Saturday, December 17, 2011


We geezers were talking about the personalities, or lack thereof, on radio today. And that led us to...

"Pork the Tork," "The Daddio of the Raddio," "The Boss Hound of Ground Round," "Your Platter Pushin’ Papa," "The Pied Piper of Platter" or simply "The Boss Man" who "Porkified the Movers and Groovers, Sound Hounds and Cool Ones" with his "Dusty Discs" that were "On Fire" in his "Spinner Sanctum" or at Porkfest. He "Got the Goods From Out of the Woods," and "No One Was Faster Than the Master Blaster."

Carl and Nancy Janusek recalled one famous scat in their 1991 Echoes of the Past - Porky Chedwick, The Pittsburgh Rhythm N Blues Legend: "This Is the Baron of the Groove, the Sultan of the Move, the Supersonic Megatonic Flash With Static From My Dusty Disc Attic." Let's see Wiz top that rap!

Porky's "Golden Ear, Breaking Hits From Year To Year," would "Shatter This Platter" or "Make Your Liver Quiver." He had "More Jams than Smuckers," and "More Lines Than Bell Telephone." His "Name Isn’t George Washington; It’s Pork Torkington."

He reminded listeners that "I’m Not Sergeant York, I'm Pork the Tork." "The Blonde Wonder With the Record Thunder" has seen "More Hops Than the Easter Bunny" and was a "Head Snapper and Dapper Rapper." And when he said "Blow Your Horn," he meant the saxman, not teens behind the wheel!

His audience would lean on their car horns whenever Porky used his catchphrase, or follow his command to “Stop What You’re Doing and Dance” (which his fans did once on the Parkway).

Porky raved over the air "This Record Is On Fire. We're Burning." The Homestead VFD was notified and rushed to the studios. As he explained, "The Double WAMO: This Station Is So Hot, They Gotta Call the Firetrucks Out."

He shut down the Golden Triangle when he broadcast outside the old Stanley Theater in the summer of 1961. Some 8,000-to-10,000 fans showed up. Downtown streets turned into a parking lot until Mayor Joe Barr sent the cops to ask Porky to desist so they could unclog traffic.

In spite, or maybe because of all that, George Jacob Chedwick has been honored by Congress, the State, and local governments with proclamations and plaques. He was recognized as a pioneering DJ by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. Smokey Robinson and Bo Diddley credit Porky with launching their careers. The Porkfest was held to honor his legacy. And now he’s playing on web radio, a far cry from the 78s he used to spin at WHOD, with TL.

He may be 93, but Porky's still the Boss Man. And remember, "There's No Pain When the Daddio of the Raddio Fries Your Brain."

Dee Williams - Bongo Blues

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Decade - The Corner Of Roc and Rol

The latest incarnation of the Decade, the Garage Door Saloon,
(Image provided by Hobo Jones from Wikipedia)

The Decade in Oakland wasn't always a rock 'n' roll hall. It started out back in the day as the Oaklander Hotel, and was doing business as the Pizza Pub by the time Dom DiSilvio and his wife Jan Chepes bought it in late 1973.

They renamed the club The Decade. Oddly enough, the decade they honored was the fifties; the venue started out as a restaurant and local bar with oldies acts. Their first featured group was The Brotherhood from Youngstown in October, but the oldies format quickly proved, well, old. Located a hop, skip and a jump from the Cathedral of Learning on Atwood and Sennott, the pair decided to go with the youthful flow and turned to rock 'n' roll.

By the mid-seventies, local bands like Bob Corbin and Dave Hanner's Gravel, Joe Grushecky & the Brick Alley Band (later to become the Houserockers) and Norm Nardini & the Tigers were ripping the place up. Then promoter Danny Kresge talked the pair into turning the Decade into the "Whiskey A Go-Go" of the east and began bringing in up-and coming national acts, which he could book for $500 and under per appearance.

The opening show was played by David Johansen of the New York Dolls, followed by the Ramones (the only touring band to ever play consecutive nights at the venue) in March, 1979, and there was no turning back.

The acts that took the stage at the Decade included Sting and The Police, Bono and U2, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pat Benatar, Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders, Cindi Lauper, Jimmy Vaughan and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Koko Taylor, The Romantics, Meat Loaf, and Joe Jackson. The club drew some unannounced guests, too.

The night before his two sold out Arena shows in September, 1984, Bruce Springsteen and his bud Joe Grushecky hooked up. The Boss felt like chowing a hot dog, so Joe took him to the Oakland O, where he was mobbed.

After escaping, they went to Grushecky’s car and Springsteen spotted the Decade. Asking Joe if that wasn’t the club he played in, the Boss decided to pay a visit. Bon Ton Roulet was performing, and Springsteen & Grushecky hopped up on the stage with the band, playing a three song set of “Lucille,” “Raise Your Hand” and “Gloria.”

Three years later, in March, 1987, Jon Bon Jovi joined his ‘Burgh running mate Norm Nardini after an Arena show and played a 50 minute set with Pittsburgh’s “Love Dog.” It was just a favor being repaid: earlier in the evening, Nardini had shared the Igloo stage with Bon Jovi for CCR’s “Travelin’ Band.”

Stevie Ray Vaughan, who played the Decade a couple of times, also dropped into the club after a Syria Mosque gig and sat in for a three-song set with Bon Ton Roulet.

There were, of course, other stories like when local punkers Carsickness got into a fistfight with the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1984 over a tipsy girlfriend who fell into the RHCP’s drum kit. We wouldn’t want to forget the night in 1992 when Billy Price’s buds - Jack Nicholson and Danny DeVito, in town to shoot the movie Hoffa - stopped by to catch the show and down some tequila. Houserocker roadie Bob Boyer’s ashes were buried under the Decade stage, too. His resting spot was said to have scared a Louisiana zydeco player from performing, fearful of stirring up some bad voodoo juju.

Dom and Jan didn't forget the local bands, either. Competing with DJ'ed disco joints like Zelda's Greenhouse, the Decade kept the volume pumped up by showcasing Kenny Blake's King Solomon, The Mystic Knights of the Sea, Red Hot & Blue, Bon Ton Roulet, 8th Street Rox and Billy Price & the Keystone Rhythm Band. The list goes on, with the Silencers, Donny Iris and Diamond Reo, plus the previously mentioned Gravel, Grushecky, and Nardini.

The Mystic Knights, as the story goes, came together as pick-up band in 1984 when DiSilvio approached guitarist Warren King to form an "all-star" group to pump up the club's slow Monday nights. And the Kingfish did, in spades.

The result was the Mystic Knights of the Sea, originally composed of King (Houserockers, Diamond Reo, The Silencers, Red Hot & Blue), vocalist/drummer Ron "Byrd" Foster (The Igniters, Roy Buchanan's Band, the Houserockers, the Silencers, Kingsnake Allstars), guitarist Bryan Bassett (Wild Cherry, Molly Hatchet, and Foghat) and keyboardist Gil Snyder.

While the bills may have been top flight, the club itself was a nondescript brick building, a hardy home for what DiSilvio called a "Wild West saloon." It held 400 fans if the fire marshall turned his back, and they paid a beefy doorman $2 to get in. The crowd was generally a mix of college and working kids at night, while it was popular Pitt lunch spot by day.

It had two rooms, a front bar and back stage. It was cramped with a low ceiling that sported a jury-rigged acoustic system - parachutes! The bar was topped in copper, and the tables and stools were few and far between. Some nights, the blood boiling combination of deafening music, tight quarters, the college-blue collar mix and a few beers made the club's bouncers more of a main act than the band. In other words, it was the epitome of a perfect Pittsburgh rock 'n' roll bar.

But all good things must come to an end. Faced with increased competition and tax problems, the Decade's 22 year run came to a close. Appropriately, Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers played the last show at the club on August 21st, 1995 when its final curtain fell.

But the Decade’s legend lived on, at least in memory. In 2009, the original Iron City Houserockers held a reunion gig at the Altar Bar to honor Dom DiSilvio and the Decade era. And old rockers will recall the corner of Roc 'n' Rol as fondly as sixties AM teens remember the corner of Walk and Don't Walk.

The building still exists; after a few reincarnations, it's now The Garage Door Saloon. It looks much the same; stop in and maybe you'll catch Bob Boyer roaming the back room stacking amps.

(The ultimate article on the Decade was penned by the Post-Gazette's Scott Mervis in 1993, "Two Decades of the Decade," and provided much of the color for this post.)

The Iron City Houserockers; - "Junior's Bar"

Friday, November 11, 2011

Free Marcus Meston EP!

Here is the link to Upper St. Clair's Marcus Meston's EP "Fake, Fixed, Happy:"  It's available for FREE download on 11-11-11 at 11:11 PM. Guess Marcus is into numerology, hey? At least 11-11-11 is good luck for music fans.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Skyliners' "Since I Don't Have You" Capitol Records Session

There are quite a few sidebars to this Pittsburgh favorite. The story is that the lyrics came to manager Joe Rock in his car at a stoplight shortly after his girl had dumped him, and Jimmy Beaumont wrote the music the next night.

