Saturday, September 25, 2010

Driving Me Crazy

     Now that my baby Samantha is 16 as of Sept. 10, it's time for that moment of maturity so many teens wait years for -- the privilege of driving! Thanks to the wealth of information on the Internet, she studied the laws of the road for a couple of weeks leading up to the fateful day at the Madison County Department of Motor Vehicles (even though we live in Oneida County -- obviously they aren't too choosy who goes there) on Sept. 24, 2010 and aced the test with 100 percent! Looks like she inherited not only my good looks but my smarts as well.

      Brand-new permit in hand, she took the car keys, started up Captain Cavalier, and headed off to the streets of Wampsville for the 45 minute ride back to Taberg. But suddenly it hit me: I never really taught her how to drive ... maybe it was a bit too early to have a new chauffeur? What the hey; let's roll, Kato. I'll teach you along the way. And dig my note-perfect Rob Halford vocal impersonation on "Breaking The Law" -- I can hit those high notes when I'm scared out of my mind.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Real American Inspiration

     The best stories are the ones that stay with us after we read them -- motivating, inspiring, and maybe even making us change for the better. We all have people who have come into our lives and left an indelible imprint on whatever followed. Over the last few years I've had the pleasure of interviewing a man numerous times who has taken his incredible story of overcoming hardship and turned it into a shining beacon of hope for a new generation.

     Jim Furney was born in 1929 in Utica, N.Y., thrust into the poverty of the Great Depression. He endured a constant battle to thrive and survive as he became one of a group of several young "Brothers of the Streets," living homeless by the time he was 10 years old. He joined the Marine Corps just after World War II, and even spent some time in prison in his young adult years, but today Furney has taken the turmoil of his early days and created what he hopes will be a tome of inspiration for today's youth -- his autobiography "Uncertain Roads."

     Furney is quick to admit he isn't a professional writer; he's simply a man wishing to share the story of his own trials as an example for others. The lack of writing skill actually makes the book that much more engaging. It is obviously a heart-felt and honest remembrance of times Furney might be more apt to try to forget if he wasn't trying to use his bad times to make good times for others.

     Life was tough during the Depression, and Furney graphically portrays the era with blunt honesty. Once when he was still living with his mother they were given a loaf of bread and were heading home, only to have a man jump out from behind a tree and snatch their dinner away from them. His brother one time went off in search of sweet treats at the local dump, digging up old cough drops. And one tragic morning, Furney stopped by a young friend's house to pick her up for the walk to school, only to have her father come to the door to say she passed away from malnutrition during the night.

     Furney is frank about his incarceration on theft charges -- and that part of the tale is where his biggest moment of inspiration comes. When he feels totally spent, and in frustration resigns himself to taking his own life, he suddenly talks to God and asks for a sign that there really is a higher power watching over him. Furney wants to see the light in his cell put out, as evidence of God's presence in his life, and there is a thunder clap and the light bulb blows. He sees a vision, the Hebrew symbol for "I am," the same response God gave when Moses asked for his name in Exodus 3:14. Suddenly, Furney knew that even in the darkest recesses of his prison cell, God was there with him. That knowledge leads him to change his ways, now leading a life on the straight and narrow with wife Virginia and son Frank in Central New York, and finally to the composition of "Uncertain Roads" and its sequel "The Road Back."

     "I want my books to be an example for the young people of today, so they don't follow the same path I took," Furney said of those uncertain -- and undesirable -- roads he has traveled. At 81, he continues to promote his self-published books, traveling to book stores, libraries, farmers' markets, and book signing events all over the area with his message encouraging youth to avoid following in his footsteps. It's a voice of experience the youngsters of today can't afford to ignore.

     To get in touch with Furney, drop him an e-mail at and tell him Hot Scoops sent you!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Oops! I Did It Again!

     Last time, we saw my shameless celebrity name dropping recollection of my Top Five most memorable professional moments in hopes of enticing new followers into the spider web of my blog. Sure, it was fun to reminisce on the high spots over the last nearly 20 years in the glorious field of music journalism, but now we're ready for the blog you've really been waiting for -- my most heinously embarrassing moments. It's like watching "America's Funniest Videos" and laughing at all the times someone gets hit in a sensitive area.

