Photos by Sean Smith and courtesy Joel Rosenblatt
Like many of us, Joel Rosenblatt got the car thing from his dad.
Dad was mechanically inclined and he liked weird cars. Today, that’s way cool—but back then Joel just wanted to fit in. He wanted to be dropped off at school in a Chevy or a Ford, but his dad was rocking a Citroen DS19, then a DS21. There was Peugeot 404 and even (gasp) a Borgward Isabella. Luckily there were a couple of 356s, so Joel could hold his head up at the drop off point.
Music came from his pianist mother, as there was always music in his home. Joel started on the trumpet in the third grade, but when his dad took him to a Buddy Rich concert when he was thirteen all things changed. Joel left the concert not talking about the amazing trumpet players and their stellar solos, but the wild man on the drums.
He was hooked—he wanted to be a drummer. He needed a kit of his own.
At the same time, Joel’s pride and joy was a 2 1/2 HP Briggs and Stratton Go Kart. His parents were sure he was going to kill himself with it.
Joel came to a fork in the road. His parents were looking for reasons to stop Joel’s suicide missions (he was building jumps for the kart!) They made him an offer: ditch the kart and get the bang, crash, boom.
A need for speed or a need for rhythm. The paradiddles won out.
The drums were something fun to do. Was he serious about it? Not yet. But his high school music teacher saw a spark of talent in Joel and cultivated it. He spent two and a half years at the University of Bridgeport as a Jazz Studies major, but the real world was calling. Any musician will tell you if you want to be a player, a diploma is useless. You can have all the paper in the world, but if you don’t have a great pocket, you won’t get the gig regardless.
So Joel played out. He wanted to focus on jazz, but he also had to eat! He started with a wedding band and was making good money in the late 70s. He met people, he networked: from there he had his first break, touring and playing the blues with Matt “Guitar” Murphy. More connections, and recommendations took him to Pure Prairie League. With them, he learned to have fun with his playing. He’d always been working hard and practicing hard, but the Leaguers were more about let’s just have a good time! Which was a good lesson to learn.
Joel was still living in New York, playing and practicing. He arrived at another fork in the road and started playing a more Latin/jazz groove, playing with Michel Camilo, Paquito D’Rivera and Eliane Elias. That all led to a long run with Spyro Gyra. Yet another fork arrived in 1995, when Joel divorced.
Years before, Joel had gotten his wife a 1990 300ZX as her commuter car. When they split she didn’t want the car, so it became Joel’s “fun” ride. But he never bonded with it; to him it had no soul.
Joel had a motley collection of cars through the years. His first was a ‘71 Chevy Nova that he bought for $100. He drove it for 3 years, crashed, it and sold it for $400. He never changed the oil in that one, only filters. It leaked so much he just kept adding lubricant.
To carry the drums, he went through a ‘73 Plymouth Fury, a ‘71 Datsun 510 wagon, an ‘84 Toyota pick-up, a 1997 4Runner, and a 2001Audi All-road, because it was BADASS—but also, a money pit. As the gigs got better, the equipment vehicles got slicker, a Bimmer wagon, now a MB.
By the end of 2000 it was time for something with soul, with style, with groove. Something that spoke to his artistic sensibilities.
Joel picked up a 1982 SC Targa with 129,000 miles through a five-year-old company called eBay!
The car was in Tampa. Joel asked a friend from Florida to make sure the car really existed.
He didn’t do a PPI—he just had his buddy take the car for a drive. There was some grinding in first gear and it was sitting on four mismatched tires, but it ran strong.
Joel grabbed a one-way ticket to the Sunshine State and drove that sucker home!
He had a pick-up for his gear and a Porsche for his soul.
As the budget allowed he did all those things that you are NOT supposed to do to a Porsche.
He made. Oh…. No!
He got some 9-inch Fuchs from a Turbo and put them on the rears, he took the 7s that were there and put them up front. He lowered that mother and gave it some SSI headers and a B&B exhaust to give it that funky sound. He did Turbo tie rods and valve covers, a Carrera oil cooler, a short shift, MoMo wheel, strut brace, backdated gauges, a Carrera valance, and H4s to illuminate the on-coming world.
By the end of 2003 Joel had split with his girlfriend and had been with Spyro Gyra for 13 years, making a record a year. The year 2004 was time for a life change, another fork in the road. The band would take one road, Joel would take another. But he wasn’t going to leave them hanging; he would honor the gigs he was scheduled to play. But now the band was working on a new album that Joel had no part of, so he had a bunch of free time. The band was recording and then flying out to do shows. Joel can’t remember if it was his idea, or if a friend jokingly said “Why don’t you drive to your gigs!”
It was the start of Something Big.
End of Part I