A Dog’s Life

December 21, 2017
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From left, Errol, Gary, Dan, Marc and Ryan of The West End Dogs. Photos courtesy of Chris Spiewak.

By Chris Spiewak |

Although most musicians begin their career when they are young, it’s never too late to get started.

Perhaps when the children are older and a little free time becomes available, one might find oneself investigating karaoke one night. After hearing “Hey, not bad,” from a few friends, one might then attend an open mic night, just to test the waters of live music. And sometimes, after all of this exploration, certain adults might finally realize that they do have the right stuff, and an artist is born. West End resident Gary Smolokoff is one of those “late-bloomers” and currently fronts one of the area’s most popular bands, The West End Dogs.

While certainly not “old,” especially by today’s standards, Smolokoff did not get his start until age 45, when a local theater group needed an actor for one of their productions. He said “Why not?,” and not only did he discover a talent for acting, but the performance bug bit him as well. He decided to swing by the old open mic night at The Downtown in Red Bank in 2011, and try his hand at singing. This, too, was successful, and after experiencing the bustling local music scene for a couple of years, Smolokoff decided that he would like to present his talents to the masses.

In 2014, Smolokoff teamed up with guitarist Rob Petrane and vocalist Terry Porcelli to start a band named Taste This. Unfortunately, Petrane’s sudden health concerns, and then dissention within the band, led to the dissolution of the group in 2015. Smolokoff decided to start something new and on his own, but he did not want it to be just another group. The focus here was to create a band where everyone was treated equally, fairly and like family.

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Friend and longtime drummer Dan Cudney of Long Branch was approached by Smolokoff to discuss this new project to be known as The West End Dogs. Listening to Smolokoff’s persuasive sales pitch, Cudney agreed to dedicate himself to the group, and the foundation was laid. Two additional members were added: Ryan Chiarella on guitar and vocals, and Marc Wasserman on bass. Chiarella was an interesting choice, in that he is one of the premier “young guns” in the area and the other members were in their mid to late 40s. Chiarella, of West Long Branch, was a great choice for this classic rock-inspired group; his guitar work is reminiscent of Eddie Van Halen and Ritchie Blackmore. Now residing in Marlboro, Wasserman is a seasoned veteran. Spending many nights onstage in the Brooklyn underground scene back in the day, he kept a tight groove for everything from punk rock to classic rock and everything in between. He also adds backing vocals during their gigs, and produces a tight rhythm section with Cudney. The nucleus of the Dogs was now set, but there was one part of the puzzle that was missing.

A multidimensional player is always a great complement to a group, and after auditioning several musicians, young Errol Beutell of Sayreville was added to the mix. Although only in his early 20s, Beutell is well-versed on several instruments and switches up between guitar and keyboards for the Dogs. He has done studio work for other bands as well, and is not afraid of sitting behind a drum kit or picking up a bass guitar if the need arises.

The West End Dogs, with special guest Sondra H, perform at The Claddagh in Highlands.

Now that the members of the family were in place, and rehearsals now occurring, Smolokoff set out to market the band. Marketing and selling is what he does best, and his personable and affable personality makes him one of the most admired local musicians at the Shore. Each member of the group pulls their own weight, and having everybody on the same page has certainly contributed to their quick success. The West End Dogs have only been together for roughly 18 months now, but this talented and likeable band performs classic rock tunes at clubs nearly every weekend. Respected venues like Donovan’s Reef in Sea Bright, the Colts Neck Inn and The Chubby Pickle in Highlands showcase them regularly, and they can be seen at special events like the Freehold Concert Series and the Sea Bright Fireman’s Fair.

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For upcoming shows, check their website westenddogs.com or Facebook page. Catch a show soon, and find out why it’s pretty cool living a “Dog’s” life these days.

Chris Spiewak is currently the bassist for Rock/Blues cover band VyntEdge.

This article was first published in the Dec. 7-14, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.

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