My father had three brothers, the youngest of which was Saverio Vannelli. I don’t know how the pseudonym, Vic, came to be, but ever since I can remember, Saverio was ‘Uncle Vic’ to me.
There has never been a concert of mine in Montreal that Uncle Vic did not attend—going back to 1970, and all those speakeasy and underground club days. Uncle Vic was always there to offer a sliver of advice; never administering a slight knock without a little boost of confidence as balm for the wound.
Uncle Vic was usually the first to have the new Miles, or Coltrane or Sinatra or Stan Kenton album, red-hot off the shelf.
I could still see his smiles, winces and revelatory grimaces while listening. His facial reactions taught me much about what to listen for: vocal phrasing, taciturn licks, hidden grooves, great solos, poetic license that only the finely tuned ear could catch. And I did catch on after a while.
Now Uncle Vic, though a gentle soul he may be, was no pushover in his youth. When I was a boy my father once told me an interesting story that took place in 1960:
He and Uncle Vic had just left their barbershop on a dark winter’s night. They both carried a gunnysack full of money—pay for all the employee barbers, to be distributed the next day. My father noticed two tall shadows skulking not far behind and closing in fast on them. He worried about his younger brother. Dad was a Golden Gloves champ and knew how to use his fists very well, fearing practically no one or no thing, but trembled at the thought of his little brother getting hurt in the imminent fracas looming. My father whispered, “You take the smaller one, Vic.”
Suddenly, the two marauding thieves were upon the Vannelli brothers and the slugging began. My father easily dispatched one of them with a few swings; but where was Vic in the blackness of the night? My dad called out his name but only heard, “poof. . .paff. . .ahhh. . . tah. . .tah. . .huh. . .ahhhh, echoing in the deserted streets of downtown Montreal. He ran to Vic’s rescue, fearing the worst for his younger sibling who had been assaulted by the larger creep, only to see Vic, bloody-fisted, jaw still clenched, standing over his attacker like a victorious warrior, ready to strike one last blow if the assailant so much as twitched a finger.
So folks, if you ever see one of the sweetest men on the planet called, Uncle Vic, at one of my concerts, please approach with caution.
Thanks for everything, Uncle Vic; it was great to see you again in Montreal.