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Drunk Unkles Celebrate 10 Years of Rocking, Raising Money at InfoComm 2015

The band will once again be the centerpiece of the annual NSCA Education Foundation event in Orlando.

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“They were studio guys who play country music,” he says. “That’s when the light came on for me and I started to play again.”

Cardone fondly remembers the first Drunk Unkles show, although the band was named the Steve Emspak Blue Band at the time of the Cliff’s Jam charity show.

“We had such a good time,” says Cardone. “We saw an outpouring of people and money. It was one of the coolest nights of my life. Everyone was so stunned at how things turned out. We had fun playing together and decided to keep things going.”

Emspak’s musical history goes back to co-writing “Somebody” with childhood friend Steven Tyler for Aerosmith. His first time on stage was during Cliff’s Jam.

“I was much more interested in writing,” says Emspak. He stopped playing music in the mid-1970s but still has his first guitar from 1961. Emspak returned to the music scene at the urging of Hochlerin, who bought Emspak his first electric guitar.

He did a handful of after-work blues jams but ended up paying for the studio time so people, including Hochlerin and Phillips, would show up and play. Everything started to come together for Emspak and the band now known as the Drunk Unkles when Emspak and Hochlerin took the lead on organizing and raising money for Cliff’s Jam.

“There was no band,” says Emspak. “It was just a bunch of guys playing.” Emspak’s modesty fails to mention the “bunch of guys” included musicians from Hall and Oates, Billy Joel’s band, the CBS Orchestra of Late Show with David Letterman fame and the Saturday Night Live band.

After a few years of what he calls “messing around,” Emspak connected with Phillips on a pre-AES show in New York in 2005 at The Cutting Room. At that point, says Emspak, “Chuck (Wilson) found himself to be a rock’n’roll promoter.”

“As I got further involved with NSCA, it was obvious this was a cool thing to do,” says Emspak. “It’s gotten to be a pretty big deal.”

Hochlerin has a professional music history that will hit 40 years in October. He remains the drummer for Mazarin, a group that earned local honors in New York and was produced by Roger Nichols, who also worked with Steely Dan. Mazarin put out its most recent album in 2013. Mazarin played about 200 shows per year from 1977 to 1987, but never was able to achieve national acclaim. During that time, though, Hochlerin got a real appreciation for designing sound systems for touring rock bands.

As for his history with the Drunk Unkles, Hochlerin and Robinson were co-workers at Ace Audio Visual many years earlier and found themselves working together at Cliff’s Jam.

“This band has never been about playing a gig,” says Hochlerin. “We’ve always been about figuring out what we can do to help.” Hochlerin knew right away during Cliff’s Jam the group had something special. They raised about $60,000 and attracted more than 800 people for that show.

“People came from all over,” he says. “We knew right then and there we could do it for industry causes.”

Phillips has been playing guitar since he was 15 years old, inspired by the British Invasion and looking at a music career as a way to play music for adoring fans “and meet girls.” He was part of Marriaj, a group that developed out of his college days and earned a record contract with now-defunct Playboy Records.

“We were going to live the dream,” says Phillips. “We got a couple of good years out of it.” Phillips then put his guitar away for 20 years until Emspak urged him to get involved with Cliff’s Jam.

“My family had never known it was part of my life,” says Phillips.

When it comes to the Drunk Unkles, “I really had no vision of it going beyond one night. It started off as a charitable thing and became a thing where we all decided we should keep doing it. I love it. I get to be a rock star for a couple of hours.”

Robinson boasts the most successful professional music career among the Unkles, with seven albums and a couple of world tours as bassist for Angel, a Casablanca Records artist. Robinson “continued to dabble” in music after Angel’s days came to an end, but he didn’t make his full-fledged return until Cliff’s Jam. He notes that some of the companies that sponsored that gig are still supporting the Drunk Unkles today.