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"