Friday, December 31, 2010

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Johnny Costa

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Johnny Costa

Johnny Costa is another in a long string of Pittsburgh musicians who decided that the road wasn't the life and came home to play. It may have put his light under a basket nationally, but make no mistake - Costa was one of the top jazz pianists of this era, even though he eschewed modern fusion-style jazz forms and stuck to the standards, playing the music of Berlin, Gershwin, Kern, mercer, Porter, and Rogers & Hart.

Born in 1922 in Arnold, an Allegheny River town 20 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, Costa never roamed far from his birthplace.

Costa's dad was an immigrant coal miner, and he wanted his kids to lead a life that kept their hands clean and back straight. At age five, Costa began playing the violin. When he was ten, his neighbor Fred Petri taught Costa to play the accordion.

Costa's father actually sold his house so he could buy his son a $500 accordion. Costa credited that early training with developing his skills with the right hand.

But when he reached high school, his music teacher, Frank Oliver, suggested that Costa dump the squeeze box and switch to the piano. The idea made sense to Costa, and after he heard some Art Tatum recordings, he was sold.

He taught himself to play Tatum's songs (in fact, Tatum himself would one day dub Costa "The White Tatum"), and his first teacher, Martin Meissler, came to Arnold a couple of times a week to coach him. And Meissler knew his stuff; he was Oscar Levant's piano teacher, too. Costa's left hand soon caught up to his right.

Costa joined the New York City-based clarinetist and bandleader Tommy Reynolds and his orchestra after graduating from high school. He returned to Pittsburgh soon after the bombing of Pearl Harbor to marry his sweetheart Helen before leaving for the Army.

He was a corpsman in the "Tough Hombre" 90th Division, and took part in the brutal Utah Beach assault on D-Day. Within a few months, rheumatic fever sent him to a series of military hospitals for a year.

Discharged from the army, Costa auditioned for admission to the music department at Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie-Mellon University. He played Antonín Dvořák's "Humoresque" ala Tatum before a school panel. A music committee member reportedly said afterward "That was not 'Humoresque,' Mr. Costa, but what you played was wonderful. Of course, we'll accept you."

At Carnegie Tech, he studied music composition under Nicolai Lopatnicoff, a composer of the central European avant-garde style. Costa's personal influences were classical composers, particularly Bach, Beethoven and Chopin, and straight-ahead jazzmen Tatum and Fats Waller. The mash-up created Costa's great and unique style.

He earned two bachelor's degrees at CMU, in music composition and music education. Costa's been quoted as saying he needed the sheepskins "in case I was a flop as a professional musician." Fat chance of that happening, but better safe than sorry.

On the day he graduated in 1951, Costa began a sixteen year stint as musical director of KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh. He played the organ for "Meet Your Neighbor." On Josey Carey's "Funsville," he created the memorable character of Indian Mary, who wore a straw hat with two braids hanging out and a huge feather in back, chewed on a cigar, played the piano, and never said a word. Costa also starred on his own show, "The Wonderful World of Johnny Costa," where he spotlighted a composer and played his songs.

During the fifties, in addition to his TV duties, the Johnny Costa Trio with Jim DeJulio (bass) and Chuck Spatafore (drums), rode the MCA circuit, playing in Chicago, Detroit, Miami and New York several times a year. Costa was on Steve Allen's "Tonight Show."

The busy pianist also recorded for NYC labels Coral and Savoy. "Johnny Costa Plays Piano Solos" (1955), "Johnny Costa Plays for the Most Beautiful Girl in the World" (1955), "Costa Living" (1955), "A Gallery of Gershwin" (1958) and "In My Own Quiet Way" (1959) were released by Coral; "Introducing Johnny Costa" (1955) and "The Amazing Johnny Costa" (1955) (reissued on CD as "Neighborhood" in 1989) were on Savoy. Sadly, they're all out of print.

But recording and touring weren't Costa's bag. Before the decade of the fifties closed, he quit a brief stint in Philadelphia as the musical director of Mike Douglas' weekday show and returned to Pittsburgh for keeps. Costa was tired of living out of a suitcase, and he and Helen had two kids, Debbie and John Junior, to raise. He gave up chasing the brass ring to sink his roots deep into home turf.

He gigged regularly at Mercur’s, a downtown club which had featured jazz players like Erroll Garner, at the William Penn hotel, and he still had his KDKA duties. But his KD days were soon to end when he found a new TV challenge in 1967.

That's when "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" first aired. Costa became the show's musical director. His music opened and closed the program, he arranged the music, accompanied guests, and added background melodies during the show's segments.

Costa met Fred Rogers five years before the show was a thought through Josey Carey. When Rogers began planning "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood," he offered Costa $5,000 to arrange, conduct, and play the music for 100 episodes. Costa accepted the job in a heartbeat. At the time, he needed exactly that amount to pay his son's college tuition. God works in mysterious ways.

Who knew that it would end up the most successful children's show ever broadcast, and that Costa would be introducing generations of kids to jazz improvisations? There were no kiddie ditties played on MRN; neither Rogers nor Costa would condescend to their audience, young as it may have been, that much.

None of the music was canned, Rogers allowed him complete freedom, and Costa, along with "Handyman" Joe Negri, created a playlist that led Branford Marsalis to say "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood is the best jazz show on the air anywhere."

Costa and Rogers collaborated frequently on the show's music, with Costa harmonizing and arranging Rogers’ melodies. It's well known that Fred Rogers had degrees in psychology and theology, but maybe not so well known that he also had a degree in music composition.

In the seventies, Costa recorded on a string of LPs released by Rogers featuring Pittsburgh jazzmen like Negri, Bobby Boswell and other contributors.

The first, in fact, was released in 1967, when The Johnny Costa Trio (now with Carl McVicker on bass and Bob Rawsthorne doing percussion, both who performed with him on MRN) on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood Records with tunes like “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Like his other LPs, it's no longer available.

It was a match made in heaven. Rogers got first class musicians, while Costa (and Negri) got steady work, a regular paycheck, and some notoriety to allow them to maintain a club and concert schedule of their chosing.

He was appreciated by his hometown boys for his outside work, too. The City Theater honored Costa as the first recipient of its Performance Award, presented to an outstanding performing artist from western Pennsylvania. The presentation featured performances by Dick Hyman and Peter Nero. Costa was also elected to the Hall of Fame of the Pittsburgh Jazz Society.

Oh, about his discography. Dick Hyman, jazz pianist, keyboardist, composer and Costa admirer, contacted Hank O'Neal, president of Chiaroscuro Records (which had recorded Mary Lou Williams and Earl Hines), and sent him an unlabeled cassette of Costa recordings in 1990.

O'Neal signed Costa after a brief listen, and released four recordings: "Classic Costa" (1992 - American songbook tunes), "Flying Fingers" (1992 - jazz standards), "A Portrait of George Gershwin" (1994 - Gershwin), and "Dream" (1996 - Johnny Mercer).

Heck, even his liner notes are classics. They were written by folk like Elsie and Henry Hillman and Henry Mancini. Along with L&M Records 1997 release of "Christmas Reflections," these LPs are all that's left of Costa's musical legacy.

Johnny Costa died of anemia at the age of 74 on October 11th, 1996.

His personal legacy is that of a regular joe. Costa lived within a few miles of his family home, and used to meet his high school music teacher for breakfast. He never had an agent; Costa just gave out his phone number - unchanged for 30 years - and booked his own gigs. His kids lived nearby. A beautiful musician and beautiful person is how his friends and family describe him. And they're right.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas!!!

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image from The Society


"We Wish You a Merry Christmas" - Mormon Tabernacle Choir



"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" - Giorgio Tozzi



"The Christmas Song" - Mel Torme



"The First Noel" - Natalie Cole



"White Christmas" - Bing Crosby



"Adestes Fidelis" - Andrea Bocelli



"Deck the Halls" - Smithfield Fair



"Joy to the World" - Anne Murray



"Jingle Bells" - animation, artist unknown



"Silent Night" - Libera

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bob McKeag...McKeg...Bubs!

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Bubs McKeag

Bob "Bubs" McKeag started out like many Pittsburgh music legends - he and a bud, Little Joe Arena, put together a garage band in high school. They formed the Igniters, and the Penn Hills musicians became local club heroes in the sixties.

The Igniters were the house band at The Varsity House in Oakmont, and their early Brit/R&B rockin' style regularly filled the club. McKeag was the lead singer (although Frank Czuri, an old St. Bart's pal, would eventually fill that role in what would become a recurring theme) and lead guitarist.

Atlantic Records signed The Igniters to a record contract in 1968. They were the second white band signed to the label, following the Rascals; they had the soul sound, even if blue-eyed, that Atco pushed. That made the way Atlantic handled the act a bit of a mystery.