The group did a rough a cappello cut on a reel-to-reel as a demo, and Janet Vogel, thinking the tape was off, ad libbed her soaring high C crescendo at the end. The group wisely kept it in. But singing a song is only half the battle; getting it on wax is an entirely different animal.

Rock shopped the song around, and thirteen national labels passed on it. One said it was too negative and should be “Since I Have You” while another mocked the 13 “you” finale. So it was off to local label Calico, owned by Lenny Martin and Lou Guarino.

They were this close to blowing that audition. On the way to the studio, they had a head on collision while jammed into a ‘52 Dodge. Fortunately, cars were a lot tougher back then, and they got to Calico shaken but in one piece. They were signed on the spot.

Martin took the group to New York’s Capitol Studios for a recording session. He backed them with 18 musicians, the first time a full orchestra had been used with a “rock” group. Other performers like the Drifters and Duprees quickly picked up on the strings for their arrangements.

Also listening in on the recording session was a member of the Teddy Bears named Phil Spector, who later cited “Since I Don’t Have You” as an influence on his “wall of sound” productions during the sixties.

The record was so soulful that the Skyliners were thought by many to be black artists. They became the first white group to top the Cashbox R&B charts, played the Apollo eight times and performed on the “chitlin’ circuit.”

They also found a name after the recording session when the master came back without an artist credit. The singers were a mixture of the South Hills Crescents and El Rios groups, and Rock, with their input, christened them “The Skyliners” after the 1945 Charlie Barnet hit song (although Jackie Taylor told Ed Salamon it was for the Ford Skyliner popular during that car-crazy era. Rolls the dice and take yer chances.)

Lotta action for one studio session. It was worth it, though. Art Pallan of KDKA broke "Since I Don't Have You," followed quickly by a Dick Clark "American Bandstand" appearance. The song hovered just outside the top ten nationally while the Skyliners went on to become one of Pittsburgh's iconic vocal groups.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Name The Band...

Hey, did you ever wonder how some of the local groups picked up their names? In the course of researching the blog and some other projects, Google has given us some answers:

The Del Vikings: There are several stories behind their name. One claims that the group members were fans of the tales of the old-time marauding Vikings; another says that they were fond of the paperback books published by the Viking press that so many servicemen read to pass the off-duty time, and another believes the name was taken from a Brooklyn club/basketball team called the Vikings that Clarence Quick belonged to, and that’s the more likely tale of the three.

The Mellows - Four Dots - Four Troys: The late Fletcher Williams & The Four Dots started out as the Mellows in 1950, about as generic a group name as one could imagine. They were eventually represented by Don DeCarlo, who suggested that they change their name to the Four Dots, piggybacking on the hot-selling and eminently bookable Ink Spots.The Four Dots played the area hops & club circuit while releasing a couple of singles on the Bullseye label

In 1959, just about at the end of their career, the group inked a deal with Freedom Records, who already had a California-based Four Dots as part of their roster. Because of that, the Four Dots released their last wax as the Four Troys (no one remembers how that name was chosen). Did that end the confusion? Nah. The West Coast Four Dots released “Pleading For Your Love,” a ‘Burgh favorite. The local Four Dots hit the oldies circuit, and guess what their top request was? “Pleading” became part of their play list.

The Houserockers: Many remember Joe Grushecky’s Brick Alley Band, named after a McKeesport red light district, taking off as the Iron City Houserockers, a name given to them by Pittsburgh native and Cleveland International Records head Steve Popovich. Cleveland International was of course based in Ohio and Popovich had the band tour the midwest to support their records. But the Pittsburgh-Cleveland rivalry extended beyond football. Their name caused some problems when touring outside their hometown, and when they played Cleveland their van tires were slashed. So they switched in the early eighties to the region-neutral Houserockers brand.

Lugee Becomes Lou: Born Lugee Alfredo Giovanni Sacco, the stage name of Lou Christie wasn’t Sacco’s choice; it was more or less foisted on him. When “The Gypsy Cried” was released in 1962 on the local Co&Ce label, the record was credited to “Lou Christie” without Sacco's knowledge or permission. Sacco had been working on his own list of stage names, and said "I was pissed off about it for 20 years. I wanted to keep my name and be a one-named performer, just 'Lugee'." We’re glad he’s finally over it.

The Marcels: When the Oliver High gang first formed and was rehearsing, the group was coined "The Marcels" by Fred Johnson's little sister Priscilla. She was inspired by a popular hair style of the day, the marcel wave, sported by lead singer Cornelius Harp.  

The Skyliners: They collectively came up with their name after the 1958 Capitol Studios "Since I Don't Have You" recording session when the master came back without an artist credit. The singers were a mixture of the South Hills Crescents and El Rios groups, and manager Joe Rock, with their input, christened them “The Skyliners” after the 1945 Charlie Barnet hit song according to their official history, although we're told by Ed Salamon that they were named for the car per Jackie Taylor.

The Vogues: Originally known as The Val-Aires (a combination, we’ve been told, of the names of the two high school groups the members had first sang with), the Vogues got their name from manager Elmer Willett’s nightspot and studio, East McKeesport’s Vogue Terrace. The group didn't have a vote; when "You're The One" was released, it was credited to the Vogues by the Co&Ce label. At least one member, Hugh Geyer, didn't find out about the name until he heard the song on the radio.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Four Seasons...From Route 51

The Four Seasons from Doo Wop Biography

No, Route 51 doesn't run through New Jersey. But then again, we're not talkin' about Frankie Valli, but a band of harmonizers from the South Hills.

Four grads of Baldwin High hung together in the summer of 1959. Not satisfied with loafing in the parking lot of the Big Boy and watching the waitresses skate by (one of Old Mon's fav pastimes in his Highlander days), they formed a group.

The singers were Bill Stammer (first tenor), Ched Mertz (second tenor), Dan McGinnis (lead tenor) and Don Fanzo (bass). They didn't have a name, but they did have a song they wrote - "Don't Sweat It, Baby."

Mertz had an in with local music impressario Bill Lawrence, and he agreed to let the guys audition for him at Lenny Martin's Carlton House studio in town. They sang "Don't Sweat It, Baby." Lawrence and Martin weren't keen on the arrangement, but liked the lyrics and the singing. They had the group rework the music, and they did. The second audition was a success.

Lawrence offered them a contract, and a deal was struck. In October, they traveled to New York City with Martin and Lawrence to record the song at Capitol Recording Studios. They backed it with "That's The Way The Ball Bounces." And they also picked up their name during the process.

That same week, the Four Seasons Restaurant opened in New York and Lawrence proclaimed, "That will be the name of the new group." The guys dug it too, and The Four Seasons were born, a year ahead of those falsettos from Jersey.

They did more with that slab of wax than launch a song; they launched a label. "Don't Sweat It" was the first release of Lawrence's new Alanna impress. Both got off to a flying start. The Billboard "Review of New Pop Records" of November 23rd, 1959 posted "The Four Seasons bow on the new label with a cute rhythmic reading of a rocker that moves. It has a chance." And it did take off, albeit in Pittsburgh.

It entered the KQV charts in mid-November and stuck in the Top 40 until mid-January of 1960. It reached #4 locally, and was in the Groovy QV's Top Ten for five weeks. They toured in support of the song, traveling through the midwest with Bob Kobert (aka Bobby Shawn of the Donnybrooks, who had the 1958 hit "Everytime We Kiss") taking the lead.

Alanna's second pressing of the record was retitled "I'm Still In Love With You Baby," which as we understand was "Don't Sweat It Baby" with a different name. Whatever the reason for the old switcheroo, the Four Seasons moved on and followed with "Love Knows No Season" b/w "Hot Water Bottle"," but the ballad didn't catch on.

In July of 1960, Mertz married and left the group; Chuck Isler replaced him. The Four Seasons signed with Lennie Martin's new Robbee Records label and as one of his first handful of acts recorded "Mirage" b/w "Nancy's Trampoline." The doo-wop/novelty combo didn't move, and the disc was the final platter the Four Seasons cut.

After that last record, Stammer left the group to answer Uncle Sam's call, and the rest of the gang called it a day shortly thereafter.

Baldwin's Four Seasons left behind this discography:
  • "Don't Sweat It Baby" b/w "That's the Way the Ball Bounces" (Alanna 555 - 1959)
  • "I'm Still In Love With You Baby" b/w "That's The Way The Ball Bounces" (Alanna 555 - 1959 second pressing)
  • "'Love Knows No Season" b/w "Hot Water Bottle" (Alanna 558 - 1960)
  • "'Mirage" b/w "Nancy's Trampoline" (Robbee 106 - 1960)

Old Mon shamelessly stole most of the band bio from Juan Marce Frontera of White Doo-Wop Collector and Dan McGinnis' comments to the post, along with a little legwork. Thanks, guys.

