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.

 

Overnight Vacations Popular with Aging Baby Boomers

Published in Pawtucket Times, August 1, 2014

As the nation slowly emerges from a severe economic downturn along with gas prices rising, a new AARP Bulletin Survey delves into travel planning of vacationing boomers. A phone survey, statistically sampling 76 million baby boomers sought, to shed light on their views on overnight vacations, specifically, trips taken away from home that usually lasted one night or longer.

According to the May 2014 report, “Boomers and Vacations: An AARP Bulletin Survey,” over 57 percent of the nation’s boomers say they are planning to take an overnight vacation in the next 12 months. Among those planning this overnight vacation, seven-in-ten (68%) responded they may take more than one overnight trip, while three-in-ten (29%) reported they are just planning to make one overnight excursion.

Getting Away for Short Vacations

The 19 page AARP report noted that almost half of those surveyed (47%), who are planning overnight vacations in the next 12 months, are planning one or two week vacations, while just one-third (34%) are planning to take longer trips, lasting over two weeks.

Overnight vacations can hit boomer vacationer’s right in their wallets, indicate the AARP report’s findings, with survey respondents noting they will budget a minimal of $1,000, up to a whopping $5,000 for an overnight vacation outing. The majority of those surveyed (56%) say that they plan to travel with their spouse or partner, 15 percent plan traveling with their child or children. Meanwhile, seventeen percent say they will go it alone. .

While two-thirds (64%) of vacationing boomers say they will travel to another state within the United States, twenty percent will travel throughout their home state, noted the AARP report. However, 19 percent of survey respondents say they will book vacations outside of the country, with Europe being found to be the most popular destination (38%) followed by Latin or South America (21%), Caribbean (13%), and Canada (10%).

As to motives taking overnight vacations, most respondents say “to see, connect, or spend time with family and/or friends (45%), or “for a pure fun, or relaxation (38%).

Balancing Work and Play

The AARP findings suggest that Boomers are active and looking for ways enjoy life,” Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell said. “We all know that staying active is important for both physical and mental health as we age. If this is a trend, I hope it builds and I think it will,” she says, noting that one of the reasons will be that AARP motivates people to be maintain active lifestyles – whether it’s an extended vacation or a day trip to a nearby attraction.

Connell believes that as boomers decide to work longer for the purpose of retirement security, they also realize that as they work longer and harder they have earned a break. “Working longer allows people to delay dipping into retirement savings. Many say that if that’s your plan, you actually can and should reward yourself and take that vacation and return to work refreshed.” she says.

“As to those Boomers who have ‘retired,’ I shouldn’t have to tell you that AARP encourages those people to get out and enjoy life,” says Connell.

“The AARP study certainly reinforces the fact that Boomers have a significant amount of discretionary income and that they are an important part of the economy. If the Boomers stayed home, the tourism industry would be is big trouble,” she observes.

Connell states that “Rhode Island is a great destination for people of all ages and I am sure that the local tourism promoters are aware of that. It’s very competitive out there when it comes to capturing Boomers, so the good news is that even attractive destinations such as Rhode Island offer travel discounts and incentives. People should take advantage, and I imagine the AARP survey reflects some of these opportunities to save, too.”

Rhode Island Tourism Officials Have Their Say

Carl G Richardson, Director, Branch Office Sales & Service, of AAA Southern New England, cites similarities in AARP’s report findings from his personal experiences in the travel industry. Just like the findings that 15% of Boomers are traveling with their child or children, “we’re seeing our members traveling with their grandchildren as well.”

Another finding as to the reason for travel also jumps out for Richardson. “When we conduct our Holiday Travel forecasts we see “visiting family or friends” as the number one reason members travel 50 miles or more away from home. AARP’s findings supports that point,” he says.

Mark Brodeur, Rhode Island’s Tourism Director with Commerce RI, sees boomers as a generation driving tourism to the Ocean State for more than three decades.

As the state’s main sales person and a boomer, Brodeur understand this demographic group, especially their buying power associated with them. “American Express Travel insights indicated that more than 50% of Rhode Island overnight visitors are 50 and above,” he says.

“Boomers are foodies where Rhode island’s varied and celebrated culinary scene fits right in with this demographics interest, says Brodeur, noting that they want fresh, farm or ocean to table creations in a unique atmosphere. “Rhode Island offers some for the country’s best food and foodie experiences. Walking tours, culinary museum, cooking classes, wine, brews and now distilled lavations,” he says…

Brodeur adds, “The boomer is active; walking, cycling, swimming, sailing, tennis. Whether you’re offshore or landside, Rhode Island offers the perfect soft adventure. He observes that the boomer generation is considered lifelong learners; they’re curious, very educated and intellectual. “Rhode Island is a classroom with Colonial to gilded age, industrial to pristine and natural. Audubon, art museums, historic societies and attractions offer educational experiences that are world class,” he says.

