Seeing Spa City as a music Mecca

Published on 3/20/2004
Arts & Life
THE POST-STAR SARATOGA SPRINGS -- When Torey Adler left New York for San Francisco in 1996, it seemed like the mature thing to do. Playing locally with his punk and rhythm and blues band, Strange Fruit, Adler's shows had become a fiery mix of high energy and destructive power. "We drank a lot and broke a lot of things...and lots of people came," he said. "What I'm playing now has a lot more groove and a lot more polish. I was pretty young back then." Adler left for California, to make his mark as a guitar player, working with musicians from Counting Crows and Sheryl Crow's band, and sharing stages with Train, The Sunflowers, Chuck Berry and G.Love, among others. "I played with George Thorogood at the Fillmore Theater," he said. "He was a down-to-earth guy, a really good, nice guy. ...I opened for Ani Defranco too. She was the kindest person, and so versatile and charismatic." Now he's using those experiences and influences to mold a new band, Torey and The Roughs. The band debuted last month at the Original Saratoga Brewpub, enjoying a series of Thursday night engagements that's drawn a large crowd. Adler said The Roughs combines elements of soul music, classic country and garage rock. "I wrap all that stuff up in my music," Adler said. "I like the sound of smooth folk, but I also like that sound like a firetruck crashing through the wall of a music store." The music is mostly original, but when they play covers, you're just as likely to hear the soul of Otis Redding, the punk sound of The Ramones, or the twang of a Hank Williams melody -- with a Torey and The Roughs' twist, of course. "I certainly hope we're injecting something of our own style into any of our covers," Adler said. "The core of our material are very tightly crafted songs. We do jam at length, but the songs could stand alone without it." Adler began working on the songs two years ago in San Francisco, and returned to New York to record them. In the first studio sessions, he played all the instruments himself, until friend and bass player Tony Markellis suggested Adler should get him to play the bass instead. "He's one of the best bass players I've ever known," Adler said. "I'm lucky to play with him." Markellis, a resident of Saratoga since 1975, plays bass for The Trey Anastasio Band (currently on hiatus), and has played with the Mamas and the Papas, and Carlos Santana. "He's a powerful player," Adler said. "He can stay out of the way in a song, so you don't know he's there, but if we need him to drive, he puts it into overdrive." Drummer Zak Trojano is the third member of the trio. Adler said he played with Trojano a few times over the years and liked what he heard, but never really collaborated until now. Trojano, a skilled percussionist, arranger and composer, studied harmonic theory, composition and performance at Skidmore College. While Torey and The Roughs is a way for Adler to grow musically, it is also part of a larger effort to help build a thriving music scene in downtown Saratoga. He spends spare time assisting young artists who want to produce new music and serves as the vice president of Caffé Lena's board of directors. "This town has a great music scene," he said. "There are a lot of venues with original music, which is unusual, because most bars want a cover band. ...But we're getting a great response, and the best part is that they're responding to the originals, not the covers." Adler will also join local musician Kevin Mullaney on a number of Saratoga stages throughout the summer. "One of the exciting things about being a musician in a thriving scene like this is the opportunity to play in many different combinations, with different players." It's clear that Adler sees in Saratoga Springs the potential to become what Seattle was in the mid-1990s -- a haven for talented musicians.

"Until now, they haven't tried to draw crowds with new music, but this is the beginning of something," he said. "This music scene is ready to go. It's only going to take one band to have a town that's nationally known."


Locally based singer/songwriter/guitarist Torey Adler premiered his new band, Torey and The Roughs, at the Original Saratoga Brewpub in downtown Saratoga Springs last month. The band will play the final two shows of its current run at the brew pub on March 25 and April 1, from 9 p.m. to midnight.

Article ID No. 111398

Scene & Heard - Rocker targets Saratoga


SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Torey Adler was sitting in a coffeehouse on Broadway one afternoon before a gig. He recalled the first time he came here.

'The local scene was much different in 1991,' said Torey, as in Torey and The Roughs, a musical trio that includes bass player Tony Markellis and drummer Zak Trojano. 'I had a very pop-oriented sensibility when I first came here and I didn't know anything about the area (musically).'

It was Skidmore College that originally brought Torey to the region. In short order, both his days and nights were filled with learning experiences.

'Caffè Lena was where I learned about songwriting and about music that works one-on-one,' he said, fidgeting with a burgundy twine strung with miniature Tibetan carvings that is slung around his wrist. 'I started learning about artists like Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly and that led me to the blues players -- guys like Robert Johnson, Son House and Skip James.

'I started seeing the continuum from the blues through the Rolling Stones and realizing that it wasn't wholly independent from Bob Dylan-type of songwriting. It was all drawn from the same vein,' Torey said.

