Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Daily Dose #4 (06/01/11)

Heat Waves

I love the heat.

When I experienced my first New Orleans summer, it was literally breathtaking. You'd walk out of your air conditioned environment, walk out your door, and BAM!

Immediately your sun glasses fog up, and you're temporarily blinded. Clothes become drenched in sweat in what seems to be seconds. The air is so hot and thick with humidity that it feels like some ghostly arm has just shoved itself down your esophagus in an attempt to grab a handful of the interior of your lungs and turn them inside out upon exhaling.

But I'd rather stew in my own juices than freeze my ass off. Sweating has a value beyond any aerobic exercise payoff.

I learned how to really sweat very early in life. As a teenager, I worked a few summers in my father's pasta factory.

Being the owner's son, that pretty much guaranteed me the shittiest job in the factory. To set an example for his workers, there would be no nepotism or favoritism on his watch; I was there to get beat on, and beatings I did receive.

Spaghetti manufacture is a simple process, conceptually. You mix the dough, push it through an industrialized Play Doh Fun Factory, cut the strings, and hang them over a dowel.

The dowel then enters the drier on a chain drive, and moves very slowly through it.. one drying cycle would take 12-24 hours. The drier ran the length of the building on the second floor.

Once the dowel reaches the end of the drier, and the drying process, the "loops" that formed on the dowel are cut off,the 24 inch strands of spaghetti are cut in half, and fly down a chute to the first floor where the pasta is packed in boxes, or cellophane packages: The dowel drops to the bottom of the drier, and follows the chain drive back to to the other end of the building... back toward the press, from whence it originally came.

This is a continuous process... it never stops. So if one of the dowels gets jammed up under the drier, the whole operation stops. It was imperative that the perpetual motion of those dowels was maintained, or the whole pooch would be screwed.

My job? Lay on my backside on a mechanic's dolly, and scuttle on ragged steel toed claws under the driers making sure that those dowels didn't jam, under any circumstances.

So on the second floor in the middle of summer, at 100% humidity, and a pasta drier cooking 12 inches away from my face, I spent 8 hours a day, 6 days a week, basically being a boiled supine crab.

It doesn't end there. Ever been in a pasta factory? There is nothing but semolina dust flying everywhere, but especially under those driers. One hour under one of those suckers and you would come out "en croute". Dirty sour dough bread would form with your sweat and bake on any area of exposed skin, so you had to be fully clothed and just peel the filthy bread off your face, arms, and hands at regular intervals.

Some say "Never let them see you sweat". I don't agree.

Tell that to James Brown. Sweating means you're working. At least to me. The times I have felt best in life was when I was blinded by the salt of sweat dripping into my eyes, and I still had to control 88 keys in the process.

Making music should be messy, just like the best sex. There should be a free exchange of bodily fluids. Its gotta be funky, both literally and figuratively.

Bodies need to slide against each other, and everybody in the room needs to carry the load.

When you're done, there shouldn't be anything else left to give. If you can't wring a pound of water out of your clothes, you missed the point, and an opportunity.

If there is anything left, then you half-assed it and phoned it in.

Daily Dose #3 (05/31/11)


When you set personal goals for yourself, you have to identify just how high the bar has been raised in your chosen field.

This is why we have "heroes", or "influences"... however you want to define role models, or more specifically, the output of your role models.

I love Bobby Darin, but if I'm looking at the level of the bar, I'm looking at Elvis and his career path. I'm forensically digging up every little bit of information I can find, and still do to this day. I want to take that watch apart, and really see what made it tick.

But the point where the narrative of "Elvis" connects and becomes a feedback loop is the music... that's where the journey of study begins, and at the end of the narrative, all that we are truly left with. Learning factoids about Colonel Tom, midnight impromtu flights to Denver to feed the Memphis Mafia burnt peanut butter and bacon sammiches, psychotic acts of generousity, waving guns in front of TV's, and sadly dying on the throne in a bloated mess way too early, is useful information...but it started with getting emotionally gassed as kid listening to my Mom's copy of "50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong", transfixed by that cover of a multiple Greek God Elvii in a gold lame suit, accompanied by the unfathomnable number of fifty million.

My Mom was always a hipster and still is to this day. She started poppin' out babies when she was just shy of the age of 21. I was born in 1960, and I can pretty much tell you that my in utero background music had a much higher probability of being "Hound Dog" than anything by Mozart.

When I was a toddler, maybe three or four, Mom was tooling around with me in her ultra cool white Falcon with red leather interior. I used to sit in her lap and hold the wheel, she'd smoke cigarrettes and listen to the radio full blast as she ran her errands... we all know about tobacco and car seats now, but back in the day, that's how it was done.

We were coming back from the P & C grocery store, and "I Want To Hold Your Hand" careened out of the radio speakers. She pulled over... because it was so good, we had to bop to it, instead of drive. Instead of going home, she pulled a u-turn, drove eight miles in the opposite direction to the Auburn, NY, pulled into Nicholl's parking lot, and walked out of the store with "Meet the Beatles".

I guess I'm entering into Freudian territory here. The music was just the soundtrack to a special shared moment between a mother and her son. I was totally aware of how important, and how special, that moment was. In retrospect, it absolutely shaped me in a core way. Maybe even being a musician...making that choice...is a my subconscious mission to feel that moment again with my first love: my mother. A holy grail moment that I know is real; I was there... but can never be captured again.

