Commentary: Pittsburgh Rock Hall of Fame has to dig deeper for its inductees


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Rich Engler is a great guy and one of the true legends of Pittsburgh rock 'n' roll.

Our music scene, our music life, our memories would not be the same without the concert promoter, who took a lot of chances and brought thousands of great shows to our city over the span of 30 years.

There is absolutely no question that he should go into the Pittsburgh Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame.

Just not first.

On Thursday, he will be the initial inductee into this symbolic hall created by the Hard Rock Cafe and the Cancer Caring Center. Inductees will be honored each year with a plaque mounted at the Hard Rock.

Mr. Engler, who in addition to being a promoter was the drummer for '60s band the Grains of Sand, will be celebrated with an all-star show featuring Donnie Iris, B.E. Taylor, Joe Grushecky, Scott Blasey and more.

On hand will be the actual president and CEO of the national Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Joel Peresman. It's a testament to DiCesare-Engler Productions that Mt. Lebanon native Mr. Peresman got his start there as an go-fer.

The chairs of the Pittsburgh rock hall are Mary Ann Miller and Theresa Kaufman, who both work in the public relations business. They conceived of the hall as a way to honor Pittsburgh music legends while raising money for the Cancer Caring Center, clearly a noble cause.

They are working on "a blue ribbon committee" to make decisions for the hall in the future.

Ms. Miller says that for now Mr. Engler was chosen because he is "where music came from in our lives -- his name was on everybody's list."

As longtime Pittsburghers know, it didn't start here with Rich Engler.

A legit Pittsburgh Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame should begin with Porky Chedwick, who started playing "race" records here in 1948, even before Alan Freed, who is credited with popularizing the phrase "rock 'n' roll." It was the Daddio of the Raddio who launched rock 'n' roll in Pittsburgh, played the forbidden black artists, broke records nationally and literally drove our teenagers wild in the streets (Stanley Theatre 1953).

He's still very much alive at 95, God bless him.

From there, you have to go to Jimmy Beaumont. And Joe Rock. Mr. Beaumont was and is the golden-voiced lead singer of the Skyliners, who went to No. 12 on the charts in 1959 with "Since I Don't Have You." It was the first major Pittsburgh hit of the rock era. (You have heard the Guns 'N Roses version).

It was written by late Skyliners manager and producer Joe Rock, who also managed the Jaggerz (No. 2 in 1970 with "The Rapper") and the Granati Brothers. He would have been the logical co-inductee with Mr. Beaumont.

There were other brilliant choices from the doo-wop era, including the Marcels ("Blue Moon"), Del-Vikings ("Come and Go With Me") and Lou Christie ("The Gypsy Cried").

Business-wise, the first inductee candidate is a no-brainer. It was, after all, called DiCesare-Engler, Pat DiCesare being the man who brought The Beatles to Pittsburgh in 1964. I would say that Mr. DiCesare was the Bill Graham of Pittsburgh, but he predated Bill Graham. A songwriter for doo-wop acts, he started booking concerts in 1962, mentored by his friend Tim Tormey, who was more of a Sinatra guy. Mr. DiCesare became the dominant promoter in town during the '60s and when Mr. Engler came along as the new kid on the block in 1969, Mr. DiCesare didn't try to squash him -- he made him a partner!

So, your first class of Pittsburgh Rock 'N Roll Hall of Famers: Porky Chedwick, Joe Rock, Jimmy Beaumont and Pat DiCesare.

You can't blame Mr. Engler for graciously accepting this honor. You can bet, though, that he will have a hand in making sense of this operation in the future.


Scott Mervis: smervis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2576.

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