PROLOGUE: WHERE’S THE GRATITUDE?
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.
MY FRIEND, GARY FRENAY
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.
RUNNING NAKED INTO NEVER NEVERLY LAND
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.
EAST ST. LOUIE TOODLEOO !
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.
SPAWN Of SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS
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.
WILL THE REAL SHUFFLING HUNGARIANS PLEASE STAND UP?
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.