Featured SlideMeister Member - December 2014
SlideMeister Members, P.M. aj fedor to submit your choice for featured member
I suppose it all started for me in the early '40s. There I was lying in my crib, I couldn't have been more than one or two. We lived about 132 feet from the railroad tracks in an old dilapidated wooden house.
Every night the trains would load up at the coke ovens up river and when they reached the edge of our little mill town next to Pittsburgh, they would blow their whistles to let the open hearth furnaces know that they were close. The sound of those whistles echoing off the valley escarpments were some of the saddest sounds I ever heard. Like the crying of kittens and puppies. And they stay with me to this day.
So the late '40s found our family in Vienna, Austria where my father had been posted as labor attache. Probably a front? My Polish mother would listen to music from Poland, my Italian father, music from Italy. Me? I liked the stuff coming out of Hungary. Didn't realize till later that a lot of it was in minor keys. A few years later in the early 50's, we were posted to Trieste, Italy. I still liked the gypsy and Hungarian/Romanian stuff. Now one of the duties of our family was to go along when father took visiting dignitaries to the opera or concerts. I grew to love concerts, but hated opera.
One weekend Father took Mother and I to Genoa to see a new ship being launched. The Andrea Doria. My two older sisters didn't want to go. On the way back we stopped in Venice and while strolling through a back alley, we came upon a tiny music store. Barely 2 meters (6'8") wide, it had a corner window where accordions were crammed in. Every thing from a standard 41 key to a diminutive 12 key. Of course there were also button boxes and concertinas too, but I fell in love with a 27 key beauty. White mother of pearl she was. But alas, I knew I would never get it. That night I couldn't sleep, snuck back to that shop and stood there salivating for over an hour.
Jumping ahead to the mid '50s found us posted to Naples, Italy. One day I was going to the Navy PX to buy a Swiss army knife. My mother had me pick up a box of cigars for my Father's birthday. Now my parents didn't like noise around the house and I came home with a Hohner C 48 chromatic, so I had to play the thing in secret. On our way home to the U.S. from that trip, our ship (the Andrea Doria) was struck by another ship and sunk. My chromatic went down with her. And I may be the only person alive who was at BOTH the launching AND the sinking. In any case, I replaced that harmonica. Next trip overseas, I was playing at a cafe in the park in Naples. Being a foreigner, I wasn't allowed to be paid but I received tips.
Wanting to graduate with my old friends at my old home town, I returned to America, living first with an aunt then a grandfather. My friends had put together a doo-wop singing group and I was asked to do the bass voice. So I would sing and occasionally play some harmonica, and by this time I had picked up diatonic.
I was unhappy with the #5 draw reed and so I raised it 1 sharp. This opened up a plethora of songs that previously took me 2 or even 3 diatonics to play. I called it doo-wop tuning. We know it today as 'country tuning'. I may not have been first with this idea, but I haven't found any reference to it earlier than me. I also started to dabble with clarinet at this time. I got to meet Jimmy Beaumont & the Skyliners, Louie Sacco (Lou Cristie), and others making the VFW, fire hall, Legion, K of C dance circuits.
End of high school, my parents still wouldn't let me drive. Frustrated I left home and drifted around the South, worked in a ship repair yard till I joined the Navy. After a few years I returned home, worked in a shipyard, then construction, then joined the State Police. While stationed in the mountains of PA. I played with country western and party bands at Ski lodges, summer camps, dances, etc. Same as I had done in High School.
Marriage and children came next. The big change came in 1975 when our daughter was born with a rare, internal but serious birth defect. This led to the parent's mentoring group at Pittsburgh Children's Hospital and meeting Fred Rogers, Johnny Costa, Joe Negri, and the Public Broadcasting bunch. I eventually joined the jazz society and got to play with a lot of visiting and local musicians. And started dabbling in trumpet. Appeared on Mr. Roger's neighborhood.
Got involved in a contest where I placed 3rd (out of 38). The first prize was cash, a recording contract, and a tour schedule. Was told by the one woman judge that the reason I didn't win was because when I sang a tune that was originally done by a specific artist, I sounded TOO much like that artist. But should have a shot as a touring singleton tribute act. But otherwise unmarketable as a recording artist because I didn't use my own voice. Well I couldn't tour anyway, I was a Trooper for God's sakes! So I donated my 3rd prize money anyway. And felt good that I had gotten that far. Soon afterwards I was sent a ticket and 2 nights at the old Savoy Hotel in Nashville. Wound up doing a Christmas show there -Guest of Ernest Tubb.
Met, became friends with and hung out with Jerry Murad from '88 on after he broke down on the Pennsylvania Turnpike - not that I wish to name-drop. I've known and played with too many to mention famous people over the years.' :)
Joined Spah in 1991 and started playing harmonica more regularly. Since moving to Florida in 1997, I had been relatively active from 1997-2007.
I play primarily at Supper Clubs in the Ft. Myers/Sanibel Island area. My band mates are mostly retired music teachers, studio musicians, or people from the industry. We do dance, Latin, jazzified pop, American song book, etc.
Since 2007, I have slowed down quite a bit. Looking back, my life has been mostly quiet with bursts of sheer terror, lol. I have played T.V. Radio, commercials, been on others' records, made a commercially done tape of my own, done telethons, River Boat, some cruise ships. Only thing I'm missing is a movie gig, lol. I have also been shot at several times, been in a helicopter crash, a prison riot, and been pushed 100 ft. off of a bridge.
So my theme song is: 'Is that all there is?' Dunno...not dead yet.