Saturday, December 27, 2008

Billy Strayhorn - The Lush Life

Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn from All About Jazz

William Thomas Strayhorn was born in Dayton, Ohio on November 29, 1915, the fourth of nine children. Sickly at birth and born into poverty, he wasn't expected to survive, but he did. Four of his siblings did not. The family shortly moved on and settled down in Homewood.

As a child, he was shielded from an abusive father by his mom, Lillian, who bought him books and sheet music from her earnings as a domestic. She would send him for extended visits to his grandma Elizabeth's place in Hillsborough, North Carolina, to protect him from his dad's drunken fits.

Strayhorn said that his grandmother was his primary influence during the first ten years of his life, and her house was where he first became hooked on music, playing church hymns on her piano and 78 RPM records on her Victrola.

He was largely self-educated and so brainy and inquisitive that one of his childhood nicknames was “Dictionary.” Strayhorn had a newspaper route and worked as a soda jerk and delivery boy for the local drugstore, and saved up enough money to buy his own piano.

When he was older and in Pittsburgh full-time, Strayhorn attended Westinghouse High School. Classical music was Strayhorn’s first love. He began his training by studying the longhaired art at the Pittsburgh Music Institute.

He was the featured soloist in Grieg’s “Piano Concerto in A Minor,” for a school production. Strayhorn was the only black musician in the 25-player orchestra, and his ambition to join the world of Beethoven never bore fruit; at that time only whites could join that high brow club. So hey, on to Plan B.

He switched to the school band, and studied under Carl McVickers, who had earlier instructed local greats like Erroll Garner, Mary Lou Williams, and so many other outstanding Bulldog artists.

Strayhorn found the music of pianists like Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson at age 19. Their keyboard work provided him with the roadmap to move from classical society to the hot world of jazz.

Strayhorn wrote a musical revue, "Fantastic Rhythm," that played for years in the City. He formed a trio that performed daily on radio and played the local clubs, the "Mad Hatters," and while still in his teens, composed the songs "Life Is Lonely" (later renamed "The Lush Life"), "My Little Brown Book", and "Something to Live For".

In 1938, at the age of 23, Billy Strayhorn met Duke Ellington, who was performing in Pittsburgh's Crawford Grill (Others say it was the Stanley Theater; maybe he was jamming at the Crawford afterwards, as was common back in the day).

An impromptu backstage audition, featuring "The Lush Life," wowed Ellington and the band, and Strayhorn was on his way to joining the Duke in what would prove to be one of the great pairings of jazz.

A few months later, Strayhorn was writing arrangements for Ellington's orchestra while living relatively openly as a gay man, a rare feat for black man - heck, for anyone - during that era.

Within the Ellington organization, Strayhorn's homosexuality was never an issue. Duke accepted him. And it showed in Strayhorn's devotion to Ellington. One friend of Strayhorn's said: "Duke Ellington afforded Billy Strayhorn that acceptance. That was something that cannot be undervalued or underappreciated. To Billy, that was gold."

Once he settled in New York, Strayhorn quickly became a stylish fixture of New York nightlife, sliding between high society parties and Harlem nightclubs like Minton's Playhouse, where he impressed early beboppers like Dizzy Gillespie and Max Roach with his piano skills. He also became one of New York's best known tipplers, a habit that would grow as time went on.

Strayhorn worked for Ellington as an arranger, composer, pianist and collaborator, with a brief break in the 1950s, until his death from cancer - and without a contract. Duke never paid him a regular salary, but took care of all of his financial affairs, paying for his rent, food, clothes, and living expenses.

Heck, he never even had a regular gig for him. "I don't have any position for you," remarked Ellington when he hired Strayhorn. "You'll do whatever you feel like doing." What he was, according to Ellington, was "my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brain waves in his head, and his in mine."

And even more. Strayhorn saved Ellington's bacon in the early '40s, when ASCAP went on strike over royalty payments (or lack thereof) and refused permission for any of its songs to be broadcast over the airwaves. Duke's livelihood depended on his radio revenues, but with no songs to play, what was he to do?

Strayhorn, who wasn't an ASCAP member, caught a cross-country train from NY to LA and hurriedly wrote new, unlicensed songs for Ellington to play. Not only did they survive the blackout, but Duke came up with a new theme. "Take The A Train" was one of the tunes Strayhorn crafted for him.

Strayhorn seemed to flourish in Duke's shadow. Ellington was somewhat of a father figure and the band, by and large, was big-brother protective of the diminutive and mild-mannered Strayhorn, nicknaming him "Strays", "Weely", and "Swee' Pea".

Critics believe that his open gay orientation was a major factor in Strayhorn being dissed in the history of jazz. He hid his light under Ellington's hat, both because of his quiet nature and to keep prying eyes from looking too deeply into his personal life.

Ellington took advantage of him to a degree. Duke claimed the honors for much of Strayhorn’s work, and would tell the audience "Strayhorn does a lot of the work but I get to take the bows!"

Strayhorn composed the band's best known theme, "Take the "A" Train", and a number of other pieces that became part of the band’s repertoire. In some cases Strayhorn received attribution for his work such as, "Lotus Blossom", "Chelsea Bridge", and "Rain Check."

Other songs such as "Day Dream" and "Something to Live For", were listed as collaborations with Ellington or in the case of "Satin Doll" and "Sugar Hill Penthouse," Duke took all the credit.

On the other hand, Ellington gave Strayhorn full due as his collaborator on opuses such as "Such Sweet Thunder", "A Drum Is a Woman", "The Perfume Suite" and "The Far East Suite", where Strayhorn and Ellington worked closely together. Go figure.

He was an unabashed and public civil rights advocate, too. Strayhorn was buds with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and arranged and conducted "King Fought the Battle of 'Bam'" for the Ellington Orchestra in 1963, for the historical revue "My People".

In the 1950s, Strayhorn left Ellington, finally finding the courage to strike out on his own. He recorded a few albums, composed revues for the Copasetics (a New York show-business society) and joined in theater productions with his friend Luther Henderson. But for better or worse, his star was hitched to Duke Ellington.

Oddly, Billy Strayhorn was a major influence on the career of Lena Horne. She wanted to marry Strayhorn and considered him to be the love of her life. He was her close friend and musical mentor. They eventually recorded songs together, and for all we could find, that's as far as it went.

Strayhorn was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 1964, and the Big C claimed him in the early morning hours of May 31, 1967, in the company of his partner, Bill Grove. His alcoholism was also thought to have contributed to his death. His ashes were scattered in the Hudson River by a gathering of his closest friends.

Music legend has it that Strayhorn died in Horne's arms, but the truth is that she was touring in Europe when she received the news of Strayhorn's death.

While in the hospital on his deathbed, he finished a final composition for Ellington. "Blood Count" (originally "Blue Cloud") which was used as the first track to Ellington's eulogy album for Strayhorn, "And His Mother Called Him Bill," recorded several months after Strayhorn's death. All the cuts were Strayhorn compositions.

The last track of the album is an ad lib version of "Lotus Blossom" performed by Ellington, who just sat at the piano and played from the heart for his friend while the band packed up after the end of the session (they can even be heard banging around in the background). The small flaws in the recording make the piece one of the most poignant and human memorials ever cut.

Ellington playing Strayhorn, just the way it was meant to be.

(A pretty good bio of Billy Strayhorn's life can be found at Wikipedia.)

"Take The A Train" - Billy Strayhorn, piano, 1965. Watch for the saxman in the middle of the vid. It must have been a long show for him.

And here's a brief bio and eulogy of Strayhorn:

Thanks to aburinho.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Pittsburgh Christmas


Hey - ready to get your Christmas on? Pop in one of these CD's, recorded by Pittsburgh artists, pour an eggnog, and gather 'round the fire...visions of sugarplums will dance through your head, guaranteed.

The Spirit of Christmas - Pittsburgh Symphony Brass

Ultimate Christmas Album 5 - 3WS

BE Taylor Christmas

Guitars For Christmas - Joe Negri

Song of Christmas - Pittsburgh Symphony Brass

The Gift - Rosa Colucci

Steeltown Christmas - Slim Forsythe & The Parklane Drifters, available at Borders Books (Monroeville), Nied's Hotel, 5438 Butler Street (Lawrenceville), Paul's CDs, 4526 Liberty Avenue (Bloomfield) and the Cathy G. Charities Booth at Rossi's Pop Up Market, (North Versailles).


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Joe Rock

jaggerz-joe rock- james darren
Joe Rock with James Darren and the Jaggerz from

On May 16th, 1936, Joseph Vincent Rock made his first appearance in the world, the youngest of five kids. By the time he left this vale of tears, the South Sider's career as a songwriter and promoter were firmly established, hitched forever to the Skyliners, but extending further afield than you may think.

Joe had the music in him, and was a member of the Marquees (a session group that did backing vocals for Willett Studios) and a session singer early on. But his true calling was as a tunesmith and tub-thumper, and that's how he left his mark on Pittsburgh music.

He used to haunt the local hops, checking out the area talent. Rock listened to a group from St. George's in Allentown called the Crescents as a favor to their manager, and took them under his wing. Later, while at a hop hosted by KTV's Al "Nickels" Noble of "Jukebox" fame, he was wowed by a singer from the Monterey's, Brentwood's Jimmy Beaumont.

He added him to the mix, along with South Hill's High guitarist Jackie Taylor, and the Crescents were ready to rock. Rock wrote his first song, "Be Mine," for the group, and it took off locally. It was recorded (no, we couldn't find the label) and became a Pittsburgh hit. The Crescent's had a fan club of some 2,000 members after that song hit the 'Burg airwaves, and they were starring at clubs all over the region.

