Saturday, February 28, 2009

Roger Humphries, King of the Kit

Roger Humphries from Pittsburgh Jazz Network

Pittsburgh is one of the seminal spots for jazz in the nation, represented by many artists from players to singers. And it's especially well known as the birthplace of jazz drummers, like Joe Harris, Klook Clarke and Art Blakey. Roger Humphries was the guy they handed the torch to, and he's carried it proudly and well.

The son of Mary and Lawrence Humphries, Roger came from a big North Side family (he was one of 10 sibs), and among his relatives were uncles Frank and Hildred Humphries, a pair of professional brassmen.

His brothers Lawrence Jr. and Norman, both musicians then, helped led him along. Humphries scored his first gig at the ripe old age of four, during a Christmas program with the Mary J. Cowley Band.

The little drummer began winning prizes in amateur contests, and at four-1/2 years old, he sat in with the hard-swinging Tab Smith Big Band, who had Uncle Frank as part of the ensemble.

He was under the musical tutelage of Christine Shoda at Latimer Junior High, and she helped influence Humphries' career; after all, she directed the group he first sat in with, the Mary Cowley band, when he was a whelp. Humphries moved on to Allegheny High, where he earned, not too surprisingly, a seat on the All-City band.

He began playing for pay at the age of fourteen, and led his own group at Carnegie Music Hall when just sixteen. At age 15, he did a show with saxman Illinois Jacquet at the Crawford Grill.

In August of 1962, Humphries hooked up with the Sugar Man, Stanley Turrentine, and Philly organist Shirley Scott to form a trio that played at the Hurricane Lounge in the Hill District.

In 1964, he went to New York to join the Horace Silver Quintet. While with Silver, he toured Europe twice and appeared at the Monterey Jazz Festival. Humphries also recorded four albums while working with Silver. The disks were "Song For My Father", "Cape Verderan Blues," "Jody Grind," and "Re-Entry Live at the Half Note."

"Song For My Father" is considered one of the timeless jazz recordings of our time, and the 1964 release still gets airplay on jazz-oriented stations today.

His time with Silver lasted from 1964 through 1967. Humphries got to play with jazz giants Joe Henderson, James Spalding, Tyrone Washington, Teddy Smith, Larry Ridley, Woody Shaw, Carmell Jones, and J.J. Johnson. He cut an album with trumpeter Jones in 1965, "Jay Hawk Talk".

But hey, quitting Silver wasn't exactly a bump in his career. Shortly after leaving him, Humphries began playing with Ray Charles. While gigging with Charles, he toured both in the US and Europe, and got his first taste of venues like the Coconut Grove in LA and the Newport Jazz Festival.

But he was homeboy at heart, and was tired of life on the road. Humphries wanted to return to his nest, wife Regina, and children Michele, Roger Jr., Denise, and Monica, (and now his grandchildren LaShawna, Adrian, and Brytney).

After playing with various groups around the country, Humphries put together his own group in 1972, RH Factor, and in 1996 he assembled Roger Humphries' Big Band. He plays with them and various configurations of musicians all across the City.

In January of 1980, Humphries took his last big road trip when he toured Europe with Richard "Groove" Holmes and Willis Jackson. During the trek, they performed in France, Spain, and Holland. Then it was back to the 'Burgh.

Humphries does more than play his music; he shares it, perhaps harking back to the days of Miss Choda.

Dr. Harry Clark, principal of the Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA), brought him aboard to teach aspiring teen musicians. Dr. Nathan Davis at the University of Pittsburgh gave him a teaching gig, too.

Humphries also gives clinics in venues like the Slippery Rock University Summer Jazz workshop and Mellon Jazz Masters Class and Concerts series.

It's even rubbed off on his family. Relations who frequent Pittsburgh's music scene include son Roger Humphries Jr. and nephew Gregory Humphries who are, naturally enough, drummers, along with cousin Teddy Humphries, a pianist.

