Photos J. Patrick Jablonski
Text: Stu Pendis
Updated: 13 November 2008
In 1985, for a brief moment stars converged for four young men, just as they do for so many others at other times. A magical moment of symbiosis that created an entity with extreme potential for greatness. Although this union did not reach its fullest potential, its existence was nonetheless valuable to the participants not only in gaining experience but also in learning some of life's lessons and in burning into the memories of those involved, moments to cherish forever.
The story of Trinity 1296 is not a complicated one, nor is it unique, but it is special in its own way. Let's try to find the beginning...
Elliott & Southard
In early 1985, while working as a lighting technician and roadie for Central Pennsylvania acoustic "new folk" band Cartoon (previously Menagerie), Ralf Southard decided to modestly embark on his own adventure in the world of live music by frequenting the Open Mike circuit in State College, PA. Armed with a custom Alvarez 9-string guitar, Ralf clung to his acoustic roots by entertaining with songs by Crosby, Stills and Nash, early Beatles and Neil Diamond songs, America and the like. On one of these occasions, at a basement bar called the Phyrst, Ralf spotted Pat Elliott sitting on a stool, sweating profusely while he sang a song by Bruce Springsteen called "The River". That was the first encounter, but nothing happened.
Not long after, Ralf dropped in on another show, this time at the All-American Ratskeller, where Pat Elliott was part of a duet with another performer by the name of Dave Dermott. This time, Pat was not playing guitar, Dave Dermott was. And they were singing songs by Simon & Garfunkel. Noting how the harmonies, though rough, were somewhat complimentary, Ralf decided to approach the two musicians. Through some chatting and eventually several practice sessions, Avatar was formed.
Pay was small and opportunities were limited, but Ralf, Pat and Dave enjoyed performing and learning the business of music. Better than that, they quickly built a following. Right in the middle of sophisticated, synnchopated and synthesized music of the early MTV years, these three musicians to go the acoustic way and perform songs that relied more on vocal harmonies than instrumentation. Dave was a rather accomplished guitar player, which helped a lot, but the era of Avatar was short-lived, for in May of 1985, Dave graduated from Penn State and decided to move to Malibu, California.
He was never heard from again.
Elliott, Southard & Glahn
As a duet, Elliott and Southard never existed. They went back to working on individual projects, but didn't give up looking to create something new... to pick up where they left off... and to mold something even better.
Half-a-year before, on a road trip with Cartoon to a Christmas party near Lancaster, PA, was introduced to Ray Glahn. It was just in passing at the time, but Ralf remembered his face the next time they met. This was probably key to the steps that eventually created Trinity 1296.
Ray Glahn was a graduate student at this time, pursuing his degree in Physiology studying Poultry Science. A couple of years before he recorded a personal 45rpm disc with an original song titled Lovely Lady. After the dissolution of Avatar, Ralf was approached by a guitarist who was an acquaintence of Ray's and he invited Ralf to join them at a frat party. After finally being musically introduced to Ray Glahn, Ralf approached Pat with the idea of forming another trio.
Not wishing to reuse the name Avatar, the trio pondered on a name for quite sometime while during the interim they simply labeled themselves Elliott, Southard & Glahn. Eventually, just before offering the naming of the band to the audience, Pat Elliott blurted out Trinity, recalling a dark, mysterious church. Trinity was born. Three guys, three voices, three guitars.
This new trio began to gain more wide-spread support from fans, and even the members of Cartoon. They worked on their style, polished some old tunes, and learned some new ones. And all three also wrote original material. It was the making of magic.
Three No More
Less than a month after the formation of Trinity, the members, still dropping in on Open Mikes to try out new material and widen their exposure, happened into Carl's Brickhouse Tavern. That night, a young guitarist by the name of Jerre Price was on stage singing songs of Neil Young and Warren Zevon. And when the song would call for high notes, he was there. He played fine guitar too. Trinity already had a well-rounded sound and instrumentation, but just as Crosby, Stills & Nash took on Neil Young, Elliott, Southard & Glahn asked Price to join the group.
