Thursday, February 28, 2008

mr. b

billy eckstine
Billy Eckstine from Verve Records

Billy Eckstine was born William Clarence Eckstein in the East Liberty in 1914. (He changed the spelling of his name because a club owner thought it was too Jewish!) Eckstine's smooth baritone and distinctive vibrato broke down musical and racial barriers throughout the 1940s as the leader of the first bop big band and then as the vanguard of romantic black male vocalists in popular music.

Born in Pittsburgh but raised in Washington, D.C., Eckstine began singing at the age of seven and entered every talent show he could find. He had originally planned on a football career (what Western PA kid doesn't?), but after breaking his collar bone, he put all his energy into his music.

He attended Howard University in the nation's capitol, and after a year at college he won a talent contest in 1930 by imitating Cab Calloway. Eckstine sang briefly with drummer Tommy Myles’ band in DC after that, launching his career.

On the recommendation of composer and tenor saxophonist Buddy Johnson, he joined Duquesne, PA native Earl "Fatha" Hines’ band in Chicago as a singer and occasional trumpet player in 1939. Small world, isn't it? In turn, he encouraged Hines to sign up Charlie "Bird" Parker and Sarah Vaughan.

Though white bands of the era featured males crooning romantic ballads, black bands were expected to stick to novelty or blues numbers until the advent of Eckstine and Herb Jeffries (from Duke Ellington's Orchestra).

Eckstine, also known as Mr. B. (he also performed briefly as Billy X. Stine), was both a pivotal figure in the history of jazz because of his commitment to bebop, and the first black singer to achieve lasting success in the pop mainstream. He became a huge influence on the development of soul, and on R&B singers from Sam Cooke to Prince

Though several of Eckstine's first hits with Hines were novelties, he also recorded several mainstream ballads, including the hit "Stormy Monday."

In 1943, acting on the advice and encouragement of Budd Johnson, Eckstine formed his own band. He inked a trio of superstar bandmates — Dizzy Gillespie, Bird Parker, and Sarah Vaughan. Eckstine recruited still more progressive players and future stars: Wardell Gray, Gene Ammons, Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis, Kenny Dorham, Fats Navarro, and Art Blakey as well as arrangers Tadd Dameron, Jerry Valentine, and Gil Fuller.

Although his original intention was to have a band merely to back his vocals, Eckstine had gathered an exciting group of young jazz musicians and found himself the leader of what was really the first true bebop big band.

Despite the group's jazzy slant, Eckstine hit the pop charts often during the mid-'40s, with Top Ten entries including "A Cottage for Sale" and "Prisoner of Love." On the group's frequent European and American tours, Eckstine also played trumpet, valve trombone and guitar.

Not really into the blues and frustrated by the failure of his beboppers to hit it big, Eckstine turned to ballads. His future stardom would lay with the pop charts.

The band broke up and Eckstine became a solo performer in 1947. He made the transition to lush, string-filled ballads with ease. He recorded more than a dozen hits during the late '40s, including "My Foolish Heart" and "I Apologize."

He was one of the first artists signed to the newly established MGM Records and had popular sellers with revivals of "Everything I Have Is Yours" (1947), Richard Rodgers’ and Lorenz Hart’s "Blue Moon" (1948), and Duke Ellington’s, Irving Mills and Juan Tizol’s "Caravan" (1949). He had further success in 1950, but he was unable to sustain his recording momentum throughout the decade.

His best record of the fifties was a duet with Sarah Vaughan, "Passing Strangers," a minor US hit in 1957 but a smash in the UK. Even before folding his band, Eckstine had recorded solo to support it, scoring two million sellers in 1945 with "Cottage for Sale" and a revival of "Prisoner of Love."

He was popular in Britain, hitting the Top Ten there twice during the '50s with "No One But You" and "Gigi" and scored several duet hits with Sarah Vaughan. Eckstine returned to his jazz roots occasionally as well, recording with Vaughan, Count Basie, and Quincy Jones. He regularly topped the Metronome and Downbeat Polls as the Top Male Vocalist of the era.

The classic 1960 live in Las Vegas LP "No Cover, No Minimum" featured Eckstine taking a few trumpet solos as well. He recorded several albums for Mercury and Roulette during the early '60s, and he appeared on Motown for a few standards albums during the mid-'60s.

After recording sparingly during the '70s on Al Bell's Stax/Enterprise label, Eckstine made his last recording, the Grammy nominated "Billy Eckstine Sings" with Benny Carter in 1986. He was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1985.

He toured internationally during the 1960s and '70s, focusing on live shows rather than recording sessions.

Eckstine also made numerous appearances on television variety shows including The Ed Sullivan Show, The Nat King Cole Show, The Tonite Show with Steve Allen, Jack Paar, and Johnny Carson, The Merv Griffin Show, The Art Linkletter Show, The Joey Bishop Show, The Dean Martin Show, The Flip Wilson Show, and Playboy After Dark. He also performed as an actor on occasion, with his credits including Sanford and Son on TV, and the movies Skirts Ahoy, Let's Do It Again, and Jo Jo Dancer.

Eckstine was a fashion setter and noted sharp dresser. He patented a high roll collar that formed a B over a Windsor-knotted tie, which became known as a Mr. B collar. Besides the prerequisite of looking cool, the collar expanded and contracted without popping open, which allowed his neck to swell while playing his horns. The collars were popular with hipsters and gangsters alike in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

According to jazz legend, his smooth appearance also had an effect on trumpeter Miles Davis. Once when Eckstine came across the rumpled Davis in the throes of a heroin downer, his remark "Looking sharp, Miles" served as a wake-up call for Davis. He promptly returned to his father's farm in the winter of 1953 and kicked the habit once and for all.

He died on March 8, 1993 at the age of 78. He had been twice married and had 7 children.

You can't sing about love unless you know about it. - Billy Eckstine

Many thanks to Wikipedia which provided the bulk of Billy Eckstine's story.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

i love your smile

Shanice Wilson's "Every Woman Dreams" from Wikipedia

Shanice Wilson entered the world on May 14, 1973 in Pittsburgh. She was born into the musical family of guitarist Carl Black and singer Crystal Wilson. Shanice learned how to belt out a song, and at a very young age was performing onstage with her mother and aunt, Penny Wilson. She followed her mom to Los Angeles two years after Crystal's divorce in 1979. It was a great move for her and her career.

She gained show biz experience & exposure in various musicals. Shanice starred in a KFC commercial with the legendary Ella Fitzgerald at age nine. In 1985, as an 11 year old, she won on Star Search. Her stage performance that same year in the show Get Happy impressed A&M Records honcho John McClain enough that he offered her a recording contract.

In 1987 she released her first album, ”Discovery.” It spun out several hits, the biggest being "(Baby Tell Me) Can You Dance?". Also charting was "This Time" (with Kiara) and "No Half Steppin." She garnered a Soul Train Award nomination for Best R&B/Urban Contemporary New Artist for "Discovery," even though the album was only a modest hit commercially.

She jumped to Motown Records in 1990 to collaborate with producer Narada Michael Walden. Her initial Motown album, "Inner Child," was released in 1991 and became her most successful record to date.

"Inner Child" rose to the top ten of Billboard and earned Gold Record status from RIAA, thanks to its #1 R&B/Hip Hop Singles and #2 Billboard Hot 100 megahit "I Love Your Smile." Other big tracks off the album were "Silent Prayer" and "It's for You."

She was selected for a Grammy nomination for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance in 1992. In 1993, she won the Golden Lion Award for Best International Artist

Shanice took a three-year break before launching her next album, "21 Ways To Grow" in June 1994. She got involved with movie soundtrack projects like "Boomerang," "Meteor Man," “Pocahontas” and “Panther”. Shanice and gospel singer TonĂ©x sang the theme song to the UPN sitcom One On One. “Saving Forever for You”, a single cut for the Beverly Hills 90210 TV soundtrack hit the top ten of three Billboard charts. She also did some studio work and sang background vocals for Toni Braxton, Usher, Mary J. Blige, and Babyface.

Babyface signed her to his label, LaFace Records, and released her fourth album, "Shanice" and a greatest hits compilation, “Ultimate Collection: The Best of Shanice.” "Shanice" featured the hot track, “When I Close My Eyes.”

She also proved that there's more than one way to skin a cat. Her vocals popped up in various video games like Playstation's "The Bouncer." Shanice switched gears in the late 1990's when she took up acting, playing the role of Eponine in the Broadway musical Les Miserables for a brief run and earning pretty decent reviews.

Having done it all professionally, she next turned to her private life, marrying her longtime beau, actor/comedian Flex Alexander, on February 19, 2000. They have two children, Imani Shekinah and Elijah Alexander.

Shanice primed the pump with her first single after six years, the title track "Every Woman Dreams," in June 2005, with the album being released in early 2006. She produced it independently. She's supposed to have another ready to go sometime this year.

Shanice travels to the beat of her own drummer. She has a five octave voice, which she features with a strong falsetto shown off in songs like Minnie Ripperton's "Loving You," but is often panned for not using her great range more often. Shanice has only recorded 5 studio albums in twenty years.