     So now, let's take a big shot to the groin walking down memory lane to moments that will live in infamy ...
     5.) Technically, this moment was not so much an embarrassment to myself as it was to the audience members who witnessed the event. My secret affinity for the Loony Lucy bag lady character as portrayed by Lynda Kavy at the Sterling Renaissance Festival has long been known only to a select few. But after several years of ogling her (the authorities might call it "stalking") and even thrilling to the discovery of a photo of us together posted on her band Empty Hats' official Website, my unrequited love-that-has-no-bounds was revealed to all during one of their Sterling performances this past summer. So was my total lack of dignity and any kind of singing or dancing prowess. Here's the scene -- Empty Hats is playing their song "Take Her in Your Arms" live when suddenly their guitarist/vocalist Carl Asch comes out to the audience, grabs my hand, and pulls me up on stage to dance with my no-longer-secret crush. I revel in the moment, getting jiggy and shaking my groove thing with no real rhythm whatsoever. Luckily, to preserve the moment for posterity and to remind me never to dance in public again, my buddy Deb was in the front row with her camera.
     Okay, so maybe "Dancing with the Stars" won't be calling, but it was a great time. If you can't laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at?
      4.) So now let's get to the truly embarrassing stuff. Last time, I mentioned how the recognition factor of having my stories appear regularly in the paper has earned me other job offers, and last year, I had the honor of serving as emcee for the Heritage Farm Fall Festival in Eaton, N.Y. Well, that day I made the mental note never to stray from my preplanned rap with any kind of improvisation. Introducing a special duet performed by guest musician Zachary Collins, lead singer and guitarist of the Same Blood Folk Band, and the farm's own staffer Kelsey Brady, I announced to the audience of a couple hundred they were brother and sister. The evil eye I immediately got from Kelsey told me that was a major guffaw, and it turned out they were actually engaged to be married. I suppose in some places that doesn't preclude being brother and sister ... a wise sage named Jeff Foxworthy once said, if someone introduces you to his girlfriend and his sister and there's only one woman standing there, he might be a redneck. Or something like that. Let's move on.
     3.) Working with my favorite bands has most often been a true pleasure, but that hasn't always been the case. One time in particular I was at a show featuring one of my rocker faves, so I sauntered up to their tour bus backstage to cajole with the band. The big, burly guy guarding the bus door wasn't looking too welcoming, however, but I figured that would quickly pass after I told him I was looking for an exclusive interview with the band for the paper. After I explained who I was and that I was on official business, he yelled inside the bus to ask if anybody wanted to talk to a reporter. I heard a resounding "No!" in unison, and he told me to come back in 30 minutes and maybe someone would talk to me then. When I came back, he checked his watch and said it had only been 25 minutes, and sent me away for that additional five. Finally, at the appointed time, the bassist came out to chat -- looking disgusted like he had picked the short straw and was forced to do the interview -- and I had probably the worst discussion ever where the guy obviously had no interest in being there. I think revealing the group's name would be a real cheap trick, but I can guarantee you that I felt this particular quartet didn't want me to want them. 
     2.) Now for the big letdown for my blog followers who caught the preview last time, telling how I would reveal why my Lita Ford pictures were censored from publication. Given Lita's, shall we say, somewhat naughty reputation, I'm sure some people might have thought those photos showed a little something (or a big something) that wasn't fit for print. Well, not exactly. Our meeting took place way, way back in my early days of journalism when I was right out of college; it was even before I wrote my music column and she was one of the first rock stars I met. Plus she was even hotter in person than in concert or in her videos. So when she showed up at a local record store to sign autographs, my buddy Eric and I were there and I shot a roll of film for the local paper. After developing that film, however, all of the pictures came back so blurred you could barely even tell the subject was a woman, let alone Lita Ford. Asked what happened to the shots, I had to admit it was my own fault -- my hands were shaking so much while I was in her presence that every single one of the pictures was unusable. Now, wasn't the fantasy of thinking I had nasty Lita pics a lot more exciting than the truth? And I must admit attractive women still make my hands shake, so now if you see something in the paper that's somewhat blurry you'll know why.
     1.) I can thank my former Rome Observer editor Leeanne for the moment at number one. Shortly before a local Blue Oyster Cult concert, she suggested I reach out to Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser's mother-in-law Nancy who lived nearby for her own unique take on the band. Nancy could give us some personal anecdotes about knowing him not only as one of the best singer/songwriter/guitarists in the business, but as a son-in-law, so it sounded like fun. We got together; she told me about the day her daughter Sandy brought home the long-haired musician, showed me their wedding photos, and even shared tales about times when Buck was in the doghouse with her and temporarily might not have been a favorite son-in-law after all. One thing she mentioned was her own singing back in her younger days, and that little tidbit caught Leeanne's attention. There was no timeframe describing when those "younger days" were, so she asked me to call Nancy back and ask how old she was. Since I'm a guy, I didn't even consider the fact that this might be a taboo subject, and sure enough, that question went over like I was the Reaper knocking at her door. Our conversation quickly ended without any answer and it seemed evident the fondness we developed during our initial meeting had suddenly disappeared. Another mental note: when an editor asks me to ask a woman her age, find an intern to do it!
     So those are the five best of the worst moments of my career. Now it's time to go out and make some more!
     To be continued next blog.      

