Thoughts on a Wrecking Ball

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I noticed a wrecking ball being taken to the Philadelphia Spectrum on cable news the other day. For a moment I started turning the pages of my life back in time to 1979, and the day I was booted out of the country—hours before our concert at the Spectrum.  Pittsburg had been hit with snow pretty good. Yet, as was most always the case, the show went on that Saturday night.
The next morning I was having breakfast with brother Joe, both of us ravished. I was murdering my vegetable omelet, my nose entirely too close to my plate, as I lifted my eyes and noticed two rather stout, expressionless gentleman dressed in dark trench coats, marching our way.  Somehow I had a strange feeling these boys weren’t autograph hunting.  “Mr. Vannelli?” one man asked. The other followed with, “Mr.. . .Gino Vannelli?”        “Mmm—mmm?” I answered cautiously, with my mouth full.       “Is this your brother, Joseph Vannelli?“         I waited for Joe to speak for himself but suddenly found myself to be his reticent advocate. “Yes”, I managed to enunciate, swallowing a rather big sliver of my omelet at the same time.“You’re both in the country illegally, sir. We’ll have to ask you both to come with us.”

“Where might that be?” I posed.“The airport—or county jail—your preference, boys”, mumbled the other narrow-lipped man, like a ventriloquist. Just when I couldn’t figure what had gone wrong, I remembered the minor snag two days earlier at the Montreal airport, our first point of departure.  Management, as we were told, had pursued all the necessary visas and docs needed for us two Canadians to go play in Pittsburg and Philadelphia that weekend. But it being a Saturday morning, and management nowhere within reach, Joe and I couldn’t be absolutely sure all the legalities were in order at Customs and Immigration.  In light of discretion being the better part of valor, we elected to tip-toe our way through, keep as tight-lipped as possible, hoping the officer would have our papers in hand; and if not the case, then try to act normal and skate through as visitors, trusting the visas would somehow catch up to us en route. Well, of course, it being the pre cell phone, instant message or twitter age, we never got a word back on the matter—that is, until the moment the two men in black showed up at the coffee shop in Philly. So, there we were, now 3pm, on a plane back to Canada, actually being deported, feeling a little like extradited wise guys, wondering how in the hell we would ever make it to Philadelphia in time for the Spectrum show that night.“So,” croaked the Customs officer at the Montreal airport,” It’s the infamous Vannelli brothers!” Joe and I immediately put on our best lamb-led-to-the-slaughter faces, trying to squirm our way back into good standing with the Man.“Here!” barked the officer, ”here are your dam docs—we had ‘em here all along!”“Well then, what’s the problem, officer; why won’t you let us through?” I pleaded.“You lied!” he snapped.“You said you were visiting, when you weren’t!” Having once argued over a small technicality with a cop regarding a ‘rolling stop’, knowing very well that mounting even the most watertight defense would only fuel the fire, I said, “Sir,” in the calmest voice I could fake, “ Our sincerest apologies, we never meant to deceive you or anyone…we were just trying to make the concerts and not leave investors, promoters, ten musicians, fifteen crewmen, not to mention over twenty thousand fans in a lurch, ” I said, hoping I hadn’t left any vital piece of information out that could prop our case. While the officer stroked his forehead, shook his head and groaned, debating thumbs up or down, I tried to keep a lid on acute visions of plucking the eyebrows clean off of my manager for having left Joe and I in such a fix.  “Get out o’ here!” he blurted out, “but I’m not guaranteeing what they’re gonna do to you in Philly—you’re on your own now.”It was now 7pm. Let alone having missed sound check (the eight deadly sin), the grim likelihood of not making the concert was finally beginning to dawn on me. There were no more commercial flights out that Sunday—least none that would get us to Philly. The only option left was to charter one. It was about 8:30 when the turbo prop we had been lucky enough to snag was about a hundred miles from the Philadelphia airport. “Three-fifty, she’s going, three-fifty!” we’ll be there in a few, guys”, shouted the pilot, while we bucked and shuddered trying to keep our nose above the storm clouds. It was almost 9pm when we hit the tarmac. Whacked, low on blood sugar, and three thousand bucks broker, my last plea to the hefty, black-mustached Customs-Immigration officer in Philly was, “ Sir, I see by your badge that you’re probably Italian.“What does bein’ Italian have anyting to do wit your problem?” he answered, with his big head cocked to one side.“Do you know that there are over ten thousand people waiting to see my brother and I at the Spectrum.”“Your point being. . .”“Well, Lou. . . if I may. . . the last Italian to have accomplished that was Frank Sinatra. Don’t you have any sense of how important this is, not only to Joe and me personally, but to a whole bunch of our proud paesans?” After a moment or two of careful reflection, the silence brought to an overboil, Officer Lou waved his hand and said, “Ahh, get the f. . .out o’ here you damned dagos. . .oh and by-de-way, have a good one!” he added, as Joe and I ran, tripping over our feet down the empty halls, juggling our bags, while scrambling for a taxi stand. After a record fast shave and shower, hair wet, strips of TP plastered here and there on my neck and face, wiggling into my stage clothes in the back seat, we finally arrived at the Spectrum. I dashed onto the steps leading to the stage. It was 9:20.        “What the hell, Gino! You’ve almost given me a heart attack! Where in the blazes have you and Joe been? Don’t you know it’s a 9 o’clock show!?” hollered the road manager over the rumble of stomping feet in the crowd. “Ready,” I said.<

