Gigs of my past

and related stuff

There is probably no musician on earth that does not recall their first New Year's Eve job. It's the true "Big One!" for those who are ordinary working musicians and not "stars". The one where you finally get paid for what you might think your really worth and sometimes even more.

For me the first one fell on NYE of 1961. I was 14 years old and "The Islanders", a six piece combo of two saxes (alto & tenor), two guitars, one accordion and one drum (that's right DRUM ... not drums... a parade drum from the Mastic Beach Fire Department Band) was only formed that previous spring. We were all freshman and sophomores at both William Floyd and Mercy High School on eastern Long Island, NY.

Because this was to be our first really big gig, Eddie Ianetto was able to borrow a full set of drums with cymbals for it. But it may of also been the first time he ever used a full set too. I think he only rehearsed with the kit once before the big night came.

Because we had three good readers in the band, Pete Morano, Bill Clausing on saxes and Adolph Almasy on accordion, we got pretty good fast. We had been working with these little music books called "Combo-Orks" since our first gig back in April. They were mostly filled with "standards" like Blue Moon, I'm In The Mood For Love, Peg Of My Heart etc and that type of repertoire allowed us to work quite a bit for a new band from day one, as there was much more work playing for adults than there was for teens in our area.

Now as far as the Islanders guitarists, Doug Percoco and myself. we probably would of been just as happy to play nothing but stuff like Walk Don't Run, Apache, Stick Shift and Guitar Boogie all night, but we knew early on, who was able to pay us and who wasn't.

Doug would go on to formal lessons and I just taught myself. No regrets though and learning standards at the start provided a solid foundation for me. I had to rely on learning everything by ear rather than read music. Never did learn to read, but I certainly learned to understand composition and analyze chord progressions, melody and harmony etc.

The big night came and up the stairs to the banquet room of the Mastic Beach Fire Department house we went. There was no stage, but that didn't matter. We set up in the corner and let her rip. The dance floor was full from the first song on. Everyone was amazed that these young kids seemed to know all the songs these dancers knew when they were kids. I would say their average age was around 50.

About 11:15 PM though disaster struck. Well not complete disaster, but certainly danger and a very hairy situation arose. The fire whistle went off, and the men, who had been celebrating pretty good, now had to scramble downstairs and out into the night on their fire trucks to put out a woods fire somewhere in Mastic Beach.

They were gone for close to an hour and while they were, we played a whole lot of polkas and up tempo songs that their wives danced the night away to. As I think back, the ladies seemed to have just as much fun without their men!

The guys did not return until 1962! We were booked to play until 1 PM, but they all wanted us to play longer. They took up a collection and we each earned about 40 bucks for the nights work. I think our base price was $25 or $30 a man. It felt like big time though, as the most we had ever seen before was like $10 - 15 apiece for a four hour job. It made for a very HAPPY 1962 kickoff.



The following year, it was a touch of Deja-Vu as I returned to the Mastic Beach Fire Dept on NYE, but this time as a castaway from The Islanders. Silly stuff that breaks up even so called mature groups, had caused a rift between Doug and myself. Most of the guys went with him as he had the amp too. I played the firehall with a 4 piece, all William Floyd outfit called "The Del-Rays" ( name taken from a '58 Chevy model ) Bobby Green on drums, Kenny Vitellaro on accordion, and oldest pal in the world Larry Schulz ( we have known each other since 1951) on guitar. It was our first ever gig. I know it was Larry's first time ever to play for an audience and he was more than stiff, he was frozen stiff. But we got through it.

In 1962 & '63, I worked with various musicians on and off, but come New Years Eve of '63, I put together the Del - Rays again, renaming them the Del-Fis. ( Richie Valens record label ) This time we were at the Mastic Beach Yacht Club, which is right across the street from the Lagoon, now known as Marina 1.

A few days before the gig, I had gone to Irv's Patchogue Music center and bought myself a Harmony Flatop acoustic guitar. I also now had a mic and planned to do a bit of folk material, like the Green Back Dollar, Walk Right In and Stewball, thinking that the current "folk revival" as it was known would be welcomed by the yachtsmen and their mates. It went over like seaweed fouling a propeller and by the time, the noble Stewball was heading for the finish line, the rest of the band, who were just sitting nervously on the stand, thought I might get tossed into the lagoon, if I played one more folk song. This seasoned pro sensed the crowd was restless and reluctantly put his Harmony down, picked up my Gibson Les Paul and How High The Moon, quickly restored a sense of serenity and happiness to the revelers.

Fast forward a few years. It's New Year's 1966. I have now played 1000's of gigs and am on the verge of going full time pro, but am also now in my first year of college, which was required to keep from being sent to Vietnam. I have changed instruments and am now a full time Hammond organist, thanks to the popularity of the Rascals. I was getting ready to get ready to go my New Years gig when the phone rang. It was Danny Mazur, a club owner and band manager that I had worked for many times in the past. He was calling to offer me a spot in a group he managed called The Hassles. (The success of the Rascals not only sold a ton of Hammonds they also created dozens of copy style bands on Long Island with similar sounding names) I told Danny I would think about it, but was not really sold on going with those guys, even though Danny (who could be very persuasive) told me he had big plans for them including a major label record deal. When I didn't join they got a kid named Billy Joel and things went well for them. Danny also wound up managing my band for a time after that and got us to record along with Hassles for United Artists, but not much came of the whole thing. Billy split for west coast sometime after that and did pretty well for himself playing piano.

