Sunday, March 27, 2011

Vinnie Colaiuta

Vinnie Colaiuta image from Modern Drummer

Vinnie Colaiuta hails from Republic, in Fayette County south of Brownsville, and is Western Pennsylvania's busiest - and best - native born drummer.

Oh, he played a couple of other instruments - guitar and organ - as a kid, but there was never any doubt that his love was the drums. His parents got him his first real kit when he was 14. And hey, it wasn't always an easy choice.

His junior high band director told him that there were too many drummers in the band, a common enough occurrence, and he should play another instrument. Colaiuta cooled his heels tooting the flute for a year, and then he slid into a departing senior's spot. How many careers, we wonder, have been killed in junior high? Colaiuta escaped unmarred, fortunately for the music world.

Colaiuta went off to Berklee and later played in some local groups before he and The Christopher Morris Band jumped coasts to LA. That led to some opportunities not available in the coal fields, and he scored big after impressing Frank Zappa during an audition.

He went on to become Zappa's main man on the kit, recording 19 albums with him. Colaiuta's work on "Joe's Garage" was named one of the Top Twenty-Five drumming performances of all time in a 1993 Modern Drummer article.

After leaving Zappa's nest, Colaiuta sat in with a who's who of artists: Gino Vannelli ("Stay With Me" has some particularly tasty licks), Joni Mitchell (he did six LP's with her), Celine Dion, Ricky Martin, LeAnn Rhimes, Barbra Streisand, Andrea Bocelli, Wang Chung, Chaka Khan, Megadeth, Faith Hill, The Beach Boys, Leonard Cohen, Jeff Beck, and jazzmen Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, and the Buddy Rich Big Band.

He fit in a seven year gig with Sting ("Seven Days" was his highlight performance), recording five albums with the band until leaving because he couldn't face another world tour. Not that staying home was much more restful; Wikipedia lists a "selected" discography of his recordings, and the roster is well over 125 albums long.

Colaiuta does more than keep the beat. He's a virtuoso at the craft, having earned 18 Drummer of the Year awards from Modern Drummer magazine and being selected into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 1996. The magazine considers him the most important drummer of our times.

His improvisions are legendary - we're not talking Iron Butterfly solos here - as is his work ethic and focus. How focused? A often repeated story goes like this:

Dom Famularo, a well known drum instructor and Colaiuta's bud, visited Colaiuta one day. Colaiuta opened his door while practicing on a drum pad, and after a few minutes of exchanging pleasantries on the stoop, said: "I'm such a bad host, I haven't offered you anything! Do you want a pad?"

If practice makes perfect, Vinnie Colaiuta is the ideal.

Vinnie Colaiuta with Herbie Hancock performing "Actual Proof"

Friday, March 18, 2011

Reb Beach

Reb Beach

Axeman Richard Earl "Reb" Beach is a native son of Pittsburgh; he was raised in Oakmont and went to Fox Chapel HS.

His career began when his mom got him an acoustic guitar. It wasn't love at first sight; it sat under his bed for a few weeks. Then he saw a KISS concert and decided that the life of a rock 'n' roller was for him. Beach reached under the bed and began strumming his eventual ticket to fame.

He was a natural. Beach taught himself to play the guitar and piano without any formal training, jamming along at home to Aerosmith, Sammy Hagar and Ronnie Montrose. But it was Steve Morse, then with the rock/jazz group The Dixie Dregs, who influenced him the most, showing him a world apart from the blues riffs of the mainstream bands.

Beach went off to Boston and spent a couple of semesters at the prestigious Berkelee School of Music, but formal musical training didn't compute with his self-taught lessons. Instead, he put together his own music on a four-track recorder, a Morse-like mix of jazz and rock he called the "Fusion Demo." The tape featured Beach's fast-paced shredding style and powerful hooks.

After winning an annual Beantown "Best Guitarist" contest with a track off his Fusion tapes, Beach headed to the Big Apple, and he took off with a bullet. Within a year, after starting out as as a singing waiter in the Bowery, he became one of the hottest session players in rock, playing mostly for Atlantic acts.

