Abate Joins Exclusive Class of Musicians

Published in Woonsocket Call on February 28, 2016

Sometimes a simple happenstance can propel a person into life’s mission. This happened to nine-year-old Greg Abate, when his mother, Elvira, rented a clarinet from a traveling salesman who just by chance came by their Woonsocket home. A rented instrument led to the youngster joining his school band, where he began playing clarinet and alto sax.

Abate has come a long from his first music recital to his elementary school classmates. More than 27 years of playing in Jazz Festivals, Jazz Societies and Jazz Clubs, even being tutored by some of the greatest jazz players, has pushed him to the top of his craft.

Now, in recognition of Abate’s long musical career and being a driving force in the world of jazz, in April the Rhode Islander will be among the eight new inductees who are brought into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame (RIMHOF). His fellow inductees include: Frankie Carle, Bill Harley, Carl Henry, Carol Sloane, Sugar Ray & The Bluetones, Richard Walton and The Fabulous Motels/The Young Adults/Rudy Cheeks.

According to Rick Bellaire, Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame (RIMHOF)’s Vice Chair and Archive director, “Greg Abate is one of our state’s most popular and successful musicians. He has been well-known in southern New England for forty years and has been a star on the international stage for the past thirty. At the beginning, the board wanted to establish credibility by adhering to chronology and inducting historical figures first in many categories. With the inductions of Bobby Hackett, Dave McKenna, Paul Gonsalves, George Wein and George Masso, this year’s jazz inductions of Frankie Carle, Carol Sloane and Greg establish an unbroken line which not only stretches all the way from the 1930s to the present, but clearly illustrates Rhode Island’s truly important place in jazz history.”

Bellaire adds, “Greg is universally recognized as one of the finest players performing and recording today. His massive body of work and international touring history clearly place him on the list of all-time greats. Here’s a good example. Greg’s new album, Kindred Spirits, recorded with legendary alto saxophonist Phil Woods, has just been released. Although the late Mr. Woods had been recording since the 1940s, Greg has clearly leveled the playing field. In a review of the album for the All About Jazz website, Edward Blanco declared, “…both masters are at their best.”

Before he died last September, Phil Wood, considered one of the best alto saxophone players, said, “I sleep a lot better knowing that there are alto players like Greg. It was a joy to make music with him and he writes good songs that are challenging.”

Playing With the Greatest

Upon finishing a four-year program at Berklee College of Music, Abate joined the Los Angeles jazz scene, playing with David Clark Expedition and other local rhythm and blues groups. An audition led to his first high-profile gig, playing lead alto for the Ray Charles Orchestra from 1973 to 1974. He would record his first record with this group.

Abate came back to the Ocean State in 1976 to launch his career, forming the fusion band Channel One, ultimately releasing his first album, Without Boundaries, in 1981. Playing throughout Connecticut to New York for seven years brought attention to this group and made it a favorite of many New Englanders.

At that time, “I wrote lots of music and did a lot of hard, serious playing,” he remembers. The young musician took an opportunity to play tenor sax with the revived Artie Shaw Orchestra under the leadership of Dick Johnson from 1986 to ’87. For the next two years he would play with the Providence-based Duke Belaire Jazz Orchestra, honing his musical skills. “I received some of my greatest musical education from some of the greatest players from this band,” he says.

Working and learning from the greatest, Abate would begin a solo career showcasing his unique style bring him worldwide notice.

Today, Abate, a sixty-six year old Coventry resident, is internationally acclaimed for his mastery of jazz. He says, “Music found me, I did not find it.” Over his musical career, the jazz saxophonist, flutist, composer and educator, has released 18 recordings.

Last year, Abate traveled over 200 days playing in Jazz Festivals, Jazz Societies and Jazz Clubs. He has performed in 30 countries, playing in every state in the national, except Montana, Alaska and Oregon.

Looking back at his career, Abate says, “The tradition of jazz is very important to me and I take it very seriously. Jazz is just in my blood.”

RIMHOF’s Fifth Class of Inductees

Robert Billington, Chair of the RIMHOF noted, “This year’s class of inductees is especially amazing due to the variety of music styles and musical periods that we are recognizing. The thousand Saturday nights that these musicians spent on the road throughout their careers will be recognized this April as their colleagues throughout Rhode Island stand to applaud their success.”

“The Music Hall of Fame initiative,” says Rick Bellaire, vice chair of RIMHOF, “provides a great opportunity to not only acknowledge Rhode Island’s musical greats and celebrate their achievements, but to finally have an organization whose primary goal is to promote and preserve Rhode Island’s rich musical heritage in all its forms. With actual exhibit space, coupled with our planned online digital archive, we will have in place the tools to curate and showcase the best of Rhode Island’s musical artists.”

This year’s induction ceremonies and concert events will take place on three days, April 21, April 24, and April 30, and will take place at three separate locations.

The jazz inductions will take place on Thursday, April 21, 7:00 p.m. at Chan’s, 267 Main St., Woonsocket. Being honored on April 21 will be Frankie Carle, Greg Abate and Carol Sloane. Supporting Abate and Sloane in their musical selections will be Tim Ray on piano, bass player Marty Ballow and Marty RIchards on drums. Tickets for the April 21 event at Chan’s are $15.00.

The 2016 RIMOF Induction Ceremony and Concert is set for Sunday, April 24, 2:00 p.m. at The Met and Hall of Fame itself, both located within the Hope Artiste Village Complex, 999 Main St., Pawtucket RI. Sunday’s afternoon event will include the unveiling of eight new exhibits (now totaling 48 exhibits) as well as performances by The Young Adults, Sugar Ray & the Bluetones and Bill Harley performing a set of his adult music. This concert will be proceeded by the unveiling of all eight 2016 inductee exhibits. Tickets for the April 24 event at The Met are $20.00 in advance and $25.00 at the door. The 2 p.m. unveiling of the inductee exhibits are free and open to the public; a ticket will be required for entrance to the 3:00 p.m. concert in the Met.

