Feb 27, 2014 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
Born with spina bifida in 1949, Mike Casale spent his entire 64 years wearing various contraptions designed to hold his body upright to offset the effects of the congenital spinal disorder.
A naturally affable fella, Mike often commented frankly on his disability. “I’m 64 years old, 4-foot-3, and I use a cane,” he said, but he never complained about it and never let it hold him back.
A talented bass guitarist who lived in Liverpool, Mike became of the most recognizable entertainers in Central New York. He made his initial mark on the local music scene from 1970 to 1985 as one-half of the duo Neighborhood Friends alongside six-string guitarist Gary Sprague.
From 1997 to 2012, Mike played bass for Syracuse Area Music Awards hall of famer Bobby Green and A Cut Above. Recently he became a member of Irv Lyons’ band, Native Man. In a few months, we’ll hear Mike’s punchy basslines behind’s Irv’s chunky guitar on the record-in-process, “I Love the Night.”
“He refused to think of himself as having a disability,” said his girlfriend, Sara Cesta. “There aren’t words to describe his love of music. This man could pick up a bass and play the lines of any song, any time, without any rehearsing.
For the past several years Mike worked as office manager at Beat Street Music in Manlius and had previously done similar work for Gaylord Bros. An experienced accountant by day and a sought-after bassist by night, Mike applied his organizational skills to the biz end of show biz. He didn’t last long as a member of the Liverpool Village Zoning Board, but he served more than 15 long years as a member of the Liverpool Is The Place Committee which books 24 concerts every summer at Johnson Park.
His booking and his bass playing hit their zenith together in June 20, 2011, when he brought Orleans to Johnson Park and sat in with the “Still the One” hitmakers. Orleans was one of Mike’s favorite bands, and he was pleased to call those guys his friends. In November 2009, Mike celebrated his 60th birthday by throwing a party upstairs at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. As a favor to Mike, Orleans played the bash to benefit the Spina Bifida Clinic at Syracuse’s Golisano Children’s Hospital. A crowd of more than 250 saw Mike sit in for three songs.
His son, Nick, remembered that marvelous moment when he eulogized his father Feb. 21, at Maurer’s Funeral Home at Moyers Corner. “My dad was on stage wearing a smile like the Cheshire cat…I thought his head was gonna pop!”
Mike died Feb. 16 at Crouse Hospital. He was 64.
After his funeral service last Friday, his friends, family and fellow musicians paid homage to him at an impromptu jam session at the Green Gate Inn in Camillus.
World-wise and opinionated
Mike was gregarious and garrulous and proud of his Italian heritage. He was big-hearted, all right, but he was also opinionated — i.e. “The Stones not the Beatles!” His strongly stated opinions, however, were based on values such as fairness, equality and community. He uttered world-wise observations such as “There’s a fine line between confidence and conceit,” but he regularly recognized confidence while rejecting conceit. It was a standard on which judged other people and other musicians.
As his son said, “When he was little…or littler…music was everything for him. He loved to play and he loved to support other musicians.”
A talented rock guitarist and a Sammy winner with the band Muzzlestamp, Nick said, “I admired the hell out of him. He did not let any disability dictate how to live his life. He made a lasting impact anywhere he went.”
And Mike’s sister, Mary Lou, seconded the emotion. She called Mike’s many years of work on the Johnson Park concert series “a feather in his cap.”
Mike never thought of himself as a ladies’ man, but he certainly impressed a few. After online journalist Babette Puzey interviewed him, she wrote, “Although he’s less-than-average in height, he stands taller than most people you’ll meet, with a heart as big as all outdoors.” Babette described Mike as “one tough cookie.”
And his girlfriend, Sara, reminds us, “The Syracuse music scene has lost a wonderful musician. He was the most dedicated man I ever met.”
Kane Building for sale
In the Feb. 12 column, I reported that the Sunoco A-Plus at 500 Oswego St., is up for sale.
Come to find out that another prime village property is also on the block. The Kane Building at 209 Second St., across from Johnson Park, is being handled by JF Real Estate; 472-2020.
The Sunoco station is being marketed by Realist realtor Eddie DeLong; 451-5419.
Conway seeks badge
In the Feb. 5 column, I reported on the Jan. 28 town of Salina Republican Committee meeting at American Legion Post 188. The focus was on the eight GOP candidates vying for the party’s nomination to run for Congress against incumbent Dan Maffei.
Somehow I neglected to mention that DeWitt Police Chief Gene Conway also attended the Jan. 28 conclave. He is running for Onondaga County Sheriff and will likely face off in a primary against Sheriff’s Office Chief John Balloni (pronounced Bell-LOAN).