Apr 17, 2011 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
“The Magnificent Seven” lit up the silver screen in 1960. The panoramic Western starred Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen as leaders of a posse of hired gunmen protecting a Mexican village from banditos.
Less than 10 years later, seven Syracuse rock musicians decided to use the movie’s title as the name of their new combo.
The Magnificent Seven became one of the most popular bands in CNY.
The septet, which deftly blended rock, funk, jazz and psychedelic sounds, featured Chuck Wheeler, Chuck Sgroi, Al Ruscito, Frank Sgroi, Tony Licamele, Nicky Russo and Chuck Mellone. As the Hammond B3 player, Mellone’s music drove the hot-wired band.
Chuck Mellone died April 7, in Malibu, Calif. He was 68.
Drummer Nick Russo predeceased his former bandmate here on Oct. 1, 2010. He was 69.
Tossed from Twisters
In 1958, Mellone – who played accordion at the time – and his guitarist friend Sam Amato formed a band called The Twisters.
“I talked Chuck Mellone into investing money into a unit called an accorgan,” Amato once recalled. “It was an accordion but when you played it, it sounded like an organ.”
When Mellone balked at playing the accorgan rather than his usual axe, Amato ended their relationship and changed the band’s name to Sam & The Twisters.
Coincidentally, Amato died Feb. 17, in Florida, at age 69.
While Amato’s combo went on to make Syracuse rock’n’roll history, Mellone did as well. He played keyboards with Don Barber and the Dukes before joining the Magnificent Seven, which soon morphed into The Seven.
‘Tell Her No’
The Seven truly was magnificent. Their wall of sound could knock over a semi-truck, and their vocals rang out clearly, pitch-perfect and carefully harmonized. At clubs like Hewitt’s and The Brookside and at countless scholastic dances, they dished out rockin’ versions of songs like The Zombies’ 1965 hit “Tell Her No,”
That was one of the few covers on The Seven’s 1970 LP, “The song is SONG – The Album is ALBUM” on Thunderbird Records. Others included the Holland-Dozier-Holland composition “(Love is Like a) Heat Wave” and Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father,” which spotlighted Mellone’s keyboard. Originals on the record included “Girl, Girl,” “Take It (the Way You Want It)” and “Searchin’ for Sunshine.”
Syracuse Hammond B3 player Michael Davis remembers Mellone as a magician with the organ.
“He was the one who told me the secret of how to take my mellow-sounding stock B-3 and unleash the screaming, soulful sound that was locked in the instrument.” Davis said. “It was a simple modification done with just a screwdriver adjusting a trim capacitor on the organ’s pre-amp. Chuck Mellone knew all the tricks. His B-3 and Leslie cabinets sounded better than anybody else’s.”
As an audio engineer, Mellone helped WCNY-FM make its debut on Dec. 4, 1971. A few years later, Mellone moved to Los Angeles to become a studio engineer for A&M Records. In California, he worked with artists such as Hoyt Axton, Glen Campbell and New Riders and the Purple Sage.
“Chuck was a master sound technician and a master musician,” Davis said.
Music and meat man
Syracuse bandleader Jack Kreischer, whose orchestra was a mainstay at Hotel Syracuse for decades, died here March 30. He was 91. Kreischer also ran a successful meat market on South Salina Street.
He began his professional career in the 1930s, and – for more than a half-century – his orchestras entertained thousands of CNYers. In his last years as a resident of The Nottingham he enjoyed playing requests on his saxophone for his fellow residents.
Former Hotel Syracuse food and beverage manager Van Sterio recalls hiring Kreischer’s combos and buying his meat.
“We shared many fond memories with Jack as a purveyor and musician while working with him at the Hotel Syracuse and our restaurant,” Sterio remembered.
Drummer Larry Luttinger, now executive director of downtown’s CNY Jazz Central, once played in Kreischer’s orchestra, and he also reflected on the man’s dual vocations.
“Jack was a great bandleader and friend,” Luttinger said. “I remember the dates I played with his great combo, including the great Mack McKaig on piano. There was always a roast beef sandwich for the band in the kitchen of every club he played. What a coincidence!”