Mirage - 1960:

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Tony "The Boss" Pasquarelli

 Tony Pasquarelli, photo from Carnegie-Mellon's Today magazine

Born in 1915 and raised in the East End, Anthony was one of four children and the only son of Guy and Maria Pasquarelli. Guy was a butcher by trade, and his boy Tony would go on to make a living off of chops - not the fried ones, but of the musical variety.

As a pre-teen, he played his horn at bar mitzvahs and private parties, getting back and forth in a cab.

By his teen years, Pasquarelli was gigging around town, another product of the City's primo music incubator, Westinghouse High. The trumpeter didn't have the means to go to college - the depression hit during his school years - but he got his education on the streets and stages of Pittsburgh. And he did eventually make it to Carnegie Tech/CMU, but as teacher rather than a student.

He was much in demand as a trumpet player, featuring a deeper tone than the usual high pitched, shrill blasts that most brass players produced. Pasquarelli preferred to free-lance rather than join a group and played for the CLO, Ice Capades, & Ice Follies, on the staff bands for the local radio and television stations, and for the orchestras of the Nixon, Penn, and Stanley Theaters.

Tony could go from showtime and pop to classical in a heartbeat. He played before the wand of conductors William Steinberg, André Kostelanetz, Karl Fritz and Richard Karp, and performed with the PSO, Pittsburgh Grand Opera Company, and the Pittsburgh Sinfonietta. He also blew for the Pittsburgh Pops.

But as well as he could make his trumpet sing and swing, Pasquarelli was best remembered as a teacher. He ran a private studio located downtown beginning in 1948 (he wouldn't quit giving lessons until 2009, at the age of 94) and was an instructor at Carnegie Mellon before it was Carnegie Mellon, with his tenure spanning from 1957 - 2004.

His students called him "The Boss." Pasquarelli was a demanding teacher, but he took an interest in his charges not only as musicians, but as people. He was a technician, and instilled discipline in his students, but with a helping of humor. His devotion to his art was second nature. Those who visited him during his last weeks of life said that he was still asking them if they were practicing.

And those students did pretty well under Pasquarelli's tutoring. His roster included Mark Schrello, Solo Trumpet of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra; Dennis Ferry, Solo Trumpet with L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande; Klancy Martin, principal trumpet for the Caracas Symphony Orchestra and Charles Metzger, First Trumpet with the San Francisco Ballet.

He produced a number of players for the local brass ensembles. One of his charges was Paul Halliwell, who played for the Allegheny Brass Band and served on the board of the River City Brass Band.

Among his River City Brass Band mainstays were Bernard Black, soloist and principal cornetist; Drew Fennell, principal solo flugelhorn/resident composer and conductor Denis Colwell.

Needless to add, several of the brass players he tutored also went on to teach.  Others went on to successful careers in other fields, and are quick to credit Pasquarelli with providing the life lessons that helped them along the road.

His students and CMU thought the world of Pasquarelli. When he retired from CMU, the institution named him its first "artist-lecturer emeritus in trumpet." His charges honored him with not one, but three specially commissioned pieces.

The first was composed by Carnegie Mellon instructor Byron McCulloh, former bass trombonist with the Pittsburgh Symphony. The second, commissioned by Pasquarelli’s students and the River City Brass Band, was written by British composer Philip Sparke. The last was performed for his retirement and written by Fennell.

The City even got into the act, posthumously dedicating June 7th as Anthony “The Boss” Pasquarelli Day as proposed by Councilman Bruce Kraus and unanimously approved by Council's members.  And you all know how often it is that City Council agrees on anything.

Pasquarelli never had any desire to leave the City for greener pastures. Heck, he probably never had enough time to consider the thought. For decades, he would teach at Carnegie Mellon in the morning, then head Downtown in the afternoon to his private practice and spend his evening at a gig.

But even legends have their limit. In February, Anthony Pasquarelli died at the age of 95. His passing was marked in the spring by a special concert held at the Memorial Park Church in Allison Park by his students and the Carnegie Brass.

Anthony Pasquarelli has left behind a legacy of brass players that will last another generation or two. And you can probably bet that right now he's standing by the Golden Gates, listening to Gabriel blow his horn and telling him to keep on practicing. Once a teacher...

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Fate Marable: Father Of Pittsburgh Jazz

Fate Marable Band from Traditional Jazz

Fate Marable was born in Paducah, Kentucky, in 1890 and learned to play piano from the lap of his mother. He was taught well, too, playing professionally by his ninth birthday.

In 1907, at the of age 17, he began entertaining on the steamboats that churned up and down the Mississippi River. Marable started out playing on the paddlewheeler "JS 1" as part of duet - he tickled the ivories alongside a violinist - but soon picked up players and became a cruise bandleader.

He worked for Captain Joe Streckfus' Line, which featured dances on their bread-and-butter day trip excursions. His cruises plied the Mississippi from New Orleans to points northeast along the Ohio. Streckfus considered his boats "floating ballrooms" and was a hands-on operator, attending every rehearsal and critiquing the performance.

Marable dug the jazz sound being played in the delta and soon incorporated it into his playlist, picking up players from NOLA and along the river towns who were familiar with the music. His musicians were more than just jazz cats, though. They had to keep the customers happy and the boat's dance floor full, so his card included jazz, ragtime, standards and current tunes.

The bandleader was a technician and perfectionist, only tolerating artists who were professional in their craft and able to play music from a sheet, but allowing those with the chops to improvise. His groups went under the banner of the Society Syncopators, Kentucky Jazz Band, Metropolitan Jaz-E-Saz Orchestra and the Jazz Maniacs.

The band served as a musical doctorate program for those who would eventually become a who's who of early jazz artists - Louis Armstrong, Baby and Johnny Dodds, Zutty Singleton, King Oliver, Johnny St. Cyr, Tommy Ladnier, Red Allen, Pops Foster, Narvin Kimball, Gene Sedric, Jimmy Blanton, Earl Bostic and Al Morgan were numbered among its members.They spread the sound of jazz from its Big Easy birthplace throughout the Mississippi and Ohio River valley towns, traveling as far north as St. Paul and east to Pittsburgh.

By the early twenties, Marable's band was widely considered the best dance outfit not only on the river, but in the country.

Marable was famous for another thing, too - he played the boat's steam calliope, and the organ music could be heard echoing along the river for miles, announcing both the arrival of the steamship and his band. It was said that the keys would get so hot - we assume from the steam, though maybe his playing had something to do with it - that Marable had to wear gloves when he performed. He also sported a hooded raincoat while playing because the steam would condense from the pipes and rain down on him.

Like most riverboat musicians, he needed an off season gig, generally beginning after Labor Day, to keep the daily bread on the table. When the boats were drydocked for the winter, Marable would work out of his business base of St. Louis, his hometown of Paducah and Pittsburgh, where his family stayed while he was touring on the steamers. In fact, we believe his son, Fate Marable, is still alive and kicking in the Steel City at the age of 87.

Marable led a band and played piano at the Leader House on Wylie and Crawford Avenues (which would continue on as the Crawford Grill in 1930), the Centre Avenue Bailey Hotel, considered the elite black stopover in the City and where African-American performers playing Pittsburgh would stay, and other Hill District hot spots.

His band is thought to be one of the first pair of all-black swing orchestras performing in the city, along with Lois Deppe and the Serenaders. He also performed on the Pittsburgh steamboat circuit for their local excursions on boats like the Senator, pounding away on the calliope when he wasn't leading the band.

Not only did he expose the City to jazz, but Marable was a considered a seminal influence, sometimes called the founding father of the storied line of Pittsburgh jazz pianists like Mary Lou Williams, Earl "Fatha" Hines, Erroll Garner, Billy Strayhorn, Ahmad Jamal and Horace Parlan, along with local keyboardists like Dodo Marmarosa and Johnny Costa.

And while not credited to Marable publicly, we wouldn't be surprised if his calliope chops didn't help to jump start the emergence of Pittsburgh's famed Hill District organ houses and local Hammond players like Gene Ludwig, Bill Heid, Wendell Freeman and John Papi.

While he didn't personally shape any of their careers (although a couple may have sat in with his band), Marable was the man who introduced jazz to the City. He was the shadchan who started the torrid jazz love affair that would last for decades between the town and its players and continue on today.

Marable continued to lead paddlewheel bands until 1940, when an infected finger threatened to cut short his livelihood. He recovered, but that marked the end of his Pittsburgh era as he retired from the river and opted to finish out his career playing in St. Louis clubs. He died there at the age of 56 from pneumonia and was buried in his home town of Paducah.

