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That's What Friends Are For!

March 14, 2008 - Jim Price

This past Thursday night, I journeyed to the Pittsburgh area to attend a benefit show, and witnessed a special and historic evening.

Pittsburgh guitar great Tony Janflone Jr. has been sidelined since the end of last year with herniated discs in his neck, suffered after an auto accident last September.  Mounting medical costs from this condition and an emergency appendectomy he underwent last summer, coupled with an inadequate insurance policy that won’t cover those expenses, led to Tony attempting to sell off some of his guitars to pay the bills.  When some of his musical friends learned of this, they stepped in to help, organizing the “That’s What Friends Are For” benefit show this night at the Rhythm House in Bridgeville. 

What an amazing night!

The Rhythm House – what a great venue!  This place reminded me of the old Cisco’s in Altoona, with a big main band room, a back room, and side lounges with pool tables and dining areas.  This was a clean facility, and the staff was friendly and courteous as well.  I definitely plan to come back here to see future shows!

I got to speak with Tony shortly after arriving.  He told me that he is handling the therapy and recovery okay, but is chomping at the bit to get back out and play.  He also said that his neurosurgeon advised him not to undergo surgery, and instead ride the injury out until it heals; which may take a few years before he is fully back to normal. Tony said while he isn’t actively gigging, he has been enjoying spending more time teaching his guitar students, as well as finishing work on some CD projects.  

I got to catch a little of the Billy Price Band when I first arrived; they had the jam-packed house going wild with their feisty brand of R&B. 

Entertainment was happening in the Rhythm House's back room as well, with Pittsburgh lounge legend Frankie Capri performing.  Frankie’s one-man show includes a mini-stage with dancing toy monkeys, umbrellas, American and Italian flags, and himself, singing, playing percussion and other instruments to a wide variety of sounds, spanning Elvis to Sinatra to polkas.  His performance was fun and lighthearted, and a few folks even got up and danced in front of his little stage set-up.   Besides Frankie Capri and the complimentary food in the back room, a Chinese auction took place, and souvenir T-shirts for the evening were being sold as well.

I soon made my way back out to the main band room shortly after Billy Price had finished.  On the stage, an auctioneer, Steve Yillet, was auctioning off a special guitar made by Tony’s father, Tony Janflone Sr.  The winning bid was $3,100.

This show had that special friendly vibe going on.  Everybody was friendly, and total strangers were striking up conversations with me!  And there were no egos in the room either, as the musicians freely mingled with the crowd.  It was one big, friendly, happy vibe!

Next was a performance by the Pittsburgh All-Stars.  And this group lived up to its billing, featuring some of the biggest names associated with Pittsburgh music…Donnie Iris, Clarks guitarist Rob James, B.E. Taylor and his longtime guitarist/collaborator Rick Witkowski, backed by Tommy Bellin on bass, Rick Dickerson on drums and Jamie Peck on keys.  This cast lifted the mood of the evening even higher with a set celebrating the best-known hits of each of the All-Stars!   After the group led off with B.E. singing lead on “Without Love,” Rob sang lead on the first of two Clarks hits performed, “Better Off Without You.”  Then it was Donnie Iris’ turn, as he fronted the All-Stars on “Love Is Like a Rock,” turning the song into an all-out audience singalong that had the whole place rocking!  The group then returned to the Clarks catalog as Rob fronted the group on “Cigarette,” at one point commenting that he had to take a moment to remember the words, since he usually doesn’t sing!  Then it was a hit out of B.E. Taylor’s catalog, as he, Rick and the band broke out “Vitamin L,” which also turned into a wild audience singalong. 

At this point, show host Sean McDowell of WDVE stepped onstage to conduct the 50/50 drawing, with the winner taking home $500.  The Allstars continued with Donnie Iris’ other big solo hit, “Ah! Leah!  Like he did when he and his Cruisers performed at Altoona’s Railroaders Museum last summer, Donnie again demonstrated he still has the energy and the voice – and he just turned 65 last month! 

After this song, the most special part of the evening, as the musicians onstage invited the show beneficiary, Tony Janflone, Jr., to come up to the stage.  Tony made his way through the huge crowd and stepped on the stage, and – holding back tears – thanked everybody for this special night.  The musicians then encouraged Tony to strap on a guitar, and he did.  The musicians then started into a rendition of Booker T & the MG’s “Green Onions,” featuring another special highlight, as Tony’s father, Tony Janflone Sr., brought his guitar onstage and stood in alongside his son!  Indeed this was turning into a special and historic evening! 

At this point, there was a short changeover intermission, before the final performance of the night, from a band featuring D.C. Tanner and Tony Janflone Sr.  Both demonstrated their six-string abilities on a short set of classic rock and blues, including “All Along the Watchtower,” Van Morrison’s “Moondance,” ZZ Top’s “Fool for Your Stockings,” Luther Dixon’s “Big Boss Man” and more.  And while this night was about Tony Janflone, Jr., this set showed the house that his father can do a pretty lethal job on the guitar as well; he was great! 

The night had drawn to a close.  This was one of those shows where, at the end of it all, you just stand there and say, “WOW!”  It was an amazing, special, and historic evening.  Tony Janflone Jr. has continually donated his talents to help out others over the years, and has even taken part in fundraisers here in the Altoona area.  This night, the Pittsburgh music community returned the favor.  And I was glad to make the roadtrip to be a part of it!

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Entertaining in the Rhythm House's rear room, Frankie Capri and his Vegas-styled lounge act.


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