Despite their name, the Inmates evinced the wild careless freedom of a breakout—ripping through teen clubs and boardwalks in beach towns up and down the shore, the most raucous live act in the Falcone orbit. Ron Flannery trailing red-white-and-blue streamers as he danced, twelve-year-old Al Aschettino playing bass behind his head, Bobby Nolan shredding solos with his back turned to an audience of screaming girls who were out to steal guitar picks and harmonicas. “I would be exhausted when I would go home,” said drummer Sam Falvo.
The Inmates began their spree in 1964 when Flannery bought an $8 pawn shop guitar and replaced the rhythm guitarist in the Renditions. At first called the New Renditions, the mostly Catholic band found inspiration in the dirty looks of a priest who’d overheard them chatting in church. “Somebody leaned over to somebody else and said, ‘We’re all inmates in this institution,’” said Flannery. “That’s how we got our name and that’s how it stuck.”
Featuring Flannery on harmonica, flute, rhythm guitar, and vocals, Bobby Nolan on lead guitar and vocals, and Falvo on drums, the group was virtuosic compared to their peers, despite their fresh-faced youth. “We all played music before the Beatles even happened,” said Falvo.
A chance encounter brought the prepuberty Aschettino into the fold as a second rhythm guitarist. “I was in a music store looking for the sheet music of ‘As Tears Go By’ when I started talking to Ron,” he said. “I found out we liked the same kind of music. Before I knew it, I was the fourth Inmate.” Gordon Rhodes on bass completed the line up as the fifth Inmate.
With the British Invasion landing in full force, the sound of American rock ‘n’ roll grew rowdier, rawer, louder, and the Inmates were just the kind of group Tommy Falcone needed to capture the revolutionary mood. He held open auditions, placing ads in newspapers seeking bands that could write their own songs. Though they’d only been together a year, the Inmates showed up to a warehouse with dozens of other groups coming in and out, setting up and breaking down, one after the other, all trying to impress the Hazlet impresario.
Despite the wealth of material and Falcone’s best efforts, he never managed to sell another Inmates single, and money troubles nixed any further releases on Cleopatra proper. The remainder of the band’s recordings remained unreleased. Without Falcone to serve as their engine, the Inmates quickly lost direction, energy, and ambition, felled by a creeping disillusionment.
By 1971, with Falvo graduating college and Flannery drafted, their teen dreams gave way to adult realities. Though he never left New Jersey, Flannery said, “It’s hard to be in the army and the rock ‘n’ roll band at the same time.”