I had just started working at a record store in the late eighties, when I met one of the irregular customers: Al Bruno (aka: Buzzo). He was a Jerry Garcia-looking gentleman who had a metal plate in his head from a motorcycle accident (you know this is going to be a good story). We’d see him every Wednesday morning, coming in to buy music for his shop in Geneseo. When he found out I played guitar, he told me about his band. Then, he told me I had to come play.
Not asking, telling.
I couldn’t turn that down. I got to rehearsal a few weeks later, and there were two other guitar players, I guess he figured it would better the chances of us playing something good! Everybody was cool and I was set up next to the bass player, a roly-poly bearded guy named Gary Holt. We started to hack together songs and once we were reasonably familiar, we’d move on to another. This was fun because you had to think on your feet, using your musical instincts. We played a reggae version of “the Letter” by the Box Tops, Buzzo sang in a gruff, bluesy voice, not always in tune, but, in the neighborhood. I learned “She Caught the Katy,” by Taj Mahal, for the first time. A classic, funky R&B tune. Gary sang that and I’ve loved that song ever since. We played a few of Gary’s originals songs, which were quirky, but, fun to play like “Achin’ in my Heart” which just repeats that line over and over. For “I’m your Carpenter” each member got a chance to improvise a verse, then, we’d all join in for the chorus.
Hilarity ensued. One of the first gigs I played was at Geneseo University. I had been there before because my girlfriend attended there. Buzzo’s old band was called “the Sweat Band”, so when he told me to wear a bathrobe, I borrowed one from my dad. The sax player and I were donning our sweat pants in the dressing room when Buzzo came in and told us we had to play in just bathrobes.
I was shyer, then, and wasn’t about to go onstage in front of an audience in just a bathrobe. We pleaded our case, and Buzzo exclaimed in frustration, ” I can get guys to play with no pants on!”
We agreed to disagree, and performed in our sweat pants.
Part of the outrageousness of the Buzzo band was never knowing what would happen next. We’d sing “Twist and Shout” and Buzzo would inappropriately change the lyrics, and we had to repeat them. Some of them, describing body parts, and intimate positions, were borderline offensive. I got used to the embarrassment. In “Boogie Children,” we’d hit a ‘slam’, (all members hitting a beat together) “Give me one,” slam, “Give me three,” slam slam slam…“Give me 17.” He actually shouted out for 96 one time! Each of us looking at the other band members to see who was counting, and who was “feeling” it, hoping to stop when every one else did. The drummer hit an extra beat, causing us to guffaw with laughter. One night, the keyboard player had worn a tan stocking under his bathrobe. During one song he began dancing and gyrating in front of the drummer. From our view, he looked naked. Disturbing, to say the least. But, that was the craziness of the band. I loved it! Through it all there was a heartbeat, a soulful groove, zen center in the chaos: Gary Holt.
By this time, I learned that Gary ran a recording studio at his home in Mt. Morris. I recorded my jazz/ fusion group ”Optional Stop”there, that I had started after college.My brother Micheal played sax, and we piled drums, keys, bass, and guitar, into the small space and recorded songs I’d composed in college, and the newer stuff I’d written. (I got the name from driving my drummer Steve through his Italian neighborhood. There was a stop sign every block, and we’d just drive past them, barely slowing, exclaiming ”optional stop”.) Thus, began a long period of studio education, and, free thinking, that influenced me more than I could ever say. If I had an idea for a song, or even just a groove, I’d record it there and write music to it later. I spent many hours for many years in Gary’s studio. One night, he played some tracks from Mic Fambro, one of the most talented people in the area. His band, Miche’ and the Anglos were amazing ! The fact that they never got signed shows how ridiculous the music business is. Hearing those songs opened for me, the possibility of greatness.
The excellence of those musicians showed me I needed to set my sights higher.
Gary also worked at Buzzo Music repairing guitars and amps. I was living in Cleveland, recording with a band, and my Fender Stratocaster got stolen out of my car. I called Buzzo and he got me a brand new one for cost, which saved me hundreds of dollars! If I needed something, gear-wise, had questions, or repairs, they were happy to assist me. Those guys are the best!
I later learned that Buzzo, as Al Bruno, had put out a straight-ahead jazz record in the sixties. He has been a trumpet-playing lunatic for a long time! His band became a configuration of blues, soul, funk, and rock. My wheelhouse! 🙂
I always kept in touch with them, even once I was here in Nashville.When I’m in Rochester, I try to visit, or at least call. I wanted Gary to come to Nashville to play bass on what would be my second kid’s CD called “The Peanut Butter Fish” but, travel plans were difficult. Someday…
So, in 2015, Gary puts out his own CD called ”Because I Can”. It’s classic Gary: funky, quirky, groovy and great! He added a song we sang called “Gonna get old” which he had glommed from a Buzzo band session from ages ago. His son, Bob, then ten years old, sang on it. I loved it. I called Gary to say how much I enjoyed his album. We had a nice chat, and I told him I’d send him my latest kid’s cd. Not long after, I see a Facebook message from him. He said the cd was, and I quote: “Amazing!” I could not have been more humbled, and honored. This guy was my musical mentor for many years and to have him enjoy my music was incredible.
Now, I’ve gotten a bug in my brain to re-record ”Gonna get old”. I do not have a ten year old son, but I do have a vocal coach named Laura here in Nashville. She recommended a young lady, then, when scheduling didn’t work out, another. I had 7-year old Rowan McCoy in to do the ‘young person’ vocal. She knocked it out of the park! If you could buy stock in a future star, she’d be a great investment.
I was working on another song called “Leg Licker Freddie”(for my pal Keith’s dog) and wanted a lot of male background vocals on it. Temptations. While these guys were in the studio, I’d get them to sing on” Gonna get Old”. So, we have a “crowd” like the original version of the song. It was so much fun to record Gary’s song! When I told him I was recording his song, I said ”I want to make you more famous,” he replied, ”I wish I knew more people like you.” That Gary…
Since starting to write this blog, I had a chance to visit Gary. I hadn’t been to his studio in decades. It was a nice trip down memory lane. I noticed he had a tuba in the corner of his studio. I got excited (you know how I love tubas). I sat down to try to make some tuba noise. Gary said ”You like tubas ? I’ll be right back”. I heard rustling around upstairs in his house. He comes in carrying a tuba. He said he’d had this for years and wanted to get rid of it. I was aghast! A free tuba!? For me?!
The catch was: it’s an E flat tuba. So, all the fingerings I knew, from playing my brother Tom’s Baritone horn, were backwards. I couldn’t get any sound out of it. I had to turn down his very generous offer. But, that’s Gary. Who else would offer me a free tuba?