In late ’82, John and I spotted an ad in the Illinois Entertainer for a harmonica and sax player. We hired Vince Salerno to record tracks to new songs we were working on in St. Vitus Dance. Vince took the train from the north side where he lived, to Barrington, where our rehearsal space was next to the station. At the time, he was working with Pocket Watch Paul, who was making the rounds of the Chicago blues clubs. Also around this time, Vince was backing Vanessa Davis. Vince’s contribution to our music added an element of maturity, class, and production shine.
When I returned from my Europe trip in the fall of ’84, I called Vince and asked him if he knew anyone looking to share an apartment on the north side. In fact, he had just broken up with his girlfriend and was staying temporarily at his mom’s, and was looking for the same. We found a basement apartment in Lincoln Park on Wayne street just north of Fullerton and moved in a few weeks before Thanksgiving. I had wanted some way to get into the city and Vince, an older and more experienced player, was my channel.
By the summer of ’85 our immediate circle of friends included Polish musician Stan Borys, music writer Bill Dahl, ‘Lil Ed guitarist Mike Garrett Wolancevich, and girlfriend Mary Beutjer, who later became my wife. Vince and I recorded an EP as ‘Strange Romance’, which was reviewed favorably by Illinois Entertainer writer Mick Hans, who later put us at the top of his favorite local projects list for ’86. His piece was read by bowling alley manager and indy label owner Jeff Svoboda, which led to his financing Strange Romance’s LP ‘Charms.’ We all hung out at Kingston Mines, Buddy Guy’s Legends, Blues on Halsted, and the Get Me High Lounge in Wicker Park. Weiner Circle on Clark, the Maxwell St. Polish sausage grills, and El Presidente on Ashland were favorite night-ender eateries.
Vince made a point of sharing his rich knowledge of music history with me. At the Get Me High Lounge, he introduced me to the sounds of Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, giving me back-stories and details that drew me into their music. He steered me to Jimmy Smith and the organ trio format, knowing I was a fan of the B3 and owner of a little Hammond M3. He put blues harp pioneer Little Walter on my radar, and introduced me to the work of Jr. Walker and other R&B greats. Through Vince I learned about legendary soul labels Atlantic and Stax. Vince mentored me on the essential American music of the twentieth century.
By the mid-80’s Vince was playing with the Supernaturals, fronted by Liz Manville, with her husband Willie Greeson backing her on guitar. There were out-of-town dates where Vince would disappear for a stretch and come back to Mary and me comfortably nested in the apartment with his amusing kitty, Scat. Vince never complained about it, but it probably irked him. Eventually, Mary and I got our own apartment a few blocks west.
Vince met BB Bugaloo when he was practicing sax under a bridge. BB, who was working at a nearby parking lot, came over and introduced himself after hearing him. BB was a well-known singer in his home country of Ghana, singing American soul and Ghanaian hi life. He’d arrived in the US recently and was putting together an African reggae band in Chicago and was looking for a sax player. Vince began rehearsing with his band Asafo and invited me to tape them. In the summer of ’85, I produced the Asafo EP at Chicago Trax (then located a half block south of us on Wayne) for African businessman Robert Barimah Minta. Later, Vince and I attempted to put together a project featuring BB, but differences in vision shut down the effort and caused a brief rift in our friendship.
Vince and I have maintained our friendship. He has contributed to almost all of my music projects. Of all the musician friends who have influenced me through the years, he is the one who has most directly calibrated my artistic compass. Interestingly, he now lives in Barrington, the place I grew up. I am living in Edison Park, next door to Park Ridge, where he grew up.
These days he performs with Gerald McClendon and has recently put out a project featuring his arrangements of soul, R&B and blues chestnuts performed by Gerald and a crack ensemble of veteran Chicago side-men.
Vince Salerno & Gerald McClendon
Grab the Blues by the Horns