The Rising Storm: Andover Band Garners Cult Following

Living together in Bishop House South, the members of the Rising Storm never could have imagined the enormous success of the band they formed at Andover. But now, 50 years later, they have gained worldwide recognition. Their album “Calm Before” is now considered a prime example of 1960s garage rock, and an original copy can go for 7,000 dollars on the collector’s market. A documentary about the band is set for release before the end of 2018.

The band consists of Tony Thompson ’67 on lead vocals and guitar, Bob Cohan ’67 on guitar, Todd Cohen ’67 on bass, Charlie Rockwell ’67 as the keyboardist, Tom Scheft ’67 on drums, and Richard Weinberg ’67 on guitar and vocals. The group still gets together regularly to rehearse and perform.

The Rising Storm formed out of the Bishop Buddies Association Jug Band (BBA).

Cohen said, “We were all in Bishop South, and the entire dorm, I’m guessing it was maybe 20 people, had a jug band. We played all kinds of strange instruments, like a washtub bass — a big jug filled with water that you blow into to make a sound — mouth harps, harmonicas, a guitar. I think Tom drummed on a guitar case. It was just that kind of a band.”

After the BBA performed one Saturday in George Washington Hall, the six members of the Rising Storm, then Lowers, realized that they enjoyed being on stage and decided to form a legitimate band. Originally, they called themselves the Remnants.

Weinberg said, “In those days, during Lower Year, we had to take Bible all year. At some point in the Bible, God promises that a remnant of Israel would return. In the band, four of us out of six were Jewish, and in those days, there were not a lot of Jews at Andover. We decided that we were the remnants of the jug band, but we were also Jewish and we had that Biblical authority behind us — that a remnant would come and do great things, and we could become a great rock band.”

The band renamed itself the Rising Storm during their Senior Fall, also finding inspiration for the new title in an Andover class. “The thing is, one of the rock bands that we idolized was called the Remains. We started our ‘Calm Before’ album with one of their greatest songs, ‘Don’t Look Back.’ We decided that the Remnants was too close to the Remains, and Senior Year we had to take American history. One of the headings in our book was ‘The Rising Storm of Revolution.’ We thought it had all sorts of wonderful connotations, so that’s how we got the name,” said Weinberg.

During their time at Andover, the band would often practice in Graves Hall. Rockwell says they often had to break in to do so. In their opinion, the rehearsal spaces in Graves were reserved for classical musicians, and the Music Department was not welcoming to rock bands.

Rockwell said, “Rock and roll was not looked upon favorably, so the rehearsal spaces in Graves were essentially for the cellos and string quartets, and so we would sneak in there to practice. To do that, one of us would go into Graves, go downstairs, and unlock one of the windows. And then at night, of course, no one was in Graves. We would open that window and climb through.”

Breaking into Graves and other memorable moments from the band’s time at Andover will be recreated in the upcoming documentary about the Rising Storm’s success. The name of the film will be “Calm Before….” and Thompson says that the director plans to submit the documentary to several festivals. Although the director does not know exactly which festivals yet, Thompson has heard talk of submissions to Telluride, SXSW, and several other competitions in N.C., Mass., and Europe.

“But we’ve learned that nothing is certain in the world of movie-making until it actually happens,” Thompson wrote in an email to The Phillipian.

Weinberg said, “We had a big Pot Pourri end-of-year photoshoot on the Great Lawn, and they reenacted that as well.The picture was in the yearbook of us all sitting on the wall. In some parts, the filmmakers very cleverly intercut pictures of us and the actors reenacting it. We’ve all seen the rough cut, but it’s been edited down to about 30 minutes.”

Scheft says he had a significant role in the development of the documentary, as he knew the director from summer camp.

Scheft said, “I was a critical component [of the documentary] in terms of things actually taking shape. Andy Brier, the director of the documentary, and I had gone to summer camp together a million years ago. We’d been campers and counselors and even color war coaches. Then we’d gone our separateways, probably in the late ’60s. I believe his brother Bobby, who was older and had also gone to the camp, heard about the legend of the Storm, recognized my name, and then pitched the idea to Andy.”

Thompson said that the band does not want the documentary to be a publicity piece, and refused the director’s offer to let band members have creative control. Thus, the documentary has been produced entirely under the direction of the documentarians.

Thompson said in an interview with The Phillipian, “The documentarian got in touch with us about three years ago because he wanted us to be the subject of his movie. We had to reach an agreement with him because he wanted us to have some creative control, but we were not interested in making a vanity film. We didn’t want it to be an advertisement. So we said no, and we would only consider it if he had total creative control.”

Although the documentary chronicles the band’s outstanding achievements over the years, for many of the band members, the initial success of the album came as a shock. After going off to college and starting careers, they had no idea of their underground success until 1981, when a reporter wrote an article about their album’s collectability. After the article was published, the band decided to get back together.

Cohan said, “I didn’t really take it seriously when I found out how successful the record was. Then, we were performing at a club in Brooklyn, and some kid came up to Tony and started telling him how his song had saved his life after he had broken up with his girlfriend. He said he played it over and over again in his room alone, and it helped him get through a really hard time in his life. That’s when I first began to realize that this record was more than the sum of its parts, and that we’d done something special here.”