Saturday, January 30, 2010

Long Live The King

diamond reo
Frankie Czuri, Warren King, Norm Nardini & Rob Franks
from Emmett Frisbee

Warren King, the king of Pittsburgh rock axeman, died yesterday from cancer at the age of 57. He was a member of bands Diamond Reo ("Ain't That Peculiar"), The Silencers, and the Mystic Knights of the Sea, and played on five national album releases.

A native of Monroeville, he joined Diamond Reo, along with local legends Norm Nardini, Robbie Johns, Bubs McKeag and Frankie Czuri, forming perhaps Pittsburgh's first and ultimate super group.

He played on the power-pop band's 1975 debut "Diamond Reo" for Big Tree/Atlantic Records, along with "Dirty Diamonds" on the Kama Sutra label, and "Ruff Cuts" on the Piccadilly label, while the group opened for acts like Aerosmith, Canned Heat, Ted Nugent, and Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention.

Nardini split and started the Tigers, so in 1979 King and Czuri formed the New Wave band The Silencers, with Ronnie "Byrd" Foster on drums, Denny Tacos on keys, and Mike Pela on bass.

The Silencers were signed to Precision/CBS for two albums before they even had played a date. Their most frequented stage was at Fat City in Swissvale, where they played often enough to be considered the club's unofficial house band. The Silencers were also regular performers at Oakland's Decade.

Their debut album, "Rock 'n' Roll Enforcers," was released in 1980, and four of its tracks became local radio hits: "The Peter Gunn Theme," "Modern Love," "Head On Collision" and "Shiver and Shake." They followed with the underappreciated LP "Romanic."

The band's vid for the medley "Peter Gunn/Remote Control/Illegal" aired on MTV the day the network debuted on August 1st, 1981. King eventually left the band (New Wave was never really his thing) in 1984, and the Silencers were silenced.

King gigged with the Red Hot & Blue band, and became a founding member of the bluesy Mystic Knights of the Sea with former Iron City Houserocker Gil Snyder, playing the local rock club circuit. The band was put together after an impromptu jam at the Decade.

King eventually left the Mystic Knights and followed the sun to Orlando, Florida, where he worked as an engineer and session man for Kingsnake, a Sanford label known for its blues releases.

For years he went back and forth between the two towns. Three years ago, he returned to Pittsburgh, forming his own band and playing with Wil E. Tri & the Bluescasters even with the diagnosis of liver cancer hanging over his head.

King's last local gig was at Moondog's in Blawnox on January 16th, where he would occasionally play after the move home. He went into the hospital the next day.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. on Saturday, February 6th, at the H.P. Brandt Funeral Home, located at 1032 Perry Highway in West View.

"Peter Gunn/Remote Control/Illegal" video by the Silencers

Friday, January 22, 2010

Chuck Corby

Chuck Corby - Image from Holiday Productions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 15, 2010


The Memories

The beginnings of the Memories date back to 1971 when vocalists Wayne Zollinger, Bill "Sweet Willam" Shaffer, Rich "Bingo" Renaldi and Wayne "Big Al" Rossi got together to form an acapella doo-wop group. They played the local bar circuit for a couple of years before deciding that they needed a band if they wanted to break out.

Zollinger and Renaldi left on friendly terms, and were followed by Marcel Ron "Bingo" Mundy (and how often does one "Bingo" replace another, outside of a church hall?) and Rick LaCoca in 1973, now with a four-piece band to back them.

LaCoca and Mundy lasted a year, and the Memories were joined by Jules Hopson and "Little Richard" Galioto. The group decided to add a fifth member to the vocal cast, adding Charles "Charlie" Brown to the lineup. But they were still running in the hamster wheel of the bar circuit, and decided to take the act a notch higher.

In 1974, they developed a floor show, based on the Temptations performance, and scored a two-year gig as the house band at Market Square's Quo Vadis, playing every Saturday night. The Memories got to polish their act, and picked up a steady following of fans.

