"Buddy Kirk Musician Trumpet Big Band Leader All Star"
Buddy Kirk and Beachcomber Friend (Left to Right)
|Tuesday, March 10 | Texas' Oldest Newspaper: Since 1842|
"Bennett Concert Was Grand"
By Frances Powell Correspondent Published October 16, 2006,
The grand Grand’s Tony Bennett performance was very special to one of the Baby Apple’s longstanding music makers. Jean Kirk sez her beloved Buddy Kirk played for Tony in Hot Springs, Ark., when the band was working at the Vapors Night Club. Tony asked Buddy if he would run over another song to see what it sounded like. The band played it, everyone loved it and that song was “San Francisco!” Tony left for the West Coast and recorded it and the rest is history. The Kirks ran into Tony again in Vegas at a rehearsal. Tony stopped the band, came and sat with them and when Buddy said you probably don’t remember me, Tony said “I remember you more than you remember me, you played my ‘San Francisco’ first, before I ever recorded it. You were the first band that ever played it.” Jean got backstage to see Tony again, more to come and pix, next Scenes. Buddy was a great favorite on the island, hosting some big and we mean big acts. Among them are Bennett, Liberace, Mickey Rooney, Jane Russell, Dick Van Dyke, Sophie Tucker, Dennis Morgan, Gordon McCrae, Jane Mansfield, the Andrew Sisters, the McGuire sisters, Joe E. Lewis and a lot more. That was a great time for entertainment in the baby apple!
|By Ron Paglia|
FOR THE TRIBUNE-REVIEW Sunday, June 4, 2006
Ask Warren Sheppick if he remembers Lou Kelly and Eddie Warren from his days as a musician and bandleader in the area and he's likely to respond with a laugh and a sparkle in his eyes.
"Oh, they were great guys," Sheppick, of Fallowfield Township, likes to joke. "They were a big part of my life."
And they still are because, in reality, Warren Sheppick was Lou Kelly and Eddie Warren.
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"Almost everyone in the business had a stage name at one time or another," said Sheppick, who worked as a professional musician for nearly 40 years. "There were guys like Angie Bates (Battaglia), of California, and the Battaglini brothers, Ray and Arnold, of Brownsville, who recorded as the Ray Arnold Orchestra. And what about Arnold Orsolini, of Charleroi, who was part of the Stuart Arnold Orchestra? There were so many like that."
As for his first musical persona, Lou Kelly, Sheppick, who began playing professionally at 15, said he chose that one because "it had a ring to it and quite frankly, no one else in the union (American Federal of Musicians) had that name." And Eddie Warren? "That was just a play on my first and middle names."
Sheppick, who played saxophone and clarinet most of his career after starting with the trumpet, performed with some of the top orchestras in the region, as well as nationally, during his career. The roster includes those led by Russ Carlyle, touring through the Midwest and Southeast; Artie Arnell, a New Kensington band that toured West Virginia; the Twin Coaches house orchestra; Wally Gingers, Johnny Vass and Richard Lewis, all of Uniontown; Buddy Kirk; Sammy Bill; Angie Bates; Anthony Ferry, whose orchette was based in Homer City; Randy's Royals; and the Nocturnes.
"Angie Bates gave me my first shot at playing with a big band," Sheppick, 73, said. "It was 1949 and Angie had an eight-piece orchestra playing at Paci's Tropical Hotel at Malden on Route 40. He hired me to play five nights a week, and the pay was $48 a week. That was good money in those days."
Bates later expanded his musical horizons to a 17-piece band and played for most of the prime social events in the area for many years.
Buddy Kirk, originally from Greensburg, eventually went on the road and did a lot of "location work," Sheppick said in recalling how he followed the beat far from the Mon Valley.
"I worked with Buddy here at home and wrote many of his arrangements," Sheppick said. "He called me in 1959 and I went on the road with him. We landed in Galveston, Texas, at the Balinese Room, where I stayed from July 5 until mid-November. It was a lot of fun and that place was a beautiful club that was refurbished and brought back to life not long ago. I last wrote three arrangements for Buddy in 1990. He died in 1993 and I still miss him. He was a close friend."
Sheppick noted that among the other musicians with Kirk was a pianist named Don Yenko. He hailed from the Canonsburg area and later gained acclaim as a race car driver and owner-operator of the Chevrolet dealership that carried his name.
While Bates introduced Sheppick, a native of Roscoe, to the big-band venues, the Lou Kelly group made its debut on Dec. 13 at the Newell Hotel. Their business cards in those days carried such slogans as "Swoon and Sway the Kelly Way: Music for All Occasions." The Kelly combo, which also played New Year's Eve at the Newell site, which was owned by John Sepesy, was made up of, at various times, Joe Sulla, Ken Rishert, Phil Consonery, Bill Maxon, Don Vizza and Grace Tillman.
A serious automobile accident involving three vehicles on Route 88 in Allenport in 1949 totaled Maxon's car and put a dent in the band's plans. At 23, Maxon was the oldest of the group, as the others were all in their mid-teens. Maxon, who was nicknamed Jigsaw and who still resides in Roscoe, was an excellent drummer and dancer, Sheppick said .
"We were coming home from a gig in Brownsville when the crash happened," Sheppick said. "Everyone was banged up, but Phil took the brunt of it. He had lacerations of the lips and chin, and that pretty much ended his career. Donnie suffered a fractured leg and multiple lacerations of the face. He was initially taken to Charleroi-Monessen Hospital but was later transferred to Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh and remained there for about a month."