Striking while the iron was hot, Rock sent the demo to ABC Records. The story is they offered the group a contract, but the Crescents dallied over the terms and ABC threw up its hands and withdrew the offer. Somehow, another contract, this one with Atlantic, who had promised to have Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller pen songs for the group, also slipped through their fingers. Some guys would kill for a contract. Rock and the Crescents weren't apparently among them.

The likeliest explanation for the bumbled deals was that there was an internal debate over which offer was a better fit for the Crescents down the road, but eventually both labels tired of the wait and moved on. We'll never know for sure, though Rock's management cred was a little shaky at that point.

Rock would find the road to promotion becoming even, well, rockier. He brought in an advance man from Specialty Records to hear the Crescents audition in person. Only three of them - Beaumont, Taylor, and original member Wally Lester - bothered to show up. The others were allegedly out joyriding, demoralized over the blown deals.

Rock made sure they had all the cruising time they needed. He canned the AWOLs and brought in a pair of El Rios, Janet Vogel and Joe Verscharen, to replace them.

Then, according to Pittsburgh R&B legend, lightning struck. Rock had driven out to see his squeeze, and she told him it was over - she was headed to stew school in Tulsa. His broken heart kicked into songwriter mode on the way back home, and while he was stopped at a red light, the lyrics for "Since I Don't Have You" popped into his head.

He had jotted down some words at every stop - God knows there are enough traffic lights in Pittsburgh to give a guy time to write an opera - and showed them to Beaumont. He came up with the music, and one of the City's signature tunes was born.

This time, the contracts didn't flow. Rock sent a capella tapes out to thirteen labels (maybe on review, he could have picked a different number than 13), including Chess, RCA, Imperial, and the now gunshy ABC. They all said "no thanks," citing everything from negativity to too many you's at the end. Ouch.

But Rock had his local contacts on speed dial, or whatever its 1958 equivalent would have been, and got in touch with Lenny Martin of Calico Records. He arranged an audition that almost never came off - the group was so revved up that they crashed their car on the way to the try-out, but still managed to make it on time - and sang "Since I Don't Have You" and "One Night, One Night," selling Martin.

The gang went up to Capital Record's studio in New York City in December, cut the songs, and the rest is history. He even gave the group its new name, based on a 1945 Charlie Barnet hit, "Skyliner." Rock got the group on Dick Clark's "American Bandstand" and eight dates at the Apollo Theater. They charted on both pop and R&B charts. Now he was managing in high gear.

Now some say Rock couldn't take the group to the next level, and he did have a fairly bitter split with Calico Records in 1960. But the truth of the matter was that not many groups broke out of Pittsburgh, much less white R&B performers. The Skyliners went further than most.

He managed the Skyliners until his death, and formed a strong writing team with Beaumont, who scored Rock's lyrics on "This I Swear," "I'd Die," "Lonely Way," and "It Happened Today," along with every original song the group did on Calico and many beyond that time.

But the Skyliners weren't Rock's only claim to fame. In 1963, he produced "Let's Be Lovers" on ATCO 6272, a local hit that reminded listeners of New York's Flamingos. And it should have; Rock brought in Nate Nelson and the group to record under the alias of "The Starglows," earning them both a few bucks under the table.

He also penned the Joey Dee and the Starliters song "Lorraine," their first release in 1958.

He was the manager for the Jaggerz when their song "The Rapper" hit #2 nationally in 1970 on the Kama Sutra label. He also represented soul man Johnny Daye, and landed him a gig with Stax Records. In fact, he co-wrote "I've Got Dreams To Remember," the Otis Redding classic. He was out with Redding the night before his fatal plane crash.

Eventually, Rock moved away from R&B in Memphis to country in Nashville during the early 1990s. Plagued by failing health, he died in Baptist Hospital after quadruple bypass surgery on April 4, 2000.

It's been said that as long as the Skyliners are remembered, so will the memory of Joe Rock. But his passing marks a countdown to the end of the R&B era in Pittsburgh music, one of the town's craziest and most creative periods.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

El Capris

El Capris from Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebook

The El Capris first got together in the city's Hill District in 1954. It seemed like half the Hill's junior high population was singing for them - there were seven members, all either 13 or 14 years old.

They were Eddie Jackson (lead tenor), James Scott (first tenor), Theodore McCrary (second tenor), Leon Gray (baritone), William Germany (baritone and conga drums), Larry Hill (bass), and James Ward (bass and bongos). They modeled their style after the Five Royales, Ravens, Clovers, and Ink Spots, more R&B than doo-wop.

They called themselves the El Capris because they thought it was the sexy Spanish version of "The Bluebirds," their original choice. Actually, "Capri" isn't even a Spanish word. We checked the dictionary; the Bluebirds translate as "Los Azulejo", a terribly tongue-twisting title for a Pittsburgh act.

But hey, El Capris it was, and it worked fine for them, even if it drove their Spanish teacher into fits of apoplexy.

The group broke out when they won a school talent contest on July 4th, 1955, earning a singing session with Bullseye Records owner Woody Henderling in New York City.

Henderling signed the El Capris on the spot, and they returned to Pittsburgh to cut their first single, "Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Wop," b/w "Oh, But She Did" (Bullseye 102) at Porky's WHOD Studio. They wrote the A side, and the B side was a cover of an Opals tune.

Released in March of 1956, the record flopped nationally, though it did score locally on both sides of the vinyl. Pittsburgh jocks did love B sides, and were never shy about turning a record over.

The group skipped to Joe Averbach's local label Fee Bee for their follow-up, 1957's "Your Star" b/w "Dance All Night" and "To Live Again" (there were alternate pressings with different flip sides, with both versions issued as Fee Bee 216).

Averbach pushed the disc hard, and had the El Capris appear at the Apollo Theatre, the Uptown, and the Trianon, along with all the local spots, but the record went belly-up.

After a third single, "Safari" b/w "Quit Pulling My Woman" - which wasn't even performed by the group, although it was credited to them on the label - (Ring-O 308, a Fee Bee affiliate), they left Averbach.

The El Capris began to spin apart. The problem wasn't local fame. They were a hot draw at the area clubs, and popular on the eastern tours. But between no hit recordings and coming of age, the wheels began to fall off the El Capris.

By 1958 only McCrary, Gray, and Germany remained from the original seven, but they soldiered on, adding first tenor Percy Wharton and bass Sam Askue to cut "Ivy League Clean" b/w "They're Always Laughing At Me" (Paris 525). Like the other records, it went nowhere fast, though the B side did get some Tri-State love.

The El Capris never recorded after that (not from lack of effort; apparently they couldn't sweet talk any labels into giving them studio time), but the group continued playing the East Coast nightclub circuit until they finally broke up in 1970.

Eddie Jackson went on to Philly, where he sang with Brenda and the Tabulations ("Dry Your Eyes"). Larry Hill became a craftsman and sculptor, and passed away in 2004. The rest scattered with the wind so far as Old Mon can tell.

A quarter century later, co-founders Germany and Jackson played a series of revival showcases launched by a come-back concert at Donna's Carousel Lounge on May 14, 1994. They were back.

The El Capris revamped the roster with second tenor Shane Plummer (who is active in the SOUL - Save Our Unique Legacy - club, whose members are trying to preserve the history of black music) and bass Doc Battle. They're still making music, performing the occasional local gig on the Pittsburgh oldies circuit.

The history of the El Capris is well told in Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebook.

"Oh, But She Did - El Capris

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Crawford Grill

Photo Thanks to Katrencik at Flickr

Before the Civic Arena tore out its heart, the Hill District was one of the most vibrant African American neighborhoods in the country from the 1930s to the 1950s. Called "Little Harlem," the Hill drew bustling crowds both day and night. Its music scene rivaled any in America.

Pittsburgh was a jazz mecca then, and although it wasn't in Kansas City or New Orleans, Wylie Avenue often was the road that led musicians to New York and stardom.

In the Hill District, there were joints galore to keep things hopping: the Hurricane Lounge, Ritz, Showboat, Roosevelt Theater, Savoy Ballroom, Bamboola Club, Leondi Club, Green Front, Coobus Club, Little Paris, the Flamingo Hotel, Center Avenue Elks, Perry Bar, Granada Bar, Harlem Casino, Collins Inn, Bill Green's Casino and Terraced Gardens, Pythian Temple, Washington Club, and the Black Musicians Club, Local 471.

There were over 600 clubs in all, from one-man gin joints with a jukebox to opulent showcases with a band wailing on every floor. You couldn't take a step without hearing and breathing in the hot licks of jazz and soul wafting through the evening air.

The Hill's crown jewel was the Crawford Grill.

Six nights a week, the place was jumping and jiving. After it started the Friday and Saturday matinee performances, crowds were lined up outside the building both day and night.

Art Blakey, Mary Lou Williams, John Coltrane, Dakota Staton, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Eckstine, George Benson, Dr. Nelson E. Harrison, Richard "Groove" Holmes, Oscar Peterson, Nat King Cole, Thelonius Monk, Sarah Vaughn, Erroll Garner, Walt Harper, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Stanley Turrentine, Chet Baker, and Max Roach where among those who performed on its 11'x11' stage that bisected a skinny building that was 120' long but only 20' wide.

The club was founded by North Carolina native William "Gus" Greenlee, a giant in Pittsburgh's African-American community.

Greenlee owned the Pittsburgh Crawfords, named after his night club, and dominated the city's African-American sports, entertainment, and gambling scenes. The source of his wealth, according to local lore, was hijacking beer trucks during prohibition and running a lucrative numbers operation.