But guess what - she's sang, recorded top ten hits, performed on stage, and her career still has a long way to run. She has a happy family. And that's a Pittsburgh success story no matter how you cut it, even (or maybe especially) if it's being lived in LA.

(To find out what Shanice is up to, visit her at My Space Music)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

oldies but goodies yet again

john christian
John "Sir Walter" Christian from Poise Foundation

OK, Porky was the king of the radio jocks, no argument. But if he was king, Sir Walter Raleigh was the Prince of Soul DJ's in the early days of Pittsburgh R&B radio.

In 1955 John Christian starting spinning disks at WILY, an East Liberty station, joining local radio pioneers Lee "3-D Lee D" Dorris and Bill Powell, all three playing soul for the black audiences of Pittsburgh. He owned an appliance store that advertised on the station and got into the business through a bit of serendipity. The station manager heard his voice over the phone and offered him a job.

Two years later, Christian, dubbed "Sir Walter" in Time magazine for his faint British accent, left to team up with Porky at WAMO. Bill Powell joined him there. Brother Matt came on later, giving WAMO a dominant lineup of jocks.

"And that's when WAMO took off," Christian told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. "There was a segment of people who obviously appreciated what Porky was doing. They were primarily white people. When they brought on African-American talent, that's when the total community, white and black, became involved." WAMO to this day draws on a large mixed audience for its' music programming.

He used to dress up in an English butler outfit or in a white suit, sometimes with tails. Christian would sport a monacle and talk in a faux accent. He often was seen wearing a top hat or bowler. Sir Walter had very large, white mutton chops. And he referred to everyone as "M'Lords and M'Ladies."

Some thought his persona was a takeoff on satirist Lord Buckley, who would do bits with a veddy British accent and over the edge costumes. Whatever the origin, Christian's act worked like a charm in Pittsburgh. He was a popular hop jock like all the primo DJs of the era.

He eventually left radio because of "creative differences". Control of the playlist had been torn from the DJ's and given to the accountants, and Christian figured it was time to move on. A Top 40 list was anathema to the old school jocks. He then scored a long running gig with TV station WPXI.

Now he's best known for his charitable work. The John Christian Charity Trust Fund awards grants to different area social and community causes. Its' big money maker is his annual celebrity golf outing.


And add the Stockdale Fire Hall in Washington county to the hop havens of the 1950s & '60s. The Pittsburgh Tribune Review and Post Gazette both just ran articles on it and a big reunion dance it hosted to celebrate 50 years of platters. Other old Mon Valley halls mentioned in the PG: the Jumpin' Jive Bee Hive and the Cougar Canteen in Charleroi, the Italian Hall in Monessen, the Blue Fox and Italian Citizens Club in Monongahela, and the Twin Coaches in Rostraver.

To the east in Westmoreland county, Harry Lattanzio's Rink in Latrobe brought in the Pittsburgh R&B jocks to rock the joint for the locals & the kids from Indiana and Ligonier.

More songs? The Girl from the 'Burgh recommends "Cry Like A Baby" and "The Letter" by the Boxtops, "Close Your Eyes" by Peaches and Herb, and "Dream" by the Everly Brothers. A few other tunes that you may remember: "Dedicated to the One I Love," Shirelles; "Houseparty," Showstoppers; "I Only Have Eyes For You," Flamingos; "Showtime," Detroit Emeralds; "Image of a Girl," Safaris; "Because," Dave Clark Five; "Wipe Out," Surfaris; "This Diamond Ring," Gary Lewis and the Playboys; "For Your Precious Love," Jerry Butler; "Chains," Cookies; "Don't Say Nothin' Bad About My Baby," Sapphires; "Forever," Marvelettes; "Up on the Roof" and "Under the Boardwalk," Drifters; "Stand By Me" and "I Who Have Nothing," Ben E. King; "Baby Love," Supremes; "My Girl," Temptations; "Midnight Hour," Wilson Pickett; "Try a Little Tenderness," Otis Redding; "You Don't Own Me," Leslie Gore; "Chapel of Love," Dixie Cups; "(Remember) Walkin' in the Sand," Ronettes; "A Lover's Question," Clyde McPhatter; "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," Platters; "It's Only Make Believe," Conway Twitty; and "It's All Right," Impressions.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Pittsburgh's Riders Of The Purple Sage

buck page
Buck Page from Politeo Net

Pittsburgh has regularly produced popular jazz, doo wop, soul, rock, pop and even hip hop sounds. But did you know that it was the home of a country legend? (And we're not talking Poverty Neck Hillbillies or Slim Forsythe, either!)

Born in Pittsburgh on June 18, 1922, Buck Page started playing string bass and rhythm guitar on the radio at 11 with a western band called The Valley Ranch Boys. Cribbing from the title of a Zane Grey novel, he formed the original Riders of the Purple Sage in 1936 when he was 13. It was a house band under contract to KDKA Radio, and they did five hour-long studio shows every week for the next three years.

Page and the Riders moved on to New York City, where they continued their national broadcasts for WOR Radio and became regular performers at a club called the Village Barn. They toured fairly extensively, too. The act, which they had honed in Pittsburgh, was more than country music. They had vaudeville routines, bull whip tricks and sharp shooting exhibitions as part of their repertoire.

During World War II, while Page was in the Navy and his fellow band members were all in the service, singer Foy Willing started a band on the West Coast that he called The Riders of the Purple Sage. Zane Grey must have gotten a chuckle out the ensuing confusion. And The New Riders of the Purple Sage weren't related to either old band.

Willing's group, which was active into the 1950s, is the one that became famous. The band had a string of hit records and appeared in a slew of oater movies. Page wasn't even aware that there was another Riders of the Purple Sage until he moved to the coast in the fifties.

Fortunately, Page's Riders didn't get back together after the war, and most people never knew there were two of them twanging out songs. The Steel City group never recorded, so that simplified matters - there were no royalty checks to fight over. He and Willing eventually ran across one another and the two formed a lifelong friendship. So much for a grudge.

Page, who could play 21 instruments, worked as a session musician in California. He played guitar on the original recording of the theme song for the TV series "Bonanza" and also served as a studio musician for the shows "Wagon Train" and "Laramie." He picked up some bit parts in movies, too.

Page revived his Riders of the Purple Sage in the early 1960s after the second gang had broken up. With a shifting cast of players, they recorded three CDs and performed at clubs and western festivals. Page's first solo recording, "Right Place to Start," was released in December 2005, 72 years after he broke into the business. He was backed by the Daughters of the Purple Sage.

In the 1960s Page also worked for the Baldwin Piano Company and helped their engineers develop the Supersound amp. Over the years, Page owned and trained thoroughbreds and quarter horses as a hobby. What else would a Pittsburgh cowboy do in his spare time?

He was awarded the Country/Western Living Legend Award from the North America Country Music Association in 2001 in recognition of his long career in country music.

His last public concert was held in July 2006 in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he performed before a crowd of several thousand people during the National Day of the Cowboy benefit. Buck Page died in Burbank a month later at the age of 85. He was eulogized as "...the last of the great singing cowboys."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

hard bop art blakey

art blakey
Art "Bu" Blakey from Night Lights

Art Blakey was born at 28 Chauncey Street in the Hill District in 1919. He received some piano lessons at school and by the seventh grade was playing music full-time and had his own band. Shortly afterwards he switched to drums and taught himself how to play in the thumping swing style of Chick Webb and Sid Catlett. In other words, he pounded on those kits.

Along with Kenny Clarke (also a 'Burgher) and Max Roach, he became one of the founding fathers of modern drumming. His trademark on the skins was the clash of the hi-hat on every second and fourth beat. Instead of keeping beat with the bass drum, he freed it to become part of the rhythm. Blakey popularized the driving hard-bop style used by many of today's drummers.

By the 1940s, Blakey was a member of jazz bands led by Mary Lou Williams, Fletcher Henderson, and Billy Eckstine. Williams and Eckstine were from East Liberty. Nothin' like keeping it in the 'hood, hey?

Blakey was also a session man for players like Miles Davis, Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk by the late forties and early fifties. He played on Monk's first recording session for Blue Note Records (in 1947), his last one (in 1971), and a whole lot of them in between.

Blakey said of his mentor: "He [Monk] was responsible for me when I moved from Pittsburgh to New York. He used to take me and Bud Powell around to all the clubs to play. If the musicians didn't want us to sit in, he'd run them off the stage, sit down, and play with me. At that time jobs were so few, and musicians had cliques. Times were tight, things were changing, but Monk was just outstanding in himself. He's a great person."

He converted to Islam during a visit to West Africa in the late 1940s and took the name Abdullah Ibn Buhaina (which earned him the nickname "Bu".) The African visit is often debated as he was never gone from America long enough for the year-long journey he said he made. Some suspect the trip never took place except in his mind. It's a tempest in a teapot if you ask me. You don't have to physically return to your roots to actually find your roots, right?

