Friday, February 4, 2011

Tommy Charles

Guy Remonko, drummer for the TCQ

We've been kinda City-centric in most of our posts, but the Pittsburgh region overall has been embarrassingly rich in talent: Donny Iris, the Granati Brothers, The Four Coins, Bobby Vinton...well, there's a long, long list of guys from beyond the Allegheny County border that have set the region's feet to tappin'.

One of those groups from back in the day hailed from the Uniontown area, the Tommy (sometimes Tomme) Charles Quartet. Formed in the late fifties, the original band consisted of its leader and namesake Tommy Charles George (lead vocals/piano), Johnny Gallice (sax), Guy Remonko (drums) and Joe Sangston (lead guitar/bass).

They performed through high school, college, and beyond in several configurations, and no matter what form they took, the dance floor was jumping to their beat.

The TCQ wasn't an old doo-wop posse, but played rock 'n' roll. Heck, Gallice alone was worth the price of admission, playing two saxophones at once for some numbers.

Starting as a warm-up act for Brownsville's short-lived but popular Lochinvars, they scored a lot of headline gigs through the late WCVI (Connellsville) jock Leon Sykes, who had a rep for pushing local acts. They also performed at hops held by Jay Michael, Barry Kaye, Porky Chedwick, Rich Richards, Sheb Abi-Nader and Johnny McFadden.

But they didn't just set up speakers in gyms, fire halls, vet clubs and after proms; they had dates at places like the Plaza Theater in Brownsville, and later Morgantown's My Brother's Place. The band was also Bobby Vinton's lead act in Butler (although that was before he hit it big.)

A number of their bookings were handled through the Philadelphia-based Nino Bari Agency, and they traveled throughout the east and midwest. Early on, that was sort of a drag - their parents didn't allow them to drive very far, so their first out-of-town gig in Scranton found them stuffing their equipment and fannies in a Greyhound bus.

George, Gallice and Remonko all went on to West Virginia University, with George and Gallice ending up roomies. That's where a lot of the group's shaking and baking took place.

Sangston left the group in the summer of 1960, and was replaced by WVU's Leo Blair on the bass. In 1964, Guy Remonko left to join The Joe Belcastro Trio, and the band added drummer Russ Lewellen, who later played with Harold Betters. George, Gallice, and guitarist Arne Lindquist, another Mountie, eventually split off and former the TC Trio. A year later, they added Robbie Dosier on drums, and the TCQ was intact again.

After graduation, the gang found a second home of sorts in Wildwood, New Jersey. There they opened for Paul Anka, and the DeJohn Sisters. Other acts they played with in Jersey were the Platters, Buddy Knox, Neil Sedaka, the Crests, Little Anthony and the Imperials, the Big Bopper, the Skyliners, and Kenny Ambrose.

They were inked by Mon Valley impresario Elmer Willett and recorded "Hey There Baby" b/w "Playgirl" in 1959 on his label. The song got some local play on the radio, and the band was on the magic screen, performing on Jay Michael's Bandstand on WTAE-TV. The group also wrote and held the publishing rights to three instrumentals, "Sputnik I and II" and "The Chase," which was on their playlist but apparently never recorded.

The TCQ segued into several different directions after a seven year run. The original members now, as best we can run down:

Thomas Charles George was 63 when he died September 7th, 2004, in his native Uniontown. He was back home performing as a single act, playing piano and doing comedy routines.

The Uniontown High grad had lived and worked in the Poconos for years prior to his return, where he used his pipes regularly in theater performances.

Johnny Gallice is a Brownsville native now living in Laytonsville, Maryland, near Rockville. His first job was with group from Brownsville called the Alan Warchak Trio before joining Charles. Gallice left the quartet in 1964 to form his own Johnny Novelle Group.

Gallice played in the U.S. Army Field Band from 1966 to 1969. He also played in combos in the D.C. area and managed a music store before going into wholesale. He owns RJ Marketing, which moves audio/musical equipment and instruments.

Joe Sangston, a Smithfield native and South Union High (now Laurel Highlands) product, was a high school classmate of Guy Remonko and played with him in a band called the Meteors before joining the TCQ. They first met when they were members of an ethnic/polka band; Joe played clarinet. He was the first to leave the act in 1960, and dropped out of the music world in 1968 after working with various other groups. Sangston is now an insurance agent in Cooksburg.

Guy Remonko, like many Pittsburgh artists, ended up passing on the musical torch in an academic setting. He's a professor emeritus of music at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. He also is an affiliated studio instructor of percussion at Denison University in Granville, and offers private lessons.

He's performed with a variety of well-known artists including Pearl Bailey and Diane Schuur. Remonko also has performed with the Rochester Philharmonic and Montreal Symphony Orchestra and has appeared on a number of NPR and TV broadcasts.

The drummer is a two-time recipient of the Who's Who Among America's Teachers Award. And if that's not enough, he sits with the Los Viejos Blanquitos, an Afro-Cuban jazz band based in Athens, The Jazztet, the Lenox Avenue Express and is a freelance jazz percussionist and writer.

He left the TCQ in 1964, and became the percussionist with the Twin Coaches house band (1964-66) and the club's house drummer (1967-69), where Remonko backed acts like The Supremes, Jack Jones, Tony Randall, Pearl Bailey and Phyllis Diller.

Their full bios are here, in a 2006 Uniontown Herald-Standard article by Ron Paglia. His articles were the mother lode for TCQ information.

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