Thanks, Dad!

 Posted by
Nov 212020

My dad (left), about age 23 with a 12-year-old Bobby Rydell. Dad had taken Bobby to see Johnny Ray. The photo appeared in an A&E Biography of Bobby.

My Dad died last night. He was a month shy of 90, lived a good life, his passing was neither unexpected nor drawn-out nor painful. I’m not writing this to look for condolences or sympathy but because one of Dad’s greatest gifts to me was a love of music and where better to acknowledge that and celebrate it than Rock Town Hall.

Not that Dad was much of a rock & roll fan. He did have broad tastes though and music was always playing at our house. Roger Miller to Tom Jobim to Chet Baker to Frank Sinatra, I heard a lot and loved it all and still do.

For a first-generation Italian-American in South Philly, Sinatra was of course number one for my father (and my mother). That was passed on to me. I like to say that I’ve loved Sinatra for 66 years even though I’m only 65 years old since I know I heard plenty of Frank in utero.

Dad saw so much live music back in the day and had so many stories to tell me. Chatting with Ella Fitzgerald before a show and buying her a drink at the bar of the club. Being the only person at another gig with Rosemary Clooney, telling her she didn’t have to do the show just for him (although she did). Hanging with Bobby Darin at a bar in Philly when Keely Smith called looking for him (and Darin telling the bartender – my uncle – to tell her he wasn’t there and if she ever called, he was never there, although his language was more colorful). “Managing” Bobby Rydell early on in his career (which mostly consisted of him collecting money at the Jersey shore while Bobby performed on the beach and taking him up to New York to audition for Red Skeleton).

Me and Bobby with the photo above. He was very happy to have a copy again.

The list of people he saw multiple times in little jazz clubs in Philly and NYC is staggering – Miles, Monk, Chet Baker, Ahmad Jamal, Anita O’Day, Astrud Gilberto, and countless others. And Dad wasn’t shy and the times were such that it was okay to talk to all these people, buy them a drink. One story he loved to tell was about chatting with Chet Baker before a show and asking him to play the song “Trickleydidlier” which was Dad’s favorite. Chet had no idea what the song was and apologized to Dad, saying “I don’t know these songs; they put the charts in front of me in the studio and I play.”

And, of course, seeing Sinatra at a restaurant after one of Frank’s shows and striking up a conversation with him.

Dad was a baker, a cake decorator. (Back before Cake Boss and any of that stuff, one of Dad’s creations was featured in the Philadelphia Bulletin in 1964, when he iced a cake and made it look like a Beatles mop-top.) He had one job working at a bakery in Wayne. He went to a lot of shows at the Main Point, seeing James Taylor, Janis Ian, even Bruce, and others long before anyone knew who they were.

Thanks, Dad; this is for you.


  22 Responses to “Thanks, Dad!”

  1. I’m so sorry to read this, Al. My love to you and your family. Your beautiful apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

  2. My condolences, Al. He sounds like one hell of a guy.It’s now quite obvious where you’re whole music thing began.

    One more thing. Years ago, I found some live reel to reel tapes of late 50s/early 1960s performances from Scilolla’s night club which, I believe, was a Latin Casino kind of deal around 5th Street and the Boulevard. There’s a full Bobby Rydell show on one of the tapes. Is that something you’d like to hear? If so, let me know!

  3. I’m very sorry for your loss, Al. I hope these sweet memories serve to comfort you and your family during this sad time. He sounds like a guy I would have liked to have known.

  4. Thanks everyone!

    And EPG, I would definitely want to hear that show. I remember that place haven’t thought about it in forever. I actually remember going to see Bobby there with my dad.

    I couldn’t play a reel-to-reel myself but have a friend you has all sorts of equipment and could transfer it to CD after taking care of any issues there might be. I’ll even see that Bobby gets a copy.

  5. If all goes well you should have a CD copy by the end of the week!

  6. Hey, Al! How about some pictures!

  7. I’d like to be able to blame circumstances but it’s really just ineptitude. Mr. Mod, how do I get a photo into this thread?

  8. I’m about to work on making ravioli, Al, but send me a photo or three and I’ll put it up. Then, I’ll show you how to load them, when my hands aren’t covered in flour and egg.

  9. Great pictures! That first one is something right out of the Michael Ochs Archives. More please!!!!

  10. misterioso

    So sorry for your loss. Lo salutiamo! (I hope that means what I think it means.)

    I confess I am sort of fascinated by Johnny Ray, btw. I am not sure I get it, or that I like it, but there’s something strangely compelling there.

  11. Hey, Al. You may want to check in with misterioso! He might want a copy of that early 60s Sciolla’s show. Like I said, it’s a winner.

  12. Al, me again. I can’t stop thinking about that incredible black and white photo. You’re dad was a manager for Bobby Rydell at the same time as the black and white? What exactly did that encompass? Yeah, you’ve thrown out some teasers, but I’d love it if you could provide more info. He’s doing that on the side while he was a baker? How seriously did he consider the idea of being a full time manager?

  13. Well, I put “manager” in quotes. Dad was a friend of the Jennie & Ado Ridarelli, Bobby’s parents in South Philly. It was never anything formal or real and my info about it is very sketchy. (I do know that dad was disappointed not to have received a mention in Bobby’s autobiography from a few years ago though.)