The label changed their name to Jimmy Mack and the Music Factory for reasons unknown. They released the poppish "Baby, I Love You" b/w "The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game" in 1968, and it got a little love, but not much outside the region; maybe the label thought the B Side Marvelette's cover would qualify as R&B. It did get a lot of play in the region.

So they changed names again, now performing as the more psychedelic "Friends." They cut another single that went nowhere, effectively ending the Atlantic connection. After a couple of years of touring and playing The Psychedilly club as their local home base, they disbanded in 1970. McKeag joined the Navy.

After seeing the world on Uncle Sam's dime, he played with various bar bands in the area. Then, in 1974, McKeag hooked up with Norm Nardini and Robbie Johns to record Marvin Gaye's "Ain’t That Peculiar" at East Liberty's Red Fox Studio. A Pittsburgh rock legend was born that day: Diamond Reo.

Diamond Reo signed a contract with Big Tree Records, a subsidiary of Atlantic, added Czuri as a vocalist and Warren King on ax, and became the next big thing. Oddly, for all the smoke their only top 40 hit was their first tune, "Aint That Peculiar," with McKeag working the "talkbox" guitar and singing lead.

The band schmoozed with Dick Clark on American Bandstand and opened shows for Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, Kiss, Rush, Canned Heat, Kansas, Blue Oyster Cult, and other seventies' rockers as they toured non-stop and lived large on the road.

Life on the bus brought changes to the group. McKeag was the first to leave Reo as the band moved from Top 40 rock to punk/metal. He recorded another top 40 hit, "Gimme Some," for Buddah in 1977 as Bob McKeag and later recorded for Phantom Records under the easier to spell (and pronounce) name of McKeg.

He then hooked up with James Lawson to form the McKeg/Lawson Blues Band, and the group became a popular local blues mainstay. In 1994, Lawson lost a battle with cancer; McKeag kept the MLBB going for five more years before they broke up.

For the past decade or so, he's been mostly gigging solo. His EP "McKeg on Tap" is a Pittsburgh hit (of course, one of the tracks is the Heinz Field tailgate favorite "Go Steelers." Guy knows the market, hey?)

And he's a full-time bluesman now; he even has a trademark porkpie hat, though it's overshadowed by his ax. McKeag is a two-time winner of the Blues Society of Western Pennsylvania’s International Blues Challenge for solo/duo artist, taking the 2009 title with Dr. Blue as a duo and as a solo act in 2008.

McKeag has taken a couple of side trips to Finland, too. He performed during the 30th Annual Helsinki Blues Heritage Festival. In 2007, he went to Finland for an international songwriting competition in the blues category, and placed fourth.

Bubs is a teacher, too. Beside performing in the Pittsburgh Blues Festival, he worked the Blue's Society "Blues In the Tent" project. McKeag presented “Story Telling in the Blues," where kids focus on their life stories of heartbreak, loss, or just the day-to-day grind. Then they write them down, and have the framework for some blues lyrics.

But ya know what? Sometimes the old days are the best days. McKeag just joined with his old Igniter bandmates at the Palisades last week for a holiday reunion gig. People came to town from all over the US to catch the act again, only the third time that the band has gotten back together since they went their separate ways in 1970.

And hey, after four or five decades of making that ax sing, it's sweet to know that Bubs McKeag's first chord was just as popular as the next one will be.


Bubs McKeg with The Sweaty Betty Band - "No Baggage"

Friday, December 10, 2010

Bill Toms

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Bill Toms from Music Club

Bill Toms is a full fledged member of the Bruce Springsteen and Joe Grushecky singer/songwriter school of narrative Americana rock, and small wonder - his influences are Leadbelly, Tom Waits and Bob Dylan, and he was the lead guitarist for Grushecky's Houserockers for nineteen years, beginning in 1987.

While the band may not have rocked the national airwaves, it ruled in the Steel City. During his two decades of playing guitar and singing back-up harmonies, Toms recorded seven albums with Grushecky and the Houserockers.

They opened for groups like The Band, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Little Feat and Stevie Ray Vaughn and toured the United States and Europe.

Toms eventually started up his own band, Hard Rain, named after the old Bob Dylan song, made up of Houserockers. And guess what - he's still a local phenomena with an international following, just like during the Houserocker days.

They've played local venues like Moondogs, the Altar Bar, Frankie & Georgie's, Cefalos, Club Cafe and festivals such as "Guitars Over Cancer," the Flood City Music Festival and the Carnegie Arts & Heritage Festival.

Toms and the band have performed in West Virginia, New Jersey, Michigan, New York and Virginia with a couple of road trips to Italy and Spain with Marc Reisman, his old Houserocker bud harp man, and sax blower Phil Brontz. His European exploits have made him a movie star of sorts.

Tomorrow night (Saturday December 11th), he's having a film release party at Frankie & Georgie's 4 Wood Grill (formerly PD's Pub) on Forward Avenue in Squirrel Hill, where he'll debut "A Troubadour's Journey."

The documentary film was shot during Toms' 2008 Italian tour, capturing band footage, the road diary, and a side bar story of how the band helped inspire a filmmaker. The party starts at 10 PM, with Toms and Hard Rain performing as the flick rolls, we assume.

Hard Rain is a pretty sweet collection of local players, all former members of the Houserockers. It consists of Toms (vocals, guitar), Tom Breiding (guitar, vocals), Phil Brontz (sax), Scott "Scooter" Tamulinas (bass), Bernie Herr (drums) and "Sudden" Steve Binsberger (keyboards).

Breiding, a Wheeling native who lives in McMurray, has several albums to his credit: Railroad Town (1992), The Next Heartache (1997), Guitar and Pen (1998), Happy Hour in the Round Hotel (2000), American Son (2001), Two Tone Chevrolet (2004), Guitar and Pen Volume II (2005), Time to Roll (2006), and The Unbroken Circle (2007).

His style has been compared to John Mellencamp's. He also operates the AmeriSon Studios and label that Toms uses to record.

Brontz has tooted on more than a dozen albums himself, playing since 1983 with artists like Jill West, Norm Nardini, Glenn Pavone, Erin Burkett and Gary Belloma beside Toms and Grushecky. He also performs with 8th Street Rox.

Scott "Scooter" Tamulinas has played with Bill Deasy and Patti Spadaro. Bernie Herr has spent most of his career as the Houserocker percussionist, and recorded eight albums with that band. Philly's Sudden Steve also plays with Jill West & the Blues Attack, and was a member of Billy Price's band and 8th Street Rox.

And then there's the 49 year old Bill Toms. Beside his band, he can be found on stage with "Friends" or sponsoring community events with his wife, Joyce. The Scott resident also teaches guitar as his day job, both to individuals and in workshops.

His discography is pretty lengthy, as this list will bear out:

With Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers:
“Rock and Real” - Rounder Records, 1989
“Swimming with the Sharks” - Rounder Records, 1991
“End of the Century” - Razor and Tie, 1992
“American Babylon”- Razor and Tie, 1995
“Coming Home” - Big Star, 1997
“Down the Road Apiece, Live” - Schoolhouse Records, 1999
“True Companion” – Schoolhouse Records, 2003

Bill Toms & Hard Rain:
“Paradise Avenue” - Schoolhouse Records, 1997
“My Own Eyes” - Moondog Records, 1999
“This Old World” - Moondog/Schoolhouse Records, 2001
“The West End Kid” – Moondog Records, 2005
“Spirits, Chaos, and a Troubadour Soul’ – AmeriSon Records, 2008
“Live at Moondogs: Another Moonlight Mystery” – AmeriSon Records, 2010

Bill Toms Solo:
“One Lonesome Moment” - Out of the Rain Records, 2002

Bill Toms & Hard Rain Documentary:
"A Troubadour's Journey" - 2010

At the end of January, Bill Toms and Hard Rain will start recording their new and as of yet unnamed studio CD. They may not have the national rep of Springsteen or the local cachet of Grushecky, but Hard Rain is on the same short list.


Bill Toms & Hard Rain - "Move It On Down The Road"

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Anne Feeney Benefit Boogie

Wanta get into the Holiday Spirit? Kick off Christmas with a star-studded show of local acts getting together to party - and help Anne Feeney with her medical bills.

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 12 @ 7 PM
A BENEFIT FOR ANNE FEENEY!

