J Howard Duff

Musician / Teacher / Nice Jacket Recording Artist

From Obscurity to SEMI-Obscurity

My musical journey is typical of many of my fellow “Baby Boomer” musicians, although there was one event that, in retrospect, shaped my future. But, Biblically speaking; “In the Beginning”…

My Dad was a big band devotee. Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey et al was the soundtrack of my early life. I remember seeing Elvis singing “Hound Dog” on the Milton Berle Show in 1956, and by the age of eight, I let Dad know that I wanted to be a singer when I grew up. Never one to squelch my only-child dreams, in 1958 Dad brought me into one of those “record your own voice” booths on a trip he and I took to New York City from our home in Union, NJ. I sang “Bye Bye Blackbird” into the booth microphone and miraculously, the booth presented me with my very own record! This was IT...the moment that shaped the future! I was as hooked as a crack addict. I started using my twenty five cent a week allowance (along with my Dad’s “loans”) to buy my own 45 RPM records from the ten cent cutout bins they had in both The Flagship on Rt. 22 & Two Guys in Newark.

By the early 60’s I was fantasizing myself signed to Cameo/Parkway, singing with The Dovells or a duet with Bobby Rydell on “Wildwood Days”. Whist these suburban white-boy thoughts tripped through my adolescent mind, I became exposed to another musical world through a teenage second cousin (and the first musicologist I knew). I would frequently visit my 2nd cousins, the Lester’s. Fred, the oldest of three brothers, would be playing these incredible records from his vast, and ever-growing collection. These sounds that emanated from his basement hovel were not like anything I was listening to on WABC (the NY top 40 super station). I soon learned about R&B from Fred’s vast knowledge. The Del-Vikings, Clyde McPhatter, Ben E. King, Bo Diddley, Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry…the list was endless! He turned me on to DJs like Murray the K and Danny “Catman” Stiles and told me stories how once, late at night, he had picked up on the radio this guy named Wolfman Jack out of the Southwest somewhere who “played the coolest stuff”. 

Play Time

I fast forward to January 1964. I heard The Beatles on the radio. I saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. I saw that The Beatles played guitars. The Beatles played “Twist & Shout" which  I knew (through Fred) was an Isley Brothers song that I really liked. I saw girls loved The Beatles. Therefore, by the transitive property, I knew that a) I loved music; b) if I could play guitar and sing cool songs like Twist & Shout, girls would love me; and c) it did not appear to be all that difficult. NOTE: c) falls under the life category of “how wrong was THAT”. If I had ANY doubts of what I was going to do with my life, all of those doubts were swept away the first time I saw The Rolling Stones doing “I Just Wanna Make Love to You” on The Hollywood Palace show. Here were, compared to The Fab Four, five normal looking (ok…excluding Brian, kind of ugly) guys who made music that sounded like the music Fred Lester had introduced me to. From that moment, it was see ‘ya, that’s a wrap, I no longer reside in the “normal” world.

My first guitar (bought by my Dad) was a Kay acoustic with a banana bowed neck he got in a Newark pawnshop for $5.00. The strings felt like I was trying to press down on telephone poles. My fingers hurt. My fingers bled. But I stuck with it. Three of the guys I hung with (Russell Cipriano, John Wilson and Ed Naskret) formed a band called “The Creatures”. None of us knew a single chord. We just strummed the guitars and moved our hands around! Our drummer had one snare drum and a 6” cymbal. I actually have a recording off this vaunted ensemble!

The band came to a crashing halt when we tried to fool the sister & her girlfriends of the other guitarist by lip-synching to a Swinging Blue Jeans record. Like Milli Vanilli, it was a major fail.  

My uncle knew the owner of Robbie’s Music in Wayne NJ and got a deal on on my first electric guitar and amp- a red Tiesco Del-Ray guitar and a Lectrolab R500 amp. A guy from high school, Richie Volk (my parents thought he was a “hood”), taught me how to play an E progression and the riff to “What I Say” by Ray Charles & I was OFF!

I could bore you all with my meager accomplishments in the entertainment field that have transpired since those oh so many years ago, but frankly, I find it amazing that you have read this far. In the interest of history, let me briefly note the following 53 years of ups, downs, missed opportunities, ironic twists, iconic encounters, frustration, life (and beyond) education, and tons of fun. The following is a history of bands I have played in and things I have done. Most have links that will lead you to comments, websites, etc. 

Thanks to all for contributing to this story.

All those Links…


INSTITUTION: We were the classic suburban Garage Band of the 1960’s, Played gigs from the local swim club (“Brookside”) to The Café Wha? & The Cheetah Club in NYC. Appeared on the “Zackerle” TV show. To the best of my recollection, personnel over the years early 1965 through 1969 included: Philip Rubin (guitar), Marv Coopersmith (guitar), Glenn Horowitz (drums), Rich Lester (RIP) (lead vocals), J. Howard Duff (guitar & vocals), Jack Whalen (drums), Steve Wryzinski (bass), Richard Rackin (bass; from “Richard & the Young Lions” fame),Jean LaMond (drums), Pat Moast (bass), Benjie Williams (keyboard), Russ Frame (keyboard), Jeanette Greene (keyboard), Joey Kramer (drums; soon after to be with “Aerosmith”) & Jan Criss (RIP) (bass). For Institution (and Institution ll) recordings, access the link to go to The Institution website.