He was simply the king of the Hill bookies. And in the African-American community, that made him a high-powered businessman and the local banker, too. Greenlee was both the man and an institution.

His original club, the first Crawford Grill (known as the Leader House before Greenlee took over), opened in 1931 at the corner of Wylie Avenue and Crawford Street in the Hill District, where Crawford Square sits today, across from the Civic Arena.

It was nearly a full city block in length. In the main room on the second floor, the audience surrounded a revolving stage and bought their drinks at a glass-topped bar. The third floor was where the real action took place. It was home to "Club Crawford", a sort of VIP Lounge for the glitterati of the era. It was papa of several Crawford grills to pop up in the City.

By 1943, Greenlee had a booming business and his numbers partner Joseph Robinson opened Crawford Grill No. 2 on Wylie Avenue, a companion spot to the original a few short blocks up the street.

After Greenlee's death in 1952, Robinson and his son Buzzy had the only Crawford in town. One story said the original succumbed to flames after Greenlee's death, while others say it fell to the wrecker's ball in 1956 during the Arena construction. (Our guess is the fire closed it and it was eventually demolished.)

Crawford Grill No. 3 opened in 1948 in Manchester, at the corner of Bidwell Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. It was shuttered in 1955, never generating the buzz of its Hill namesakes. "Crawford Grill on the Square" opened in 2003 in the Freight House Shops at Station Square. It fizzled, too, and closed in January, 2006.

But while it may not have been much of a franchise, The Grill on Wylie packed them in. Pittsburgh's steel economy helped local clubs boom.

In the 1940s and 1950s, the mills ran 24/7, and so did the city. Steel workers were shift workers with an irregular, rotating schedule, and their weekend consisted of whatever two days they happened to have off. As a result, the mill hands were looking for weekend entertainment every night of the week. The Crawford gave it to them. And everyone was welcome, black and white, the rich and the working man.

The Crawford Grill beacame a Pittsburgh landmark. Celebrities and politicians of all stripes would stop in, like Ethel Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King. In the evenings, the music drew an audience that included Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, the Rooneys, Kaufmanns, Frank Sinatra and Saichel Paige, all rubbing shoulders with the hoi polloi in the tightly packed structure.

White musicians who played downtown clubs would head uptown to The Grill after their gigs to jam into the night with black musicians. You could run across just about anyone at the Crawford, and you couldn't beat the music that never seemed to stop.

The Grill was immortalized by Hill District native August Wilson, who included it in his 1985 play "Fences," part of his Pittsburgh Cycle of works and a Pulitzer prize winner.

Now, the Hill wasn't a exactly a slice of heaven, even then. It was still segregated to a large degree, many of the homes were shacks, and a lot of the spots were for locals only. But at night, it was another world, as close to Broadway as Pittsburgh would ever get. The streets were filled with people, and nobody worried too much about their backs.

All good things come to an end, and in this case, the Crawford Grill suffered the common fate of its home, the Hill. The first blow was struck when the City demolished the Hill District in the late 50s, and the MLK riots of 1968 sealed the deal. The Hill looked like a war zone with shuttered buildings and vacant lots, and the clubs - and more importantly, the sense of community - were gone.

After the death of Joseph Robinson in 1982, the club was passed on to his son, William "Buzzy" Robinson, and the music reflected the times, with reggae, rap, and urban music being served. It wasn't enough, and The Crawford Grill closed in 2003.

The building sits forlorn now, empty with lots full of weeds alongside it. It's been for sale for years, with a price tag of $300,000 for it and a bundle of adjoining properties.

The Young Preservationists Association called the Crawford Grill one of its "Top Ten Best Preservation Opportunities in the Pittsburgh Area," in hopes of attracting a buyer who would develop the space with respect for its role in Pittsburgh's history.

But the rickety building would cost much more than that to a new owner. It needs gutted to get it back up to code, and with redevelopment popping up all around it, the fear is that some enterprising young entrepreneur will tear it down and put up...well, something that's not the Crawford. Funny how one Arena led to its eventual closing, and another may lead to its demolition.

Finding any buyer has so far been a challenge, Buzzy Robinson said. He's hoping for someone that respects the soul of the place, and at least keeps the facade intact. It's said that if you look closely, the stones outside the windows have the names of musicians that played the Grill etched into them.

Dr. Nelson E. Harrison called The Crawford Grill a "Spirit House," meaning that it was more than mere brick and mortar, but a depository of history and the souls of the men and women that filled its room.

We can only hope that someone with deep pockets, a love of jazz, and a sense of the past ends up with the deed. And it may have been; in April, 2010 a group of investors led by Franco Harris purchased the building, with plans to renovate it and return the club to its former glory.

(The history of the Crawford Grill is in Pittsburgh Magazine's "The Hill Was Alive With the Sound of Music" by Rick Sebak.)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Jack Stanizzo & Paul Lowe

Hey gang - one of my favorite music men, Jack Stanizzo of the Contrails, is gigging with long time collaborator, guitarist Paul Lowe, this weekend. The show starts at 6:30 on Saturday, November 29th, at the Seton LaSalle HS auditorium, and they'll host a reception afterwards. The proceeds will go towards the Seton Performing Arts Center project. See ya there!


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Not To Be Cynical

cynics no way
Renaissance Fair

In September 1983, the punk-rock cover band Jetsons guitarist Gregg Kostelich struck out on his own and formed the Psycho Daisies with Mark Keresman (vocals), Pam Reyner (bass) and Bill Slam (drums).

Slam quit in a snit when he found out he wasn't gonna be the front man. Bill von Hagen took his place pounding the skins, and they changed the band's name. It was the birth of the Cynics, perhaps the best garage band to ever come from Pittsburgh.

In 1985, the Cynics released their first 45 on California's punk rock Dionysus label, "Painted My Heart" b/w "Sweet Young Thing" (ID 074501) with Keresman doing the lead vocals. It was Dionysus first vinyl ever, and it got them off on a good foot. The label is still going strong today.

That's also the year they shared the stage with Michael Kastelic, sound engineer of the Wake. Wake, a promising band, broke up after some in-house sniping, and Kastelic joined the Cynics, not as a roadie but a full-fledged member of the group and singer. It would prove to be a hook-up made in rock 'n' roll heaven.

A second 45 on Dionysus, "No Place to Hide" b/w "Hard Times" (ID 074504) was their first with Kastelic on vocals. The band formed its own label, Get Hip, and released its debut single "69," a cover of the Arondies hit, b/w "Friday Night" (GH 100) with Keresman on vocals. Released may be too strong a word; it was actually a fans-only disc, sold mainly at the their shows.

In all, the Cynics would release 25 big 7" records, mostly on Get Hip.

They cut their first LP in 1986, "Blue Train Station Sessions," recorded on Skyclad (NAKED 2). The Cynics were then made up of Kostelich, Kastelic, Beki Smith on organ, Steve Magee on bass and von Hagen on drums. Remember Kostelich and Kastelic. They and future drummer Tommy Hohn are pretty much the only constants in the band, which has gone through nine or ten configurations since its Psycho Daisy days.

"The day it hit the streets in New York," Kostelich recalled while talking to the Post Gazette. "I got a call from a promoter who said 'This record is great. I want to talk to Gregg from the Cynics,' because we put our phone number right on the back of the album. This is before you had faxes and e-mails." It led to The Cynics making their first New York appearance.

The wax was followed by 1987's "12 Flights Up," (NAKED 5) and late 1989's "Rock and Roll," (NAKED 25) their biggest-selling album, both on Skyclad (The Skyclad sessions would be reissued by Get Hip). R&R featured an original ballad, "Close To Me," and rockers "Girl, You're On My Mind" and "You Got the Love."

The popularity of "Rock and Roll," sent the Cynics to Europe in 1990, where audiences still pack the house to see them gig.

The LP also caught the notice of the major labels - eleven offered the Cynics recording deals. They spent 1990-92 touring and pondering going on a major label, but ended up empty handed.

But their recordings kept coming. A Spanish label, Impossible Records, released a live recording, "Stranded in Madrid," (017) in 1991. Get Hip later reissued it as "No Siesta Tonight," (GH 1014) in 1994. Get Hip cut the live "VPRO Radio Broadcast" LP (GH 1002) that same year. In 1992, a compilation, "Cynicism," was put out by 1 + 2 Records, a Japanese label (1 + 2 CD 15).

In 1993, they followed up R&R with "Learn to Lose" (GH 1008). Kostelich says it was more grunge than garage. Old Mon can't really tell the difference, but apparently the fans can - it fizzled.

A year later, the Cynics released "Get Our Way," (GH 1030), returning to their garage roots. It was to be their last hurrah for a while.

On New Year's Eve, 1995, Kastelic left the band. It was widely credited to burnout, which was indeed a major contributor, but actually, it was the flu that lit the fuse that blew up the Cynics. The story, according to the Post Gazette's Ed Masley:

A week or two before he left the band, Kastelic and Kostelich had a major blowout on the way home from a Detroit gig. And he was still upset that Kostelich had let stomach flu keep him home from a Cynics appearance at Cavestomp, a garage-rock festival in New York City that went on to play a major role in the current revival of interest in all things garage.

Kastelic was already in New York with the other two guys in the band hanging out at the club when Kostelich decided he was just too sick to load the van and drive the whole way there alone.

