I live my life in between musical vignettes and the moments in between. There have been otherwise unassuming shows — or moments therein that have had a profound impact on me as a musician and as music fan. For example, there was the time James Brown nearly put a part in my scalp with his mic stand. Or when Iggy Pop invited all 17,000 fans at a show in New York to come up on stage, and I was in the front row. Or the time I took my little brother, Tom, to see the Ramones when he was 11 years old.
There are countless shows at local dives, where the crowds were smaller but still bristled with frenzied anticipation and attention. And if you're talking about the mid-1980's, one of those frantic bands was Dog's Life, a surf-stained, reggae-tinged quartet of pure pop joy. I first saw the band at Schatzee's (now Richmond's) — it was another one of those moments. The packed house was switched to full-on pogo mode. The guitar chopped and bounced super twangy. The singer was howling something about the Creature from the Black Lagoon as the rhythm section throttled, zipped, and boogied the beat beneath. It was magic.
Dog's Life came to life in the big 80's.
"My good friend Charles Blum and I started the band in the spring of 1986," says guitarist Lee Chabowski. "We loved the same music and spent our time going to Scorgie's, Schatzee's, and Waldo's in Geneseo. At the time, I was playing guitar and writing for The Resisters, but Charles and I were both a bit crazy for the reggae-tinged rock that was spattered here and there at the time. So I started writing some stuff in that vein, with a little surf thrown in. Charles and I started practicing and recruiting. We tried out a couple of people early in the summer, including a female vocalist, but nothing really gelled. This is when I wrote "Creature from the Black Lagoon" and "Aunt Lil" from the first album."
Chabowski ran into singer Dave Snyder and the two clicked.
"I started talking to this guy who said he'd seen me in The Resisters," Chabowski says. "It was Dave. I told him that Charles and I were looking for band members, and he let us know he was a singer. He was interested in trying out. So we made a date to meet up in Dansville, because my parents had a garage we could make some noise in. So we dragged Dave down to this dusty, 400 degree oven of a garage, and played him what songs we had."
Snyder liked the less-than-serious nature of the lyrics and the melodic song structure, and Chabowski and Blum liked his voice. They also hit it off personally. With the addition of Eddie Everett on drums, voila: Dog's Life.
"Our first gig was at the first incarnation of Jazzberries on Monroe Avenue," Chabowski says. "From there it's a chronological blur for me."
Dog's Life was together for eight years and played colleges and clubs all over New York, from the Continental in Buffalo to CBGBs in New York City, Chabowski says.
"We played in Boston a couple of times. But our bread and butter gigs were definitely the second incarnation of Jazzberries, Scorgie's, Richmond's, the Horizontal Boogie Bar (now Water Street Music Hall) and the small but mighty Friends and Players — we always made sure to fit Friends and Players in there every couple of months, because their manager, Caz, was the nicest guy in the world. I can't forget Backstreets, Idols and Milestones either. We had the enviable position of having clubs compete for us on weekends. We also played live on WITR quite often. They were an invaluable support, as were WBER and WRUR."
Dog's Life shared the bill with other great Rochester bands at the time like Koo-Koo Boy, La La Land, the Salamanders, Cat Fight, Miche and the Anglos. Blum and Everett left the band and were replaced by bassist Amy Brown and drummer Dan Snyder.
The band's sound continued to evolve — as did its loyal fan base — the more it played, immortalizing its tight pop on two albums, "Dog's Life" and "Queenie Gots a Pinworm."
Chabowski isn't entirely sure how it all ended, but that's what happens; bands come, bands go. And between those two goalposts, some beautiful music comes out. Such is life ... such was Dog's Life.
Now some 20-odd years later (175 in dog years) Dog's Life is back to life to play a benefit for Koo-Koo Boy.
"Dog's Life and Koo-Koo Boy, specifically Koo-Koo himself, Scott Coblio, were inextricably intertwined," Chabowski says. "We supported each other's music, created together, lived together, and laughed our asses off together. Now, 20 years later, Scott is the sole caregiver for his best friend and roommate of the past 17 years who is suffering from late-stage neuroendocrine cancer. Their savings have been devastated by medical bills, and the amount of care his friend requires leaves Scott with little time to work."
A mutual friend contacted band members recently and suggested a benefit concert. Chabowski and the rest of Dog's Life were down.
"There was no way I was going to say no to that," he says. "It was time to step up to the plate."
The fundraiser benefit show for Koo-Koo Boy will be Saturday, May 17, at Skylark Lounge, 40 South Union Street, from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Dog's Life will perform with 5Head, The Fox Sisters, The Gowns, and Modern Airline. There is a suggested $20 donation.
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