On Saturday, April 30, 2:00 p.m., Bill Harley will be presenting a family show featuring selections from his award-winning children’s recordings at the Blackstone River Theatre, 549 Broad St., Cumberland. Tickets for the April 30 event are $6.00 for children and $12.00 for adults with a family cap of $ 36.00.

Tickets for the three separate events can be purchased by visiting:
http://www.rhodeislandmusichalloffame.com.

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Lupo Celebrates 40th Anniversary with Five Nights of Music

Published in Woonsocket Call on September 20, 2015

Rich Lupo, 66, acknowledges that time flies by fast. In fact his namesake music venue, Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel, celebrates its 40th Anniversary next month.   We sit at the Cup & Saucer, a retro-fifties decorated diner on Pawtucket’s historic Main St., reminiscing over four decades of being actively involved in Rhode Island’s music scene.

In September 1975, although primarily a blues club, Lupo’s became the first venue operating in the Capitol City to embrace all types of live music. The Brown University graduate opened Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel at 377 Westminster Street (a 4,000 sq. ft. former retail store) after unsuccessful attempts to a find a location in Fox Point & North Main St.  Ultimately, his decision to open up that club (followed soon by The Met Café & The Living Room) led to a revitalization of Providence’s music scene.

The Early Years

In his early years, Lupo remembers working long hours as a house painter during his college years and after and saved up the $15,000 to start his bar.   As a teenager, he would tell others how cool he thought it would be to open a bar, with people dancing to records playing from a jukebox and listening to live bands. The young club owner dreamed of having Bo Diddley and other rock & roll heroes play on his stage.   This would happen.

According to Lupo, it turned out that customers only showed up on live music nights. So, while the jukebox stayed, band nights soon expanded from one to seven nights per week. The Heartbreak Hotel became a home to bands well-known for blues, rock n roll, country rock, jazz – that came to New England looking for a gig.  Many local favorites — including Roomful of Blues, Rizzz, Wild Turkey, The Young Adults, Schemers, NRBQ and Max Creek – played there and continue to do so.

Lupo says that the first national act at the club was harp player Big Walter Horton in November 1975.  In 1976, teaming up with independent booking agent Jack Reich allowed the club to expand past blues to rock and beyond. That year, The Ramones played his club.  In 1977, Lupo’s had Bo Diddley week – 9 consecutive sold out shows with Bo backed by The Young Adults. Over the next few years more rock n roll and blues icons appeared at Lupo’s: James Brown, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Muddy Waters, Iggy Pop, The Pretenders, The Go Gos, Stevie Ray Vaughn — to name just a few.

Being Forced Out by Condo Development

In 1988, Providence downtown gentrification would force Lupo close his initial club.  Reaching out to a college friend & realtor, he found his new digs at the former Peerless Department Store, reopening in 1993. The new space was great because, though large, it still had a sense of intimacy.

With its’s 10,000 sq ft of space, the club could do more and larger concerts.  The space also annexed The Met Café, an intimate venue for smaller touring acts and local bands. At The Met, customers saw the early shows of future stars such as Dave Matthews, Oasis, and White Stripes.

At this 2nd Lupo’s, the first shows were Belly and Meat Loaf. Later, the club hosted acts as diverse as Ziggy Marley, Hole, Radiohead, Garbage, Willie Nelson, Green Day, Foo Fighters, Anthrax, and even Tony Bennett.

In 2003, the club was again forced to move and Providence City officials suggested the Strand Building on Washington Street. But the club had to share this space with the existing NV dance club, a separately owned business.

At its new location, there was no room for The Met. It would take 7 years for Lupo & his wife, Sarah, to reopen The Met, just three miles away at the Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket.

Ending our conversation, Lupo looks back and quickly rattles off some of the ups and downs of the last 40 years.  Although there were plenty of both, Lupo best remembers realizing the dream of his heroes playing his stage and countless nights of joyous audiences – taking some of the sting out of spending 15 of the 40 years fighting evictions.

But, Lupo remains even-keeled by following advice from his eighty year old friend, Chuck Lynch, who always says “Just keep jogging in place.”  If he follows this advice I expect him to remain in business for another 40 years.

The Upcoming Anniversary Celebration

Lupo’s 40th Anniversary Celebration will take place on October 7 – 11, 2015 at The Met, Hope Artiste Village, 1005 Main St. Pawtucket.

Here are the details:

Wednesday, October 7 —   Max Creek $10 (Adv), Doors 6PM | Show 7PM

Thursday, October 8 — “40 Years of Rhody Blues” –  Hosted by Duke Robillard & featuring Al Copley, Rich Lataille, Greg Piccollo, Doug James, Carl Queforth, Marty Ballou, Marty Richards, Rob Nelson with Special Guests: Ken Lyon & James Montgomery. $10, Doors 6PM | Show 7PM

Friday, Oct. 9 — The Schemers, Neutral Nation, Jungle Dogs and Rash. $10, Doors 6PM | Show 7PM

Saturday, October 10 — Rizzz.  Members of the Wild Turkey Band
& Friends featuring Tom Keegan. $10, Doors 6PM | Show 7PM

Sunday, October 11 – The Young Adults, Georgie Porgie & The Cry Babies. $15, Doors 6PM | Show 7PM

For more details, call 401-331-5876 or go to www.lupos.com & http://www.themetri.com

Leonard Hits High Notes

Published February 27, 2015 in Senior Digest

Before even cutting his first record, little did Pawtucket’s George Leonard realize that he would help set legal precedents for student dress codes as well as ultimately make it into the rock ‘n’ roll history books and now, in 2015, into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame (RIMHOF).

When Leonard’s family relocated to nearby Attleboro in 1964, the young high school student was tossed out on the first day of school for having a “Beatle-length” haircut. Already an established professional musician, Leonard filed a freedom of expression lawsuit against the School Department, which dragged on through several appeals and wound up in the Massachusetts Supreme Court. Although the court finally sided with the School Department, it was too late.