But if you make the choice to study popular song, and study the bar at the highest level, especicially in the avenue of lyricism, all roads lead to Uncle Bobby.

Dylan is the gold standard of pretty much everything for me, in terms of creative output and career choices. I'll never reach that myself, but when writing songs yourself, you can't approach the craft with a defeatist attitude. You'll be dead before you leave the gate.

But when you're done with one? You have to ask yourself that dreaded question:

"What would Bob Think Of This?"

The answer, more times than not, sends me back to the drawing board, and sends the work ultimately into the back of the file drawer... maybe to be seen again in another re-formed version, but usually just to hang and rot there, forgotten.

Its just a litmus test to keep me honest about my own work, one of many. When trying to conceptualize an end statement of any future project, I also ask myself "What would Orson Welles think of this idea?", but that's another story.

In the end, you just have to keep plugging, even if failure is pretty much assured. The songs that I release for public consumption pass that personal muster...and probaly the main reason why my personal out put remains as low as it is.

Dylan's recorded output is a testament to a very simple principle: "You are what You Eat".

If you really stopped to think about just what this man has absorbed in terms of knowledge, to be able to do what he does... it takes your breath away.

He sets the bar high, but he also leads by example. And dares you to follow that pathway as an artist, because no one in the history of popular art and culture has done it better, or made that type of commitment so completely. Being Bob Dylan must be utterly exhausting.

On May 24th, Uncle Bobby turned 70. I was invited to celebrate the occasion by performing at a revue style show, and cover a a couple of his tunes. My choice.

How to you pick out 2 songs from a massive catalog of genius?

I went back to my "Meet The Beatles" criteria... It didn't matter if it was a popular, or a defining Dylan song from his catalog. "Positively 4th Street" might be the greatest "Fuck You" song ever, but I'm not in a "Fuck You" kinda place right now. I tried to pick songs that changed me when I first heard them, and match my personal life experience now. If I couldn't connect with them in a fundamentally spiritual way, than performing after three years of hiding would have been a waste of energy for me, and for anybody else involved in the process of performing, including the audience.

And I guess that is why I set that "Dylan" bar. First its got to please me. I have to amaze myself, and get out of my own ego to pull off that mental trick. I have to connect in a way beyond words. I have to resonate and vibrate, or its all just another pile of horseshit to me... and I have very high standards.

So I chose "Watching The River Flow", and "What's a Sweetheart Like You Doing In A Dump Like This?" They matched my personal narrative when I first heard them, and the match the current narrative now.

There is very little video that exists of me performing. I know it seems archaic, but I think music still needs to flower in the theater of the mind. I was never really a big fan of MTV, even in its heyday.

Now with the advent of digital technology, its impossible to control the flow of video... another reason for the current low profile that I seek to maintain.

But a friend of mine, Jack O Bocchino caught me and my beloved friends on digital video at this Billion Dollah 70th Birfusday Bash.

Jack works tirelessly to document the shenanigans of Central New York musicians, and is a pretty under appreciated community resource... so adding that part to the algorithic equation involved in decision making, I agreed to let him post it.

It's not a pefect performance by any means, but it does have its moments. When you hear a grunt and the words "Snap out of it Baby"... that's the sound of someone letting go of what he knows, and instead, nakedly exhibiting what he feels.

But ultimately, it illustrates someone connecting with a childhood hero in a core way. And there is no shame attached to expressing that sentiment, openly.

Happy Birthday, Uncle Bobby.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Daily Dose #2 (05/30/11)


I drove a friend down to New York City yesterday, and drove back home alone today, Memorial Day, 2011.

From Syracuse,NY, its a quick shot to the eastside of Manhattan. 81 south to Binghamton, 17 east through the southern mountain regions of the state including a portion of the Catskills and the Hudson Valley, hop on the Thruway at the Harriman exit, take the Tappan Zee Bridge, take the Major Deegan expressway, pass Yankee Staudium, and finally hop on the FDR expressway south...get off at 71st street, and that's it. Easy, Breezy, Peasy. 257 miles, about 4 and a half hours one way.

This is a glorious drive. Most people's preconcieved notions of New York is that there is New York City, with an inconsequential state attached to it.

I assure you, this is not the case. The sheer mountain's majesty of The Great State of NY is clearly on display during this route. They didn't name it The Empire State for nothing.

But what could not escape my attention, both on the way down and the way back, was the incredulous amount of deer carcasses strewn on the shoulders of the travelled highways... the amount of carnage was astounding.

The bodies had been there for awhile. You could tell from the various stages of decay, either as carrion, bloated, pancaked, or freshly dead: it didn't matter.

Whenever I pass some roadkill, I always say out loud to myself or to other passengers, "Bad day for Mr. Squirrel", or "Bad Day for Mr. Skunk" Whenever I have children in the car, it turns into a game, with shouts erupting from the back seat, gleefully yelling "BAD DAY FOR MR. POSSUM!!!!"

Well this wasn't just a bad day for Mr. Deer... This was a massacre. This was a bad day for an entire species.

Maybe the epic amount of visiually verifiable deer death was due to the increase of holiday driving traffic. Or maybe the normally fastidious road crew reapers that grimly harvest the carcasses on a normal schedule were on vacation. Or maybe the bloody carnage on display was the result of a budget shortfall, and clean up intervals had to be necessarily elongated. Probably a combination of all three components.

But I couldn't help to think about larger issues, and larger questions.