There's not much left to mark Fate Marable's career. The only record he cut was the 1924 78 RPM "Frankie and Johnny" b/w "Pianoflage" on Okeh 40113 with the Society Syncopators, and he was light years removed from the archival You Tube vid era. But he is the Johnny Appleseed of jazz, sowing its seeds from The City That Care Forgot across the heartland. Those seeds took root deepest in Pittsburgh, helping spawn a vibrant jazz scene of national renown that is still going strong.

(Most of Fate Marable's career in Pittsburgh is mentioned only in passing in his bios. Several mainly local works note some of his contributions, primarily "The WPA History Of The Negro In Pittsburgh," written in 1940 by Lawrence Glasco. Old Mon would like to thank Paul Carosi of Pittsburgh Music History for pointing out that resource in his article.)

Friday, September 9, 2011

America's Small Town Music Capital: Canonsburg

Canonsburg is a small borough of about 9,000 souls, located in Washington County, eighteen miles southwest of Pittsburgh. It was laid out by namesake Colonel John Canon in 1789 and incorporated in 1802. The town is famous culturally for its Oktoberfest, Fourth of July parade, and proud musical heritage.

And with a roster of music-makers from the big time to local heroes like those listed below, why wouldn't they be?

Pierino "Perry" Como: Yes, he started in a barber shop and was quite good at snipping hair, too. Fortunately for the music world, he found something that he was even better at. Como had 14 Number One hits on various lists and 48 songs that charted. He hosted the Kraft Music Hall and specials galore on TV.

Como was honored with five Emmys, a Christopher Award, and shared a Peabody Award with bud Jackie Gleason. He was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame in 1990 and received a Kennedy Center Honor in 1987.

After he passed away in 2001, Como received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and was inducted into the Long Island Music and the Hit Parade Halls of Fame. Como has three individual stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his body of work in radio, television, and music. And as highly regarded as he was in musical circles, he was more highly thought of as a true gentleman.

Canonsburg honored him with a statue and Perry Como Avenue.

Bobby Vinton (Vintula): His dad Stan was a popular local big band leader and got his son rolling on the music track. Good move; after a sluggish start, Vinton went on to record four Number One tunes and had 28 songs that charted in the Top Forty.

He's also the Canonsburg link to The Tempos of  "See You In September" fame. Vinton sang with Clairton's Mike Lazo and Gene Schacter as the Hi Lites in the mid-fifties. Lazo and Schacter went on to form the Tempos when they returned from the Army in 1957. Vinton sang briefly with them again before they went their separate ways.

The town fathers named Bobby Vinton Boulevard and Drive after the Polish Prince. He vetoed a statue, insisting that the money be spent on something the town needed. It took a while for the street names to get the OK, though. Earlier attempts to name a residential road for Vinton were scrapped because some of the homeowners were honked that Vinton called Pittsburgh rather than Canonsburg home!

The Four Coins: Jimmy Gregorakis, George Mantalis, and the brothers George and Jack Mahramas formed the smooth vocal group. They started as part of Bobby Vinton's "Band of Tomorrow" and later became the Four Keys.

As the Four Coins, the quartet charted five Top Thirty songs, led by "Shangri-la" at #11. Their other hits were "My One Sin," "The World Outside," "Memories of You" and their first breakout song "We'll Be Married." They were also well-known for performing ethnic Greek and Italian tunes.

The Four Coins caught their break when local band leader Lee Barrett took them to Cincy to audition for General Artists, which got the ball rolling for them. They left show biz in 1970 to take care of their families, though they did briefly reunite for two final shows in 2003 at the Pepsi Roadhouse and pop up on rare occasion for PBS specials and the such.

Four Coins Drive was named after the group.

Gregg Kostelich: Kostelich is the guitarist for the garage punk rockers The Cynics and famous for his fuzzy riffs. The hard-touring band has been together since 1984 and is an overseas favorite. He got his start playing for a local outfit called Cottonmouth.

Kostelich founded the local label Get Hip, which of course issues the Cynics and other edgy bands, but also has done a great job of preserving the old acts through its Archive Series. He does business in a contrarian way; no big box retailers for his releases. Get Hip wax is only sold at the indie stores as part of his passion for music and insistence that each release get individual attention.

Chuck Edwards (Edwin): The jazz/R&B player moved to Canonsburg in 1959 or so. He took a day job in the mill, with club and session gigs filling the night. He was a popular local performer with several regional favorites on wax, and hit it big with "Bullfight" in 1966. It was taped at Gateway Studios and first released on his own Rene label, to be later picked up by Roulette for national distribution. His 1968 song "Downtown Soulsville" became a huge Northern Soul record across the pond.

In 1972, he and the clan Edwards moved to the coast, where the family released some tunes as the Edwards Generation in the mid-seventies. Chuck passed away outside San Jose in 2001 in Pittsburg, California.

Phil Lipari: The Canonsburg native was the featured vocalist on Chuck Edward's first Rene release, singing "Please Come Back" b/w "Later For You Darling," issued in 1962.

Joey Powers (Ruggierio): Look up "one hit wonders" and "Midnight Mary" always pops up. It was recorded by Canonsburg's Joey Powers on Amy Records, and charted at  #10 in 1963-64. While he didn't produce any more hit records, the Joey Powers Flowers were a hot and very much in-demand group in the Jersey/Philly area clubs for years.

He first recorded under the name Joey Rogers, and his initial career was given a boost by Perry Como. The last rumored 411 on Powers is that he's a missionary in Russia, operating a Christian recording studio.

Jason Walker: Known for his soulful vocals, Walker scored a #1 track on the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart in 2004 with "Foolish Mind Games" and in 2005 with "Set It Free." Walker cracked the Top 10 three other times, with "My Life" (#3), "No More" (#5) and "Movin' On" (#7).

He's now based in Brooklyn.

Four Townsmen: The group got together as Canon-Mac high school mates in 1959, and had a pair of local hits with “Sometimes (When I’m All Alone)” and “It Wasn’t So Long Before (Graduation Is Here)” on Odell Bailey's Art-Flow Records label in 1962.

The original members were Chuck Marshall, Bobby Kraushaar, Lou Gadani and Pete Kouklakis. Marshall passed away in 1985, Kraushaar retired, and Gadini and Kouklakis, along with Eric Bruce and Pete Povich, reformed the group in 1999. They're still performing a revue with a backing band and have a trio of CDs out.

Donnybrooks: John Alterio, Ken Paige, Frank Trebel, and Bob Kobert, Third Ward School classmates, started as the Phaetons in 1954, guided by their grade school music teacher Lou Popiolkowski. The group entered a talent contest with KDKA Radio as The Four Pals (one story has them named after DJ Art Pallan, but Frank Trebel says "...we selected the name 'the Four Pals' because we were four real friends and pals." Cool!) in 1958, winning a recording contract with Calico Records.

Their first record, "Everytime We Kiss," was a big local hit under the new name of the Donnybrooks. The group traveled the East Coast and performed as part of the regional club circuit on the strength of that song. They cut two records with Calico Records, (four songs) Three were written by  Popiolkowski and one, "Mandolins of Love" was written by Tony Ambrose, another Canonsburg song writer.

After their breakup in 1960, only Kobert continued in the industry, recording for Alanna and Souvenir Records as Bobby Shawn and still performing locally.

Vic DaPra: DaPra made a local name for himself as the lead singer and guitarist from 1972 to 1984 for Sugarcane, which opened for Joan Jett at the Stanley Theater. Now he's more known for his expertise with guitars. He's co-owner of Guitar Gallery and a collector of old axes.

DaPra received the ultimate honor when Gibson named a guitar for him, the Vic DaPra Bourbon Fade, a reissue of a 1959 Les Paul model. He's also written a pair of highly regarded guitar books, "Burst" and "Sunburst Alley." DaPra is a 1970 Canonsburg Hi grad and Gregg Kostelich's cousin.

Big Guns: Jay Kasper, Mike Touville, Mark Knapp and Don Pruse form Big Guns, a country rock band that's had some national exposure and radio play, opening for Hank Williams Jr., Travis Tritt, Willie Nelson, Kenny Chesney and a whole slew of country acts. Around since the mid-nineties, the group tours mainly in the east and south, and regularly play many of the local country festivals.

They were named as the area's "Best Country Band" from 1996-98 by various local publications, and their latest CD is called "Bang."

Antoinette (Manganas): She may not have broken out yet, but the jazz/R&B vocalist has made quite a name for herself in the regional clubs (she started out at Deja Vu). Antoinette has a CD titled "Crush" out and is working on another. She suffered an early career setback when her first album went unreleased after her indie label went belly up, so she's making up for lost time.

But hey, how can you bet against her? Antoinette was raised on Perry Como Avenue and opened for both the Four Coins and Bobby Vinton. There's a whole lotta good hometown mojo working for the lady.