'You can call it blues; you can call it soul, but you know it when you hear it. It's like Duke Ellington said: 'There's only two kinds of music -- the good music and the other kind.' I started tapping into the good music when I was up here.'

Torey was born in New York City, 'in the dead-center of Manhattan.' He grew up, put out an album called 'Freedom Highway,' and then hit the road.

'I went out to San Francisco for six years with this half-baked notion of 'Let me see if I can make it in the music business.' I ended up being a lead guitar player for a number of different bands,' he said.

Those included stints with The Counting Crows and Sheryl Crow's band, appearances in support of legends like Chuck Berry and shows at hallowed rock 'n' roll palaces like The Fillmore Theatre.

'It was great, and I played some big shows with some major figures. But after six years out there, I realized I was missing certain elements of the music scene back in Saratoga,' Torey said. 'I started thinking about what my role should be. I realized that what I do best is writing songs and communicating my (musical) vision.'

He returned to the East Coast last year with a handful of tracks that were started in San Francisco. Torey headed to Boston to record with friend and drummer Mike Migliozzi, then returned to Saratoga Springs, where bass player Tony Markellis got involved.

'Tony was excited enough to offer some bass playing, and I wasn't going to turn a musician of that caliber down. Tony brought it up to where I realized that it wasn't just a side project, it became a record,' Torey said.

The result was the 10-song CD, 'Earthed,' that captures Torey the songwriter and Torey the musician. He is a savvy stylist on the six-string, the music coiling around his acoustic anthems and swings to countrified rhythms, all the while tinged with the hint of a bluesy sorrow or bursting in an outright celebration of grooves.

With just the right amount of road weariness to a voice that is both calm and lyrically frenetic, the words spill from his mouth to fit the tumbling pace: 'A rhythm like a rain dance puts him in a trance, his sunglasses reflect the light/ there's a ghost of an old juke joint in Mississippi, rising up in California tonight.'

He wears his influences on his sleeve, running the gamut of 20th century music, particularly onstage.

'You'll hear it all in a show. We'll do a Johnny Cash cover, and we'll do a Ramones' song. We'll do another by Otis Redding. Most of the songs are originals, but you know we mix it up,' he said.

To Torey, it's about being knowledgeable about musical culture.

'It's important to me to understand where it comes from. I want to create a new music that moves people. If you're cooking the stew, you need to know what goes into the stew -- you can't just throw things at it.

'Music didn't just come into being with the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin,' he says. 'I love those bands, but that's not where music started.'

It is, ironically, where Torey first caught the music bug, when his parents took the then- 8-year-old to see the Rolling Stones tour film 'Let's Spend the Night Together' in the early 1980s.

'Then I pretty much spent the next 10 years trying to get a guitar to sound like Keith Richards',' he laughs.

Early ill-fated attempts included stringing rubber bands over a wooden board and strumming away on a small, child-sized classical guitar. One day it dawned on him.

'I realized what I needed was an electric guitar. It was then that I started understanding about things like distortion and about using tube amps.'

With his own music, he feels that he is straddling both sides of the acoustic/electric fence.

'This is a rock band -- guitar, bass and drums. I feel with the Roughs, that I am reconciling myself as both a songwriter and guitar player and really showcasing the guitar. I'm speaking to people with that medium and with this band it all feels like it all comes together,' he says.

But as far as any warring factions between acoustic and electric players, he says: 'It's just machinery. I think people are more drawn to performers on the folk circuit because they're writing intelligent songs and crafting them well. You don't get a pre-fab artist on the folk stage that's lip-syncing their stuff,' he said, laughing at the image he conjured. 'It's somebody up there actually playing songs. Their performances are real.

'I want to wake people up a little bit. I want to put on a show that people can't treat as background music. And I did that at the (Original Saratoga Springs) Brew Pub,' he says of the Roughs, who are completing an extended Thursday night engagement at the Phila Street venue on March 25 and April 1. 'People were shouting and cheering after every song; people were dancing. That's what I want to do.'

Torey will also be appearing at Caffè Lena's Local-Thon Sunday and on a number of dates with Kevin Mullaney through the summer. A new CD is also slated for release later in 2004 and future performances for Torey and the Roughs are in process of being secured and posted on the Web site

Among his long-term goals is to become a catalyst on the Saratoga scene that he feels should be at least as well known as musical communities in Austin, Texas; Seattle; and San Francisco.

'There are some really great acts in town, and I want the talent here to become visible throughout the world,' Torey said.

He has seen the other side of the musical continent and found, after all, that the Freedom Highway leads to Saratoga Springs. It's a journey he wants to share with the rest of the world.

Thomas Dimopoulos is a feature writer at The Saratogian. Scene & Heard is published every Friday in the Life section. Contact him at

©The Saratogian 2004