What about experiential learning? Cars and highways have been around for about 90 generations of deer, calculating this upon a yearly reproductive cycle. When is Bambi's mom gonna teach Bambi not only about running out into the meadow, but running out in the middle of the highway? When is Bambi's mom gonna figure it out for herself?

I know. Scientifically, real evolution takes hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years. But I'm not talking about growing a prefrontal cortex through natural selection over millions of years. I'm just talking about a simple directive of Pavlovian conditioning through experience: "Stay Away From The Fast Moving Lights", or "Guardrails and Asphalt...BAD!"

Pattern behavior is a curious thing, especially when that behavior is self destructive.

The casual observer can see it clearly, and yet the self directed victims of their own behavior never seem to be able to grasp the simple concept.... and end up pointing their cloven hooves at the car in blame, rather than taking on the responsibility of making the bad decision of running into the lights, instead of away from them.

In other words, cut the end result off at the pass. Just stop. Stay out of the road.

It may appear that life, or "the buck" stops with the car, but in reality, "the buck" stops with the buck.

We humans are no better. We keep running into the light, under Einstein's definition of insanity: We run into the road,and toward the light, expecting a different result. And then ironically blame the car for our troubles.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Daily Dose #1 (5/29/2011)

There are highs and lows in life. There's Euphoria and Utter Devastation, and the sine wave shaped path between them.

Most folks will tell you that the the key to life is balance, and some kind of middle position.

I find consistency, and the need to achieve it, rather banal. Aiming straight for the middle is the hobgoblin of little minds.I'm not saying I haven't done that... trying to achieve consistency can be an extremely edifying and rewarding experience. But in the end, I always end up boring myself when consistency is a final goal or destination point.

That sine wave path between the two radical positions of the wave is just process. I live for the top and the bottom moments.

Wouldn't it be grand if you could only experience euphoria, without the mess of utter devastation? Sure it would! But unfortunately you can't have one without the other, if only for the aspect of comparative analysis.

Yin/Yang, Sacred/Profane, Good/Evil, Black/White, Day/Night.... its all been philosophicatin' raked over the coals, usually ending up with the conclusion an ancient wisdom that it's the embrace of both polar opposites that give you a true appreciation of both... usually framed as how to appreciate the highs when you find yourself in the depths of the spiritual and emotional lowlands, trudging through the muck of pain.

The old homespun wisdom gets employed when you can't left your feet out of the sludge: "Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining"," When A Door Closes, A Window Opens", "Is the Glass Half Empty, or Half Full?".

But what about flipping it around? "Every Silver Lining Has A Cloud?"or "When you feel a window opening, your door is slamming shut?"

Then everybody just thinks you are a party pooper... and eternal "Eeyore" that can't enjoy the moment because you have one eye on the boom that will, eventually always fall.

Being the eternal optimist comes at a price, one that you might ignore in pursuit of dreams...but it always comes at a price. Ain't nothin for free in this world. The same comes from being an eternal pessimist. Eventually, you will be disproved when exclusively adopting that mindset.

Surrounding yourself with a cushion emotional and intellectual sycophancy might be comfortable, but in the end, all that does is prevent you from reaching a true euphoria. To authentically live without fear brings the Visigoths upon your head just as fast as living in fear of them, as you expose your vulnerabilities and weaknesses for the Visigoths to exploit.

If you are brave enough to seek both those radical points on the curve, you have to be ready for them. Its not a question of "If", but "When".You have to be prepared.

The best you can do is answer the internally motivated "Why?". If you can successfully answer that, then its time to leave it all on the floor, with nothing left in reserve.

Don't worry about the rollercoaster of amplitude... just make sure to tighten up the distance between the amplitude points. That's the best anyone can do.

Just buckle up, lower the safety bar, and try as you might, there will always be situations where you will have to repair the cart while its rolling... so be ready to improvise.

Sunday, May 15, 2011



For the past six years, I’ve been pursuing a personal “project”.

I lived in New Orleans in 2005, with a good job, a good life, and a workable future. After Hurricane Katrina blew through town, everything changed. Everything, and I mean everything, was erased, just like that: “Poof”!

God’s magic act.

So after getting through the lengthy mental process of “WHY?”, and “WHAT THE FUCK AM I GONNA DO NEXT?”, after much teeth gnashing, hair pulling, and hand wringing, I came to a methodology learned in a positive psychology class at O.C.C. (I finally finished my two year degree and a GED at age 46). The most helpful component being this simple little directive:

“Find The Gratitude, and then: Openly Express It”.

Expressing gratitude isn't as hard as you think... I've been practicing that, more than the piano these days, and I'm better off for it.

I’m not going to go into a deep philosophical and spiritual diatribe on why this works for me. In any interpersonal relationship, or attached to any event point on your timeline, gratitude can be found, no matter how catastrophic that relationship or event might have been.

Its a perception, and a perspective trick. Any feeling of fear, anger, jealousy, hate or resentment can be mitigated by deploying this simple act of mental ledgerdemain. Its a daily practice session in letting go of your own ego.

There is positive and negative energy in all matter. When we come in contact with each other, or in contact with the world, or the realization that you are in contact with the entire universe, that energy is traded back and forth freely.

While going through the process of mentally focusing on the positive aspects of contact, you can then begin to harvest value, no matter what situation you find yourself in.

When you get facile at harvesting those subtle gifts, a curious thing starts to happen.