The 60-something jazz giant is still influencing the musical direction of the City from beyond the bandstand. But make no mistake, he certainly hasn't abandoned the stage for academia.

RH Factor Quintet appears at the jazz club CJ's Lounge on 29th Street in the Strip District every Thursday night, and the jam sessions are incredible. He fits in shows around that set date, and plays the area regularly, sometimes gigging three times a week.

He's self-released a couple of albums, "This N That," with RH Factor in 1993, and "Don't Give Up" with his Big Band in 2003, which he dedicated to the memory of his brother Harold and sister Mary who made it a point to “Don’t Give Up” on music and in life.

And the local suits know a good man when they see one, too. On February 23, 2008, the state of Pennsylvania and the city of Pittsburgh issued a joint proclamation declaring it as Roger Humphries' Day in recognition of his performance in the fields of music and teaching.

It's been quite a career. Humphries has provided the backbeat for (take a deep breath): Ray Charles, Horace Silver, Richard "Groove" Holmes, Stanley Turrentine, Lionel Hampton, Coleman Hawkins, Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie, George Benson, Slide Hampton, Jimmy Smith, Jimmy Witherspoon, Nathan Davis, Pete Henderson, Don Patterson, Bill Doggett, Billy Preston, Jack McDuff, Herbie Mann, Kenny Blake, Geri Alan, Frank Cunimondo, and Nancy Wilson. And this is just the A-List; the notables he gigged with goes on and on.

He's appeared on Oprah Winfrey's and Bryant Gumbel's TV shows. Humphries has performed at Carnegie Music Hall, the Village Gate and the Apollo Theatre in New York, the Jazz Workshop in Boston, the Coconut Grove in Los Angeles, the Newport and Monterey Jazz Festivals, and Ronny Scott's in London, among many other clubs and venues spread across the country and Europe.

He's also sat in or starred drumming for at least eighteen albums, and his cuts are included in many jazz compilation collections.

Not bad for a little drummer boy from the North Side.

"Song For My Father" - Roger Humphries and RH Factor live at Katz Plaza in the Cultural District, with a little shilling at the end

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Leon Daniels and the El Venos

The El Venos from Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebook (photo provided by Carl Janusek)

The El Venos began in the summer of 1955, in Penn Township, now Penn Hills. There, five 15-year olds hooked up to harmonize: Leon Daniels was lead tenor, backed up by first tenor Danny Jackson, second tenor Leon Taylor, baritone Joey Daniels (Leon's brother), and bass Bernard Palmer.

The Daniels were originally from Duquesne, and after the group formed, the family moved back. Leon and Joey ended up taking three trolley rides to get to the Penn Hills' practices, transferring at Squirrel Hill and East Liberty. Ah, the sacrifices one makes for one's art.

They decided, being teens, that they'd name themselves after something wine-related, and came up with the Grapevines. Tapping into the 50's rage to give groups an exotic Spanish-sounding moniker, they morphed the Grapevines into the El Vinos.

However, that was too close to “winos” for their taste; they wanted to be sophisticated, not Bowery Bums. So they changed the spelling to match the pronunciation and ended up with “El Venos.” It was a bit convoluted, but they liked it.

Covering tunes by the Heartbeats, Harptones, Cadillacs, Moonglows, Spaniels, Turbans, and Drifters, they started to become regulars on the local hop circuit. The DJ's hosted them, too: Porky Chedwick (WHOD), Bill Powell (WILY), and Jay Michael (WCAE) all had them on-air at some time or another.

They hit gold when they got the soprano Anna Mae Jackson, Danny's sister, to share leads with Daniels. It was all thanks to the Wilkens Amateur Hour.

In early 1956, the El Venos were selected to be on the weekly TV show, aired on WDTV, sponsored, of course, by the Wilkens Jewelry Store. The acts did their thing, and the winner was picked by tallying the votes of the TV audience, sent in by post card. The prize was $500, big money at the time (and not too shabby even today).