“This was a landmark case. Students all over the country, following George’s example, began demanding their right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Long hair became the order of the day,” said Rick Bellaire, RIMHOF vice chair and archive director.

The teenager deftly capitalized on the intense interest generated by the internationally publicized lawsuit, which brought his band, Georgie Porgie & The Cry Babies, onto the thriving New York City discotheque scene of the mid-1960s.

The popularity of the band led to two national releases for Jubilee Records. After the Cry Babies ran its course, Leonard composed and produced the controversial rock opera, “Bozo.”   He later, under his alter-ego, “Commander Video,” became a cable TV pioneer on the blossoming performance art scene in New York City in the 1970s.

Although the 67-year-old musician resides in Bristol, he still strongly feels his connections to Pawtucket. “I only perform for my friends these days,” says Leonard, admitting that he enjoys playing jazz much more than rock ‘n’ roll and blues.

Looking back, Leonard says that passion never pushed him into the music business. Practically speaking, “It was always easy for me to play music and I enjoyed writing songs,” he said.

According to Bellaire, Leonard will be inducted into the RIMHOF with The Schemers/Raindogs, Brenda Bennett, Nelson Eddy, George Masso, George Wein, Duke Belaire, Paco Zimmer, The Others and The Ascots (recognizing the great Rhode Island garage bands of the ‘60s along with Leonard), Bob Petteruti, Marty Ballou and Marty Richards (in the new “MVP sideman award” category).

“The Music Hall of Fame initiative,” says Bellaire, “provides a great opportunity to not only acknowledge Rhode Island’s musical greats and celebrate their achievements, but to finally have an organization whose primary goal is to promote and preserve Rhode Island’s rich musical heritage in all its forms. With actual exhibit space, coupled with our online archive, we have in place the tools to curate and showcase the best of Rhode Island’s musical artistry.”

This year, Bellaire said, there will be two induction ceremonies, and 11 more displays will be unveiled to celebrate inductees. Eventually, the museum will have more than 100 displays as well as memorabilia and interactive components.

The induction of jazz musicians will take place on April 20 at 7 p.m. at Bovi’s Tavern, 287 Taunton Ave., East Providence, before the weekly performance by the John Allmark Jazz Orchestra. George Masso, Bob Petteruti and Duke Belaire, the founder of the Bovi’s big band, will be honored.

On April 26, there will be an induction ceremony and concert at The MET and Hall of Fame within Hope Artiste Village, 999 Main St., Pawtucket. An afternoon event will include the unveiling of the inductee exhibits as well as performances by The Schemers, Raindogs, Brenda Bennett, The Ascots, TheOthers and an all-star jam session led by two of this year’s MVP sideman award winners — Ballou and Richards.

The 2 p.m. unveiling is free, but a ticket will be required for entrance to the 3 p.m. concert in the MET. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door and can be purchased atwww.RhodeIslandMusicHallofFame.com

Robert Billington, chair of the RIMHOF, said, “This year’s class of inductees is especially amazing due to the variety of music styles and musical periods that we are recognizing. The thousand Saturday nights that these musicians spent on the road throughout their careers will be recognized this April as their colleagues throughout Rhode Island stand to applaud their successes.

“Our induction ceremony … has become the place for a ‘who’s who in Rhode Island music,” he said. “The Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame Induction ceremony and concert is the place to be and be seen at as we continue to showcase the history of Rhode Island’s musical heroes.”

Bellaire noted, “In past years, we’ve been delighted to induct many senior members of Rhode Island’s music community. For instance, last year The Mark II – Wayne Cogswell and Ray Peterson who are both in their 80s — were on hand to accept their awards and perform, and Rhode Island Philharmonic founder Francis Madeira at 97 came all the way down from Maine to accept his award during a philharmonic performance at The Vets.

“This year, we will be honored to have some of the most senior inductees with us,” he continued, “… all of whom are still active participants on the music scene, including drummer/band leader Duke Belaire (83), bassist/educator Bob Petteruti (85), trombonist/educator George Masso (88), and Newport Jazz and Folk festival founder George Wein (89).”

Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based writer. Contact him at hweissri@aol.com.

 

Fund the Historic Tax Credit Program

Published in Pawtucket Times, June 13, 2014

With November’s election cycle looming, state lawmakers are moving quickly to finish the people’s business. Once the session ends they will begin their political campaigns to garner votes to retain their seats. .Yesterday evening the House began its floor debate on the House Finance Committee’s $8.7 billion 2015 budget proposal. At press time, this columnist has no knowledge of the outcome. But, when the dust settles late Thursday evening, if a budget amendment to fund the HTC program is defeated or even if supporters are successful in getting one passed, the Senate chamber becomes the next battle ground to fund the tax credit program.

Last week, the House Finance Committee declined to recommend funding for this program, despite Governor Chafee’s inclusion of $52 million for the Historic Tax Credit (HTC) program in his FY 2015 Budget proposal. As a result, Grow Smart Executive Director Scott Wolf and his fellow Historic Tax Credit advocates are running a full court press to push House and Senate leadership to include funding for the popular economic-development and neighborhood-revitalization program in the 2015 Budget.

In the lobbying blitz, Wolf is telling lawmakers and everyone who will listen that the HTC program has successfully transform older cities and towns in the Ocean State, by spurring reinvestment, revitalization, and job generation. These programs provide an incentive in the form of a tax credit, to property owners to renovate old historic buildings. These state credits can be and often are paired with the federal historic preservation tax credit to renovate commercial properties.

Historic Tax Credit – Great Economic Development Tool

It’s a success in the Ocean State, too, notes Wolfe. Rhode Island’s HTC program has stimulated more than $1.6 billion of investment in more than 250 projects within less than 7 years. For every dollar the state invests, there is a more than five dollar return in economic activity based on a study Wolf’s organization, Grow Smart Rhode Island, commissioned several years ago.