Then he started one of the seminal bands of bop, The Jazz Messengers. For more than 30 years his group featured young musicians who went on to become huge names in jazz. The band's legacy is more than just the great music it produced. It's also remembered for being a proving ground for several generations of jazz musicians. Blakey and Miles Davis were famous for giving the young guns a place to learn their licks.

Over the years the Jazz Messengers served as a springboard for young jazz lions such as Donald Byrd, Johnny Griffin, Benny Golson, Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Chuck Mangione, Woody Shaw, Cedar Walton, and Joanne Brackeen.

Blakey went on to record dozens of albums with a constantly shifting group of Jazz Messengers. He always stood behind his kids, whichever ones they happened to be at the time. Blakey said "I'm gonna stay with the youngsters. When these get too old I'll get some younger ones. Keeps the mind active."

Up to the 1960s Blakey also recorded as a sideman with many other musicians: Jimmy Smith, Herbie Nichols, Cannonball Adderley, Miles Davis, Grant Green, and Jazz Messenger alumni Lee Morgan and Hank Mobley, among others. From the mid-1960s on, he mostly concentrated on the band.

After barely weathering the fusion era in the 1970s, Blakey's band got a shot in the arm in the early 1980s with the return of more traditional jazz. Wynton Marsalis was the band's trumpeter and musical director during that period.

Blakey continued performing and touring with the group into the late 1980s. He died in 1990 in New York City, leaving behind a legacy that's still the model for countless hard-bop players.

He piled up a mountain of honors: Newport Jazz Festival Hall of Fame, Downbeat Jazz Hall of Fame, Reader's Choice Award, Smithsonian Performing Arts Certificate of Appreciation, Jazz Hall of Fame, Grammy Award Best Jazz Instrumental Performance for the album "New York Scene," Jazznote Award, Doctorate of Music from Berklee College of Music, Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award, Grammy Hall of Fame Induction for the album "Moanin'," Pittsburgh Jazz Festival Award, Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (awarded posthumously) and had the Blakey Program Center in Wylie Avenue's Hill House named for him.

Not to mention a discography of pile drivin' music and a generation of jazz players that he raised. Blakey took good care of his drumming and of his young lions, too. He'll be long remembered for both.

Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers - A Night In Tunisia

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

blue eyed soul, pittsburgh style

Billy Price
Billy Price Band Blog

Billy Pollak has been blasting out Muscle Shoal style R&B for over three decades now, gigging up and down the East Coast. He's an institution in Pittsburgh, even if he is a transplant from Jersey. You might know him better by his stage name of Billy Price. He picked that nom de plume to commemorate New Orlean's blues singer Lloyd ("Stagger Lee", "Personality") Price.

As a teenager, Price listened to New York City's R&B stations, and from home it was just a short jaunt into the Big Apple to catch shows at the Apollo and other New York theaters. During soul music's peak, Price spent many of his Saturdays enjoying the acts of Solomon Burke, Joe Tex, Ben E. King, James Brown and Jackie Wilson.

While white America was into the guitar-oriented Chicago blues of Muddy Waters and B.B. King, Price dug the southern fried soul of brass heavy bands like Junior Parker and Bobby "Blue" Bland, belting out their rhythms with tenor saxes and trumpets on the Stax and Hi labels. It was then off to college.

He rolled into town from Penn State in 1971, single-handedly championing a crusade to get Pittsburgh hoppin' to soul and later, jump. Back then, the city's blood ran hot for doo-wop and hard rock. Price and the Rhythm Kings reintroduced Pittsburgh to R&B and the dance floor. He still brings down the house with "Can I Change My Mind," the old Tyrone Davis hit.

Billy Price first attracted national attention during his 1972-'76 gig with DC bluesman Roy Buchanan. Price was the singer on two of Buchanan's LPs. He toured the U.S. and Canada with him, playing such venues as Carnegie Hall in New York, the Newport Jazz Festival, the Roxy, the Troubadour in Los Angeles, and the Spectrum in Philadelphia. After his time with Buchanan, he left the business briefly to get his degree.

Price then assembled the brass driven Keystone Rhythm Band in 1977 with guitarist Glenn Pavone and a brass section featuring Kenny Blake and Eric Leeds. Before their breakup in 1990, the band recorded four well received LPs and developed a strong reputation as a live act all along the East Coast.

They toured on a circuit that stretched from Boston to Atlanta with large followings in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, DC and North Carolina. But when their last album wasn't the anticipated national breakthrough they hoped it would be, the group folded after a decade of work despite their still solid R&B sound.

Price quickly formed The Billy Price Band. In addition to performing hits from Price's years with Buchanan and the Keystone Rhythm Band, they incorporated some new sets of the blues, R&B, and soul into their act.

The band is a comfortable fit. As Price noted to the Post-Gazette's Scott Mervis, "I’ve been playing with Dave Dodd and Tom Valentine since the late ’70s. Jimmy Britton has been with me since 2005. Eric DeFade has played sax with me for more than 20 years, and Steve Delach has been on guitar for close to 10 years. Even my road manager, Pete Leary, has a 20-year gold watch."

They've also worked with Otis Clay and Fred Chapellier. His album with Rush, “This Time for Real,” was nominated for best soul blues album at the 37th Annual Blues Music Awards in Memphis and he was recently voted a 2016 Pittsburgh Rock ’N Roll Legends Award.

Price holds a master's degree in professional writing from Carnegie Mellon and is now the communications manager at CMU's Software Engineering Institute, where he's an adjunct professor. He's still cutting albums and the band performs regularly, occasionally touring but generally hitting the local club scene.

Catch his act. If you like it funky, you'll love Billy Price.

Can I Change My Mind

(You can follow Pittsburgh's Soul Man at Billy

Sunday, February 17, 2008


the clarks
The Clarks from The Phillyist

Guitarist Rob James, bassist Greg Joseph, drummer Dave Minarik and singer Scott Blasey formed the Clarks in 1986 while students at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The school had the good sense to recently honor them as distinguished alumni.

The band was started when the foursome entered a rock competition. The name of the band was picked on a whim. Joseph was at work and spent the day catering to one particular business, the Clark Company. That night he went to rehearsal with the workday still on his mind and said "how about The Clarks" as a name? A week later they entered the battle of the bands as the Clarks and did pretty well, so they kept the name.

At first, the Clarks stuck to playing parties at IUP until they started writing their own material. Then they moved to Pittsburgh, playing on the local club and college circuit. Eventually, they expanded to touring along the East Coast and Midwest. Now they gig nationally.

They’ve shared stages with John Mayer, Marc Broussard, OAR, Steely Dan and Three Doors Down. The Clarks appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman and ESPN's Cold Pizza. Their songs can be heard in the films "Boys," "Summer Catch,"and "Just Write" along with the closing credits of TV's Anna Nichol Show.

Their first release, 1988's "I'll Tell You What Man" was a huge Pittsburgh hit. "Help Me Out" and "Cigarette" from the 1994 "Love Gone Sour" album still get local airplay to this day. They caught their break after releasing a track from their 1991 album "The Clarks," called "Penny On The Floor". It was picked up by WDVE and soon became a Western PA staple.

After that the Clarks signed a national recording contract with MCA and they were on the way to the big time. They released their 4th album, "Someday Maybe," in 1996 and thought that national success was finally beckoning. Wrong. MCA was going through a money crunch at the time and the album received virtually no promotion. The Clarks, along with many other bands, were cut from the cash strapped label in 1997.

Still, the album sold well in Pittsburgh with the tracks "Mercury," "Stop," and "Caroline" becoming especially popular. After taking some time to regroup, the Clarks reached their greatest success with "Let It Go" in 2000. It outsold many national releases in the Pittsburgh region and generated three local radio hits: "Born Too Late," "Better Off Without You" and "Snowman".

The intelligentsia claim that The Clarks' songs are just about girls and beer. And they're partially right. What else would any self respecting college indy band write and sing about? But the lyrics are erudite enough for the university crowd with enough hooks to draw the garage band gang, alt rockers and pop fans. Punk and metal rockers need not apply.

The Clarks, having learned their lesson the hard way, started their own independent record label and distribution center, King Mouse Records. The name comes from a line of their song, "Cigarette" ("On a weather beaten transom in the house, walks a friend of mine that I call the old king mouse.") Blasey says, "There is no significance to it whatsoever apart from the fact that it rhymes with house." Still, their fans throw toy mice on stage whenever the band plays that song. Go figure.

The label's catalogue includes the early albums "I'll Tell You What Man," "The Clarks," "Love Gone Sour, Suspicion and Bad Debt," and "The Clarks Live" plus a smattering of other artists. They've sold more than 93,000 units of music over the past 14 years via King Mouse, adding a nice little splash of gravy atop their meat and potatoes, touring gigs. They came out with their eighth album, "Restless Days," in 2009.

The Clarks have gone country crossover in their old age. They've added keyboardist/accordion player Skip Sanders and pedal steel player Gary Jacob to the band, and they released a digital six-song EP in 2010. Called "Songs in G,' it contains a handful of catalog hits like "Shimmy Low," "Boys Lie" (with Maddie Georgi on lead), "Penny On the Floor" and a cover of Whiskeytown's "16 Days."