No longer being only three, they contemplated getting a new name because the word trinity suggested a set of three. Ralf proposed they simply add to the name and threw out the number 1296. To many fans the origin is still a mystery, but it was quite simple actually. But to not spoil it for those still guessing, the secret will not be revealed here. Anyway, Trinity 1296 came to be.
Trinity was already booked to perform at the 1985 Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts and pretty much had a set worked out, but throwing Jerre in complicated things... for a moment. More importantly, it resurged the team's drive to work out a killer set, and practice session were on a nearly daily basis.
The Festival came, they took the stage, for two separate shows, and they were a hit. Suddenly they could demand better wages, though still modest by any standard, and they were approached to do special events such as charity events and weddings. They became the weekly Wednesday night fixture at the Phyrst in State College, and kept that night for more than a year.
In spring of 1986, Trinity hired Mike Witkowski to run their sound. His experience was not in live, public sound reinforcement, but rather studio recording, and he owned his own reel-to-reel four-track deck. Trinity 1296's new goal was to produce a cassette of at least half original material in time for sale at the 1986 Arts Festival. Recording sessions were long and hard, and very trying on everyone's patience. Some of the fuel that brought about the end of the original four were born of these sessions. Ralf, often frustrated with the sessions, ended up contributing only one original song to the project, Never Be Another You, and in fact recorded most of the tracks and parts himself. The only other contribution was from Jerre Price on harmony vocals and wood blocks. Ralf saw himself as such a perfectionist, he felt the need to record the rest of the tracks himself. The track was far from perfect, but in his eyes it was better than it would have been. This would prove to be the initial spark for future rifts and resentment.
With two weeks remaining before the festival, the cassette was nearing completion. But the next obstacle came into play... mixing the reel-to-reel down to a master cassette for duplication through a professional studio. It was determined that Mike would take the tapes to Syrinx Studios in York, PA, but band member input was needed. Ray Glahn agreed to go since that was his neck of the woods. The tape was produced, but not without its detractors. Ralf was very disappointed in the unpolished use fade outs that included the intros of others songs and audible edits. Having been a sound and recording engineer in his own right, Ralf was disgusted. But it was done, and nothing could be changed. And he eventually realized that it wasn't such a bad first effort, but the rest of the band already knew that.
In the meantime, Ralf was constantly writing new material, mostly due to the vast changes in his life at the time. He had a fiancée and love was abound. The emotions were flowing and emotions are the only catalyst in Ralf's creativity. In August he would also become the first married member of the band. In his own mind, he felt he was maturing faster than the rest and a wall of attitude set in. He always felt that since each major change in the band was initiated by him, he should be able to call the shots most of the time. So when the rest of the members decided to shed its acoustic image and take on a drummer, Ralf was vehemently opposed to the idea. He saw Cartoon attempt this and saw the change, and he did not want to go through it also. Outvoted, the other members of Trinity 1296 agreed to take on Brad Smith as drummer, who suddenly was the oldest member. And experienced drummer, having played in dozens of bands since the 60s, Brad was welcomed as a plus to those who wanted a stronger beat to dance to, but a minus to those who felt his drumming lacked life or style of any artistic value. Nevertheless, Brad's presence, or more likely the drums, did seem to help increase the audience size. Brad sat in with the band at the Arts Festival, and was announced as a new member, but he was obviously absent from the cassette being sold that day.
On August 30, 1986, Ralf Southard became the first and only married member of Trinity 1296 in a private civil ceremony witnessed by best man, Pat Elliott. Band activities continued successfully although the band was not working very hard on original material, and had in fact dropped much of its original material because it didn't translate well with drums in the picture. Originals that did make it through the Smith period included Elliott's Bad Memories and Time and Southard's Never Be Another You and a new addition, Off to L.A.. The band received request to play at varied venues which included two State Penitentiaries, Rockview and Huntingdon, the latter being maximum security.
