Tonight: Relive the Sixties with El Reys at Atria's in PNC Park
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Imagine: It's the early 1960s and six high school guys are singing at a talent show in Aliquippa one night. The place is full of kids -- greasers and teenyboppers -- digging the doo-wop.
In the back of the room is famed bluesman Bo Diddley, who just happened to be playing a gig up the street at the Villa Lounge. He likes the boys so much, he invites them back to the restaurant with him.
Here's the kicker: That wasn't the highlight of the evening.
The best thing to happen to Stush Bogdan and the rest of the El Reys that night was that Augie Bernardo, owner of Ideal Records in Pittsburgh, also was in the crowd. And that led to the El Reys' record contract.
Heady days, indeed.
And tonight, those days are revisited as Mr. Bogdan and the new members of the El Reys perform their a cappella classics at Atria's in PNC Park on the North Shore.
"We started out, we just enjoyed standing on the corner singing," recalled Mr. Bogdan, 66, of Kennedy. "Maybe later on we did it to meet girls, but that wasn't why we started doing it. Then, once we started doing high school dances, we went on to some college things, some orphanages."
Most of the guys in the group were freshmen at Canevin High School when they started. They were a vocal group, meaning only a couple of them ever picked up an instrument. They weren't planning on careers in music. In fact, they weren't planning much at all. They were taking life as it came.
And it came in a whirlwind. They had fan clubs. Local DJ Porky Chedwick was playing four of their singles on the radio -- "Diamonds and Pearls," "Angalie," "Beverly" and "Rocket of Love" -- and they were performing with some of the traveling rock 'n' roll shows that traveled through Western Pennsylvania.
"In 1964, we opened for the Rolling Stones, who were on their first trip to America," Mr. Bogdan said.
It was Wednesday, June 17, at West View Danceland.
"They were right next to us in one big dressing room," he laughed.
But things change, whether you have plans or not. For Mr. Bogdan, it was the war in Vietnam. He was drafted. Other members of the group went to college. Though the guys stayed in touch, the El Reys were finished.
"They were all in my wedding party," Mr. Bogdan said. "So we were always friends. But we didn't really get back together."
One of the guys, Tim Eyermann, pursued a career in music, earning national acclaim playing the saxophone with the East Coast Offering. He died in 2007.
Other original El Reys also have passed away.
After his military service, Mr. Bogdan worked for a trucking company in the Strip District. Sometimes he sang with his cousins, performing songs by Three Dog Night, Chicago and Sly and the Family Stone. Not exactly doo-wop, but still fun.
For a while.
"I'd pretty much quit, but this friend of mine from high school kept bugging me about getting back together," Mr. Bogdan said. "I put him off. I said, 'I'm getting too old for that stuff.'
"Well, he said he had a few guys and they were going to practice. Why didn't I just stop by the practice? So, I said, 'OK, but if I'm not enjoying myself, I'm out of there.' I'm at the point in my life where I want to enjoy everything in my life.
"So I went out and it went real well. That's how we started back."
The new El Reys include Paul Durham of Monroeville, Bill Leverette of Wilkinsburg, Tim Steele of Greensburg and J.D. Merkle of Baden. They're performing at high school reunions, birthdays and weddings. Once a month, you can find them singing at Atria's, in the Johnny Angel Lounge. Tonight, starting at 7:30, for example.
The audiences seem to appreciate having the memories stirred.
"It just happened to me again," Mr. Bogdan said. "This woman came up to me and said, 'I remember the last time I saw you -- must have been 40 some years ago at the Catholic high school, and I can still remember the song you sang.'
"That's always nice."
First Published January 31, 2013 3:30 pm