This Amsterdam Top Ten List was a tough one for me because I was very familiar with the Amsterdam bands of the sixties and early seventies that played top 40 tunes of their day and not at all familiar with the local music scene of today. So I asked for help and the result was what I feel is a great representation of the music Amsterdamians loved to play and more importantly, loved to listen to from the beginning of the Twentieth Century until this past weekend! Here’s five groups that made my Top Ten List. What about the other five? I will post the complete list in my new book: Fifty Amsterdam New York Top Ten Lists, which will be available in September of 2017.
Eljer Band: These guys were red hot in the early-to-mid seventies, when bell-bottoms were in and right before disco took over the music charts. Formed in April of 1972 by Amsterdam natives Adrian Lizotte and John Tucci, the name of the group was inspired by the make of the toilet at the band’s practice site! Two other guys I went to high school with, Larry Bursese (keyboards) and John Chiara (drums) were also part of this group for a spell. They were good enough to tour the northeast for about a ten-year stretch. I remember them playing at Meadowbrook and I think the old Bronze Bell. They had a terrific sound and great stage presence.
The Tony Brooks Orchestra: Tony Brooks’ tenure as one of Amsterdam’s busiest and most popular musicians began right before World War II and continued into the 1970s. He was the Amsterdam version of Tommy Dorsey. He played a mean trumpet and led a 16-piece ensemble that produced a big band sound, which was featured at all the biggest local events plus toured throughout the entire upstate region. His musicians included Frank Intilli, Zeke Romelski, Marty Dybas, Ray Iwanski, Hermie Bianco, Johnny Carbone, Jerry Ciulick, Chick Martuscello and Marty Fontana. Brooks also ran a popular music store in downtown Amsterdam for a while.
Dusty Miller and the Colorado Wranglers: For over fifty years, Elmer Rossi, a.k.a. Dusty Miller was the Rug City version of Roy Rogers, the singing Cowboy. Of course Elmer did not shoot a gun, do rope tricks, own a famous horse like Trigger, or star on his own TV show but as Dusty, he did have his own musical group called the Colorado Wranglers and he did perform in the Grand Ol Opry and he did have his own highly rated (in Amsterdam) radio show on WCSS. And for many of those years him and the Wranglers were one of the most in-demand, live country & western musical acts not just in Amsterdam but also the Capital District, northern New York State and Vermont. Back in the 1940’s and ‘50’s the Wranglers included Barry Frank on guitar, Curly Dean on the accordion and fiddler Flash Gordon. By the time I got to know Dusty and his music, it was the early 1970’s and he was playing regularly at Ralph’s on Amsterdam’s lower Market Street, where I served as bartender. By then Joey Iannotti and Johnny Costello were his band mates.
Tony’s Polka Band – No list of great Amsterdam bands could be complete without a great polka band and one would imagine that all the great polka bands from Amsterdam played their final notes back in the days when Amsterdam’s Polish-American community was at its apex of growth. There certainly were several great polka ensembles active in our city during the mid decades of the Twentieth Century but none were any better than Tony’s Polka Band, an eight-piece, high-energy group of musicians who got together as high school students in the 1990s and committed themselves to carrying polka music into the Twenty First Century. The foundation of the band is Amsterdam’s talented Banewicz family. They’ve put together a playlist of traditional and modern sounds that blends polka with country, rock, pop, Latin and even disco and performed it at venues throughout the northeast, winning a major national polka competition in the process. Do yourself a favor and Google this group and check out their discography.
Alex Torres y Los Reyes Latinos: When Alex Torrez was growing up in the Bronx, his Mom made sure their apartment was always filled with the hot and sensuous beat of Latino music, including the likes of Machito, Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez. The family moved to Amsterdam in 1980, when Alex was just 14 years-old and he was shocked to find that there was no radio stations in this area that played the Latino genre. So he formed a band of his own, teaching himself how to play bass guitar and then teaching a dozen of his neighborhood and school buddies to play instruments he had never played himself. It wasn’t long before the band caught on big in Amsterdam’s Latino neighborhoods and soon thereafter in Latino communities outside of Amsterdam as well. Before you knew it, they began recording their own music and were getting invited to bigger and bigger events throughout the northeastern United States. They started winning awards and getting asked to play for bigwig public figures including New York Governor George Pataki and Bill and Hillary Clinton. They hit the big time officially in 1999 when the group’s fourth album entitled Entre Amigo was a Grammy Award semi- finalist.