Vince Salerno

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

      Come On - Vince Salerno & Gerald McClendon
      Love Man - Vince Salerno & Gerald McClendon
      Crying For My Baby - Vince Salerno & Gerald McClendon
      The Happy Song - Vince Salerno & Gerald McClendon
      Up the Line - Vince Salerno & Gerald McClendon
      I Wish You Would - Vince Salerno & Gerald McClendon
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On my Mom’s Death

Ann Elaine Schuurman
January 2, 1928 – July 26, 2017

The buzzy, arcing live-wire of worry bounced around somewhere in her consciousness since my mid-teens when I began my rebellion. By the time of her death, it didn’t keep her up at night anymore. I think that somewhere deep in her fog of dementia she still recognized me because her expression changed pleasantly when she realized I was present, even though she couldn’t communicate verbally. She didn’t understand forty years ago when I left home, seeking a creative existence, disregarding good advice, stumbling frequently, falling very much short. She didn’t understand two years ago when my darkness ended and I landed on my feet. I have the same intuition now as I did when my dad died: Now she understands why I am this way. My black sheepishness is un-necessary.

My mom, Ann Elaine Schuurman, passed away peacefully in her sleep July 26, 2017. These were the events of her final days:

Sunday 7-23-17

My wife wakes me up saying something is going on with my mom. I call Patty. She says she’d been contacted by the nurse and informed of a change. Mom’s oxygen was low, and she was not responding to a supplemental feed. She had not been eating or drinking for two days. The hospice caregivers were now acting in accordance with my mothers’ living will instructions.  They didn’t expect her to wake up again. It would only be a matter of days. Me and Julia arrived late afternoon. We sat with her for some then left. Her breathing was shallow.

Monday 7-24-17

Patty had spent the night with mom. She told me there were no dramatic changes. She told me mom’s blood pressure was low. They were administering morphine to keep her comfortable, but that was all.

Tuesday 7-25-17

I took over from Patty from 9:30 AM until noon. At 7:30 PM I returned and settled into mom’s room for the night. She continued to sleep comfortably. I fell asleep before 11. I dreamt that my parents were meeting us at a hotel somewhere, but we couldn’t find them. The nurses and attendants came in throughout the night.

Wednesday 7-26-17

At 5 AM the nurse gave my mom a morphine dose. Around 7, a nurse came in to take her vital readings. Her temperature was up to 102.4. There was a purple area on her thigh that she brought to my attention. I asked her if she was able to compare these readings to the last ones taken. She said she would get them into the system, and we would be informed. I updated Patty on the phone, then left for work. I called Patty from work and we discussed this around 8:30. At the hospital, she spoke with the caregivers, but there were no clear medical events yet indicating death was imminent. Around 10 AM Patty called me and told me our mom was gone.

 Saturday 7-29-2017

We met at Patty’s house around 8:30 AM. The families were all present. We drove to the cemetery and parked, lining the narrow lane. The ceremony was brief. We left flowers for her, and she was lowered next to my dad. We drove to the Lutheran church. The service was nice. Family members spoke along with people she had mentored, worked with, and befriended. People spoke of her serving the poor alongside my dad in the 80’s in Washington DC. They mentioned how she was a successful business woman. Vince Salerno, my old friend and collaborator, accompanied Helen, the church music director, in a rendition of ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee’ as my mom requested. Afterwards there was a dinner at a restaurant where we were able to mingle and share memories.

I watched my mother fade over the last decade. When her passing finally occurred, there was sadness, but there was more a sense of relief. Years ago, when she was fully present, dementia to her was the worst imaginable exit. Nonetheless, she endured it with dignity and grace. All her children carried her in their hearts as she receded into her twilight. She was tended to most heroically by her faithful and devoted daughter Patricia. My mom is once again with her beloved husband Richard. When I was little, I remember wondering how I’d react when both my parents were gone. They are both gone now. I’m missing them very much.