As Kostelich recalls, "That was the straw that broke the camel's back for Michael. He thought I blew him off. And that's where the argument started. And the backstabbing. If they would have stayed in Pittsburgh and we'd all gone up together and I bundled up, I could have done it. We used to take pride in not missing shows, but when you're left alone in Pittsburgh and you get the flu that bad, you can't be driving. But Michael, 'til this day, he doesn't believe it."

Told that Kostelich has said that, Kastelic replies with a laugh, "Well, to this day, even if he wasn't faking, he should have come."

Still, all's well that ends well. Kastelic sees his four-year separation from the group as a good thing in the long run.

"If we wouldn't have taken that break," he told Masley, "we probably would have kept plugging away that whole time, and by now, we would have been burned out and definitely broken up. And then, we would have missed this whole resurgence of interest in what we were doing."

Kastelic played with the Honeyburst after the divorce, along with former Cynics bassist Mike Michalski on guitar and current Cynics bassist Smith Hutchings on bass. Kostelnic ran Get Hip, and the life of a business dude was boring him silly.

But after an invite to play a sweet garage-fest arrived, K&K buried the hatchet, picked up drummer Tom Hohn and guitarist Woody Bond of Highway 13 to play bass, and the reunited Cynics headed west.

In July 2000, The Cynics were back at the Las Vegas Grind, a brief-lived festival held in 1999 and 2000, staged at the Gold Coast Hotel. The show starred bands that were part of the garage rock scene of the 1960s, like The Remains, The Standells, Lyres, and other regional acts from across the country and world. It was a perfect place for the Cynics to reemerge.

It launched them on the second half of their career. Two months later, they were off to Spain (Kastelic's wife, who serves as the band's business agent, is Spanish) to gig, this time with Smith Hutchings on bass, and have been touring like dervishes ever since. In fact, it became their main stage.

They do extremely well as artists in Europe, but Pittsburgh shows are rare things anymore, due greatly to the fact that their bassist and drummer live in Spain.

In 2002, the Cynics released "Living is the Best Revenge," (GH - 1050), produced by R&R guru Tim Kerr in Austin's Sweat Box Studio. It was their first session album in 7 years, and covered the gamut of Cynic sound, from uptempo folk to fuzzed out psycho-garage beats.

In fact, a 2003 gig in Madrid almost altered the singing dynamics of the Cynics for good. Kastelnic did a split on stage, and landed on his "unmentionables." It took several weeks for the singer to recover after slicing his urethra. And while the nearly sex-changing accident wasn't funny to him, their Euro promoter waxed ecstatic over the incident - it kept them in the news for weeks!

They got an added and much less painful boost when their records got some love on "Little Steven's Underground Garage," the nationally syndicated show that features Steven Van Zandt's personal rocker list. He plays the old stuff that lights his fire, not the suits, sorta like the Porky/Mad Mike era with guitars.

They got to strut their stuff and fame on August 2004, when they joined acts like the New York Dolls, Iggy Pop & the Stooges, and the Strokes, at Little Steven's International Underground Garage Rock Festival in New York.

The Cynics cut "Here We Are" in 2007 (GH - 1141), produced by Jorge Explosion, who recorded it in mono at his Circo Perrotti Studios in Gijon, Spain. USA Today called it "one of the best neo-garage-rock albums in years."

The Cynics have been keeping the garage torch burning since 1983. Along with bands like the Sonics, the Lyres, the Chesterfield Kings,? and the Mysterians, the Shadows of Knight, New Breed, DMZ, the Fuzztones, the Chocolate Watchband and the Standells, they're keeping it real, 60's style.

Though Old Mon has obsessed (as usual) on their discography, the Cynics have a great live show, honed by countless gigs in Europe, Japan, and at home (In 2010, The Cynics played Russia, Norway and Finland). If you're looking for some nosh-pit energy, catch a performance. Rock 'n' Roll is here to stay, and hey - The Cynics are supposed to have a new album out in 2011.

Kastelic says it never gets old for them. He told the Post Gazette's Scott Mervis "How many chords are there? There's about four or five. Five tops. Three that are good. The thing that garage rock has is that primal beat. It's the drumming of Mo Tucker, it's the drumming of the Standells, that really primal caveman beat. Bah bah bah. It's three chords. It's verse-chorus-verse-chorus, double-chorus-out. Something that's so innate, it's like stick against stone. That's why it will never die. It was around before punk rock."

"People as old as me and Gregg are still finding new things to do with same formula. It's always been the best music to me."

The Cynics - "Girl, You're On My Mind"

Friday, November 14, 2008

Frank Cunimondo

Cover from Dusty Groove.

Frank Cunimondo was born in East Liberty in 1934. He began tickling the ivories at the age of 6, studying classical piano, and as a teenager he made the transition to jazz at where else but Homewood's George Westinghouse High School?

He attended the home school of pianists Ahmad Jamal and Errol Garner. Like them, Cunimondo was mentored by music guru Carl McVicker Sr., who turned so many of his Bulldogs into musical lions. He went on to study at Carnegie Tech, now CMU.

In his early teens, he began to play professionally at the clubs around town. At 19, he began to tour, gigging in burgs like Atlantic City and Miami. At home, he played the local jazz hot spots like The Crawford Grill, often sharing a stage with the young George Benson.

In the 1950s, Cunimondo moved to New York City and immersed himself into the jazz scene, getting down with progressive sounds of artists like Miles Davis. He landed a date on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show, and a local booking agent saw him on the tube and called to see if he'd like to gig at home.

He eventually took him up on the offer, returning to Pittsburgh for good, tired of the "rat race" in the Big Apple. The pianist had seen what national fame did to players - it trapped them in a box. If they wanted to sell records, they had to stick to one sound. And he was having none of that; his tastes were too eclectic, and he needed breathing room for his keyboard to wander.

Cunimondo had another point to prove, too. He thought that you should be able to make a decent living and record as a jazz artist in Pittsburgh.

And in the fifties and sixties a player could: Cunimondo worked six nights a week, sometimes leaving one job at 2AM to begin another at one of the many after-hours clubs in his East Liberty stomping grounds, such as the Bachelors’ Club and the Hunting and Fishing Club.

So he came back and formed a trio with local musicians John Heard on bass and Roger Humphries on drums. Ever since, the Frank Cunimondo Trio, in its various configurations, has played clubs and festivals throughout the region virtually non stop. He also gigs with his his salsa band, Mondo Latino.

In addition, he has shared the stage with a number of jazz stars including Sonny Stitt, Lou Donaldson, Jimmy Witherspoon, Urbie Green, Lee Konitz, Louie Bellson, Joshua Redman, Phil Woods, Frank Rosolino, Nathan Davis, Phil Woods, Lee Konitz, and Dakota Staton.

In the 1980s he owned a jazz club in Pittsburgh called "Cunimondo's Keyboard Jazz Supper Club" in Verona. And he's not only mastered the Steinway, but is one of the nation's foremost electric piano virtuosos. In 1989, he was voted "Best Jazz Pianist" by In Pittsburgh Magazine. And yes, he's part of the Westinghouse Wall of Fame.

Cunimondo has a long discography, and to drive home his point, the albums have virtually all been released on his local Mondo label (not to be confused with the Brit Mondo studio, which issues trance music.) His first trio recorded an LP that was buried in a vault and never saw the light of day, and that may provided him with the final nudge for founding his own label.

Mondo's initial album was 1968’s "Communication" (M-101), and was recorded at Gateway studios. "Communication" featured the pianist accompanied by Ron Fudoli on bass and Spider Rondinelli on drums (who now plays every weekend at Martini's in Jefferson Hills on Clairton Road with his band, the Jazz Giants), and was in the modal jazz vein, ala his NY influence, Miles Davis. Its top track is Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life."

Cunimondo’s second LP, "The Lamp Is Low" (M-102), was released in 1969. He recorded for the first time with bassist Mike Taylor and drummer Roger Humphries. The "Lamp is Low" was a mainstream record, with the tracks being mainly jazz and bossa nova standards.

The LP’s title track received a lot of local radio love, and fans began to identify the tune with Cunimondo. It was a big request number at his live shows.

Cunimondo’s next studio session, in 1971, provided the material for his next two LPs. They were "Introducing Lynn Marino" (M-103) and "Echoes" (M-104), both released the same year.

"Introducing Lynn Marino" featured Cunimondo, Taylor, and Humphries backing up Marino, a local singer with a girlie voice that he found gigging at a local Holiday Inn. The record’s quirky tracks included “Animal Crackers in My Soup” which had been popularized by Shirley Temple, as well as pop songs, show tunes and two originals by his bud R.M. DiGioia.

Cunimondo later regretted cutting such a commercial collection of tracks. But his most popular recording, the bouncy "Feelin' Good," was off the LP and became an international hit. It's still being distributed by MoviePlay Gold, Luv 'n' Haight, and Underonesun labels in Europe under the title of its big track, "Feelin' Good."

The song has also been heavily sampled and used in a number of European dance mixes, becoming a staple of the club jocks and acid jazz DJ's across the continent.

"Echoes" was a funk filled album, and the last done by the Cunimondo-Taylor-Humphries trio. But Mondo Records and Cunimondo have kept on churning out tracks on a pretty regular basis over the years.

Cunimondo, on his Mondo label, has also recorded and released "Sagittarius," "Frank Cunimondo Plays George Benson," "It's You, It's Me," with Lori Russo, the out-of-print "Choice Cuts," "Totally Frank," (he made all the music for this LP, playing piano and electronically adding drums and bass on the Latino-flavored record), and "Sound Painting," his last and perhaps most mellow recording, issued in 2003. He's working now on his latest project, "Isle de Romantica."

