Sunday, June 9, 2013

Joey Covington

Image from Vintage Vinyl News

Joseph Edward Michno, later to be known as Joey Covington, was born in East Conemaugh, near Johnstown, on June 27th, 1945, the third of six children of teamster Lou and aspiring country singer Betty. He began teaching himself to play the drums when he was 10 by listening to Joe Morello, Cozy Cole, Sandy Nelson, Candido and Preston Epps. Learned pretty quick, too.

13 year old Joey played with polka bands at local halls like the VFW with mom and dad chaperoning. When he was 14, he played the drums at a strip joint in Johnstown, The Airway Club. Mom and dad didn't drive him there; that gig was his little secret.

Then it was off to East Conemaugh High (he was class of '63) and the marching band, later followed by his first real rock group. He joined what he called a "hot rod band," The Vibra Sonics. They were pretty popular locally - they won a few battles of the bands, played dance clubs around Western and Central PA, and opened for a Simon and Garfunkel show. The Vibra Sonics even released a 45, Drag Race b/w Thunderstorm, in 1964 on full time florist and part time music producer Augie Bernardo's Ideal label.

The band had a run of wretched luck. At the Cowsill in Conneaut Lake, a fire destroyed their instruments. Later, a wreck while touring laid up Covington up for six months with a broken pelvis and some other snapped bones.

He recovered and got the itch to go to every East Coast musician's Mecca, New York City. He introduced himself out of the blue to Joey Dee, who sent him to a manager for possible work. The guy was ready to buy Joey a ticket back home when fate intervened. On short notice, a drummer was needed for the Danny Apollinar Trio, and the very available Covington landed some show tune dates in Florida.

Afterward, Covington went back home and scored some gigs from the union hall. He played for shows like the Dick Clark Caravan of Stars and backed the Shangri Las, Billy Stewart, the Supremes, Donald Jenkins & the Delighters and the Shirelles as a hired gun.

Then in 1966, he got a call from Sonny DiNunzio of the Fenways, who told him he knew of him from the Vibra Sonics and wondered if he was interested in coming to Pittsburgh to play with his band. He was; the Fenways had been turning out hot local singles since 1964 and were the big fish in the Steel City pond.

He cut a couple of 45s with the Fenways, played seven nights a week at clubs like Mancini's Lounge, and opened shows for the Rolling Stones, Dave Clark 5, Shangri Las, Lee Dorsey, Lou Christie, Chad & Jeremy, and Jimmy Beaumont & the Skyliners.

Covington hung around until 1967 as the Fenways, rolling with the rock tide, transitioned themselves from a pop group into the psychedelic Racket Squad. He doesn't mention playing for the Squad in his Pittsburgh years, but is credited on the album notes as being part of the band for awhile, so he likely stayed long enough to record a track or three.

It was the summer of love, and at age 22 he headed west with a bud for San Francisco in 1967. He would never look back. Right around this time is when he became Joey Covington; it's said that he thought Michno sounded negative, and that era, if you recall it, was all about the vibes.

He got some work from the hall (union cards are a good thing for a traveling minstrel) and played in several early Bay Area bands, including Pacific Gas and Electric. Joey ran across an electric violinist born in Beaver Falls, Papa John Creach, who he would later introduce to the San Francisco scene and played with Covington in several of his bands.

Covington hit it big when he helped form Hot Tuna in 1969, with Jefferson Airplane players Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen. While the tracks he cut were never released, the association with the Airplane members would prove big time.

Later that year, he joined Casady and Kaukonen in the studio with the Airplane, replacing drummer Spencer Dryden midway through the recording of Volunteers, and became a full time member in 1970 when the Airplane voted the erratic Dryden off the island.

He recorded with the band on the 1971 album Bark. Covington sang and wrote their last big track “Pretty as You Feel.” After the Long John Silver album in 1972, he left for a solo career as the band spun apart, with only one disappointment. He wasn't inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the other Jefferson Airplane members in 1996, because the Hall would only recognize the original members; Dryden got that honor.

During the Airplane era, he also appeared on Paul Kantner's 1970 concept album Blows Against The Empire and Grace Slick's 1971 Sunfighter LP.

Covington released his own LP Fat Fandango in 1973. He wrote all the songs, and though it was received well by the critics, it never sold. He also performed on 1976's Spitfire by Jefferson Starship and co-wrote the hit single "With Your Love." In 1978, he founded the San Francisco All Stars with Steve Love of New Riders of the Purple Sage and Quicksilver Messenger Service's John Cipollina, and they toured nationally during the eighties and nineties; one of his band mates was old bud Papa John Creach.

After that gig, he went into semi-retirement in Palm Springs, not a bad way to chill after decades in the hectic Bay Area music scene. Covington would gig as the spirit moved him, performing for free during community events, and he continued writing songs for local artists. His last show was gratis at a Marilyn Monroe memorial on June 1st, ending with him telling war stories and signing autographs.

On June 4th, 2013, the car he was driving slammed into a retaining wall at a curve in the road and he was pronounced dead at the scene. Joey Covington was 67.

Drag Race by the Vibra Sonics - 1964

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