    The young Bobby was a drummer and a great mimic, doing popular singers. His grandmother had an apartment house at the Jersey shore, where she rented out rooms and I think Bobby stayed there over the summer. He would “perform” on the beach, walking around, doing his impersonations, and dad would have the hat, collecting tips from the sunbathers. Bobby apparently did a fantastic version of Johnny Ray and that’s why dad took him to see Ray. There was one story where one time, going back stage (wouldn’t appear to be the time from which this photo was taken) where there was also a naked showgirl with Ray.

    Dad took him once to NYC to audition for Red Skeleton. This was before the teen idol days and it was as this sort of novelty, “look at that little kid do Jolson” sort of way. Bobby also did a killer impersonation of Red Skeleton in his various characters. Skeleton loved him but he didn’t make it on the show till years later; from wikipedia “During this time, he performed on many television programs, including the Red Skelton Show, where a recurring role was written for him by Red Skelton as Zeke Kadiddlehopper, Clem Kadiddlehopper’s younger cousin”.

    Dad wasn’t shy when it came to approaching musicians and it was really in this capacity that he tried to introduce Bobby to people in the business. Hence the quotes on “manager”.

    One of my early childhood memories was going to the Ridarelli house. I was probably around 5 years old so Bobby was 18 and at the height of his teen idol stardom. He had a drum kit in the basement and played for us.

    I saw him perform several times. At Sciolla’s in the early ’60s. At the Oakdale Theatre in CT in the early ’90s. My family came up for the show and we all went. Afterwards, my not-shy dad dragged us to the dressing room, talking his way past guards and attendants and such. When Bobby came out it was like old times “Oh my God, Al Mazz! Come on in!” That was the last time dad saw Bobby and I know he was really pleased to be so warmly welcomed.

    That picture with me above was from 2015. Bobby was playing this weird afternoon show at a local wedding reception hall here in central Connecticut. It was sponsored by some travel agency who had these shows as a promotional event. A wedding reception type lunch followed by a show. The show was long on reminiscing (the Jersey shore, meeting Sinatra) and too short on singing especially in skipping a lot of his hits to play the standards he loved.

    Dad was supposed to join me for that show. I had arranged with Bobby’s manager to meet him, had made copies of the old photo. Unfortunately, dad had had a fall the week before and was in the hospital. My wife and I went. We met Bobby after all the other fans had queued up for their autographs and photos and I gave him a copy of the Johnny Ray photo. He was ecstatic, saying he had lost track of his copy years ago. He verified these stories I had heard for years from my dad (I confess to having wondered how much “writer’s embellishment” there might have been); except for dad not being there it was a great afternoon that far exceeded my expectations.

    It was a funny crowd, all people probably 5-10 years older than me who had been huge fans back in the teen idol days and still were. At the table we were sitting at, each one had a story about seeing Bobby back in the early ’60s. When I was questioned about being “young”, my wife explained the connection. You’d think I knew Jesus as far as these women were concerned.

    I’m sure dad never considered being a real manager. For all his not-shy aspect, he never would have left the steady job where he was making probably $75 a week for anything that risky.

  14. Great stuff, Al! Thanks for fleshing out the details. One more question, and this one’s coming from me and the wife. Where did your dad work? We’re asking because we may have gone there without realizing that it was his operation.

  15. Sorry to hear the news Al. He sounds like a great guy.

  16. misterioso

    In case anyone has no idea what Johnny Ray was like, here’s an appearance on Ed Sullivan from 1957, so probably a few years after Al’s photo:

    Whatever else one might think of Ray, he was unique!

  17. Love the disembodied head part, misterioso!

  18. Dad never had his own shop – part of that risk averse thing. His first job was at Frangelli’s in South Philly on the corner down the block from where he lived at 9th & Jackson. Did I mention the Merlino and Bruno stories? They come from that.

    Then he was the decorator for Gimbel Bros back when they had a bakery department; he did the cakes for all the Gimbel’s stores in the greater Philadelphia area. That’s when he did the Beatles cake. Then Higgin’s in Wayne. There were other part-time jobs squeezed in there as well – Bookbinders, Il Gallo Nero, the banquet place on Baltimore Pike across from the Bazaar the name of which escapes me.

  19. Beatles cake. You know that’s gotta be something I need to know more about! Do tell!

  20. misterioso

    Please tell us the Beatle cake involved using real hair…

  21. No real hair.

    According to wikipedia, the Beatles played two concerts in Philadelphia – 2 Sept 64 and 16 Aug 1966. Dad’s cake would have been for the first one, in the early blush of Beatlemania. This would have been when he was working at Gimbel’s. I don’t remember why he made it – radio station? hotel? – but a picture of it ended up in a Philadelphia newspaper; my memory says the Bulletin.

    It was pretty plain. A round cake, the top of which had been carved out so that it was somewhat like a half-sphere but, well, headlike. White-frosted, with chocolate icing then decorated from the top with a frosting tip, down over the sides, representing the mop-top. As I said before, quite simple in this day of Cake Boss and BBC Baking shows but noteworthy enough in 1964 to be in the paper. The Beatle tide raised all ships.

    I know we had a copy of that newspaper at one point but it was 1964 that I last saw it. I’m hoping it will surface when I go through things. If so, it will premiere on RTH.

  22. Just discovered this Bobby Rydell factoid. Rydell was on the “Richard Nader’s Rock ‘n Roll Revival” bill at Madison Square Garden on October 15, 1971. Also on that bill were Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and Rick Nelson. Nelson made the show famous in the song “Garden Party”.

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