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Student Teachers gave Bis.Co.Latte's Antone DeSantis a New York rock education

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While Antone DeSantis readies his annual 1,700-track Christmas song program for in-store play at his and wife Holly DeSantis’s popular Bis.Co.Latte biscotti/coffee shop in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood (10th Ave. and 47th Street, to be exact), he’s bringing back New York rock memories with “Looks,” the fourth of nine tracks on the newly released Invitation to…The Student Teachers 1978-80—The Complete Syllabus.

The compilation, on Nacional Records, ties together for the first time all nine of the recordings by one of the few teenage bands from the late-‘70s New York punk rock CBGBs/Max’s Kansas City club scene.

“Two were their debut 45 [single],” says DeSantis, who road managed them. “The next two--‘Looks’ and ‘What I Can’t Feel’--were part of the Marty Thau Presents 2x5 album that Jimmy Destri from Blondie produced. Track Five is an unreleased cut from that session, and the last four tracks were an EP that I produced entitled Easter 78/Hallloween 80, which was released shortly after the band’s breakup in November, 1980.”

The 2x5 compilation was released on New York rock entrepreneur/producer Marty Thau’s indie punk/new wave label Red Star Records, and also included such notable scenesters as The Fleshtones and The Comateens, each of the five bands getting two cuts. “Looks” was later covered by Soul Coughing’s Mike Doughty and released on his 2000 solo album Skittish.

“That gave it some more attention,” says DeSantis, noting that the tune has “a really great hook that’s catchy and works well in the café.” It’s also representative of a band whose sound “bridged the punk and new wave gap, blending minimalist 'no wave' and edgy garage elements into one entertaining teenage combo,” as DeSantis noted in a piece he recently wrote for the Review Stalker website.

For DeSantis, the Student Teachers’ The Complete Syllabus brings his own music career full circle, much in the manner of a high school graduation.

Growing up in Brooklyn’s Borough Park neighborhood, DeSantis found himself musically in between “hippie dead heads, metal kids and disco dancers” as he built a record collection of “cool oddities” at Outrageous Records, where store clerk Lori Reese informed him of new bootlegs, imports and singles by artists like Roxy Music, Patti Smith, Sparks, Television and Sex Pistols.

DeSantis frequented CB’s and Max’s, and Reese roadied for art-punk band The Erasers before joining, as bassist, the Student Teachers, whose fourth gig, at CB’s in 1978 as opener for Teenage Jesus and The Jerks, was witnessed by DeSantis, who drove her to and from the gig.

“I became their official roadie because a I had a car!” says DeSantis, who was too excited to care that his ’74 Ford Mustang was sideswiped by a taxi that momentous first night. “We’d hang out at CB’s after the gigs, and people needed a ride and I’d drive them home or to the studio or rehearsal space."

Besides Reese, the Student Teachers were vocalist David Scharff and guitarist Philip Shelley, from suburban Westchester, and keyboardist Bill Arning and drummer Laura Davis, of Manhattan.

"I was hanging out and getting paid to hang out!” says DeSantis, who by day worked with his father in a delivery business. “That’s why I had a car: By day I’d go to Long Island to deliver data processing tapes—which is how they transferred data back then—for an insurance company, and then I’d hang out all night. Nobody ever got proofed then, even though the drinking age was 18—and we were underage. That all changed in the ‘80s when the clubs cracked down.”

Not only did DeSantis expand his horizons by meeting people from all over the world who likewise gravitated to Manhattan’s downtown club scene, he decided to seek a career in music.

“I always wanted to be in the music biz but didn't know what my career path would be since I wasn't a musician,” he says.