He backed Fiona ("Beyond the Pale" 1986), Howard Jones ("One on One" 1986), Chaka Kahn ("Destiny" 1986), The Bee Gees ("E.S.P." 1987) and Twisted Sister ("Love is for Suckers" 1987), and sat in with Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and Roger Daltrey.

The industry mag Guitar for the Practicing Musician voted him "Best New Guitarist," and Guitar World Magazine selected him as the "Best New Talent."

While in New York, Beach hooked up with his future band mate, Alice Cooper bassist Kip Winger. In 1987, they formed the band Sahara; it quickly morphed into Winger (on Cooper's recommendation; it seems the name Sahara was already taken) and the rest is rock history.

Beach recorded and toured in support of three Winger albums, "Winger" (1988), "In the Heart of the Young" (1990) and "Pull" (1993). The band had six top-forty singles, including "Seventeen," "Madalaine," "Headed for a Heartbreak" and "Miles Away," epitomizing the era's big-hair rock scene.

The band's moment in the sun began to fade. Some blame it on a "Bevis and Butthead" episode that featured a Winger t-shirt on the wimpy Stewart, though the era of the spandex-and-hair bands was also concluding. So Beach returned to Pittsburgh, performing on other artists' records and starting work on his solo venture, The Reb Beach Project, in 1993.

But a call from Alice Cooper put TRBP on hold. Beach joined Cooper on tour for three years, and played on 1997's album "A Fistful of Alice."

After that gig, Beach replaced George Lynch of Dokken in late 1997, played in the band's 1999 release "Erase the Slate," and recorded a DVD, "Live From The Sun." He proved that he could master metal, too, and got to do some memorable solo jams with the group.

Winger had their reunion party in 2002. They headlined an American tour, released "The Very Best of Winger", and then went their separate ways. Beach recorded a solo album, "Masquerade," that same year.

Beach wasn't without a band for long, though. Since 2003, he's toured the world with Whitesnake. The group's 2005 sellout show at London's Hammersmith Apollo was filmed for a DVD and CD release.

A project called The Mob, with King's X frontman Doug Pinnick and Night Ranger drummer Kelly Keagy, resulted in a self-titled album that was released in 2005.

A new Winger released their first studio recording in over a decade, "IV," in 2006. In 2007, Beach toured with Winger and Whitesnake. Later that year, he replaced Jeff Watson in Night Ranger for a series of dates in Japan and the US.

He currently splits his time between Winger and Whitesnake, recording "Karma" in 2009 with the former band, and "Forevermore" with the latter in 2010 and continues to tour with both acts. Rob told Scott Mervis of the Post Gazette that it's easy enough to tell the difference between the bands. "In Whitesnake, we stay at the Ritz Carlton. In Winger, we're at the Motel 6. In Winger, we drive with a trailer behind the van. In Whitesnake, we fly in a Lear jet."

Beach, who still has an Oakmont home, is working on the follow up to his "Masquerade" solo album, as well as writing with Doug Pinnick of Kings X for an album of 80's metal..

Over the years, he's sat in with local artists during his home stands. Beach backed tracks on "Bottom of the Bottle Blues" w/Angel Blue and the Prophets in 2006, John Vento's 2004 "Nied's Hotel" and Mike Stout's "Working Infinity ... Love from the Bottom" in 2001.

He's also done work on the industry side of music, too. Beach designed a line of guitars for Ibanez (RBM - Reb Beach Model) in early nineties and toured for the company, giving guitar clinics. He also produced the instructional video "Cutting Loose." Now he pushes Suhr axes.

Beach also gigged with Sega, recording the soundtracks of Daytona USA 2.

Reb Beach "Cuts It Loose" vid

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Bret Michaels

Bret Michaels photo by Carrie Reiser.

OK, time to get back to some current rockers. Old Mon was curled up with the Sunday paper when he noticed that Bret Michaels of Poison fame was coming to Stage AE in July with Motley Crue. Talk about a dude with some history...

