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.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.