They wanted to sing the year's boffo hit, the Teenagers, “Why Do Fools Fall In Love.” But no one had a voice that could crack crystal like Frankie Lymon's could.

The answer to their conundrum? They got Danny's sister, Anna Mae Jackson, to sing the lead. It worked; Anna Mae was great - they added her to the group after the show - and those post cards rolled in for them. The El Venos took top honors that week.

DJ Bill Powell of WILY introduced them to Bob Rolontz, A&R man for RCA's Groove subsidiary. He had the El Venos send him a demo tape of some of their original material, mailed them a one year contract, and set up a taping session with Groove.

After surviving several family hassles, (they were all too young to sign a contract, and needed their parents' John Hancock to seal the deal, and none of them were too enthralled with the thought of their children singing for their supper) they sent the paperwork back.

The recording date was finally set for August 27, 1956, and the El Venos were off to RCA's New York City studios. Jackson borrowed his dad's 1953 Buick Roadmaster, stuffed the group in, and motored to the Big Apple. They were all of 16.

The El Venos sang the three songs from their demo tape: “Geraldine,” featuring Daniels, “Are You An Angel?,” with Daniels and Danny Jackson on lead, and “Now We're Together," fronted by Daniels and Anna Mae Jackson .

A month later, Groove issued “Geraldine,” b/w “Now We're Together” (#4G-0170). It never became a national hit, but it was big in Pittsburgh. Who can forget the "dooley-paddy-wah" line? The El Venos also got some eastern seaboard love, but not enough for it to break out.

After “Geraldine” was recorded, Leon Taylor's mother, Johnnie Mae, agreed to become the El Venos' house mom/manager. She drove them around, acted as a chaperone, and even let them rehearse at her house. Mrs. Taylor was a busy woman, running a beauty shop out of her home and studying to become a nurse.

As a result, most of their bookings came through Bill Powell. He was the group's contact guy, and would call Johnnie Mae when a gig popped up. They weren't exactly beating the bushes for appearances.

Not that booking shows was a problem. The El Venos never left the area, because their parents disapproved. Dick Clark wanted them on his Bandstand TV show, even booking a date through Powell, after he saw the Philly response to “Geraldine” .

But the gang's parents wouldn't let them go to Philadelphia, and the group couldn't raise the needed loot themselves. It's tough to make a name for yourself when you can't get out of your own backyard.

The El Venos' only big-time appearance took place when “Geraldine” hit #3 locally. They played a show at the Leona Theater in Homestead, with Johnnie & Joe, Chuck Willis, the Cadillacs, Bo Diddley, Johnny Burnette, the Del Vikings, Dakota Station, Otis Williams & the Charms, and the Heartbeats as the local rep on the national traveling bill.

RCA renewed the contract. Their second studio session was held on July 9, 1957. This time there was no problem getting to New York: Johnnie Mae Taylor piled them into her new 1957 Plymouth and drove them there herself.

All four songs they recorded that day were led by Anna Mae Jackson and Leon Daniels: “My Heart Beats Faster,” “You Must Be True” (a label misprint; it should have been “You Won't Be True”), “You're Gonna Be My Girl,” and “Oui, Monsieur.”

Groove Records was defunct by now, and they switched over to RCA's Vik subsidiary, along with the other label acts like Mickey and Sylvia. Vik released “My Heart Beats Faster” b/w “You Must Be True” (#4X-0305) in November.

That was it for the RCA years. After the second contract was fulfilled, Bill Powell got them a session with Bill Lasley's Amp-3 Records (distributed by Mercury) in the summer of 1958.

Joey Daniels got married and moved away to New York. He was replaced by baritone Jimmy Wright of the local Echoes. Amp-3 recorded “Pretty Knees," featuring Daniels, and “(I Am Just A) Lonely Girl” led by Anna Mae Jackson. It was never released.