INSTITUTION ll: After lead singer Rich Lester left The Institution to start another band (“Blood Wedding”) in 1969, Marv, Jean, Pat & myself carried on as Institution ll with me taking on lead vocals.

(Click on the band name to visit their current website)



Band members included a reconciled Rich Lester, Marv Coopersmith (guitar), David Massler (drums), George Juchnevicius (bass), & me (guitar & vocals). The featured audio cut was done in a recording studio in Linden NJ and financed by some producer. Details are vague, but I do remember the recording engineer freaked when Marv & I brought in Marshall amps. He was adamant that his equipment would not be damaged by us playing loud & made us keep the amps on 1, hence the thin, sucky guitar tone.



A re-work of “Praisegod”, with Jean Lamond back on drums, and no Marv (away at senior year, Brandeis U.)


A Staten Island party band, known to play Jr. Walker’s “Shotgun” with no chord changes, just E7 (and mind you, no sax), for a half an hour. The crowd ate it up! Why? Two reasons, both important musical lessons: first, dynamics, dynamics, dynamics! You can play the same chord for a half hour & with the properly executed dynamics, make it sound like a symphony. Second; the crowd was sloshed…(probably the biggest reason they ate it up). Anyway; personnel was me on guitar & vocals, Mike Greenbladt (now a renowned music writer) on lead vocals, Morris the bass player, Jean Lamond on drums, and Walter Erla on guitar.


After the original Institution broke up, Jean LaMond & myself hooked up with a band from Edison, NJ called The Afterbeats. They had gigs at local colleges at least two to three times a week. The money was good, the players (Barry Fields (RIP); who became a Pastor; on bass & a great guitarist named Ed something (RIP), plus maybe another guitarist… can’t remember) were really good and the repertoire was rocking! 


Named after the infamous Filbert Street Boys, from Roselle Park, NJ, this was a good-time rock band that featured a seven song 45 minute J.Gieles Band medley and a twenty minute “Smoke On the Water”. Good times in the dreary year of 1974!! Members included: Big Phil (lead vocals & harmonica), me (guitar & vocals), Pat Moast (bass), Jean Lamond (drums), and Russ Frame (keyboards).


We were a NJ/NY rock “club” band. The object of the “club band” game was to imitate the record of the song you were covering as close as possible. I really HATED playing that game, so I would throw my own guitar parts into most of the songs. Needless to say, we didn’t sound like the records (much to many people’s chagrin).  Members were: me (guitar & vocals), Rich Lester (lead vocals), George Juchnevicius (bass), Billy Hicks (guitar) & Paul Carvalo (drums).


We were a club, original, & touring band. Members were:  me (guitar & vocals), Rich Lester (lead vocals), Pete Silvia (guitar & vocals), The Elf (drums), and Tommy MarcAntonio on bass & vocals. The cut featured here (“The Winner”) is an original written by Rich, recorded live at a rehearsal in glorious mono.


Members were: me (guitar, lead vocals), Tom Jacus aka Tyronne Cleveland (bass & vocals), The Elf (drums & vocals), later joined by Mike Mosgrove (guitar). The first thee audio tracks are from the EP “I Told You So” and the last two are from the Vanguard session in NYC.

The last cut is from what I call “The Lost Session”. Missing for about 39 years, it was finally unearthed on an old unmarked cassette tape in a Pennsylvania closet by writer Mike Greenblatt, who sings lead on this old Elvis song, and is backed by The J. Howard Duff Band.

Recorded at Homegrown Studios, Roselle, N.J. in 1978, I can’t help but think that Elvis would be proud of Mike’s performance!


This was a studio project band consisting of Dawn and I on vocals and me playing all other instruments with the exception of piano (played by Martin Egan) and sax (John ZanGrando).  The featured cut from this session actually won an award in the American Songwriting Festival of 1979. An original song with a pop/disco (yes, I said disco) flavor.


Party trio of Dawn, Rich & myself (and Korg; the loyal drum machine).


Rox was an 80’s club band, but we did songs we liked, and did them the way we wanted to do them. Personnel was: me (this is getting boring writing “guitar & vocals” all the time. from now on, unless i play something like a zither, i won’t list what i do anymore)! Dawn Gaye (lead vocals). Joe Siciliano (bass & vocals)), Marc Pampaloni (drums), and Mike Bolen (guitar), and for a short time Son Lewis on guitar. “My Boyfriends Back” was cut in Homegrown Studios, Roselle NJ and was included on the ROX EP.


We were a Punk/“RockCore” group. Personnel was: me, Dawn Gaye (lead vocals), Bill “Wrists” Rapp (drums) & Mike Fox aka Bolen (guitar). This is the crew that is featured on the three studio audio cuts, with me also playing bass. After the record came out, we were augmented by Brian Taylor from Newton, NJ, on bass for live gigs.