While there, they added saxman "Southside Jerry" Mellix to the band. Charlie Brown passed away, and Rossi took a day job, limiting his appearances. When he was out, Fred Johnson of the Marcels would fill in.

The group left QV, and became the house band at Bogie's Lounge on the Route 51 strip, a musical hot spot for the town during the seventies. By the early eighties, they had left the bar scene behind and joined the club circuit, playing venues like The Royal Too, The Harmar House, The Holiday House, Cahoots Lounge in the Greentree Marriott, and the VIP Lounges.

They opened for a number of soul and Motown acts playing the area like the Temptations (who were duly impressed by the Memories' high steppin' - they thought the show was "tight"), The Coasters, The Jive Five, Lee Dorsey, The Drifters, Manhattans, Little Anthony and the Imperials, and the O'Jays.

But hey, you just knew there would be more roster changes, right? Right. Rossi and Shaffer departed, while Richie Merritt and Joe "Sonny" Maggio signed on. They moved the band away from its doo-wop roots and towards more Vegas-type material. Then Galioto got sick and was replaced by Chuck Timbers.

The band kept that configuration for a few years before losing Chambers to the stage (he played in the "The Jacksons: An American Story," and still appears in local productions). Dick Muse took his place for a few months, but formed his own band, the DeVilles, and later returned to the Laurels. Ed Cassidy stepped in, and in his turn, left the band in 1995, as Keith Dix took his spot.

Still, with all the changes, the band landed its dream gig at the Resorts International Casino in Atlantic City. Could the Vegas Strip be far behind? Just when it appeared that the Memories were ready to play the national show circuit, a series of personnel raids cut short those ever-so-close plans.

That year, Richie Merritt joined Johnny Mason's Clovers. The group had former members fill in to complete their 1997 schedule, but in 1998 Walt Maddox's Marcels signed the band's leader, Jules Hopson. Chuck Blasco's Vogues swooped in and added Keith Dix and guitarist/music director Dave Wingo.

The Memories tried to regroup in 1999, but even for a band used to turnover, it was too much. The Memories became a memory, except for a pair of reunion shows.

How could a group with so much talent and that played all the hot spots in the region for three decades get lost in the Pittsburgh mist by local fans? Simple - they were in the main a revue-style cover band and never had a breakout record. But it wasn't from lack of trying.

The Memories did an album worth of recordings in the mid 70’s for WIXZ's Terry Lee, but the DJ never released the cuts, which included the Dominoes "Sixty Minute Man" and Gladys Knight & the Pips "I Heard It Through The Grapevine."

The Memories did record again, this time forming their own MEMCO Label. They released their first wax, the Manhattan's "Can I" b/w the Clover's “Lovey Dovey” in 1976, followed in 1978 by the Chord's "Sh-Boom" b/w the Chime's "Once In Awhile," and the Video's "Trickle Trickle." They later recorded and released a 4-song mini LP on cassette, a hot medium in 1981, featuring the Spaniel's "Peace of Mind."

The songs were all hits for other people, and all well-performed by the Memories. But the stars never lined up quite right for any of the disks to take off.

Here's a roster of the known (to Old Mon) band members:

-- Charles "Charlie" Brown (vocalist, Fidels, deceased)
-- Ed Cassidy (vocalist, The Retro Band)
-- Keith Dix (vocalist, Vogues)
-- Rich "Little Richard" Galioto (vocalist, The Magic Moments)
-- Jules Hopson (vocalist, Fidels, Laurels, Marcels)
-- Fred Johnson (vocalist, Marcels)
-- Rick Lacoca (vocalist, retired)
-- Joe "Sonny" Maggio (vocalist, retired)
-- "South Side Jerry" Mellix (sax, Laurels, Elmonics, New Holidays, Four Townsmen)
-- Richie Merritt (vocalist, Electrons, Vibrators, Clovers, Marcels)
-- Ron "Bingo" Mundy (vocalist, Marcels, retired)
-- Dick Muse (vocalist, Condors, Laurels, DeVilles, Skyliners)
-- Rich "Bingo" Renaldi (vocalist, retired)
-- Wayne "Big Al" Rossi (vocalist, retired)
-- Bill "Sweet William" Shaffer (vocalist, retired)
-- Chuck Timbers (vocalist, now an actor)
-- Dave Wingo (guitar, Vogues)
-- Wayne Zollinger (vocalist, Leon Daniels & the El Venos)