Cunimondo was also featured on "Top Shelf Collection," released by Sound Idea (S90175) in 1975, and backed local sax man Nathan Davis on 1976's "Suite for Dr. Martin Luther King," issued by Davis' Tomorrow International label, and re-released on CD in 2006 by the Pony Canyon label.

His recordings have been included in the top ten selling and airplay lists in England, the Benelux Union (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg), and Japan.

Besides performing, Cunimondo has a long career as a piano tutor. He's taught at Duquesne University and currently teaches Jazz Piano at the University of Pittsburgh, as well as privately. He numbers actor Jeff Goldblum among his many students, and his name is prominently displayed on a lot of local artists' resumes.

The Frank Cunimondo Jazz Chord System was released in the late 1960's and published in 1970. It was considered as one of, if not the first, formally organized systems of jazz harmony and theory.

Frank Cunimondo is living proof that life as a big fish in a small pond ain't all that bad of a gig. He's one of the few artists to migrate back home, and the city's music scene is far richer and vibrant because he did choose the path less taken.

Old Mon thanks Carlos Pena for his on-line 2007 thesis on Pittsburgh Jazz Recordings for providing a great deal of info not only on Cunimondo (pages 37-43), but several local jazz greats.

Visit the Frank Cunimondo's MySpace page or Wikipedia for more on the pianist.

"Feeling Good" - Lynn Marino/Frank Cunimondo Trio

Friday, November 7, 2008

Dakota Staton

Dakota Staton from Swing Music

Dakota Staton (Stay-ton, not Staten, please!) was born in Homewood on June 3, 1930. She began singing and dancing as a child, emulating screen star Shirley Temple. She learned the basics of her craft at the Filion School of Music.

Staton went to Westinghouse HS and belonged to the renowned Kadets, a swing band that played music ranging from Glenn Miller's "String of Pearls" to Coleman Hawkins' "Body and Soul."

Carl McVicker Sr., a trumpet player, music teacher, and legend at Westinghouse since the 1920s, led the band and taught local greats like Earl Garner, Billy Strayhorn, Ahmad Jamal, Nelson Harrison, Frank Cunimondo - and Dakota Staton.

And along with them, she's memorialized as a member of the Bulldog's Wall of Fame.

When Staton was sixteen, she was in a stage revue called Fantastic Rhythm. Thanks to her show-stopping performance, she was chosen to be a vocalist with Joe Westray and his orchestra, a popular band that made the rounds of Hill District nightspots.

She graduated in 1948, and Staton started singing with other show bands. Staton followed her muse to Detroit, where she headlined a regular gig at the Flame Show Bar. She was a rider on the Midwest club circuit, doing shows in Indianapolis, Minnesota, St. Louis, and even Canada before moving to New York City.

While singing in a Harlem nightclub called the Baby Grand, Capitol Records producer Dave Cavanaugh caught Staton's act and signed her to the label.

In 1954, Staton recorded the single "What Do You Know about Love?" b/w "You’re My Heart’s Delight" for Capitol (Cap #T1170) and toured the East Coast. In 1955, Down Beat magazine voted her "the most promising jazz vocalist of the year."

Never strictly a jazz act, she was also a rollicking R&B singer and performed alongside Big Joe Turner and Fats Domino at Cleveland DJ Alan Freed's early Rock 'n' Roll Party showcases.

Freed regularly played Staton's "My Heart's Delight" on his daily WINS show, and when her long-awaited debut album "The Late, Late Show" hit the shelves in 1957, it became a huge crossover hit, charting at #4.

The title track became her most famous number. Other hits on the LP were “Broadway” and “My Funny Valentine.”

Staton’s next album was “Dynamic!” (Capitol, 1958), which charted at #22 and featured "Anything Goes" and "Too Close For Comfort." They were to be her two best sellers off the LP.

In all, she recorded 29 albums and was loved by the critics. Staton worked with the cream, pianist George Shearing and arrangers Nelson Riddle and Sid Feller. She was a brilliant jazz and blues singer, known for her bright, trumpetlike sound and tough, sassy style.

But Staton never reached the fame of singers like Dinah Washington, whom she cited as a model, and Sarah Vaughan. First, she was tough to pin down stylistically, slipping into pop, R&B, standards, jazz, gospel, and the blues effortlessly, and every genre had its own separate audience to sell.

Secondly, she was an album artist, and didn't really focus on cranking out hit singles, the new benchmark of her times. And finally, she was caught in a Black Muslim firefight.

She married trumpeter Talib Ahmad Dawud in 1958, converted to Islam, and for a time performed under the name Aliyah Rabia.

She became an active member of the Muslim Brotherhood, a moderate Islamic movement that ran counter to the radical stance of Elijah Muhammad. The Brotherhood found itself the eye of the storm when Muhammad claimed "they should be ashamed of trying to make fun of me and my followers while serving the devil in the theatrical world."

The resulting media flap hammered both sides, and put a serious hurting on Staton's commercial appeal. Islamic backlash wasn't unique to the George Bush era, and the black power struggle she was involved with lost her a portion of the record-buying public.

1959's "Crazy He Calls Me" still charted, but she never again enjoyed the crossover success of her previous discs, and her star began to dim.

1961's live "Dakota at Storyville," was her last Capitol session, and she jumped to United Artists for 1963's "From Dakota with Love." After two more UA albums, "Live and Swinging" and "Dakota Staton" with Strings," she left the label and didn't cut another record for eight years.

She moved to England in 1965 and worked hotels across the continent and cruise ship gigs. Staton was yesterday's news by the time she returned to the U.S. in 1971.

She signed with Groove Merchant and cut a 1972 comeback LP "Madame Foo Foo" with Richard "Groove" Holmes. Dates for Muse and Simitar followed, and in 1999 she signed with High Note for her final studio date, "A Packet of Love Letters."

She continued to perform live well into her 60s. Writing for The New York Times in 1998, Robert Sherman called Staton “one of America’s great vocal stylists.”

Over the years, Staton would periodically return to Pittsburgh for concerts, performing with pianist and brother Bulldog Frank Cunimondo at his old place, the Cunimondo Keyboard Club in Verona, and Per Favore restaurant in Oakland. Her last hometown appearance was in 1996, when she performed at the Hill House Auditorium as part of the Mellon Jazz Festival.

In 2001, Staton was inducted to the Gallery of Stars, hosted in the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater lobby, with a star block on the sidewalk in front of the theater. If you're ever passing the Kelly-Strayhorn on Penn Avenue, look down, and there it'll be. She's also a member of the Pittsburgh Jazz Society Hall of Fame, a pretty impressive group by any standards.

Dakota Staton died April 10, 2007 at the Isabella Geriatric Center in New York at the age of 76, and was buried at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. She had been going downhill ever since suffering a triple aneurysm in the 1990s.

Caffe Jazz, a label out of Westlake Village, California, released a 14-song concert recording, "Dakota Staton Live at Milestones," a Buffalo nightclub, that was originally a 1986 radio broadcast. Among its highlights is one of Dakota’s few compositions, the upbeat blues tune “Play Your Hand,” and the old favorite “What Do You See in Her?” It came out a month before her passing.

Staton was one of the great vocalists of her era, belting out show tunes, R&B, jazz, blues and gospel with equal ease. Along with her ever-shifting musical identity, Staton got caught in the crosshairs of a political struggle. She had a sweet career, even though it never got the wind in its sails that it deserved. But if Dakota Staton isn't the best female vocalist from Pittsburgh, she's surely on the short list.

Her bio is available at

Dakota Staton - "Round Midnight"

Friday, October 31, 2008

The El Dupreys & LeRoy's Excitements

el dupreys
The El Dupreys

Eddie Johnson (now known as Bashir Ansari) had been singing since he was old enough to remember, and his voice was well known on the Hill from a young age.

One day in 1957, as he was walking along Whitehead Road in the Bedford Dwellings, he heard some sweet harmonies coming through a closed building door. He took a seat on the steps and listened.

“They need one more voice,” he thought. When the rehearsal broke up, one of the singers recognized Johnson and invited him to come back next week.

A week later, he returned, and this time the door was open. Johnson sang with the guys – Wayne Walker, Ronald Hill, Paul Brentley (Pittsburgh school board director Mark is his nephew), Daryl Gilmore, and Eddie Tyler – and soon was part of the group. The Fifth Avenue High classmates made a pretty soulful sound together.

They hit Pittsburgh’s music scene as the El Dupreys, a name thought up by Brentley when the Hill District group first formed in the mid-1950s.

Gilmore left, replaced by Johnson. Willie James was in and out, leaving to join Homewood's Capitols in 1958. Guitar man Leonard Goings, bongo player John Stubbs, and drummer Roosevelt “Donnell” Gloster joined Johnson (lead & keyboards), Walker (bass), Hill (lead & tenor), Brentley (baritone), and Tyler (tenor) to form the classic El Duprey lineup.

Even that roster was fluid. Lonnie Kurt eventually replaced Tyler, who went off to find his fame and fortune in Detroit. Hill left, too, and his spot was taken by LeRoy Grammer.

They joined the city's R&B circuit, gigging at the local clubs. The group did hops for WILY/WAMO’s Bill Powell (even making an appearance on his radio show), Porky Chedwick, and Sir Walter, the reigning triumvirate of Pittsburgh soul jocks.

They played at local venues such as Westray’s Plaza, Diamond Skating Rink, Union Hall, Ammon Center, North Side Elks and New Savoy.

They were a popular act south of the City, too, often doing shows in little Washington and McDonald. The El Dupreys even went on a month-long regional tour of local super groups, the “Cavalcade of Stars," a takeoff on Dick Clark’s national barnstormers.