The group lost another member when Bill Powell sweet-talked Anna Mae Jackson into going solo. He had her record another side called “Lover's Prayer,” backed by George Benson and the Altairs. In July 1959, “(I Am Just A) Lonely Girl” b/w “Lover's Prayer” was released on Memo (#M-3), another Bill Lasley label, under the name Anne Keith.

The five guys weren't done, though. They hooked up with Calico Records. Talent scout Ed Townsend had come to Pittsburgh to check out the scene, and the two groups he liked were the Skyliners and the El Venos. He opted to push the Skyliners, but kept the El Venos on his rolodex.

In 1960, they recorded “Stereophonic,” featuring Danny Jackson and “It's The Little Things,” lead by Leon Daniels, for Calico at Bell Sound in Queens, New York.

They even had a plan to combine the local talents. After the record was released, the El Venos would go on tour as the opening act for the Skyliners. But as Scot poet Robert Burns noted, "The best-laid plans of mice and men go oft astray."

And the El Veno's, this close to grabbing the golden ring, saw their plans go way astray.

Bill Powell told Calico that he wanted 10% of the record or he wouldn't play it on WILY. That was a minor setback, and pretty common back in the day. The label could work around Powell's open palm.

Calico wanted to push “Stereophonic,” but before the record could be released, Danny Jackson left the group to sing in his church, a complete bolt from the blue, and that became the deal-breaker.

The label decided not to issue the record, because they felt that no one else in the group could sing it like Jackson. That was the coffin nail, and sounded the last hurrah of the El Venos.

Leon Daniels became a manager in the meat department of the Giant Eagle supermarket chain, not singing again for over 35 years.

Leon Taylor has passed on, Danny Jackson eventually joined the service, Joey Daniels lives in NYC, and Anna Mae Jackson moved to New Jersey. We believe that Bernard Palmer still lives in the area.

Over the years, the El Venos have earned Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Society of Oldies Collectors and the Pittsburgh Oldies Record Collectors Club.

In January 1964, catering to a newly revived oldies market, RCA reissued “My Heart Beats Faster”/“You Won't Be True” (#47-8303). While the El Venos no longer existed, they'd finally scored some wax on the vaunted RCA label. But Leon Daniels took care of that, when in 1998, he put together a new El Venos group.

The members now are Ronnie Williams (baritone, bass; former lead of the Orlandos), Wayne Zollinger (baritone), Chuck Townsend (second tenor), and Gwen Davis (first tenor and alto). They have their own 5-piece band that appears with them: Jimmy Britton (keyboards), Jimmy Mendys (saxophone), Billy Smith (guitar), Jeff Ingersoll (bass), and Brandon Barnes (drums).

The new El Venos have released two CDs, “Vintage Veno” (Cestra Productions #155595) and “Vintage Collection” (Bonedog #327587). Their original stuff is carried on several compilation records, like the "Pittsburgh's Greatest Hits" series on the Itzy label.

They appear as Leon Daniels and the El Venos, and they've performed at nearly every venue in the area: the Giant Eagle Parking Lot, Keystone Commons, East Pittsburgh Community Center, the Latrobe Festival at Latrobe Legion Park, the Yukon Slovenian Hall, Etna Elks, the Holiday Inn, Italian Club, and at virtually every doo-wop concert held in the city.

(Old Mon again has to give thanks to that great ol' R&B historian, Marv Goldberg, and his R&B Notebook, the Who's Who of Doo Wop)

"My Heart Beats Faster" - The El Venos (1957)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Guitar Zack

Zack Wiesinger

Hey, when you're a kid from West Mifflin squeezing some blues out of your ax and having guys like Warren King and Steve Vai like the sound you make, well, that's a pretty good start.

Zack Wiesinger is that kid. He picked up his mom Char's guitar when he was ten, and was hooked. Joe Rossi taught him the basics, and the youngster's dedication and talent took over from there. He became a guitar prodigy almost overnight.

