Ron Onesti: Music of the ‘Old Neighborhood’
For many people, I think, there is a small part of us that wishes we were born at a different time. Some wish they were born in the Roaring Twenties. Some love the “doo wop” era of the 1950s. Some dream of being around in Medieval times, the Old West or in the Big Band era of the 1940s.
I personally wanted to be around during the prehistoric times like “The Flintstones,” one of my favorite TV shows, but that’s for a column for a different time.
I was born in 1962 and I think it was a fabulous time to have entered this world! While I still feel youthful enough to relate to much of today’s music, I also feel deep in my soul that I experienced enough of those “good ol’ days” to appreciate the quality of entertainers from the 1920s through the 1980s, which has become my world of presenting live shows.
Being the son of parents who met during World War II in Italy, I was brought up being surrounded by that Big Band era of the 1940s. My dad would constantly be playing records by Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Guy Lombardo, Kay Kaiser and others, mixing in stories of the “Stage Door Canteen” performances of celebs in that time, entertaining the soldiers overseas.
Of course, if you were an Italian-American family back in the day, you celebrated two “Trinities” in the household: The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit; and, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Tony Bennett. It seemed as if Frank and Dean music was everywhere. It was playing on my dad’s AM radio in his tailor shop. It was playing at the butcher shop that was always cold and had sawdust on the wooden floors (I loved watching the ground meat coming through that machine as the butcher would feed it scraps).
It was the first thing you walked into at the local pizzeria (There was only thin crust at the time, cheese-sausage-green pepper-mushroom — that’s it, and it was wonderful). You sat in hard wooden booths, the tables had red and white checkered plastic cloths on them, and every pizza maker looked the same — white T-shirt, pants dusted with white flour, and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.
And coming from Chicago’s Little Italy neighborhood of Taylor Street and Western Avenue, I wasn’t brought up with hardly any Beatles music around me. It was Sinatra, the Four Seasons and Dion & The Belmonts.
Television also had a lot to do with the evolution of my musical appreciation.
Saturday morning was all about Abbot & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, Charlie Chaplin, “The Little Rascals” and other “black-and-whites.” That also fostered my musical awareness of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, as music always had a part of those movies and TV “shorts.”
“American Graffiti,” “Grease” and “The Lords of Flatbush” were movies that gave me a love of the music of the 1950s, even though they came out in the ’70s. So did the TV show featuring musical group Sha Na Na.
Although I was only 7 years old during the Woodstock “Summer of Love” in 1969, my elder cousins and the “hippie” teenagers of the neighborhood educated me plenty on Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin; Crosby, Stills & Nash; Sly & The Family Stone and Jefferson Airplane. Those same female cousins gave me a “forced” awareness of Elvis and Tom Jones, too — albeit for more of a “physical” reason!
Going back to TV, “Laugh-In” was also quite “inspirational” when it came to fashion and music of my childhood. Ah, those white go-go boots of Goldie Hawn and Nancy Sinatra!
As I believe the most musically influential period in one’s life is the high school years, mine were in the mid-to-late 1970s. Chicago, the Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Bread, America, Rush, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Jethro Tull … those were MY bands!
Because I have a younger sister, I had an unintentional appreciation for the DeFranco Family, the Osmond Brothers, Leif Garrett and Bobby Sherman. Hundreds of ripped-out posters from Tiger Beat magazine covered every inch of her bedroom walls, so I just HAD to get to know them!
Once again, going back to the influence of Saturday morning television, two HUGE influences were “American Bandstand” with Dick Clark and “Soul Train” with Don Cornelius. I was able to see the pop-music superstars of the time perform the same songs I bought earlier that day at the record store on Pulaski at North Avenue in Chicago. They were 45 rpm records as listed on the WLS-AM radio weekly surveys.
And “Soul Train” really opened my eyes to Motown and groups like the Spinners, Four Tops, Fifth Dimension, Al Green, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Rick James; Earth, Wind & Fire; Shaka Khan, Teddy Pendergrass, Teena Marie, Luther Vandross and, of course, Diana Ross and the Supremes.
So, as you can see, my musical education really came from home and from “the old neighborhood.” My 12-year-old daughter won’t ever get that feeling of what the “Old Neighborhood” was all about, outside of stories from me. There are no more true neighborhoods anymore. Music comes from her phone, her computer and a little from TV.
Please bring YOUR kids to The Arcada where classic live music is still alive. I believe records and books still have a place in our society, and it’s up to us to make sure the next generation sees their value. They must help keep the music of OUR youth alive so that THEIR youth can have real music to grow up on, just like we did!
• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp. and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.