in Falmouth beginning at 9 PM.