When he was twelve, he did a guest gig with Jill West and the Blues Attack. He played with them until he flew the 'Burgh coop for for left coast three years ago, doing the clubs and tours with the band, and getting to open for guys like Bruce Springsteen and BB King.

Wiesinger - "Guitar Zack" - made the move to LA in 2006 to see if he can forge a name for himself. He's Vai's personal assistant between gigs; every bluesman knows that you gotta keep a day job when you're breaking into the business.

Being able to drop Vai's name to a booking agent doesn't hurt the cause. Speaking of bookings, his manager is his childhood bud, Jesse Eichner. Doesn't anyone stay in Pittsburgh anymore?

Wiesinger met Vai in 2005 when he was in high school, at the Grammy Camp for aspiring young musicians, winning a scholarship while there. Vai liked his style, and Wiesinger became his protege of sorts. The kid, though, was storming ahead on his own merits.

He came in second in the Guitar Center's 2007 "King of the Blues Challenge" in Los Angeles. And second out of 4,200 entries ain't none too shabby. Wiesinger had to play the lead-off set of the finals, making his high finish more challenging.

He did even better in 2006, when he took home the Albert King Award at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis for Most Promising Guitar Player.

Wiesinger opened for Steve Vai on his 2007 "Sound Theories" (he backed him some on the album, too) international tour of the states and Europe. And it was all him. He performed solo, with just a Stratocaster and single amp, a perfect if high-wire blues set-up.

The stringbean bluesman has a between-songs stage presence that belies his age. He has a great rap with the crowd, and his showmanship keeps the audience into his jams, even if his herky-jerky playing style leaves some of them cold.

His enthusiasm and humor is contagious. Guitar Zack plays a song that goes: "My hair is perfect, it has seven sides," a little self-effacing jab at his pompadour, or whatever style his mop may be that day.

Starting last summer, he's headlined his own west coast tour in support of his 2008 album, "Misaligned Mind". He'll keep on the road with his new band (it replaced Guitar Zack & No Slack) which includes guitarist Andy Alt, who has toured with The Roots and The Black Keys, across the country.

The 22-year old West Mifflin Hi grad ('05) hasn't forgotten his hometown. In fact, Wiesinger is in Pittsburgh this weekend for his birthday, and gigged at Harvey’s, in West Mifflin, on Friday night.

Though his set is half covers - there are, after all, a lotta blues tunes to pick from - he's shown great talent as a writer. Wiesinger has a catalog of 300+ original songs written, performed (he laid down every instrumental and vocal line), recorded, and engineered in his parent's basement. He even did the "Dead Birds" Steeler track for WDVE.

Listen for "Zack's Blues" co-written by Wiesinger and Norman Nardini, in the 2007 Blair Underwood/Ving Rhames movie "The Bridge to Nowhere." Yah, he does soundtracks, too.

He's self-issued his original songs "2:30 (no matter what!)," "Plus Some That Don't Fit The Mold," and "Tranquil Madness," and sold thousands of copies at his shows. Nice little sideline, hey?

One thing that's fairly safe to say is that Wiesinger won't be tripped up by the bright lights. He was an A student in school, and the only time the tee-totaler is in a bar is when he's gigging. He spends his spare time honing his guitar work.

Heck, when he was in Amsterdam on the Vai tour, Wiesinger passed up a tour of the red-light district and headed for the museum.

What's the future hold? Who knows? The blues is a minefield when you're trying to earn your daily bread from it. And some industry guys think Wiesinger's calling is in writing songs, not playing them. Guitar Zack himself has never really put himself in the blues niche, so he has lots of room to explore and expand.

He's 22, with a bullet on the music industry charts.

Zack Wiesinger and No Slack playing "Dogs Eat Mush" live at SUNY-Buffalo.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Love Is Like A Rock

Donnie Iris

Dominic Ierace, known by City rock lovers as Donnie Iris, was born in Ellwood City on February 28th, 1943 - yah, he'll be 66 soon - and was taught to sing at his momma's knee, beside the piano. He'd also accompany soul singers he had on the turntable or radio.