Robert Billington, President, of the Pawtucket-based Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, is a firm believer of overnight vacations, experimenting with the idea of seeing providing trips for Rhode Islanders in their home state. Over a decade ago, the Central Falls resident developed a tour, “Tour Rhode Island, There’s No Place Like Home,” one that attracted the attention of Boomers and seniors. “Over 1,200 persons returned, year after year, traveling to sites throughout the Ocean State in 24 motor coaches,” he says.

The tour gave Rhode Islander’s a chance to personally visit places in their home state they never saw, state’s Billington. “Our state has so much to offer visitors and even more to offer its residents but sometimes you have to be shown the beauty in your own back yard,” he adds.

Billington says, for Rhode Island Boomers, especially those outside of the state, the greatest thing Rhode Island offers to vacationers is its size. “You can enjoy the best of America within a1, 240 square miles drive…”

Planning Your Overnight Getaway

AARP’s newest tool to plan your overnight getaways (travel.aarp.org/weekend-getaways), includes itineraries curated by Fodor’s Travel. The collection recommends local escapes less than three hours from home, including where to eat, shop, and stay, from popular cities including Denver, Washington, D.C. and more locations nationwide.

As detailed in a recent release, AARP Travel’s range of travel tools and features include:

● Trip Finder — a fun, smart and visual series of questions to deliver ideas and recommendations for destinations — including some unexpected ones;

● Map Explorer — a detailed street-level interactive map that includes attractions, restaurants, hotels, local color and reviews for each destination;

● My Trips — a personal page where users can save and organize trip ideas, itineraries and related articles in one place and add to or edit them over multiple visits;

● Articles and Destinations — travel tips from AARP Travel Ambassador Samantha Brown, articles specifically geared toward the 50+ traveler and information about hundreds of domestic and international locations; and

● Book Trips — booking tools provided through AARP’s relationships with
Expedia and Liberty Travel and directly to hotels, and rental cars.

Data for AARP’s “Boomers” and Vacation Plan survey were gathered by a random-digit dial telephone omnibus survey fielded March 5-March 30, 2014, using a national representative sample of 1,410 respondents ages 49 to 67 (Boomers). Of those, a total of 907 respondents are under age 60 and a total of 461 are age 60+, and 42 respondents refused to report their actual age.

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

Like the Energizer Bunny, Steve Smith & The Nakeds Keep Going…

Published in the Pawtucket Times, April 5, 2013

          Following months of speculation, The Rolling Stones have announced their upcoming 50th anniversary tour leaving many fans in awe of their continued energy, stamina and staying power. And like the venerable British rockers, Rhode Island’s own Steve Smith & The Nakeds, currently celebrating their 40th anniversary, have also proven their staying power as they continue to enjoy a full touring schedule and an ever-growing fan base.

 Fondly called simply “The Nakeds” by their legion of fans, this band of middle-aged musicians operate just like the Energizer Bunny – they keep going, and going, and going… 

         The band began in 1973 as Naked Truth and Steve Smith and the 62 other guys who have passed through the band’s ranks are among just a handful of Rhode Island musicians who can claim that milestone. (They became The Nakeds in 1981 to avoid confusion with a Long Island band also called Naked Truth; the word “truth” remains with them to this day “hidden” within their logo.)

          In recognition of their success and their impact on the Rhode Island music scene, on Sunday, April 28, 2013, Steve Smith & The Nakeds will be among the nine new inductees into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame (RIMHOF).

 The Younger Years 

         Looking back, Smith clearly remembers a Saturday night tradition in his family – a musical talent show – when he and others would perform in front of the refrigerator. The sixty-one-year old’s singing career began at his family-built seaside retreat on Carpenter’s Beach in scenic Matunuck, Rhode Island, where as a four year old, he would sing Pat Boone’s “Love Letters in the Sand” to his family and friends.  

           At the tender age of seven, Smith’s father, recognizing his son’s growing vocal range, enrolled him in classical voice training.  In 1964, the elder Smith, a traveling salesman who loved to listen to the radio while on the road, knew talent when he heard it and gave his teenaged son a newly released album, “Meet the Beatles,” and told him, “These guys are gonna be great and I want you to listen to them.”  His father’s sage advice ultimately led young Smith to form his first band with his cousin, John Cafferty. The newly formed rock group of junior high students, The Nightcrawlers, would go on to win a Battle of the Bands contest held in Smithfield area in the late 1960s, beating out several established and seasoned college-aged bands. (Steve’s cousin John would find fame in the 1980s with his band Beaver Brown’s score for the motion picture “Eddie and The Cruisers.”)

 The Long Journey

         Looking back, Smith, a 1973 graduate of ProvidenceCollege, never thought he would still be performing  in his sixties. As the group’s band leader recently noted, “We figured we would keep playing as long as the phone kept ringing.” And that it did!  

        During the band’s early years, Smith remarks that business was booming. He had a jam-packed calendar of bookings at concerts, clubs, and special events.  However, in 1984, lawmakers reinstated the 21 year old drinking age and the band saw its bookings dwindle.  “We went from playing seven days a week to only performing on weekends,” he said.   