--- RUSTED ROOT
--- JOE GRUSCHECKY AND THE HOUSEROCKERS
--- MIKE STOUT AND THE HUMAN UNION
--- JUSTIN SANE OF ANTI-FLAG
--- BILLY PRICE
--- THE GRANATI BROTHERS
--- JACK ERDIE
--- BRAD YODER
--- ROBBIE KLEIN
--- THE NEWLANDERS
--- DEVILISH MARY
--- HENRY DOKTORSKI
--- MARK DIGHAM
--- THE ARMADILLOS
--- SUE POWERS
--- JEFF BERMAN
--- TRES LADS
--- NELSON HARRISON
--- JOE MUNROE

MR. SMALLS THEATRE
400 LINCOLN AVENUE
MILLVALE, PA 15209
PHONE; 412-821-4447

TICKETS:
ONLINE: WWW.TICKETWEB.COM/MRSMALLS
CHARGE BY PHONE: 866-468-3401
$20.00 PER TICKET PLUS TAXES

TICKETS CAN ALSO BE PURCHASED BY CONTACTING SENATOR JIM FERLO/MIKHAIL
PAPPAS AT 412-621-3006 OR senatorferlo@gmail.com

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Pittsburgh Christmas

Hey, wanna get in the holiday mood? Try spinning one of these CD's performed by local artists while sipping your eggnog:

-- BE Taylor "Christmas" & "Christmas 2" The first album consists of a dozen traditional songs; the second has a trio of Taylor tunes among its eleven songs.

-- Donnie Iris and the Cruisers, "Ah Leilulah!" Rock in the holidays with "Hallelujah Chorus," "Blue Christmas," "Angels We Have Heard on High," "Emmanuel" and original song "This Child."

-- Joe Negri "Guitars For Christmas" Twenty songs by the jazzman, a mix of traditional and pop.

-- Jackie Evancho "O Holy Night" Four-song, fully orchestrated EP featuring "Silent Night," "Panis Angelicus," "O Holy Night" and "Pie Jesu"

-- Pittsburgh Symphony Brass "Spirit of Christmas" Twenty-one traditional holiday airs.

-- Rosa Colucci "The Gift" Thirteen tracks, a mix of traditional and lesser known carols, delivered with blues/jazz/folk arrangements.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Anne Feeney

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Anne Feeney photo by Fred Walser

Over the past decades, local folkie Anne Feeney has headlined union and community organizing drives, strummed and sung for human rights, peace and the environment, and attacked the issues of poverty, racism, sexism and war both verbally and in song.

If she sounds like a child of the sixties cut out of the Phil Ochs, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary mold, well, it's because she is.

Feeney was born in the Mon Valley town of Charleroi in Washington County in 1951, the first child of Annabelle Runner and Ed Feeney. The family moved to Pittsburgh's Brookline neighborhood in 1954, and Feeney was given a Catholic education, beginning with Resurrection Elementary School and then graduating from the now closed Fontbonne Academy in 1968.

After saving for a year, she bought a Martin D-28 guitar (maybe the most famous acoustic ever made; Hank Williams and Elvis Presley used the D-28) in 1967; she would play it for the next 40 years. She was, like many youth of the era, politically and philosophically shaped by the Vietnam War and Civil Rights Movement.

Feeney was also influenced by her grandpap, William Patrick Feeney, who was an long-time mineworkers' organizer and fiddler who played his music to promote political and labor causes.

As she says, her music is meant to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

She gave her first public performance in 1969 at an anti-war rally, covering Phil Ochs songs. While a Pitt student in 1972, she was arrested in Miami at the Republican National Convention while protesting Richard Nixon's re-nomination; the charges were dismissed.

Politics wasn't all that she was involved in. The same year, she helped co-found Pittsburgh Action Against Rape, along with Annie Pride and NOW. Almost forty tears later, it's still the only organization in Allegheny County solely devoted to issues of sexual violence.

She earned her sheepskin from the University of Pittsburgh in 1974 with a Liberal Studies (what else?) degree.

In 1976 Feeney started down her musical road when she joined a bluegrass band called Cucumber Rapids; they disbanded the next year.

She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 1978 and spent the next dozen years as a trial attorney; in fact, she was a charter member of the Women’s Bar Association of Allegheny County.

As she worked cases and raised two children with her lawyer husband Ron Berlin, Feeney also performed in local clubs and at rallies, such as the Great Peace March at the Lincoln memorial in 1986, or at the Washington Monument for the 1989 March for Women’s Lives. Deciding that her guitar was a more effective tool than a legal brief, she took full-time to the road in 1991 and hasn't looked back.

Since then, Feeney has toured the US, Canada, Mexico, Ireland, Sweden and Denmark, playing at folk festivals, labor conventions, churches, and political/labor demonstrations and rallies. She often tours 200+ days during the year.

Feeney has performed during events on Solidarity Day in DC, the WTO demonstrations in Seattle, the EU protests in Copenhagen, the LO Kongress in Stockholm and the March for Women’s Lives in Washington. Of course, she took part in several G20 related events when that show came to Pittsburgh.

She received the Joe Hill award from the Labor Heritage Foundation in 2005; a couple of other past winners were Pete Seeger and Cesar Chavez. The late activist Utah Phillips called Feeney "the best labor singer in North America."

Her music has been played and recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary - "Have You Been to Jail for Justice?" - and that tune has been featured in the documentaries "This is What Democracy Looks Like," "Isn't This a Time: A Tribute to Harold Leventhal" and PBS show "Get Up/Stand Up: The History of Pop and Protest." Political cartoonist Mike Konopacki used Feeney's song "Union Maid" in a flash animation in 2003.

Not that she really needs anyone's help. She's part of a dozen CD releases, with eight solo efforts:

Anne Feeney:

* Look to the Left, 1992
* Heartland (Live), 1994
* Have You Been to Jail for Justice?, 2001
* Union Maid, 2003
* Original Recordings, 2004
* If I Can't Dance, 2006
* Dump the Bosses Off Your Back, 2008
* Enchanted Way, 2010

With Chris Chandler:

* Flying Poetry Circus, 2001
* Live from the Wholly Stolen Empire, 2003

Compilations:

* Wild Wimmin for Peace: The Great Peace March, 1986
* Vote in November - Election 2004 by: Anti-Theft Device, 2004

(The disks are available through CD Baby or her website.)

Her music isn't all original, but follows an Americana template: bluegrass, traditional, labor, pop, folk, contemporary and her own material make up her playlist.

As expected, Feeney has her union bona fides. She served as president of the Pittsburgh Musicians' Union, the only woman ever elected to the position, from 1997-1998. Feeney is a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (the "Wobblies").

She also helped, with other folkie troubadours, to establish Local #1000 of the American Federation of Musicians, the "Traveling Musicians’ Union," in 1993. It represents acoustic players who perform most of their gigs away from their local AFM jurisdiction.

Feeney has paid her social dues as well, as she was president of a local NOW chapter, served on the board of the Thomas Merton Center and helped found PAAR.

She married labor attorney Ron Berlin in 1977, had two kids, Dan and Amy, and ended that union in 1995. In 2002, Feeney married Swedish political artist Julie Leonardsson, and they crash in Swissvale.

Feeney is fighting a new foe now; she was diagnosed with cancer this summer. She's battling on two fronts, trying to whip the tumor and raise money to pay the bills (you'd be surprised at how many working musicians there are who don't bring home enough bacon to pay for health insurance). She probably never realized how her quest for National Health Insurance would end up on her doorstep.

She's got a lot of friends; benefits have been held for her in Chicago, Eugene, Lexington and Cleveland among other spots. There was a local show for her just last week, and Mr. Small's in Millvale is hosting a super pre-Christmas event on December 12th.

Performing will be Joe Munroe, Mike Stout and the Human Union, Justin Sane of Anti-Flag, Hermie Granati, Liz Berlin of Rusted Root, Joe Grushecky and others.

If you'd like to donate to the cause, you can use PayPal on her webpage or just send a check; her address is also on the web site.


"Have You Been To Jail For Justice?" - Anne Feeney

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Patti Spadaro Band

patti spadaro
Patti Spadaro

Patti Spadaro took a round-about route to the Steel City: the Philly native went to the opposite coast, lived and worked in LA for 10 years, and then moseyed back across the country to Amwell Township in Washington County.

No, she didn't have kin around, but in a reversal from the norm, she relocated here after her hubby John found a job in the area. Spadaro settled in nicely, and started a family. Her daughters Alison, and Kaylee are now in school, freeing up the time for mama Spadaro to get back into the swing of the local music scene.

Spadaro started playing at age 11 and has been performing since age 13. She left Philly armed with a physics degree from Drexel University, but she wasn't going to LA to expand on Newton and Einstein's brainchildren; she was more interested in Jerry Garcia's work.

She played with a couple of local indie rock bands, did session work, and taught guitar.

Starting out with the Mystrals, Spadaro recorded on their CD "A Step Down From Luxury" and toured the southwest with the group.