Michaels was born Bret Michael Sychak (his folks considered Maverick for his middle name - Bret Maverick, like the TV show - but cooler heads prevailed) to parents Wally and Marjorie in Butler. You may have read about his health issues; well, they started early. At the age of six, he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and has to take up to four shots of insulin every day.

It didn't slow him down much. He began playing the guitar as a teenager, and in 1983 formed the Harrisburg-based bar band Paris after his family had moved east to Mechanicsburg.

Michaels wasn't just the frontman, but the main songwriter for the group. After a year on the beer circuit, they pulled up roots and headed to LA to seek their fame and fortune. Oh, they changed names, too. Paris became Poison.

Word of mouth pub led to a deal with the indie Enigma Records (they were signed for $30,000), and they made the album "Look What the Cat Dragged In." It sat around until the band filmed a vid of their song, "Talk Dirty to Me." (It lives on today as part of the video game "Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock.") Propelled by the clip, the album went platinum, and the glam band was on its way.

In March, 1987, Michaels collapsed onstage due to a diabetic episode. Fans thought he was OD'ing, so he announced publicly that he was a diabetic. More personal turmoil led to his signature song "Every Rose Has Its Thorn."

It was a break-up song for his relationship with his girl and muse Tracy Lewis, and became the heartbreak anthem of the eighties.

The group kept on pumpin' out hit LPs - the multi-platinum selling albums "Open Up and Say... Ahh!" followed by "Flesh & Blood," which spawned a world tour. Michaels and guitarist C.C. DeVille began to drift apart during that tour, capped by a backstage fistfight between the pair at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards, and DeVille left the band.

Poison carried on with Richie Kotzen and recorded "Native Tongue," and then with guitarist Blues Saraceno cut the album "Crack a Smile... and More!."

Michaels came close to joining the big band in the sky when he crashed his Ferrari into a telephone pole, resulting in broken ribs, nose, jaw, fingers and some lost teeth.

Poison had pretty much run into its own brick wall by then, though in 1999, Michaels reunited with old pard C.C. Deville and played a sold-out greatest hits reunion tour. In the next decade, he would split his time between Poison and a solo career as a singer, TV/movie star, and all-around celeb.

He recorded his first solo album in 1998, "A Letter from Death Row," the soundtrack to the movie he directed, wrote, and starred in, a project he undertook with Charlie "Tiger Blood" Sheen. They also produced "No Code of Conduct," which Michaels also directed and acted in, and he had a cameo in their surfer movie "In God's Hands."

And in a Sheen-like episode, he and Pamela Anderson starred on an unauthorized internet sex tape in 1998 that went viral and was released as a DVD a few years later. Ah, impetuous youth... At any rate, we won't go into where his libido has allegedly led him; suffice to say that he was selected as one of Maxim’s "Top 100 Hottest People."

In 2003, he released his first studio album, "Songs of Life."

Michaels began his celeb career in 2000, when he appeared in the CBS sitcom "Yes, Dear." He appeared in three episodes of "The Chris Isaak Show" from 2001 to 2004. In 2005, Michaels was a judge for the reality TV competition "Nashville Star." He also released a country rock album called "Freedom of Sound."

2007 saw him take a trip across the world when Michaels and his band visited the troops at Al Asad Air Base as part of a tour of US bases in Iraq sponsored by Armed Forces Entertainment.

In 2008, he issued "Rock My World," an album that featured music from his "Rock of Love" reality dating show that started in 2007 on VH1 and lasted three seasons. TV is the equal of touring for publicity purposes; the disk charted at #40 on Billboard. He was also on "Don't Forget the Lyrics!" and won $250,000 for St. Jude's Children's Hospital and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

He continued to release music. Michaels created a half-hour acoustic DVD for Time Life in 2008 titled "Hard & Heavy Confidential," which led to a full-length CD called "Bret Michaels Acoustic Sessions."

Last year, he was on "America's Got Talent." Michaels was the victor on NBC's Donald Trump snarkfest "Celebrity Apprentice 3," winning the reality competition and earning $640,000 for the American Diabetes Association. He hosted the Miss Universe 2010 pageant along with Natalie Morales.

