Band members                             Related acts

  line up 1 (1969-70)

- Pat Cupo -- vocals, keyboards

- John Ippolito -- vocals, bass, guitar

- Dave Ranaletta -- drums, percussion




- The Trackers (Pat Cupo and John Ippolito)





Genre: pop

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  Pookah

Company: United Artists

Catalog: UAS 6737

Country/State: Rochester New York

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: gatefold sleeve; cut lower right corner

Available: SOLD

Catalog ID: SOLD 1018

Price: SOLD $40.00


For a band that released an album on a major label, there's surprisingly little information to be found on Pooka.   I can tell you the line-up featured keyboardist Pat Cupo, guitarist John Ippolito, and drummer Dave Ranaletta.  Cupo and Ippolito had been members of the mid-'60s Rochester, New York cover band The Trackers.  As for the band name, it was either a sly nod to a hookah, or taken from characters found in Irish folklore - spirits known as shape changers which could take the appearance of black horses, goats and rabbits. Given songs like 'Ha! Ha! I Can Fly ' and 'Rain On Your Grave', I'm guessing the former was the inspiration.


Speculation on my part, but the trio seemingly found a mentor in the form of producer Vinny Testa who I'm guessing helped them score a recording contract with United Artists.  So I'll be blunt and tell you  1969's Testa produced "Pookah" won't change your life in any form, or fashion.  At the same time, given critics haven't been all that kind to the album, I'll readily tell you the results are far better than you'd expect.  With Cupo and Ippolito responsible for all of the material, the band was unique in being gifted with three strong singers. I liked all of them, though I'd give the edge to drummer  Ranaletta who only handled vocals on a couple of songs.  Musically these guys were hard to peg.   With the exception of Cupo's keyboards (which were apparently rigged with internal colored lighting that went off with the music), there wasn't anything particular original across these eleven tracks.  Complete with stabs at raga influenced acid-folk ('In a Field'), blues-rock ('Lady Ostrich'), progressive ('Broken Dream'),  and psych ('Rain On Your Grave'), it was one of those albums where you could spend a lot of time playing spot-the-influences, which to my ears included large doses of Traffic and Vanilla Fudge.  Far from perfect, but worth checking out since you can still find reasonably priced copies.    


"Pookah" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Blue and Peaceful    (Onorato Cupo - John Ippolito) - 4:15

With  Ranaletta handling lead vocals, 'Blue and Peaceful' was built on a nifty Cupo piano riff and some tasty Ippolito bass.   With a pseudo-jazzy feel, this one actually sounded a bit like a mid-career Traffic tune.   Nice harmony vocals on the chorus.   United Artists tapped it as the American single.  rating: **** stars

2.) In a Field    (Onorato Cupo - John Ippolito)- 3:02

Opening up with some nice raga-flavored guitar and Ranaletta's martial drums, 'In a Field' came off as an interesting slice of acid-folk.   Very different from the rest of the album and quite attractive.  rating: **** stars

3.) Tomorrow's the Day   (Onorato Cupo - John Ippolito) - 3:17

After two strong tunes, 'Tomorrow's the Day' came off as heavy and bombastic with little in the way of a melody.   rating: ** stars

4.) Things Don't Matter   (Onorato Cupo - John Ippolito) - 3:50

Goofy ?  Confused ?   Not sure how to describe the painful 'Things Don't Matter'.   Musically the song found the band seemingly trying to blend toy town pop-psych influences with a more progressive orientation.   Nice concept, but it simply didn't turn out very well.   rating: *** stars

5.) Broken Dream   (Onorato Cupo - John Ippolito) - 5:50

Showcasing Cupo's keyboards and Ranaletta's maddening drumming , 'Broken Dream' was the collection's most progressively oriented performance.  Ippolito's pained vocals, the song's herky-jerky structure and pseudo-melody initially didn't do a great deal for me, but with time the song's sheer goofiness has grown on me.   rating: *** stars


(side 2)
1.) Kickin' a Can   (Onorato Cupo - John Ippolito) - 3:41

It started out with a progressive flavor, but quickly devolved into a sluggish and atonal mess.   Pass.  rating: ** stars

2.) Merlin's Party   (Onorato Cupo - John Ippolito) - 4:25

With a spare, sluggish and distinctly lysergic feel, 'Merlin's Party' is probably the album's best known tune.  Hard to accurately describe, but along with Ippolito's raspy voice and Cupo's roller rink keyboards, it's one of those songs that sounds like it should have been featured on some sort of "B" flick.  Funny,  I've listened to the track dozens of times over the years, and still don't have a clue what it is about.   rating; **** stars

3.) Lady Ostrich   (Onorato Cupo - John Ippolito) - 3:37

It took awhile for the song to get past it's opening Vaudevillian echoes, but about a minute in Ippolito started hitting some electric guitar chords and the song switched over to blues-rock mode.   Nah, it wasn't great, but it was an improvement over the opening.  rating: *** stars

4.) Ha! Ha! I Can Fly   (Onorato Cupo - John Ippolito) - 3:06

Maybe it's just me, but every time I heard  this one it makes me smile.   Yeah, the lyric isn't particularly subtle (and ensured radio wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole), but there's just something funny about the dated lyrics and there's something very cool about hearing a bass guitar with a fuzz effect on it.   The song was tapped as a French single.   rating: **** stars

5.) The Heat   (Onorato Cupo - John Ippolito) - 0:33

Clocking in at 30 seconds, there simply wasn't much to comment on here.   rating: ** stars

6.) Rain On Your Grave   (Onorato Cupo - John Ippolito) - 5:20

Easily my pick for the album's standout performance, the combination of Cupo's keyboard-powered droning melody, and Cupo and Ippolito's stoned vocals meant 'Rain On Your Grave' simply oozed lysergic influences.   Yeah, it hasn't aged all that well and will probably sound insipid to anyone under 30, but I love the tune.    rating: **** stars

The album saw a couple of singles released.  In the States the 45 was::

- 1969's 'Blue and Peaceful' b/w 'Merlin's Party' (United Artists catalog number UA 50604)


In France United Artists opted to release:

- 1970's 'Ha! Ha! I Can Fly' b/w 'Kickin' a Can' (United Artists catalog number 2C 006-91 238)


The band attracted a bit of attention opening for national acts stopping in Rochester (Family, Grand Funk Railroad, etc.), but simply couldn't break.  They were history by 1970 and seem to have all dropped out of music..