Sweet Rides and the Rockers Who Love Them

In the month when we celebrate Valentine’s Day, learn about a different kind of love affair — the type that exists between local musicians (and one local superstar) and their sweet rides

Tim McCoy (driving), Jon McCormack (front), Sean LaRose (back passenger's side) and Kelly Bower (back driver's side) in McCoy's
1966 Ford Galaxie 500 convertable.

Love is in the air and so too are large plumes of smoke as Sean LaRose performs a classically impressive burn-out in his beloved 1972 Buick GS 455, all while wearing the satisfied smile of a child who just successfully stole a cookie.

Burn-outs are a feat achieved when a manual-transmission, high-horsepower vehicle has its gas and brake pedals engaged simultaneously, resulting in spun tires, vaporized rubber and an immeasurable cool factor.

Such a maneuver harkens back to the good ol’ days of drag races and doo-wop music, but it’s also timeless joy for a certain kind of car owner. “I think I just turned that thing up to 11,” jokes LaRose. He’s a musician and owner of Paintworks Unlimited, an automobile restoration business located within Dover’s Hot Rod City, which also includes a diner, music store and two motorcycle shops. LaRose recalls one of his most theatrical burn-outs ever, which unintentionally set fire alarms off in a nearby building, “I held that one even longer, and when I looked down at the speedo, the speedo said 110 mph and I was sitting still.”

His memory is met with raucous laughter from fellow musician and automobile enthusiast friends standing nearby. One of them is Jon McCormack from Somersworth. The two met some 20 years ago and their friendship bloomed. “Jon got me more into music,” says LaRose. “He didn’t know a lot about cars in the beginning and I didn’t know a whole lot about music. We started working on his cars and I joined his band.” It was a friendship Jon describes as a “double mentorship.” And there was a special chemistry at work. Since then, their shared love of vintage cars and dedication to making music has fostered and supported a small, but avid fan base for vintage vehicle restoration and ownership within the Seacoast music community.

Sean LaRose: 1972 Buick GS 455 (white) Favorite Band Names: Museum of Science, Starch, Swamp Yankee Favorite Car Songs: Too many to list Instruments: Didgeridoo, Hammond organ, Fender bass.

Musicians, their instruments and cars form a love triangle that endures and resonates through the modern age, but why?  What is it that so emotionally connects the rumble of a gasoline-powered engine with the pulsing beat of rock ‘n’ roll?

 “Cars and rock ‘n’ roll go back all the way to the ’50s. There are absolute parallels between them,” says musician Tim McCoy of Dover. His own love affair with cars goes back to childhood when he helped out at his parents’ car repair shop in Exeter. “A lot of those original tours, like Buddy Holly and Johnny Cash, caravanned in vehicles like this on the open road,” invoking the days before fuel efficiency and emissions were topics of concern. Those “road boats” offered enough space front and back for passengers to pile in with their instruments and still have leg room.

Kelly Bower: 1970 Buick Skylark Convertible (canary yellow) Favorite Band Names: The Demon Drums & Hammond Organ Favorite Car Song: “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” by The Allmans Instruments: Hammond organ, Ludwig, drums, bass, guitar

Kelly Bower of Madbury is an IBM executive by day and family man rocker by night — the quintessential Clark Kent/Superman of the music scene. He points out another parallel: “Rock by nature is disruptive. The burn-out is a great example of that. You don’t see people burning out their BMW 535s. No rules.” They all nod in agreement. Like a cherry 1965 Stratocaster with cool lines and a gleaming finish that’s made to be thrashed when the beat gets fast, a musician’s car is something to be really used and heard, not just seen. A little wear and tear only enhances the beauty.

The allure of a vintage car just jibes with the rocker ethos. Bower pipes up, “They’re dangerous. They don’t have all the controls and safety measures that today’s cars have. That danger element I think is awesome.” It’s that awesomeness that a musician feeds upon to free their inner spirit and nourish the soul.