12 Comments on “Thoughts on a Wrecking Ball”

  1. Hahahaahaaa! Gino, this was great!!! I’m just glad those two “gentlemen” didn’t accost you during your brief stay in my hometown! This story brought back flashbacks of those two shows for me, as well; the horrible storm in the city and the traffic to and from the show in Pittsburgh. It managed to turn a ten minute drive to well over two hours. Then the most unforgettable part, driving like a maniac on the PA turnpike for almost eight hours, frantically parking, running to the arena, already disappointed and blaming everyone from PennDot to Mother Nature that we had missed the opening songs… And then the bewilderment as we also heard the stomping and the screams for “Gino!” I remember scrambling to the front and finding our seats (literally giving someone the boot)and then, as if like magic, “voilà!”

  2. Gino. We are all sad to see the Spectrum go. So many wonderful memories there. My personal favorite was seeing you & your band perform The War Suite. Recently, we found out that you were touring “locally” again, so we headed straight for Niagara Falls. Sitting in the fourth row @ the Bears Den had a very personal feeling compared to the huge concerts @ the Spectrum. I was truly inspired by it all and didn’t realize you had an appreciation for tap and Gregory Hines. I’ve been tapping to the War Suite every day since my college days. Can’t get enough of it. Please continue touring in the USA if your health and happiness permits. God’s Blessings to you and to your Family. Happy New Year. Peace –

  3. I was at that Philadelphia show. No one would ever suspect that you had just experienced such an ordeal. Fabulous show! And best regards to your keyboard genius brother!

  4. Hello Gino.
    I was at that snowy concert in Pittsburgh, and in fact, shot quite a bit of photography that night. It was the first major snowfall that I had driven in, but my younger sister (whom I dragged with me) and I persevered. It was at the Civic Arena and ended up being about a crowd of 3,000. You were late arriving as it was very treacherous outside, but you were there in all your glory and the evening was unforgettable. You asked all of us to forgo the seating charts and just move closer to enjoy the concert and what a concert you did that night. It was so much fun and you seemed to enjoy it as much as the audience did.
    I had missed your debut concert at the Syria Mosque a couple of years before (but listened to it on the radio), but did see you play at Rosebud in the Strip District on your last visit to Pittsburgh (I think it was your most recent visit). There was also a night back in 1979 that you appeared in Pittsburgh at a local record store. My uncle, Stan Edis, called me and said that he had arranged for us to meet at the record signing (release of “The Gist of the Gemini”). I thought he was kidding, but he was perfectly serious so I went out to Bloomfield and met you, Joe and your Dad. For years, I even had a few of those display cubes of the album decorating my room. It was a joy to meet you. There are only 2 albums that I ever literally wore out from listening to so much. Neil Diamond’s “Hot August Night” and Gino Vanelli’s “Gist of the Gemini”.
    Many years ago, I was working on a project in Montreal during the Montreal Jazz Festival. I was working 60-80 hours a week and didn’t get out to see wonderful Montreal. I did make an effort the night that you opened the Festival, but never got out of work in time. I was so disappointed in missing your concert. Oh, when I think about those nights in Montreal.
    I hope to be able to see you in concert again sometime. That would be such a treat !!

  5. I guess this means those two guys in trench coats won’t get a mention in your will, huh…I thought this story was hilarious! Takes some quick thinking and fast talking and hey – I would love to know what you said to your manager later!! At least you made it to the show! Well done!

  6. Before there was Music.
    1973 Crazy Life
    1974 Powerful People
    1975 Storm At Sunup
    1976 The Gist of the Gemini
    1977 A Pauper in Paradise
    1978 Brother to Brother
    Then there has been MUSICOMPLETION.

  7. Hello Gino; Being a Philly boy I was at your show that night, front row even. I remember Player opened up for you that night. What a story, where did you get the energy to pull off that show? You had the same fire a couple weeks later when I saw you up in New York at Carnegie Hall. You had said how big that night was for you in New York. Always had a blast every time, YO thanks for the memories. Please come back sometime, how about the Tower again?

  8. If anyone has pictures of PLAYER from that night I would love if you could share them. I work for them designing and maintaining their website. Thank you!

  9. Mr. Vanelli,
    You are a wonderful story teller, I could picture it all. I wonder if people realize that what they are really attracted to in all your work is the Catholicism.

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