         But, Smith would put his hard earned College education in graphic design to very good use, a career that would ultimately help him to survive the lean economic times.  

         According to the life-long Smithfield resident, his band’s longevity and success was tied to the “high caliber of the musicians who played in the group” throughout its four decades. Smith’s strong vocals, combined with a five-piece horn section and a guitar, keyboards, bass and drums rhythm section, gave The Nakeds its own unique style of Rock ‘n’ Roll and Rhythm & Blues.

         The Nakeds fame began to spread after the release of their first album in 1984, “Coming To A Theatre Near You,” and they appeared on MTV’s  “Basement Tapes.” They signed on with Miller Beer’s “Rock Network” promotion as one of the best unsigned bands in the country and were featured on a RCA Records compilation album.

        Over the years, Smith and the band often shared the stage with Bruce Springsteen’s saxophonist, the late Clarence Clemons, mounting a series of critically acclaimed national tours which included a 1994 appearance with President Bill Clinton at his health rally at Liberty State Park in New Jersey. Clarence and another E Street band member, Nils Lofgren, contributed heavily to the band’s best-selling 2000 album, “Never Say Never.”

          In 2009, the band’s 1984 indie hit, “I’m Huge (and the Babes Go Wild)” was featured on the DVD for the sixth season of “The Family Guy.” The often-controversial Fox Network cartoon, which takes place in the fictitious town of Quahog, Rhode Island, would immortalize the group when a YouTube posting of the video went viral and the group were offered a Sony Records deal. The “I’m Huge” album, a best-of compilation from their earlier releases, became the biggest selling album of their career. The video remains a fan favorite and is approaching 400,000 views.

          Steve Smith & The Nakeds will take their place among Rhode Island’s musical greats when they are inducted on April 28th into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame as members of the Class of 2013. RIMHOF Vice Chair and Archive Director Rick Bellaire has this to say about the band. “With a new album, “Under The Covers,” just out and a full schedule of shows on the horizon, there’s no doubt in my mind that The Nakeds will be around to help us celebrate the Class of 2023 during their 50th anniversary tour! We are extremely proud to honor them with this induction and they are stoked to pull out all the stops for their induction concert on the 28th.”

 Introducing the other 2013 Inductees:

        In announcing RIMHOF’s Class of 2013, Bellaire notes that “sometimes it’s easy to forget, and it may be hard to believe, that such world-acclaimed artists actually have roots right here in Rhode Island just like the rest of us.”

          Bellaire says, “For the smallest state, Rhode island has produced an inordinately large number of truly great, successful and important artists,” and that their devoted local fans helped to place them on the word stage.

         Bellaire adds some of his thoughts about the other new RIMHOF inductees: 

        Cowsills – A family band in the truest sense of the term – six siblings and their

mom! They sang their way out of Newport all the way to the top of the charts.

(The Cowsills were feature in my January 25, 2013 Commentary.)

         George M. Cohan – The pivotal figure in the development of the modern Broadway theater tradition grew up in Fox Point;

         Sissieretta Jones – One of the greatest sopranos in the history of modern opera headquartered and managed her career from Pratt Street on the East Side of Providence;

         Bill Flanagan – A guy from Warwick who went from writing about music in all of our local papers to editing Musician Magazine and then became the Vice-President of MTV and VH-1, but continued to promote and advocate for Rhode Island music along the way;

        Jimmie Crane – From the 1950s through the ’70s, he wrote a long string of huge hit songs for such stars as Eddie Fisher, Doris Day and Elvis Presley, all the while maintaining a successful jewelry manufacturing business in his hometown of Providence and assisting dozens of up-and-coming musicians;

         Bobby Hacket – Bobby was born on Federal Hill, but spent most of his youth in Olneyville where the action really was: Jake E. Conn’s Olympia Theatre and Petteruti’s Twin City Music store. He became one of the greatest – and most acclaimed- improvisors in the history of jazz;

        Eddie Zack & The Hayloft Jamboree – The Zackarian family of Providence virtually introduced Country & Western music into Rhode Island and the Northeast at large, recording for Decca and Columbia Records and broadcasting nationwide on the NBC radio network, but always maintained their home and headquarters right here in Rhode Island;

         Paul Geremia – The world-acclaimed acoustic artist, who has not only helped keep the folk-blues tradition alive, but has brought it into the modern era with his unique guitar style and voice, grew up in SilverLake!  

         “As the organization grows,” RIMHOF Chair Robert Billington says, “the Hall of Fame will be committed to developing programs and services aimed at promoting and strengthening Rhode Island’s musical heritage and ensuring that music continues to play an important role in the lives of all Rhode Islanders.”

         Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door for the evening ceremony event and $10.00 in advance or at the door for the afternoon ceremony event. The Cowsills and other inductees will perform. Tickets can be purchased at http://www.rhodeislandmusichalloffame.com.

         Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based freelance 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.