McCormack agrees. A sweet ride is like an extension of the concert performance. “Musicians love attention, so we love to be on stage. We love to have these cool old cars, people looking at them, giving you the thumbs-up and driving down the road feeling like a bad-ass, just like you do on stage.”

The “absolute parallels” that McCoy mentioned keep coming. Just like rebuilding a car from the ground up is a labor of love, so too is writing a song and putting on the finishing touches — both contain a large amount of emotion and work. McCoy explains, “There is an effort to them. Spirit. Passion.”

Jon McCormack: 1967 Ford Mustang GT Fastback (white with black stripes), 1962 Pontiac Grand Prix (black) Favorite Band Names: Order of Thieves, Camarojuana, Shango, Starch, Fly Spinach Fly Favorite Car Songs: Anything by Tom Waits Instruments: Gibson Les Paul Deluxe, vocals

It’s about relationships, says McCormack. “There are a lot of moving parts in both scenarios — different people, personalities, instruments, all meshing together, and the same thing with a car, you have all of these different parts that have to work together to get it to go forward in a straight line,” says McCormack. And like any relationship — or love affair — things don’t always go according to plan. “Sometimes music and old cars are like a good old friend who occasionally lets you down. You love them, you’re never going to stop being friends, but once in a while the car strands you or you have a terrible gig, kind of the same feeling. Most of the time things are awesome but once in a while something goes wrong, you can’t fix it and it’s frustrating.”

But true love endures such frustrations. “It’s a work in progress,” Bower explains.  “You put a lot of time, blood, sweat, tears and money into your car like you do with an album. You get it just the way you want and you start looking for the next one.”

Each member of this crew has a story that comes with their vehicle as well as a mixed bag of emotion. “That was the family car of my parents and when I was born that was the car I came home from the hospital in,” LaRose says. Some cars are a connection to a lost loved one, some the bridge between one time in their lives and another.  McCoy’s cars were all projects he and his father worked on together, Bower’s car was purchased by his wife’s father the day he met her mother. It is the same with their instruments. “I remember every dent and scratch,” says McCormack of his 1974 Gibson Les Paul deluxe. “I broke the head stock off three times.”  Pointing to a missing chunk by the tuning pegs, he says, “This right here was the rock wall at Portsmouth Brewery during a Fly Spinach Fly show.”

Walking the lot, listening to these men regale each other with tales of instruments, cars, gigs and occasional shenanigans — it is obvious just how enmeshed these elements are in their lives. These instruments and cars have been with them through the years. They represent the whole trip: the road, the destinations and the milestones along the way. They are not just objects; they are memories made of wood, metal and glass. Like musical instruments, cars have voices recognizable to the owner even with eyes closed. The rumble of an engine and the strum of strings are both music to their ears.

Tim McCoy: 1966 Ford Galaxie 500 convertible Favorite Band Names: Watts, Tim McCoy and the Papercuts, Heavens to Murgatroid, Weed Inc., Lemon Fresh Kids, Jon Nolan and Hokum, The Monster Makers, Super Black Market Clash City Rockers, Starch Favorite Car Songs: “Rudi Can’t Fail” by The Clash, “Thunder Road” by Springsteen, “Let There Be Rock” by AC/DC Instruments: 1962 Fender P bass, vocals

Just looking at this group of 40-something guys standing in a parking lot, you might not suspect their affinity for fast cars and loud tunes — until you look a little closer. Sure, Tim McCoy stands out in his bright red Chucks, red tie, three-piece suit and chapeau, but each has a little something that tips you off to the forever rebellious teenager inside; Jon’s mischievous glint, Sean’s post burn-out smirk and Kelly’s full left arm tattoo sleeve. Each wears a touch of subversion that might seem out of place in a corporate boardroom, but reminds them of what is truly important in life to them all: family, art, freedom.

Their affection for the rumbling icons of youth and rebellion may suggest this gang never really grew up, but a few minutes spent talking with them about their cars enlivens the spirit better than an hour with motivational speaker at a business conference. Their passion and love is infectious and it infuses and informs the rest of their lives, personally and professionally. For them life is not about the 9-5, it’s about the 24-7.