"Can I?" by The Memories (1976)

The Memories Show

(Many thanks to Southside Jerry Mellix, who proved to be quite a band historian and contributed a ton of time in helping Old Mon get the story right. Oh, and put together the Memories vid above. Grazie!)

Friday, January 8, 2010

John Papi

john papi
John Papi from International Archives for the Jazz Organ

Hey, if you were a South Hills brat like Old Mon and his buds and boogied at the clubs on 51 in the late sixties to mid-seventies, the Panther Room, Garage, and Haunted House were the places to be. And they all had one thing in common; they were run by organ meister John Papi.

Papi, now 70, wasn't originally from the far side of the Tubes; he was raised in Uptown. When he was a boy, the hot sounds of jazz regularly pulsed through the lower Hill District streets of his youth.

He was particularly entranced by Birdie Dunlop's Hurricane Bar and Hammond killers Jimmy McGriff and Wendel Byrd, and he'd sneak in to catch their act. Papi dreamed of becoming a jazz organ maestro, falling hard for the sounds coming from the keyboard of choice in that era, the Hammond B-3.

While the rich and famous might drop a few shekels in the Hill clubs, the locals weren't exactly rolling in green. His family couldn't afford to buy him an organ, so in grand Pittsburgh tradition, he started saving his money from his paper route and put it aside for his own B-3. But it takes a lot of extra editions to raise that kind of cash.

When Papi was 17, he joined the Navy and saw the world during his four year tour. Home at 21, he became a welder at John Harrison Sheet Metal in Glenshaw and started gigging on weekends.

He bought an accordion, taught himself how to play, and put together a wedding band, The Montclairs. But his dreams soared beyond polkas; he still wanted to become the jazz organist that he envisioned himself being as a kid.

So Papi bought a second-hand cordovox (an organ inside of an accordion), took it apart, and packed the pipes into a console. Looked like an organ, sounded like an organ...hey, it was an organ! Gigs and a day job pay a little better than bouncing papers off of people's stoops, and he soon had enough to buy his first Hammond B-3.

He formed his own band, the John Papi Organ Trio, with guitarist Jack Petit, and got to play on his dream stage, The Hurricane. Papi hooked up with an agent, Johnny Adams, who booked the act at The Golden Nugget by the Liberty Tubes and other local night spots. They even recorded a Petit tune “Tribute to Wes Montgomery,” that got a bit of radio love from Porky, charting at #38 on WAMO in 1968.

After tinkering some with the band personnel, Papi's group morphed into Fairchange, featuring soul frontman Chuck Corby and saxman Johnnie Vann, and took off (Papi and Corby were both managed by Johnny Adams, local rep, promoter, producer and club owner.)

Fairchange played across the states on the Holiday Inn circuit. Papi returned home in 1968, and put down some roots when he bought the Panther Room club on Route 51, where his band had a home to rock.

The nightclub was intimate (or small; use your own adjective), and he needed more space to pack in his fans. Papi moved down the road two years later, to Overbrook, and opened the Cocktail Garage.

In its former life, the Garage was a used car lot. Going with the old vibes, Papi hoisted a car body on the building’s roof. The city was not amused, and made him take it down. But a VW Beetle hanging off the inside wall was cool by the City Code, and it made for a pretty remarkable - and memorable - motif.

When the car schmooze got stale, Papi remodeled the building into a horror themed spot he called the Haunted House. He sold the venue in 1973, and went back to club gigs and the hotel circuit.