“I had wanted to be an A&R rep or a band manager and was starting to DJ some as a rock DJ. So in 1980 I went to the New School for a studio engineering course thinking maybe I can be a record producer. It was around that time that the Teachers went into the studio to record their final recordings--the four-song EP that eventually was released as Easter 78/Halloween 80. We didn't have a producer, since we parted ways with Jimmy Destri and almost had Glenn Tilbrook from Squeeze do it as he was interested and friendly with the band. Since we didn't have any big or experienced name to produce the tracks the band decided that I could get a shot since I had been at practically every show the band had performed and knew the material better than anyone. The engineer that worked on all of the other recordings did most of the knob twiddling, but I helped out and gave input on each track.”

DeSantis did other production work prior to and after settling into a music business career in label sales and marketing.

“Most of it was compilation-based,” he says. “I put together a Latin hip-hop compilation for Mute Records in the late ‘80s, and I did some when I was national sales manager at Rhino.”

Meanwhile, the Student Teachers never did get signed to a label, and disbanded in November, 1980. Easter 78/Halloween 80, then, is named for the dates of their first and last gigs; DeSantis stayed on with Shelley, who was also the main songwriter, and managed his next band, The Nightmares, from 1984 to 1986, with similar lack of results. But he soon found his music business calling.

“I worked for indie distribution with labels like Profile and Tommy Boy and hip-hop dance labels, and became a sales and marketing rep rather than working in band management or A&R,” he says. “But I’d learned so much about the business being at the clubs and working with bands so closely. I was really young then, and it was like going to school--and ironic that the band name was the Student Teachers! I was actually getting a music education and developing lessons by hanging out at CB’s and working with bands like the Student Teachers. It shaped my life.”

Indeed, DeSantis would go on to hold label sales and marketing jobs for the next 25 years, until the music business went through its drastic contractions and he and Holly opened Bis.Co.Latte in 2007.

But DeSantis, who had also parlayed his music knowledge into a nice side career as a party DJ, has since brought his music programming expertise to Bis.Co., where his iPad playlists—now including “Looks”--are almost as tasty as his wife’s biscotti.

“The band never had a full-length album release until The Complete Syllabus,” he says, noting that Nacional Records, while mainly a Latin alternative rock label, also released Tom Tom Club’s latest album Downtown Rockers.

“They’re both old CBGB/New York rock scene bands, and Nacional’s first English albums,” says DeSantis. “The guy who runs the label [Tomas Cookman] was lead singer of The Colors, a power pop group that was managed by CB’s owner Hilly Kristal and Blondie’s drummer Clem Burke and played there all the time.”

But Nacional’s Student Teachers and Tom Tom Club releases are manifestations of what DeSantis sees is a resurgent interest with those bands’ heyday.

“There’s a lot of fascination with that time period in New York rock,” he explains. “Once CB’s and Max’s were showcasing new bands, so many bands were coming up and forming and releasing singles and in some cases their own albums. The majors scarfed a lot of them down and some became famous--and many didn’t. But there was probably more new music coming about locally than ever before—like a ‘second wave’ of New York rock in a way—and a lot of people are now interested in the time period, maybe because of the CB’s movie or the punk exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They’re digging deeper to find music that maybe wasn’t as popular, that’s more undergournd and obscure from that period than The Ramones and Talking Heads and Blondie, which at this point are very mainstream.”

Bands like the Student Teachers, then, are “the second wave of that generation.”

“We were kids who were learning about music form those first-generation punk bands,” he says, noting that those of “the next wave and younger generation” that followed themselves fell out in 1980.

"The scene ended then, because everything became really commercial and New York was changing—and the camaraderie wasn’t there anymore. Younger bands were coming up and trying to do it, but it was all over.”

Also, bands from other parts of the country were emerging and getting bigger than those in New York, adds DeSantis.

“At that point, the New York bands fell by the wayside,” he says. “The Student Teachers were a casualty of the scene, once the ‘70s ended and the ‘80s started--and punk became a different sound.”

Or as he wrote for Review Stalker: “The new ‘Me’ Decade had arrived and our teenage years had ended. The second wave of NYC bands was over and post-punk had just begun. It was our graduation day.”

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