Wolf adds, “The evidence that the historic tax credit makes a real positive difference can be seen on the ground in communities throughout the state – in bustling commercial properties like Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket and along Westminster Street in Providence, in new apartments for urban workers and new affordable housing units. It can be seen in increased property tax revenues from rehabbed buildings. It can be seen in neighborhoods that have been rescued from the blight of vacant, derelict buildings.”

According to a media release issued jointly by Grow Smart Rhode Island and Preserve Rhode Island, $52 million in bond authorization remains in reserve from the total bond authorization approved in 2008 by the General Assembly for the original HTC program, which was discontinued in 2008 for any new projects but maintained for many other projects already under way at that time.

The General Assembly in 2013 reinstated the program, using $34.5 million in unclaimed tax credits from the prior program and, Wolf says, “The new program has ignited 26 new projects that will pump nearly $180 million into the Rhode Island economy, but 27 additional projects are waitlisted and in jeopardy if additional funding is not provided to sustain the program. By not including an extension of historic tax credit funding in the upcoming budget, the state risks forgoing up to $160 million in construction activity alone. Significant sales and employment taxes also will be lost.”

Preserve Rhode Island Executive Director Valerie Talmage says, “Our Historic Tax Credit program has an outstanding track record. From 2002 to 2008, it generated $1.3 billion in new private investment in Rhode Island’s real-estate economy, which resulted in 22,000 construction jobs, 6,000 permanent jobs, and total wages of more than $800 million. Our state cannot afford to shut this program down.”

Wolf added that suspending the HTC program again would be harmful because “We’d be ceding the competitive advantage provided by our world-renowned collection of distinctive historic buildings and neighborhoods to nearby states such as Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, and New York, each of which has ongoing and robust state historic tax credit programs.”

Finally, Wolf emphasized that another HTC program suspension would “Send a bad signal to investors and entrepreneurs about Rhode Island’s business climate and economic development credibility.”

Wolf and Talmage, together with their organization members, partners, and fellow advocates are calling on the General Assembly to “Continue the Historic Tax Credit program because it is a sound and critical investment in Rhode Island’s cities and towns and a proven job-generator and revenue producer, which our state sorely needs.”

In their lobbying Wolf, Talmage and their network of approximately 90 organizations who support the HTC program are quick to identify its positive impact. State officials will see higher state revenues through construction and other jobs generated by the HTC projects. In addition, job creation and increased employment taxes are derived years in advance of any outlay of state funding because Historic Tax Credits are not released for any enrolled project until the project is completed. Sales-tax revenues result from construction materials and other goods purchased for HTC projects also benefit the state in advance of any outlay.

Wolf and others also note that The Budget Office forecasts no fiscal impact to the state budget from the proposed $52 Million in debt service until FY ’19 because bonds won’t need to be issued until the projects have been completed and the tax credits have been claimed.

In an Op Ed in the Providence Journal, Pawtucket’s Mayor Donald R. Grebien and Central Fall’s Mayor James Diossa, support Wolf’s assessment of its impact in the state’s cities and towns. The Mayors say that their fiscally stressed communities benefit from Historic Tax Credits through increased property assessments.

Developing an Old Mill in Pawtucket

Antique Dealer and entrepreneur Scott Davis knows a good program when he sees one. The Eastside resident is planning to develop his old Fuller manufacturing mill on Exchange Street into a combination of commercial and residential space, but any state backpedaling of funding the HTC program will make it difficult to get his project off the ground.

An inquiry by Davis to Chairman Raymond Gallison of the House Committee on Finance, about the suspending of funding for HTC program resulted in an email explaining the decision. The chairman noted that a primary reason for rejecting Governor Chafee’s proposed additional $52 million HTC funding was based on the assertion that there were already sufficient funds in place in the existing program to meet current demand.

Davis disagrees. “My project, which is a rare and historically significant wooden mill built in a prominent Pawtucket city location alongside the Blackstone River is Number 65 in the queue,” he says, noting that he believes that none of the current funds in place will ever be allocated to his project.

“Financial assistance is essentially the only way that my mill project will ever be able to developed, says Davis, who notes that the cost to restore the historic structure versus the prevailing rental rate for space in Pawtucket simply doesn’t work out.

Chairman Gallison also noted that issues with tax credit brokers are a stumbling block for the program,” says Davis. “It is unimaginable that the resulting (legislative) decision] would be akin to ‘throwing out the baby with the bathwater”. If there is a problem with the brokers, Davis calls on lawmakers to fix it, but threatening so many important buildings, jobs, and resulting tax revenues in the process just doesn’t make sense to him.

Davis says that previous HTC funds have made 8 major Pawtucket projects possible. According to the Pawtucket Foundation, the tax incentives were the catalyst for $150 million in local investments that increased property values by 728 % and increased Pawtucket tax revenues by over $1 million annually.

“Keeping these historic buildings intact while awaiting funding assistance is extremely expensive and no doubt we will lose many of them if we can’t save them promptly,” predicts Davis. “ I can tell you from personal experience that just keeping my small 26,000 sq. ft. mill ‘on hold’ costs me several thousand dollars per month just for taxes, insurance, utilities, fire safety, security and basic upkeep,” he says.

HTC is No 38 Studios

Some speculate that recent headlines about 38 Studios and tax credits in general may have spooked House and Senate Leadership to back away from funding the HTC program. Ultimately, the ball is in the court of Senate leadership who must respond to the budget proposal submitted by the House. How can lawmakers fear another 38 Studio debacle when the Historic Tax Credits are only issued upon completion of the project? In other words, after construction workers have laid the last brick – only after new residential and office space is actually available.

But, Gregg Paré, the Rhode Island’s Director of Communication, says don’t expect any action in the Senate to fund the state’s HTC program this year if the House fails to act. “The Senate is in agreement on the budget with the House,” he says, noting that Senate leadership usually iron out any differences before the budget reaches the House floor.

