In the early 1980’s, the Chest Pains came onto the scene as the band of Ocean City, Md., and the Delaware shore. Youthful influence, exhilarating stage presence and an original sound helped set them apart from other up-and-coming bands. After years of success and an established fan base, the band mates dispersed. Now, they’re back with their ’80s retro and New Wave sound, rocking the shores for fans old and young.
“It feels like this music has taken 20 years off of me,” said bass guitar and vocalist Jeff Davis, one of the founding members of the Chest Pains. “Fellow musicians say I’m back in my element.”
He and fellow original member Byron Anthony, who provides vocals and guitar, resurrected the band this summer, after years away from the stage and spotlights.
“We bring high-energy, full-sound rock music,” said Anthony, “and we’ll play for three hours straight. We pride ourselves with being passionate about the music. You’re getting raw sound and great rock music when we play. It’s like when we first started rocking at Fager’s Island back in 1982.”
They are accompanied by Chris Button and Joe “Mama” Wirt, two local musicians who have also been rocking the area for years.
“It’s really awesome to be a part of this,” said Wirt, who, along with Anthony’s wife, suggested the group continue playing under the original name. “It’s a great experience to be a part of a band like this that has so much history in the area. It’s also an honor to be a part of a band with ties with Michael White. It’s a great tribute to a lost friend. That’s the most important part for me.”
Michael Tracey White, a former drummer for the Chest Pains who was well known for his rockabilly and swing music and an endless array of rock covers, passed away suddenly in 2006. He was a close friend of Button and Wirt.
“He’s what really brought this all together,” Wirt noted. “I was too young to go see the Chest Pains at the clubs when they first came out. I knew of them, but since playing [with Anthony and Davis], I’ve learned a lot about who they were when they got started.”
Back in the early 1980’s, Anthony and Davis found inspiration through a young vocalist and guitar player, Rory O. Hession, who introduced the group to the New Wave sound.
“Rory really blew us away,” said Anthony, “and he had that younger element. He was telling us about bands like U2 and Depeche Mode before they were popular here. We took the sound from there. It was underground stuff at the time that was just emerging. A lot of it was synthesized, but we found ways to play it on guitar.”
“Billy Idol wasn’t even on the radio at the time,” recalled Davis, “but Rory and his friends were listening to it and got us playing it. Then we put our own signature on the songs and learned to play them our way. We didn’t want our songs to sound like a cheaper version, so we added new things. Necessity is the mother of invention, and we were bringing something new. We just happened to be getting all the new, great songs at the right time.”
Phil Scudieri, who had played with Davis in the past, helped the Chest Pains bring their rhythm to the area.
“We had a good, new sound,” said Anthony, “and we always liked to be looking forward. We appreciate the classic rock, and we listen to what’s new, but we’re all about adapting it into something different. We wanted to bring the New Wave era. Everyone forgot about it, even the radio. When I’d hear the Dead or Alive song, ‘You Spin Me Round,’ I would think, if The Cult did this, how would they play it?’ That’s what makes us unique."
As years went on, the band saw members come and go, as many bands do, and they were later joined by Michael “Bam Bam” White.
“Michael was another young guy,” said Anthony, “and he really brought the energy. He was all about the hair and the wardrobe, but, really, he was about doing it right and playing great music. He gave us that jolt of energy and lived that dream. The seed [to bringing back the Chest Pains] was planted at his funeral. We looked back, and it was all like a blur. Even my kids didn’t know what their father was a part of. They just knew that dad used to play in some band.”
Anthony’s wife, along with friends of the bandmates, agreed that the Chest Pains should make a return.
In recent years, Button’s and Wirt’s popularity picked up, and Davis often joined the two, along with other local musicians, for shows. Added to the mutual friendship with White, bringing them along was not a difficult decision.
“We’ve been like the local hired guns,” said Davis. “Chris, Joe and I have played around here, and it’s great to have them as a part of what we started with the Chest Paints. It’s really exciting for me, being reunited with Byron. We all bring a lot of experience to the table, and I’d like to think we’re a much more redefined band that we were before.
“You can have a certain enthusiasm with youth,” he continued, “but the experience isn’t always necessarily there. Chris and Joe help to give Byron the confidence when he’s up there. The music won’t fall when we’re playing. We have a strong chemistry together, and we’re all perfectionists. It helps keep us all on the same page.”
Wirt, like the others, still balances time with several bands in the area, but he likes the New Wave sound that the Chest Pains allow him to supply.
“Most of the music we play was recorded 25 to 30 years ago,” he said. “It’s something that hasn’t been featured in the music scene around here. The Chest Pains were a big part of that in their heyday, and bringing it back has been a lot of fun. For me, being a drummer, it feels like a drummer’s band. It’s very simple for me. Music’s been my life for so long, and the music of the Chest Pains is more of my passion.”
“I’m not a solo guy,” said Anthony. “I’m a band guy. I like a unit, and we’re up there, it’s like a machine making music and synching. Your endorphins start shooting. There’s a primal aspect, but we come together and sound great together. These are you guys, your team. It all fits.”
While the New Wave and retro ’80s hits line their sets now, the Chest Pains will be producing originals later this winter. For now, they are hitting stages throughout the area, bringing back the sound that everyone has grew to love but few have been able to capture.
“It’s amazing to see these people coming to the shows,” noted Wirt. “Byron and Jeff have archives from earlier clubs, and I’m still soaking it all in. I’m relearning the history of the band, and fans are coming out of the woodwork. It’s been great to see people who knew the Chest Pains when they started and see new faces come out each time. And people get to see Chris and I playing in a new way, too.”
“We’re out there meeting the children and families of our original fans,” said Davis. “It’s terrific to see old friends again and run into people we met years ago. It feels fantastic to be out there again.”