From Hard Rock to Rock of Ages: Former Hit Parader Writer, Father Charley Crespo
By Steven Ward (February 2002)
Back in the ’70s and ’80s, Charley Crespo frequented the rock clubs of New York and New Jersey gathering info for his fan-obsessed dispatches for metal rag Hit Parader, as well as some other papers in the New York/New Jersey area.
Today, Crespo’s “flock” is as far away from the world of hard rock and heavy metal as one could get. The man once known as “Everynight” Charley Crespo is now a Roman Catholic priest.
This recent e-mail interview tells the strange and wonderful story of how Charley Crespo stopped following Ted Nugent and Aerosmith and wound up hearing confession from his parishioners in the Virgin Islands.
Steven Ward: Why were you known as “Everynight?”
Father Charley: For a while, I had a weekly column in a local New Jersey newspaper called the Aquarian. I used to go out to clubs and concerts and press parties and everything else every single night, usually to three or four events each night. At the end of the week, I put together all the news and views I gathered into a weekly column. The editor and his wife jokingly used to call me ‘Everynight Charley’ because I went out into the rock world every night, so when the editor gave me the column, he named it “Everynight Charley.” The name stuck for a long time because I really lived up to it–for about 15 years. I was everywhere and never missed anything. I shunned elitist status and V.I.P. privileges, so I was very approachable, and became among the most well known rock journalists in the local rock scene because I was so approachable.
Steven Ward: I fondly remember your stuff in Hit Parader–one of the great rock mags of the ’70s/’80s. How did you first get hooked up with Hit Parader, and what years did you work there or write for them? Any other publications?
Father Charley: Thanks for the compliment. It is hard to believe anyone remembers any of that stuff. SO much has happened since then.
I began going to rock concerts regularly in the late 1960s. I loved going to see Jefferson Airplane, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix. I made good friends with someone who taught me how it was possible to get into concerts for free, as door policies were lax, among other factors. No longer limited to my discretionary funds, it became possible for me to go to many, many concerts, so I practically lived at rock palaces like the Fillmore East in New York, and would see every music act that came through New York. Since the Fillmore and some of the other rock halls would have two concerts on Friday nights and two on Saturday nights, I would frequently see the same concert up to four times.
I began to meet others who frequented the concerts. Many were rock journalists, and they often suggested that I begin writing for rock publications, since I was so close to the inside and was getting so much good information. I resisted at first, but by the early 1970s, it was not so easy to get into concerts for free anymore. One day in 1976, at the encouragement of a writer named Charlie Frick, I wrote a review of every concert I had seen that week, about a dozen, and sent them to a local newspaper called theAquarian. I knew I was a pretty good writer, but I did not know what the editor would be looking for, because I did not even call him up. My submissions were unsolicited. The following week, I saw that the Aquarian published eight of my articles. This told me I was at the start of a new phase of concert madness.
Because I was at every music event in New York, I became a popular journalist quickly, and soon began writing for other publications besides the Aquarian. I never looked for the highest bidding publication or for fame, all I wanted was free access to multiple concerts every night. At that time, there was so much music going on in the concert halls and in the clubs!
One of the many publications that sought my work was a short-lived magazine called Grooves. When that magazine folded, the publisher, John Shelton Ivany, was offered Hit Parader, and he took me on to be his right hand man. That was about 1980. Together we redesigned the whole magazine. Very soon, heavy metal became really popular, and Shelton hired and trained Andy Secher to be its editor, since he loved heavy metal so much.
Steven Ward: Do you have fond memories of any particular Hit Parader interviews you did and working with the Hit Parader staff?
Father Charley: While most rock stars only wanted to talk about their new album or tour, there were a few people I interviewed over and over again because they knew how to make themselves interesting. Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of Kiss, Ted Nugent, Ozzy Osbourne and Rick James are a few that I really got close to because of how many times I interviewed them. Rick James flew me up and let me stay over in his house in Buffalo many times. I remember Ted Nugent flying me up to Syracuse on my birthday once when he was the celebrity driver in some sort of Big Wheels obstacle race. He had the most beautiful girlfriend in the world at that time, Pele. They were laying in the hotel bed cuddling up and watching the Tony Awards, while Ted and I were talking. He pulled out a small pistol and offered to give it to me. Not only did I not want this gift, how could he think I could get on the plane with a weapon–unregistered at that! I don’t think I ever published that information.
One of my most memorable interviews was catching up with Ozzy Osbourne in New York a few days after Randy Rhoads died in a plane crash. Ozzy’s emotions were so raw. I helped him articulate his feelings into words. I edited and shifted his statements, and we ran the article under his by-line, as if he had written it specifically for Hit Parader. I also caught up with Ozzy a couple of hours after he bit the head off a dove at his record company. I heard about it and ran right over in the hopes of catching him, and I did catch him just as he was leaving the building. I remember he had no clue as to the negative commotion that would come out of that episode.