Sunday, September 5, 2010

"I'm with the band"

     One of the highlights of my year is my annual Writer's Jubilee workshops at the E. R. Andrews Elementary School in Morrisville, N.Y. each spring. I've done these for 10 years now, and the young writing enthusiasts always like to quickly cut through my dry subject matter about proper writing techniques so they can hear about my concert coverages and all of the bands I've met and worked with over the years. In a nod to the inspiration of those youngsters, let's take a trip down the long and winding road of my personal Top Five greatest moments in my 17-year music journalism career:

     5.) When Night Ranger rocked Phohl's Beachhouse in Sylvan Beach back in 1995, I was in the front row with camera in hand and notebook at my side to share the festivities with the masses via my "Central New York Spotlight" music column published in the Oneida Dispatch. After their red hot set, the band -- at the time in their too-often-overlooked "Feeding Off the Mojo" era featuring original members Brad Gillis and Kelly Keagy plus Gary Moon and David Zajicek -- actually came out to the bar and hung with us, drinking and chatting with the audience. Needless to say, I was glued to the spot as we chatted for hours about the ups and downs of the music business. I wasn't too popular when I rolled in at home at 6 a.m. that morning, but that's another story ...

     4.) Around the same time, we had a young guitar progeny graduate from an area high school, and the following day he and his band Bloodline played a concert with Lynyrd Skynyrd at the Darien Lake Performing Arts Center. That up-and-coming teen was Joe Bonamassa, and shortly after that story he went on to become world renowned for his virtuoso blues guitar playing and singing. He's already undoubtedly earned more money than I'll ever see, but I can say I knew him way back when he started. Maybe my article even brought him a few new fans.

     3.) In May 2009, I met one of my singing idols, ex-Anthrax lead vocalist Joey Belladonna, who was playing the Syracuse area with guitarist Matt Sanderson and bassist Dave Mickelson in his band Chief Big Way. It's not often someone who has played concerts in front of literally tens of thousands of people would reach out to the fans to play classic rock by his favorite bands in small venues like this, so I immediately started singing his praises via the Internet with stories, pictures and videos. My work in the local music scene had earlier earned me the position as organizer and emcee for the city of Sherrill's Summer Concert series, so with the blessing of our beloved sponsors Joanne, Amanda and Jim from the Gorman Foundation, I hired the power trio for a July 2010 show. A couple of months before the concert, however, Joey rejoined Anthrax and I watched in panic as dates for their tour of Europe were announced beginning in June and getting ever closer to our Sherrill date on July 18. But would you believe it turned out Anthrax was off the week of our show, and Joey, Matt and Dave played a rousing concert in the Silver City that night that brought out one of our biggest crowds ever? Plus suddenly my Chief Big Way stories and videos were picked up by websites around the world, so it was a boon to all of us. He's the man!

