2016 Rock 'N Roll Legends Awards inductees announced
March 2, 2016 8:24 AM
Joe Grushecky plays at Soldiers and Sailors Hall in Oakland.
By Scott Mervis / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The voters had the option to go younger, but chose to reach deeper into local music history for the inductees into the 2016 Pittsburgh Rock ’N Roll Legends Awards, announced today.
The new class consists of three classic performers, a promotions pioneer and one of the longest-running DJs on the air.
The winners are:
Modern Era Legends (solo performer or band with 20-plus years in the business): Billy Price and Joe Grushecky. Also nominated were Rusted Root and The Clarks.
Legacy Legends (solo performer or band with 40-plus years in the business — one inductee): The Skyliners. Also nominated were Bobby Vinton, The Jaggerz and The Vogues.
Music Industry Professional Legends (producer, promoter, manager, etc., with 20-plus years in the business — one inductee): Pat DiCesare. Also nominated were Henry DeLuca and Joe Rock.
Music Broadcaster Legends (DJ with 20-plus years in the business — one inductee): Sean McDowell. Also nominated were Chuck Brinkman and Terry Lee.
Mr. DiCesare is now an honoree of the Pittsburgh Rock ‘N Roll Legends along with former partner and 2014’s lone inductee Rich Engler, and they all join last year’s lineup of Donnie Iris, Lou Christie and Porky Chedwick.
“I’m thrilled. I’m very happy about it,” Mr. Grushecky said. “And I’m happy the city is shining some light on its artists. Pittsburgh is a unique town where the hardcore musicians are still here in the town, and you see them play all the time, and it’s a tight-knit musical community. And it really can stand up against anybody.”
“It feels great to be recognized in this way, especially knowing that the recognition is a result of people voting for me,” Price said. “I settled in Pittsburgh in the early ’70s through a series of accidents, but the city has proven to be a great environment for supporting the kind of traditional blues and soul music that I’ve always wanted to sing.”
The Legends registry and event began two years ago as a gala benefit for the Pittsburgh Cancer Caring Center. This year’s inductees were selected through weighted ballots cast by more than 1,550 registered voters from the general public and the Pittsburgh Rock ‘N Roll Legends Awards Academy of Voters, comprising more than 200 local producers, promoters, music historians, musicians, media and educators.
The celebration, previously held at the Hard Rock Cafe at Station Square, will move to Stage AE on the North Shore on April 28.
Here is a closer look at the inductees:
The Skyliners: Enduring doo-wop legends
The ’50s doo-wop group, still touring the country with original member and lead singer Jimmy Beaumont, are beloved for “Since I Don’t Have You,” a ballad written by Mr. Beaumont and manager Joe Rock that topped the Cashbox R&B chart and went to No. 3 on the Billboard R&B chart in February 1959.
Mr. Beaumont, from the city’s Knoxville neighborhood, was just 18 when it was recorded at Capitol Studios in New York with bandmates Janet Vogel, Wally Lester, Joe VerScharen and Jackie Taylor. Thirteen labels rejected the demo as being too sad before it was released by the local Calico Records.
The Skyliners hit No. 26 in Billboard with a second ballad, “This I Swear,” in June 1959, and scored another hit with a cover of “Pennies From Heaven” a year later. The group split in 1963, just before the British Invasion, and reunited for an oldies revival concert in 1970 at Madison Square Garden. In 1975, the Skyliners squeaked back into the Top 100 again with “Where Have They Gone.”
Mr. Taylor is the only other living member of the group, whose current lineup consists of the 75-year-old Beaumont, Donna Groom, Nick Pociask and Frank Czuri (Diamond Reo, Silencers). In October, Stevie Wonder called them on stage at Consol Energy Center to join him in singing “Since I Don’t Have You,” one of his favorite old songs.
Joe Grushecky: A Houserocker for life
No one has embodied the rough-and-tumble sound of Pittsburgh rock ’n’ roll more than Irwin native Grushecky, who led the legendary Iron City Houserockers in the late ’70s. Sprung from the Brick Alley Band, the Houserockers became the house band at the Decade in Oakland and signed to MCA for the debut album “Love’s So Tough.” The follow-up, “Have a Good Time (But Get Out Alive)” — produced by Mick Ronson, Ian Hunter and Steve Van Zandt — included such anthems as “Pumpin’ Iron (Sweatin’ Steel)” and “Junior’s Bar” and was deemed by Rolling Stone as a “New American classic.”
After a fourth Houserockers album in 1983, the frontman split off to form Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers and released his first solo album, “Rock & Real,” in 1989. His fourth album, 1995’s “American Babylon,” received wider attention as it featured songs co-written and produced by Bruce Springsteen, whom he has jammed with for years in bars and arenas -— including just last week in Cleveland.
While spending most of his career working a day job as a special ed teacher, Mr. Grushecky, 67, has never slowed down, musically, and just released his ninth post-I.C. Houserockers album, “It’s in My Song.”