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Bill Dahl

Bill Dahl

Bill Dahl is a writer, musicologist, and a blues expert. Before I met him, and we became friends, I was reading his articles about the Chicago blues scene.

John Halka and I were in Barrington with our band St. Vitus Dance, trying to educate ourselves about the blues. His column was a favorite of ours. When I moved into Lincoln Park in late ’84, my room-mate Vince Salerno introduced me to Bill, who he was friends with. Vince, Bill and I assembled on our perches overlooking the Chicago blues scene, and marveled at the egos, the musicianship, the debauchery and the soap opera of the Kingston Mines, Blues on Halstead, Blues Etc., Rosas, and Buddy Guy’s Legends.

It was a very interesting perspective, at a very interesting time with Chicago blues peaking in prominence, arguably. John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd had just finished the ‘Blues Brothers’ movie, and their album was top 10. Celebrities were a nightly occurrence at the Mines, and other clubs. Blues had become established in pop culture. And I had the nightly good fortune of receiving the wit and wisdom of respected blues authority, friend and drinking buddy, Bill Dahl.

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John Halka and St. Vitus Dance

St. Vitus Dance
St. Vitus Dance

When I first met John, we were both 13, living in north Barrington. We shared the same school bus stop in our wooded neighborhood, Timberlake. Our birthdays were a month apart, but he was a grade higher than me.

He had a Pioneer stereo, blacklight posters, and Pong on his basement tv. There was also a decorative mandolin hung by his parents on the hallway wall by his bedroom. We took it down, started experimenting, and the music began.

Early in high school, both of us picked up guitars and started lessons. We shared chords, compared finger exercises, bounced ideas off each other and jammed. We listened to Dylan for the poetry, blues and early rock and roll for the chops we wanted to lift, and punk for inspiration and a guiding ethos. We couldn’t wait to get out of high school, rent a space, and start rehearsing our band.

In the fall of 1978, we rented a house in McHenry, IL near the Fox River. We built a little studio in the basement with sound insulation, placed ads in the Illinois Entertainer for side players, and started bangin’ away, me playing guitar and keyboards, John playing bass. I worked in a shop in Wauconda welding pipe heaters and snow melters. John worked in a cement factory in Crystal Lake. Nights were loud, loose and raucous doing auditions, rehearsing new songs, and jamming. We called our band St. Vitus Dance.

In the summer of 1980, we moved our rehearsal space to a palette factory south down the Fox River to West Dundee.  We were kicked out and re-located to a basement floor space in a small office building in Barrington, near the train station.

We continued with auditions and rehearsals, and soon started playing parties and dives. We did a mix of covers and originals in a raw, loud, rock and roll, blues style. Our technique continued to tighten, and we were bringing in better side players. We also were playing in larger, better known bars.

By the summer of 1983, we were developing musically. We performed acoustically in Milwaukee, Madison, and Minneapolis. We had purchased a multi-track tape deck, and begun experimenting with over-dubbing. John’s bass playing was rock-solid and unadorned. He had a baritone voice reminiscent of Jim Morrison. He looked great with his brown P-bass, dark beard and olive green ’60s Mustang.

The lifestyle was developing as well. We were constantly around alcohol and drugs in a time when they were tolerated, if not celebrated. We indulged to the point where it became clear to me that a recalibration of attitude towards them was necessary. It took John much longer to reach that conclusion. In part, they contributed to the deterioration of our friendship and the end of our collaboration.

By early 1984, a toxic competitiveness had crept into our musical efforts. Feeling the need for self-reinvention, I decided to take a break from our band. The idea was that I would go off and knock around Europe a bit with my acoustic, come back and we’d resume. Then we’d find a way to re-locate the band into The City, Chicago.

That summer, before I left, I’d met Stan Borys. When I returned, I focused on working with him. I found an apartment in Chicago with Vince Salerno, a sax player John and I worked with. I set up my tape deck and started adding synthesizers and drum boxes. I enjoyed not having to share the musical helm. I did not bring John and the band into The City with me. We would never count off a song again in the same band.