They perform an average of 150 live shows every year. The Clarks roam from sea to shining sea and have big followings in Cleveland, Milwaukee, Chicago, Baltimore, DC, Buffalo, Central PA, New York, and campuses all over the country. (Since 1995 Blasey has been recording and touring solo in addition to his work with the Clarks.)

But the band is still considered a Pittsburgh act. Why not? The members all still live here. And while national fame has so far eluded them, the Clarks and Pittsburgh belong together.

They were one of the first acts to grace Stage AE in the Northshore, performing their 2,000th show just before Christmas. Pittsburgh City Council even proclaimed the show date, December 22nd, 2010, as "Clarks' Day". They'll also play in front of a national TV audience on New Year's Day as part of the Pittsburgh Penguins' "Winter Classic" at Heinz Field.

It's hard to beat being a hometown hero.

The Clarks - "Shimmy Low"

Saturday, February 16, 2008


The Contrails 1966 
(Jack Stanizzo, Dick Engel, Norman Denk, Carl Ruffing and John Ruffing from bottom to top)

Groups in the sixties knew how to write a love song. Some of them could even come up with a good unrequited love or "love gone wrong" tune. But when you can come up with a breakup song that's still spinning 45 years later, now that's one memorable ballad.

Jack Stanizzo of Mt. Washington and Dick Engel of Mt. Lebanon, writers and performers for the Contrails, did just that when they teamed up to pen "Someone," a song that hit the local charts in 1966.

As recalled by Engel, the Contrails first came together in late 1963. The group consisted of rhythm guitarist John Budnick (whose father managed the group), Bill Viviano on Cordovox, Engel on lead guitar, and "Speedy" McMann on drums. Because of Speedy's habit of accelerating tempos (which is how he earned his moniker), their first record, "Slinky," was recorded with a studio drummer, Jimmy Interval.

It was released in early 1964 on the Ideal label (#94696), and if memory serves Engel right, Porky was the first to play it. Two drummers were later hired to replace Speedy, Dave Beabout and Dave MacIntyre, known by the group as Big Dave and Little Dave, and they played together ala Santana.

Budnick's dad eventually quit as manager because of family issues and the group restructured in the mid sixties, emerging with Jack Stanizzo as lead singer and rhythm guitarist, Norman Denk on bass, brothers Carl Ruffing on keyboard and John Ruffing on drums, and Engel remaining on vocals and lead guitar.

The band originally released the song "Someone" on Odell Bailey's west coast Reuben label (#711), backed by the instrumental "Mummy Walk" in the fall of 1966. The Pittsburgh band cut the master at Gateway Studios above the old National Record Mart in Market Square, and Bailey himself was from Beltzhoover. But there was a reason they pasted a Los Angeles label (Reuben's only release, as far as Old Mon can tell) on their purely local wax.

Bailey and The Contrails thought the tune had a better chance of getting airtime if they weren't competing with the heap of local songs already stacked up in front of the region's radio and hop jocks. The plan worked to perfection. "Someone" broke here and was then picked up by NYC's Diamond label (#213).

It took off, especially in Western Pennsylvania, where it became a Top Five song and stayed on the area charts for 15 weeks. The dance hall jocks couldn't spin it enough, and Clark Race pushed it hard on KDKA.

The group scored a couple of more local hits with "Why Do I" (1966) and "Make Me Love" (1967), both Stanizzo-Engel compositions. They opened or shared a stage with some of the eras great acts like Smokey Robinson, David Ruffin, Three Dog Night, The Marcels, Gary "US" Bonds, The Sweet Inspirations, The Brooklyn Bridge, Sonny & Cher, The Yardbirds and The Grass Roots. But in 1969, their run came to an end.

Old Mon came up empty trying to track the Ruffings and Denk. Engel recalled that the Ruffings were into jazz, and speculates that was the direction they went after the band's breakup. Denk, who Engel called "one of the most creative bass players I had ever worked with," played with the Skyliners band for awhile and filled in club dates as a side man, but has been out of contact for years.

Engel joined the Skyliners as an arranger/conductor/guitarist and spent some 35 years with the group before retiring and moving to South Carolina with his wife Cathy.

He was born with music in his blood. His dad played tenor sax with Art Giles and his Everglades Orchestra and later with Bert Lowe and his Hotel Statler Orchestra. The sheet music laying around the house helped to pave Engel's future path, as he would dissect the piles of arrangements sitting on his dad's baby-grand as a youth.

With that background, it's not surprising that the big bands of Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton and Count Basey were his musical influences. His gig with the Skyliners and their large backing orchestra was a match made in heaven.

Stanizzo formed a band called Thy Brothers Blood in 1969, and they spent the next decade plus touring and playing locally at clubs and venues like the Civic Arena and Syria Mosque, where they opened for acts like Chicago, Jimi Hendrix, BS&T and Janis Joplin.

He still makes appearances with guitarist Paul Lowe, gigging in the Tri-State area. Stanizzo and Lowe recently released the CD "Heart of the City," a collection of soulful, jazz-influenced ballads on his Ozzi Nats label (OZN - 1911). You can catch a couple of tracks at Jack's My Space page. (In 2006, the band released a 40th anniversary CD with the old hits and some unreleased cuts.) 

Stanizzo came about his love for music honestly. His uncles, Fred and Art, were accomplished jazz guitarists, and he learned some of his earliest licks from Joe Negri, using a guitar he bought with his First Communion money (proof that not everyone in Pittsburgh still has it squirreled away.) He cites as influences performers like Louie Prima, Little Richard, Earth Wind and Fire, Chicago, Santana, and Sting.

Jack and his wife Lois live in the city's South Hills. He earns his daily bread in construction and design now, with a list of professional certificates as long as your arm.

Old Mon met him once at a Christmas party hosted by his brother Rich, head of the Construction Trades Council in Pittsburgh and another very excellent dude. We got to talking about "Someone," and Jack mentioned that the song still was being aired by American oldie stations, and is played to this day in Europe. He grinned and said he had just received a royalty check from Italy to prove his point.

And that proved our original point, too. A good breakup song outlasts even a broken heart.

1966's "Someone" performed by the Contrails

Friday, February 15, 2008

this masquerade

george benson
George Benson from Wikipedia

Young George Benson was brought up in a Hill District house filled with the sounds of jazz, mainly Charlie Christian's guitar and Benny Goodman's swing. It rubbed off, and by the time he was eight years old, he was performing. He sang, danced, and even played the ukulele. Benson had a radio show early on, called "Little Georgie Benson, the Kid From Gilmore Alley."

He dropped out of Connelly High on Bedford Avenue and formed a R&B band. Benson was the frontman for the Altairs and Four Counts among other Pittsburgh groups. He caught his first big break in 1964 when organist Jack McDuff was looking for some local talent for a Pittsburgh gig, and ended up joining him for almost 4 years.

"Jack turned me on to a lot of stuff," he recalled. "A lot of the jazz tunes we played were danceable, and...when jazz was danceable, it was king. I really liked it when people kick up their heels and go crazy."

Benson was signed by Columbia while playing in Harlem's Palm Tavern. That resulted in the "Uptown" album that jazz fans loved. But he wanted to be more than a jazz man playing to a limited audience.

"I was an entertainer first," he explained. "I played with some of the baddest jazz cats on the planet. But that doesn't change my desire to entertain folk. That's really who I am." He's played with everyone from Miles Davis to Al Jarreau, from Quincy Jones to Chet Atkins.

And that's what eventually led to his masquerade. Jazz purists considered him a sellout because he hit it big in the mid 1970's by going pop on the Warner label. But even they can't deny a discography that includes "On Broadway," "Give Me the Night," "That's Right," "Here Comes the Sun," "Turn Your Love Around," "In Your Eyes," "Lady Love Me (One More Time)," and of course "This Masquerade."

"I guess that's the biggest crime I've made as far as jazz lovers go," he said. They want to be catered to. You learn, you change. The door opened and I walked through it." He was following in the footsteps of his idol, Wes Montgomery, who could play cool jazz or hot licks equally well, and whose reputation was equally disdained by the hard core jazz cadre because he actually cut records people would buy.

Between 1976 - 1983, Benson won eight Grammys. His career has calmed down since. He releases the occasional album, ranging from jazz to R&B to pop, but always remaining true to his credo of playing what he feels, not what's expected from one group of fans or the other. Between recordings, he tours internationally and hangs out in NYC, checking out the next generation of guitar heroes.

"Those younger cats awaken something in me from the early days," is what he says. "Jazz was once hanging out music." And there's no entertainer from Pittsburgh folk like to hang out with more than George Benson when he's jammin'.

(Quotes courtesy of All About Jazz. To keep up on what George has going on, check out George

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

rap, rap, rap

The Jaggerz from All But Forgotten Oldies

Do you remember this Beaver County lineup - Jimmie Ross, Donnie Iris, Bill Maybray, Tom Davis, Jim Pugliano, Benny Faiella, and Larry Lorey? They started out doing the college and club circuit for a couple of years in the early 60s before they made a good living as the top bar band in Pittsburgh, doing soul covers six nights a week at two grand per show. They were an unbeatable local draw with a great sound and choreography.