Then she spent the next several years as the lead guitarist for the Zookeepers, a highly regarded West Coast band. They cut two CDs while she was with them, "The Zookeepers", and "Set Me Free," both big regional sellers. They gigged from San Diego to Seattle, and performed on area TV.

Spadaro also recorded and performed in Los Angeles with singer/songwriter and producer Sherby, along with singer/songwriter Roger Len Smith. She's a graduate of the Musician's Institue in Hollywood, where she studied with jazz/fusion guitarist Scott Henderson and blues/roots-rock guitarist Keith Wyatt.

She organized a benefit concert for Free Arts for Abused Children at the El Rey Theatre in LA with Little Feat as the headliners and the Smith/Spadaro Band opening the show.

In 2001, just before her baby boom and move to Western PA, Spadaro released the CD "Short Stay," recorded and mixed in Laguna Hills. It holds a six-song set of bluesy and jammin' Spadaro-written tunes. She played the lead guitar for all the tracks, and was the featured vocalist for two cuts (the others were sung by Stefana Dadas).

Then it was off to Amwell and the family life. Spadaro didn't entirely stay on the straight and narrow mommy track. She strayed enough to sit in with other bands every so often, hit some jam/open mike nights, and did some writing. In 2007, she did some solo acoustic sets and sat in with theCAUSE, and in 2008, the Patti Spadara Band joined the area's music scene.

The band introduced itself around town in a hurry. Spadara has performed with locals like theCAUSE, Jill West, the Mystic Knights, Tom Breiding, Bill Toms, The Sweaty Betty Blues Band, Women On Top and Craig King. She and the band have played at Moondogs, The Thunderbird Café, P.D.’s Pub (now Frankie and George's), Cefalo’s, Club Cafe, the Pittsburgh Blues Festival, JamBaloosa Music & Arts Festival, Jamband Festival, Westmoreland Arts & Heritage Fest, pUNKapalooza, Carnegie Music Hall, Southside Works, and Blues Go Pink.

The Patti Spadaro Band features bluesy jam-rock originals and cover songs ranging from soulful to Americana. The players are kinda like a Chinese menu; you have several columns to pick from. The main players around Spadaro, vocalist and lead guitarist, are:

Eric Kurtzrock on drums: He's worked in NY, LA and San Fransisco as a session drummer and has gigged with Eddie Henderson (of The Headhunters), Chipito Ayeres (Santana), Michelle Shocked, David Byrne, Boz Scaggs and many others. You could see Kurt Steinle (from Billy Price & the Rhythm Kings) behind the kit. Or for that matter, Davis Raborn, an acoustic drummer who's played for theimprovproject, Sonic Pulsar and Project Creation, could be poundin' out the beat.

Janelle Burdell was the original drummer; she's worked with Mickey Hart of the Dead and done programming for Planet Drum and The Other Ones and still sits in every so often. Former long-time Rusted Roots drummer Jim Donovan laid down four tracks on the CD, and as a friend of Spadaro's helped her get the band members in place.

Jeff Rosenthal on keyboards: He plays with Erin Burkett and was a member of The Usual Suspects; Denny Karl from the Mandrake Project also sits in on keys. Skip Sanders of The Clarks, Bill Deasy and Good Brother Earl recorded on the CD.

Ken Lamison on bass: He teaches and also plays with Bahama Breeze and Jumboband. Scooter Tamulinas of Bill Deasy and Bill Toms fame played on the CD.

The CD those guys played on is "Bringing Me Back," just released yesterday with a party at Frankie and George's (the old PD's Pub) on Forward Avenue in Squirrel Hill.

It was mastered at Swissvale's Sofa King Studios by Sean McDonald, who has worked with The Clarks, Aretha Franklin, Wynton Marsalis, Sinead O'Connor, and Soul Asylum. Some of the album was recorded at the McMurray studio of local musician Tom Breiding, and Jill Simmons and Cherylann Hawk lent the voices to the project.

The music is cataloged as jam-band American rock, ala Dave Matthews and the Grateful Dead. Songs from the CD, particularly "Live Out Loud," have gotten some airplay on WYEP-FM and local college stations. Spadaro is hoping the CD will help her and the band break out, at least regionally.

Until then, look for the Patti Spadaro Band dates in the paper, or for a stage with Patti doing an acoustic set. You'll get a bluesy jam-rock set with a solid groove and dancin' vibe; they love to get a room - and you - rockin'.


Patti Spadora Band - "Turn On Your Love Light"

Friday, November 5, 2010

28 North

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28 North

28 North may be the biggest current thing in the Pittsburgh rock scene. They have their own playlist of original songs, now at 150+ and growing, and work a classic rock, southern jam vibe that's proven popular over the decades, not only in the Tri-State area but across the land.

Their sound has won enough local fans that the group was selected as 2010's Best Band in the annual WQED Readers Poll taken by Pittsburgh Magazine. It's solid rock, with hooks, harmony and radio-friendly riffs galore.

Followers of The Grateful Dead, Lynnard Skynyrd, Government Mule, Phish, the Allman Brothers and Blackfoot should groove to their music; the band itself says its muse is The Band, chief among others ranging from the Beatles to the Black Crowes.

The members of 28 North are frontman Mike Lindner (guitar/vocals), Alex Stanton (guitar/harp/vocals), Jonathan Colman (bass/vocals) and Tyler Bond (drum/vocals). They originally started out as a trio before adding Colman, a Philly native, to round out the sound.

They have three CDs out; "Gone Too Far" (2007), "Mystery" (2008), and "28 North" (2010), the last mastered by George Marino, who has worked with the Arctic Monkeys, Guns N' Roses and Bon Jovi. All are available through iTunes and Amazon; the group is unsigned and doesn't have a label to push them, yet, and so depends mightily on the digital record shops.

28 North is putting together a fourth album in Brooklyn, working with Felix McTeigue, a well-respected country writer and producer, while playing a November residency at Arlene's Grocery, a bar known for showcasing up-and-coming acts.

And 28 North isn't sitting on its laurels or looking to become home-town heroes. They tour nationwide to support their work, having done by their count some 400 shows in the past three years.

They've shared a stage with the Dave Matthews Band, My Morning Jacket, Crash Kings, Motley Crue, Dickie Betts, Ace Frehley, Billy Squire, Steven Adler, Pat McGee Band, Pat Travers, Ekoostik Hookah, and the Blues Travelers along with locals like Joe Grushecky and Rusted Root.

The venues are just as strong as the acts 28 North supports: they've played at LA's Whiskey A Go Go and Chicago's House of Blues, along with New York's CMJ, Austin's South by Southwest, and Park City's Sundance Film Festivals. They finished a busy summer tour at the end of July and are fitting together dates around Arlene's and studio time for the winter.

They work the home front pretty well, too. 28 North is regularly part of the rotation of WDVE and have appeared on the Morning Show, Coffee House and the station's on-air Christmas Party, while WYEP spins their music, too. They've also been getting some airplay nationally since the release of "28 North."

They play the big local fests like Ribs on the River 2010, the Pittsburgh Marathon and the Rivers Casino amphitheater concert, along with area venues such as the Altar Bar, Thunderbird Cafe, Club Cafe, and Mr. Smalls.

They've got all the licks needed to break out. Now it's just a matter of getting the breaks to launch that break out.

28 North | The Shine from T. Larkin Productions on Vimeo.





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Monday, November 1, 2010

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Jack Stanizzo and Paul Lowe will be playing at Sieb's Pub, 3382 Babcock Boulevard, on November 6, 2010 at 9:30 pm. Give them a listen; Jack's released a jazz influenced, singer/songwriter CD with Paul called "Heart of the City."

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bobby Porter

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Bobby Porter

Rupert Cleo "Bobby" Porter, 59, died of stomach cancer at the age of 59 in the VA hospital. The mighty mite of a singer fronted garage punkers Young Lust, Thin White Line, and his current band Short Dark Strangers.

A memorial for Porter will be held Sunday, November 21st at 9 PM at Kopecs in Lawrenceville. Friends are invited to speak, and are asked to keep their comments to three minutes.

Born in the Hill in 1951, he learned his craft in a church choir. After high school, Porter joined the Marines and went to Vietnam as a tunnel rat, scurrying through dark warrens under the jungle floor chasing after Charlie. The punk scene was a holiday after that tour of duty.

He got his discharge in the early '70s, and Porter led a southwest band called Otis and the Red Z (southwest as in New Mexico, not Pennsylvania) that played rock & soul. Porter returned to Pittsburgh a few years later to get in on the emerging Three Rivers punk scene and formed Young Lust.

