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Silver age of rock

Baby boom performers couldn't stay away

When Harry Sandler was in his 20s, he lived the rock-'n'-roll dream. As the drummer for Orpheus, he opened for Led Zeppelin, the Who, Janis Joplin, Cream, and Blood, Sweat & Tears.

But time marched on and Sandler traded his drumsticks for a Rolodex and the groupies for a wife.

''I've gone from dealing with Keith Moon to dealing with the head of the NAACP," said Sandler, who is a vice president of the American Program Bureau, a Newton-based organization that books international personalities -- including Nobel laureates and sports figures -- for speaking engagements.

But unlike most rockers who are permanently sidelined from the scene by the need to make an honest buck, Sandler, 59, has returned to the stage. His Orpheus Reborn is one of three baby boomer bands in the western suburbs whose members prove that even the likes of lawyers and CPAs can learn to rock again.

They are under no illusions about their chances in a youth-oriented business, though they take full advantage of new technologies, such as Web-based promotions, to spread their sound.

But for most of them, the payoff is not a matter of CDs sold or songs downloaded, but rather the emotional high of rekindling a love affair they thought had burned out decades ago.

While only one of them has been able to quit his day job, all agree that if they could make a living with their music, they'd do so in a drum beat.

''I'm clearing out my desk virtually!" Sandler joked.

Orpheus was formed in 1967, and the group recorded three albums and four singles for MGM records. Its song ''Can't Find The Time" hit the Billboard magazine charts and was covered by Hootie and the Blowfish for the soundtrack to ''Me, Myself and Irene," a 2000 movie starring Jim Carrey.

The band toured for two years, but broke up in 1969 over artistic differences and disparate visions.

''Some recognized that, as performers, we were nothing without the public," said Eric Gulliksen, who sings and plays bass. ''Others were not concerned, believing that the music was enough, and didn't care whether the public liked it or not."

In 2004, four of the five original Orpheus members -- including Gulliksen and Sandler -- reunited and added two members to form the pop-country group, Orpheus Reborn. They jam every Sunday in Sandler's Chestnut Hill home. They have played a few local gigs and have another booked for next month.

While Sandler went from being a celebrity to boosting them, Gulliksen earned two master's degrees, received 17 patents, and became vice president of engineering for Koehler Manufacturing Co., a Marlborough maker of mining equipment that has since been bought out.

''I spent many years traveling the world crawling around in underground mines," said Gulliksen, who is now a market research analyst and consultant with Venture Development Corp. in Natick.

While music has become his number-one passion, he is enough of a realist to realize it may not become more than a serious hobby.

''We all want to go back something fierce," he said, adding that occasional gigs are ''a lot more satisfying than not doing it at all, but none of us are willing to give up our dreams."

Kathi Taylor, 52, is one of the new members. A singer and drummer, Taylor used to perform with an all-girls band, the Mustangs.

''Our big claim to fame is that we opened for Edie Brickell at Denmark's Roskilde Festival in 1989," said Taylor, now an artist who melds painting and photos.

At age 50, John Cate has achieved acclaim with his self-named band and songs that have been aired on such TV shows as ''Dawson's Creek," ''Joan of Arcadia," ''Numbers," and ''Touched by an Angel." Cate has released seven albums and penned 500 numbers -- many of which can be found on the iTunes website -- since his return to music.

''I'm no longer afraid to tell the truth in my songs -- about my life experiences like love, loss, happiness, and pain -- plus I also have more to write about," he said about act two of his musical career.

Last month, the Wellesley father of two -- who still has the full mane and thin build of his youth -- had fans lined up outside of the club Toad in Cambridge's Porter Square.

Jill Beyer, 34, of Somerville, and her friend, Melissa Owens, 30, were taken aback to learn that Cate, with his black T-shirt and faded jeans, was more than a decade older than they had thought.

Born in Liverpool, England, Cate grew up in Newton. At 9, he was awarded a cello scholarship to the New England Conservatory. ''Then the Beatles were on 'The Ed Sullivan Show' and that was it for the cello," he said. ''I learned how to play bass guitar."