It starts to negate being ruled by the aforementioned human emotional “rabbit holes” that are fueled by negative force. No matter what clusterfuck you might find yourself in the middle of, there is always a gift for me to salvage from the wreckage. Finding that gift helps me to crawl out of the wreckage. You may be wounded, scathed and scarred, but if you don’t walk out enlightened, history is doomed to repeat itself.

So you look back, and analyze your past relationships and critical life events where things turned for better or worse and ask yourself just two questions: “Where’s the gratitude? (What was the gift, either materially, conceptually, or in acquired knowledge?), and “Did you express it, completely, with an open heart, and a mindfully aware state of consciousness?”

I’m a musician, at least that is how I defined myself for my entire adult life right up until Katrina wiped the slate clean. It hurt, but I did end up with a clean slate. That was the gift in the pile of complete annihilation of life as I knew it. I could finally let go of many past choices that dictated my life’s narrative.

I’ve been examining my life as a professional musician. There are many accomplishments that I am extremely proud of, and there are many accomplishments and choices made that I’m not so proud of. But they all go under the same microscope: “Where’s the Gratitude?”

So this essay, although centered around expressing gratitude openly to my good friend Gary Frenay and the effect he had on my life’s journey, isn’t just about him. It’s about anybody I have interacted with, ever... no matter how minor that encounter may have been.

This isn’t about the effect I’ve had on others. That’s your story to tell, and I can’t get inside your head to tell it through your eyes... Although I am now hyper-aware that I have an impact on everyone I meet, whether its a silent smile and a nod directed a toward the local corner store grocer, or full engagement in primary relationships. Probably the reason why I’m a borderline agoraphobic is based on the Hippocratic principle of “First, do no harm”. Limiting contact means limiting effect, and I take “effect” I may have on others with grave responsibility.

We’re all made of the same elements at the molecular and atomic level. “Star Stuff” , as Carl Sagan so eloquently put. We all freely exchange energy with one another.

You matter. No matter what you do, and no matter what your life choices are, you are effecting every living thing around you. When you get to the point that inanimate materials that stretch to infinty have the same power if you broadcast that energy by contributing to the whole recycling system, don’t tell anybody. You’ll be correct, but you also be living in a rubber room in a secret and undisclosed location.

So these stories are about giving thanks to all of the people that have had a profound effect on my life as a professional musician; not an easy life choice to fully commit to. You cannot do it alone, and most of the support and random acts of kindness that have kept me afloat for 30 plus years go unnoticed, or may seem to. Just because these stories are about Gary, doesn’t mean I’m cluelessly ignoring you. He’s just one of many on the list that I feel the need to attend to at the present time.


So while on the subject of Gary Frenay.... I can honestly tell you that at very critical life, professional and most importantly creative junctures where the worm could of turned very badly, somehow Gary would just materialize and in absolute unsolicited fashion, change my life for the way better.

There are so many people that have had so much influence on me. I am the sum of those influences, my personal choices, and random acts of God.

But I was just talking to Gary yesterday about these weird critical junctures that he just sorta "showed" up for, like a guardian angel holding a flashing neon road sign that was, at the time, passed by me totally unrecognized as critical moments. It was just life unfolding.

Those points of contact, and their eventual future effect, weren’t premeditated or predicted on his part either: he just kinda "happened", at the right place at the right time.

Although I admired Gary from afar for many years due to his seminal work with THE FLASHCUBES”, and we were sort of “professional acquaintances” during much of the nineteen eighties, my personal relationship with him really didn’t commence until the day he called and asked me to be a member of his commercial project, “The Neverly Brothers”; a bar/party/wedding band that played cover material for the sole purpose of making a living wage and still playing music to accomplish that rare socio-economic feat when deciding to pursue a career path as an artist.

Certainly The Neverly Brothers Gig functioned as a financial rescue operation for me at the time, but it had many more functions that absolutely shaped me in much more fundamental ways.

I had a little security, and by achieving financial security through making music, I could actually work at committing myself to getting better as a musician: The Nev schedule was critical to my development . I could practice 12 hours a day for five days a week, play a maximum of four gigs over the weekend (usually Friday Night, Double on Saturday, and Sunday, maximum).

I took advantage of that opportunity, and finally refined my self styled learning systems, streamlined them, and grew exponentially as a musician at that time. It prepared me for the roller coaster I hopped on a few years later, aka The Bogeymen. It provided me with the tools to dig myself out of the wreckage of that professional adventure, and also my failed marital adventure.

All courtesy of that single phone call from Gary. That was the first of many of my “game changer” moments that were directly tied to interacting with him.

But there are other stranger ones... little seemingly benign events that, if they didn't happen, would have totally changed trajectory for me.

Kismet? Fortuna's wheel? I can't explain it. But without Gary, absolutely nothing I've accomplished that I am proud of would have been possible, nor the myriad professional and personal wisdom I picked up along the way as I travelled through those seemingly catastrophic events.

My personal narrative would be totally different, and as authentically as I can express... not as much fun to have experienced, or tell the tales in the aftermath.

He would never take any type of credit for that, as is his style... but I will take the opportunity to point it out to my peers whenever possible.


I really enjoyed my time spent with Gary, Arty, Cathy, and Ed Steele: The Neverly Brothers that I got to work with.

First off, it was the first time I was able to support myself as a professional musician. I was coming off "The Works" 7 year hitch... and that tour of duty wasn't about money, except the utter and complete lack of it, and the accepted personal penury to pursue the band's agendas and objectives, as defined by it’s leader and creative wellspring, Ed Hamell.