They played clubs like the Electric Banana (Porter lived in Oakland then, and held court at Chief's Cafe when he wasn't singing or clubbing), the Lion's Walk, Cedar Lounge and Phase III. Like most punk bands, they didn't get much mainstream love, but their tapes were played on the college stations.

His shows were legendary. The music may have been from the garage, but Porter's vocals were straight from Memphis. And though slight of stature, he was a physical dynamo.

He would go through a variety of stage antics and back-flipping acrobatics, jump on tables, walk on the bar...it was always a good idea to hang on to your drink when Porter took the stage. And when the band took a break, Porter would do a powerful acapella "Dock of the Bay" to remind the punk crowd of his R&B roots.

In fact, his second band, Thin White Line, made up their own version of the tune, “Dock of the Bus Stop.” TWL was a fixture on the Youngstown and Pittsburgh punk scenes starting in 1983 through the mid-90′s.

That's when Thin White Line became Short Dark Strangers, which described their sound as "Otis Redding or Wilson Picket (with) a punk band backing them."

The band did two tours of Europe and had a healthy performance schedule, hitting towns like Buffalo, Erie, Baltimore and Cleveland. Their home base in Pittsburgh was Howler's, though they performed in several area bars and clubs.

Music was a way of life for Porter, but not a way to earn a living. He took whatever day jobs fit his schedule, from bouncing to pushing a broom. Porter was single, and the life suited him.

Now he and Otis can join in a duet - and hang on to those glasses!

(Bobby's friends have set up a Facebook remembrance page; some great tales, pix and vids on the site.)


Bobby Porter and Thin White Line - Strange Glances

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dethlehem

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Dethlehem

As Halloween, the autumnal time of dark fantasy, approached, Old Mon heard some music that would make the dead dance, being played by men in outfits that Prince Valiant would kill for. OM had just wandered into a Dethlehem set.

The group calls itself an "Epic Melodic Death Metal" band. Yah, "melodic" and "death metal" aren't phrases you often use in the same sentence; we kinda like the term "adventure metal" for their genre.

They're similar to the bands Swashbuckle and 3 Inches of Blood, with thrashing guitars and alternately growled/yelped vocals. (For those who can't quite translate Bonecrush's words, the lyrics are posted on MySpace).

The fantasy metal musical sphere is a subset, but one that's growing. Not only are American performers thrashing medieval metal licks, but the form is pretty big across the pond, in Russia, and Australia where the bands and their fans take the gamer-based music scene to a quite serious level of role-playing metal.

The Pittsburgh group was formed in 2008, and its founding cast went by the names of Lord Bonecrush (Vocals/War Cry), Gallagore (Bass/Bass Staff), Overlord Brom (Drums/War Drums), Hildor Anduv (Guitar/Axe) and Bovice (Guitar/Axe).

Dethlehem is a RPG music machine. They stay in character, and perform wearing tunics, robes, chain mail, helmets, and war paint like medieval warriors, while blasting out metal in a sort of LARP (live action role playing) synthesis. And we mean they stay in character.

Forsooth, when bassist Gallagore decided to move on to more twenty-first century pastures, the group announced his departure by folding the event into its own self-mythos with this announcement:

"After having helped defeat Yagolith in the kingdom of Dethlehem, Gallagore has decided to retire back to the Elven forests of Unnastyruh." As far as the search for his replacement was concerned...

"We stopped in the field where the War of Wizards had taken place. We were shocked to find a lone survivor, a powerful wizard, Davidicus the Black. Davidicus convinced us of his usefulness by commanding thunderous tones with his Bass Staff. We decided a 5th member suited the band of warriors well."

The mythology of the Dethlehem fantasy is set up in the CD "Ghorusalem Codex, Vol I, Enthroned Upon A Spire," released in August of 2009. It's about a quest to destroy an evil goblin king named Yagolith who can handily morph into a dragon.

The saga begins in the village of Dethlehem, the happening place in the land of Ghorusalem, modeled on the centuries old story of the Three-Wise-Demons.

It’s a self-produced album, natch. There is some label love for fantasy bands, but Dethlehem is an unsigned act. It's clear, too, that the guys in Dethlehem made the album in the spirit of fun as well as fantasy. All you have to do is listen to the last cut, "Bonus Track of Absurdity," to figure that out.

Overlord Brom told interviewer Dan Rodriguez of Metal Insider that "we stand out a little bit because we have a somewhat original concept with the whole 'medieval/fantasy/goofy' theme. Yes, we aren’t the first band to dress up in goofy costumes, but instead of taking it really seriously, I think we are trying to laugh together..."

But because they don't take the band to the extremes of, oh, the furries, for example, don't think they're without a dedicated, loyal cadre of Deth metal followers. Their stages are a bit limited because so many Pittsburgh venues are 21+ rather than all-age, but they've still played the Hard Rock Cafe, the Altar Bar, Club Diesel, the Roundhouse, The Rex, Mr. Small's and the Smiling Moose.

Which brings us back to Halloween. On Friday night at 8:30, Dethlehem will appear at Mr. Small's for a special Halloween performance ("Hallo-Wizard"). Joining the thrasher warriors will be SIKES, Tobacco Road, Verbs, and the Motorpsychos, along with assorted trolls and critters.

Dethlehem's resume reads "Basically, we slay dragons, drink lots of ale, and turn maidens into wenches. Oh... and shred some epic metal." We say good work if you can get it.

(Thanks to shop bud Mike Hyjurick for pointing Old Mon in Dethlehem's direction.)


Dethlehem - "War of Wizards" from The Ghorusalem Codex Vol I (2009)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Kathy & Jimmy Zee

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Kathy & Jim Zee from the Rockabilly Hall of Fame

Kathy Zee was born Kathleen Ann Zaleski in Lawrenceville on June 12, 1946. By the age of four, she was already playing the mandolin (it was probably the only instrument that she could wrap her little hands around) and was primed to hit the stage like her big brother Jimmy.

He was all of twelve and singing at various shows. Jimmy was performing at a benefit concert for the Leukemia Foundation at a local high school gym, and let his lil' sis join him. She sang the Sophie Tucker chestnut "Some Of These Days," and as a result the "Harmony Wildcats," consisting of Kathy and Jimmy, were born.

The act played record hops, shows, and talent contests. Kathy sang and Jimmy played guitar and did back-up vocals; he was a veteran trouper who had won several talent shows, including the Wilkens Amateur Hour.

They regularly appeared on Pittsburgh-area radio and television broadcasts like the Eva Jackson and Virginia O'Donnell shows before graduating to the national Ted Mack Amateur Hour.

In 1958, manager Elmer Willett signed Kathy to a solo contract, and sent her to a voice coach. That must have turned the trick; he wrangled a deal with New York's Laurie records, a Dot subsidiary, which released her first record "Buzzin" in the US.

Although Jimmy wasn't on the record credits (He did have his own record in 1957, under the credit of Mike and Jim called "Dungaree Cutie" b/w "Baby Don't Knock", released on Josie #825 as both a 45 and 78), he played guitar and sang the backing vocals for "Buzzin'" (Laurie 3020), which cracked the U.S. Top 40 and was a huge local hit.

A few months before the USA release of "Buzzin'," it was issued in Germany on the Polydor label (66901), and was #1 in Hamburg (OK, Nummer Eins for Teutonic sticklers) for three straight weeks, and Kathy Zee is still popular overseas.

"I know my records are being played in the Netherlands and in Germany," she wrote. "There is a DJ over there named Giel Aarts who I do some liners for every now and then. And I have a fan club over in the Netherlands headed by Nol Voorst."

The wax was backed with an up tempo B side called "Crackerjack," which got some play, too. It was pretty heady stuff for a thirteen year old from Lawrenceville.

Kathy and Jimmy toured all over the east coast, and locally they did the hop circuit (they were particular favorites of those hosted by DJ Stan Wall). Willett decided to release the next song on his own label.

"Santa Claus Rock and Roll" b/w the ballad "Your Name, Your Name" (Willett 45-121) was credited to Kathy and Jimmy Zee, with Dick Glaser and the Glaser Brothers doing the back up vocals.

But the disk didn't have the legs of its predecessor. It again did well regionally, but the strictly local Willett label couldn't promote the vinyl outside the area. Their brief fling with rock fame came crashing to a halt.

The duo continued performing in the Pittsburgh area and remained a part of the Ted Mack Amateur Hour tour. But when Kathy graduated from Divine Providence Academy in 1964 at the age of 17, she and Jimmy were ready for greener pastures. They took Horace Greeley's old advice to heart and went west.

Kathy and Jimmy headed to Hollywood and were signed by the Johnny Robinson agency, big time talent reps, and started working right away.

