Who are your music heroes? I get that question asked of me all the time. And I have answered that question literally hundreds of times. When it comes to rock ‘n’ roll roots, one of my favorite “simple pleasures” is to listen to Bob Stroud’s Sunday morning feature on WDRV 97.1-FM radio. An edition does not go by when a rock memory doesn’t bring a smile to my face and a rockin’ bob to my head!
But the radio program also helps me remember where I came from … musically. I have favorites that I love because of the music itself; I mean 33⅓ albums I really enjoyed listening to. But as I think back, I think about the influences that helped shape me musically.
Let’s start with my parents. I came from a World War II family, so my dad was regularly listening to the Big Band sound of Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Artie Shaw every Sunday. But being an Italian American born on Taylor Street in Chicago’s Little Italy neighborhood, the “Trinity” of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Tony Bennett reigned supreme the rest of the time. So my love for all things Rat Pack stems from those final notes of “My Way” belted out by my dad thousands of times.
My mom was a classy Royalist from Florence, Italy. She had a passion for opera — Caruso, Lanza and Pavarotti were HER heroes. Of course, she loved “that blind kid,” Andrea Bocelli, too. Her subtle ways of “stumbling” upon operatic performances on the way to finding Sinatra on the radio for my dad provided enough of the music to have an impact on me.
I didn’t get into popular music until about fifth grade. We would roller skate every Friday night in the gymnasium at Our Lady of the Angels School in Chicago. There was a phonograph placed in front of that silver, table-model microphone with the black button taped down. The guy who handed out the skates would also play 45s of Barry Manilow’s “Could It Be Magic,” Tommy James’ “Hanky Panky” and other pop tunes for the “couples only” skates.
My first school dance was in the sixth grade. It was typical … girls on one side of the gym, boys on the other. That was until the realization came that there were only two songs left, providing that last-minute burst of courage that filled the dance floor.
But it was at that dance when “rock” first hit me. It was Deep Purple’s “Smoke On The Water” that first enamored me to the riffs of a guitar. I was never the same!
My circle of guy friends in seventh and eight grade really got into the “soft rock” sounds of the band Chicago and the Beach Boys. It was mainly the Chicago IX Greatest Hits and the Beach Boys’ Endless Summer albums that fueled our musical fire.
Then high school happened. I went to an all-boys school, Weber High in Chicago. That is where Pink Floyd, Rush, UFO, Zeppelin, Foghat and Jethro Tull became my faves. They were the “cool” bands to like. I did like them and listened to those albums frequently. But I also liked to dance. And when the movie “Saturday Night Fever” came out, again I was a changed man.
It didn’t turn me on to the “disco” thing as much as it made me aware of the R&B thing. It opened me up to James Brown, the Stylistics and Parliament. It also turned me on to the Motown Sound of the Temptations, the Four Tops and the Supremes. And the Jackson 5ive became one of my favorites.
Growing up, we moved six times to various parts of the inner city of Chicago. That truly subjected me to the wide array of cultures and neighborhoods the city had to offer. Some of my closest friends were in the African American and Latin American communities. But I also got close to Polish, Greek, Russian and Ukrainian buddies. I truly gained an appreciation for the splendor of ethnic music from them. It is something I enjoy to this day.
So take a moment to look back on the origins of YOUR musical roots. I promise it will not only bring a smile to your face, it will also bring memories back that you haven’t thought about in years.
It may even make you call that guy who kept putting you into a locker freshman year so you can forgive him after 40 years. Or is that just me?