From 1957-1960, they were front and center in the local scene. The El Dupreys shared the stage with local heavyweights like George Benson and the Altairs, the El Capris, & the La Rells, along with national acts such as the Dells and the Clovers.

Their name drew so well that Johnson’s sister, Delores, a singer and guitarist, had a group that gigged with them, the El Duprettes. They were pretty good, too. Delores is still in the business, and has a CD, “Central Park,” that she cut with Glen Dorsey and the Twilighters.

They covered the hit tunes of the day and did their own compositions, like “Evie.” But they never got that recording that would have cemented their reputation, thanks to a youthful business indiscretion.

Deciding to bypass the local route, they hopped in a car and drove off to New York and the bright lights of the Big Apple. The first studio they stopped at gave them an audition, and they did some of their original material. It was show-stopping stuff and sold the suits.

The El Dupreys were signed on the spot, and went home to wait on the call to come back to the city that never sleeps and cut some wax.

That call never came. They were under contract to a label that wouldn’t record them, and for good reason. The El Dupreys found out that the studio (they’ve forgotten its name after the decades) was actually placed under the name of the owner’s 15-year old nephew in an effort to evade taxes.

But the Feds weren’t fooled by the ploy (they seldom are). They shut the shop down, and with it, the group’s shot at pressing their own vinyl.

“We learned a lesson,” explained Ansari. “Never sign the first offer. Shop yourself around and see what’s available. But we were young at the time, and so was our manager.” It was a hard lesson to learn, and there were a lot of tough ones yet to be absorbed.

Ansari remembers one gig when “we were promised $100 and 25% of the gate. After the show, the promoter said there must be some misunderstanding. There was no guarantee, and the gate share was to be split among all the groups, not just ours.”

It was quite common, unfortunately, for misunderstandings like that to happen to the era’s teen singers. Bring in the money and then hitch a ride home.

In 1960, the group was invited to perform in West Virginia for transportation, room and board – but no guarantee of a fee. Johnson thought that they were beyond playing for free, and when the group voted to take the date for the exposure (and the truth be told, the post-gig party), he left, along with Kurt.

But he picked up another job soon enough. A week later, hanging out on Centre Avenue, he ran across George Benson. It was just after he had left the Altairs. They put their talents together, added drummer Bob Story, a brass section, and began to perform as the Counts.

But in 1961, Johnson “got religion,” changed his name to Bashir Ansari, and left the industry for decades. He’s back, and has been for the past 15 years, singing and tickling the keys with people like Rodney McCoy and Johnny Smooth, doing jazz and R&B now.

The El Dupreys kept on truckin' for awhile, too. Ron Hill came back, and they added Leon Harvard to replace Johnson and Kurt.

But the wheels soon began to come off the El Dupreys ride. As with virtually every group of the time, the money ended up in every pocket but theirs. There were family and other responsibilities that began to claim their energies. The final blow landed when Brentley, the group's high-energy glue guy, was called to gig with Uncle Sam.

After the breakup, Grammer started LeRoy and the Excitements, later becoming the Enchantments. Walker, Hill, and Brentley threw in with him, and second tenor Leon Howard was added. They sang at all the hot spots in Pittsburgh and even scored some New York gigs.

From what we understand, LeRoy wasn't very excited when his label decided ElRoy was a better name to front the band than LeRoy and flipped his name. Who knows, maybe it was just a typo. Maybe not. That's show biz, although in Pittsburgh they still went by LeRoy and the Excitements.

Instead, they got Joe Rock of the Skyliners to manage them, and in 1961 released the doo wop “My Love Will Never Die,” b/w “No One Knows” on Alanna Reords #188 (reissued in 1963 as Alanna #565), a local outfit that still pushes platters from its' Uptown Fifth Avenue HQ. In fact, both songs are still out there on “Alanna Records Presents - Pittsburgh Rhythm and Blues/Rock 1959-1963” (ACD #5551).

The Alanna contract ran its term, and they reformed as LeRoy and the Enchantments. They approached Motown about a contract, and played a soulful Walker ballad, “Lonely Hearts," for the suits. They were told that the times, they were a'changin' in the music world, and to come back with an upbeat song to go with the slow jam before being shown the door. Rebuffed, they decided to stay local.

They cut “Lonely Hearts” b/w “Popeye, the Dance To Do,” (Ro-Mac #1001) and “Jelly Roll,” also recorded by Ro-Mac Records. That impress was run by Bob Mack, WZUM jock and Liberty Avenue's Tri-State Record Shop owner, whose chief clerk was none other than Mad Mike Metro. Eventually the Enchantments wound down, too.

Walker stayed in the business, though, and was an original member of These Gents when it formed in 1964, with Grammer and a couple of the old Altairs, William Herndon and Richard Harris. Herndon and Harris went on to sing with Fred Johnson's Marcels, whose group they often opened for.

These Gents recorded once, cutting "Yesterday Standing By, Parts 1 & 2" for Walt Maddox's Carnegie-based Western World Records in 1974 (#WW55101).

Now Walker performs for a dynamite gospel group, Voices For Christ. Don’t miss them if you ever get a chance to catch a performance. They're all that.

The group stays in touch, having forged bonds in their youth that didn't dissolve over the years. Ansari and Stubbs live in the City, Walker in Wilkinsburg, Brentley in Monroeville, Hill in Tempe Hill (MD), Tyler in Detroit, and Gloster near Atlantic City.

The gang, and a lot of the remaining Steel City soul men of the era, got together this summer at Kingsley to celebrate Tyler’s birthday. And you know what? They still make beautiful music together.

(Old Mon would like to thank Bashir Ansari for all his time and patience in cobbling the group's history together, Wayne Walker for adding his remembrances & edits, and David Parr for acting as a tireless middleman in getting the story written.)

"My Love Will Never Die" - ElRoy and the Excitements 1961

Friday, October 24, 2008


Granati Brothers from MySpace

Music always filled the Patterson Township ranch house of the Granati family. Dad Herman Granati Sr. is a classically trained musician who had played with several local long hair groups. His boys took to music, too, although of a decidedly different stripe.

Growing up to the Beatles, the Who and Led Zep sounds, the four brothers formed a band in the 1970s and began playing local gigs. They were the Granati Brothers.

Hermie played keyboards, Rick the drums, Joey was on bass, and David picked the guitar. The brothers enlisted next-door-neighbor, cousin Tony Bonomo, to fill out the roster.

The Granati Brothers had a regular weekend date at Morry's Speakeasy in Rochester Township. On a good Saturday night, 300 to 400 people would pack Morry's to see the Granatis and other area acts like B.E. Taylor and Donnie Iris. The club was a regular Rock Hall of Fame for Beaver County.

Label talent scouts began bird-dogging the shows. Warner Brothers showed some interest, but in 1977 Derek and Ray Shulman of the band Gentle Giant signed them to both a management deal with Premiere Talent, which handled Bruce Springsteen, the Who, and Van Halen, and to A&M Records.

On Feb. 15, 1979, A&M released the band's debut album, “G-Force,” and later their track "Go Crazy" was featured as the opening song of the label's "Propaganda" compilation album that included cuts by the Police, Squeeze, and Joe Jackson.

They had the G-Brothers open for 10 dates on the West Coast tour of British rockers Fabulous Poodles. In the audience for a San Francisco show was Steve Hansen, who soon would move to Pittsburgh and become one of the Granatis' biggest supporters as a morning man on WDVE-FM.

The Granatis big break came at the Whisky a Go Go in 1979, packed by dozens of Pittsburgh nomads who went wild for their hometown boys. Impressed, A&M asked the Granatis to fill in as a warm-up act for two shows by Van Halen.

They opened for Van Halen in Caldwell, Idaho, and Logan, Utah, where Eddie Van Halen fell in love with their classic rock style and stage routine. They become Van Halen's opening act for the next 36 shows.

The Granati Brothers knew how to make an entrance. The group would sprint onto the stage at full speed, and vault from speakers and drum risers, doing splits and looking for all the world like crazed, long-haired circus acrobats. The crowd was wired by their high-energy act, a perfect warm up for VH.

Besides Van Halen, the brothers played with Heart, Peter Frampton, Boston, J Geils, Ian Hunter, the Doobie Brothers and others during a seven-month national tour. Over 250,000 fans in 50 cities caught their perfomance.

The highlight of the tour was appearing before 62,000 fans at the Louisiana Superdome rock festival in New Orleans, where the Granati Brothers took the stage first, followed by Sammy Hagar, Nazareth, Blue Oyster Cult, Van Halen, Heart and Boston.

Back in Pittsburgh, WDVE was spinning the band's single "What in the World" seven times a day, the first time a local band had received so much air time.

Philly stations were playing the G-Brother's "You Look So Good," while West Coast stations spun the band's "Night is the Best Time." One New York station opted for the B-side, "It Was You." 50,000 copies of the album sold. Sounds like a lot of love, hey?

Not really. There's a reason labels don't release four tracks at once – you can't promote them all. Besides the poor marketing effort by A&M, insult was added to injury when they decided to push the band 1999 at the expense of the Granatis. Remember them? Neither do we.

While their quest for stardom on the radio fizzled, they were still hot on the road.

In 1981, G-Force performed for over 500,000 fans in 39 cities in the U.S. and Canada, appearing with Van Halen at 46 sold out concerts. It was the third largest tour of 1981. All in all, they performed in 78 sold out Van Halen concerts. David Granati earned a nomination for player of the year by Guitar Player Magazine.