The pair were booked at places like the Sands Hotel in San Diego, and spent several years performing in the southwest. They later become part of a club act in Reno named the Al Bello Revue. The show played at the Primadonna Club for over a year then moved to the Mapes Hotel, where the revue performed for another year.

Kathy was getting offers to join other groups, and when the Bello gig came to an end, the siblings split. Jimmy remained part of the Reno lounge scene while Kathy joined Abby Neal and the Ranch Girls as a rhythm guitar player and singer. They toured across the country until Neal had a heart attack and the group broke up.

She worked for a short time with a local group, the Tony Austin Trio that gigged in the Reno/Tahoe area and then moved on to a group called the Diplomats.

Zee became the featured singer and played bass. The Diplomats were actually the Sunshine Boys, a noted gospel group made up of Ace Richman, Jerry Wallace, Eddie Wallace and Woody Woodruff.

When they came to California, they changed their name to the Diplomats to play the clubs in Vegas, Reno and Tahoe. They also toured heavily, and after a couple of years, Kathy finally had her fill of buses and suitcases. She retired at age 27 to raise her family.

Now Kathy (Zaleski) Davis lives in Amador county, on seven acres about an hour from Sacramento, and sings in the choir at her local church. She has two children, five grandchildren, and makes and sells her hand crafted jewelry under the Kathy Davis line. She plans to start a Kathy Zee line in 2011. She also plans to offer autographed pictures, with the proceeds going to local charities like the womens' shelter and animal rescue society.

Jimmy, married with one son, is retired and has a home in Carson City.

They do periodically get together for a living room reunion gig, as Kathy wrote "When I do see him, which is about once a year, we get our guitars out and have a little jam session, and it sure does bring back the good ole times. We can still harmonize."

And no doubt reminiscence about the long strange trip from Lawrenceville to the left coast.


Kathy Zee - "Buzzin'" 1958

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

David Parr

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David L. Parr

Old Mon is sad to announce that another of Pittsburgh's music men, David Parr of the LaRells, died this week at the age of 68.

Parr was more than a musician and promoter/historian for the Homewood group, which did "Everybody Knew" in 1960. He was also a recording engineer, and a good one, who helped other singers on the way up with his expertise both as a performer and with the mixing board.

David was a relentless campaigner for the rights of the old bands that birthed R&B, pushing for legal protection of group names, a contentious issue on the oldies circuit. He also fought for the recovery of rights and royalties for their music, which was often covered or reissued without the artist's knowledge and almost always without any financial remuneration.

Our condolences and sympathies to his wife, Charlesetta (Charlie), daughter Monique and his family. Part of an era has died with David.


"Tomorrow Will Only Bring Sorrow" - La Rells

Saturday, October 16, 2010

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The Tammys

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The Tammys

The Tammys were an early sixties Oil City group (one reviewer said "Think Shangri-Las, but even more twisted and way sillier") consisting of sisters Gretchen and Cathy Owens and their friend Linda Jones.

They're best known for their song "Egyptian Shumba" with its vaguely Mid-Eastern instrumentals and girl group vocals that quickly change to primal yelps. To this day, it's still considered a cult classic because of its energy.

In high school, the Owens girls first sang in a group called The Impressions. As The Charnelles, the trio first publicly performed on 1962 at a school talent show, losing to the Gyantwachia Indian Dance team.

The girls were later thrown out of Famores' Restaurant in Oil City for singing along with the jukebox. They told the owners that "We’ll be on that jukebox someday." The vow came true with 1963's "Take Back Your Ring."

The girls first met Lou Christie in 1961 at a Marcy Jo/Lugee And The Lions show on a Saturday night at the Moose Lodge in Franklin, PA.

He later took them for a ride in his black Cadillac, with, of course, their mom's permission. Christie sang while they did back-up back-seat harmony and he told them "If I ever get discovered, I'll call you," and they promised the same to him.

A year later, he hit it big with "The Gypsy Cried" and took them to New York City, where they sang backup for him on several record tracks. Christie's older sister, Amy Sacco, managed and chaperoned the group.

They got their own contract with United Artists Records through Jack Gold, who nurtured quite a few local careers (including Christie's), and The Tammys recorded four songs. He signed them as The Twy-Lous though they never recorded under that nom d' music.

Despite fairly strong local airplay, ballads "Take Back Your Ring" and "Gypsy," along with the wild "Egyptian Shumba," all failed to chart nationally, although "Ring" sold moderately well in the region and "Egyptian Shumba" was a Top 15 hit in Pittsburgh and a Top 30 tune in Cleveland.

KDKA jock Clark Race hosted The Tammys several times on his weekly TV "Dance Party" show, and they performed with Christie at Pittsburgh clubs. They also made regular appearances in Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York, often backed by the Johnny Jack Quintet.

By 1965, after returning from the Army, Christie found another girl group to back him, The Angels of "My Boyfriend's Back" fame. The Tammys continued to play local gigs and sing background tracks, but by 1966, they joined the real world. Though their work wasn't particularly Billboard chart material, it wouldn't fade away, either.

As the Northern Soul craze engulfed Britain in the early 1970s, collectors began looking for songs with a funky dance groove. "Egyptian Shumba," written by Christie and Twyla Herbert, was rediscovered and became a Euro hit.

In 2002 all of The Tammys' singles plus two previously unreleased tracks were released on a CD called "Egyptian Shumba - The Singles and Rare Recordings: 1962-1964," (RPM - 330) including several Christie songs backed by The Tammys.

"Egyptian Shumba" is part of the Grammy-nominated box set "One Kiss Can Lead To Another: Girl Group Sounds, Lost and Found" after some lobbying by Christie for his old running mates. The wacky...um, make that catchy, dance tune is also included in a handful of compilation albums.

In 2006, Pitchfork Media included "Egyptian Shumba" in their list of top 200 songs of the 1960s at #177. Nitsuh Abebe wrote "It's not just that this girl group's gone wilder than any garage band on the list; it's that they're possessed. The Tammys bop hard and bratty, but by the chorus they're literally growling, barking, and squealing like sexed-up hyenas..."

The "sexed-up hyenas" are all domesticated tabbies now. Cathy (Owens) Friederich put down roots in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and has 10 grandkids. Gretchen (Owens) Wagner lives in the Erie area and is the music and liturgy coordinator for the Notre Dame Catholic Church of Hermitage. Linda (Jones) Honey makes her home in Texas.

Discography as the Tammys:

-- "Take Back Your Ring' b/w "Part Of Growing Up" (1963 - United Artists 632)
-- "Egyptian Shumba' b/w "What's So Sweet About Sweet Sixteen?" (1963 - United Artists 678)
-- "Gypsy" b/w "Hold Back The Light Of Dawn" (1965 - Veep 1210)
-- "Blue Sixteen" b/w "His Actions Speak Louder Than Words" (1965 - Veep 1220; unreleased until 2002)

As Ritchie & The Runarounds (Kripp Johnson of The Del Vikings, Lou Christie and The Tammys):
-- "Lost In the Crowd" b/w "Don'tcha Backtrack" (1963 - Ascot 2136)


"Egyptian Shumba" - Tammys 1963

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Some Special Shows On Tap...

-- E Street Band legend Max Weinberg will join the roster of touring acts to play a BurghSTOCK gig when he performs with his Big Band this Sunday, 7 PM at Altar.

The BurghSTOCK gang will be raffling off a cymbal signed by Max, with the proceeds benefiting the Shepherd's Heart Veterans Home.

-- The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, will join Joe Grushecky and the Iron City Houserockers for two concerts at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial in Oakland on November 4th and 5th. The opening act on the fourth will be Jill West & Blues Attack, and the I Drive will open the second show. Tickets are $45-$75, with a limited number of Gold Circle seats at $100, and will go on sale Wednesday through Ticketmaster.

-- Stage AE, the new North Shore venue, will host Girl Talk (Greg Gillis) on December 3rd & 4th; George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic on December 10th; and Wiz Khalifa on December 16th. Tickets for the three shows go on sale at 10 a.m. Saturday: Girl Talk ($22 advance; $25 day of show; $40 for both); George Clinton ($28; $30 day of show); Wiz Khalifa ($23; $25). Log onto or call (1-800-745-3000) Ticketmaster.

-- U2 will play Heinz Field on July 26th with Interpol as the last stop on the U2 360° tour. Tickets ($30, $55, $95 & $250) go on sale at 10 a.m. Monday, October 18th via Livenation, Ticketmaster or charge by phone at 1-800-745-3000.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

See You In September

The Tempos - Jim Drake top right, and clockwise are Tom Miniti, Mike Lazo, and Gene Schachter. (photo from Ann Lazo Shapiro)

The Tempos were the epitome of a one-hit wonder. But boy, what a hit it was: "See You In September."

