- Ronnie Dio's Early Years

The Elves
by Tony D.

It's burned in my visual memory, as well as my AUDIO memory forever.......I'm 50 now, but for all intents and purposes, I'm still 17/18, and at either the Lower Level or St. Joesph Auditorium, in Hazleton's a Sunday night in the summer, and the sight of wouldbe hippie chicks in their tube tops or t-shirts with no bra and hard nipples, and low slung bell bottom jeans with bare midriff was more than I could take..........some were barefoot, "di rigour" for the period.......

A crowd.....a huge crowd, always gathered outside the venue, where ever it was, waiting for the band, and they were like nothing we had ever seen before in this small coal mining town of 29,000.

The huge silver truck parked outside, and the muffled sounds of a roadie inside saying "check 1,2.. check 1,2......" indicated that the doors would soon open, and when they did, there was a rush inside after paying the $2.50 cover charge (imagine that: $2.50) to get in. All of us "would-be's," meaning simply that as a "would-be" you fell into two catagories: (a) You wanted to be in a band, but your parents wouldn't buy you a guitar when you were in your teens and music started to excite your loins, or (b) You did play in a band (local, of course), and only DREAMED of what you could/would be, well.............we all would rush to surround the band as they tuned and got ready to start.............they bearly had any breathing room, the crowd got so close, and we bearly had ear drums left.

The Elves were, quite simply, THE most professional band to ever play in the town, at the time. We had never seen anything quite like them before..........INCREDIBLY LONG HAIR, MID BACK AND THICK, ALL ONE LENGTH on all of them...........stacks of equipment like we had never seen before, and could only hope to have...............Marshall amps and Sunn Pa system, stacked so high you'd swear the roadies had to put on spike boots and breathing apparaus to climb them to disassemble when they were done for the night.

The band did a combination of cover tunes from the prominent albums of the time, as well as a few cuts from their own...............lots of Led Zep, The Who (Tommy, in entirety), Abbey Road.

Ronnie Dio was, of course, always the main front man, and occasionally, Doug would be featured...............In our case, as would-be virtuosos, we would not take our eyes off of Dave Fienstein, our idle, who at, what?..5'1" might as well as been the Jolly Green Giant the way he handled that sunburst Gibson guitar with deadly accuracy, especially during the Led Zepplin covers.

Me? I used to watch Mickey Lee Soule, since I was an aspiring keyboardist, and could only hope that I could save enough money to buy a Fender Rhodes like his.....and I might add that as time went on, I noticed that he changed to an electric piano that had no moniker on it....don't know what it a matter of fact........I also recall seeing him use a small "miked" upright one or two times, and if I recall correctly, it was a true honky tonk, and after their first alum was out, in which case, since his parts/solos were so "LeonRussell-isk," it made sense.

I remember that Davey had a "very close female friend" whom he saw every time they played the area........she was as tiny as him, and although I do remember her name, I'll keep it annonymous and tell you that she now lives in the Carribean, happily married with kids.

Ronnie NEVER relinquished his bass for a mike........he WAS the bass player, period, and of course, as his career grew over the years and his prominent voice took center stage with other bands, that changed.

My friend, who was a drummer, used to talk to Gary Driscoll during the band's breaks, so, of course, being the starry-eyed guy that I was, I joined in............We would ask him question after question about his equipment, the band's equipment, etc. .............Gary was a very quiet guy, and I remember now, thinking back, that he looked like a young Beau Bridges (the actor), facially, except of course for the super long hair.

The Elves played Hazleton, I think, probably 50 times in several years.........ALWAYS drew a crowd..........hell, I could remember BLIZZARDS, and these guys still made it to Hazleton from New York, and the place was STILL PACKED.

Every once in a while they would play with other bands from the Cortland/Binghamton area, like FREE WILL and BRIAN'S IDLES, who were also very, very good, but no match for the Elves, not only in their "polish," but in their presence too. ...........I think the only other band that came close to them was "WOOL" (formerly Ed Wool and the Nomads).......there was always an argument, who was better, and Ed Wool did indeed play a mean GEETAR that could go one on one with Davey Feinstein, but somehow Davey just had a presence to him that made him the favorite among all the aspiring guitarists.

In their own way, and this is an observation, The Elves actually helped the other New York bands that came down to play......most of them from either Cortland, Binghamton, or Watertown...........Once word got around that their was a gig at either the Lower Level or St. Joes Auditorium, and that the band was from New York, we just presumed that thery were as good as the Elves..........somehow they never were........somehow we were always dissapointed, but because of our presumption, there would be a crowd for the night and, I'm sure that premise followed through at other venues/other areas, as well.

I remember when word got around that the band had broken up, it was kind of an incremental thing that grew in stature............first we heard that they were going on tour with Deep Purple........didn't know if it was true or not, but we hoped it was.......then we heard that Ronnie was the new lead singer for Rainbow, and ten different people heard 10 different things.......yes he was, no he wasn't.....yes Davey was also with him, Davey wasn't with him.....this one quit, that one was was endless..............eventually, I read in the trades of Ronnie's individual success, and then a girl I knew from Berwick, Pa., who was very close friends with Doug, told me of HIS success on the other end of the business, booking and so forth.......

A while back someone told me of Davey's success in the restaurant business in the Cortland area, with plans for a second one soon.......and of course, Gary is dead......sad......very sad.............

They were and still are fabulous memories that I, and many others like me, will have for a lifetime.............and it makes you wonder, given the cult following here, and the story behind would make a GREAT MOVIE, wouldn't it?

Tony D.
Hazleton, Pa.