The bandleaders: We've mentioned Lee Barrett, who led his own Orchestra, and Stan Vinton (who also played in the Canonsburg Italian Band with Perry Como). There was a third bandleader that was popular in the area, and that was Lee Kelton, who for a brief period had radio DJ Art Pallan as his singer.

Bluesman Louisiana Red (Iverson Minter) also spent a little time in Canonsburg as a ward of his aunt and uncle. However, all he recalls from that spell was beatings from his unc, paddlings at school and a stint in a reformatory. So hey, maybe that's where he first caught his lifelong case of the blues.

Canonsburg touts itself as "America's Small Town Music Capital" on its web site. And they sure won't get an argument from us.

(There's a lot of talent from Canonsburg, so if we missed some acts, rest assured it's just an oversight. Google and a couple of phone calls usually don't cover all the bases. Please let us know of any other town musicians we may have missed. And Old Mon gives his sincere thanks to music writer and historian Dave Sallinger for calling on his network to help whip this post into shape.)

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Terry O'Hara

Terry O'Hara is a wandering minstrel who found roots in Pittsburgh, joining the region's eclectic clan of singer/songwriters after drifting around the country.

The musician, who has lived in Pittsburgh for about ten years now, held a series of jobs during his journey, running the gamut from from dishwasher to street busker. He's more or less followed the Woody Guthrie tradition, hitting the road with his harmonica stuck in his back pocket, guitar strap slung tight and taking notes. And that trail less traveled defined the timbre of his musical being.

He told Scott Mervis of the Post Gazette "I've worked a variety of jobs that were somewhat marginalizing, and I think that's always benefitted my music. This might be one of the keys to making music or writing, in my opinion: to experience alienation and aloneness."

O'Hara has described himself as introspective and reflective, and those traits permeate his songs. His music, depending who you ask, has been described as mellow, downtempo or melancholy, and sometimes all three at once. It's definitively stuff perfectly tailored for drifting away in time and space.

His sound has been compared by various reviewers to Radiohead, Mojove 3, My Morning Jacket, Red House Painters and early Flaming Lips, but the two that stand out to O'Hara are Granddaddy and Sparklehorse.

"Sparklehorse and Granddaddy were bands that blew open the world for me. There was a melancholy feel to the music and lyrics that felt right," he said in the Mervis interview.

To Old Mon, the music is classical in arrangement, but crafted with the toolkit of an Americana roots artist - acoustic guitar, pedal steel, keys, kit and whatever else adds to the layers, forming a seamless matryoshka doll of sequestered sound. Like classical melodies, it's meant to make your senses fade into a reverie. So roll over, Beethoven...

His first Pittsburgh group was the short lived band Autumn Leaves, made up of O'Hara, Ian Peksa, who played drums, and multi-instrumentalist Ian Toole. (O'Hara says "I had never known an Ian in my life and found myself playing with two of them.") They'd meet in Peksa's Cheswick basement for their sessions.

The Autumn Leaves cut a demo and were featured on WPTS, Pitt's radio station, just before Peksa split to the Big Apple. That was the end of Autumn Leaves and the beginning of Summer-Winter.

O'Hara, with a stack of songs waiting for life, explained "I found a bunch of local friends and musicians to help play." The music sprang from paper to tape by their hand, and the result was the 2009 album "Alone is Yes."

Summer-Winter was more a tribal project than a band; thirteen players were listed on the album credits. O'Hara wrote all the songs and played eight instruments. Much of the recording was done at Mr. Small's, and the album is available through CD Baby.

The disc picked up some good press and a positive vibe from the cognoscenti. The cut "Tired" was featured on NPR’s "All Songs Considered" along with a strong write-up for the release. Music maven Scott Mervis gave the album some love in the Post Gazette, too.

The mood of "Alone Is Yes" was captured by Alex Cleary, the reviewer for Americana UK, who wrote Summer-Winter married "...two disparate emotional concepts: the disaffected tragedy of youth and the more perceptive melancholy of wisdom and experience. It feels like a lifetime of reflection has gone into this disc." It wasn't a dance record, but a groove for introspection.

Summer-Winter played a few shows, starting with their release party at Garfield Artworks, and O'Hara began working on his current album, "Bewildered." (available for digital download at He again authored all the songs and had a lot of artists contribute. Mr. Small's was the main studio, and Larry Luther mixed and mastered the tracks, as he did for "Alone Is Yes."

"We tried to go with some different musicians this time around," O'Hara said. There were a dozen players on this effort, both local and New-York based. Like the last record, there's not a lot of early live support behind the album. According to O'Hara "We have yet to play a show and are working out the details on a release show for the late fall."

So stay tuned. When Terry gets his band together and on the circuit, stop by and catch the performance. Summer-Winter will lead you to a pensive corner of your mind that we think you'll like.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Joy Ike "Sweeter"

Joy Ike released her latest single on vid today, "Sweeter." Add it to your iPod; she's made it available for download for free at her web site.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Frankie Dileo

Frankie Dileo

One of the most colorful characters in the music business, Pittsburgh born and raised Frankie Dileo shuffled off to the big recording studio in the sky Wednesday, a victim of heart surgery complications. He was 63.

Dileo fit the record exec caricature to a T - short (5'2"), portly, and always with a cigar in his mouth and pinky ring on his finger, nattily dressed in Hollywood casual. Hey, he even sported a pony-tail in his hep younger days. But he did more than look the part; he was a powerful deal-maker for many years in the industry.

The East End native (his dad owned a bar in Homewood, and he hung out in Larimer with family) and St.Bede's/Central Catholic gridder was known by his buds as "Tookie." He started off humbly enough as a local rack jobber, the guy that sold and stocked wax at the record shops.

Dileo rapidly worked his way up the ladder, turning that foot-in-the-door opportunity into a gig as a Cleveland-based local promoter for Epic Records, a subsidiary of powerhouse CBS, in 1968.

He pushed tracks by Sly and the Family Stone, The Hollies and Donovan to local radio stations, and was quickly promoted to the company's regional office in Chicago. A year later, he moved on to RCA Records in New York as singles director, and then was recruited by Bell Records. In 1972, he went to Monument Records in Nashville, where he worked on vinyl by Kris Kristofferson, Billy Swan, Boots Randolph, the Gatlin Brothers and Charlie McCoy.

He moved back to Pittsburgh after that job, retired from music and looking for a more normal lifestyle. Dileo paid a fine after being busted as a sports bookie; so much for 9-to-5 work. He rejoined the music industry after a fire burned his Pittsburgh home. True to his shadowy mystique, it's said that his insurance company refused to pay for the damage.

That mystique included allegations of payola passed through indie promoters (the use of indie promoters was a common industry practice at the time, not just a Dileo ace-up-the-sleeve) and nebulous connections to the Gambino family. They were never proven, and the rumors no doubt added to his rep as a major league player in the music world.

In 1979, CBS Records president Walter Yetnikoff hired his old acquaintance back to work for Epic Records in New York as Vice President of National Promotion. Overseeing a staff of 65 people, Dileo helped guide Epic Records from the number fourteen label in the U.S. to the number two spot, churning out $250,000,000 in revenues, tripling the label's take.

Epic left its big-sister Columbia Records in the dust. Artists boosted by Dileo's promo department included Quiet Riot, REO Speedwagon, Ozzy Osbourne, Molly Hatchet, Dan Fogelberg, Gloria Estefan, The Clash, Luther Vandross, Meat Loaf, Cyndi Lauper, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Heart, Culture Club and Michael Jackson. He was voted "Executive of the Year" at Epic Records and collected over 80 gold and platinum records credited to the imprint.

Some of it was due to "right place, right time" syndrome, but a lot of his success had to do with his innate sense of what would fly off the racks. For example, he picked a demo by then unknown Culture Club off a pile of records that had been rejected and decided to push it. The band charted in the Top Forty ten times.

He promoted Jackson's killer "Thriller" LP, and was the driving force behind releasing "Beat It" on the heels of "Billy Jean." The other Epic execs thought Dileo was crazy and the move would kill "Billy Jean" on the charts. But in fact both songs ended up Number One and appeared in the Top Ten at the same time. Album sales went through the roof. It went down just as Dileo had predicted.

In 1984, he left Epic to manage the career of Michael Jackson, at Jackson's urging. Dileo produced the movie "Moonwalker," eight music videos including the Grammy winning "Leave Me Alone" and wrote, produced and negotiated three Pepsi commercials for MJ that brought in landmark up-front endorsement dollars. More importantly, he managed two of Jackson's huge concert tours, the Victory Tour with the Jackson family and the megaton Bad World Tour, Jackson's first solo effort.

The 1984 Victory Tour introduced Jackson's single glove and black sequined jacket persona and featured his recently-minted moonwalk steps. It played at 55 venues in front of 2 million fans and grossed $75,000,000, then the largest take from a concert tour in show biz history. The tour also generated some less flattering headlines when Don King got cut in on some promotional duties and sponsor Chuck Sullivan took a bath on the returns (the tour was extended by 15 dates to allow him to recoup some of his losses).