In July, he released his new album "Custom Built." It's his highest rated solo effort, peaking at #14 on the Billboard charts. This May, Michaels will release a solo rock album "Get Your Rock On" and tour both with Poison and as a single act. The budding author is also adding chapters to his work-in-progress autobiography, "Roses & Thorns."

And he's back on the celebrity bandwagon; in October, his VH1 follow-up to "Rock of Love" premiered. It's a series based on his life and family dealings called "Bret Michaels: Life As I Know It." Pretty intimate stuff, too - Michaels proposed on air to Kristi Gibson, the mother of his two girls Raine and Jorja and his companion of 16 years, during the season's finale.

As busy as the year was, it was almost his last. On April 12, 2010, Michaels was rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. Ten days later, he was again in the hospital, this time suffering from a massive brain hemorrhage. He was released from sick bay in May; it had been touch-and-go for awhile.

But hey, he wasn't done. A couple of weeks later, he suffered a mini-stroke, was readmitted to the hospital, and also found to have a hole in his heart. The docs patched that up, and Michaels dedicated himself to recovery and a return to the stage. And in what can only be described as a relentlessly focused, bulldog approach to rehab, he's 100% now, fully recovered from the physical slings and arrows flung at him in 2010.

So he can get back to the important things - touring, mugging on the tube, winking at the babes, and watching the Steelers. Hey, the guy is from Butler!

Michaels is a huge fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and even has a guitar with the Steelers' logo. He's performed the national anthem at Three Rivers Stadium. Michael's favorite player, not too surprisingly, is Jack Lambert, and Michaels includes himself among the fan club roster of "Lambert's Lunatics."

He's cut several Top Fifty albums, sold 30 million LPs and had 15 Top Forty singles. Michaels has music and TV credits longer than the Steeler season-ticket waiting list. His personal life is about as spicy as a kid from Butler's can be. What does Michaels think about it all? As he told the Post-Gazette's Scott Mervis "I’m thankful to be here and to still be rockin’ and I feel pretty damn good." 'Nuff said.

"Nothin' But A Good Time" - Poison (1988)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Porky Greet and Meet on Tap

Porky Chedwick will appear at the "All Oldies, Only Oldies" dance March 19th at the long-time hops floor, the Stockdale Fire Hall (it first hosted dances way back in 1957). The Daddio will be available for photos and autographs starting at 8 PM.

The dance itself is slated to run from eight-to-midnight and is a BYO affair. Jim "J.D. The D.J." Dudas will spin the disks. Admission is $10 per person and reservations can be made only by calling 724-330-5002.

BurghSTOCK hits 100

On Saturday, March 12, at the Thunderbird Cafe, ekoostik hookah will take the stage for the seventh time under the BurghSTOCK banner as part of its ongoing effort to financially support local non-profits that help previously homeless veterans reclaim their lives.

It will be the 100th BurghSTOCK show. The organization primarily helps fund the Shepherd's Heart Veterans Home which takes care of the men and women that took care of us.

The program is ready to take another step in its growth; BurghSTOCK promises a major national expansion of its work in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, go listen to jam band ekoostoc hookah, who have been one of BurghSTOCK's biggest supporters. Nothing like a little music with a mission.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Chuck Brinkman

Chuck Brinkman - 1971 from Jeff Roteman's KQV Pages

Hey, who grew up in the sixties without at some time or another flipping the car box to KQV's Fun Lovin' Five of Hal Murray, Steve Rizen, Dave Scott, Dexter Allen and Chuck Brinkman? Broadcasting from the corner of "Walk and Don't Walk" - their studios were in a first floor window of the Chamber of Commerce Building in town - everybody could walk by, mug, and give a wave to their favorite Groovy QV radio jock.

The undisputed king of the gang was Chuck Brinkman.

Brinkman was born a local boy in July of 1935; his family lived on McFarland Road in Dormont, between West Liberty Avenue and Banksville Road. They packed up and went to Cleveland when he was five, but he came back to attend Kiski Prep School.

