Mar 02, 2011 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
Remember drag-racing on John Glenn Boulevard? How about cruising Route 11 after a meal of Carroll’s clubburgers? Or were you more interested in the submarine races along Onondaga Lake Park?
Maybe you were there that summer evening in 1964 when Sam & The Twisters played one of its weirdest gigs atop the snack bar at the old North Drive-In before a screening of “A Hard Day’s Night.” WNDR radio disc jockeys convinced the band to do the show as a promotion. Sam and the boys played a few of their own tunes and backed up national recording artist Diane Renay who had a smash hit with “Navy Blue.”
“She was a knockout,” bandleader Sam Amato recalled years later. “I got to spend the whole day with her, which is probably the whole reason I did it. So we did that thing on top of the North Drive-In food stand and it was a disaster. You couldn’t believe the mosquitoes!”
An icon of the glory days of CNY rock n’ roll, Sam Amato died Feb. 17, in Winter Haven, Fla. He was 69.
In 1963, Sam & The Twisters and the Bigtree Sisters backed up Channel 9’s Baron Daemon (Mike Price) to wax the biggest hit single ever to come out of Syracuse, “The Transylvania Twist,” which was based on the Twisters’ song “Fooba Wooba John.” Recorded at Mike Riposo’s studio down city, the Daemon 45 rpm disc sold 12,000 copies to become the area’s top-selling local record ever.
The Twisters, who later morphed into the Livin’ Ennd, featured Sam and Mickey Palumbo on guitars, along with bassist Al Wolf and drummer Jan Fetterly, who lived in Liverpool.
A graduate of North Syracuse High School, Sam always said the band was born at Joe’s Pizza House in North Syracuse, but the combo really reached musical maturity when Fetterly sat down at the trap set.
In early 1959, Amato met Fetterly who was a star baseball pitcher at Liverpool High.
“I had a constant problem trying to talk him into coming to [band] practice,” Amato remembered. “Jan probably did have a future in baseball, but I convinced him music was the answer. That’s really where it all started.”
The Dutchman’s recalled
Sam & The Twisters played all of CNY’s top nightspots, including the Red Dog Saloon, Hewitt’s, The Brookside, the Holiday Bowl and the Fayetteville Inn. The rockin’ quartet drew fans to Liverpool-area dance halls like The Dutchman’s on the Seneca River under the Route 370 bridge, Three Rivers Inn and Dandy Dan’s Teen Canteen.
The Twisters once backed up Gary “U.S.” Bonds-whose single “Quarter to Three” was a No. 1 hit in 1961-for an entire week at the 320 Club on old Liverpool Road.
While he loved playing those innovative electric guitar licks, Sam also loved driving souped-up cars and motorcycles. He once owned a 1963 split-window Corvette coupe and a Ford AC Cobra, recalled Al Wolf. “Sam took me for a ride in the Cobra on the old Towpath Road to a gig we had at the Brookside…At 120 miles per hour, it didn’t take long to arrive.”
Amato’s favorite motorcycle was his Triumph. “Unfortunately he dumped it on Route 81,” Wolf said. “With great luck and his protective gear, he escaped with just some scratches.”
In 1968, Amato moved to Florida, but he returned here to play with the Twisters at Damon’s Restaurant in Cicero on Feb. 2, 2003, after he’d been diagnosed with throat cancer.
“Sam was a pioneer and a real inspiration to lots of [rock] musicians early on,” said Chuck Wheeler, a former member of The Seven. “I’ll always remember what an influence he had on me and hundreds of other guys in Central New York.”
Sam & The Twisters were inducted into the Syracuse Area Music Awards Hall of Fame in 1994.
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