Asbury Angels – The Musical Sentinels Of The Jersey Shore
Asbury Angels materialized with the realization that many vital New Jersey artists, business owners, and musicians were slowly being forgotten. Like the time that had rapidly put their memory into the rearview mirror, these people, who were once part of a vibrant and creative community, were disintegrating from the public radar.
In steps Tony Pallagrosi. Pallagrosi is infamous for his entrepreneurial moxie as well as his time as a member of Southside Johnny And The Asbury Jukes. His knowledge of music goes back to some of the highest points in our East Coast dynasty, and I consider him to be an authority on the people that made it that way.
After the loss of E Street Band members Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons, Pallagrosi realized that attention needed to be focused on these hometown rock and rollers and the significant contributions they made. He told me, “I’ve always had an interest in American music history. As dear friends who were very important parts of the AP music scene began to pass away, it occurred to me that if we didn’t start capturing our history in a formal way, it could be lost forever. The simplest way to begin that complex process was to focus on individuals who really contributed, and by default we would be capturing our history. I don’t remember how the name Asbury Angels happened but when it came to me I knew it was right.”
Pallagrosi’s idea has achieved much more than serving as a beacon for individual remembrance. It has opened a new door to a vivacious past, winding its way through the complex shore town history and bringing many compelling characters back to life.
For instance, if someone asked you who Asbury Park’s first musical superstar was, you’d probably say Bruce Springsteen. That answer would be wrong. The precise first “rock star” appeared back in 1904, and he was Arthur Willard Pryor. Pryor was a trombone soloist in the mega popular John Philip Sousa Band from 1892-1903. For years, this Asbury Angel helped filled the shore town with the music of the times. Credited with writing over 300 original compositions, Pryor envisioned Asbury Park as the center of music in America.
Asbury Angels has also opened its arms to the unconventional contributors. Tom and Margaret Potter changed rock and roll history as it was known back in 1968 with the birth of the Upstage Club. The list of stars that came out of that room includes Bruce Springsteen and most of the E Street Band. Other well-known names were the acclaimed Bill Chinnock and Sonny Kenn, who is still the most unbeatable guitarist in the state. Often dubbed the “Haight-Ashbury” section in the town, the Potters encouraged freewheeling self-expression. These Asbury Angels literally lit the match on the musical explosion here in the east.
The website bios for each member are an engrossing read. Consisting of the original 11 inductees listed on the website, each Angel has a unique story to tell. The role call for 2013 has opened to include another 10 individuals ranging from opera singers to journalists. This year’s journalist choice was The Aquarian‘s own Chris Barry. It was exciting to see the organization pay homage to an individual that covered so much of the New Jersey music scene in his time. Thanks to the insight of the Angel’s voters, Chris will have a well-deserved place in the minds and hearts of New Jersey music fans.
Pallagrosi explains the process of picking inductees. “A blue ribbon panel, including musicologist Bob Santelli suggests candidates, as do my fellow board members and, quite frankly, friends that come up with ideas. The board then applies the selection criteria to each candidate and votes on confirmation.”
The presentation at The Stone Pony was done with a biographical reading from Pallagrosi as the screen above us rolled with the rough and tumble pictorials of each person and the things they accomplished.
Other compelling inductees were the inclusion of George Iocca. Like Pallagrosi said from the stage, “If you had anything to do with Asbury music over the last 30 years, then George is a man you should know about. See the cabinets hanging in front of the stage? George built those.” George was an accomplished musician and design engineer. George was responsible for much of the sound equipment in clubs throughout the state and was instrumental for speaker design for companies such as GK/Hartke. His list of sound reinforcement clients included Bon Jovi and KISS. Gene Simmons was quoted as saying that George was responsible for the loudest sound KISS ever had.
The list goes on and on, and it’s a fascinating look into the personalities and accomplishments of some of the more unique people on the planet. If I had a single regret about Asbury Angels, it would be that there’s only one way to get into this amazing group.
This year’s list of inductees is as follows: Chris Barry, Big Danny Gallagher, George Iocca, Leo Karp, Kevin Kavanaugh, Terry Magovern, Phil Petillo, Gervis Tillman, Madame Era Tognoli, and Bobby Williams.
The Asbury Angels website is an enjoyable history lesson for anyone interested in the people that built the legendary shore town and its musical heritage. Go check out all of the Asbury Angels at asburyangels.com
The Rent Party – Loud And DIY Proud
For years now, hardcore, punk and metal have been going their own way and hosting shows at various VFW’s, firehouses, and other rentable spaces. Consisting of a big room, tables, chairs and lots of beer, the rentable club room has been an independent mainstay for years.
Since 2009, Chris Dickson has put the South Orange Elks Lodge to good use. Not only can he offer an exciting alternative to clubs and bars, but he also takes this opportunity to help an extremely good cause. All monies raised go to providing goods to the food pantries of Our Lady Of Sorrows in South Orange, and St. Joseph’s church in Maplewood, NJ. The South Orange Elks kick in the building and the bands kick in their time. To date, Dickson and company have raised over $30,000 to feed the hungry.
But don’t start thinking that just because it’s an Elks club, the bands are gonna be local chainsaw slashers stomping around in Doc Martens. Dickson continues to put A-list talent in the room and has played host for nationals such as James Maddock, Garland Jeffreys and as of this coming weekend, Willie Nile.
Nile is fresh off of a European jaunt and has been working on the release of his newest album, American Ride. I spoke to Willie about a week before Light Of Day here in NJ, and he was extremely excited to tell me that he’s close to completing it. That album is due out in April.
Nile will be joined by Edinburgh gone New York songwriter Freddie Stevenson. Stevenson’s gritty reputation precedes him, and it should be an enthralling match to Nile’s rebel charging salvos. The price is more than reasonable, and the money is certainly going for a great cause.
In this day and age where a movie and popcorn cost $45, why not put that hard-earned cash to good use while watching some outstanding musicians?
Chris Dickson says on his Facebook page, “Donations allow us to provide a weekend’s worth of food to a child who might not otherwise have enough to eat.”
The Rent Party, featuring Willie Nile, kicks off at 8 p.m. on Feb. 8. Tickets are $25 and all proceeds go to help fight community hunger. Go to rentpartylive.com for more information.