They were known as the White Knights with Brown Soul among other names in the early days, but by the time they hit the Pittsburgh clubs, they had become the Jaggerz.

No one can explain why, but they named themselves the Jaggerz in 1964 after the round burr that sticks to you when you go through the woods, the one that comes off of a jagger bush. How Pittsburgh is that?

They added the "z" at the end when they saw it used in a magazine article and decided it was cool. Besides doing covers, they wrote a couple of their own songs.

Managed by the Skyliner's Joe Rock, they got a deal with the Gamble-Huff soul label in Philly to cut an album, with the condition that their picture wouldn't be shown on the album jacket. Gamble-Huff didn't want their fans to know they had signed a white band, with their roster of Jerry Butler, The Intruders, Soul Survivors and the O'Jays.

It was a pretty good collection of tracks, and two of the tunes, "Gotta Find My Way Back Home" and "(That's Why) Baby I Love You" were top ten hits locally. Old Mon had the album in his collection, and it was as sweet a blue-eyed soul disk as ever cut.

Rock went to New York to push a song that Iris had written. He was thrown out the door of several offices, but Kama Sutra/Buddah decided to take a chance on the tune. It was "The Rapper", which hit number two on Billboard and Cashbox in 1970.

The pop tune was completely out of character for the blue-eyed soul band, but it sure sold records - over 5,000,000 of them. It also popularized a new phrase in the American lexicon - "Coffee, tea or me?"

But that was it. Their fall from the top was quick. Ross believed there were a couple of reasons behind it. They didn't tour enough, as they were still making a comfortable living in Pittsburgh. Joe Rock didn't strike while the iron was hot. And becoming known for a novelty sang instead of their R&B stylings hurt their credibility in the marketplace.

But mostly, he thinks that they may have been sabotaged by Curtis Mayfield, who was on the same label. He told the Kama Sutra/Buddah execs to quit pushin' those white boys and to start pushin' him. And given the choice, we think we woulda stuck with Mayfield, too.

The band folded in 1975 when Ross left to join the Skyliners. Iris struck off on his own too, playing briefly with Wild Cherry before hitting it big, charting some top-40 songs with the Cruisers.

His biggest tracks were "Ah! Leah!," and "Love Is Like A Rock." Iris' last CD was released in 2006, aptly called "Ellwood City" after his home town, and he still plays regular gigs in the area.

The Jaggerz live on, led by Jimmie Ross & Benny Faiella, and do a couple or three dozen gigs every year. They also released a pair of CDs, "And The Band Played On" along with "Re-Rapped by Request." And we're glad they're still around - the Jaggerz were one of the best of Pittsburgh's blue-eyed soul bands, in a town that thrived on its R&B scene back in the day.

The Jaggerz live from Mancini's Lounge - "(That's Why) Baby I Love You"

I Saw Her Walkin' On Down The Line...

tommy james and the shondells
Tommy James and the Shondells - 1963

Back in the geezer days of rock, no genre was more revered than garage rock. And no song epitomized garage rock better than Tommy James and the Shondell's "Hanky Panky."

Tommy Jackson - Jame's given name - recorded it in a Niles, Michigan, radio studio in 1963 when he was a high school kid. It was a modest local hit, released as Snap #102, a label run by a Midwest DJ, Jack Douglas, spinning out of WNIL.

The song was first recorded and released by the Summits on the the Hanover label, then issued as the B-side of a 1963 Rust Records single by the Raindrops, "That Boy John." The Raindrops were composers Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, who became a prolific Brill Building writing duo and penned "Hanky Panky."

A rival act, the Spinners - a local band, not the R&B group - played the song in their set and the Shondells (named after James' early guitar hero, Troy Shondell) liked it and added it to their playlist (in fact, Shondell would gig with the Spinners after his local band fell apart).

Two years later, he got a call from Pittsburgh DJ Mad Mike Metrovich from WZUM. He wanted the Shondells to play in a concert he was promoting. The bewildered young Tommy (bewildered because the band had broken up 18 months before) checked a bit, and found out that his song had taken off in Pittsburgh. In fact, it had been the Steel City's #1 song for three weeks running.

It seems another 'Burgh DJ, WZUM's Bob Mack, picked up his record in the dime bin of his store, liked it and began to play it at the local hops.

The story, as told by Post-Gazette music man Scott Mervis was that "Mack had a record store at Smithfield and Liberty and he would buy up collections from around the country. As he recalls, "Hanky Panky" turned up a collection sent from a Notre Dame student who needed some quick cash." It took off from there, as Mack played it on his hop circuit that included the White Elephant and Bethel Roller Rink.

At least, that's one version. There are several possible choices to the jock who broke Hanky Panky. Bob Livorio, who was huge playing Valley dances and as the Saturday morning request jock for WKPA, also has a claim on it, as does Mad Mike, who was the manager and then owner of Tri-State Records, Mack's shop. Clark Race of KDKA is also a candidate and is almost certainly the first to break it on a major station.

Ed Salamon, music historian and author of "Pittsburgh's Golden Age of Radio," wrote and said "Bob Mack/Mad Mike make the claim and Clark Race believed he started it. My mention in "Pittsburgh's Golden Age of Radio" mentions Livorio's story, which he gave me in writing, but was worded as not to preclude the Mack/Mike and Race's claims, as I believe they each could have been unaware of the others." Hey, maybe the Tommy James' hit is a case of letting a hundred flowers bloom - and they all bloomed at once!

It's said that up to 80,000 copies of the song had been bootlegged in the Steel City by an East Liberty outfit named Red Fox/Fenway. After all, what hot blooded lad didn't want a honey that did the "Hanky Panky", even if only on the dance floor?

He only had one problem. The original Shondells had either lost interest in playing or were in the army, leaving him without a band. Tommy rode into town, visited Irwin's Sunset Club and heard a local band, the Rancoteurs. The guys were Joe Kessler, Ron Rosman, George Magura, Mike Vale and Vinnie Pietropaoli.

He liked their sound and pressed them into service as his new Shondells. The result? 1966 saw "Hanky Panky" go number #1 nationally after Roulette bought the master for $10,000 and signed the group. And the Rancoteurs/Shondells went from a club band to owners of a gold record.

As James said: "One night I was playing for 20 drunks in a bar in Michigan, and the next night I'm playing for 10,000 screaming fans in Pittsburgh." And it only got better.

Hits like "Mirage," "I Think We're Alone Now," "Mony Mony," (title inspired by a sign he saw on a building across from the studio) "Crimson and Clover," (the first mainstream introduction of psychedelic music to the unwashed masses) "Sweet Cherry Wine," "Crystal Blue Persuasion," and "Draggin' The Line" ruled the charts, all because of a Pittsburgh DJ dumpster-diving for cast-away records. There are a million stories in the city...

(To keep abreast of what TJ is up to now, visit Tommy

Tommy James and the Shondells doing "Hanky Panky on an unnamed TV gig

lugee sacco

lou christie
Lou Christie from Kowboy - the 50's

Raised in Glenwillard near Sewickley, pop vocalist Luigi "Lugee" Sacco hung out in the Big Apple after graduating from Moon High School and found work as a back up singer. He still played some hometown gigs with the bands Lugee and the Lions and later the Classics and scored a few minor local hits.

But in a bit of a role reversal, he had to sign with Co & Ce, a 'Burgh label run by Herbie Cohen and Nick Cenci, in 1962 to hit it big. After being introduced to area teens by Porky and topping the charts at KQV and WYRE, the first of Sacco's hits was picked up by Roulette and rose as high as No. 24 on the 1963 national charts. It was "The Gypsy Cried."

The tiny C&C label credited the song to the artist "Lou Christie," without Sacco's knowledge - or consent. Sacco had been working on a list of potential stage names, and said that he hated the name. "I was pissed off about it for 20 years. I wanted to keep my name and be a one-named performer, just 'Lugee'." But Lou Christie ended up working out just fine for him. He followed his first hit with "Two Faces Have I." It rose to number 6 nationally, and he never looked back.

Well, except for dodging the censors of the era. After a two year stint in the Army, his next release "Lightnin' Strikes" became the No. 1 song in America in 1966 - "When I see lips begging to be kissed (Stop!) I can't stop, (Stop!) no I can't stop myself! (Stop! Stop!)." They just don't write 'em like that anymore, and parent and religious groups, outraged at the wanton smooching (and we all know what that leads to!), did everything they could to make sure no one ever wrote like that again.

That same year, he followed it up with an even racier set of lyrics for the 60s and came under fire for perverting teens with the makeout anthem "Rhapsody in the Rain," about a back seat tryst. It ended up with two versions, the uncut track and the sanitized one. It wasn't enough. "Rhapsody" was in fact banned outright from many playlists. Christie recalls that "Time magazine wrote about it and said that I was corrupting the youth of the day."