After Ed dissolved The Works, Frank “Food” Fedele (a member of The Work’s most trusted and valued road crew) scored me a job digging foundations... by hand. My girlfriend and future ex-wife Penny Jo was pretty stoked that I would finally be able to make some kind contribution to household expenses.

First day on the job, I met Frank at the job site. My instructions were simple. Jump into the hole in the ground, and start digging; at noon, our boss would pass by and check my progress. I hopped in the hole, Frank tossed me a shovel, and he took off for another job site.

It was a beautiful spring day, the birds were chirping, the sunlight bright, the sky blue... after a couple of unsupervised hours of digging, my hands just got extremely torn up.

I had an epiphany. If I wanted to be a professional musician, I was going to have to commit to being one.... I had held some kind of manual labor job since I was ten years old: From paper routes, landscaping, summer's in a macaroni factory in my teen years, dishwasher, toilet cleaner, warehouse work, bartender, a brief stint as a grip on cable shopping show,bus boy at Scratch Daniels, a greenhouse worker steaming dirt...and I held some of those gigs while playing with the Works 5 nights or more a week for almost seven years.

Fuck it. If I didn't get out of that hole, I would be in it for the rest of my life.

So I climbed out, stripped butt naked, reclined in one of those cheap metal woven strapped beach lounge chairs...poured myself a glass of lemonade, and fell asleep sunbathing in the nude, letting the sunshine hold me in it’s warm, radioactive embrace.

The boss showed up at 12 noon on the dot, shook me awake, and basically spewed spittle-laced invective in my face.

I stood up (NAKED!) shook his hand, and thanked him for the employment opportunity, and explained that of course, "it just wasn't a good fit for me at this time". I then put my clothes on and walked from the Northside to our place on 822 Teal Ave, an east-side-o Syracuse flat space shared by Penny Jo, Me, and Scott Sterling Sarmiento.

Penny was working extremely hard those days, doing time in a department store hair salon in the Fayetteville Mall. We only had access to one car, so I would drive her in the morning to work, and pick her up late...sometimes she worked right up until 10pm. Plus she was chasing her own dream as well with her new band, “Rockin’ Bones”.

I was about to become Jack coming home with nothing but a handful of conceptually magic beans... it was not going to be a good moment.

When I picked her up that night, the first question was "How was work?", the second, "Where's the cash money?"...

"Uhhh...Honey let me tell you what happened today, about my 'epiphany'......"

To Penny's credit, after the initial shock, she was pretty cool. When the person that loves you, and that you love back really believes in you, it makes emotional obstacle course moments like these more navigatable then one first might be inclined to accept or anticipate.

I'm not a religious guy, but I knew that if I finally made the right decision on my future, with my heart rather than my head... if I untethered myself from crippling pragmatism and finally allow myself to take a leap of faith, God, The Universe, Shiva, Allah, Fortuna, or who or whatever... WOULD provide.

I just announced I was going to follow my bliss and walk calmly off the side of the cliff, and she gave her full consent and support, against her better nature. This is why I loved Penny Jo then, and why I still maintain the little morsel of my heart that is still open for her to reside in now, regardless of history. She jumped right off the cliff Wile E. Coyote style with me, holding my hand, The “Sundance Kid”to my “Butch Cassidy”.

The very next day Gary Frenay called me and asked if I wanted to be a Neverly Brother.

Letting go, and having faith, sometimes works like this. Sometimes it doesn't. You may maintain a certain middle position by never taking a leap of faith, but that means you will never know the rapture of taking one and having it deliver.

Fear of disappointment, and fear of failure, will paralyze you in the mud of the middle ground.


In 1986, the movie "Hail Hail Rock and Roll" was released, Keith Richard's work of documentary cinematic love for one of HIS heroes, Chuck Berry. Gary and I went to a matinee and caught the flick. I walked away amazed, that after years of trying to decipher what Johnnie Johnson was playing on Chuck's records, you could actually see his hands! It was a revelatory moment, shared with Gary.

When Penny and I got hitched, as a private wedding gift to me, Gary tracked down Johnnie Johnson's private personal phone number through relatives he had in MO, and handed it over in a card.... he didn't give instructions, or advice. Just my all time rock and roll piannaplunker hero's phone number.

I called Mr. Johnson, and instead of a honeymoon, I flew out to St. Louis to study with the master... and for part of that trek, Gary's relatives put me up.

The scheduled week tutorial turned into a three week drunken bender in St. Louis, fueled by massive consumption of Crown Royal. I may have learned a little bit about pianna plunkin’, but I learned a helluva lot more about developing a chronic alcohol problem. Lets just say that my first exposure to the concept of a drive-thru package store, where they hand out plastic cups and a little personal baggie of ice was met with enthusiasm.

When I came home, Penny opened up my suitcase. There were no clothes...they were long gone. But there were about 150 purple felt Crown Royal sacks of various sizes. My “souvenirs”.

I might of started the “tanking of the marriage process” with that smooth move, but I remained close friends with Johnnie until he passed, and I still am friends with members of his family.

I even got to share him with all my Salt City Friends. Johnnie did a Sunday concert at the Dinosaur, with The Shuffling Hungarians as his back up band.

That phone number was a life changing event for me. Courtesy of Gary, and given with an open and generous heart.

Every time I sit at a piano, I hear echoes of Johnnie, and they wouldn't be there without Gary.