After graduating, he went to Ohio University in Athens, near Columbus. Brinkman's first radio gig started while he was a student there when he worked for WAND in Canton. He dropped out of school after two and a half years to become a staff announcer on a Warren station, and weeks later he moved on to Dover.

Then his first big break came in 1956 in New Haven, Connecticut, when he joined WELI as their afternoon disc jockey. But his nomadic career continued; Brinkman switched to a station in Mt. Clemens, Michigan, hoping to attract the attention of the Detroit audience.

Well, that plan didn't work; the station was 40 miles outside Motown and couldn't dent the Motor City market. He then worked as a newsman and announcer for station WJW in downtown Cleveland before signing up to serve in the National Guard in 1958. Brinkman spent his six months of active duty at Fort Knox. After his tour, he joined WCUE in Akron for a year and then returned to WELI for a few months.

Then he hit paydirt; Brinkman came aboard KQV in 1960. He worked the graveyard shift for six months, and then filled the 1 to 3 PM and 7 to 9 PM off-prime shifts. But his KQV career ran into a nine month bump. The Russians were getting grumpy in Berlin, and he was recalled to active duty.

Brinkman was stationed at Fort Stewart, Georgia. He kept his skills sharp by moonlighting at a Savannah TV station during his off-duty hours, bringing home the staggering sum of a dollar per hour (hey, after all, it was 1961; it took Old Mon's crew until 1967 to earn that much pumping gas!)

He was released from active duty just in time to take over KQV's evening slot in August of 1962 from Larry Aiken, who left the station. Brinkman worked the 7 PM to midnight show for the next five years. He turned his TV gig into an asset in 1966, hosting the "Come Alive" dance show on WIIC-TV for a year-and-a-half.

The DJ gave up his TV duties when he moved to the 3 to 6 PM Monday through Saturday drive-time slot, and also took on the role as music director. He played the hops circuit, too, as did all the spinners of that era.

Brinkman's biggest claim to fame was outdueling Clark Race during Pittsburgh's 1964 Beatlemania phase. In March of 1964, he flew to England for interviews with a dozen top British groups. He flew to the Bahamas with the Beatles once, and introduced them at their Civic Arena concert after bumping Race and flying in from NYC with the Fab Four. KQV had a promotional tie-in with local promoters DiCesare-Engler; the Beatles were just one of many acts Brinkman brought on stage.

He also met his wife, Carmella, thanks to his ability to spin vinyl. She was the chairlady of the Student Nurses Association of Western Pennsylvania, and sat down with Brinkman in 1966 to set up a dance the group wanted him to jock. Guess you could say they made sweet music together.

Aside from his smooth on-air persona, Brinkman introduced several of The Vogues hits as well as breaking Billy Stewart's "Sitting In The Park", Mungo Jerry's "In the Summertime" and Crazy Elephant's "Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'." And while TL and Porky are often associated with Scott English's "High On A Hill," Brinkman was a big factor in its' rise to Pittsburgh cult status.

Of all the KQV Fun Lovers, Brinkman was there the longest (twelve years), and worked in every time slot at the station: over-nights, evenings, mid-day, and of course afternoon and morning drive time.

In 1972, the MOR jock jumped ship from KQV to WTAE for a midday slot. A decade later, Brinkman took a job with KOGO in San Diego. After a short time on the Left Coast, he returned to Pittsburgh to do a morning show and become the program director at WHYW (now WRRK), then a soft-rock station.

Following that job, Brinkman spent the next seventeen years as the program director and afternoon drive jock at oldies station KLUV-FM in Dallas. He left KLUV in 2005, and spent some time at 770 KAAM.

Brinkman, in his mid-seventies, is now part owner of Greenville, Texas, oldies station 1400 KGVL, The Big 14 GVL, and is still spinning his disks.

He hasn't completely dropped of the local airwaves, though. In 2009, his show "Chuck Brinkman Remembers 1963" was broadcast on Carnegie-Mellon University-based station WRCT, and last year they played "Chuck Brinkman Remembers 1964." We're hoping they pick up 1965.

High on a Hill - Scott English 1964