Asking them for any last words of insight or wisdom for seekers on the outside looking in, Bower emphatically states, “Drive fast. Take chances. Rock and roll.” 

That’s a tidy summation. Shout it over the roar of some smoking tires, add three chords and you’ve got a song. 

Drive This Way

Car Crushes from NH’s Number One Rocker

By Rick Mastin

One cannot deny that rock ‘n’ roll and cars (and motorcycles) go together. There are whole books on the subject, record albums with exotic cars and bikes on them: the Beach Boys and hot rods, Elvis and Cadillacs, Eric Clapton’s Ferraris. Think about all the MTV footage through the late ’80s into the ’90s. ZZ TOP made a several videos with cars as the supporting character, and Van Halen, Aerosmith and Mötley Crüe all threw in a sweet car or a fast bike because it was part of their everyday life.

Speaking of everyday life, my buddy is lamenting the fact that he has to split back to work the following day. We’re sitting next to the lake, sun is starting to go down. It’s cooling off and the boat traffic is slowing down. We finally have a chance to kick back and shoot the breeze. As usual, I turn the chat to V8s and plans for my hot rod this winter. I also tell him we could do a few things to his ’31 Ford Phaeton that would make it look a little cooler. He is not impressed by my suggestion. Oh, well. Jeez, let me back up. I am sitting with my longtime friend Steven Tyler; you know, Aerosmith guy, country singer and heck, yeah, car guy. Steven has the topic covered from 100 horse motorcycles to 1100 horse sports cars, each individually picked — some for their character, others for their raw power. I needed a column, so I started asking questions.

Rocker Steven Tyler and an old friend that now rolls the roads in Hawaii. Photo courtesy of Steven Tyler.

Pre-Aerosmith — your mom drove you and your band mates all over the place to gigs. What car did she drive you and the rest of Chain Reaction to the studio in to record “When I Needed You”? It was a Nash/Rambler Wagon. Not sure of the year, early ’60s maybe, because that was 1966. Got us and all our gear in there, God bless her.

What was the first ride? A Black VW Beetle. My cousin Augie rebuilt the motor for me in his basement. Great car lots of memories.

OK, Aerosmith starts making real money. What’s your first “I’ve made it in the music business” car? A 1974 Porsche 911s, the same as Aerosmith’s Joey Kramer (another motorhead) had just purchased.

What’s an early car memory from the early Sunapee days? Cruising with Pam in her Corvair. We were headed to the “DOG HOUSE” in Bradford on Rte. 114 and she spun it out. Just shook us up, we still got the hot dogs.

I know you have a few nice rides — both cars and motorcycles. What stands out as the favorites? Well, [without hesitation] the Porsche 911 Turbo convertible, and then the Mercedes Benz AMG 55 (a RENNtech Tweaked 725 HP), the Hennesy Venom. The Venom is just a sick 1200 horsepower monster [said with a wide Steven Tyler grin]. My ’31 Ford Phaeton just for the joy of driving and smiling. My ’54 jeep CJ [his Uncle Ernie’s jeep that has been in the family since new]. For bikes, my Indian Larry built HD shovelhead motored trike, which gets the most miles. My 110 inch Harley Davidson Fatboy [given to him by Willy G. Davidson, former senior VP of the Harley Davidson Co.].

Tell me about Uncle Ernie’s Jeep. It was the workhorse at Trow Rico. I remember learning to drive the jeep with my sister and Ernie, up Trow Hill Road and going down North Road to Hank Carley’s garage on lower Main Street. You remember, Hank was the guy who could fix anything. [Carley’s garage was the place for all your repairs. Hank, for years, fixed neighborhood kids’ bicycles, their dads’ lawnmowers and pickup trucks.]

What is your next or dream car? A Tesla or Porsche’s hybrid based on the 918 Spyder.


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