In 1982, Rick Granati, Mike Stout of the United Steel Workers, and WDVE organized a benefit concert at Pittsburgh’s Stanley Theater to raise money for thousands of unemployed steel workers cast aside when Big Steel died in the city. The Granati Brothers and local artists Iron City House Rockers and Billy Price performed.

CBS Evening News, Today Show, New York Times, LA Times, AP, and UPI all covered the show and put out the story of the devastated mill families.

The funds raised by the concert led to the founding of the USW Local #1397 Food Bank that eventually morphed into the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, which is still feeding hungry Pittsburgh families to this day.

They have also performed with or recorded Bruce Springsteen, J. Geils, Ian Hunter, the Doobie Brothers, Yes, Sammy Haggar, Nazareth, Heart, Peter Frampton, Boston, Blue Oyster Cult, Def Leppard, Black Foot, Molly Hatchet, Southside Johnny, Dionne Warwick, Joe Grushecky, the Clarks, BE Taylor, the Jaggerz, and Norm Nardini. Pretty fair list, we'd say.

The band signed with Atlantic Records in 1986 and recorded an album called "Enter". But the Atlantic era wasn't any more successful than A&M's, as local bands like the Granatis, the Silencers and the Houserockers were cut out of even hometown airplay for the big-name, easy sell national rock groups by the station managers.

"But that's why Pittsburgh is Pittsburgh, and Cleveland is Cleveland, and some cities have a reputation for breaking local bands, and some don't," Hansen told the Ellwood City Ledger. He and partner Jimmy Roach fought the local playlist ban, but we all know that's a fight the suits always win.

As the local platter pushers turned their backs to homegrown talent, the brother's interests began to branch off in different directions.

The band went their separate ways in 1995 as they pursued their own projects. Joey and David, along with Gary Carolla and Sputzy Sparacino, co-wrote Aaron Carter's hit song "Tell Me How to Make You Smile.” Hermie kept his hand in the business, and performed and recorded with area artists. Joey became one of the big-time performers nationally in the niche world of Dueling Pianos.

In 2006, Hermie, Joey, and David Granati wrote the theme song "Reach For The Light" for the TV documentary "The Actors Journey Project".

David has his own 24 track studio, “DaveWorld Productions,” and specialized in taping local bands including the Gathering Field, Corbin and Hanner, Jimmy Beaumont, Johnny Angel, Norm Nardini, the Vogues, the Jaggerz, the Tremblers, and Soda Jerks, along with some national acts. He also did independent projects in Ireland and at Lenny Kravitz Studios.

In 2002 the Granati Brothers got the itch and reunited. They released “G - The Continuing Adventures of the Granati Brothers,” recorded at DaveWorld Productions. They once again rode the club circuit, and still gig when the spirit moves them at the local joints. They just finished up polishing and showing off the Lincoln Park school rockers for their foray into the world of show biz.

Their day jobs are:

Hermie: Plays keyboards for B.E. Taylor's band.
Joey: Co-manager and performer at Charlie Murdoch's piano bar on South Side's East Carson Street
David: Album producer and also music instructor, along with Joey, at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center in Midland.
Rick: A commercial and residential painter and event promoter.

May the G-Force always be with us.

To keep up with the Granati clan, visit their MySpace - Granati Brothers site.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Capitols

The Capitols

In 1954, while living in the Hill District, Rick Toliver began harmonizing with the street corner doo-woppers of the neighborhood. Even though he was a natural baritone, he was singing first tenor. He often hooked up with Larry Williams, Daryl Gilmore (El Dupreys) and Sylvester Brooks (Smoothtones) for his street serenades.

He came by his voice honestly. Both of his parents sang for a gospel group that toured the region.

One day, as the boys prepped for a talent show at the Addison Center, Toliver caught a cold and couldn't hit his trademark tenor notes. Rehearsing at his parent's home, they decided to draft his 10 year-old lil' brother, Michael, who everyone called Mickey, into the act. He was taught a crash course in vocal harmony.

Brooks slid Michael to second tenor, took over the top tenor himself, and dropped Rick to baritone. But young Mickey was just a fill-in at that point, and wasn't really into music. What he was into was basketball, although that would change.

In 1955, the Toliver clan moved to Homewood, and that was the spark that ignited the Capitols.

Frankie Lymon successfully introduced the soaring tenor lead to R&B recordings in 1956. It was a sound that was already popular on Tioga Street in Homewood.

Five teens, ranging in age from 14 to 17, would hang out on Tioga Street every night and harmonize like the groups on the radio. They were Mickey (lead) and Ricky Toliver (baritone), Fred McCray (second tenor), Arthur Dixon (first tenor), and Frankie Hill (bass).

It may have kept them on the streets, but it kept them out of trouble. (Actually, their dad was a mechanic and had a garage, Toliver's Auto Repair Shop, where they practiced, but who are we to mess with a good street-corner doo-wop story?)

When they got together, the neighbors would gather to check out the sounds. They must have liked what they heard; the group felt that they were ready to make their name by 1956. A visit by McCray to Washington, D. C. led to the name Capitols. Everyone was down with it, and the Capitols it is to this day.

That year the Capitols showcased themselves via talent and community gigs, and they drew the attention of WILY DJ Bill Powell.

Powell featured them live on his radio show several times. By 1956, the Capitols headlined his Rock n Roll shows. Their records would eventually spin on the turntables of local DJs Sir Walter (WILY), Porky Chedwick (WHOD), Barry Kaye (WJAS) and Al Noble (KQV).

Porky was so impressed with the Capitols that he had the group perform at his hops and they became prime draws on Sunday night at the White Elephant in White Oak.

In the midst of their sudden whirlwind schedule of shows, 18 year-old Frank Hill joined the army. Dora "Spike" Hall replaced McCray at second tenor, and he moved to bass to take Hill's spot. With this new lineup, the Capitols landed their first record contract.

Ike Weems became their manager (and part-time bass man), and hooked the Capitols up with DJ Jay Michael, airing out of WCAE. He became a fan. "Jay Bird" was tight with Gone-End Record president George Goldner, who recorded the Teenagers on his Gee label.

In May of 1957, Weems finangled an audition with Goldner, who was in town, by dropping Jay Michael's name liberally. It was held at George Heid's recording studio in the William Penn Hotel. The Capitols sang the Teenagers' "ABC's Of Love."

Goldner thought they sounded like the Teenagers, and signed the Capitols to his subsidiary Cindy label and a five-year contract with a two-year option. He set up a session at the Bell Sound Studio in New York and told the group to get some material ready to record.

The Capitols already had a song, "Millie," which they sang at all their appearances, written by Mickey. According to him the song was about his first love "Lizzie," (Elizabeth Bennett), though they had to change the name to fit the lyrics.

Weems gave the group $90 and had a friend drive them to the Big Apple in his station wagon. Arriving in New York, the group stayed at Harlem's Cadillac Hotel, just down the street from the Apollo Theater. They spent the day at Coney island and reported to the studio to cut "Millie," and "Rose-Marie."

It took two hours and several takes, but they got the job done, and done well. The story they tell is that after a busy day, the youngsters' minds were everywhere but on the task at hand. After hearing the lifeless results of their first take on tape, the embarrassed group buckled down, focused a bit, and nailed it.

In June, the Capitols returned to New York to appear on a talent show at the Apollo Theater. They did "Rose-Marie," complete with some slick, newly developed choreography.

The record was released in July (Cindy #3002), under Mickey Toliver and the Capitols. On July 20, 1957, "Rose-Marie" was ranked # 1 by Jay Michael, and a week later, it debuted on Al Noble's KQV Top 10.

Then Porky started pushing the platter. The Capitols were often doing three record hops a week with Pork the Tork, and did shows with Bill Powell of WAMO and Leon Sykes of WMBS in Uniontown.

The record was also getting heavy air play in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. But even with strong regional record sales, there was no cash coming in, though the contract called for a 6-1/2 percent royalty fee. Imagine that - a label ripping off an artist.

So they played the halls to earn their daily bread. They appeared at the Howard Theater in Washington, D.C. for a week, doing 4 shows a day. The Capitols also did shows at the Paramount, the Regal, the Uptown and the famed Apollo in Harlem.

What they enjoyed most about their Apollo appearances was the final curtain call, when all the artists would come out on stage and sing one final encore number together.

The Capitols also gigged in New Jersey with DJ Jacko Henderson, and at the Syria Mosque in Pittsburgh, at a Jay Michael's Revue.

Rick Toliver remembers the Mosque show. "The Clovers burned our sweaters. We had hung the sweaters over some lights backstage and unknowingly, the Clovers clicked the switch on." They sang "Rose Marie" in tops with brown holes shot through them.

For some unknown (to the band, anyway) reason, Cindy wasn't releasing anymore of their archived material, and they completely stopped recording the group.

According to Marv Goldberg in his excellent R&B Notebook, Cindy was originally set up for Jay Michaels by Goldner, apparently to serve as a local label of sorts. So he probably never planned any national push for the area acts on Cindy's roster.

In 1958, the frustrated Capitols taped four demo tracks for Atlantic Records. All the tunes were written by Mickey Toliver and sang a cappella. They were jump tunes "Sitting In The Park" and "I Got A Girl," with the ballads "Give Me A Thought" and "There's A Reason Why." They also sent the tape to Vee Jay.

The Capitols wanted to bolt Cindy to sign with Atlantic Records, but Goldner warned them that they were under his contractual control, and the threat of lawyers ended their attempted jailbreak for the time being.