Throughout the 1980’s along with a vibrant live music economy, CNY was also blessed with a burgeoning comedy scene, led by a improvisational troupe known as The Generic Comics. They were loaded with national caliber talent.

They all dispersed and blew town to seek their separate fortunes. Bob “Bobcat” Goldthwaite was the first to break nationally, chewing up the scenery in a series of “Police Academy” movies. Barry “Bearcat” Crimmins moved to Boston, became involved in environmental activism all while honing his comedy chops through constant touring, and at present has evolved into one of the premier American political satirists of the modern era . Tom “Tomcat” Kenney was the rocker of the troupe, doing time as the lead singer of the local CNY Power Pop group “The Tearjerkers” before hitting the national comedy circuit, ending up in LA appearing in various TV shows, movies, and eventually, a ton of “voice” work for cartoons.

While on the west coast (Sometime in the late 80’s), Tom floated an idea to Gary Frenay about doing a one off show while he was scheduling a holiday Thanksgiving visit home. Tom was a huge collector of obscure music. His concept was to use The Neverly Brothers (Gary Frenay, Artie Lenin, Cathy LaManna, and yours truly) as backing band, and focus primarily on comedy / novelty songs: R & B, Saxophone riff driven Jump Blues, Rock-a-billy, and Early Rock and Roll material from the ‘40’s and 50’s.

Thus, “Tom Kenney and The Pushballs” was born. When the rehearsal cassettes arrived, it was pretty apparent that we weren’t going to pull it off without an “Upsetters” styled saxophone section, and Gary subbed that duty out to me, and I sorta of became “second banana musical director”. My first call went out to Frank Grosso, a killer player who doubled on Tenor and Baritone Sax (a very crucial sonic element) and old school chum from OCC. If there was a critical juncture like the sperm fertilizing the egg, this was the point of conception of The Shuffling Hungarians, although none of us, including myself, knew it at the time. It was the equivalent of a one night stand: But somewhere in my limbic brained sub-conscious, putting myself together with Frankie was actually like drunken musical unprotected sex in the back seat of your Daddy’s car resulting in an accidental and undetected pregnancy. A secret seed was planted.

The Pushballs had their debut at Dailey’s Irish bar in downtown Syracuse.... it was wild and it was woolly. The joint was packed to the gills, everybody was drenched in beer, and Tom was freaking hysterical. If anything, it was a night to remember, and then it was gone.

A couple of years later, Tom called me and asked if we could do it again, but this time, he put the responsibility of putting the band together squarely on my own shoulders, and gave me full autonomy over personnel decisions.

I had always been a sideman, parasitically joining bands that were well into their development phases. A gun for hire. Oddly, this would be the first time I had that responsibility and autonomy.

It would be the perfect time to be handed that type of autonomy. I found myself between “causes”: The Bogeymen’s record deal had just imploded, or was about to anyway simultaneously with my personal life. I needed to get my mind of off the shit side of my life and do something productive. It was a unique opportunity to build a “Dream Team”, even if it was to service the needs of a crack comedian to ultimately showcase his abilities. That level of creative and administrative control had never been felt by my hands. It was time to seize control, because all elements of my life as I knew it were wildly spinning out of control.

When Tom sent me the source material of the show, it was way more on the Jump Blues side of things. They were still obscure novelty numbers from an era long gone, and Tom was (still is) an absolute scholarly musical archaeologist and archivist when it comes to these matters.

My concept of novelty blues began and ended with Bull Moose Jackson (“Big Ten Inch”), Roy Brown (“Keep On Churnin”), or a huge chunk of the Louis Jordan and his Tympani Five catalog. Tom dug up things that I had NEVER heard, and for me, that was a tough feat to accomplish. “Uh-Oh, Get Out of the Car?” “Cut It Out?” “Mickey Mouse Boarding House?”. “Drunk, by Joe “The Honeydripper’” Liggin’s little brother Jimmy , who used to be his bus driver?” This was a subterranean strata of the blues and rock and roll history that even I had never been exposed to, and I thought I was pretty well schooled at the time.

I still have those tapes. They are an absolute historical primer on how humor and the blues are related. If you were ever curious as to how intrinsically verbal and poetic humor is woven into the blues, rock and roll, and popular music in general, I suggest you talk to Spongebob Squarepants.

So now, at age 31, I was finally being handed the reigns, and how successful a race run was going to fall upon my jockeying abilities... and they at that point were untested.

I’ll cut to the chase here. The “New” Pushballs were formed around the rhythm section of Mark Tiffault, Paul “Big Daddy” LaRonde, and me... we busted our collective asses to be totally prepared for the future voice of Spongebob’s show. With the addition of Tim Harrington on guitar, and a killer horn section of Frank Grosso and Paulie Cerra, I again might have found myself once again the low man on the musical end of the totem pole, but I will take the credit for putting together and administrating a killer band of the very best that Syracuse had to offer.

Tom blew into town, and we played the show at the Zodiac Club. He was on fire, as per usual, and the band killed completely, adopting Tom’s “take no prisoners” mind set when it comes to performance.

Playing a Pushballs show is like being in the middle of a hurricane, and time compresses. It just blows by. At the end of them you always ask yourself these questions; “What in Hell’s name just happened? Was I even here for this? ”

Playing a show with Tom Kenney is an out of body experience.

In the aftermath of that show, Paul, Mark and I had a pow wow. We had worked so hard to build that set of material, it would be a shame to just let that workload go to waste. I floated the idea of just going out and playing as The Pushballs. I was the rehearsal vocalist anyway. I knew the tunes.

