This ‘Badlee’ is a goodie

There was a buzz at Tony’s Wine Cellar. A Bret Alexander buzz.
“Bret Alexander’s here,” owner Victor Guiliano said the moment he saw me.
“Bret Alexander’s here,” Eddie Appnel said a few minutes later.
“Bret Alexander’s here,” said another. And another.
The occasion a week ago was the first anniversary of a non-so-well-kept secret: the Wednesday night open mic jam sessions at the Wine Cellar.
My friend Jack Smiles heard about it from Appnel and asked if I’d like to go along. Jack said he was going to write something for Pittston Progress, so watch for that this Sunday or next.
Tony’s Wine Cellar, located below the legendary Tony’s Pizza in the City Line Plaza in Pittston, has become quite a music venue. I try to get there whenever I hear the band “Sweet Pepper and the Long Hots” is playing. They’re comprised of a bunch of music all stars, not the least of which is Victor Guiliano, himself, on drums.
Eddie Appnel, it seems, is the driving force behind the Wednesday night jams. He is a huge musical talent. I always remind him of the night he opened for a “Dakota” reunion party at the old Staircase Lounge, maybe ten years ago or more, and nailed the Beatles song “Dear Prudence.” He owns that song.
Eddie’s a gracious guy and Wednesday night he presented me with his CD “In the Aftermath” which I fell in love with after just one listening. It’s in my car’s CD player right now.
Eddie was reason enough to be at Tony’s that night, but it was soon apparent he’d be taking a back seat. Artist after artist kept walking in, many with guitar cases, a few with harmonicas and one with an electric violin. Some I knew, like blues master Teddy Young and harmonica wizard Richard Grabowski, better known as simply “Stork.” Others I didn’t, but was about to. Paul Moran, for example, whom I knew a lot about because of his band “Old Friends” but had never met. And I did not know former Pittston Area band director Joe Cigan even had a son, let alone a son with such guitar skills.
But for all the giants of area music who were to show up, Bret Alexander was the buzz.
Alexander can best be described as a musician’s musician, a real pro in every way. Average music fans know him as a member of the band “The Badlees,” a Pennsylvania group who landed two singles, “Fear of Falling” and “Angeline is Coming Home,” on the Top 40 charts in the mid-90s. But musicians appreciate him most for his engineering and song-writing skills. Although he’d probably blush at the notion, he’s a real local music legend.
I looked forward to hearing him perform but mostly I looked forward to saying hello. See, Bret and I have a mutual friend who introduced us at Barnes & Noble several years ago. I wanted to remind him of that, but it turned out I did not have to.
“Brett, there’s no reason you should remember me,” I began when he seemed to have a free moment, “but we were introduced by …”
“Gene Stone,” he interrupted. “At Barnes & Noble. Of course I remember you.”
That took me by surprise.
Gene Stone, who Brett told me is still alive, probably in his 80s, is a true Renaissance Man. I met him some 40 years ago when he and his partner Sally Siekman ran Siekman & Stone Advertising. Gene was a cartoonist, writer and creative director. He was also an airplane pilot, joke-teller and all-around nice guy.
His 6’7 stature and booming voice made him hard to forget and even harder to miss, so when I saw his head above the book racks at B & N, I went right to him and asked if he had time for coffee. We had not seen each other in maybe 20 years. He said he was meeting a young man to talk about possibly collaborating on a children’s book. The young man was Bret Alexander.
Our memories and fondness for Gene Stone dominated our brief conversation at the Wine Cellar last Wednesday.
For all his talent and all his success, Bret Alexander is an unassuming, humble man. A sweet man. I’d be honored to know him if he couldn’t sing a lick.
The same can be said for Eddie Appnel.
And Victor Guiliano.
You know that will not be my last appearance at Tony’s Wine Cellar on Wednesday nights.
How cool would it be to get Gene Stone to join me some time?

Ed Ackerman