Paré says that the Senate has only once modified the House budget proposal in decades. But, now it’s time for this legislative action to happen again this year especially if the House budget does not include funding for the HTC program.

To Wolf, Talmage, and Davis, and to municipal leaders in a number of Rhode Island’s cities and towns, it is obvious that the program works and serves as an important tool for community revitalization and economic development.

For this columnist, funding the HTC program is just the right thing to do, for the economy and most importantly, for the tax payer.
.
Herb Weiss is a writer covering health care, aging, medical issues and the economy. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

RI Music Hall of Fame is Poised to Honor the Best

Published in Pawtucket Times, April 18, 2014

Arthur “Pooch” Tavares, with nearly 60 years in the music business, continues to reach out to his old fans and to new generations as well. The 70-year-old Tavares is still performing about 75 concerts a year all over the world with three of the brothers (Perry “Tiny,” Antone “Chubby” and Feliciano “Butch”) who made up the original quintet which became know worldwide as simply Tavares. (Fifth brother Ralph retired from the road in the 1980s.)

The brothers grew up in the Fox Point and South Side neighborhoods of Providence and Tavares says, “The good lord has seen fit to keep us all together.” The most notable moment he remembers from his long career is when The Bee Gees gave his group “,” one of the key songs in the score to Saturday Night Fever, for which they won a 1977 Grammy Award. But running a close second is being inducted into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame.

“It’s quite an honor to be recognized for your music in the place where you were born,” states Tavares.

With just two weeks to go until the induction of this year’s class into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame (RIMHOF) on May 4, at The Met at the historic Hope Artiste Village, Vice Chair Rick Bellaire gives this columnist the details about those who are being recognized as Rhode Island’s best.

In announcing the RIMHOF Class of 2014, Bellaire says, “This initiative provides a great opportunity to acknowledge Rhode Island’s musical greats and celebrate their achievements and now we finally have an organization whose primary goal is to promote and preserve our state’s rich musical heritage. With actual exhibit space, coupled with our online archive, we have in place the tools to curate and showcase the best of Rhode Island’s musical artistry.”

Bellaire notes that it’s sometimes easy to forget, and even hard for some to believe, that such world-acclaimed artists actually have roots right here in Ocean State. “For the smallest state, Rhode island has produced an inordinately large number of truly great, successful and important artists and their devoted local fans helped to place them on the world stage. Tavares is a case in point.”

According to Bellaire, from their earliest days in the Fox Point neighborhood of Providence, it was clear the seven Tavares brothers were born to make music. They are recognized as pioneers in the evolution of R&B from the Soul era into the modern Funk and Disco movements of the ’70s and ’80s. They had over a dozen major hits and won a Grammy for “More Than A Woman,” their contribution to Saturday Night Fever. “But,” says Bellaire, “the best part of the Tavares story for me is not about how great they are or how successful they are. Everyone knows that. For me it’s about their journey. They worked really hard to get to the top. Their story will continue to inspire young musicians for decades to come.” Tavares will appear in concert on May 3 at Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel.

Bellaire provides some background on the other new RIMHOF inductees:

The Castaleers are recognized as the state’s Rhythm & Blues trailblazers. They came together in the mid-1950s when members of various groups formed a permanent lineup consisting of Richard Jones (later replaced by Joe Hill), George Smith, Dell Padgett, Ron Henries and Benny Barros. In partnership with songwriters/producers Myron and Ray Muffs, they had four national releases and paved the way for the rest of Rhode Island’s R&B greats.

Paul Gonsalves of Pawtucket started out playing tenor sax in big bands including Count Basie’s. As a master of many styles, he became a pivotal figure in the evolution of post-war modern jazz. He joined Duke Ellington in 1950 and provided a crucial ingredient in the modernization of Duke’s sound. His place in the history books was guaranteed by his famous 27 chorus improvisation on “Diminuendo and Crescendo In Blue” at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival.

Randy Hien of Woonsocket entered the music business in 1971 when he took on the job of reopening the old Loew’s State Theatre as The Palace in downtown Providence to present Rock ’n’ Roll concerts. When the Palace closed 1975, Randy purchased the original Living Room on Westminster Street by trading the keys to his Jaguar XKE for the keys to the club and the liquor license. He kickstarted Rhode Island’s original music scene by instituting a policy which welcomed bands who performed their own music. The club became the center of the state’s music scene and Randy its biggest supporter

Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra founder and conductor emeritus Francis Madeira initially came to Providence to teach music at Brown University in 1943. Finding no professional symphonic orchestra, he created one bringing together a 30-member ensemble that would bring the music of the European masters to the Ocean State. Maestro Madeira will be inducted into RIMHOF on May 10 during a performance by the Philharmonic at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Providence.

Winston Cogswell of Warwick,was literally present at the birth of Rock ’n’ Roll after moving to Memphis, Tennessee in 1954. At Sun Records, as a guitarist, pianist, songwriter, arranger, producer and recording artist under the name “Wayne Powers,” he collaborated with some of the most important figures in music history including Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison. He returned to Warwick in 1960 and began working with pianist/composer Ray Peterson. The duo formed Wye Records with a third partner, engineer Ken Dutton, and their debut release as The Mark II, “Night Theme,” became a national hit. Wye remains the only Rhode Island label to score a Hot 100 hit.

By the end of the 1960s, Duke Robillard of Woonsocket had already earned a reputation as one of the finest blues guitarists in the state after stints with the short-lived original lineup of Roomful of Blues and Ken Lyon’s Tombstone Blues Band. In 1970, he reformed Roomful with a three-piece horn section to play jump blues and under his leadership, the band practically single-handedly revived the genre with two albums for Island Records. In the early 1980s, Duke began to pursue a solo career at Rounder Records. His jazzier side emerged with the release of “Swing” in 1987 to critical acclaim. “Duke recently told me he feels that, in music, blues is the universal language,” says Bellaire. “So I say, Duke Robillard is fluent in many languages!”