After Partners In Crime came to an end, I went back to more straight ahead Rock n’Roll. Dawn & I put together this band, and called it P.I.C. so we could still ride some of the Partners publicity. It was an extremely solid band, kind of having a Pretenders sound as the audio track “Wanton Ways” (recorded live at rehearsal) attests to.  P.I.C. played only one ill-fated gig and broke up. Members were” me, Dawn Gaye (lead vocals), Mike Bolen (guitar), Jimi Gear (bass & vocals) & Joey Kochan (who called himself Joey Kaye back then & is now a world famous jazz drummer living in Europe) is on drums.

SOLO Recording

I included this track of a Jimmy Page song called “White Summer”, because even though it was recorded on a cheap 4 track cassette deck, I like it and am proud of the way I play it. It’s my website so I can! Maybe I should re-title it “Attack of the wah-wahs”. A tip of the hat to Mr. Sinatra in the middle of the song, as you will hear.


This is a Blues duo consisting of harp player Greg John & myself, sometimes joined by Dawn Gaye on vocals & Carla Curran on bass.


A Rock n’ Roll band that played the songs of the 1960’s. It featured an interesting juxtaposition of personnel; a teenager who loved (and could play and sing) this 60’s stuff, next to three old music vets who played in the 60’s. Core members were Dakota Sabados(rhythm guitar & vocals), George Darren (drums) , Roy Franco (bass & vocals) & me (lead vocals & lead guitar). We were joined along the way at various stages by Dwayne Neeley (lead guitar), Wally Duke (keyboards), Dave Washack (bass) , & Bala (guitar).



I was honored to be asked to join this legendary lowcountry group as it’s lead singer in 2012. Members while I was in the band were Fred & David Warren (guitars),  Neil Warner aka “Jones” (bass), Erick Wammock & David Carroll (drums & vocals), and Steve Ryden (sax).



NTL… “Bluffton Real”

Again, SEE MUSIC PAGE. Ps...NTL was short for "no talent losers". (Obviously, not in Hannahs case).


My current performing band that was formed by Fred Warren & myself in 2016 to play blues & swing. Members are: myself on lead guitar & vocals, Fred (guitar), Allyn Perdue (bass) & Ed Switela (drums).

PEOPLE TO THANK FOR HELPING ME WITH MY OBSCURITY: Just kidding, but I really need to mention and thank the following people:

DAWN GAYE DUFF: A great singer, artist, and soulmate. Here's link to her art website.

BILL GWYNNE: Person to Person Media, Bluffton, SC;  For your genius.

WALLY GARFIELD: The Lutherie, Bluffton, SC;  My invaluable guitar tech and friend.

ALL MY STUDENTS, PAST & PRESENT (especially the kids)..

And most of all, JESUS CHRIST for all his blessings. 

Thru the years…

HARRY O’BRIAN; VINNIE the VINCE; GARY MERRIT; JOE DaVENT (from Bound Brook); ELECTRIC PETE:     These guys were the Duff Band Crew ’77-’79. Thanks for your service and loyalty!

GERD: Soundman extraordinaire for Hussler. You taught me a lot about live sound.

LITTLE RITA: Partners In Crime official Motivator.

MARK CHESLEY & CHIEFIE: Business associates from Mutha Records who grew to be friends.

DAVID SADD: David gave me my opportunity in Christian music.

JOSH HICKS: Has the unique gift of always being able to help me both in high tech land & in life.

DUSTY the BIKER & SPEEDY: Praisegod Bearbones crew; ‘71-’72.

PAUL COSTANZA: First manager I ever had. Thanks for your work. Sorry for the abuse.

WILLIAM (BILL) LESTER: Richard’s brother…ALWAYS there to help. Thanks.


I apologize if I have offended anyone by leaving you out. It’s dwindling brain cells, not a dwindling heart!


New CD/Digital Release

The songs in this project are amongst those that inspired me in times past, and still inspire me now! If you were there (1962-1970) I hope they strike a chord. If you were not, I hope they open a chapter in musical history for you.

It was a time when any kid could dream that with a guitar, and knowing how to play three or four chords, they too could be a star. I know, I was one of those kids.

For more notes and a track listing, click here!

Available on iTunes, Apple Music, CD Baby, Spotify, Amazon etc.

concert videos

I have a number of new concert videos posted on my brand-spanking new YouTube channel!

Click on the pic to go there and don’t forget to subscribe!

Hey Mom! I'm on a Comp!

Bongo Boy Records selects "I'm Crying" as lead-off track on Back Room Blues Vol. 7, a blues compilation CD. For info go to Bongo Boy records.

Last CD Release

My last CD release “The Blues & Back”, a collection of selected tunes that had been performed by a number of groups that I played with previously & blues-based songs that I've always wanted to do, is now available. I'm excited & hope y'all dig it!

Here's the first radio single from the new release:

Aquarian logo-edit.jpg

From THE AQUARIAN WEEKLY–September, 2017:

“The new CD has 18 glorious excursions. (Listening to it)…brought a smile to my face. (J. Howard) can spit out those guitar leads like a rock star & his voice has that soulful wiggle.”

“Dawn Gaye (sings) “Confessing the Blues” with lilting sexiness” 

“Duff still has that bee-sting in his guitar like BB King”

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