But the Bad World tour was the piece de resistance. It stopped in Japan, Australia, the United States (the tour played at the Arena 9/26-9/28/1988) and Europe. Sponsored by Pepsi and lasting 16 months, the tour included 123 concerts performed in front of 4.4 million fans in 15 countries. When "Bad World" concluded, it had taken in a total of $125 million and became the largest grossing and most heavily attended tour in music history.

But after five years together and following the nerve-frazzling "Bad World" tour, the odd couple abruptly ended their business relationship in 1989. There was no explanation given when Jackson fired his manager through his attorney. Dileo believed that it was a result of some back-stabbing by the suits surrounding Jackson. C'est la vie, that's show biz.

One door closes, and another opens.. A couple of days later, Martin Scorsese called - he knew Dileo after directing Jackson's "Bad" video - not to offer sympathy (he didn't know he was axed), but a job. He wanted to cast Dileo in a flick called "Goodfellas." Presto, the role of Tuddy Cicero was filled, the guy who famously gunned down Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) with a gory head shot in the film. Dileo also had a recurring role as record exec Ricky "Mr. Big" Sharp in the two "Wayne's World" flicks.

Dileo moved on to manage other musicians, including Taylor Dayne, Jodeci, Laura Branigan and Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora while working with Prince on several projects. He founded the Dileo Entertainment Group in Nashville on Music Row, looking for new artists and composers, and dabbled in club and restaurant ventures. He also served as co-president of Savage Records for a couple of years and was on the Val-Comm board.

In 2005, when Jackson was on trial, Dileo returned to lend his support, as he was convinced his old client's naivete was being abused. They had a tearful reunion. MJ remarked that he had nine managers since Dileo was canned, and Frankie was the only one who rallied to his side.

After Jackson's acquittal, they remained in contact, and in the summer of 2009, as Jackson readied his "This Is It" tour, the singer asked Dileo to manage him once more. They were briefly a team again before Jackson died shortly afterward. As Dileo told Gary Smith of People Magazine "Some people collect stray cats; I collect stray people."

Dileo had a laundry list of medical problems, starting with his weight; he once hit 265 pounds. He had diabetes as a result, and that almost cost him his vision. Dileo was nearly blind before a series of operations restored his sight. He was recovering from a heart attack at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles when complications following emergency surgery ended his life on August 24th, 2011.

Frankie Dileo is survived by his wife, Linda, two children, Belinda and Dominic, and a grandson, Frank. He lived not far from home in Wellsville, Ohio, where he could stay in touch with family and friends. Dileo's work may have taken him from coast-to-coast and over the world, but he was always a Pittsburgh guy at heart.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Marcus Meston

Marcus Meston
Hey, it's a typical day for a 16 year old. Get up late, go downstairs, dig into a bowl of Wheaties, write a song, mix a track, post a single from your new EP "Everything is Fine" on YouTube and attend to the zillion little details that need ironed out for your debut release. That's life for Marcus Meston right now.

The teen is a multi-instrumentalist who's just finished his own project while also the singer and lead guitarist of power rockers 13AM (which just dissolved late last month). And if that wasn't keeping him busy enough, Meston is a producer and engineer for another handful of area artists, using his dad's basement recording studio to mix tracks.

He came about his chops honestly. His pap, Tom Meston, is a veteran jazz musician who's played sax, keys, guitar and drums and was part of the fusion group Stir Fry that used to rock Shadyside's Balcony in the eighties. Meston pere is a protege of Duquesne's Dave Budway, and has a couple of his own CDs out, 2003's "Upside" and 1992's "If You Only Knew." Tom is also the steady hand and unbending ear behind Marcus' travels along the music path.

Marcus is catching up quickly. 13AM released their first (and we guess only) CD in December, "Turn It Up" on the Stir Fry label. On August 27th, Meston's "Everything Will be Fine" is scheduled to be released, available from all the usual on-line download suspects. One of the tracks, "Separate Ways," is already collecting hits on YouTube, with the song "Save Me" to follow.

(You can download the LP at and stream the track "Everything is Fine")

Tom played most of the bass, drum and keys on the EP. Marcus did the programming, guitars, second keys, vocals, and all of the songwriting with the exception of "Separate Ways" and "Disappear," which his dad co-wrote with him. Man, that's a one stop shop!

Meston will be the guest on the Saturday Light Brigade show on the 27th, aired locally on CMU's WRCT and another half dozen college stations. It's also broadcast on the local channels of Comcast and Verizon for you cable fans.

We kinda pity the Upper St. Clair teacher who asks Marcus, who will be a junior when classes start again, to face the class and tell them what he did this summer. That tale should take care of the semester.

Marcus Meston - "Separate Ways"

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Mac Miller

Mac Miller from jheiv (Creative Commons)

Pittsburgh's newest addition to the hip-hop scene, 19 year old Mac Miller, comes from the gritty urban streets of...Point Breeze. And he's a white Jewish rapper, ala the Beastie Boys.

But hey, don't hold that against Miller (given name: Malcomb McCormick).  Like Wiz and Slimmie, he came out of the City's top incubator of rap, Taylor Allderdice High in Squirrel Hill, and can lay down a thumpin' beat with a good time lyric; no ganstas are being bred on Tilbury Avenue.

He had his hip-hop epiphany as a 15 year old freshman. Once a neighborhood jock, Mac dedicated himself to his music full time. Before launching his solo career, he was part of the crew The Ill Spoken with rapper Beedie and is a self taught musician, playing guitar, drums and the piano.

Mac developed a local following by selling homemade mix tapes during shows and over the internet. His 2009 release, "The High Life," hit the big time with about 30,000 downloads, and that jump-started his career.

When he reached 18, Miller signed with Rostrum Records, run by Squirrel Hill's Benji Goldberg (it's also Wiz's label), and released his mixtape debut, "K.I.D.S." in 2010. The vids captured over 2.5 million YouTube hits in the first month they were posted. Miller passes a lot a credit onto his long-time producer, Rex Arrow, who makes low-budget vids look like Hollywood noir.

Miller is extraordinarily adept at using social media. His vid "Donald Trump" has more than 12 million hits and he tweets to 467,000+ Twitter followers, second among Pittsburghers. He trails just Wiz, who has a couple of million tweet-mates. And Wiz isn't just a school-mate, label-mate, and brother rapper; the pair are buds (OK, homeys) from way back.

That fall, he went on his first Rostrum tour with label mate Boaz and opened for Wiz Khalifa at the Stage AE in December. Since then, he's been busy selling out dates on the Smoker's Club Tour with Curren$y and Big K.R.I.T., with Wiz on the Campus Consciousness Tour and his own Incredibly Dope Tour.

Like label mate Wiz last year, Miller is part of XXL Magazine's Freshman Class for 2011, scoring a cover shot sporting his Bucco cap. He released his new mixtape, "Best Day Ever" in May. It was pre-released in March as a free download on Upstream, and crashed the site for awhile, drawing over 200,000 downloads over the first weekend.

Most of the tracks were recorded at Lawrenceville's ID Labs, and show off cuts like "Nikes On My Feet" and "Keep Floating," performed with Wiz and celebrating the high life. Miller raps behind bass lines and a synth, and his lyrics range from mind worm hooks to lighthearted lines, definitely back-to-roots old school hip-hop. Don't expect that high-energy, fun-loving mood to change.

Miller told Rolling Stone's Blaine McEvoy that "Whether I’m discussing important topics in the world or not, people tell me that my music is something they use to cheer themselves up if they’re having a bad day, and that’s something positive I can bring to the world. If I can keep helping people like that, then I’m going to continue doing that."

His plan now is to have an album ready for late summer, before he embarks on his first international tour in September. It's time to rep the town to the world, and what better ambassador than Mac Miller?


Friday, June 10, 2011

WDUQ-ing It Out


OK, before we get into the WDUQ story, let's develop a little timeline:

1949 - The station begins as a Duquesne student-run classical music outlet.
1952 - Hourly newscasts begin.
1969 - First jazz show broadcast, a live local set.
1971 - The station becomes a charter member of NPR.
1972 - Power increases from 2,750 watts to 25,000.
1972 - WDUQ broadcasts first "All Things Considered" show.
1989 - In addition to several NPR shows, daytime jazz debuts.
1997 - JazzWorks begins.
2005 - New transmitter built on Mt. Washington; four "translator" stations added to network.
2006 - Multiple HD channels offered for jazz, news, blues.
2007 - WQED carries Planned Parenthood ads, which does not sit well with the good fathers of Duquesne, who ordered them removed.  Independent station, hey?
2009 - Duquesne starts looking for a buyer for the station, citing WDUQ's independence from the university.