Billy Price: Soul man from Jersey
The first inductee who is not a Pittsburgh-area native, the R&B/soul singer born William Pollak came to us from New Jersey after he formed the Rhythm Kings at Penn State around 1970. That group became a Walnut Street institution at the Fox Cafe before Price was recruited to hit the road with guitar great Roy Buchanan in 1972 and appear on his album “Live Stock.”
In 1977, Price formed the Keystone Rhythm Band, pairing his soulful vocals with the stinging leads of guitarist Glenn Pavone and a brass section featuring Kenny Blake and Eric Leeds (who later played in Prince’s Revolution). The KRB debuted in 1981 with “Is It Over?” and released a handful of popular regional records, making them an attraction along the East Coast.
After releasing the 1988 “Free at Last,” the KRB split in 1990 when Pavone (now deceased) left to form his own band, The Cyclones. Price went solo with the album “Danger Zone.”
As a solo artist, the 66-year-old Price has continued to mine his Southern soul roots, collaborating with Otis Clay, Fred Chapellier and Mark Wenner of The Nighthawks, among others. His full-length album with the late Mr. Clay, “This Time for Real,” is nominated for best soul blues album at the 37th Annual Blues Music Awards in Memphis in May.
“The recognition belongs just as much to the great musicians I’ve met and collaborated with here,” Price says. “My current band is a great example. I’ve been playing with Dave Dodd and Tom Valentine since the late ’70s. Jimmy Britton has been with me since 2005. Eric DeFade has played sax with me for more than 20 years, and Steve Delach has been on guitar for close to 10 years. Even my road manager, Pete Leary, has a 20-year gold watch. He was a kid when he started with me.”
Pat DiCesare: Promoter, from the Beatles and beyond
Growing up in Pittsburgh from the ’70s to ’90s meant seeing the words “DiCesare-Engler” on just about every rock concert ticket.
Raised in Trafford in a family with 10 children, Mr. DiCesare started as a busboy at the Holiday House before getting into the music side, singing in a vocal group dubbed the Penn Boys and writing songs for the Del-Vikings. From there, he worked in record distribution with Pittsburgh promoter and music producer Nick Cenci.
In 1964, while being mentored by promoter Tim Tormey, he took the leap of borrowing $5,000 from his parents to bring the Beatles to Pittsburgh during the height of Beatlemania. Of course, it was a smash success, launching his career as a concert promoter. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, he brought the Doors, Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin.
In 1972, he partnered with young hotshot Engler to form one of the great American promotion teams, DiCesare-Engler, which owned the Stanley Theater from 1977 to 1984. In 1998, D-E sold its operation to SFX, which evolved into Live Nation.
In recent years, the 77-year-old has gotten back into promotion on a limited basis and in 2014, he released his memoir, “Hard Days, Hard Nights ….”
“Pittsburgh has been really great to me,” he says. “I appreciate all of the support that I have received for the past 60 years from concertgoers. The greatest thrill that I get in my life is when someone comes up to my wife and me at a restaurant or some place that I least expect it and says something like, ‘Mr. DiCesare, I just want to thank you for getting me tickets to see Bruce Springsteen 40 years ago. That was the greatest day in my life, and I will never forget it.’
“I was always amazed by that reaction, and it has happened to me a thousand times. When the person leaves, I will say to my wife, ‘You know what?’ And Kathy will interrupt and say to me, ‘I know, that was his Super Bowl.’”
Sean McDowell: A favorite voice at WDVE
There’s not a whole lot of introduction needed here. You can still listen to the DJ every day at WDVE 102.5-FM doing the afternoon shift he’s been on since 1993.
His father is the late Al McDowell, who worked at KDKA in the 1960s and at WTAE in the 1970s. After studying communications at the University of Dayton, Sean, also a bar band drummer, started his career at the former free-form rock station WYDD-FM in New Kensington in 1978, back when DJs could pick their own music.
He did that for two years, and then after a short stint as program director at the former WYTK in Washington, Pa., he was hired by Chuck Brinkman for the overnight weekend shift at the former WFFM in Braddock. He lasted there for 13 years, through multiple format changes, before landing at WDVE.
Along with spinning records, the 60-year-old Mr. McDowell brings a wealth of rock ’n’ roll experience to the job.
“I was floored,” he said, upon hearing the news. “I never, ever, ever thought of myself of a legend. Chuck Brinkman, Billy Price, Joe Grushecky, I never even considered myself in the same train of thought. Chuck brought the Beatles on stage, brought the Stones on stage at West View Park. Chuck was the emcee at all these venues. We were up against each other and I told everyone on the committee that I’m going to dedicate this to him, and I put a post on the DVE Facebook page saying don’t vote for me ’cause Chuck and I are in the same category.”
The ceremony at Stage AE will feature performances by the Pittsburgh All-Star Band, including this year’s new inductees plus Donnie Iris, Rick Witkowski, Hermie Granati, Ed Manion, Johnny Angel, Rusted Root, Scott Blasey and more. There will be a live and a silent auction including autographed memorabilia and video tributes.
Tickets prices range from $100 to $250. For more info, or to donate an auction prize, contact the Center at 412-622-1212 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scott Mervis: email@example.com; 412-263-2576; Twitter: @scottmervis_pg.
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