They started in 1954 as a quartet called The Hi-Lites, consisting of Clairton's Mike Lazo, Gene Schachter,  Canonsburg guy Bobby Vinton, and Jim Drake from Leetsdale, a graduate of Leetsdale (now Quaker Valley) High School, who arranged their songs (he also wrote for the CLO). .

They never recorded, content to play the hop and club circuit. Lazo and Schachter had served together in the Army, stationed in Korea, where they sang in U.S.O. shows together. The pair started the group after their 1953 discharge.

In 1957, they became The Tempos. The band featured Four Freshman style harmonies, the hot genre of the era. And they sang those harmonies pretty well.

Beside playing local club gigs, they attracted the ear of David Kapp of New York City's Kapp Records. The connection was likely through the good graces of record producer Jack Gold, who gave the group their name. (Jack Gold Records had another local artist under personal contract by the name of Lou Christie). At the time, Kapp was a MOR operation, with artists like Jane Morgan and Roger Miller, and were looking for a more youthful sound.

The label released three singles from the Tempos: "Kingdom Of Love" b/w "That's What You Do To Me" (1957 - Kapp 178), "Prettiest Girl In School" b/w "Never You Mind" (1957- Kapp 199) and "Strollin' With My Baby" b/w "I Got A Job" (1958 - Kapp 213), a response record to 1957's "Get A Job" by the Silhouettes.

The band made one change after the Kapp sessions, bringing in saxman Tom Minito to replace Bobby Vinton, who was now in the service. Minito was a buddy of Drake's from their college days at Duquesne.

The Kapp records never took off, but it did get the band's foot in the Big Apple door. That connection would come in handy after a session between Brill Building writers Sid Wayne and Sherman Edwards. On a June Friday in 1959, Wayne and Edwards hooked up. Wayne had a working title of "See You In September," and before the end of the work day, the tune was a finished product.

They made the rounds to pitch the song that same afternoon. After one rejection, the tune was snapped up by the Tempos' angel, Jack Gold. Things happened that quickly back in the day, before lawyers and label suits held sway.

Gold called the Tempos that night, and the next day they were in NYC. By Monday, the record was cut, backed by the Billy Mure orchestra. It was released by Climax Records (which issued a grand total of ten records between 1959-60 before closing), and on the following Friday, the song was on the turntables of WNEW.

Wayne and Edwards were happy; they got $500 to split for their day's work. Gold got credit for producing the song and held its rights. And the Tempos were back on wax.

Surprisingly, the Tempos "See You In September" failed to become a hit in the New York City area. But it grew on the public. The record broke big in San Francisco, and the single reached the national charts in July, peaking at #23 on the Billboard Hot 100 at the end of August.

One reason the record took awhile to make its mark was that "See You In September" was originally the flip of the uptempo "Bless You My Love" (Climax 102). It took the DJs a few spins to correct that little marketing error, not a particularly big deal back in an era when B Sides commonly became the hits.

They followed it with "The Crossroads of Love" b/w "Whatever Happens" (1959 - Climax 105). Billboard's October Spotlight column said it could have "hit sequels with either side." They were wrong; both songs flopped. Many thought that the flip was the side that should have been pushed by the label, much like "September."

And with that, the Tempos had their 15 minutes. The group appeared on American Bandstand on October 12, 1959, and made local TV and club appearances afterward.

They released the much covered "Look Homeward Angel" b/w "Under 10 Flags" (1959 - Paris 550) without Lazo. The originals reunited to record "My Barbara Ann" b/w "When You Loved Me" (1965 - Ascot 2167) and "My Barbara Ann (re-release) b/w "I Wish It Were Summer" (1965 - Ascot 2173).

"My Barbara Ann" was not the Regent/Beach Boys "Barbara Ann," but a song Lazo wrote for his wife, Barbara. Ann Lazo Shapiro, their daughter, wrote in and added that "my mother's maiden name (she passed away in 1990) was Rechichar. Her cousin was Belle Vernon's Bert Rechichar, the famous All-Pro Colts player of the fifties who held the NFL field goal record many moons ago." Music and football - how more Steel City can a family get?

After that, the Tempos faded away. Mike Lazo, Jim Drake and Tom Minito are still alive and kicking, while Gene Schachter just passed away. Gene co-wrote Bobby Vinton's "Mr Lonely" under his professional name of Gene Allan: Allan was his middle name.

But their song, "See You In September," may outlast them all.

It was covered by the Quotations and Shelley Fabares in 1962, The Chiffons and Frankie Valli in 1966, and Debby Boone in 1979, among many others over the decades. You might remember a 1966 upbeat version by New Jersey's Happenings that reached #3 on the charts.

It made a revival in 1973, when the Tempos version was featured in the movie and soundtrack of "American Graffiti." It revived their legacy, but didn't fatten their pocketbooks. The "Godfather of Music," Morris Levy of Roulette Records, ended up with the rights, and that pretty much took care of the royalties. The song still gets dusted off to this day and spun to greet the fall.

So for the Tempos, it was a one-hit career. But for their song, it was pop immortality.

(The picture above is an original promo shot by Climax Records, from Ann Lazo. Watch carefully for any look-alike shots - there's a widespread photoshop fraud of the original. The man at the top of the fake is NOT Jim Drake, but features an impostor who replaced Drake's image with another.)



"See You In September" - The Tempos
 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Bon Ton Roulet


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Hey, the hard-working Tim Roolf of Bonedog Records was digging through the archives, and came up with an old MTV "Basement Tapes" segment, hosted by MJ Martha Quinn and Frank Zappa back on December 7th, 1985.

The band was Pittsburgh's own Bon Ton Roulet, put together by McKeesport's Bone Daddy Jeff Ingersol in the early eighties. It was a brass-driven ensemble that played Funk, R&B, Soul, and 30’s and 40’s music. In fact, some of their playlist was lifted from Ingersol's collection of old 78 records.

The BTR roster was Sharon Garland - Vocals, Gil Snyder - Keyboards, Don Hollowood - Guitar, Ken Crisafalo - Drums, Stefan Lovasik - Drums (studio), Xayne Berlinski - Bass, Chris Patarini - Sax, and Mark McCollum - Sax.

The group played regularly at Dom DiSilvio's club, The Decade on Atwood Street in Oakland. One memorable night, an up-and-coming rocker named Bruce Springsteen jumped on stage and joined them for a set.Three years later, Jon Bon Jovi did the same.

They performed "Love and War" for MTV, showcased in an artsy little B&W vid. (The bombed out areas were actually from a North Side redevelopment project; the tank is parked in McKeesport's Renzie Park.) Here's how they sounded 25 years ago:


Friday, October 1, 2010

The Donnybrooks

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The Donnybrooks in 1958 and 2010

Hey, everyone knows Washington County's Canonsburg produced Perry Como, Bobby Vinton, and the Four Coins. But there was another pretty strong quartet that came from that town in the late fifties, the Donnybrooks.

Classmates, The Donnybrooks began their career when they performed at an 8th grade graduation ceremony at the old Third Ward School, and continued on during their high school years.

Originally known as The Phaetons and later The Four Pals, they sang at dance halls and clubs around the Tri-State, from Pittsburgh to Wheeling, and from Steubenville to New Ken.

After some initial personnel shuffling, the core members consisted of John Alterio (bass), Ken Paige (tenor), Bob Kobert (stage name Bobby Shawn, lead vocals) and Frank Trebel (baritone). Their style took after other fifties groups like The Four Lads, The Four Aces, and The Mills Brothers.

They appeared a couple of times on the Wilkins Amateur Hour and Art Pallan's Talent Search, popular talent contests with call-in voting that were shown on KDKA TV. They never won a show (the band lost twice to tap dancers!), but the experience paid off; in early 1958 The Four Pals won a talent search contest that was sponsored by KDKA Radio and Westinghouse Broadcasting.

The station flew the group to New York for the final competition, and on the return flight, they got a glimpse of fame up close and personal when they met Cab Calloway and Roger Miller on the plane, introduced to them by KD jock Art Pallan.

More importantly for their future, the KDKA award led to a recording contract with the Pittsburgh's Calico Records. Bill Lawrence, a Calico owner and record distributor, became their manager and gave them a new name: The Donnybrooks. He thought it was catchy and would help them stand out from the pack.

They cut their first release, the ballad "Everytime We Kiss" b/w "Break The Glass," a hand-clappin' Calypso-type tune (Calico 108) in the spring of 1958. The songs were crafted by Canonsburg song writer and school music teacher, Lou Popiolkowski. The tune took off, and it nudged into Billboard Magazine's Top 100 in the summer.