Freddie Scott of Providence moved to New York in 1956 and began his career as a songwriter for Don Kirshner working alongside to Carole King, Neil Sedaka and Paul Simon. His songs from this period were recorded by Ricky Nelson, Paul Anka, Tommy Hunt and Tommy Hunt. Freddie entered the charts as a singer himself in 1963 with “Hey Girl” written by his friends Carole King and Gerry Goffin. It hit Billboard’s Top 10 and is considered a classic today. In 1966, he scored a #1 R&B song with “Are You Lonely For Me.” His last album was “Brand New Man” in 2001.

In 1976, Cheryl Wheeler moved to Rhode Island to pursue a career in music on the Newport folk scene. She was quickly recognized as one of the finest songwriters and singers to surface in a decade or more. In 1986, her first album brought her national attention. Her song “Addicted” was taken all the way to #1 on Billboard’s Top 40 Country chart by superstar Dan Seals in 1988. Since then, she has released a series of albums of her comic and emotionally intense songs
which are considered singer-songwriter classics around the world. Says Bellaire, “Cheryl is a treasure. Her songs are perfect – every note and every word propels the story forward. She’s also a masterful performer. She can have you in tears one minute and rolling in the aisle the next. Every show is magical.”

RIMHOF Chair Bob Billington says, “This year’s honorees are amazing. Their histories in music are superior. Rhode Islanders should meet and greet them in person at our events. They will not be disappointed.”

Tickets for the Saturday, May 3 Tavares concert at Lupo’s and for the induction ceremonies and concert on Sunday, May 4 at The Met can be purchased at
http://www.rhodeislandmusichalloffame.com.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com. He also serves on RIMHOF’s Board of Directors.

Raising Minimum Wage Reveals Partisan Divide

Published in Pawtucket Times, January 31, 2014

On January 28, 2014, President Barack Obama gave his 2014 State of the Union (SOTU) a whopping  6,778 word speech, calling on both Chambers of Congress to either work with him to move the country forward or forcing him to use his presidential powers to enact  policy.

“America does not stand still, — and neither will I,” the President told a jam packed Chamber.  If Congressional gridlock continues, the President warned, “So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”   This would be accomplished by using executive orders, presidential memorandums to enact policies if lawmakers choose not to act on.

Congress to Debate Merits of Minimum Wage

            In a little over an hour, Obama rattled off dozens of policy initiatives for Congress to consider this session, including immigration, emergency unemployment, manufacturing, trade, environment, education, closing Guantanamo Bay, closing tax loop holes, job training, family policies, and retirement savings.  But the President also called for an increase in the nation’s minimum wage to provide America’s worker’s a living wage.  With Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates gearing up their campaigns to take the Ocean State’s top General Officer seat, look for ratcheting up the state’s minimum wage to hotly debated throughout the nine month political campaign.

             While Obama’s push to raise the minimum wage was derailed last year by the GOP House and its Tea Party Faction, the Democratic president noted that five states have already passed laws to raise theirs (including Rhode Island).

             With corporate profits and stock prices climbing, average wages “have barely budged,” observed the President.  “Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled.  The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by – let alone get ahead.  And too many still aren’t working at all,” he said.

             The President used his speech as a very visible bully pulpit to call on States to not wait for Congressional action to raise the nation’s minimum wage, to give people a living wage.

              Until Congress acts, it is up to businesses to voluntary give their employees a living wage or State legislators to mandate an increase.  Obama urged the nation’s business leaders to follow the lead of John Soranno, the owner of Minneapolis-based Punch Pizza, who has given his employees a raise to $10 an hour.  Large national corporations, should join profitable companies like Costco, the President urged, that “see higher wages as a smart way to boost productivity and reduce employee turnover,” he said,

             Through an executive order the President announced in his SOTU address last Tuesday evening that he would ratchet up the minimum wage of federal contractors to $10.10 per hour, “because if you cook for our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty.”  

             “Today, the federal minimum wage is worth about twenty percent less than it was when Ronald Reagan first stood here,” the President quipped, noting that legislation to increase the nation’s minimum wage to $10.10 has been introduced by Senator Tom Harkin,  a Iowa Democrat who is retiring after serving almost 40 years in Congress, and Democratic Congressman George Miller, from California, also leaving office after 20 terms.

 Two Sides of the Coin          

            Although creating jobs will be one of the top campaign issues that must be addressed by the State’s gubernatorial candidates (Clay Pell was not available for comment by press time), look for the minimum wage issue to pop up for political discussion with the Democratic and Republican views being like two sides of a coin.

            When he announced his bid for governor, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras he told his supporters that increasing the minimum wage is a step in building an economy that supports higher paying jobs, puts people back to work and gives Rhode Island families the opportunity for a better life. There was a time when his mother worked at the minimum wage to support three children so he knows firsthand how much raising it can help a family, he stated. He is also pushing for statewide universal pre-kindergarten.

            Tarveras quoted from a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute that indicated that increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would increase the wages of 65,000 Rhode Island workers and indirectly benefit an additional 26,000 more, totaling nearly 20 percent of the work force.  He cited another study that found that moving to a higher wage would boost the national economy by as much as $22.1 billion, creating as many as 85,000 new jobs.”

            “I’m a Democrat who believes in raising the minimum wage and indexing it with regular cost of living adjustments,” noted Treasurer Gina Raimondo, in her announcement to run for Governor at Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket.

            According to Eric Hyer’s, Gina Raimondo’s Campaign Manager, “Gina strongly believes that we need to increase the minimum wage and she was pleased to see President Obama call for increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour during the State of the Union this week.  No one who works full time should live in poverty.  As the President said, it is time to give America a raise.”

             “But let’s not wait for a dysfunctional Congress to act; we can take action right here in Rhode Island,” states Hyer.

            “Gina is calling for us to take action on this now and raise the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2015 and then index it to the cost of living so that politicians can’t play games with people’s lives. Two-thirds of minimum wage earners are women so a raise would immediately help women across Rhode Island and their families, adds Hyer, noting that people are really struggling and there is an urgency to help out working families.