But I was totally untested as a vocalist and frontman. It was a huge risk for Mark and Paul to take professionally. They were on the forefront of the roots and blues scene, I was an interloper, and a green horn as well.

But they took that leap of faith with me...and that is a debt that I will never be able to repay them fully. The believed when nobody else did.

So we rounded up the rest of the Pushballs, and booked a series of 4 consecutive Wednesday shows at Club Zodiac, to try and snare some of the revellers heading to Armory Square after Party In The Plaza.

I’d like to say we were a smashing success, but we weren’t. Specifically, I wasn’t. No let me rephrase: I sucked. I couldn’t sing and play at the same time. I couldn’t sing...I didn’t even know how to count in a song half the time. It was a humbling experience.

After the four shows, it was “back to the woodshed”.

But Mark, Paul and I weren’t going to give up. Neither would Frank or Paulie Cerra. The Pushballs were going to steam ahead and resurface as “Little Georgie and the Shuffling Hungarians” just a scant six weeks later.

You may be asking yourself: “Why all this history?”

If not for Gary Frenay, and his connection to Tom Kenney, there would be Pushballs. If ther e wasn’t a Pushballs, there wouldn’t have been a newer version of the Pushballs. If there wasn’t a newer version of The Pushballs, there would be no Shuffling Hungarians. We were relying on Tom’s musical aesthetic when we debuted The Hungarians at the Dinosaur in the fall of that year.
It was a classic triple play: Tinkers to Evers, to Chance.

There would never be a Shuffling Hungarians without either Gary or Tom, but Gary was the initial point of contact, and Gary was the catalyst. Gary was the one that provided the opportunity.

He may seem benign, and when I have discussed this with him, he always humbly down plays his role in the creation of the band. That’s his style.

But he really shouldn’t. Once again, he totally changed the game for me, just by being him: A man with an open and generous heart, and by me fortuitously being positioned next to him.

Find the gratitude? I can’t even begin to express the depth of gratitude that I feel now in retrospect. He put me directly under the heavenly rain of manna in the form of Tom Kenney, Mark Tiffault, Paul Laronde, Frank Grosso, and Paulie Cerra and ultimately that delivered the most significant professional era of my life: The Shuffling Hungarians.


The process of transitioning from a Tom Kenney-less "Pushballs" to "The Shuffling Hungarians" during the summer and fall of 92 was an experiment that took flight at the Club Zodiac every Wednesday after Party In The Plaza, nose dived, and then crash landed every Wednesday at the Dinosaur BBQ.

But as the yearly calendar flipped to 1993, we started to get our shit together... Paul, Mark, and myself were diving deeply together into the New Orleans catalogue by that point, replacing large chunks of the novelty blues and R and B numbers from the Pushballs book. What was a bumpy landing evolved into a somewhat smoother ride. We hadn't found a collected voice yet, but we were on our way... plus the Dino's cash registers were ringing enough for us to keep the gig.

During this period of the Hungarian's evolution, Greg Spencer of Blue Wave Records had asked Gary Frenay to contribute a song for and upcoming Christmas release "Here Comes Another Christmas...Greetings From The Salt City".

Gary penned "Santa Man" in short order: a rollicking New Orleans style ditty. Gary knew I was digging deep into New Orleans pianna plunking styles by this point, and wanted to feature that aspect of what I was bringing to table. I think the original concept was to create a fun tune with a Huey Piano Smith / Fats Domino old school New Orleans R & B vibe.

So your intrepid Neverly Brothers (Gary, Arty, Cathy, and yours truly) got the tune together, and headed out to Ronnie DeRollo's studio out in Jamesville to cut the track, with Greg overseeing the shenanigans.

As we were listening to playback of the unmixed track, I started to hear some music in my head in addition to the usual chorus of "voices"... parts that weren't there, but maybe should be there.

I approached Gary a few days later and discussed the ideas I was hearing in my head.... the basic track presented the opportunity to turn it into more of a full blown New Orleans styled production, specifically with horns, and background vocals: sorta transforming the track to more Allen Toussaintish vibe via the background vocal part. I sang the parts over the phone, and Gary was stoked, He approached Greg on the additions to the track.

There was initial resistance on Greg's part. There were budgetary concerns of course. He was the defacto producer and label owner, and he needed to keep costs under control. Also I was still an untested entity as an arranger at least officially, and I was proposing turning a more than serviceable track into a three ring circus.

But somehow, magically, Greg eventually gave the green light for the additional work. Time was booked at Ronnie D's, but the directive was made clear to me... these additions were my responsibility.

I suspect that there may have been some heavy lobbying done by Gary on my behalf to Greg, but I can neither confirm or deny that suspicion. And Gary is too classy a guy to kiss and tell.

So Paulie and I got together to chart out the horns prior to the session, and while sitting at the piano in my flat on Park Street, I asked if he knew any female singers that we could hire for the session. I told him what I had in mind, and he told me he might know of a trio of singers straight out of church that had a little secular R and B group on the side.In his opinion, they would fit the purpose, and offered hook them up for the session.

And so the overdub session commenced up at Ronnie D's, with Paulie doubling up sectional parts, along with my man Frankie Grosso on Baritone, and Larry Judkins on trumpet. Paulie laid down some surgically placed "answer" fills between the previously recorded piano and guitar parts, and played a whipping solo. Doubling up grinding horn section in unison with Gary's riff in the bridge was just the appetizer for what I had planned for the transitions back into the verse.