I remember how down to earth some people were like Dee Snider of Twisted Sister; he had been playing New Jersey bars for years and I had a popular column in a popular Jersey rock newspaper, so we had heard of each other for years before we met. Steve Tyler and Joe Perry treated me really well, I guess because I was one of the few journalists that was still writing plenty about Aerosmith when their career was taking a nose dive due to heavy drug use in the band; maybe also because I had the same last name as their guitarist of around that time.
Overall, I did not hang around rock stars that much. Although I had a passion for the music and the excitement of live events, I generally found that the rock stars themselves were rather shallow. Like I said, all they often cared about was promoting albums and tours, or talking about how they wanted fame or were famous. Fans who went to the concerts were more real and more interesting. Rock fans like you, Steve.
Steven Ward: What year did you leave the world of rock journalism and why did you leave?
Father Charley: By the mid-1980s, I found that in general, music lost its creativity. Very few acts were trying to break new ground. Once in a great while I would discover an unknown band like Metallica or Black Flag playing in a small and empty club, really succeeding at making new sounds, and this would blow my socks off. These moments were getting rarer and rarer. Most of the “hair bands” were really just rehashing one another’s music. The older bands were rehashing their own music as well. Maybe if I had hung around long enough for grunge I may have been refreshed, but by that time I had bailed out.
In 1979, I moved into a very nice and very large loft in Union Square, walking distance to many of the concert halls and clubs. In 1982, I moved to another loft a little further down, closer to CBGBs. The loft was great, but the area was a bit seedier. One night in the mid-1980s, I remember looking out my window on a snowy night wondering if any of the homeless men in the area would be unable to stay warm and dry. Here I was, comfortable in my big digs and some of my neighbors had no shelter. In my search for some meaning, I began attending church services and volunteering on Saturday mornings at a very effective soup kitchen. I defended my work at Hit Parader to myself and others, but inside I knew that I was doing more valuable work as a volunteer than as a journalist. In the end, I knew that I had to begin a process of turning things around, that I would work full-time for the right things and do the writing on the side, regardless of the cut in income. Once I was hired by Partnership for the Homeless as a case worker, I knew my days as a rock journalist were coming to a close. Within a year, I received a significant promotion, making the new wage still less than what I made as a journalist, but enough to live on. I seldom wrote beyond that.
By the early 1990s, I discerned in prayer that God was truly calling me to do more. In 1992, I entered a seminary in the New York area and stayed for four years. After a break, I completed my studies in Florida. I was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in May, 2001, and am presently assigned to a church in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. I have no regrets. I love working for the Lord.
I go to New York a couple of times a year now and always go to a concert or two while I am there. It is still exciting to be there, and to catch up with some of the local musicians and journalists I knew from years ago. I must admit that every once in a while I see that Aerosmith or one of the other groups I knew well are playing somewhere and I wonder if they would remember me if I walked into their dressing room.
Steven Ward: Who were your favorite music writers or rock critics to read when you started out (people who maybe influenced you), and which rock magazines were your favorites during the ’70s and ’80s?
Father Charley: In the early sixties, I enjoyed some of the one-shot fan magazines, especially those that dealt with the English invasion (The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, the Dave Clark Five, etc.), especially since I looked so forward to seeing them on Sunday nights on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” I used to buy Best Songs for about 15 cents and Song Hits for 25 cents; it is hard to believe now, but since I came from a poor family, Hit Parader was out of my league because it was 35 cents. These magazines had a few feature stories on popular groups, but I really bought them for the song lyrics, so I could sing along with the radio. I used to go to the record store every week to pick up a free copy ofGo! I might still have a bunch of those tucked away in my mom’s closet. My first article appeared in Go! Actually it was a letter to the editor. I was in the sixth grade, I think.
Honestly, by the late sixties, I was really, really into concerts, but not into magazines. I would pick up a magazine here and there, but mostly I would read local papers. I did not like Rolling Stone because I felt it never captured the excitement or the immediacy of the culture. I was really living it, so I did not feel a desire to read about it. By the mid-seventies, when I started writing, I tried to capture the excitement of the fan, along with the knowledge that came from living the New York rock scene. Perhaps I failed more often than I succeeded in Hit Parader, I really don’t know. I preferred writing for local papers, where something exciting happened one night and in a matter of days I had it in print.
Steven Ward: Do you still read or care about rock journalism today or does that somehow conflict with your vocation now?
Father Charley: While I never look for or buy rock publications, my friends know how to filter out the stuff I still want to read. I still care about some of the artists I knew. For instance, someone sent me an article last year about the suicide of Wendy O. Williams of the Plasmatics. Now that was a metal band that was all noise and show, but I liked Wendy very much as a person. I do not watch television much, never did, but recently I was changing channels and saw Bebe Buell on the “Howard Stern Show” promoting her book. I liked her very much, but was very disappointed at how she let that jerk manipulate her. It was pretty trashy. Well, the whole concept was trashy; she is trying to capitalize on a very shallow and tragic side of her life. She really is a bright woman and has a lot more to offer than a tell-all of her sexual encounters with rock stars.
Sometimes I realize that there is a part of me that still wants to tune in and read a lot more, that still wants to know what is going on in the rock world, but I do not see that side of me until an article about a rock band finds it way to me. It is hard for me not to read the article then.
