Super 400: Lori Friday Reminisces about a Quarter Century with Troy’s Most Iconic Rock Band (Part 1)
The band Super 400 is named after the iconic Gibson guitar played by John Prine and Elvis Presley’s guitarist Scotty Moore. The Trojan trio was given the keys to the city by Troy Mayor Harry Tutunjian in 2006. They have recorded several albums including their 1997 self-titled debut on Island Records whose roster has included such disparate artists as Bob Marley, U2, and Queen.
Their sound is both tough enough and mellifluous enough to almost make you forget that you’ll never hear Led Zeppelin or Cream live again. A quarter century into their existence, the three principles are Troy’s homegrown rock and roll heroes and have an incredible history, both as prime examples of the relevance of our viable regional music heritage but, perhaps more importantly, as a promise of its future even in these dark times of the pandemic.
In an extensive two-hour interview, songwriter, bass player, cancer survivor and mother Lori Friday honored me with a most insightful and intimate look into the odyssey of this lauded band and into the parallel universe of her personal life.
This interview is in two parts: the first concerning the back story of how they became worldwide ambassadors of the Capital Region’s rock royalty, and a second part about Lori’s brave encounter with breast cancer and her joy of being a mother, a businesswoman, and husband to Kenny Hohman, the guitarist and lead singer in Super 400.
“The next time I see you, you’re going to be in Super 400.” That’s what the guy Lori was dating in 1996 told her as she left the house. “No, I’m not. It’s just a jam,” she told him.
“So, I went up to the fourth floor of this apartment house with these guys. And Kenny went dat dat dat dat, and I went dat dat dat, started playing. And that was it. About 45 minutes later, we stopped and didn’t really talk. We went over, sat on the couch and smoked a cigarette, and then Joe Daley said, ‘I’ll be right back. I’m gonna take a walk’ and took off. As soon as he left, Kenny said, ‘We’d like to ask you to join the band’ And I said, ‘Great!’”
Lori never even contemplated being in Super 400. She had just graduated from SUNY with a degree in vertebrate paleontology and had been accepted at RPI for graduate work. And she certainly couldn’t imagine being married to the lead guitarist and vocalist Kenny.
“The first time I saw him was in February of ’96. When I walked in the door at Pauly’s Hotel, I looked up and saw him, and I felt there was an aura around him. I wanted to be near him. It wasn’t a romantic thing at all ’cause I wasn’t looking for that in the least. I just wanted to find some music. It wasn’t like he was going to be my husband. It was more like he is me, and I am him, and once we joined, we were never apart like that.”
The band traveled to London in 1997 to sign with Island Records who had grand plans to herald them as the return of rock and roll, “a flagship force in the new millennium.” It was all downhill from there. They recorded at Mix-O-Lydian Studios in Lafayette, New Jersey. They had seven days total to put the sounds in the can and for three of those days, there was no power.
The details of how they were dropped from the label have become part of the cliché-ed story of the slow fall of record labels in the 21st century. Suffice it to say, Super 400 had to buy their own copies of their first album. “We could’ve changed our music around to make it fit,” Friday told me in 2007, “and it can be done, but at the time I don’t think we were ready. When we really started to become a cog in the machine, maybe we didn’t know how to handle it.”
Their management walked out on them with the label, but they simply picked up the gauntlet and ran with it independently, touring Europe and releasing five albums on their own including Sweet Fist in 2009 recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis featuring cover art by Klaus Voorman who did The Beatles’ Revolver.
“We were on tour down south, and we were ready to record the next full-length CD. We talked with the label about stopping in at Ardent Studios, and we pulled in there and arranged to record one track to see if we liked the studio. We went in and brought in our gear, and part of it included our three Raleigh chopper bicycles.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a Raleigh. They are super slick, sweet little bikes. We’re in there and we’re talking to the engineer, and we hear a voice saying, “Look out.” And here comes Jody Stephens, the drummer from Big Star riding those Raleigh choppers down the hallway at Ardent. (Laugh) A bit of something. That kind of sums up our initiation to one of the most magical chapters of our life. We spent well over a month at Ardent. I got very close with (some of the artists including) John Prine.
“We had encounters with ghosts of artists. It happened twice. It happened in Studio A which is this big room where Stevie Ray recorded, where Zeppelin recorded. I don’t know who it was, but it was someone who was playing a funny joke on me a couple of different times. It was really cool, actually.”
In 2011, Lori and now husband Kenny opened the Troy Music Academy with musician Graham Tichy. “We’ve got 12 teachers, and we offer lessons of all ages from 12 to 95,” says Lori today. “I don’t have a lot of kids. I mostly teach adults, but our young students tend to be five or six years old. My oldest student is about 89 years old. So, it really runs the gamut. It’s really been an incredible experience for us.
“We never did a grand opening because we opened in whirlwind fashion, and we hit the ground running in July or August of 2011, and so there just wasn’t any time to put together a ceremony for it. We filed it away in our minds that someday it would be right. So, in 2019 we did a brainstorming session. What happened at this time in history that we could think up with these guys? Something musical. The summer of love and looking at the moon landing and Woodstock and we realized that the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ rooftop concert was coming up in like a month. So, we said, “We’re on it, man, because we got our kids playing the Beatles as much as possible. So, they were into it.
“So, we put together three or four bands, and we had the kids learn the songs from the rooftop concert. We put the performance on across the street at the Atrium, and the plan was to have the concert out on the terrace. The skies dumped a bunch of snow the night before. (Laugh) And the show must go on. We figured we’ll just have it upstairs. You know the Farmers Market in the Atrium. We figured we’ll just have it upstairs. It’ll be like we’re on the terrace. It’ll just be on the other side of the glass wall. And it worked just great.
“It attracted a nice crowd, a really good lunchtime crowd, and The Troy Police Department even decided to play along. They sent some officers over who came in and interrupted one of the songs by saying, ‘Hey, you guys can’t do this here. You gotta stop making all this racket.’ One of the kids stepped up to the microphone and said, ‘Hey, man. This is rock and roll,’ and the crowd erupted. We had our little high five moment with everyone. It was beautiful and what a way to think up something that could seem to be (from) years ago and connect these performers all under the age of 20.”
That same year they got to open for Gregg Allman in Syracuse. “That was the last time we saw Gregg, and he was in exceptional form. He performed at top level that day. I didn’t sense any drag with him. He looked great, sounded great. It was wonderful. It was a beautiful day. People in Syracuse are really generous and friendly. We’ve done a lot of opening slots, and that was one that was particularly surprising because he was really great, and his band was absolutely spot on, top-notch band.
Last year Super 400 did a benefit concert for John Bloomfield, a drummer ubiquitous to the local music scene who was dying of cancer. “That was amazing. It was at The Hanger in Troy. It was a benefit that brought people together on a level that a run of the mill concert could never do. You see people at these events and you say, ‘I wish we could see these people more often. I wish we could see people under different circumstances.’”
“There were two tents outside The Hanger to accommodate the people that came to this benefit. By far the most crowded I’d ever seen the place. So much love from people who knew they couldn’t do anything to help Josh other than just to be there for him and instead of being complacent and just saying, ‘There’ll probably be enough people there to support him,’ they came out knowing they might not even get in the building. They might have to hang out outside, and it was a 40-degree day, but they were out anyway. And I hadn’t seen anything like that before.”
In part two, Loris Friday talks about her life with her husband Kenny, her daughter Ellie and her several bouts with breast cancer.
(Cover photo by Shannon DeCelle)