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Rock 'n' Roll Artists A-Z...Starcastle

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Colt1861Navy Member Level  Wednesday, 07/10/02 12:06:22 AM
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Rock 'n' Roll Artists A-Z...Starcastle

St. James

The Starcastle story begins in 1969 at the University of Illinois in Champaign. Students Steve Hagler (guitar), Mike Castlehorn (Drums) and Paul Tassler (bass guitar) formed St. James performing cover tunes of the day in local bars, and student mixers. Herb Schildt joined later filling out the bands sound. The unforeseen death of Mike Castlehorn in a Car accident, left the drum spot open to Steve Tassler, Paul’s brother, who at the time was playing off and on in another band. Paul had become more interested in the business side of things, and left his bass playing position to manage the group. Gary Strater who had sat in with St. James on a number of occasions, as well as owning a Van to haul gear became the band’s bass player.

Mad John Fever

With the lineup in place, new band name and Paul at the helm, Mad John Fever were set to do something more than just become a cover band. Highly influenced by the British Progressive rock of the time, Mad John Fever began writing material that would eventually appear on the 1st album. The group began a rigorous schedule of gigs including dates with Styx, Mike Bloomfield, Blue Oyster Cult, Stories, and Captain Beyond as well as clubs throughout the Midwest. The group had begun to hone its stage show, working in original material with Allman Brothers, Deep Purple, Wishbone Ash, and Jethro Tull covers. Despite relative success, and the release of a (now rare) single, something more was needed.

Terry Luttrell was already well know in Champaign as the vocalist for REO Speedwagon and appeared on that groups first self-titled LP. After leaving REO, Terry performed in another local band called Sea Daddy with guitarist Matt Stewart. Terry’s soft tenor and previous experience in the "Biz" was just what the band needed. Matt had already gained a reputation in the area by sneaking into clubs at a young age and jamming with whomever he could. His style of playing proved to be complimentary to Hagler’s and a new version of Mad John Fever set to work.


In 1974, the group felt the band name just did not fit the music, or the image they wanted to present. "Pegasus" was chosen, and a couple club dates as well as an opening act slot with the Strawbs in St. Louis took place under this moniker, but it wasn’t to be. After an excellent review of the Strawbs gig in a St. Louis music paper, another Illinois band calling themselves Pegasus threatened legal action to stop using the name as they had the copyright. Not wanting problems, the band decided to find another name. A number of possible names were put in a hat (literally), and the word "Starcastle" was drawn. With Mad John Fever, and Pegasus behind them, Starcastle pushed forward and the Record Industry started to take notice.


Starcastle continued to work hard over the next year. Recording and touring extensively with The Guess Who, Elvin Bishop, Montrose, Sha Na Na, Roxy Music and working the club circuit. Greater exposure was generated through several Midwest radio stations including disc jockey Asher Benrubi- "The Mighty Atom Smasher" in Indianapolis who plugged the band, and gave the early demos substantial air play. Mercury and CBS were both paying attention, but the deal was sealed when then CBS A&R Rep Steve Popvitch saw the band play at a club in Edwardsville. Work began on the bands first LP in Pekin, Illinois and was released in early 1976.

The response to the music of Starcastle was overwhelming. Receiving heavy FM air play throughout the US & Canada the group began an even more intensive touring schedule including some of the biggest shows of their careers. Central Park in New York City with Gentle Giant, Playing to over 100,000 people over two days in Los Angeles and San Diego on the Jethro Tull tour and many others. The first album sold well, and Epic sent the band to Le Studio in Morin Heights, Quebec with Roy Thomas Baker. Roy was well known for his success with Queen, although the band were not quite sure if it was a good fit or not, as Roy did not understand Starcastle’s vocals and other aspects of the sound. While the atmosphere and surroundings of Le Studio were idyllic, the final product, while considered the band’s best -"Fountains of Light" turned out to be something other than what the band envisioned. More touring followed this time including a number of headlining shows in small halls and universities with Journey, and Foreigner supporting Starcastle on some dates. "Fountains of Light" was critically acclaimed, and while the single "Diamond Song (Deep is the Light)" failed to chart-the album sold respectably, but once again the label wanted more from Starcastle and the times were changing.

After the huge successes of Peter Frampton’s "Comes Alive" album and Boston’s self titled debut, as well as the rise of Punk rock and Disco- radio formats were moving away from progressive rock. No longer were programmers interested in eight minute songs, or concepts, they wanted short concise songs, that would fit on the radio and sell. Despite issues with Roy Baker’s style, the label sent Starcastle to England to record "Citadel" with Baker once again handling production. The pressure was on, but Starcastle kept to it’s progressive rock roots. Minor air play was generated with "Can’t Think Twice" and "Could this be Love", but not enough to push the sales CBS wanted. More touring followed, but cracks in the band were starting to show.