The Capitol's lineup took on a new look in the spring of 1958. Dora Hall left the group after she got married. Willie James, a second tenor who sang with the Hill's El Dupreys, replaced her.

McCray was already married, and Rick Toliver tied the knot in September. The Capitols were still together but not working very much. Family life was number one and there were no new records from the band in 1958. In 1959, a session was held at George Heid's studio that produced two demo's, the uptempo "I Got A Girl" b/w the ballad "Give Me A Thought."

Mickey's voice changed in 1960, and he lost his tenor range. Hey, it happens to us all eventually. When he graduated from Fifth Avenue High in 1960, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, joining up with the 508th Airborne. With his departure, the Capitols shut down, and they parted company with Weems.

From June 1960 until the summer of 1961, the Capitols were inactive. They did resurface with Dora (Hall) Goins (lead), Clarence Herd (first tenor), the El Veno's Eddie Hicks (second tenor/bass), George Taliaferro (second tenor /bass), and Rick Toliver.

A four-song demo tape, written by Hicks, was put together at United Studios. The tracks were the upbeat "Day By Day" and "Man Across the Hill", and the slow "Little Things" and "Just The Way You Axe."

The Capitols continued to perform throughout the Pittsburgh area into 1963. Howard and Sam Shapiro, owners of the National Record Mart and operators of Gateway Records, showed some interest in the group. Goins' husband, a trombonist for the Debonaires, is said to have bird-dogged the Capitols to the Shapiros.

They landed a contract, and in November, 1963, the group entered Gateway's studio above the NRM and recorded Hick's uptempo "Day By Day" and the ballad "Little Things" (Gateway 721). The Capitols were backed by the Debonaires. But the records went nowhere.

In May of 1964, Rick Toliver was promoted by his day job and left the group to focus on his 9-5 gig. The Capitols made appearances as a quartet after that, and became a trio when Herd departed, too. Goins, Hicks and Taliaferro stayed together until 1965, when they held a farewell show at the Paradise Club.

And no, they're not the Detroit trio that did "Cool Jerk" in 1966.

Hicks and Taliaferro did sing for the 1978 Walt Maddox Marcells that recorded a disco version of "Blue Moon" on the All Ears label (#1001). Disco "Blue Moon?"

But hey, everything old is new again, right? Original members Dora Hall and the Toliver brothers joined Eddie Hicks and Calvin Moore, and Mickey Toliver and the Capitols were reborn. You can visit them at Capitols - MySpace Music.

And if you'd like a listen, Dead Dog Records has an album of their material called "The Capitols - 50 Years of Music" with 28 of their tracks. "Rose Marie" is also on a couple of doo-wop anthologies.

"Little Things" by the Capitols - 1963

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Mad Mike

mad mike metro
Mad Mike's Moldies from Jancee Records

Yah, we know everyone and his momma has a Mad Mike piece this week, as Brooklyn's Norton Records is issuing its 3-record set of "Mad Mike's Monsters." The release party is tonight, starting at 7 PM at Pietro's Pizza Pub at 2957 Banksville Road.

But hey, nothing like striking while the iron's hot, right?

Mad Mike Metro was part of the fearsome foursome of influential underground jocks in the 1960's, along with Porky, TL, and Bob Livorio, ruling Pittsburgh's airways from their small town thrones.

His given name was Mike Metrovich. He was born in Manchester in 1936 and grew up in Overbrook. While in the Navy and stationed at the Brooklyn Yards, Metrovich was turned on to the music of the Turbans, Big Joe Turner and Fats Domino.

When Uncle Sam set him free in 1959, Mad Mike, by now an avid record collector, started hosting hops, which led to his first radio job. He started at WPIT-AM in 1964, and quickly moved on to what would become his radio home until 1972, a small Carnegie station with the call letters WZUM-AM. His first show there was aired on August 2, 1964.

Metro would make those Carnegie call letters as familiar as Chedwick made Homestead's WHOD and WAMO, Lee made McKeesport's WMCK, and Livorio made New Kensington's WKPA. They were preset on every kid's car radio. He later hosted oldies shows on WYEP-FM, WEDO, WWCS and WARO/WCNG.

Old DJ Charlie Apple called Mad Mike's music "obscure, highly desirable, and extremely danceable." Right on. Not only was he an avaricious collector, but Mike managed Bob Mack's Tri-State Record Store in town, surrounded by discs. He even picked out records for Mack to spin on his "Wax Museum" show on WZUM.

Metrovich was famous for his bargain bin searches, and he'd hit the buried stacks of unknown tunes from  coast-to-coast or work out swaps at the shop. He's sometimes credited with launching Tommy James and the Shondell's career when he dug out a copy of "Hanky Panky."

That's not the only act Mad Mike uncovered. He introduced the East Coast to punk when he brought Tacoma's Sonics to town to play "The Witch" and "Psycho." It was allegedly the only gig the Sonics performed outside of the Pacific Northwest during their heyday.

Another quirk he was noted for was not announcing the group that cut the song he was spinning. The odds were that the band was obscure, and Mad Mike didn't see any reason to turn his hours of digging through dusty discs into someone else's glory. His theory was it was the sound that counted anyway, not the band.

Besides, if you wanted to hear what Metro was playing, well, you had to listen to him because no one else had the song. That's one way to build fan loyalty. Needless to say, it provided the Moldie record anthology folk with quite a headache when they tried to run down whose songs the Mad One was spinning.

His privacy phobia with his beloved vinyl was legendary. He'd scratch off the name of the song and group, or cut out the record circle of another song and paste over the real one, sometimes even gluing the comics over the record info. He'd regularly talk over a song, or invent a new name and band for it. Metro didn't want anyone at the hops to discover the tunes he had rescued from obscurity, nor tape them while he was on the air and then make a bootleg.

Some discs he'd only play a couple of times before tossing them back into his disarrayed collection - and he was one of the great record collectors of his time, filling his crib with vinyl. When he said "Listen in - you may never hear this song again," Metro meant it.

Unknown bands or not, Mad Mike packed the rooms he played. He was a regular at West View's Teen Danceland, Mt. Lebanon's Lebanon Lodge, Castle Shannon's Linden Grove, North Park's Wildwood (his first major gig; Mack hired him to be the house DJ), and McKeesport's White Elephant. It wasn't unknown for Metro to do three shows a night, and if you weren't in the house by nine, the odds were you weren't getting in.

One famous story has Mad Mike at Danceland in 1964, spinning records for a couple of thousand teens, while the live act next door drew 200 fans. That band was the Rolling Stones.

His show covered all the bases. His first segment, Mad Mike's Moldies, spun R&B and doo-wop tunes. His second segment, Mad Mike's Monsters, featured garage rock, surf music, wild instrumentals, and just about anything he could slap on a turntable that would get your feet movin' and booty shakin'.

Do "Goo Goo Muck" by the Gaylads or "Sen-Di" by King Rock ring a bell?

He countered the English invasion by almost single-handedly introducing Pittsburgh to wailing guitar instrumentals, a new sound to a city weaned on R&B flavored sax and piano grooves, with an occasional rock-a-billy twanger thrown into the mix.

Metro was also a studio electronics whiz. Over the years, he worked as an engineer at many stations around town. He even built the studio used at Pietro's, and repaired transmitters and broadcast equipment for area radio booths.

After a hiatus from spinning wax, he returned to the airwaves in 2000 to host an oldies show on WZUM. Mad Mike was back where it all started for him. He launched "Nostalgia Music 2000," hosting his own show and putting together a group of other DJs, many of whom grew up listening to him, to man time slots he and son-in-law Pete Shanley purchased from the station.

The shows grew from weekends to weeknights, airing live from Pietro's Pizza Pub. We've heard that every Tuesday night a group of fans still meet at Pietro's for a weekly Mad Mike Metro Memorial Cruise. What goes around...

But it was to be a short-lived, if sweet, comeback. Mike Metrovich passed away on October 31, 2000, at the age of 63 after battling various ailments. Somehow, Mad Mike joining the other side on Halloween seems appropriate.

Though he jocked in Pittsburgh all his days, his popularity was nation-wide. The six volume "Mad Mike's Moldies" (missing #3 & 6, which never were released because of a rights imbroglio), were pressed by NRM on discs made of different colored vinyl (Old Mon recalls red and green), and were huge hits. Collectors still go ga-ga over them today.

Hey, maybe we'll see you at the release party tonight. Old Mon thought it'd be a good way to introduce his 26 year-old son to the ways of the world, as it once was. And if nothing else, it promises to deliver some great sounds, memories, pizza, and a cold one or two on a Saturday night. Sounds alright to us.

And it was. The joint was packed, the turnable was rockin' with "Camel Walk," a vanload of fresh brews arrived in the nick of time, and it was bedlam. The Norton Records girl was selling LP's and CD's outta her trunk, and we're sure it was a scene Mad Mike woulda loved.

Hey, TJ, if you're reading this, here's your shoutout, and some love to New Eagle. We moldie South Hill's dinosaurs gotta hang together.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Pittsburgh Music

Hey, the Old Mon is feeling kinda lazy on this rainy morning. All he wants to do is lay back and catch some sounds before running off to the golf course. So instead of yap, here's some vids of Pittsburgh's current acts in all their glory and diversity. Enjoy 'em.

The Clarks at Mr. Smalls - "On Saturday"

Christina Aguilera - "Fighter"

Wiz Khalifa - "Say Yeah"

Joe Grushecky - "I'm Coming Home"

Anti Flag - "Turncoat"

Ahmad Jamal Trio w/Gary Burton - "One"

The Billy Price Band Live From Peer, Belgium - "Your Time To Cry"