 

In the spring of 2005, I got a call out of the blue from John. I couldn’t remember the last time we’d spoke. We discussed getting together for a beer after I returned from a family trip. When I called him, his phone was disconnected. The next winter, I heard from his brother Doug that John was locked up. By spring of 2006, a year after he reached out to me, I was able to make contact with John, writing, then visiting him at Walworth County jail in Wisconsin.

John had a serious substance problem. He forged a prescription and got caught. John was fined and paroled. Later, his parole officer found out that his employer wasn’t informed about his criminal record. He was let go when his employer was told, and went on the run, having run afoul of his terms for parole. Freaked out about doing time, he lived in a stolen van, sleeping at night in empty parking lots, scrounging food where he could. He broke into a house near Lake Geneva, WI and stole a gun with the intention of killing himself. Fortunately, he was caught and couldn’t do it. Unfortunately, he had time to do.

We re-connected after he got out in May of 2008, and re-established our friendship. He worked for me as a photographer, and helped with sales calls for my business until the Great Recession did in my company. We talked about collaborating again after things settled down with the economy, but it never happened. John died of a heart attack on August 1, 2012.

Our last collaboration was ‘Johnny Thirteen’. When John was in jail, he read a poem to me over the phone, which I recorded. It was excerpted and used in the song. John’s share of sales of ‘Johnny Thirteen’ will go to his son, John Halka Jr.

John Halka was a gifted musician. He struggled with his demons, but he was a good person. We resonated on the same frequency. He was my dearest, best friend, and I miss him very much.

St. Vitus Dance

Rehearsal tapes, performance board mixes, multi-track recordings.
(These 11 songs are not yet available commercially.)

      On the Road Again
      What's Buggin' You?
      Respectable
      Crawlin' King Snake
      Lights Out
      Tiny Montgomery
      Wild Child
      Angela
      Matchbox
      Recklessly Yours
      Mother's Kitchen

      John's Jail Poem
      Johnny Thirteen
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Tom Waicunas

Tom Waicunas -photo by Inja Lin

Tom Waicunas is a singer, song-writer, harmonica player and guitarist. He’s from Connecticut, Marthas’ Vineyard, Philadelphia, and Chicago. I met him in 1993 when we both lived in the Spice Factory artist lofts on the south side. We became friends and collaborators up until his disappearance in 2013. Tom has struggled with substance and mental health issues. I last heard from him fall 0f 2016 when he emailed me and asked me to post his music. He is living on the street, drifting between California and Arizona. This site features some of the music we’ve collaborated on. I’m trying to re-establish contact with him to set up a channel to pay him for sales of his music. If you have contact with Tom, please tell him to get in touch with me.

Video: Techno Blues

      Maybe It's the Way
      Sense of Humor
      Midnight Shuffle
      What You Gonna Do Now?
      Techno Blues
      My Phone Got Disconnected
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Ray, Ewa, Patrycja, Eric – Warsaw 1984

      Ray, Ewa, Patrycja and Eric (English and Polish)
1984 European Trip Journal Cover

When I met with Stan Borys in Lake In the Hills in the summer of 1984, I told him I’d be visiting Europe soon and I’d like to see Poland. He offered to give me the names and phone numbers for his ex-manager Ray Dabrowski, and his ex-wife Ewa, and he asked that I deliver a personal message to his daughter Patrycja. In late September with the end of my European trip nearing, I left Vienna and Western Europe, crossed the border and entered the Communist world. I had been delayed a couple days after losing my train ticket to Krakow. My entire 10 week European trip had been a contemplation of what was hopefully to come in Poland, though I had no guaranty of successfully entering into the past world of Polish rock legend Stan Borys. When I arrived in Warsaw, I managed to locate Ray Dabrowski’s office and was told he was returning from London in a day. The next day I met Ray, and we talked. He contacted Ewa, who was initially opposed to meeting the stranger, her ex-husband’s friend from Chicago. Ray persuaded her to change her mind, and a meeting was set up. The following day, I met Ray and we drove to a suburb of Warsaw where we met with Ewa and Patrycja Borys, Stan’s 13 year old daughter. Using a cassette deck loaned to me by Ray, I recorded our conversation, which is above. The morning after the meeting, I boarded a train and began my return to the States. Had I not been delayed by my lost train ticket, the meeting of Ray, Ewa, Patrycja and myself would not have taken place.