             But, the Rhode Island’s GOP candidates, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and Businessman Ken Block, are not buying the Democratic candidate’s solution that minimum wage is the way to go.

             “Democrats continue to recycle bad ideas. It’s time we consider some new ones so people have the opportunity to succeed and thrive, and not rely on government coercion to dictate wages. Increasing the minimum wage will result in higher unemployment, reduced job opportunities, reduced customer spending, and will reduce net job growth because of the effect on expanding companies,” says Mayor Fung

             Mayor Fung states “At a time when we are tied for the highest unemployment in the country, we cannot put more hurdles in front of the companies we have here in Rhode Island; we need to remove them. Further, Obama Care is already hurting workers because employers are transitioning employees to part time work because they cannot afford the healthcare premiums. An increase in the minimum wage would only increase the burden on small business owners who are already working on thin margins.”

             “The real issue in Rhode Island is unemployment and getting our workforce prepared with the necessary skill set for the ever changing workforce. It is quite evident that raising the minimum wage would not solve these problems,” adds Fung.

            Gubernatorial candidate Ken Block agrees with Fung, noting in a recent statement, “”As I said the other day when it was announced that Rhode Island has the worst unemployment in the country, raising the minimum wage is a job killer.”

            Block adds, “President Obama seems to believe that government can just order the economy to improve. Republicans and Independents know that government has a critically important, but limited role in the growth of jobs. Government’s role is to regulate fairly and only where necessary, and to control its spending so people and businesses are not taxed to death. President Obama continues on the wrong track to fix lagging employment, just as the Democratic leaders of our General Assembly continue on the wrong track to fix Rhode Island.”

            But Edward M. Mazze, Distinguished University Professor of Business Administration, at the University of Rhode Island, has entered the policy debate, too.

            On the one hand, “Raising the minimum wage does not create jobs and can reduce the number of hours worked for existing workers and the number of jobs for part-time workers. There could also be an impact on the number of internships offered to high school and college students.  And, just as important, raising the minimum wage will also raise the price of products and services, observes Mazze.

             “The minimum wage is not the entry point to middle class, it is the jobs that pay over $20 an hour and have a “career” future, says Mazze, noting that Rhode Island recently increased the minimum wage.

             But, Mazze believes that the state’s minimum wage should be adjusted every number of years to keep up with inflation and other economic events.  “The best way to create living wages in Rhode Island is to prepare workers for jobs for the future, have an economic development strategy that creates jobs and attracts businesses, and have affordable housing and a fair sales, property and personal income tax program,” he notes.

             With the Rhode Island General Assembly geared up to pass legislation to make the Ocean State an easier place to do business, lawmakers should not forget their constituents who cannot pay their mortgage, utility bills, or even put food on their tables.  Until the State’s tax and regulatory system primes the economic pump to create more jobs, giving a little bit more money, say $10.10 per hour, will go a long way for tens of thousands of poor or working poor Rhode Islanders who struggle to survive.

            How can Rhode Islander’s currently making a weekly paycheck of $320 (minus taxes), receiving a minimum wage, support their families?  This is not the American Dream they were brought up to believe in.

             Herb Weiss, LRI’12 is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers, aging, health care, medical and business issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

 

Rhode Island PBS at Its Best:

Published in Pawtucket Times, March 1, 2013

            Television viewers can expect to experience magical music moments when the past, present, and future converge, on Monday, March 4, 2013, starting at 7:30 p.m., when WSBE Rhode Island PBS kicks off a jam packed evening that showcases legendary and local stars orbiting the rock, rhythm & blues music scene. The night also officially announces the debut of a Pawtucket produced music series, “Meet Me at THE MET.”

A Gathering of Live Local Bands

            According to Lucie Raposo, public information manager at WSBE Rhode Island PBS, local musicians, performing live right in their studio that evening during program breaks, will most certainly bring amazing energy and edge to Rhode Island’s public television’s fundraising effort. During the four hours of evening programs, viewers can sit back and listen to their favorite local bands from around the Ocean State and southern Massachusetts: Kevin Williams and The Invisible Orphans; Providence’s The Jess Lewis Band; award-winning singer/songwriter Mark Cutler of Providence; alternative folk artist Allysen Callery of Bristol; and 10-year old guitar prodigy Nolan Leite of Pawtucket.

            Raposo notes that this evening opens with Albert King with Stevie Ray VaughnIn Session. In 1983, when legendary blues guitarist Albert King, age 60, was joined by his disciple Stevie Ray Vaughan, age 29, on a Canadian soundstage for the live music TV series “In Session,” magic took place. Albert King with Stevie Ray Vaughan – In Session is not simply a television program: it’s a summit of two master musicians. The only known recording of King and Vaughan performing together, this is the concert that blues fans in general, and Stevie Ray Vaughan fans in particular, have waited years for, she says.

The Legendary Rolling Stones

            Adds Raposo, then at 9 p.m., it’s musical mayhem in The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. The concert extravaganza marked the last performance of the original line-up of “The World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band”: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman, and Charlie Watts. The Rolling Stones are joined by an all-star musical cast: Jethro Tull, The Who, Marianne Faithfull, Taj Mahal, Yoko Ono, and the ad-hoc, one-time only supergroup “The Dirty Mac” featuring John Lennon (guitar/vocals), Keith Richards (bass), Eric Clapton (guitar), fresh from his break-up with Cream, and Mitch Mitchell (drums) of The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

           The program was originally planned and staged by the Rolling Stones in December 1968 as a BBC TV special to promote the newly released Beggars Banquet, however, it never aired. Finally, in 1989, it was discovered in a trash bin at The Who’s vault in London. It has been restored to preserve this historic once-on-a-kind event and was first broadcast in 2007. The public television broadcast includes a 2004 interview with The Who’s Pete Townshend about the historical gathering.

