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NOVO COMBO - 45 West 55th

In the winter of 1979, amidst the bustling streets of New York City, fate orchestrated a meeting that would ignite a musical journey. Bassist and vocalist, Stephen Dees, embarked on a taxi ride to 45 West 55th Street to meet legendary Santana drummer and future Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member Michael Shrieve, to consider forming a band. The two hit it off immediately. After spending the afternoon listening to and discussing their musical ideas, they went to SIR Studios and jammed for several hours. By the end of day, they decided to form a group that would become Novo Combo.​

However, birthing this musical entity was no easy feat. An exhaustive quest ensued, spanning two cities and auditions, in pursuit of the perfect lineup. Dees, residing in Miami, crossed paths with guitarist/vocalist Jack Griffith, adding a crucial piece to the puzzle. Returning to New York City, a myriad of guitarists paraded their talents, yet the missing element eluded them. Just as hope wavered, a promising guitarist surfaced, Pete Hewlett. Beyond his guitar talent, his vocal prowess rendered him an impeccable match for the ensemble. With the addition of Hewlett, Novo Combo was now complete.

In the 1980s, Novo Combo embodied a lively fusion of rock and pop; creating catchy, danceable tunes with punchy guitars and dynamic rhythms that captured the era's essence. Their music was both radio-friendly and artistically spirited, blending memorable hooks with a contemporary edge.

Their self-titled debut album featured hits like “Up Periscope”, “Tattoo”, and “City Bound E Train” holding strong positions on Billboard’s Top Rock Tracks. Noteworthy tracks such as “Sorry for The Delay”, “Axis Will Turn”, “Long Road”, and “Don’t Do That” enriched the album with a diverse musical tapestry.

With their sophomore album, Animation Generation, the video of the same name climbed to #5 on MTV’s Video Countdown. Tracks like “Too Long Gone”, “Welcome Innervision”, and “Slow Fade” continued to spotlight their musical prowess, underscoring their artistic depth and range.

In addition to their notable presence on MTV, Novo Combo also made appearances on Solid Gold and Livewire TV. The band embarked on tours alongside renowned acts like Cheap Trick and Greg Lake, while also earning the prestigious opportunity to open for The Who. Furthermore, they showcased their talent at the esteemed 1981 Montreux Jazz Festival, solidifying their status as a dynamic force in the music scene.

In the song, “Animation Generation”, Stephen sings, “The future is where I want to be, living in the 21st century.” Fast forward 40 years later and that prophecy has come true. Novo Combo returns with 45 West 55th, a new 12-track collection. The album features new, previously unreleased, live tracks, and early demo songs written at Shrieve’s NYC apartment; the very address that inspired the album's title. These demo songs landed Novo Combo a major-label deal with Polydor, which released their self-titled debut Novo Combo in 1981 and Animation Generation in 1982.


The new record, 45 West 55th, to be released later in 2024 features all four original members.

Michael Shrieve, a Seattle resident, was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 for his work with Santana on the band’s first seven albums. In 2016, Rolling Stone named him one of the 100 Greatest Drummers of All Time and noted his stunning solo on “Soul Sacrifice” when Santana performed at Woodstock – a performance featured in the official film of the concert. Shrieve’s recording credits also include the Rolling Stones, George Harrison, Pete Townsend, Steve Winwood, Police guitarist Andy Summers, film composer Mark Isham, John Mclaughlin, Freddie Hubbard, Jaco Pastorius, Bill Frisell, and many others.

Pete Hewlett, a Pennsylvania resident, has recorded and toured with Billy Joel, Carly Simon, Joe Jackson, and Julian Lennon. He performed with Joel in 1987 in the USSR as part of the first live rock concert radio broadcast in Russia. He also performed in the 2008 “Last Play at Shea” concert with guests Paul McCartney, Tony Bennett, Don Henley, Garth Brooks, and Roger Daltrey. 

West Virginia guitarist extraordinaire Jack Griffith first honed his chops early on with local heroes Kristina and later with Skiffle touring extensively through the south. After his stint with Novo Combo, Jack went on to form Revo Bop opening for the Fixx, Eddie Money, and Til Tuesday. This led to a publishing deal with Warner Chappel Music.

Florida native Stephen Dees is a seasoned musician with a career that spans touring and or recording with renowned acts such as Hall and Oates, Todd Rundgren, Ian Hunter, Tony Carey, Pat Travers, Foghat, Victor Wainwright, The WildRoots, Mark Aubin, Dyer Davis, and Noble “Thin Man” Watts. Additionally, he fronts his own rock group, The Bandees. Dees is a prolific songwriter, frequently collaborating with fellow artists. His talent was globally recognized when his composition secured Second Place in the Blues category amidst a staggering pool of over 14,000 submissions from 120 countries in the prestigious 2023 International Songwriting Competition (ISC).

The new project came about following the passing of Dees’ close friend and former bandmate, drummer Eddie Zyne, who performed with Dees in the Hall and Oates band in the 1970s. As Dees was sorting through his vast stash of old tapes looking for recordings that featured his friend, he came across numerous Novo Combo demos.

“I started listening and thought, wow, that sounds great. In fact, maybe this demo version of that song is even better than what made it onto the record”, Dees recalls.

The tapes also included “some really good songs” that didn’t appear on Novo Combo’s debut, Dees says, “It reminded me of what a great band we were. Then, I got the idea that in our own humble way we could do an anthology style release like the Beatles did.”

Dees went through all the tapes and made a huge list of “everything we had in the can”, he says. Novo Combo was always a “very democratic band,” so all four members had input on the songs that made it on to 45 West 55th.

With all four band members now scattered across the U.S., they collaborated on 45 West 55th via “a lot of Dropbox,” Dees says, citing the digital file-sharing service. Work on the collection included both production duties and fresh musical performances to augment the tracks in some instances. Bryan Bassett, a co-founding member of Wild Cherry and current guitarist with Foghat, worked with Dees on mastering the production.

The 45 West 55th project also includes two videos. While foraging through the old tapes, Dees discovered “one of those big, huge videotapes from back in the day”. The label contained the titles of two Novo Combo songs: “City Bound E Train” and the reggae-flavored “Long Road.” Dees had vague recollections of an Italian TV crew filming the band performing those songs during a sound check before a club show.

“Nobody even had the machines to play that video anymore,” Dees says, but he tracked down a guy in Illinois that was able to transfer the footage to modern-day technology. As a result, that Italian TV film features in the two new-old videos. True to its title, “E-Train Revisited” is themed around New York’s subways. “The Long Long Road” is a nostalgic piece that also features photos of each band member through the years, from childhood.

Besides the joy of making Novo Combo’s music new again, the band hopes 45 West 55th will draw attention away from the many unauthorized, pirated, poorly manufactured, and quite illegal Novo Combo CDs available on the internet.

When Dees was asked about his fondest memories with Novo Combo, he didn’t hesitate to cite the band’s earliest days, before their record deal and before MTV. “There were live gigs that were really good, where we were really nailing it”, he says, citing such clubs and venues as the Ritz, the Savoy, Trax, and the Palladium. “We were in New York playing around and auditioning for labels. There was a period for about a year when we were the hot band in New York City and on any given night we’d be playing, Mick Jagger, Pete Townsend, Steve Winwood, Kiss, Aerosmith would be there to see us. We had that time, you know. It was exciting.”

And now, with 45 West 55th, Novo Combo is re-animated and regenerated for the 21st century.


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