"Real to Reel" was an album the band felt should have never been released, despite it containing a couple of Starcastle’s best songs "Song for Alaya" and "When the Sun Shines at Midnight". Some of the more "progressive" demo’s done for the record were rejected by CBS, and the band had stopped believing in what they were doing. The LP was released, and fell flat. During the tour supporting the LP, Herb decided it was time to leave to pursue his passion- Computers, and Terry who had his eyes on producing, both left Starcastle after the groups final date of the tour with Aerosmith in Cincinnati, Ohio. The bands wish was to continue using another vocalist, but disappointing sales and the fact Terry had left, CBS promptly dropped Starcastle from it’s roster. In turn the management company Artistic Visions let the band go- leaving Paul Tassler again to handle Starcastle’s business.

Undeterred, Starcastle carried on. They regrouped in Champaign and in early 1979 the band began touring again this time with Steve Hagler on lead vocals and without a record contract. While this line-up worked for a while, Matt remembered a vocalist he had met and became friends with a few years earlier- Ralph Goldhiem. Ralph had toured the Midwest with another CBS/Epic group called Timberline. While the Timberline sound was more similar to The Eagles and Poco, it gave Ralph a taste of what he wanted to do. He moved to Los Angeles temporally joining up with former Trapeze / Deep Purple vocalist Glen Hughes in rehearsals for a possible album which never materialized. It was during this time Matt called Ralph about joining Starcastle as vocalist.

With Ralph on board in July of 1979 the new Starcastle took shape. The material became more hard edged, while still retaining the trademark Starcastle sound. Needing a change of surroundings Starcastle moved from Champaign to Atlanta, Georgia. A spec deal was signed with producer Jeff Glixman in Atlanta who was at that time best known for his work with Kansas. Through working with Glixman on the first demo, a management deal was signed with former Queen manager-Jack Nelson. Nelson was more of a "hands off" manager, but did bring both Arista and A&M’s John Kolander to the table for a possible deal. Nothing happened, but the band still held out hope that something would come along for the better. The band contemplated a name change at one point-even played a gig as "The Pack" at Atlanta’s Agora Ballroom, but it was still Starcastle, and it was Starcastle they came to hear. In 1980 both Steve Hagler and Steve Tassler left the group. Tassler’s replacement on drums was Mauro Magellan. Rehearsals took place with Magellan, but he left a short time later to join The Georgia Satellites -a band who’s multi-selling debut album would be produced by Jeff Glixman. Matt Stewart left for California and would later join Head East as guitarist in the mid-80’s. Gary & Ralph continued to write together, but eventually Gary returned to Champaign, disillusioned and looking for a fresh start.

Starcastle I (1972 - 1980)

Matthew Stewart - guitar/vocals
Steve Hagler - guitar/vocals - b. Stephen Hagler.
Gary Strater - bass/moog synthesizer/vocals
Herb Schildt - keyboards
Steve Tassler - drums/percussion/vocals - b. Stephen Tassler.
Terry Luttrell - vocals - formerly with REO Speedwagon.

"Starcastle" (1976)
"Fountains Of Light" (1977)
"Citadel" (1977)
"Real To Reel" (1978)
"Concert Classics, Volume 5" (1999)
Group disbands.

Starcastle II (1982 - 1985) (reformed)

Gary Strater - bass/bass pedals/vocals
Bruce Botts - guitar/vocals - b. Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.
George Harp - vocals
Scott McKenzie - drums/vocals
Bruce Botts forms Pangea (1986 - 1988). [Ref: Bruce Botts, Jan. 8/9, 2001]

Starcastle III (1985 - 1986)

Gary Strater - bass/moog synthesizer/vocals
Mark McGee - guitar/vocals - b. 1965 - formerly with Overdrive and Now.
Jimmy Wagner - keyboards
Scott McKenzie - drums/vocals
George Harp - vocals
Group disbands. Mark McGee joins Vicious Rumors, and later joins Gregg Allman. George Harp joins Pangea (1986 - 1988).

Starcastle IV (1998 - ? ) (reformed)

Matthew Stewart - guitar/vocals
Steve Hagler - guitar/vocals
Gary Strater - bass/moog synthesizer/vocals
Herb Schildt - keyboards
Steve Tassler - drums/percussion/vocals
Terry Luttrell - vocals
Mark McGee - guitar/vocals
Scott McKenzie - drums/vocals
Ralph Goldheim -
Bruce Botts - guitar/vocals


Discography, Photos, etc.

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