And that started the ball rolling.  Led by WDUQ GM Scott Hanley, WDUQ employees and supporters, under the banner of Pittsburgh Public Media (PPM), threw their hat into the ownership ring. Public Radio Capital, a Colorado non-profit, came aboard as consultants to help broker the deal.  PPM offered $6.5M for the station during negotiations.

Then the foundations (The Heinz Endowments and The Pittsburgh Foundation in the lead) bought a 60-day delaying option on the sale process to evaluate what was going on with the ol' public radio station.  They weren't fans of the status quo, and hired Charlie Humphrey, a local non-profit fiscal and organizational go-to guy, to explore creating a next-generation public media news service, something that Pittsburgh lacked.

It took 30 days to figure out that none of the local players were willing to take on supporting an all-news public station and an outside entity would have to be found or created. WYEP and Public Radio Capital, the former partners of PPM, joined forces. They offered $6M to make WDUQ a full-time NPR outlet; Duquesne took it, to the jeers and tears of Pittsburgh's jazz fans.

As you can see from the timeline, NPR and jazz coexisted for decades at WDUQ; that doesn't mean that the alliance was easy. The station is a nice news source locally; its website hosts one of the better daily news capsules around here, and it was a charter member of the NPR network. It's also the last holdout in a City that is synonymous with great jazz, and hosts programming that is syndicated through 60 other stations. Its jazz impresario, Tony Mowod, is also the founder of the Pittsburgh Jazz Society.

But jazz is a niche musical market. Just look at how many local clubs have folded and much infighting there is even among the fans; be-bop and fusion cats are unquestionably from different planets. People love their oldies, too, but how often do the classic rock stations change formats, and who airs doo-wop anymore except mom-and-pop shops?

The truth is that Duquesne has subsidized WDUQ throughout its existence. The amount they've pumped into the station is confidential but thought to be in the neighborhood of $200,000 -$500,000 in recent years. Both sides realized that the foundation community would be the key to WDUQ's eventual format, and rest assured that the grant-makers are pretty steely-eyed when it comes to the bottom line.

WDUQ is the fourteenth rated Arbitron station in the region, and so is a fairly valuable asset. It's also funded by underwriters and membership, and the foundations saw the NPR model as the better blueprint to cut into that revenue gap that Duquesne filled. So it's easy enough to see why they selected a NPR format; just follow the money, and a full-time NPR service is the superior cash cow.

They left six hours per week out of an original 100 for jazz. They'll also have a 24/7 dedicated HD channel and online stream of jazz programming as a sop for the fans, who are taking their chagrin to the FCC. That's just a delaying tactic; the FCC doesn't involve itself in format spats.

So here's the end result: Duquesne has rid itself of a deficit operation and will get a financial infusion sufficient to endow a couple of chairs. Pittsburgh will join the major markets with a full-time NPR news and information station, and that changeover has resulted in increased, not declining, membership in other regions. Jazz followers get the short end of the stick, and can be expected to vote with their radio dials.

Goodbye WDUQ, hello NPR.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

WAMO Back on the Air

Starting this week, WAMO 100 (101.1 FM and 660 AM) picked up the torch of those famous call letters, absent from the city scene for the past two years after the original WAMO was sold to St. Joseph's Missions, a Catholic talk-radio outfit.

Tim Martz of San-Franciso based Martz Communications purchased stations WPYT AM- FM in Wilkinsburg, and got control of the legacy WAMO call letters from an inactive eastern Pennsylvania station.  The new WAMO started airing taped stuff in late May, and is now unrolling live.

They have some big shoes to fill. They know it, and plan on being more than Pittsburgh's urban station. WAMO had a resume of 50 years on the air in this town, and most of them were spent as audio voice and fabric of the black community.

Early WAMO DJ Mary Dee has been credited by many with coming up with the black radio formula of serving up urban music mixed with a strong component of community involvement, and WAMO became its epitome. The new ownership promises to return the station to its roots; they're already reaching out for people to join the "WAMO Street Team," which hopefully will serve as more than a PR vehicle.

We'll see how that community rep thing works out. One thing that's certain, though, is that the hip-hop, rap and urban scene needes a jolt, and WAMO can provide it. Hey, just filling the urban void in Pittsburgh will be welcome; it's hard to fathom how a region as large as ours was left without a full-time urban station.

Another aspect of city living that may have fallen below the radar is Pittsburgh's ability to draw urban acts. They were a tough enough sell when WAMO was in its heyday, but without a station to promote the show and push songs over the long haul, many national acts just bypassed the area.

Now, WAMO 100 is joining with Live Nation to bring acts such as Bootsy Collins to Stage AE on June 24th, and rapper Lil' Wayne to First Niagara Pavilion on July 23rd. With locals like Whiz and Mac blowing up and other area acts right behind them, Pittsburgh may become a destination spot for urban shows.

Hey, they're having their on-air shakedown problems. Pittsburgh is an old-school town, and they'll have to weigh that when coming up with a playlist. Even when WAMO was all that, the mix among the latest hip-hop, adult contemporary, gospel, older sounds, local flavor and talk was hotly debated. Brittany Spears and Ke$ha seem to be a stretch for an urban format, too.

But that's all stuff the station manager, Laura Varner Norman, will sort out. And she has the local cred; a Pitt grad, she was a long-time sales exec for Sheridan Broadcasting and was hired away from Philly's Radio One.

People are waiting for jocks, too. WAMO always had a stable full of personalities in the past, but haven't announced a regular schedule of hosts yet (heck, they haven't even tweeted on their Twitter account or posted anything on their Facebook page) so it would seem they're still feeling their way around in the market.

We're hoping it all works out. The market needed an urban station, and the black community was looking for a nexus to reconnect with both musically and socially. WAMO has always been that presence.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

TL Back on the Air

Terry Lee from WIXZ 1360 Memories (Photo provided by Jim Metzer)

George Blake Balicky, host of the Jazz Cafe and long-time music biz pro, dropped us a line about the Mon Valley's favorite son, Terry Lee. He told us:

"Terry has moved back (to the area from Ohio) and will be on the air four nights per week on WLSW, Music Power 104 (103.9 FM). He will have a show on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday nights from 8 PM until midnight. You can reach Terry at "

Rejoice, young lovers, especially those of you with gray hair - TL is spinning again. Think you can find your way back to China Wall?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Sied Chahrour: Strict Flow to Slimmie Hendrix

Sied Chahrour - Pittsburgh Slim

He started out as Sied Chahrour, became Pittsburgh Slim, and now is Slimmie Hendrix. No matter what name you know him by, he was among the first local rappers to sign with a major label, Def Jam (late 2007), a few months after Wiz Khalifa hooked up with Warner Brothers. (Note - that's to best of Old Mon's knowledge; give us a yell if someone preceded them.)

Chahrour (he's half Algerian, half Mexican) was born and raised in the Greenfield, and starting getting into music when he entered Allderdice High in 1993 (he graduated in 1997).

Slim got his start playing guitar in rock bands (he was a fan of Nirvana, Jesus Lizard and Sonic Youth) while on the dual track of rapping. Charour struck gold when he became part of the underground rap crew Strict Flow in 1996, along Masai Turner (Formula 412), Chad Glick (former manager of Wiz Khalifa, ID Labs Management), and Eric Dan (co-owner of ID Labs).

The group signed with indie label Raw Shack in 1999, and released "People On Lock." Their debut album, "Homegrown," sold over 6,000 copies, a big number for a Pittsburgh hip hop group during the City's rap stone ages.

Strict Flow opened local stages for visiting national acts like Nelly, Jurassic 5, Usher, Nas, The Roots, Ludacris, Ja Rule and 50 Cent as they rapped their way to becoming the urban alpha dog of Pittsburgh promoters. They released a second album, "Without Further Ado," in 2003. That would be the final hurrah, though - the band broke up after the album release.

Within a couple of years, Chahrour was ready for greener pastures and he headed west - way west, to LA. He spent a couple of years with a day job of waiting on tables, while working to establish himself in the very competitive West Coast urban music scene. But it was basically good times and good vibes as he took to LA, both personally and professionally, with side trips to NYC.

Sied had a mind worm - "I like girls who kiss girls" (hey, it was LA) - and created a song around that line. He hooked up with old Jay-Z producer David "Ski Beatz" Willis, got Penthouse girl Krista Ayne to slink around an "American Pie" inspired clip, and one of 2007's hottest YouTube viral vids, "Girls Kiss Girls," was born.

DJ Bonics of KISS-FM broke the song; he knew Sied from his Strict Flow days, and gave the well-hooked tune a few spins at night. The request line backed up with calls for Slim, and "Girls Kiss Girls" hit the station's rotation. Eventually the catchy tune spread to the big national broadcasters, and Pittsburgh Slim (the name was inspired by Jay-Z songs "So Ghetto" and "Kingdom Come," where he dropped lines about Iceberg Slim) was on the map.