Calico Records then launched the group on a promotional tour of the East Coast, where they appeared on TV dance programs in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC.

The Donnybrooks appeared locally on KDKA's Dance Party with Clark Race, WIIC's competing Dance Party with Bill Cardille, and Del Taylor's Bandstand on WTAE. They also performed for the first of the Dick Clark Cavalcade of Stars tours, and were booked in the night clubs along the Route 51 corridor as well as appearing at West View Park's Danceland and Kennywood Park's amphitheater.

The second 45, "Coming Home From School" (Calico 112), also written by Popiolkowski, was released later in 1958. The flip side, "Mandolins of Love," was inked by another Canonsburg song writer, Tony Ambrose. They kept their homeys in royalties.

As the doowop era wound down, Calico Records went through a reorganization and the band lost their label. They continued their live act until in 1960, when the group broke up to pursue college and other careers.

Bobby Shawn stuck with music, though, and started a solo career a few years later. His repertoire covered big band and jazz standards to pop and rock classics, with a healthy dose of some Italian melodies tossed in.

He appeared at Seven Springs Ski Resort regularly, the Meadows, the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and in Atlantic City, along with gigs for the Hilton and Holiday House chains. Shawn has performed at the Miss USA Pageant, Miss Teen USA Pageant, and hosted and sang at the Great American Modeling Search.

He also has four CD's out - "Bobby Shawn Through The Years," "Bobby Shawn Sings," "Playing the Jukebox" and "Christmas With Bobby Shawn." Now he performs locally in various venues, and his current act, The Senior Show, is popular around the Tri-State region; he even has a long-time fan club called "The Shawnettes." Oh, he also takes the lead again for the Donnybrooks every so often, too.

They have reunited for occasional shows over the past decade or so, performing at reunions, special events, private gigs and clubs, and they've made several appearances at the Canonsburg 4th of July celebration. In fact, they're playing at St. Thomas More tonight. You can take the boy out of Canonsburg, but...

And they did C-Burg proud. In 2007 the group became part of the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in Sharon, recognized with the other prominent local acts honored by the Hall.


The Donnybrooks - "Everytime We Kiss" (1959)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Miss Freddye and the Blue Faze

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Miss Freddye and the Blue Faze

Miss Freddye and the Blue Faze, formed in 2002, is a blues band that also pumps out soul and R&B; they like to get the crowd away from shoe gazin' and onto the dance floor.

The group is a popular draw for venues on the Tri-State circuit and local clubs such as Moondog's, Cefalo's, and the Valley Hotel. They've opened for acts like Kelly Richie and Greg “Fingers” Taylor. They play all the blues jams: Pittsburgh Blues Festival, Wheeling Heritage Blues Festival, Elkin's Riverside Blues Festival, Charleston's Blues Brews and Barb-Q Festival and Sharon's Music Festival.

The Blue Faze represents the genre well. The band won the 2008 Appalachian Blues Competition in West Virginia, which earned them a spot in Memphis for the 2009 International Blues Competition. They've also played The Blues Divas Show for the Western PA Blues Society, the Blues Society Picnic, and Stand Down 2009 for vets.

Blue Faze is made up of Miss Freddye (vocals), Chris Nacy (harmonica), John Erskine (drums) and Matt McClintock (electric and upright bass). Greg Casile often plays the ax for them, but that's a rotating position since Jason Caliguri, one of the founding members, went off to join Jimbo and the Soupbones, along with other acts.

Fredericka "Miss Freddye" Stover: Originally from the North Side, the Natrona Heights resident started out singing in church when she was 15. She has been singing professionally for eleven years and carries the torch of Etta James, Koko Taylor, Susan Tedeshi and Tracy Chapman. For a blues singer, she has a lot of local jazz musicians she follows: Harold Betters, Rodney McCoy, Roger Humphries and Southside Jerry Mellix among them.

She's the face of the band, and as the lead vocalist, she can belt the blues or go slow with a ballad.

She's just released a CD for Bonedog Records in the Mon Valley, "These Are My Blues," a collection of mostly original Mike Sweeney tunes (and not to be mistaken for the Big Joe Williams LP of the same name). Miss Freddye is backed by Boneyard's session players, a strong group of blues/soul musicians. The title track, though, was recorded with Blue Faze, and written by Stover and Bubs McKeg.

Chris "Kit" Nacy: Nacy provides the finishing touch for any true blues band: the harp line. His influences are Smokin’ Joe Bisceglia, Greg "Fingers" Taylor and Matt Nacy. From Cheswick, he's also half of Izzy & Chris, an acoustic roots blues act formed in 2006 that won the West Virginia Blues Society IBC "blues duo" title in 2008 (Izzy Stetar is from Weirton).

Izzy and Chris have also released a CD, 2008's "Preachin' The Blues...Vol 1."

John Erskine: Erskine is another Valley suburbs guy, hailing from Indiana Township. He's a veteran behind the kit, having play with the bands like The Vogues and Jimmy Adler.

Matt McClintock: He's the bassman for several bands around the area, laying the beat from jazz to blues. When not playing with the Blue Faze, he can be found sitting with Erin Burkett and the Mean Reds or teaching music. McClintock has also played with the Drew Bentley Band, The Minda Brothers and Kenny Blake.

He's the newest group member, replacing original bassist Keith Gamble from Freeport, who now plays for the Bobby Hawkins & The Blues Train Band, and also The RumpShakers.

If you're looking for a band that features one of the top blues/soul voices in the district and whose musicians can get you out of your seat with their blues beat, look no further than Miss Freddye and the Blue Faze.


"That Kinda Woman" - Miss Freddye and the Blue Faze

Friday, September 24, 2010

Rock 'N' Roll

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Image from Rock 'n' Roll Skirts

Hey, did you ever wonder where the phrase "rock 'n' roll" came from? Cecil Adams of The Straight Dope gives its history in his "Who Invented The Term Rock 'N' Roll?"

We all know it was popularized by Cleveland DJ Alan Freed during his popular music show on radio station WJW, "Moon Dog's House Party," and began playing R&B tunes in 1951-52, which he described as rock and roll. According to another source, Freed didn't use the term until 1954 at NYC's WIN with his "Rock And Roll Party" show. Either way, Freed's phrase stuck.

But musically, it dates back to the Roaring Twenties. The origin of the term “rock ‘n’ roll,” is pretty straightforward.

It originally meant the movement of the boat on the ocean. In the late 1800s to early 1900s, gospel music used the term to describe being rocked and rolled in the arms of the Lord.

From there, it wasn't a far step to have the phrase turn from religious to secular lingo. Black artists used it to generally describe partying, carrying on, and/or having sex (ie, a roll in the hay, dating back centuries in time).

Rock historian Nick Tosches traces the first recorded "rock and roll" line to blues singer Trixie Smith, who recorded "My Daddy Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll)" for Black Swan Records in 1922. The song inspired spin-offs like "Rock That Thing" by Lil Johnson and "Rock Me Mama" by Ikey Robinson. Another expert, Southeastern U communications professor Joe Burns, dates it to the gospel tune "Camp Meeting Jubilee" performed in 1916.

Per Wikipedia, the term was first used in its entirety in 1937, when Chick Webb and Ella Fitzgerald recorded "Rock It for Me", which included the lyric, "...So won't you satisfy my soul with the rock and roll..."

Who knew rock 'n' roll was a double-entendre flapper-era phenomena?

Naming the first rock artist is a crap shoot; Big Joe Turner and Sister Rosetta Tharpe had several songs that could pass as rock records as early as the thirties.

Other candidates considered for the honor include “How High the Moon” by Les Paul and Mary Ford; “The Honey Dripper” by Joe Liggens; “Boogie Chillen’” by John Lee Hooker; “Saturday Night Fish Fry” by Louis Jordan; “The Fat Man” by Fats Domino; “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets and “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats.

“An argument can be made for and against every song mentioned, but there’s one that fits better than all of those noted: ‘That’s All Right Mama,’ by Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup,” said Burns, who hosts the weekly program “Rock School” on Southeastern’s KSLU 90.9 FM radio station.

Wikipedia adds that "A leading contender as the first fully formed rock and roll recording is 'Rocket 88' by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats (actually Ike Turner and The Kings of Rhythm under a different name), recorded by Sam Phillips for Sun Records in 1951.

Three years later the first rock and roll song to enter Billboard magazine's main sales and airplay charts was Bill Haley's 'Crazy Man, Crazy' and the first to top the charts was his 'Rock Around the Clock' in 1955."

But hey, no matter where it started, it's here to stay.


"Rock 'N' Roll Is Here To Stay" - Danny And The Juniors, 1958