Iris got his musical career in high gear early, winning a Paul Whitehead TV amateur hour at the tender age of eight. The prize was a refrigerator; local lore places that old icebox in his garage today, usually filled with cold brew.

But success didn't rush to his head. In fact, he quit singing when he was 12; his voice changed. Iris played a little guitar in high school but preferred the drums because the skins didn't make his fingers bleed. Eventually, he taught himself how to play the ax without chopping up his fingers.

As a sophomore in college, he joined up with Dave Amodi and Jimmy Evans, and formed the Trivelles, hitting the frat circuit and playing at a local bar named "Guy's." That was fine with them; like most college rockers, they weren't after the fame and fortune, but the girls.

They later added bass player Dave Rieser from Slippery Rock, and called themselves Donnie and the Donnelles; this is when the Donnie Iris persona was developed. From there, he jumped in with a Pittsbugh band, the Jaggerz, in the late 60s. Iris earned a gold record for writing and singing the monster song “The Rapper” in 1970.

Around 1978, he joined with Wild Cherry in the group’s waning days, switching from R&B to funk. He got a taste of touring with WC and met keyboardist and writer Mark Avsec, his future music-making collaborator and partner.

After Wild Cherry broke up, they began writing some songs in the Iris basement. Their first release was the disco-ish single "Bring on the Eighties" backed by the cover song "Because of You" in 1979. The record died a quiet death. Iris and Avsec decided to start rockin' on their next release.

The duo came up with a hybrid of rock and new wave, and pioneered a taping technique they called "stacking," a sort of early overdubbing, sometimes layering dozens of Iris' vocal tracks atop one another. In effect, Iris backed Iris.

They laid down some tracks at New Brighton's Jeree’s Recording Studio on Third Avenue, run by Jerry Reed and Don Garvin. Iris and Avsec brought in guitarist Marty Lee Hoenes (Pulse), bassist Albritton McClain (David Werner) and drummer Kevin Valentine (Breathless), and recorded his first full length album.

Avsec carried some songs and a couple of keyboards to the studio, and got to work on producing his first disk. Shortly, the band was cutting the tracks for “Ah! Leah!” and the other songs that would become their debut “Back On The Streets” album.

Iris and Avsec decided the record would be a solo album, featuring Donnie and his stacked, blue-eyed soul vocals, but they wanted the band to have an identity too, like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Avsec lived in Cleveland and the players were constantly on the turnpikes going to and from the studio in Beaver Falls. Iris thought the group should be called The Turnpike Cruisers, after the 1958 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser and probably all the tolls and mileage piled up by the band. The Turnpike Cruisers morphed into the Cruisers, and Donnie Iris and the Cruisers became their nom d' artiste.

The song “Ah! Leah!” was rejected by every major label. But in 1980, local radio still broke cuts that weren't on the national playlist.

WDVE in Pittsburgh, WMMS in Cleveland, and WBCN in Boston spun the record. The single and album were issued by Cleveland's Sweet City/Midwest Records, and both began to chart on Cashbox and Billboard thanks to the heavy regional rotation.

MCA/Universal noticed and picked up the album, beating out Chrysalis. “Ah! Leah!” peaked at #29 in Billboard’s Singles Chart, and was played to death on the album orientated stations.

Iris was dubbed the “new king of cool” by a Toronto reviewer after a show at The El Mocambo club. Must have been the Buddy Holly glasses (he switched from wire rims on Avsec's advice). The follow-up album played on that praise, and was called “King Cool.”

It featured the track “Love Is Like A Rock," a top-forty hit and ninth on the rock charts. KC's big seller was “My Girl,” which hit #25 on Billboard’s Singles Chart.

Beginning in 1980, the Cruisers made the road their second home. During a three year stretch, the band headlined and toured with dozens of acts, including Journey, Loverboy, Bryan Adams, Foreigner, Bon Jovi, The Romantics, Eddie Money, UFO, Nazareth, Ted Nugent, Joan Jett, Hall & Oates, and the Michael Stanley Band.

