POST-GAZETTE, AUGUST 27, 2010
A Tribute to Skippy White’s 50th Anniversary
by Sal Giarratani
It was at this point in time in 1960. I had graduated col- lege that June and Babbo- nonno, who didn’t under- stand higher education and what it could do for some- one’s future, was proud of the accomplishments of his first born grandson.
His nostalgic comments included, “I justa wisha Nanna coulda live to see you fineesha schoola. She be so prouda whata you do.” I smiled and acknowledged that Nanna would have been proud. She passed away in 1958 due to terminal breast cancer.
Gus Sullivan, the coach at Boston State College, had gotten me a tryout with a Cincinnati Reds farm team and I was ready to head to the Midwest. Dad asked me what I was going to do for a job if I didn’t survive double A baseball. I didn’t have the answer until a friend from college, Paul Ciccarelli, called and told me that Tewksbury High School was looking for two shop teachers. We both applied for the jobs and after the interviews, were offered contracts, Paul to teach wood- working and I to teach draft- ing and design. I never mentioned anything about baseball to the people in Tewksbury but signed the contract anyway.
Baseball in the Midwest was fun and I did rather well as a middle infielder. I did have three problems in front of me, Pete Rose, Dave Concepcion and Joe Gordon. I was good, but they were great and I didn’t stand a chance. That September, I reported to Tewksbury High School for my first real job as an adult.
I, like my father before me, who played with the Reds as a utility catcher for one season, decided that I would make more money playing bass than baseball, and began to teach that fall and play music on the side.
The problem with my job in Tewksbury was that I lived in East Boston. Paul Ciccarelli called me to say that there were two teachers from Winthrop who were on the faculty at Tewksbury High School and we could car pool with them. Joe Crotty and Jim Dimento outlined their routine and Paul and I joined in right after Labor Day. As I said, my problem was the distance. With having to get up at 5:30 AM, I couldn’t play music during the week and get enough sleep to make things work, so music
would have to be a weekend activity.
I did receive a call from a bartender friend of mine ask- ing if I and my group would like to audition for a week- end job at the Charterhouse Hotel, where he worked. For those of you not old enough to remember the place, it was just over the line from Point of Pines as you enter Lynn. There was China Sails on the right, followed by the Charterhouse, just about where Building 19 is today. When I called the manager, I was told that they only wanted a piano and a bass in the lounge. I called Tony Poto, a fellow East Bostonian who had been with me playing college functions for four years and we headed to Lynn to audition.
The manager was a man named Marvin Newmark, and for whatever reason, took an immediate dislike to Tony and me. We played some of the tunes in our repertoire but the man wasn’t im- pressed and made negative comments after each selec- tion. There was another couple who joined him to lis- ten after the first song was played. They were fortyish and looked Italian. The woman asked if we knew a tune named Joey-Joey. Tony asked if they would like him to sing the lyrics and they smiled and nodded with approval. We played the song and Tony sang the words with Mr. Newmark making a negative comment once we finished. The couple that requested the song applauded with the man giving New- mark a dirty look. The woman whispered in her companion’s ear and he nod- ded back in the affirmative. He then turned to us and said, “My name is Dante Masseri and I am the CEO of this hotel. You are hired.” With that, Newmark walked out of the audition.
The Masseris commented that they had a young son named, Joey, and that little- known song that we played was his favorite. A bit later, I signed a contract to play at the hotel with Mr. Masseri adding that I would answer to him, only.
The school year and the weekend gig both got under way and baseball was put on a back burner never to crop up again. Monday through Friday, at about 5:15 AM, I would meet the members of the “East Boston Express,” the name given to our car- pool and we would drive to
FOR YOU WHO APPRECIATE THE FINEST —
Johnny Christy Orchestra
MUSIC FOR ALL OCCASIONS
Tewksbury. Paul and I had bus duty in both the morn- ing and afternoon and seven classes in a row with only twenty minutes for lunch. We were the new kids on the block and stuck with the worst schedules imagin- able. Needless to say, I wasn’t able to play during the week seeing that most musical engagements ended at 12:00 midnight or later and I had to be up at 5:30 in the morning. The job at the Charterhouse Hotel was from 8 to 12 on Friday and Saturday nights and didn’t interfere with teaching.