With the band having no plans were made to produce a new Trinity 1296 tape, Ralf decided to buy a 4-track cassette mini studio himself and record a solo effort on his own time. While band activities remained comfortable but aimless, Ralf worked on his own project which ended up being a recording of 100% original material. Self-produced, dubbed and recorded, Ralf finished the The Time Has Come in February of 1987. In a Penn State Collegian newspaper article/interview, Ralf made public his views of the band's status and even called for the end of the band as it was known. Without prior notice to the rest of the members, Ralf announced his departure from the band in the article alone, which caused a very tense final show from his point of view. "They were pissed and they were snubbing me," recalls Ralf. "Pat had been my friend for a long time and he was blunt and honest with me. He told me that it was a 'rotten way to go, but it is done.' Even today I know in my heart I had to leave, but I could've handled it much better." Ralf had threatened to leave several times before but hung on. Ralf hung on no longer.
This was the end of Trinity 1296. Before Ralf's solo cassette was completed, he was able to produce a second Trinity 1296 cassette of live material recorded at various venues called Live: Straight From The Can and featured a cover photo of the four original member popping out of 50 gallon drums, hence the name. The recordings, though not necessarily of high quality, seemed to capture the essence of the rockier Trinity 1296, and loyal fans were happy to get a hold of it.
Ralf Southard's departure was supposed to spark a solo career, but he instead found little desire to pursue music at all anymore. He continued to perform at the Arts Festival every year until 1995, when he decided the festival was no longer following the vision it was born of. In 1992 he teamed up with a few prospective collaborations, but still couldn't muster the desire to work at it. In 1993, Ralf became a Karaoke emcee and today owns his own karaoke entertainment company.
The remaining members of Trinity 1296 regrouped and replaced Ralf with a female vocalist, dropped the 1296 (Ralf's contribution to the name) and even went on to win a regional Country Showdown contest. The new Trinity was short-lived though, as everyone started to have their own vision of where to go with the band. Ray Glahn was very happy with the country status Trinity earned by winning that contest But Jerre Price, Pat Elliott and Brad Smith wanted to move toward rock 'n roll and eventually broke away and created the Beaver Avenue Beggar's Band after Ray's graduation and transfer to Arkansas.
As with all life experiences, there are ups and downs, and maturity is measured by how one deals with those. Although many successful bands start at a young age, there are more factors involved than mere maturity. Making it in the music business is viewed as being 99% luck, and being in the right place at the right time. Whether fame and fortune was a goal of any of the members of Trinity 1296 is moot. Truth is they had a fine moment, and an experience that they can all look back on someday and be proud of. Very few people with talent actually take a chance and try to go with it. Elliott, Southard, Glahn and Price can take pride in knowing that they at least gave it a shot. And who knows, it may still just be a case of timing. There are a lot of geezers playing rock 'n roll these days. Who knows what could happen?
Greatness may never have been achieved, but a shining moment did occur and embedded fond memories in all those who participated. In fact, after 20 years of separation, and some talk of a 20 year reunion, Elliot, Southard and Price, all still, or again, living in State College, decided to put some of it back together.
In late winter of 2007, Pat Elliot, Ralf Southard and Jerre Price came together again for the first time in nineteen years. First just to jam and have some fun. They all have families, full-time jobs, mortgages, and practicing five days a week to ready for clubbing just wasn't in the mix. They agreed to put some of their stuff out there at various private summer parties and the Bob Trump benefit event, but that was it.
A year later, ESP [i.e., Elliot, Southard & Price] is wondering if an occasional paying public audience could fly, and when approached by the Autoport to make their debut in July 2008, ESP agreed. A few days later, the Autoport called to inform us they had a cancellation, and asked if they could play on Saturday, June 28, 2008. They did. Things went well. Patrons liked it. Owners loved it. Things are looking up.
To bring this history around to a complete circle, plans are set for a reunion of Trinity 1296 at the Autoport in State College, PA on December 5, 2008. Original member Ray Glahn will be joining ESP on stage to make this the first time in over 20 years all four will be playing to an audience standing together.
Home | Sessions | Elliott | Glahn | Price | Southard | Witkowski