     2.) I think all of the music fans who long to be backstage at a concert have never actually been backstage at a concert -- it's really not that much fun and you certainly can't really see much of the show. It's more about boasting about being backstage than anything else, because all of the real action is out in the audience watching the groups ply their craft onstage. Except when I covered the Phish concert, that is, when I spent the evening in the parking lot hanging with the Phishheads. No, I didn't drop any acid with them. Anyways, the one time when I thought being backstage was more fun than being in the audience was when I came across the particularly enticing sight of a favorite rocker -- who has sworn me to secrecy regarding his identity -- perched over a female fan with a Sharpie marker autographing her bare derriere. Needless to say, my keen eye for de-tail compelled me to grab a quick photo of the event. But to my horror, her girlfriend nearby saw the flash and screamed at me, "Don't you dare take that picture!" Uh, too late. She came walking towards me and I thought my own derriere would soon see a good kicking, when suddenly she bent over next to her buddy, dropped her own shorts, and said, "Now go ahead and take the picture." Yes, I still have that photo and no, it's not fit for this blog. Maybe Hef might want to buy it, though.   

     1.) I always try to get my three daughters interested in my musical endeavors, but most often my attempts fall on deaf ears. Not so in August 2001, when I brought then-elementary school-aged Amanda, Gabrielle and Samantha out for the Aaron Carter concert at Darien Lake. If you don't remember Aaron, he was the Justin Bieber of the day and all the young girls loved him. We met Aaron backstage and the girls posed with him for a treasured photo, and we got to watch his soundcheck with a few other lucky tweens who were enthralled by his every note and gesture. I didn't really get the attraction, but the ear-to-ear smiles on the girls' faces after his concert that evening, and little Sam's yelling, "I can't hear anything!" after her first encounter with temporary concert deafness, were priceless.    

     Ah, what a ride it has been. But if you think those were fun times, next up is my list of my five most embarrassing moments in my 17 years in music journalism, including the reason Buck Dharma's mother-in-law will probably never speak to me again, why my Lita Ford pictures were unfit for anyone to see, and the story of meeting one band I would never cover again if they were the last musical combo on the earth.

     To be continued next blog.


Friday, September 3, 2010

Torture and torment at the paper

    So earlier today I'm watching the videos of our band rehearsals for the upcoming Heritage Farm Fall Festival (Sept. 26 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Eaton, N.Y. farm -- don't miss it!) and realizing I may have gained a few pounds since last year's event. Even though I'm rationalizing to myself that video cameras add a couple hundred pounds, I'm thinking maybe I should cut out some of the pizzas and wings at least until the Fest is over to trim down a bit.
    Then tonight I go to edit Matt's business story for tomorrow's paper, and he's done a graphically mouthwatering review of the new local pizza place. My hands start trembling and sweat hits my brow as I'm reading the descriptions of the succulent toppings and secret recipes used by the pizza artisans in crafting their palette-pleasing pies. But I resist the urge to drown my sorrows with a sinful meat lovers stuffed crust until the tempter decides to tell me his weekend plans -- he's heading out to Buffalo for the chicken wing festival.
     I fall off the wagon hard and bounce to the local pizza place. The score is now pizza 1, me 0. But tomorrow is another day.
     To be continued next blog.

Look, ma, I've got a blog!

     Ever read a newspaper article and marvel at how a story is composed and crafted? Ever wonder exactly how that particular tale came into existence? No? Well, anyways, now you can discover the little-known, behind-the-scenes trials and tribulations of a newspaper writer -- guaranteed as accurate and truthful as hyperbole allows -- with Hot Scoops With Sprinkles on Top. The Hot Scoops is self-explanatory ... the quest is never-ending for a unique story that will both educate and enthrall the readership in this business. The Sprinkles part is obvious for anyone who knows my modus aperandi. If you've got an event that includes ice cream (or chicken wings, another staple of my journalism diet) you can count on me inviting myself out for a sample, then doing a story on it and calling it "work."
     So stay tuned for the truth behind the tales, as we explore the world of Open Mike.
     To be continued next blog.