For nearly four decades there has been a creative, musical force in the Hallowell area spearheaded by two talented musicians known collectively as Neat & Clean. These founding fathers — Kenny Cox (Neat) and Dave Gagne (Clean) — of the prolifically rich musical scene here in Central Maine, will be once more teamed up for a performance on Monday, Jan. 21, at Slates in Hallowell. To that end, a conversation came up with Dave Gagne back on Jan. 3. Calling him at home in Boothbay Harbor, Gagne told me that the Neat & Clean relationship has been a long one.

Q: How long has it been?

Gagne: Oh, let me see — about 38 years, yeah, a long time.

Q: So, is this just a one-off at Slates or will you be doing other shows in the area?

Gagne: Well, it is. We get together occasionally, but we’ve been playing together from 1980 to the early 90s quite a bit, all the time. I had a lot of other projects, Kenny has always worked as a solo, too. He jumps in and plays with other people, but I’ve had a lot of different bands. The Fleshapoids was one of mine: a local band that did a lot of original music — it was kind of a really funny band in Hallowell — anybody could join in and this one fellow and I wrote the songs for it. We did political satire and Dr. Demento featured it a couple of times on his radio show.

Q: Do you remember the songs he played, just out of curiosity?

Gagne: Yeah, there was “Torture of Tickling Tongues” and “Nukes ’til We Puke” — it was some funny stuff, I still play those songs a lot.

Q: Now you mentioned Hallowell.

Gagne: Well, I’m from Hallowell. My parents and my grandparents on both sides are from Hallowell, so Hallowell is home for me.

Q: How did Neat & Clean start?

Gagne: I met Kenny at the Kennebec Wharf when we were the first people to ever play there and we just started playing together and created Neat & Clean. We did the Neat & Clean Show and had a little local television show for a couple of years … it was pretty funny. We had a lot of local musicians on it, it was set up like the Tonight Show and we had a live band and guests. We used two cameras and that was a lot of fun. We played a zillion times a year and we traveled a lot and played in clubs through the 80s. We had a really nice relationship — it was terrific, really. I remember we made $20 a piece when we first started for a night’s work.

Q: Wow.

Gagne: Yeah, 40 bucks for the night back in the 80s — it’s a little better now (chuckle). The relationship and the music he and I have made together has been a real pleasure. He’s still out there doing it and I’m still out there doing it, so we must enjoy it.

Q: Well, when one considers the fact that after nearly four decades you two are still making music together and separately, too, proves that the chemistry and enjoyment of Neat & Clean is still there.

Gagne: Oh yes, certainly. It’s something you can always rely on. I just got back from playing in Manhattan. I played there four times last week: I played New Year’s Eve night before last because my son’s a professional musician who works down there, but I do most of my work here in Maine playing 320 to 330 times a year.

Q: Amazing! More power to you, sir!

Gagne: (Laughter) Yeah, I’m playing all the time.

Q: What can folks expect from the show at Slates this coming Monday night? I understand that you have a third musician who’ll be joining you and Kenny that evening?

Gagne: Yeah, it’s Dave Thibodeau. He’s a tremendous musician and plays bass with us, and we sing three-part harmony. So, what they can expect is really a lot of Kenny, he sings lead most of the time in this trio, and the music is just happy stuff and it very much features Kenny’s voice — he has a lovely voice. It’s a very warm-feeling show that we do with electric guitar, acoustic guitar and bass and three-part harmony. Slates is kind of home for both Kenny and I, as well. We’ll do around an hour-and-fifteen to an hour-and-a-half worth of music. People will come to Slates, they’ll maybe come early and have some dinner — they have really great food there. But the big thing is that Kenny is turning 70 years old the same week.

Q: Wow!

Gagne: Yeah, he’s turning 70 and it’s important that that to be known. I want folks to come and see him celebrate that and be with him. We’ve lost some over the years but a lot of these people grew up with our music: we’d play many places from Portland to Boothbay Harbor to Hallowell and Sugarloaf — that was kind of our route, we did a lot of that. We had numerous bands, we had one called The Band From UNCLE that played at The Bag each week and every winter for years. We had Neat & Clean, we had The Neat & Clean Show, we had the Neat & Clean Band, and Slates gives us the opportunity to get together again — it’s terrific!

Q: Now, when were you there last — were you there last year?

Gagne: Yeah, we were there twice last year.

Q: I thought so because for one of those shows, I interviewed Kenny.

Gagne: Yeah, yeah — I remember that.

Q: Is there anything else, Dave, that you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article?

Gagne: Yeah, “Come relive the memories of coming to see us play!” — I can’t even imagine the amount of people that have seen us play. And I want them to come and celebrate Kenny’s 70th birthday, that’s really important to celebrate that.

Q: Celebrate a life well-lived.

Gagne: Yup, exactly!

Lucky Clark has spent a half-century writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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