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Krzysztof Kieślowski

Kieślowski’s Three Colors

Krzysztof Kieślowski is my film director choice. Roger Ebert has some excellent pieces on his films, which I’m providing links to in this post. You owe it to yourself to see his films.

In the early 90’s when I was living in Old Town, I read about 3 films being released that were referred to as the Three Colors: Blue, White and Red. The director was Krzysztof Kieślowski. He was established in Poland originally as a documentary film-maker, then as an observer of everyday life there at the end of the Cold War, and finally he was regarded as an internationally recognized artist of highest influence and esteem.

I was living in Sopot, Poland in spring of 1996, working as a video editor on a film review program called Bliżej filmu, when I heard that Kieślowski had died. My friend there, knowing about my UWW program, pointed out that this was someone that was relevant to my interests in Poland and should be on my radar. I saw the 3 films and understood that Kieślowski really was brilliant.

Prior to his trilogy, he released The Double Life of Veronique, his first film produced outside of Poland in part. His Dekalog was a series of 10 one hour films, originally for television, set in a block of flats in Warsaw, loosely sprung from the Ten Commandments thematically.

Earlier films include: Blind Chance, No End, Short Working Day, Camera Buff, The Calm, The Scar, Personnel, From a Night Porter’s Point of View, Curriculum Vitae, Concert of Requests, Tramway, and The Office.

If you have a fast food diet of Hollywood films, that’s cool. But you owe yourself some balance with the nutrition and substance of Kieślowski.

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Arthur Winiarski

Arthur Winiarski, Opole Festival 1991.

Arthur Winiarski was a Polish-American businessman and impressario that I met when I accompanied Stan Borys to the Opole Festival in June of 1991. He was then Stan’s manager for the festival and related events. He lived in New Jersey and Sopot, Poland. His business, Galaxy Group, introduced parking meters to Poland, and financed his music industry ventures. He was our corporate sponsor for the Sopot Festival in 1994. After our success at the event, Galaxy Group relocated me and my studio from Chicago to Sopot in the summer of 1995 after I was accepted into Northeastern IL University’s independent study program ‘University Without Walls’. Arthur made numerous introductions for me to Polish musicians, producers, radio personalities, and other industry people. He died in 2004.

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Tomek Lipiński

tl3_cropped
Polish Punk Royalty

Tomek Lipiński is a highly regarded Polish rock lyricist, composer, singer and guitarist. He is the founder of Tilt (1979), one of the first punk bands in Poland, and co-founder of Brygada Kryzys (1981), an influential new-wave band there. The songs by Tilt and Brygada Kryzys were regarded as anthems of the Polish opposition movement in the 1980s. For his artistic criticism of the regime and participation in various movements and protests, he was frequently arrested and hassled by the authorities. Tomek’s song contributions to and appearances in numerous popular Polish films have landed him hit songs like ‘Nie pytaj mnie’ and ‘Jakby nie stało się nic’ maintaining his stature in popular Polish culture through the years. I met Tomek in 1996 at the Student’s Club in Gdańsk where he was performing. We became friends, crossing paths in Sopot frequently, hanging out at the nightclub Spatif, and later in Warsaw where I played piano on a project of his. Tomek provided a spoken word piece that would be included on ‘Far Enough Away’ on my eponymous album in 2007.

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