As a young musician, Sheppick also learned from the late Harry Pennline, of Charleroi.
"Mr. Pennline had a concert band, and we would practice at the old French Club on Third Street in Charleroi," Sheppick said. "He was an excellent teacher."
Sheppick obviously learned his lessons well because he performed with distinction at California Community High School, where he was selected to play tenor saxophone in the All-State Band at Hazelton on Feb. 16, 17 and 18, just a few months before he graduated.
"That was quite a trip to Hazelton," Sheppick said. "Pennsylvania was battered by a massive snow storm, and it took us a long time to get there."
Elwood E. Kinney, band master at California, accompanied Sheppick to the festivities at Hazelton High School. About 250 top musicians from high schools in the nine districts of Pennsylvania performed under the direction of Frederick Fennell, a Hazelton graduate who gained acclaim on the national scene as a composer and conductor.
"What a thrill that was," Sheppick said of the All-State Band. "I was proud to represent our high school and our community with such outstanding musicians. We had some mighty fine musicians at California at that time, so I always felt it was a reflection on them and Mr. Kinney."
Not long before the Hazelton assignment, Sheppick took part in a contest at West View High School near Pittsburgh and walked off with top honors in the tenor saxophone solo competition. Several months before that, he won first place in the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association's annual Western District High School Band Festival at Youngwood High School.
As a senior member of the California Community High School band, Sheppick had the opportunity to perform at halftime during Trojan football games. The team posted a 10-0-0 record and won the WPIAL Class A championship that year.
"Man, that was a great team," Sheppick said of the 1949 club, which was led by scholastic All-American halfback John Konek.
Sheppick said his interest in music came, in part, because his late brother, Donald William Sheppick, played the trumpet.
Don was killed in action during World War II when his plane was shot down by enemy fire over New Guinea on March 11, 1944.
"He was my big brother and an inspiration to me," Sheppick said of Don.
In 1962, Sheppick decided to form the Eddie Warren Orchestra. It was composed of Sammy Province, Sam Salero, Bob McVicker, Tom Kolodychak, Rich Christopher, Bruce Dopler, Buck Kelly, Bruce Smith and Bob Rossi. A photo of the musicians at the Beth-Center High School prom that year shows the spelling of the band's name as "Eddy Warren." Other advertisements referred to them as Ed Warren's Orchestra, but by any name the group was busy. They played proms, country clubs, concerts at Monessen City Park and a variety of other social events.
While the Warren group heralded as the area's newest "big band" in 1962, an earlier version existed in the mid-50s. Offering the "The Cloud Soft Sounds" of Eddy Warren and his Orchestra, that version of the band played at the Marion Junior High School canteen on a regular basis courtesy of the American Federation of Musicians.
"We traveled a lot," Sheppick said of the Warren groups. "Of course we played a lot in the Valley but we also had engagements in places like Latrobe, Somerset, Punxsutawney and Pittsburgh. If they called, we packed up our gear and instruments and took to the road."
After about 10 years of playing the big band circuit, Sheppick settled in with a group, Randy's Royals, in the early '70s that would keep him closer to home. He worked with leader Randy Dongilli, Barry Niccolai and Frank Sedelmyer.
"That was a fun time. Disco was big then," Sheppick, said.
Sheppick packed his baton away in 1980, about 10 years before he ended his career with Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp.
"I actually began working on my 'daytime job' with New York State Natural Gas Company at Gateway 3 in Pittsburgh," Sheppick recalled. "I was in their accounting department and I later took a similar job with Pittsburgh Steel at Allenport. In 1990, I was part of the union (United Steelworkers of America) bargaining team and we were in negotiations at Gateway 5 in Pittsburgh not long before I retired. I guess you might say I went full circle."
Sheppick and his wife, the former Jane Tillman, of Lock Four, have been married for more than 53 years. They have four children, nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Nostalgia flows freely today at their home as Sheppick relives his music career by playing records and tapes of some of his past performances.
And he's more than delighted to take out one of his original clarinets and play a tune for visitors.
"I originally studied trumpet and saxophone," Sheppick said. "But Mr. Pennline said it would be better to work with the clarinet and saxophone because they are more alike. He made me switch, so I bought a clarinet for $45, and I still have it."
In addition to Pennline, Sheppick studied with Max Adkins in Pittsburgh and professor Joseph Snyder of Duquesne University.
They were instrumental in his formative years and influenced his talents as Lou Kelly, Eddie/Eddy Warren; as a member of the California Community High School band; as a member of the marching band and jazz group at California State Teachers College. Their instructions remained with him, too, as he performed with the likes of Angie Bates, Danny Rose, Ken Bickerton, Ed Bertocci, Bruno Smolec and the Star Dusters, Jack Corry, Anthony Zema and the Belmore Trio, Buddy Hixenbaugh and his Rancheros, Joe Cardinale, Steve Blanda and Carl Miccarelli. The list goes on, as do memories of performances at Club 88 in Elco, the Hilton Hotel in Pittsburgh, Nemacolin Country Club, and the Sons of Italy in Cokeburg.
"It was a great run," Sheppick said. "Good friends, a lot of fun, a lot of memories. Who could ask for more?"