On a rainy May night, the Rutgers Gardens were
drenched with the sound of a five-piece rock band cranking out 100 or
so decibels of Spooky Tooth’s classic “Better by You, Better than Me.”
It was the end-of-the-year party of the Library and Information Science Students Association at the Log Cabin Alumni Pavilion.
Greetings had been traded, the buffet had been raided, and about 50
revelers had just reached the point where heads were beginning to bob
and toes were beginning to tap.
Suddenly, an invisible line was crossed, sensed by a woman taking
photos of the band. She whirled around, aimed her camera at the crowd
and announced to no one in particular, “They’re dancing!”
Of course the students, faculty, and staff were dancing. No one can
resist the vibe of The Professors, the Rutgers-connected band of
academics and friends who have been performing, composing, and
recording in and out of Central Jersey since 1995. Tonight The
Professors were spanning the ages with tunes ranging from Cream’s
40-year-old “White Room,” to “Could I Be,” newly composed by a
first-year student at the School of Environmental and Biological
The students association event was a long way – and yet not so far –
from The Professors’ debut in Highland Park 14 years ago at a high
school graduation party. Nick Belkin, professor, School of
Communication, Infomation and Library Studies, brought together three Rutgers academics and musicians for the gig. He had no idea what he was starting.
The original three projected a real professorial and multinational
flavor. Rhythm guitarist Gary Radford from England had completed his
doctorate at the School of Communication, Information and Library
Science (SCILS). The lead guitarist was T-ski of Poland, a
Rutgers computer science professor. Drummer Bob Kubey was the lone
American, and one of Radford’s professors at SCILS.
“It was just the three of us, with no singer and no bass player,
doing Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn riffs – the kids loved us,”
said Gary Radford, now a communication studies professor at Fairleigh
Dickinson University and the only original member still active in the
band. He is the keeper of The Professors’ extensive website
that lists every gig, every member, and every detail of the band’s
long, strange trip through the world of “academically influenced” rock,
blues, and heavy metal.
Over the years, 15 singers and musicians joined The Professors at
various times, 10 of them with Rutgers connections. Venues have
included clubs, museums, parties, benefit concerts, and academic
conferences in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Chicago. The
band is even versatile enough to play posh events like last October’s
SCILS 25th anniversary celebration at the Heldrich Hotel.
A comment made at a communications conference in Chicago sums up
much of the band’s appeal. A graduate student from Stanford University,
quoted on The Professors’ website, said the band’s performance “was
good for my soul. It showed me that professors can rock out and we
don't have to be nerds all the time.”
Well, not all the time … but in 2002 band members did publish a scholarly article in American Communication Journal: Collaborative
Musical Expression and Creativity Among Academics: When Intellectualism Meets Twelve Bar Blues. In the paper, members describe the creative process and analyze the groove or flow that occurs when playing.
They also used the guise of professorial nerdiness to get around
restrictions on unauthorized bands playing at one particular
conference. The Professors simply listed their gig as an academic
session: “Communication and the Blues: An Experienced-based Interactive
Experimental Simulation of Democratic Popular Culture Processes.”
“How cool was that?” Gary Radford asked. “It was the only way we could get it past them. It’s so pretentious, it’s beautiful.”
Today, the heart of the band is the Radford family: Gary Radford on
guitar and vocals, his wife Marie Radford on keyboards, and daughter
Meg Radford on guitar and vocals. Gary and Marie met in 1986 when they
were doctoral students at SCILS. Today Marie Radford is a library and
information science professor at the school. She has played with The
Professors since 2004. Both are SCILS Legacy Alumni Association
executive board members and past presidents of the SCILS Alumni
Meg Radford is a first-year animal science student who wrote and
sings “Could I Be,” mentioned above and other songs for the band. With
years of church- and school-choir experience under her belt, Meg first
appeared with The Professors in 2004 at age 13. Now she is a
full-fledged member and also performs solo in the coffeehouse in the
Perry Dorm on the Cook Campus.
The band’s rhythm section consists of bassist Nick Romanenko,
university photographer, who joined in 1998, and drummer Peter
VanEmburg, a software engineer with Lockheed Martin who joined in 2005.
VanEmburg calls himself “the fake professor” because he’s not from
academia. “But I suppose being an engineer at least qualifies me as a
nerd,” he said.
At the Alumni Pavilion, Gary Radford seemed very much the classic
British rock star, with his Pink Floyd t-shirt, longish hair, 1979
silverburst Les Paul guitar, and stage patter delivered in a
Nottinghamshire-bred accent. During breaks, he enjoyed catching up with
his SCILS friends, including Joan Chabrak, administrative assistant of
the school’s Ph.D. program, who he called his New Jersey mom.
“Marie and I got married in England, but we had a reception here for
Marie’s New Jersey relatives. Joan stood in for my mother during the
mother-son dance,” Gary Radford said.
The Radfords are thrilled to have daughter Meg in the band. “She’s
brought in some contemporary music and added originality to The
Professors,” Marie Radford said. “The band has evolved many times over
the years, and we’ll keep evolving.”
The Rutgers Connections of The Professors
Radford – SCILS PhD alum, teaches summer classes at SCILS
Radford – SCILS PhD alum, associate professor, Library and Information
– first year student at SEBS
Romanenko – university photographer
Kubey – professor, journalism and media, drums, 1995-2000
T-ski – professor, computer science, guitar, 1995-1997
J – SCILS PhD alum, vocals, 1995-1998
Steve Cooper – SCILS PhD alum, bass, 1995-1997
John Barrows – MCIS alum (SCILS), vocals/guitar, harmonica,
Chris Caldiero – SCILS PhD alum, vocals, 2006-2008
Belkin – professor, Library and Information Science
The Professors’ Take
on Academic Life
You might expect creative academics to write and perform
songs specifically about life in the ivory tower. Here are a few academically influenced
originals by The Professors:
A more complete list of original samples including new songs
by Meg Radford can be found by clicking here.
This page last updated October 23, 2009 by
Many thanks to Kurt
Wagner, Marie Radford, and Jon Oliver.