Story by Don Wilcock
“Even back in my lounge lizard days when I was wearing the one-piece velvet jump suit, I’d always remember something Joe Mele said to me,” says Vito Ciccarelli, the City of Troy’s event coordinator for the last decade. “I was complaining to him that I was playing KC & the Sunshine Band and disco. We were at a Tuesday night jam session down at the Tele Tavern, and we would actually go from bar to bar on the strip and walk in with our equipment. Everyone knew us, and we’d set up if they had no entertainment going. We’d play and get some free beer or whatever, and we’d just have a good time. I commented to Joe at the end of one of these jams: ‘You guys are lucky. You’re going out, and you’re really playing music you love, and I am doing all this crap.’ And Joe says, ‘How much money did you make last weekend?’ I said, ‘$1200.’ He said, ‘I made a hundred bucks last weekend. Shut up!’ That had to be 1977, ’78. ‘I made a hundred bucks, Shut up!’”
I think it’s hard for all of us in the local music scene to get it through our heads how long some of us have been doing this. I’ve been writing about amazing Capital District music for 45 years. Joe Mele has been performing for just about as long. Mele: “People go, ‘You’re pretty good.’ I go, ‘Yeah, well I’ve been practicing for 45 fucking years, really. Thanks. My clock stopped when it went to 2000. I still have a real hard time saying 2010, 2011, 2014. After ’99, that was the end of it for me. Now I’m in this real world working with regular people which I’ve never been around. Really, I’m in the studio smoking ganja and running bands my whole life. Now I’m hanging around with politicians in an office, but I still act and say the same shit, though. They love it.”
You don’t follow your muse for as long as Joe and I have without encountering some bumps in the road. Losing a son to suicide is a personal tsunami that is beyond my imagination. As a father and grandfather, I cannot even begin to fathom the despair. At 3pm on Sunday (March 30), Joe Mele will pour his grief into the inaugural Dustin Mele Memorial Concert at Brown’s Revolution Hall in Troy. The Out of Control Rhythm & Blues Band headlines the benefit, which also features Emerald City, the Chris Busone Band, Johnny Rabb, Tony Perrino’s Killer B (featuring Todd Hanhurst of the Refrigerators and Trish Anderson of the Bluz House Rockers), Super 400, Blue Machine (featuring Tommy Love and Frank Daley) and the Ernie Williams Band. All proceeds from this, the first of a planned annual event, go to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) whose slogan is “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
“The point of this whole thing is I want one kid at the end of this whole thing, one kid to just think straight for 15 seconds. So if I can get 15 seconds of some kid thinking straight, that’s what it is,” says Mele. This benefit show on Sunday is therapy, not just for Joe, but all of us lifers who just love the music. Joe has been helping anyone and everyone in the local music scene for decades, setting up events, pulling the community together and raising money with great music that erases the boundaries between the lounge lizards and the originals, the hard core and the weekend wannabes. His most recent efforts include benefits for Ernie Williams, the Tommy Love cancer benefit and the Danny O’Brien show.
“It’s like my whole life, any situation I was ever in I always turned to my music. I always had my music as a thing to go to,” Mele says. “We’re lucky to have this in our life. We’re lucky we have this creative energy in our lives. I’ve been telling all the kids forever. Try to do something creative. I don’t care if its art work, drawing, anything that taps on a creative thing in your head. It changes everything. To live in this area like we do, at least we have an outlet. It’s so important, and the older I get, the more I appreciate it. And that’s what’s going on here. We’re lucky we have this outlet especially living in this town.”
We must never let whatever horrors enter our lives overcome the joy that we bring to our musical fellowship. I’ve experienced that joy from Long Binh to London, from San Francisco to Fort Lauderdale, from Memphis to Montreal. And I always love to come home. Sunday’s concert promises to show not just how beautiful the creative energy is right here, but also how important movers and shakers like Joe are to nurturing that precious vibe.
Chris Busone, singer-songwriter-guitarist with the Chris Busone Band, performing at Rev Hall on Sunday: “To me, Joe was always the guy I looked up to around here in every sense: the way he played, just his talent overall, the way he approached gigs. It was always you had to do your best all the time, even if it was some club, some band or it was a small crowd. You had to play your best, or it just wasn’t good enough. I don’t know if I could ever pick up my guitar (if what happened to Joe happened to me), and he’s somehow making all this happen. Just one more reason he’s the guy.”
Trish Anderson, Bluz House Rocker vocalist, mother, grandmother and great grandmother, performing with Tony Perrino’s Killer B at Rev Hall on Sunday: “This show means an awful lot. I’ve experienced this close to me. I think people should be so aware that this thing goes on. Really stay close to the people you love.”
Ted Etoll, promoter of Friday’s sold-out Experience Hendrix concert at the Palace Theatre in Albany: “Joe was instrumental in me starting this business, Step Up Presents. It started as a battle of the bands at the Albany Marriott as a promotion for Metroland in 1990. Joe was the first one I went to. I was going out on weekends seeing Joe play, and Joe is a great, great, great friend. I knew nothing about the music business except that I like music. I told Joe what the idea was. Joe was behind the idea 100% because he saw the vision I had for the Battle of the Bands, and he came on board as the production manager and the sound guy for these events that I put on at the Albany Marriott. Joe, because of his expertise in the production world, allowed me to be able to do what I do best, which was marketing the shows. The shows we produced at the time every one sold out. They were like the best local shows ever produced in the area. So when it came time to quit and go back into my regular world, Joe was very, very influential in convincing me not to return, to continue doing this.”
Jim Anderson, the promoter of Saturday’s Sixties Spectacular at Proctor’s in Schenectady, recalls Joe’s years with the Ernie Williams Band. “If you had a cause that was worthwhile, their answer was, ‘We’ll be there.’”
I’ll be there for Joe on Sunday. You be there, too!
WHAT: DUSTIN MELE MEMORIAL CONCERT
WHO: The Out of Control Rhythm & Blues Band
the Chris Busone Band
Tony Perrino’s Killer B (featuring Todd Hanhurst of the Refrigerators and Trish Anderson of the Bluz House Rockers)
Blue Machine (featuring Tommy Love and Frank Daley)
the Ernie Williams Band
WHERE: Brown’s Revolution Hall, Troy
WHEN: 3pm on Sunday (March 30)
WHY: A benefit for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
HOW MUCH: $10 minimum donation