When he turned 12, he joined a band with a neighborhood friend, Mark Zamcheck. The group performed for nine years, at one point touring with Gary Burton and Pat Metheny.

After the band split up, Cate, at the age of 22, found a job working as a sound engineer at Paul's Mall and the Jazz Workshop in Boston, a hot spot that predated the Paradise for booking top acts.

Frustrated with his behind-the-scenes role, Cate decided to switch from music to the corporate world. After passing his CPA exam, he worked as an accountant and then a venture capital adviser.

In 1992, the road manager for Cate's old band called to say he had built a studio in his basement. Cate, who hadn't picked up his guitar in a decade, didn't have to be persuaded to visit.

They started recording the next year and, in 1994, Cate decided to get a band together. He called Zamchek from high school, wrote a few songs, made a demo tape, and started to do some gigs. Two years later, Cate made his first full-length album and started looking for a way to put his CPA and venture-capital experience to work in the music industry. He got a job handling licensing deals for a small Internet music company that eventually was renamed emusic.

Cate sold his stock, paid off his debts, and in 1998 landed a deal selling his songs to television. ''I still had to do work on the side to make ends meet," he said, ''but I moved music from the periphery to the center of my life."

While he performs locally nearly every weekend, he said he makes most of his money from songwriting. ''The Holy Grail for me is to participate in a film score for Disney."

The Maple Street Project, based in Needham, is looking to the Internet to make a name for itself beyond the coffee-club circuit.

The five-man band has been jamming on Tuesdays for 15 years and plays local gigs nearly every month, including family services at their temple.

The group's core members, George Pultz and Bob Littman, met in 1971 in New Jersey. For extra credit in a college English class, they wrote music to accompany works by such poets as Yates, Shelly, and Tennyson.

They went on to play in two bands together, and after graduating in 1975, moved to Boston to pursue a music career as a duo, Ziro and Napoleon.

''We played at a number of big clubs in town, then George wound up going to law school and I got married," Littman said.

The two remained close over the years and connected again musically in 1991 for a local talent show. Through their temple, Beth Shalom in Needham, they recruited the rest of the band.

For now, the Maple Street Project is happy playing together, producing music, and playing gigs when they can. They hope to gain a wider following through an independent music download site, cdbaby.com.

''I can't afford to do it full time," Littman said. '' I'm in a lifestyle with kids in college and other demands on me -- but if I hit the lottery, or inherited money from some unheard-of relative, I'd probably walk away from my business. . . . All of us share that passion."

So, what makes these folks in their 50s and 60s so attached to rock? ''Boomers were entrenched in the revolution," said Jeff Price, a Newton native and president of spinART Records in New York. ''In came the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, and the Beach Boys. The '60s brought a political movement and music became associated with a cause to describe yourself."

Price, who started spinART 15 years ago, said that music has a different meaning for baby boomers than it does for the youth of today. ''We're in the middle of the Iraq war, but we don't have a Vietnam, a huge social movement, and a lot of the strife. It's a different environment."

Big labels ''now have the need to generate earnings," he said, ''and the way to do that is a quick success -- to sell huge amounts of records, like 14 million. Selling 100,000 records is seen as a failure."

While the Internet sites offer even amateur musicians a chance to distribute their sound, Price noted that the MTV factor still stands in the way of breakout success for older performers.

Indeed, that was the point of MTV's first song in 1981, ''Video Killed the Radio Star" by a British group, the Buggles. The satirical song needled less-than-glamorous musicians who in the past could rely on fans to fantasize about their looks.

The resurgent baby boomers are undeterred.

''Some say that older folks like us shouldn't have dreams of returning to the stage," said Gulliksen, 63. ''We refuse to accept that.

''Reinventing yourself is never easy, and the older you are, the harder it is to get people to accept you in something new -- no matter what the industry is."

Cate said he ''would love to hear his stuff on the radio," but believes it's a young person's game.

''It could happen for us, but video did kill the radio star."

Susan Chaityn Lebovits can be reached at slebovits@globe.com.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:
 ORPHEUS REBORN: http://www.orpheusreborn.com
 MAPLE STREET PROJECT: http://www.maplestreetproject.com
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