Like we needed his help, hehe. After all, we were about to become the free love generation. In spite, or perhaps because of, the publicity, the song charted at #16 even without national airplay. And believe it or not, the offending melody was inspired by Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet". I guess the blue noses would ban Shakespeare, too.

His final big hit, "I'm Gonna Make You Mine," went to No. 10 in 1969. After a handful of songs that barely charted, Christie went off to London and battled his drug demons.

His songs were included in quite a few movie soundtracks, but he switched directions and went country. Bad move. Christie was a fizzle with the C&W and adult contemporary crowd. Eventually, he came home and joined the oldies circuit in the 1980s, where his Frankie Valli-like falsetto is still thrilling folk that are kids at heart, even if there's snow on their roofs.

And for the record, Lou Christie is a helluva lot better name for an artist than Lugee. I hope he's over it. Maybe not, though.

Currently, Luigi has just recorded a new song entitled "Non So Perche" ("I Don't Know Why") which he sings in Italian. It's a song he wrote to honor his heritage. Lugee plans on performing his song at the San Remo Music Festival in the spring of 2008. Look out, Bocelli! Luigi Sacco is returning to his roots.

(Follow Lugee Sacco on his website Lou

the barber of canonsburg

Perry Como

Perry Como was born Pierino Ronald Como in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania on May 18, 1912, the son of Pietro Como, a mill worker, and Lucia Travaglini Como, both immigrants from Palena, Italy. He was the seventh of thirteen children (he was in fact the seventh son of a seventh son, so you knew he was destined for big things.) Although he always liked to sing, doing wedding gigs and other local bookings, his first great ambition was to be the best barber in Canonsburg.

After graduation from high school, he fulfilled his life ambition by opening his own barbershop. In 1933, he married his teenage sweetheart, Roselle Belline, whom he had met at a picnic when he was just 17. They would remain husband and wife for over 50 years.

Como also joined Freddy Carlone 's band that year, and in 1935 moved to the Ted Weem' Orchestra and his first recording dates. Weem folded his band in 1942, and Como went on to CBS, where he sang for a couple of years without any noticeable success. By this time he had decided to return to Canonsburg, his family of three, and his barbering career.

But just as he was about to abandon his singing career forever, two producers stepped in, talking him into a return to show business for the NBC radio program Chesterfield Supper Club. It was such a big hit that it went to Friday night television in the late 1940s. Como continued to be the featured vocalist, supported by the Mitchell Ayres Orchestra and the Fontane Sisters (later he was backed by the Ray Charles Singers.)

Comedy skits, dancing, and singing gave him the opportunity to show his audience a down home, laid back personality. He developed that casual style and in later shows he wore cardigans, dubbed Perry Como sweaters by his fans. They were comfortable inviting him into their living rooms.

Filmmakers lured Como to the silver screen, and though he was a teen heart throb, his Hollywood career was brief and forgettable. Three of his movies, Something for the Boys (1944), Doll Face (1945) and If I'm Lucky (1946), were memorable only because they featured Carmen Miranda . "I was wasting their time and they were wasting mine," Como admitted. Television, however, seemed a natural fit for his singing style and persona.

Supper Club continued until he moved back to NBC in 1955 on Saturdays, where it grew into an hour long show. On Sept. 15, 1956, the season premiere of The Perry Como Show was broadcast from NBC's new studios at the New York City Ziegfeld Theater, making it one of the first weekly color TV programs. In 1959, he moved to Wednesday night, hosting the Perry Como Kraft Music Hall for the next five years.

Como became the highest-paid performer during that era of television. His time slot was opposite Jackie Gleason in what was billed the "Battle of the Giants", and Como won the ratings war. This is now rarely remembered, in part because Como commonly played down his own achievements and in part because Gleason trumpeted his.

His weekly run ended in 1963, and he starred in specials and seasonal shows afterwards until 1994. Como's Christmas shows began in 1948 and become can't miss TV for many American families (including mine.) His Dublin Christmas special in 1994 would be his last TV offering.

In 1945 , Como recorded the pop ballad "Till the End of Time" (based on Chopin's "Heroic Polonaise"), which marked the beginning of a spectacular recording career. He had so many recordings achieve gold-record status that he didn't bother to have all of them certified, but he was the first artist to have ten records sell more than one million copies.

Como had fourteen U.S. #1 singles over a thirteen year span: "Till the End of Time" (1945); "Prisoner of Love" (1946); "Surrender" (1946); "Chi-Baba Chi-Baba" (1947); "A - You're Adorable" (1949); "Some Enchanted Evening" (1949); "Hoop-De-Doo" (1950); "If" (1951); "Don't Let the Stars Get In Your Eyes" (1952); "No Other Love" (1953); "Wanted" (1954); "Hot Diggety Dog Ziggety Boom" (1956); "Round and Round" (1957); and "Catch a Falling Star" (1957).

Among his other popular ballads were "And I Love You So," "Dream Along with Me," "Temptation," "Because," and "It's Impossible." Como sold more than one hundred million records in his recording career. In 1946 he was named top-selling male singer by Billboard.

On March 14, 1958, the RIAA certified Como's hit single, "Catch a Falling Star" as its first ever gold record. He won a 1958 Grammy for it, and in 2002 he was honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Como was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame in 2007.

Perry and Roselle remained married until her death in 1988 at age 84. Como was reportedly devastated by her passing. He died quietly in his sleep in 2001 at his home in Florida six days before his eighty-ninth birthday.

As Wikipedia notes, his greatest contribution to American pop culture outside of entertainment might be schmaltzy statues:

* Perry Como's birthplace of Canonsburg erected a statue of Como in the middle of town on a base that reads, "To this place God has brought me." He was never able to see the statue due to his death, which might be a blessing in disguise: The statue "sings" by playing recordings of Como's music.

* If you visit downtown Gettysburg , you'll see two statues on the sidewalk in front of the Wills House where Lincoln stayed the night before he gave the Gettysburg Address. One is of Abe, with his left arm raised, using his stove-pipe hat to point to the window of the room he stayed in. His right hand is on the arm of a "tourist", as if he's showing him the room. The tourist is Perry Como in his famous cardigan sweater.

como at gettysburg

All he ever really wanted was a striped barber pole with his name beside it.

"Don't Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes" - Perry Como, 1952

those oldies but goodies part 2

brother love
Brother Love's Underground from Larry's page

Yah, yah, I know I missed a lot of 1960s music in my "Oldies But Goodies" post. And I'll miss a lot more - after all, 40 years worth of memories do get somewhat diluted as the neurons quit firing with their usual reliability. But here's a couple of additions that popped into what's left of my mind (a terrible thing to lose, take my word for it!)

How could I forget Chuck Brinkman from KQV radio? He was one of the premier top 40 jocks of the era, and the first host of "Come Alive" on WIIC - TV, a local teen dance party show. Brinkman spun disks on TV for eighteen months before handing the torch to Terry (TL) Lee. He came to KQV in 1960 and eventually worked every time slot they had to offer.

Brinkman's famous for stealing KDKA's thunder when the Beatles came to town in 1964. He and brother jock Dexter Allen got to New York to interview the Beatles. Through connections, they managed to talk their way into a seat on the Beatle's private plane to the 'Burgh, bumping KDKA's Clark Race in the process. Once here, they got the KQV banner hung front and center on the Arena stage, and Brinkman introduced the Beatles to the screeching mob, one upping Race again. Clark Race bitched about it on air for the longest time.

In 1972, he moved across town to WTAE and ten years later made a clean break from here and went to San Diego. He came back to Pittsburgh briefly and has worked the Dallas area for the past two decades, moving from an oldies format to adult contemporary.

And speaking of dance shows, some folks used to watch "9 Teen Time" from WSTV in Steubenville, which used to have a pretty strong signal into the area. Its' hosts were Wayne Van Dine, later a TV consumer advocate on Pittsburgh TV, and Stan Scott.

I ran across some more on Brother Love's Underground. Ken Reeth was Brother Love's given name, and he was part of a morning comedy team in Hartford, where he and his partner Eddie King actually did stand up gigs at the local clubs. He came to Carnegie's WZUM in the 60s and then moved on to WAMO.

After San Francisco's Summer of Love, he thought Pittsburgh was ripe for some progressive rock. Somehow he sweet talked soul station WAMO into allowing him one night a week to pump out Iron Butterfly, Country Joe, Hendrix, the Doors, Vanilla Fudge, the Mothers and others of their ilk . The show became Brother Love's Underground.

The Underground was campy and true to Reeth's comedy roots. His studio sidekicks were Frank the Freak, Raymond the Condemned, the Observer, and the Mellon Square. He would engage them in comedy skits, ala Chilly Billy Cardille on Chiller Theater with his ensemble. Raymond and the Mellon Square were the crowd favorites. Raymond would spout bad poetry while the bewildered Square would rant about those darn hippies and the events of the day.

At one time, the Underground was broadcast by Dynamic Broadcasting into Boston, Miami and Buffalo, so Brother Love was more than a Pittsburgh phenonema.

