Frankie Czuri, Warren King, Norm Nardini & Rob Franks
from Emmett Frisbee
The Igniters were a mid-60s group from Penn Hills, and they used to pack 'em in where ever they played. Formed in 1963-64, their repertoire ranged from British Invasion to R&B - whatever they could cover. It was the classic "Animal House" garage band.
The group's front man was Pittsburgh rock legend Frankie Czuri, who joined the Igniters in 1965. By that time, Czuri and bandmate Bob McKeag had been singing together for years, ever since fifth grade at St. Bart's where they were choirboys.
The Igniters were the house band at the Oakmont teen club Varsity House, and sold the place out, often leaving a couple of hundred frustrated party animals milling outside. They recorded “High Flying Wine," a huge regional hit in the day when DJs weren't shackled to a playlist and could push the local bands.
Atlantic Records signed the Igniters to a contract in 1968. They were only the second white band on the label, along with Felix Cavaliere and the Rascals, another blue-eyed soul group.
The label made them change their name from the Igniters to Jimmy Mack and the Music Factory. It was that or Mack's Factory. Not a very imaginative bunch there at Atlantic.
The label would release one 45 by the band -- "Baby I Love You/The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game," a Marvelettes hit. The record cracked the top 50 before sputtering out.
Deciding that Jimmy Mack wasn't doing it for the them, the band became known as Friends (what the heck was wrong with the Igniters, anyway?) They cut another single for Atlantic Records under that name and then disbanded.
The end of the Igniters was just the beginning for Czuri. In 1975, he joined the Jaggerz. After that - it was long after their "Rapper" days, though he did play on the "Come Again" album - he joined Diamond Reo, along with another trio of well traveled and respected 'Burgh rockers, Norm Nardini, Warren King, and Robbie Johns.
They had a top 40 hit in 1975 with a version of the Marvin Gaye song, "Ain't That Peculiar." Diamond Reo went on to record three albums: 1975's "Diamond Reo," on the Big Tree label, 1976's "Dirty Diamonds," on Kama Sutra, and 1978's "Ruff Cuts," on Piccadilly.
Diamond Reo appeared on Dick Clark's "American Bandstand" and toured with Kiss, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, Frank Zappa, Kansas, Ian Hunter, Blue Oyster Cult, and Canned Heat.
Nardini left to form the Tigers, and Czuri and King struck out on their own. They signed drummer Ron "Byrd" Foster from Roy Buchanan's band, bass guitarist Mike Pela, and Dennis Tacos on the keyboards to form the Silencers.
It took them a while to get going, but eventually CBS Records signed them, before they ever played their first show in public at Fat City (the old Oriental) in Swissvale, where they would become the house band.
In 1980, the Silencers recorded the album "Rock N Roll Enforcers," which produced four local hits: "The Peter Gunn Theme," "Modern Love," "Shiver and Shake," and "Head On Collision." In 1981 the album "Romanic" produced another popular single, "Sidewalk Romeo."
The Silencers had a great producer, Bob Clearmountain, who would later work with the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, The Pretenders and Bruce Springsteen. Songs "Sidewalk Romeo" and "Shiver and Shake" got respectable radio airplay. Their music videos were in heavy rotation on MTV back in the day when it was a televised vid jukebox, playing four times daily.
The Silencers toured extensively too, opening for Hall and Oates, ACDC, Heart, Foreigner and others. Their live show featured original songs as well as R&B covers.
"Not a lot of bands had videos then," Czuri says about his days on early MTV. But it wasn't just a case of supply and demand - the vids were good. The Silencer's videos were featured on MTV's tenth anniversary show, easily passing the test of time for first wave video productions.
King, one of Pittsburgh's great blues guitarists, left the band in 1984. Czuri joined the vocal group Pure Gold in 1985, and continues doo-wopping and covering the old R&B standards with them to this day.
It's quite a journey from garage/punk rockers like the Igniters, Diamond Reo and the Silencers to the harmonies of Pure Gold. Frankie Czuri has the pipes to front any band.
But it looks like he may be returning to his roots. Czuri left Pure Gold in 2010 and focused on putting back together his sixties band, The Igniters. May the circle be unbroken.
Frank Czuri and Pure Gold at the Benedum Center "Roots of Rock 'N' Roll" show - "Can't Help Lovin' That Girl of Mine." Quite a change from the Silencer days, hey?