I was introduced to Angela Washington. Of the singers that Paulie had secured, two had stiffed, so as Ronnie D set up the mic, and I did a quick overview of the threepart harmony with Angie in the control room: basically three sectional parts, of which we laid down separately as we built the section parts, one voice at a time from the bottom up. My girlfriend extrodinaire, Mizz Eileen "Styleen" Heagerty, chirped in on the bridge section.

When all three of Angie's parts wailed out of the monitors in three part harmony,"Santa Maaaaaan'.... I knew I nailed it. In more ways than one. By the time we flew in the the unison but contrapuntal line "Go Santa, Go Santa...you're in the Know Santa..." sassily delivered over the bridge riff, and then then the vocal arrangement expanded into the angelic "Whoooo" in harmony... a heavenly cloud materialized for Gary's lead vocal line "That's why I'm writing to you this year" to float over....my future came into very sharp focus.

Angie. Once I heard the final blend of her three parts, I was already making plans to expand the "Hungarians Flying Circus" by three, even if the other two, Jackie Clark and Gail Sampson, had stiffed the session. The George-O-Lettes were conceived and named in my head, right there in Ronnie DeRollo's control room.... although no one knew it, except me: in the rich and varied fantasies that babble in a continuous interior monologue and conversation inside my twisted little bi-polar brain (It’s how I amuse myself).

It took me about a year to seal that deal with Angie, Jackie and Gail. But I saw the final outcome right then and there.

Really, "Santa Man" was the first Shuffling Hungarians recording. It was piano based New Orleans R & B, with squonking, honking, and "pig sticking" via the amazing Paulie Cerra, the absolute crucial tone of Frankie’s baritone sax, the first beta test of adding a trumpet to the horn section teamed with an undeniable Gospel "corner" as secret weapon. Not only did it validate in my own mind abilities that I possessed were very real, it also served as a template for what was to come. Talk about personal "epiphanies", this one was a mack daddy.

But without the vehicle of Gary's song, and the opportunity to dress that song up in a suit of custom tailored clothes, the Shuffling Hungarians would have manifested in a total different way....and probably not as good as it ended up.

The Shuffling Hungarians eventually added "Santa Man" into its holiday repertoire, and we played it live on several regional radio broadcasts. I have always wanted to cover and record it with Mark, Paul, Mick, Irvin, The George-O-Lettes and The Hungarian Horns.... but it was just another unfinished project left on the drawing board, “The Shuffling Hungarians Christmas Extrabbba-Ganza!” It would have been great. I have a lot of “coulda, shoulda, wouldas” pinned on the cranial bulletin board.

LISTEN TO "SANTA MAN" HERE:http://soundcloud.com/little-georgie/santa-man-gary-frenay

These little stories are about giving thanks and openly declaring gratitude to those that fully deserve it.... I just wouldn't have been "me", without Gary's input, Greg's green light, Ronnie D's engineering, and all the ancillary personnel involved.

But none of those residual gifts would have been possible without Gary, and his supportive friendship. He just appears, and then changes my life for the better. Not only was a future delivered to me on that day, but also my most treasured friendships with Angie, Jackie, Gail, Paulie, Frank and Eileen... and those friendships were probably the most valued entity that I harvested for myself personally, after The Shuffling Hungarians became but a memory over time.


Gary Frenay is my “Clarence The Angel”, and in major part, made my life feel like I was Jimmy Stewart in the final scene in “It’s A Wonderful Life”, looped and playing continuously, and consistently.

I may have not known it then, but I know it now. This is my testimony. And my declaration of gratitude.

Whenever we intersected, I always seem to be a beneficiary beyond my wildest dreams... it may take some time, but all the pathways lead me back to the same point of inception: Gary was there

When I moved to New Orleans, Gary and I still remained if not close, always bonded anyway, out of mutual respect and love.

When I moved back to CNY in 2009, Gary was the first friend to call and invite me out to lunch, just to check up on me.

As I write this essay, I’m preparing to play a Bob Dylan Birthday Bash at The Palace, his band The Fab Cats backing me up on a couple of Uncle Bobby classics.

And unlike any other random intersection with Gary, due to the pattern of past intersections and subsequent events that followed, unlike all the other times, this time....I’m going to pay VERY CLOSE ATTENTION.

Stay tuned. Ya never know, but if past performance is indicative of future outcome, I’m fully expecting a real doozy in a couple of years to manifest itself.

A NOTE FROM 11/10/11:

The aforementioned Dylan Tribute went well. Here's a clip:

It went so well that Gary and I decided to put together a theater show, and we are in the process of rehearsing "Gary Frenay and Little Georgie: Career Retrospectives In Story And Song" for its maiden run at the Auburn Public Theater on Saturday, November 26th, 2011.

Many of our good friends through the years have agreed to play with us, including Peter and Bob Dean, Pete Heitzman and Karen Savoca, The Hungarian Horns (Donnie, Frankie, and El Jeffe), Ted Williams, Dave Solazzo, Cathy LaManna, and the amazing Loren Barrigar.

This is the concept of expressing and practicing real and authentic gratitude in action, oddly enough coming full circle and to a head over Thanksgiving weekend.

Cause and Effect.

Happy Thanksgiving. My sincerest wishes for a safe and happy holiday goes out to all, but especially to all the folks that made it through this essay.

That means more to me than mere words typed on a laptop could ever truly express.