He later made a complete about face and bought a country station in California. He DJ'ed under the moniker Romeo Jones there and eventually became a director for the Academy of Country Music. Reeth also wrote one of the first e-books, Dreamland, about his radio days. He passed away in Vegas in 2005 from leukemia.

And finally, a few more tunes that fell outta the cobwebs of my mind: "Hold Me," Mel Carter; "Our Day Will Come," Ruby & the Romantics; anything Skyliner, like "This I Swear" or "Since I Don't Have You," "Cara Mia," Jay & the Americans; "Draggin Waggin," Triumphs; "Elephant Walk," Donald Jenkins; "Dry Your Eyes," Brenda & the Tabulations; "My True Story," Jive Five; "Gloria," Shadows of Knight; any Righteous Brother tune, such as "You're My Soul & My Heart's Inspiration" or "Ebb Tide," "Walk," Fenways; "Harlem Nocturne," Viscounts; "Blue Moon," Marcels; "The Bird," Rivingtons; "Come Go With Me," Del Vikings; every Little Anthony song, like "Hurts So Bad" or "Going Out Of My Head," "The Loser," Racket Squad; "Oh What A Night," Dells; "My Heart Cries," Romancers (a cover that may be better than the original), "Farmer John," Premiers; "Rinky Dink," Baby Cortez; and everything by the Beach Boys (try "In My Room" or "Surfer Girl") and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, who sang too many songs and gave me too many memories to fit on this page. Trust me on that.

That's it for now. Maybe my mind will shake loose a couple of more recollections as time goes on, and please feel free to nudge my memory if you recall things I've forgotten or missed.

music hath charms

charlie appel
Charlie Apple from the Applecorp

Since we're on the subject of oldies, here's an interesting take on the 'Burgh's soul heritage from the Mon Valley's Tube City Almanac blog:

"Local oldies disc jockey and rector the Rev. Charlie Apple, former pastor of Good Samaritan Episcopal Church in Liberty Borough, told me years ago that Pittsburgh had comparatively fewer riots after King's assassination than other Northern cities of its size.

Apple contends that's due in part to the fact that white and black Pittsburghers shared so much of their music.

Unlike other cities, where there were exclusively "black" radio stations and "white" radio stations, in Pittsburgh, suburban DJs like Porky Chedwick, Bob Livorio, Zeke Jackson and McKeesport's Terry Lee were spinning soul and R&B long before the music crossed into the mainstream. Whites and blacks also mingled at record hops and nightclubs; don't forget that one of the most popular nightspots of the 1960s was Walt Harper's Attic."

Hmmm...funny, but I seem to recall the National Guard with their M-14s patrolling the Hill District after Martin Luther King's assassination in 1968. A lot of them, too. There were so many soldiers that they had to bivouac at Pitt Stadium in tents. But I suppose compared to Detroit our little riot was just a romp in the park.

The right reverend Charlie Apple is correct about the reaction being a little less violent than other towns, but the rage ran just as deep. It would be nice if he was right about blacks and whites mingling together in 'Burgh society, but music is about all the races shared back then. And I don't think it's gotten any chummier since. We don't even share sounds any more.

those oldies but goodies

The Daddio of the Raddio from Old Radio

Did you grow up in Pittsburgh during the sixties? Then you remember the music scene.

Porky Chedwick: The Daddio of the Raddio, Your Platter Pushin' Papa, The Boss Man, the Pied Piper of Platter, Porky was all those things and more. Porky did all the dances, and his oldies/R&B playlist - and make no mistake, he originated "race" music in this neck of the woods - had kids flocking to his hops, and he still does an odd gig or two. DJ'ing out of WHOD/WAMO in Homestead, he was the man. I can still hear his theme, "Bongo Blues" (until his Porky jingles replaced it) playing in my head.

It's said he made a million dollars at the hops and either gave it away or had it embezzled from him - and he doesn't care. He said God took it from him because He knew the Daddio couldn't handle it. One benefit of his legendary disdain of money is that it kept him clean of the payola stain that covered so many other top dj's of his era.

Once Porky played Martha Reeve's "Dancin' In the Streets" from a downtown broadcast site and told his radio listeners to stop what they were doing and dance to her beat. Kids all over the area stopped their cars in tunnels, at stop lights, and at intersections and got out and danced. Traffic was tied up for hours as it was estimated that 10,000 teens were tuned in while on their way to town to catch Porky's act.

Terry Lee/TL: He spun wax out of McKeesport's WMCK/WIXZ and featured Music for Young Lovers complete with reverb, a biggie back in the day. All the cool cars had it, along with a red light in the back seat. Every radio in the cars parked along South Park's China Wall (a lover's lane frequented by romantic teens and peeping tom police with high voltage flashlights) had his show dialed in. TL managed the Arondies and Swamp Rats (nee Fantastic Dee Jays) and played the heck out them, along with "High on a Hill" by Scott English and "Have I Sinned" by Donnie Elbert. He closed out the show with "Goodnight, My Love," not sure of the artist. He made so much money at the hops that he had security with him to get the swag home.


Clark Race: A KDKA jock through the 1960s, Race had a 50% audience rating, meaning at any one time, half the teen radios in Pittsburgh were tuned to his show. He also hosted the wildly popular TV show "Dance Party," a local American Bandstand. Everyone checked it out just to see if they knew anyone boog-a-looing or slow draggin' on live TV, or better yet, someone that had ditched their steady for a less left-footed partner. He broke Lou Christie's "Lightning Strikes" and Bobby Vinton's "Blue Velvet." Clark Race was also a fixture at the hop scene.

Mad Mike Metro(vich): Mad Mike's show originated from WZUM in Carnegie and was broke into different segments. The more popular were Mad Mike's Moldie Oldies and the Progressive Teen Sound, a showcase for what was basically garage and surfer rock. He's the dude that launched Tommy James' career and he was a regular at West View Dance Land. One famous story has the early Rolling Stones playing live and drawing a crowd of 200 while Mad Mike's competing gig drew 2,000. Mad Mike died in 2000.

mad mike
Mad Mike from Magic Music Machine

The Other Biggies: I couldn't find much on these guys, but they were giants in the 1960s - Charlie Appel, still a part-time DJ and full time reverend, from Monroeville's WPSL (he still has a crew of followers known as the Apple Corps), Brother Love of WAMO, who introduced progressive music to the Burg, and Bob Livorio of WKPA in New Kensington, another renowned hop jock.

The Dance Halls: I'm from the South Hills, and my memory can still dredge up the Linden Grove in Castle Shannon, the White Elephant in White Oak, I think, though it burned down long ago, the Lebanon Lodge in Mt. Lebanon, Sully's in Brentwood - that burned too, occupational hazard, I guess - and West View Dance Land where everyone got down to the Battle of the Bands. Kennywood did some dances, too. A few romances and many boozy parking lot fights were started at these venues. How else would a self-respecting Pittsburgh teen kill the weekend?

The Songs: Culled by memory in no particular order: "Wisdom of a Fool," The Jesters; "The Wind," Diablos; "69," Arondies, "Whip It On Me Baby," Billy Guy; "My Heart Cries," Etta & Harvey; "You're Pushing Too Hard," The Seeds; "High Flying Wine," The Igniters; "Fried Onions," Lord Rockingham; "Love You So Bad," The Empires; "Baby Let Me Bang Your Box," The Bangers; "Someone," The Contrails; "Ain't No Big Thing," The Electrons; "High on a Hill," Scott English; "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O," Larry Dale; "Shop Around," The Mad Lads; "Love Is So Tough," The Fantastic Dee Jays; "Don't You Hear Me Calling Baby," Ronnie Haig; "Have I Sinned," Donnie Elbert; "Psycho" & "The Witch," The Sonics. Our song? "Everlasting Love," Robert Knight, "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You," Frankie Valli, and "So Much In Love," The Tymes. One song wasn't enough.

If you can remember most of these names, places and tunes, congratulations - Altzheimers hasn't won yet. And by the power invested in me by The Boss Man, I dub thee an official member of the South Park Cruisers Club, circa 1967. It was a very good year.

bulldog boogie

Westinghouse Wall of Fame from Pittsburgh Post Gazette

If you're ever in Homewood, visit Westinghouse's Wall of Fame. It seems like there are about a zillion alums from the 'House that honored its' halls by helping make Pittsburgh a more vibrant city, in many ways and in many fields. The musicians on the wall read like a who's who:

• Al Aarons -- performed with Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, Quincy Jones and Frank Sinatra
• Hal Brown 'HB' -- WAMO deejay
• Gerald 'Jerry' Byrd -- performed with Jimmy Smith and Jack McDuff
• Sally Cosgrove & Bill Thompson -- dancers
• Frank Cunimondo -- composer/keyboard
• Erroll Garner -- jazz pianist
• Linton Garner -- performed with Billy Eckstine and Erroll Garner, his younger brother
• Nelson Harrison -- Ph.D., composer, performed with Count Basie
• Ahmad Jamal -- jazz musician
• Claude Jay -- gospel recording artist
• James 'Sunny' Kelsey -- WAMO
• The LaRells -- late 1950s group, recorded "Everybody Knew"
• Grover Mitchell -- conductor with Count Basie orchestra
• Art Nance -- performed with Count Basie
• Birdie Nichols -- "Glorious Rebirth"
• Paul Ross -- Violinist Paul Ross was the first African-American musician to become a full member of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Paul Ross had a vision wherein people of all races and walks of life could gather together in the service of great music. He made it happen, and that is how he lived his life.
• Wyatt Ruther -- performed with Count Basie, Erroll Garner and Lena Horne
• Dakota Staton -- jazz singer, performed on "Late, Late Show"
• Billy Strayhorn -- composed the "A Train" worked with Duke Ellington
• Adam Wade -- singer, actor and first black to host a game show
• Mary Lou Williams -- piano prodigy; composed masses for the Pope, worked with Duke Ellington

A couple of these names really stand out in music history.

