A Little History

It occurred to me tonight that some folks might get here directly and not through the “Sweet Cider” website. That might also mean you haven’t any clue as to who we were or what this site is about so I’ll try and provide a little history.

Sweet Cider had it’s beginnings in a chance meeting at a bar in Charleston, New York in 1976. My friend Chris Schultz asked me if I wanted to go see a band (Shagbark Hickory, which included Bob Altschuler, Tom Yoder, Tom Lamberton and Dave Fein) at a local tavern and he’d introduce me to a banjo player he’d recently met. The banjo player was Tom Yanis. (Chris described him as a bit of a greaser.) We hit it off right away and began to get together on a regular basis to jam.  Since I played guitar and Chris and Tom played banjo it was an interesting combination. I suggested we ask my brother Joe also a guitar player to come and play and he agreed.

So we learned some songs called ourselves Schoharie Turnpike and started playing music. Chris decided to move on in the fall, and Tom suggested we see if his cousin Walt Yanis a bass player and singer would like to join us. Walt, who had never played bluegrass, came on board and Sweet Cider was born.

We played our first show on December 31, 1977, at the Quaker Inn in Duanesburg New York, and for the next 33 years we played what we liked to call “Bluegrass Flavored Acoustic Music” throughout Northeastern New York State. We all lived in or around Rotterdam, New York and were always part of each others lives as well as being band-mates.

The last performance of Sweet Cider (Tom Yanis, Bill Kilcullen, Walt Yanis and Joe Kilcullen) was on November 4, 2008 at Proctors Theater (The Muddy Cup for GE Appreciation Day). Two weeks later Tom suffered a serious stroke. He has been recovering since, and is still unable to play.

Walt, Joe and I played a few shows in 2009, and in 2010 Sweet Cider played their last show ever on June 24, 2010 in Unadilla, New York.  In July Walt was diagnosed with cancer, and he lost that battle on December 23, 2010.

We always joked, when talking about how long we’d been together, about starting a Sweet Cider Museum and that’s what this website/blog/archive is. I’ve collected hours of audio and video recordings and this where I’ll be putting them.

(This is an article I wrote for the NECMA NewsNotes shortly after our 30th Anniversary)

Sweet Cider

30 Years

By Bill Kilcullen

Bukka Bob posed the question. “Hey! What if I put a party together at the Quaker Inn to celebrate your 30th Anniversary, would you guys be up for it?” Bob’s been a fan for years, and having a party to celebrate 30 years of playing “Sweet Cider Music” together sounds pretty good, so….
Fall 1977:

Tom, Joe and I are contemplating what to do next. Our band, Schoharie Turnpike, is no more. After a few gigs the other banjo player (yeah, two banjo’s) decided he didn’t want to play in the band anymore, so we were in limbo. Tom says “Hey my cousin plays bass. I haven’t seen him for awhile, but why don’t I call him and see if he’d be interested.” Joe, “What’s his name?” Tom, “Walt Yanis.” Joe, “Wow I’ve heard of him, he’s great bass player.” And the journey began. We played our first show on December 31, 1977 at the Quaker Inn, and the next few months were a blur. TheOutofTownerWoodstoneInnClubhouseLoungeBuckshotInnMayfieldGloversvilleRoyalMountainBluegrassFestival….

“So who should we invite to this party?” “Hey, how about the Nayd!”

Glenn Naydan:

In August 1978, Russ Gleaves asked us to play at a festival in Northville that he had organized. While we were waiting to go on stage, a young guy with a mandolin asked us if he could sit in. We said sure, and the “Nayd” era of Sweet Cider began. One of the best mandolin players we had ever met, Glenn played with us for about a year and a half, and he helped us grow as musicians and as a band. He graduated from college and moved to California and played in the Sacramento Symphony. When we finally contacted Glenn, who we hadn’t seen in over 25 years, he was ecstatic and flew in from California to make it to the party.

The ’80’s:

When Glenn moved on we were at another crossroads. We had been playing a lot of songs that relied heavily on the instruments, but without the mandolin, we decided to focus on our vocal harmonies and tight arrangements. We spent the next few years playing a lot and getting crazier by the minute. Although we were a 4 piece we would always welcome other players onstage to help us out. (Chuck Morehouse, Norbert Hebert and Beth Larrabee to name just a few.)

Then in 1984 I moved to Georgia, and Sweet Cider (with the exception of a show in the winter of 1985) lay dormant.

Bukka Bob asked one night, “Are the Yo Brothers gonna be at the party?” Well you know we couldn’t say yes, ‘cause we didn’t know if they were still in jail or even alive.

The Yo Brothers:

In 1994, our friend Lisa Carmen invited us to play at a Coffee House (Calamity Jane’s) she was running in Chatham. She was wondering though, if in addition to playing we could do something a little different too. We had no idea what she meant, so we asked these guys we knew, the Yo Brothers, to come and play. What a mistake. We couldn’t get rid of them for years. Folks seemed to like them though, so we let them hang on with us.

The ‘90’s saw us playing “Bluegrass Flavored Acoustic Music” out quite a bit, and expanding the song list to include our original songs. Somewhere along the line we recorded a CD, Bassboats and Banjos, with Chuck Morehouse, Chan Goodnow, Kathy Anderson, Dave Fein and Frank Orsini helping us out.

We also were fortunate enough to receive some awards from the NorthEast Country Music Association, but mostly we just continued what we enjoyed doing best, playing music together.

Turn of the Century Cider and Television too:

It seems the longer you do something you like the better it gets. At least that’s the way it was for us as we moved through the new century. We continued to meet and play for the nicest folks you’d ever want to meet. The members of the NorthEast CMA honored us with more awards which resulted in our being inducted into the NorthEast CMA Hall of Fame in 2005.

We made our first TV appearance in March of 2000 on Time Warner’s Sounding Board Series. It was a great experience, and they even included one of the songs we did (Walt’s “One in a Lifetime”) on their Sounding Board Vol. 1 CD. In 2005, we appeared in WRGB’s “Melodies of Christmas” show at Proctors.

Oh yeah! So on Oct. 13 we did have a 30th Anniversary party. People came from as far away as California, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. We laughed and played and had a terrific time. Glenn Naydan, Jim Senese and Tom Benson sat in with us and the Yo Brothers even made an appearance. Thanks to Barb for the cake. Thanks to Sue Kaupelis for nice words in the last issue of NewsNotes. A special thanks to Roy Petchal (aka Bukka Bob) for putting it all together. And finally the biggest thanks of all to all our friends who’ve made us feel special for the last 30 years.