Steven Ward: You say you will occasionally visit rock clubs when you visit New York. Is that weird because you are a priest? You know–the atmosphere, the cursing, etc.?
Father Charley: I can never deny my roots and my history. Rock concerts were central to my life for many years. They were great years. I have not yet attended a concert dressed as a priest, so only those who know me know that a priest is present. The music is no longer a rush in the sense that I have not been going to concerts as a devotee of the band, but the environment still charges me up. Isn’t there something extremely exciting when the lights are off and a rock band hits the stage with thunder? Even if the music isn’t appealing, the enthusiasm and the enjoyment of the crowd gets to me. Occasionally I still hear good music as well. The negative elements of the environment are the same as I might hear in a New York subway, so I can deal with that. The only thing that upsets me is when someone uses a microphone to mock God or Christianity in any form, or to promote un-Godly behavior. That hurts me very deeply. We can all have a good time together, can’t we?
Steven Ward: Does your previous life as rock scribe help you or hinder things in any way today as a Roman Catholic priest?
Father Charley: The writing skills I developed would help me no matter what I chose to do in life. Knowing the mechanics of the media publicity machine has been useful in helping me make presentations professional and well-publicized. For instance, I periodically have to promote a church event, and I know how to talk to reporters in order to get better coverage and move the story from page 55 to page 5.
When I attend concerts in New York, many people who find out I am a priest have lots of questions. I understand that it is not every day that one meets a rock and roll priest. I remain very approachable. I am delighted to share in civil conversations with people. Some people are so anti-religion that it is hard to get into a pleasant conversation, however, and that is not so pleasant. I do not go to concerts for debates.
Steven Ward: Do you ever get the urge today to put your thoughts down on paper about this or that band or album?
Father Charley: It is funny that for many years, even when I was a writer, I wrote of my experiences but never spoke about them much, because I did not want to come off as a special person. I felt it was unfair to the person with whom I was speaking. Nowadays, in the circles I run, seldom does anyone know about my past. When I return to New York, people are always asking me to share my stories of the Rolling Stones, John Lennon and other rock icons. Now it is fun to have someone jar my memory, because I am slowly forgetting a lot. Maybe that is why I took the time to consent to this interview. Nevertheless, I am certain that no one could persuade me to take the time to write any of it down. My focus now is on working for the Lord.
Steven Ward: Does any new music that you hear today move you the way it did 20 years ago?
Father Charley: Frankly, I seldom listen to music anymore, unless I happen to be spinning the dial on a car radio. The popular music here is a modern edgy-sounding calypso. Young people go absolutely nuts for groups like the Jam Band. It is a really frenetic sound. One day some white British group with crazy hair will take it and become big stars in America with this kind of music.
What very little I have heard of Godsmack and Creed sounded interesting. I could not understand what Godsmack was singing about, but they sounded like a group on a search. I may be way off on that one. It is interesting that when I do listen to music, I still listen with analytical ears, and sometimes find myself scrutinizing the musicianship and the production.
Steven Ward: If forced to choose, what would be your desert island disc?
Father Charley: Something gospel or silence. At this point, if I could only listen to only one other human voice, there is no way I would want it to be a secular recording.
Steven Ward: Any favorite memories?
Father Charley: I wish I had not forgotten so many.
My favorite non-rock moment was spending an afternoon with Muhammad Ali at his training camp in Pennsylvania when he was trying to make a comeback. He was one of the greatest show men ever.
Concert-wise, it was the ongoing thrill of spotting an unknown band making their debut New York performance and knowing instantly that they would be big. AC/DC playing CBGBs on a Wednesday night, U2 at a small club called Hurrah, Bruce Springsteen opening for Martin Mull at Max’s Kansas City, the Allman Brothers Band opening for Blood, Sweat & Tears at the Fillmore East, Queen opening for Mott the Hoople at the Uris Theater on Broadway, Van Halen opening for Black Sabbath at Madison Square Garden, I just imagined all of them would be huge and they did become huge.
Journalism-wise, I was blessed to be able to get lots of scoops. Joe Perry spoke to me first about leaving Aerosmith; I do not know if he spoke to anyone else for a while. I was the only reporter to report the wild inside track on the Sex Pistols tour of America, even though I did not get close to them myself and had to depend on inside sources. The best thing about being a well-known rock journalist was that once I became known and was expected to be everywhere, no two days were ever the same. These were very exciting years.
Steven Ward: So, what do you see in the future?
Father Charley: The future of rock I cannot see. Especially since September 11, we can see that these are sobering times. Hopefully more acts will be inspired to sing songs that mean something, like Creed does. When I saw parts of some of the recent tributes on television, I noticed virtually all the acts were veterans like the Stones, the Who, Billy Joel and Tom Petty, so it looks like classic rock will continue to have a large audience for a long while, perhaps greater than any one new popular face.
My future is likewise fairly predictable. I will catch a few concerts and read a few rock articles here and there in an attempt to remain somewhat connected, but I am far more excited about how I will be celebrating Mass in a local prison for the first time on Palm Sunday. With God’s help, wherever his priesthood takes me, I will remain forever approachable.