Back in the late 1980s, as their recreational softball careers were winding down, the idea was tossed out that Howie Russell and Johnny Young bring their instruments to one of their season ending softball picnics. Willy White simply had to bring his vocal cords, and unbeknownst to them at the time, the seeds of Center Street Band were sown. While songwriter, lyricist, and faithful friend, Ray Corey spent a brief period on bass, Bob Steller was soon cast in that role. Everyone had links to downtown Shelton, Connecticut and as their first gigs led them to the Café 127 (which they still play every month at 127 Center Street), the Center Street Band name was given. While they were basically a cover band quartet using drum machines and sequencers for the first couple of years, the desire for a more dynamic sound, as well as the need to develop and expand their original material, led to the search for a real drummer. The search did not last long, and when the band first heard George O’Grodnick (the mighty G.O.), they immediately knew that he would provide the perfect driving force for their music. They had the lineup for their first album, “Reason for Living”, which was released in 1993.
Tom Steller replaced Geo on drums for several months until his Geo's return in 1994. When Bob Steller “retired” in 1995, he was replaced by Dana Place, who was with the band when they released their second album in 1996, entitled “Take You for a Ride”. As this album made its impact on the music scene, the schedule for the Center Street Band expanded to include opening gigs for the Marshall Tucker Band, Blue Oyster Cult, Molly Hatchet, and Godstreet Wine. The band has also been fortunate to have musicians like John Cafferty (Beaver Brown) and blues artist Debbie Davies sitting in with them.
The band has gone through many changes over the past decade......
Paul Opalach of Long Hill Recording Studio replaced Dana on bass for a few years and left in 2003. Keith Oko filled the bass spot for a few months before John Hovnanian (Johnny Ho) became the full time bass player later in 2003, doing a long distance stint for the past couple of years. Early in 2010, the band and Johnny mutually agreed to part ways and currently the bass slot is being filled by Tim Murphy, a veteran musician who also plays with the Mojomatics.
Our founder and leader, Howard Russell suffered an illness in 2003 and had to leave the band. Sadly, Howard passed away in March, 2005, and part of the Center Street Band was lost forever. Howard was the heart and soul of the band, and he lives in our hearts during every gig we play.
Paul Gabriel started as a sit in with the band in 1997. Gabe is a professional musician, teacher and player in a variety of acts in the Southern Connecticut and New York area. He has released several solo albums, and also does solo gigs and jazz and blues gigs with smaller ensembles. Gradually, Gabe became a full time member of the band until his career took him in a different direction in early 2005. He was replaced on lead guitar with a an old friend and bandmate, Keith Lebo. Keith had been relatively quiet in the music business for several years, but had continued working on his guitar artistry and was also involved in writing and producing a vast array of original music. Keith spent four creative and game changing years with the Center Street Band. Sadly, Keith fought a brave battle with pancreatic cancer and passed away in August, 2009. Like Howard, Keith's spirit is with us every gig we play. During Keith's illness, Gabe offered to return to the band, and fortunately for the band, has agreed to remain permanently.
While the direction always seems to change, the Center Street Band continues to work its way through personal perils and the peaks and valleys of life to pursue its true mission: playing their brand of rock and roll, playing it from the heart, and sharing their love of that music with their audience.
George “The Mighty G. O.” O'grodnick; drums, percussion; has played with Steam ("Nah nah, Hey hey, Goodbye"), the Angels (“My Boyfriend’s Back”), Scout House, Hilton Valentine of the Animals, guitar legend Link Wray, and Rick Rivets of the New York Dolls / Corpse Grinders. As Geo puts it, "I'm just happy to be here!!"
Willie White; vocals, percussion, founding member and front guy; “The Star”; played with several local bands in the 60s and 70s.
Johnny Young; keyboards, vocals, founding member; has played with Hilton Valentine, Rick Rivets, and several local bands in the 60s and 70s. Currently working on a solo instrumental album.
Paul “Gabe” Gabriel; lead guitar, slide guitar, vocals; has played with Michael Bolotin (pre-Boltin), Debbie Davies, guitar prodigy Holden Truelove (whom he teaches), Blue in the Face, Castle as well as the Paul Gabriel Band; has performed with B. B. King, Delbert McClinton, Robert Cray, Johnny Winter, Roomful of Blues, The Band, Susan Tedeschi, and a host of others…. Released a solo album, “Fate”, in 2001. He currently also plays with the Mojomatics. In addition, he performs as a solo act. Check out his website at www.paulgabriel.net.
Tim Murphy; bass; is the newest member of the Center Street Band. Tim is a music professional, who has played for decades with numerous band, including, most recently, the Mojomatics.
Howie Russell; guitar, keyboards, vocals, founder and leader of the band; played with Steam (“Na Na Hey Hey Goodbye”) and Castle in the 1970s; Solo album “Under the Hat” released in 2000.
Keith Lebo; Guitar, slide guitar, vocals; (known in some circles as "Slick"); started playing clubs when he was 14, which eventually led to playing full time for 8 years. During that time, he shared the stage with many CSB alumni, notably Howie Russell and Gabe (Castle), Dana Place (Ravin), and George O'Grodnick (Sonny Vance and the Ingroup, and Potter's Field). Other groups include Shade and Secret Leader. He has written and recorded original material incorporating his own "flavor" of guitar, and was working on several solo projects at the time of his departure.
John “John Ho” Hovnanian; bass, vocals; played with the Crests (“16 Candles”), several New York City area bands, including Majesty, Toots and the Shades, and Sophisticated Soul.
Bob Steller; Founding member and ex bass player. Fills in occasionally.
Paul Georgia; Occasionally fills in on drums; Currently plays with the Bernadettes, a great Southern CT R&B band.
Ray Corey; Lyricist of many CSB tunes; Occasionally does his Dylan impression for the crowd.
Paul Opalach; Ex bass player; engineered and produced CSB albums; Owner and operator of Long Hill Recording Studio in Shelton.