Two other MCA albums followed (“The High And The Mighty” and “Fortune 410”) yielding songs like “Tough World” and “Do You Compute?,” which became a popular MTV vid. They were both top-40 on the rock charts, though not very hot movers on the singles list.

They returned to the studio in 1986 and recorded a new album titled "Cruise Control," now with Scott Williamson on bass and Tommy Rich pounding the drums.

But a squabble with MCA resulted in a drawn out lawsuit and the deep-sixing of that album. (That suit led Avsec back to college; he became an attorney and teaches law at Case Western Reserve University.)

The Cruisers were stalled behind a legal road block, so Iris partnered with Avsec on his second Cellarful of Noise album, "Magnificent Obsession," which was released in 1988 and featured the song “Samantha.”

After a decade long exile from the studio, the original band gathered again at Jeree’s to record the “Poletown” album in 1997, which many consider to be the finest Donnie Iris and the Cruisers release. It was a departure of sorts from the hard rockin' Cruisers, featuring a blues influenced sound, a sort of return to Iris' original musical roots.

He cited his most influential acts growing up as Ray Charles, The Beatles, Marvin Gaye (his favorite), The Temptations (and Motown generally), and Buddy Holly.

In 1998, with Tommy Rich behind the kit again and Paul Goll now on bass (the core of the act - Iris, Avsec, and Hoenes - stayed together, but they went through drummers and bassists pretty regularly. Scott Alan was on bass and Steve McConnell played the skins in the early 90s before Goll and Rich), the band recorded one their club shows, issued under the title of "Live! At Nick's Fat City."

“Together Alone” was released next, in 1999. It was a softer sounding record, another new direction taken by the maturing Iris.

But who wants quiet maturity from a rock and roll band? In August 2004, Donnie Iris and the Cruisers pumped up the amps and celebrated their 25th anniversary before 4,000 gleefully beserk fans at the Chevy Amphitheater.

Three Cruiser drummers – Kevin Valentine, Tommy Rich, and Brice Foster - were on the stage, along with Avsec's daughter, Danna, who began sitting in with the band when she turned 16 years old. Nothin' quiet about that gig. And the Cruisers still often show up on stage with two or three kits to drive the sound.

They also released a compilation album, "25 Years," in conjunction with their anniversary.

The “Ellwood City” album, three years in the making, was next, released in May 2006. It was homage record by Iris to his birthplace. And ya know what? Western PA digs Iris as much as he digs his home stomping grounds.

June 17, 2006 was celebrated throughout Lawrence County as Donnie Iris Day. He also received some love from Congresswoman Melissa Hart and local State Rep Frank LaGrotta in the form of official proclamations applauding his career.

When the politicos line up to kiss your ring, you know you're a certified hometown hero. Heck, his trademark yellow suit was even an exhibit once for the Beaver Area Historical Museum's “Musicians of Beaver and the Beaver Valley” show.

Today, he owns and operates his own mortgage company, Simcorp, in Aliquippa. And no, Iris didn't get a bailout! The grandfather and his better half, Melody, still live near the old homestead in Beaver Falls, where he enjoys bowling, golf, Courvoisier and cigars.

But he's most surely not spending his AARP years in a rocking chair. In a couple of weeks, he'll be appearing with Lovebettie and Sweet Angelina Blue at Johnny B's Night Club at 660 East Pittsburgh Street in Greensburg, on February 21st.

And on Saturday, March 14, he'll host the Gateway Clipper's "Luck O' The Iris" Saint Patrick's Day Cruise. So if somehow you've managed to miss Donnie Iris over the past few decades, don't despair - he'll be on stage somewhere soon for you to enjoy.

Donnie Iris and the Cruisers - "Love Is Like A Rock" live at Cuyahoga Falls, 1981