Erroll Garner began playing piano at the age of 3. He was self-taught and remained an "ear player" all his life, as he never bothered to learn how to read music. All he had to do was hear it. At the age of 7, Garner began appearing on radio station KDKA with a group called the Candy Kids, and by 11 he was playing on riverboat cruises. Five years later he joined 'Burgh saxophonist Leroy Brown.

He played locally in the shadow of his older brother Linton, also a pianist and on the WOF, and moved to the Big Apple. There he jammed with Charlie Parker on the famous Cool Blues session. Short in stature but long on ego, Garner used to perform perched high atop a Manhattan phone book. He would often start his songs with a strange mix of notes that in no way suggested the upcoming tune. That trademark opening jam left his audience on the edge of their seats trying to figure out what song he was leading into. It was a great live hook.

Garner had a well deserved international reputation in jazz, and until his death in 1977, he toured the world making his music while still producing a huge volume of recorded work. He's buried in Homewood Cemetery.

Billy Strayhorn is another world class musician. If you are familiar with the song "Take the A Train," then you've probably heard of its' composer, Billy "Sweet Pea" Strayhorn. He joined Duke Ellington's band in 1939, at the age of twenty-two. Ellington was intrigued by his potential and took this shy but talented pianist under his wing. Neither one was sure exactly where Strayhorn would fit in with the band at the start, but they knew that their musical talents complimented each other quite well. By the end of the year Strayhorn had made himself indispensable to the Duke Ellington Band, arranging, composing, and sitting in at the keyboard.

Some of Strayhorn's compositions are: "Chelsea Bridge," "Day Dream," "Johnny Come Lately," "Rain-check", and "Clementine." The pieces most frequently played are Ellington's theme song, "Take the A Train" and the Duke's signatory, "Lotus Blossom". Some suites on which he collaborated with Ellington are: "Deep South Suite," 1947; the "Shakespearean Suite" or "Such Sweet Thunder," 1957; an arrangement of the "Nutcracker Suite," 1960; and the "Peer Gynt Suite," 1962. He and Ellington composed the "Queen's Suite" and gave the only pressing to Queen Elizabeth. Two of their suites, "Jump for Joy," 1950 and "My People," 1963 had as their themes the struggles and triumphs of blacks in the United States.

Billy Strayhorn died of cancer in 1967. Duke Ellington's response to his death was to record what the critics cite as one of his greatest works, a collection titled "And His Mother Called Him Bill," consisting entirely of Strayhorn's compositions.

And we can't forget Ahmad Jamal, born as Frederick Russell Jones (he changed it later, after converting to Islam). He started playing piano at the age of three and began his formal training as a seven year old with Mary Cardwell Dawson, who greatly influenced him.

His first album, Ahmad's Blues, was recorded in 1951. Following that release, he and his trio worked as the house band at Chi-town's Pershing Hotel. Then they released the live album But Not for Me which stayed on the Ten Best-Selling charts for 108 weeks. Jamal's big hit and juke box favorite Poinciana was from this album.

He was one of Mile Davis' favorite pianists and was a key influence on the trumpeter's "First Great Quintet" with John Coltrane. Jamal received the National Endowment of the Art's American Jazz Masters award and also named a Duke Ellington Fellow at Yale University.

It's said that his pianos need to be tuned between every set because of the pounding he lays on the keys. Since the 1980s, Jamal has been earning his daily bread by touring the U.S. clubs and European jazz festivals with his trio. He's popular in R&B circles, too. Jamal's recorded on both the Motown and Atlantic labels, and had at least ten of his songs sampled in hip-hop and soul tracks.

If you dig jazz, you know that there's no school in Pittsburgh that teaches its' kids to tickle the ivories better than the 'House. The Bulldog Wall of Fame and be-bop fans around the world know that Westinghouse turns out more than great football players. The pianists ain't half bad either.

bomp baba bomp

The Original Marcels from Singers

In 1959 Cornelius "Neeny" Harp, Fred Johnson, Gene Bricker, Ron "Bingo" Mundy and Dick Knauss, (Harp, Johnson and Mundy were cousins; all five were schoolmates at Oliver High on Allegheny Avenue in North Side) decided to put their voices together and form a group.

They would practice in Johnson's Woods Run house, often singing for a one-man audience of Jules Kruspir, who would one day run local label St. Clair. He became their manager, and Johnson's little sister Priscella came up with the name when she dubbed the quintet The Marcels, after the hair style of Harp (he was sporting a Marcelle wave.)

The Marcels were a cover band, and Kruspir sent a tape of seven tunes originally done by the Del Vikings, Imperials, Harptones, Spaniels, and other big doo-wop acts of the era to Colpix, a subsidiary of the Columbia label in 1961. Stu Phillips, the A&R director of the label, was impressed enough to invite them to New York to audition. They arrived during a blizzard, and Phillips didn't have any studio time set aside for them.

He hustled them into the RCA studio after the Cadillacs were done with it, and in their remaining eight minutes had them tape a song, in two takes. They decided to do a real oldie, "Blue Moon," (the Marcels didn't know the words to the original choice of "Heart and Soul") and Phillips had Fred Johnson scat the  bass line from the Cadillac's "Zoom," one of their demo tracks. It ended up a pretty worthwhile eight minutes.

A promo guy for Colpix picked up the tape and played it for WINS jock Murray the K. He liked "Blue Moon" so much that he played the bootleg 26 times during his four hour show. Even with the overkill, the fans couldn't get enough of it. Colpix signed the group, started pressing wax, and in a month it was #1 on both the pop and R&B charts. "Blue Moon" topped the US chart for  three weeks, displacing Elvis Presley’s "Surrender," and was on top of the R&B charts for two weeks.

It was a worldwide hit, too, landing in the top ten in England, Australia, Holland, Sweden, France, Belgium, Denmark, New Zealand, Israel, Spain, and South Africa.

The record was a million seller. The R&R Hall of Fame would later select Blue Moon as one of the 500 songs that shaped rock and roll. The Pittsburgh boys did themselves and the city proud.

They cut an album called "Blue Moon" (what else?) that also included the modest hit "Summertime" that charted in the Top 100. They were in a movie called "Twist Around the Clock" with Dion and Chubby Checker. But their fifteen minutes as hitmakers were ticking away for the North Side group.

The LP was the last recording from the original Marcels. Knauss and Bricker left the band after feuding with Kruspir following a southern swing. The Marcels encountered overall problems with bookings in that era as a biracial group, and live shows were the bread-and-butter paydays. Fred's brother Allen Johnson and Walt Maddox took their place, and cranked out another big hit with "Heartache," a million seller that reached #7, and another song that made the charts, "My Melancholy Baby."

Mundy left at the end of 1961, and lead baritone Harp joined him a year later. Allen Johnson dropped out in 1964, and they picked up a couple of local singers from the Altairs, Fred Herndon and Richard Harris. But their heyday had run its' course, and they hit the oldies circuit.

In 1973, the five original members got together one last time at the Villa Madrid bar on the North Side. Mundy and Knauss then went back to their then-current group, the Memories. The four remaining members would sing once more in 1999 (Bricker died in 1983) for the PBS Doo Wop 50 show. And they were recognized by being elected to the Vocalist Hall of Fame in 2002.

The current version of The Marcels is managed by Walt Maddox, and consists of members Jules Hopson, Kenny Mitchell, Richard Harris and Ted "Reno" Smith, all who have been around the local R&B/doo-wop block a few times. They're still quite a popular act on the oldies circuit.

As for the other members:

Harp passed away in 2013. At last report, Mundy was a PAT bus driver, Knauss a school custodian (both retired by now, we'd hope), Maddox sings and manages the current Marcels act, and Fred Johnson is fronting his version of the Marcels. Rich Merritt is still singing and swinging in Florida, Gene Bricker passed away in 1983 and Allen Johnson, who worked at Pitt, died in 1995.

Bomp-baba-bomp, ba bomp ba bomp bomp, baba bomp baba bomp, da dang da dang dang, da ding dong ding...Bluuuuuue Moon.

(If you want to find out what the current Blue Moon crooners are doing, check out the

"Blue Moon" by the Marcels - 1961