By his count, he had 11 different record deals offered to him, three from majors. But he wanted more than a one-shot contract, waited the process out, and finally after an interview with Jay-Z, Def Jam Records gave him that deal. He got a five-album agreement, and released his solo, seven-track debut "Tastemaker" in December 2007.

All that work about securing a long-term deal ended up for naught; Pittsburgh Slim and Def Jam parted ways in 2008 without so much as a second release after the guy who brought him aboard, Jay-Z, left the label. Chahrour left, too, of his own volition. He felt that Jay-Z's team had a plan and vision for him, but the label itself didn't. So Slim has been on the indie trail since.

Def Jam held on to him just long enough to quiet his buzz; Slim runs the very real risk that "Girls Kiss Girls" was enough of a novelty song, like "The Rapper" was to the Jaggerz, to throw up a roadblock as he heads down the road.

As an independent, he released the single/vid "My Bitch is Crazy," from "The Bleeding" movie soundtrack and sold it through iTunes. Ditto for his mixtape "Nolita Nights," which was released in August, 2009. Both featured the rock/rap, dirty synth, electro sound associated with clubby house music, a great dance format for Slim's good-time party sound but not so popular on radio stations.

Just this year, Slim joined Snowballers Entertainment, a new record label founded by noted music video director Ray Kay. The two should have a synergy; Slim's work has translated well to vid formats, and Kay knows how to build a successful vid brick by brick. They've just released his first Snowballers single, "Stuntman," and recently finished shooting the vid, which should be out soon.

To mark his new beginning, Chahrour dropped the Pittsburgh Slim nom d' art and became Slimmie Hendrix. We'll see how this marriage works.

"First Date" - Pittsburgh Slim from "Tastemaker"

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Formula 412

Formula 412

Pittsburgh's hip-hop scene has been largely a local phenomena until blowing up recently, and in the long run that's probably been a good if often frustrating fact of life for the region's urban music scene. It never developed into a single genre, but sent offshoots in several directions; gangsta, party, social, and fusion, a smorgasbord of sound that stimulated rather than stifled local artists.

Several Pittsburgh acts have gotten varying degrees of national love - Wiz Khalifa, Sied Chahrour, Mac Miller, Jasiri X - and another isn't far behind that pack: Formula 412.

The crew has been duly recognized in City circles; they've won five Pittsburgh Hip-Hop awards, including 2011's "Best Group" honor. Last month, they released the album "Reality Show," and it had quite a lead-in for a hip-hop release. The usually staid Pittsburgh City Council proclaimed April 12th (yah, 4-12; who sez Council doesn't bother with the details?) as "Formula 412 Day."

It fit; all the band members are Pittsburgh bred and raised. The crew consists of: Masai Turner – vocals, songwriter, MC (Strict Flow), Byron “Nasty Nash” – guitar (Sporadic), Akil Esoon – keyboards (BEAM), “Bigg Cliff” Foster – bass (Sho’Nuff), and Dennis Garner Jr. – drums (various gospel groups).

The band formed in 2006. The players had all crossed paths on stages across the local urban circuit and were looking to put together their own unique beat, having backgrounds in rap, R&B, jazz and gospel. That's part of the reason for their name - "Formula" is from the mixing of their various styles, while the 412 (area code) reps where they come from.

The band’s music is undeniably hip-hop, but instead of the usual bass & drum-heavy rhythm thump, they use guitar riffs, jazz/rock drumming and the keyboards to create a more eclectic sound, ranging from funk to rock. It's not Run DMC/Aerosmith (think Roots), but the fusion carves out a niche Formula 412 doesn't share with many urban acts.

Their songs range anywhere from autobiographic to socially conscious to life's observations as themes; they're not just instrumentally new-school, but topically, too.

If there's one thing that all Pittsburgh groups, no matter what genre, share as a storyline, it's that nothing ever comes easy. The crew isn't represented by a major label, and all the back room chores - production, marketing & sales, bookings - are handled by the band and friends.

The good thing is that artistic control of the product is guaranteed; the downside is that there are only 24 hours in a day, and expenses can eat through a day job paycheck in a New York minute.

Formula 412 knows the business drill, though. They primed the pump for "Reality Show" by releasing a pair of tracks on vid beforehand: "Step to the Rear," shot on a PAT bus rolling through the City, and "Got to Give," filmed at the old USX Carrie Furnace site.

The crew has gotten their music to the public by utilizing the 21st century template of iTunes, Amazon, and other digital outlets. Of course, they have their own web page, smart phone app and Twitter account.

They've managed to get their show on the road, too, performing recently as the opening act for groups like Method Man, 50 Cent, N.E.R.D and Busta Rhymes. The group will kick off the College Music Journal Conference in New York this fall (they're heavy into college tours). And on June 9th at 7:30, they'll play on the Dollar Bank Stage in Point State Park as part of the Three Rivers Art Festival.

Wiz is there, Slim has been there; Mac is on his way and Jasiri is kicking on the door. Now Formula 412 is on the verge of adding their name to Pittsburgh's national crews.

Formula 412 - "Step To the Rear"

Sunday, May 8, 2011

BNY Jazz, Citiparks Series

Jazz at Highland Park, image from Pittsburgh Citiparks

Hey, as long as we're clearing the deck of summer music fests, it's about time to post the BYN jazz series for the year. Mellon used to sponsor the events; BYN has stepped up nicely since the merger.

BYN partners with Pittsburgh Citiparks, the Cultural District and Manchester Craftsmen Guild to stage the shows, along with providing educational initiatives and scholarships.

It's a good synergy for jazz and the region, and again shows the strong link between Pittsburgh music and the corporate/non-profit world. It's one of the things that's unique to the town and helps make the 'Burgh the 'Burgh. The schedule:

May 10th:
Tony Campbell & Lee Robinson at the Backstage Bar, 5PM.
May 17th:
Dwayne Dolphin & Alton Merrell at the Backstage Bar, 5PM
May 24th:
James Moore & Clare Ascani at the Backstage Bar, 5PM
May 31st:
Carolyn Perteete & Shawnee Lake at the Backstage Bar, 5PM
June 11th:
Mark Lucas at Riverview Park, 7PM
June 18th:
Dwayne Dolphin at Riverview Park, 7PM
June 25th:
Al Dowe and Etta Cox at Riverview Park, 7PM
July 2nd:
Clare Ascani at Riverview Park, 7PM
July 9th:
Max Leake at Riverview Park, 7PM
July 16th:
Spider Rondinell at Riverview Park, 7PM
July 23rd:
Resonance Steel Drum Jazz at Riverview Park, 7PM
July 30th:
Kevin Howard and Serious Inquiry at Riverview Park, 7PM
August 6th:
Sean Jones at Riverview Park, 7PM
August 7th:
Boilermaker Jazz Band at Highland Park, 7PM
August 13th:
Mike Tomaro at Riverview Park, 7PM
August 14th:
Alton Merrell and Friends at Highlan Park, 7PM
August 20th:
Salsamba Latin Jazz Group at Riverview Park, 7PM
August 21st:
21st Century Swing Band at Highland Park, 7PM
August 27th:
Roger Humphries and RH Factor at Riverview Park, 7PM
August 28th:
The Poogie Bell Band at Highland Park, 7PM
September 10th:
Tarbaby and Oliver Lake at City of Asylum, 7:30PM
September 23/24th:
Bob Mintzer Big Band at MCG Jazz Hall, 8PM
October 1st:
Pat Metheny and Larry Grenadier at MCG Jazz Hall, 7PM
October 1st:
Tribute to Joe Negri at Carnegie Library (Carnegie), 8PM
October 15th:
Fourplay at MCG Jazz Hall, 7PM
October 29/30th:
Alon Yavnai/Israeli Jazz and World Rhythms at MCG Jazz Hall, 8PM, 2:30PM
November 11th:
Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band at MCG Jazz Hall, 7PM
November 19th:
Tribute to Grover Washington at MCG Jazz Hall, 7PM
December 3/4th:
Billy Taylor Tribute at MCG Jazz Hall, 8PM, 2:30PM
December 9th:
Take 6 Christmas at MCG Jazz Hall, 7PM

And for the other end of the spectrum, the City also sponsors the Bach, Beethoven and Brunch Classical Music Series at Mellon Park on Fifth and Shady Avenues in the East End. The shows run every Sunday from 10:30AM to noon. The schedule:

June 19th - Edgewood Symphony Orchestra
June 26th - Freya String Quartet
July 03rd - Carnegie Brass
July 10th - Cincopation
July 17th - Aeolian Winds of Pittsburgh
July 24th - River City Brass
July 31st - Eastern Watershed Klexmer Quartet
Aug. 07th - Keystone Wind Ensemble
Aug. 14th - East Winds Symphonic Band

Roger Humphries "Song For My Father"