Papi’s Haunted House band also opened shows at the Stanley Theatre, prepping the audience for acts like Chubby Checker, Joey Dee & the Starlighters, and Gary "U.S." Bonds. The emcee was often Jeff Christie, who you may know better today as Rush Limbaugh.

In fact, the Stanley is where Papi put on one of his most dramatic acts. Called to the front of the stage during his intro, he was blinded by a spotlight and stepped straight down into the band pit. It was a pretty nasty nosh dive, but he just got up, dusted himself off, and the show went on without skipping a beat.

In 1975, he opened Papi's Deli and Restaurant at Pennsbury Village, and led the day job life for four years. He sold the shop in 1979, and went back out on the road with Fairchange. Papi's group became the house band at Joeys Restaurant in McKeesport and Johnny Monzo's in Monroeville. He also tossed in with Corby as part-owner of the Vegas Show Bar in Carrick for a spell.

He married and re-opened the Panther Room in 1981. Papi unloaded it again in 1984, and went back to the club circuit.

1990 is the year when he dropped out of the City's jazz scene. Papi was involved in a serious car crash, and his arm and hand lost feeling. His days as a musician appeared over.

Papi, a fundamentalist Christian, rolled with the punches. In fact, he's part of the musical ministry at South Park Baptist Church in Bethel Park. He took to the sunny side of the street. “It was hard to survive” just doing music, Papi said, “not to mention carrying a 500 pound organ up and down steps six nights a week.”

He went to work for a contracting company that taught him plan drawing and design. Papi eventually formed his own construction firm in 1993, Pap-Pone Builders. And it's been every bit as successful as his musical career.

Pap-Pone Builders designed and built over 150 homes in the region's exburbs. His house in Peters Township, which he designed and shares with his wife of 28 years, Charm, served as a model home. Papi did well enough with his home-building career that he's finally retired from the bricks and mortar business.

He still has his first Hammond B-3 front and center in his music room. And Papi can play again; his bum wing has recovered 100%.

John Papi is the guy that Porky Chedwick called “the man with the thousand fingers” for his playing style (he would hang a mirror above the organ, just so the fans could see his hands fly over the keyboard.) He played with Joe Negri on AM Pittsburgh. Papi's stage act and comic patter were crowd-pleasers; Holiday Inn even put him on the cover of one of its national promotional brochures.

His band's recordings include “For Once in My Life”, “JP's Blues”, “Dude”, “Let Me Be Good To You”, “One More Time”, "Love Is A Hurting Thing," "Boogie Woogie Big Daddy," "Your Mine and Pledging of Love," and “Ebb Tide.” “One More Time” and “Dude” are still selling like hotcakes in England, where they're considered classic “head banging music.”

And guess what? He's not quite done yet.

One of the hotels in Las Vegas called, and they want him to gig. John Papi accepted; he'll be movin' on as soon as he sells his crib. Papi's going to spend his golden years coaxing some blasts from the B-3 and living with Charm in the City of Lights.

Sounds like a sweet start to Part II of a career, swapping Pittsburgh's Route 51 for the Las Vegas Strip. And we'll bet their code allows for roof ornaments, just in case he finds a little club...

You're Mine & Pledge Of Love: John Papi, Chuck Corby & Duke LaManna.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Dwayne Dolphin

Dwayne Dolphin

Dwayne Dolphin, 49, grew up in the Oakland/Hill District neighborhood of Schenley Heights, and graduated from Schenley in 1981.

DD started off banging the drums as a kid. When he was ten, his big bro gifted him with a $10 bass guitar; it ended up being one heck of a smart investment.

By the time he entered Schenley, he had caught the eye of Pitt's Dr. Nathan Davis, who took him out of school for a week to go to Guadeloupe as a member of Davis' Tomorrow Band. The pianist was Geri Allen, who was doing her graduate work at Pitt.

