Friday, January 22, 2010

Chuck Corby

Chuck Corby - Image from Holiday Productions

Chuck Corby was born Charles Anthony Ciorra to immigrant Italian parents during the baby boom in Hays, tucked between Glenwood and Lincoln Place.

He started singing at the age of 8 with his third grade buddies on the street corner, and by the time he hit 13, he was on "Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour" show, an early version of "Star Search."

He didn't have a smooth pop voice, but a soul-man, street corner sound, and that served him well in Pittsburgh's doo-wop and early R&B era. Ciorra was a fan of Porky Chedwick, and in return, the Daddio of the Radio would launch him on his road.

Impresario Joe Averbach signed him to Fee Bee Music at the age of 15, on the recommendation of Porky. Ciorra then worked the local clubs and hops, and three years later, he cut "Man Loves Two" b/w "Happy Go Lucky" in 1966.

Averbach had the record released by Original Sound Records in Los Angeles, and that's when he became Chuck Corby. He protested the move, but was told that if he wanted the record to be released that he would do as he was told. End of debate.

The suits thought Ciorra's sound was black and his given name was too white, so that's what prompted the change. The marketing switcheroo was reportedly pulled off at Averbach's urging.

It was a regional hit (like the Contrails found with "Someone," a California label added a little panache that the Pittsburgh studios couldn't match), and to this day the disk's flip side, "Happy Go Lucky" is a hot item in the English Northern Soul marketplace.

The much larger Veep label picked up the record, and soon Chess Records had their artist, Little Milton, cover it, and his version of the song charted.

Though Ciorra/Corby wrote the lyrics, he never got credit for it - or the royalties. They went to fake dudes named Crosby and Brancho, a common ploy used by managers back in the day to make sure the song's payback landed in their pockets, not the artist's. It would be a career-long curse.

Corby and his band then bounced around between a couple of labels, Sonic and United Artists, and came back to Averbach. During that time, Corby released "City of Strangers" on the Sonic label and then "Honey, Let Me Stay" and "Lonely Nights" on Fee Bee.

Porky landed the band, Chuck Corby and the Entrees, a gig opening a concert for Eddie Holman, Sonny & the Premiers, and the Intruders. The act worked clubs, opening for David Ruffin and J.J. Jackson, and the chitlin' circuit. They made stops at both the Chess ("Complete Opposites" - 1969) and Cadillac labels for awhile.

In the seventies and eighties, Corby tried to led the day job/night gig career track, being a construction worker when the sun was up and a soulman when it sank.

He briefly formed Chuck Corby & Company, then was a member of the Dell Vikings from 1972- 1977, with whom he wrote and recorded the last record they made on Fee Bee, 1977's funky "Welfare Blues."

Corby co-owned the Vegas Show Bar with Hammond killer John Papi. It was a fruitful period, and they recorded "Love Is A Hurting Thing," "Boogie Woogie Big Daddy," "Dude," and "One More Time."

Then he put together Quiet Storm with childhood bud Tom DeJohn, Walt Laughlin, and Lennie Santoro, along with current members Billy Cotter and Bill George.

They did the Holiday Inn rounds and what they call the "mob circuit" of Youngstown, Atlantic City, and Miami, along with various casinos and resorts.

It was interesting, but for the past two decades, Corby has stuck to his music to earn his daily bread. The day job was driving him to speed and booze, and hey, a guy needs more than two hours sleep per night, anyway, so he chose performing 24/7 and left the day job in the late eighties.

In 1989 Walt Maddox and Dave Justice scored Quiet Storm a deal with Laurie Records, Dion's old label, and released "See You When I Get There." Later they signed with Dore Records, and finally Corby hooked up with childhood friend Joe Tobasco and formed Ciorra Records and Publishing.

Now Quiet Storm does a cover act of ballads, pop, and soul classics in places like the Living Room and Valley Hotel. Corby dresses like a wise guy, in a suit and heavy gold chain, but his act is relaxed and interacts playfully with the audience.

He's another classic example of the Pittsburgh Syndrome - a good musician, but without local industry support, from labels to radio play. His career may have taken a completely different turn if Corby was based out of Chicago or Philly. Corby never left Pittsburgh to find out, but hey, it's been a pretty good run.

Corby has worked for acts like The O'Jays, The Spinners, The Jive Five, The Drifters, George Benson, The Platters, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Eddie Holman, JJ Jackson, Jimmy Ruffin, Gary Puckett, Little Anthony and the Imperials, The Chiffons, Chubby Checker, Gary "U.S." Bonds, Edwin Starr, Joey Dee and the Starlighters, Lou Rawls, Sonny and the Premiers, The Intruders, David Ruffin, Major Harris, The Marcells, The Del Vikings, The Holidays, James Brown, The Jaggerz, Keely Smith and his idol, Jimmy Beaumont.

His songs may be oldies fodder in the Steel City, but in other places, his stuff is pure gold. Recorded under the name The Soul Communicators - Lead Vocals: Chuck Corby, "Those Lonely Nights," is a Northern Soul classic, selling for up to a grand. Other songs of his still getting Brit love are "Dude," "One More Night," "Happy Go Lucky," "See You When I Get There," and "I Need Love."

"City of Strangers" and "Please Don't Go " are a part of the West Coast Low Rider Latino scene. Over his career, Corby released dozens of singles, but you pretty much have to haunt E-Bay to find them now.

And let's not forget about his cottage film industry work. He and Quiet Storm have several movies to their credit. John Russo, of "The Night Of The Living Dead" fame, wrote and directed their first indy movie, 2007's "Saloonatics" with Bruno Sammartino. And they're currently working on another Russo film "Song Of The Dead."

Other movies they appeared in are "10th and Wolf," "Children Of The Dead," and "Big Fat Italian Wedding."

Chuck Corby may be the master of the sad song, but you'll hear few complaints from him (except for that royalties thing!) about his career.

"Those Lonely Nights" - Chuck Corby and the Soul Communicators (1968)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A great deal of material that used to be on U Tube has now been blocked due to zealous copyrite monitoring. This can only have a bad effect for fringe artists like Chuck Corby where even small excerts of their music are now being blocked. If I can't even hear part of the the song shown then I am unlikley to buy it or pay for a download.