One problem did occur, though. Around Christmas time that year, Mr. Masseri asked if I could add a female singer to the group and I called someone I had worked with in another group. Her name was Arlene Bailey and she fit in beautifully. Her voice and our style of playing blended perfectly. The only problem was that this was in the early 1960s, and racially mixed groups were something that was consid- ered a “no-no.” Mr. Newmark was ready to fire us that first night that Arlene sang with us, but knew that we answered directly to Dante Masseri. Once that first evening’s performance ended, Masseri called me to the office to discuss the situation. My answer to him reflected my views, “Mr. Masseri, Arlene is the best local singer I know of. I think with her added to my duo, your cocktail lounge audience will look past the color line and accept us as three qualified performers, not an interracial group trying to make a statement.” Fortunately, he responded with a positive attitude and I now had a trio.
Within a month, we had a packed house every Friday and Saturday and the subject of color never came up again.
Both jobs lasted about a year. The Masseris sold out of the hotel business and the new owners decided to elimi- nate the lounge. The group broke following the engage- ment. Tony didn’t want to play weekends any more, Arlene had other job offers and I began knocking on doors in New York for week- end work. I bargained with the administration at the high school for free time during the day without bus duty but didn’t get it in writing. The second year started out the same as the first with my superiors deny- ing the promises they had made about a new schedule. During that first month of my second year, I received a call from the Boston Schools; they had a job for me. I gave two weeks’ notice and then began a 20 year stay at Hyde Park High School. Babbononno and my father both made comments on how my personality took an upswing after that change.
GOD BLESS AMERICA
Growing up in Roxbury during the sixties, we all owned record players and we all bought those 45 records and would listen for hours to our favorite singers and musical groups. After a while, we could lip-synch almost anything. I was a member of a Roxbury band named “The SilenSirs.” We did British rock and soul music. Lots of Motown and the Philly Sound. We would lis- ten over and over again to our records and get the lyrics down pat. We had the moves and the wardrobe too. We looked good.
I would often go downtown to find the latest released records but too often they didn’t have music that we in Roxbury liked so I started buying my records at Skippy White’s. First, the place was down on Washington Street near the Basin Street South Club, then Skippy moved the shop up and across Washington Street in an old drugstore under Northampton Street Station at the corner of Massa- chusetts Avenue. I actually saved many of those old 45 plat- ters but not the record machine which makes them nice to look at but not much else. You think I would have saved my record player too.
Hey, enough of me. Let’s get back to Skippy White, the legendary music giant in the ‘Bury. Today, his shop is up in Egleston Square near the Jamaica Plain-Roxbury line but for me when I think of Skippy White’s I think Lower Roxbury where I came from.
All the hits that various groups brought to the top of the charts would not have happened but for the likes of Skippy White. Listening to them on the radio was a random stroke of luck. You need a record player and those 45 platters to
really get into the music. I plan to attend the 50th
Anniversary of Skippy White’s
impact on music in Boston and you should too if you’re a Roxbury baby boomer who kept Skippy in business decades ago when he first opened shop.
The event is planned for September 4 at Russell Audito- rium on Talbot Avenue at 7:30pm with show time to start at 8:30pm. For further details call Finesse at 617-839-3824.
Back in the day when it came to my music there was Arnie Woo-Woo Ginsberg and the Night Train Show on WMEX and Skippy White’s on Washington Street. Then, there was the music itself. The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Supremes, Robert Knight and we can’t forget white soul too like Fee-fee-fi-fi-fo-fo-fum Mitch Ryder or Ron Barry doing 1-2-3.
On September 4 drift back in time celebrating the music that created a legend. The Marvelettes and The Platters will be there and if you’re lucky and Blue lets me, I’ll do my rendition of Robert Knights 1967 hit “Everlasting Love” and you haven’t heard “Everlasting Love” until you’ve heard me do it.
The Socially Set (Continued from Page 9)
PEM’s “Black and White Ball” co-chairs Robin Falzone, left, and Robin Kramer, right, are pictured with Ball sponsor Nancy Haas of Shreve, Crump & Low.
(Photo by Roger Farrington)
ton, Boston Metro Opera, Boston Opera Collaborative, Boston Singers Resource, Cape Cod Opera, Common- wealth Opera, Emerson College, Harvard University, Intermezzo Opera, Longwood Opera, Longy School of Music, Massachusetts Insti- tute of Technology, Metro- west Opera, North of Boston Arts Center, Opera del West, Opera Hub and Worcester Opera Works.
More information about Opera Conference 2011 may
be found at www.opera america.org/content/confer- ence. Registration will open
in the fall. Enjoy!
Morrill’s gardening Web site, www.bostongardens.com. In addition to events covered and reported by the columnist, “The Socially Set” is compiled from various other sources such as news and press re- leases, PRNewswire services, etc.)