He was also taken under the wing of Spartan band teacher Ken Cook, who introduced him to the music of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley. Dolphin spent his high school years playing with local jazz artists like Roger Humphries, Pete Henderson, and Carl Arter. All in all, a pretty good foundation for a teen with music in his blood.

After graduating from Schenley, Dolphin planned to attend Boston's Berklee School of Music. Fate intervened. He got a yell from Wynton Marsalis to come to work in New York - Dolphin claimed to not even know who Marsalis was at the time; the call was set up by a mutual bud - but hey, a gig's a gig. He accepted.

In 1982, at the age of 18, he joined Marsalis' band in the Big Apple, which also featured Branford Marsalis, Kenny Kirkland and North Versailles native, drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts. They toured the country, spreading jazz in their wake. Hey, they even scored a gig on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show.

After a couple of years, Dolphin joined sax master Hank Crawford. He considered Marsalis to be a mentor, but his time with Crawford was his boot camp in the regimen of jazz, where he truly began to learn his craft and explore its blues' roots.

After his time with Crawford, Dolphin went on to work with Hank Jones, Abbey Lincoln, Kenny Burrell, Clark Terry, Stanley Turrentine (he's on "T-Time"), John Hicks, Geri Allen (he toured the US, Europe, and Japan with her), Fred Wesley (Funkadelic trumpet man), Pee Wee Ellis, Maceo Parker, Wallace Roney, Don Byron, Oliver Lake, Nancy Wilson (he plays on her Grammy Award winnner "R.S.V.P"), Melba Moore, and Pharaoh Sander.

Dolphin is a master player; he plucks the upright, acoustic, electric, and piccolo basses. The piccolo bass is his own creation; it merges the sound of a lead guitar with a bass. In fact, his band has a separate bass man. Dolphin uses his piccolo bass as the lead instrument.

He's been based out of Pittsburgh since after his Marsalis days, first moving to North Side and now living in Franklin Park with his wife Robin and family. Dolphin likes the region's jazz scene, and he's leading his own group, the Piccolo Bass Band.

The PBB members are veteran sax man Lou Stellute, pianist Howard Alexander III, bass player Brian Sanders, and drummer Loren Mann II. Dolphin's also been in the studio, and his piccolo bass can be heard on “4 Robin” (2004 - dedicated to his better half) “Ming” (2006 - dedicated to his pooch Mingus) and "Pretty Girl" (2008 - dedicated to his mom).

He's performed with The Pittsburgh Ballet Theater's production of "Indigo In Motion," and can be heard all over the area performing at venues like the Backstage Bar and other jazz venues.

Dolphin plays at schools, festivals, and jazz-community events, too, befitting his day job as Adjunct Professor of Jazz Guitar at the Mary Pappert School of Music at Duquesne University.

Ya know, it's not odd that Pittsburgh loses its great jazz players to bigger cities; despite the town's tradition, the clubs and crowds are dwindling. What's odd is how many come back home to roost. Must be the water, hey?

But Pittsburgh's jazz flame will never flicker as long as guys like Dwayne Dolphin keep the torch lit.

Dwayne Dolphin and the Piccolo Bass Band

Friday, January 1, 2010

Guess Who's Back In Town?

According to TL's blog:

"When I first came to McKeesport in early 1964, the very first dance that I did was at the Palisades. Since I am returning to the Greater Pittsburgh area for the first time in over 22 years, many venues were suggested for my first appearance, but the Palisades has always held sentimental value to me, so that is where I will appear for the first time, on Saturday, February 13 for a special Valentine's Music for Young Lovers Dance, with Rich Antoncic.

In 1966, when I was operating the TL Nite Train, we would take 35mm slides of the audience and the entertainers, and the following week, we would show the slides on the walls. Pack rat that I am, I have saved all the slides, and at the Palisades that night, we are going to recreate the slide shows from the TL Nite Train. I am looking forward to doing this dance, and hope you will join us for a night of music and memories."

Call 412-370-2971 for information.