Introducing…“Meet Me at THE MET”

            At Rhode Island PBS’s fundraiser, Bruce McCrae (a.k.a. Rudy Cheeks) and Nate Flynn will introduce their new musical performance series, “Meet Me at THE MET,” which will air on WSBE Rhode Island PBS.  Board Members of the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame will staff the phones during the Monday fundraiser.

            Opening up a music venue at Pawtucket’s Hope ArtisteVillage in 2010, owner Rich Lupo saw an opportunity to bring the old Met Café  back, once located underneath I-195 in the CapitolCity’s Jewelry District, before it fell to the wreaking ball. Luckily, the spirit of the music venue lived on. Lupo brought it back to life downtown in the ‘90s and early 2000s with a new incarnation appended to the middle era Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel.

            Flynn remembers the original Met Café  – “not much bigger than a McMansion’s living room – was a hangout where the beer was almost cold and the music was always hot.” According to Flynn, if you didn’t know where it was, you could follow any one of the cars downtown whose bumpers sported a sticker imploring one to “Meet Me at The Met.”  It was a great music scene and, soon after opening, national acts with Rhode Island pedigrees like Roomful of Blues and the Fabulous Thunderbirds became regulars, he said.

            This latest re-incarnation of THE MET, in a 650,000 square-foot historic mill in Pawtucket, has prompted the production of a new Rhode Island PBS program, “Meet Me at THE MET,” to be filmed there, says Cheeks. With the airing of each of their hour-long  programs, Cheeks and Flynn hope to bring back what made the original Met café, Lupo’s or the Living Room so special to many Rhode Islanders: an intimate-sized performance space that would nurture local musicals and expose audiences to emerging superstars.

            The new WSBE Rhode Island PBS program is the brainchild of Pawtucket-born Cheeks and Flynn, a native of North Smithfield.  Cheeks, inducted into the Pawtucket Hall of Fame in 2007, needs no introduction as a member of legendary local bands the “Fabulous Motels,” “Young Adults,” and Jackiebeat Orchestra. His 40-year career also spanned occasional acting in films and serving as narrator in documentaries that appeared on national PBS, and teaching at local Universities. Over the years, he hosted radio talk shows on WALE, WPRO and WHJJ.  His cable television show, the Club Genius, won a Rhode Island State Film award.

            Cheeks is a highly regarded columnist, writing for alternative press in the Ocean State since 1979 for the Providence Eagle, The NewPaper and now the Providence Phoenix, writing the Phillipe & Jorge’s Cool Cool World with long-time side kick Chip Young for 33 years.  He even created a nightclub act called Comediac’s Bad Film Festival where the worst movies ever made were screened (appearing 4 or 5 years) before the nationally syndicated Mystery Theater.  In 1997, he the former Pawtucket resident served as Grand Marshal of Pawtucket’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

            Flynn is an internationally award-winning communications professional. While a student at BrownUniversity, he studied electronic music composition at the McColl Studio of Electronic Music. During his time on College Hill, he was a key member of the Brown Student Concert Agency, Billboard Magazine’s then top-rated college concert agency and stage crew, working stage crew for internationally-recognized bands, including Bob Marley, Blondie, U2, Dire Straits, the Kinks, Emmylou Harris, The Ramones, Dave Brubeck, Carley Simon, Pat Metheny, Bonnie Raitt, and Little Feat, among many others.

A Chance Encounter

            By chance, in 2011, Cheeks and Flynn became part of a group of individuals who banded together to found the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame.  Having known each other for years, their work on the Hall triggered the idea for them to produce a live music show for WSBE Rhode Island PBS.  Based out of Pawtucket’s THE MET, the program will document the great Rhode Island music scene of the last 35 years.  Like the club itself – this is the third MET – the Providence music scene has now moved to Pawtucket, just a stone’s throw from the Providence line. From the ‘70s bands like Roomful of Blues, the Young Adults, Rizz, Beaver Brown, and Wild Turkey, to ‘80s new wave outfits such as the Schemers, Rubber Rodeo, and the Mundanes, up to today’s nationally-recognized Americana groups like Deer Tick, Brown Bird, Joe Fletcher and the Low Anthem, the Providence and now the Pawtucket music scene becomes vibrant.  

            Flynn notes that advances in video technology have made it possible to take advantage of THE MET’s great sight-lines and line-ups  to capture live music in a powerful new way, getting closer to the music than ever before.  “Meet Me at THE MET” is the perfect vehicle to record Rhode Island’s finest groups and music where it’s at its best, in a club setting where musicians are no more than 40 or 50 feet from the audience, he says, noting that many of the older bands they hope to reunite on the show were never properly recorded in their heyday.  “Just as important as the venue, is the support of THE MET’s owners, Rich and Sarah Lupo, and the crew that works there. 

            All this comes together to create a very special opportunity to showcase some great music,” says Flynn, who recognized the efforts of Dave Marseglia, David W. Piccerelli and Jodi Mesolella, of WSBE Rhode Island PBS, for making the new musical programming happen.  

            Cheeks will host the show, do interviews, and provide context for the musical performances, relying on his decades of experience as a great musician, columnist, and bon vivant. Flynn will handle video production, edit the videos, and mix the audio. They’ve teamed up with IMAJ Associates, a Rhode Island-based, award-winning design firm, to help with the look of the show, and they have lined up an audio company to record the multi-track during the performances (that is to tape each performer’s instruments and microphones individually to get a proper mix of sound.)

            For more information about “Meet Me at THE MET “or to learn more about sponsorship opportunities, contact Rudy Cheeks at  rudycheeks@live.com.  Or call (401) 580-2265.

            Watch WSBE Rhode Island PBS over the air on digital 36.1, on Cox Cable 08 / 1008HD, Verizon FiOS 08 / 508HD, Comcast 819HD, DirecTV 36, and Dish 7776.  Be very generous in supporting WSBE Rhode Island PBS to keep quality local programming on Rhode Island’s only public television station.

            Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a freelance writer who covers health care, aging and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.