My group the Strangers was in a bit of disarray that New Years Eve of '66, as Joe Ciampa, our bass player had to leave because he was in trouble with his college grades and his family leaned hard on him. His replacement, Billy Hamilton was a blues guitarist who really didn't want to play bass. Anyway we were booked into a club in Deer Park LI and with us was Bobby "Tossing & Turning" Lewis a recording star from the early '60s.


I had worked with some "Oldies Acts" both before and after this and I got to say it can be stressfull with limited rehearsing and sometimes dealing with monster egos. There was none of that with Bobby. He was really nice and helpful too. The place was full and the dance floor was cleared when Bobby came out and started his show. The man had some great moves like Jackie Wilson and James Brown.

He started into his big number (T&T was #1 for seven weeks in 1961) When we got to the instrumental part, Bobby really cut loose with his moves out on the floor. I wanted to yell Baby Work Out , but should of yelled BOBBY LOOK OUT. This big hulking guy gets up from his table, starts into running and hits Bobby from the side like a linebacker. BAM down on the floor they go.

The crowd gasped, we stopped playing, two bouncers grabbed the guy and literally threw him out the door onto Deer Park Ave. Bobby got up, dusted off his jacket and said lets go and we did ...Tossin and Turning All Night

Everytime I hear it on the radio, I always think of that night. Guess I got a one track mind!



Which might be the question Erik is pondering here as his old man gets ready to go to work NYE in Florida, 1984

I worked quite a few New Years gigs when I lived in Florida from 1978 - 87. Probably the hardest working one for me was in 1984 that I did with a trio Sax, Drums and my 7 String Guitar, We met for the very first time at the gig in St. Pete. It was for a group pf very senior seniors. I was both the bass player and the accompianist. The one good thing was the crowd barely stayed till midnight.

The one though that was the start of a life changer for both myself and my family happened the following year in 1985. I was with an oldies band then called Flashback.

Circus World was a theme park near Disney World in Orlando. It's long gone now.We got really good money and nice rooms overnight and all the bands families came along. We were set up under a tent outdoors with a large dance floor. I remember we were playing the song Traveling Man and there was a very light rain falling. I was thinking about Rick Nelson, because he had played in Orlando, just a few nights before. I was thinking I wonder where he is working tonight?

The next morning my son Erik, who was just a little over two years old turned on the TV in the room. The sound was off, but when I saw Rick's name with the two dates super imposed over a burning wreckage, my question was unfortunately answered.


Photo was taken after the last show he played in Alabama

About a month later after seeing a video of a concert that Rick, and his fantastic band, that perished with him aboard that aircraft, some words started to formulate in my mind. At first I resisted writing a song about it, but out it came. A few weeks later Flashback recorded it and I sent a copy to Gordon Stoker in Nashville, Tn. Gordon is the leader of the world famous backing group The Jordainaires and they sang backgrounds on all of Ricky's hit records, just like they had for Elvis. I sent it to Gordon as they had backed Rick up in that concert too. I'd find out later when Gordon called me on the phone, that The Jordanaires were supposed to be on that fatal flight too, but cancelled at the last minute. The song was called,


Verse: Ozzie's kid loved what he did he believed in it every day

He might of been wise to compromise,

But he had to play it his way

His songs were fun they were for everyone

They were for Donna, for Peggy Sue

As we danced away I could hear him say

Hello to sweet Mary Lou


Chorus: He was a walkin' man

He had a rockin' band

He was a bopper He was a star

One of the original rockers

The man with the leather guitar


I'll always remember the last of December

And what I was doing that night

Playing the bop at a New Years Eve Hop

Not knowing of Ricky's last flight

I opened my eyes to a silent surprise

Two dates on a silent TV

But his songs will live on

Long after we're gone

With That I'll Just Let It Be


He was a traveling man

He had a helluva band

He was a bopper

He was a star

One of our original rockers

The man with the leather guitar

Gordon's words of encouragement about that song started my wheels turning about possibly moving to Nashville to pursue full time songwriting as a new career. About 18 months later I found myself there.

In the twenty five years I have lived in Nashville, I have not played one New Years gig . But I have done musical things on both New Years Eve and Day. One ritual I kept with for the first few years here was to write one song on New Years Eve and another on New Years Day.

Here is the first song I wrote on my first New Years Day in 1988 .


click on the title and the demo recording will play for you


Well Like Many Of My WEB GLOB postings (where I like to lay it on thick) , I will close now with just one more item. I gave myself this RARE record album for Christmas. It was recorded in 1979 by a truly WORLD CLASS musician, most of you never heard of. His name was Johnny Mince, and he happened to be the father of Robbie Mince, who played piano in my band Mrs. Murphy's Basement in the late 1960s. Even before I found this rare treasure of a recording made in 1979, I have been planning on writing a tribute page to Johnny's career for some time now. I just might write it tomorrow and get back into my tradition of writing something on both sides of the years. In the meantime

Happy New Year To All and Best Wishes For A Great 2013

With that let me say .... Here's Johnny