The Gazoo was conducting its fifth annual roundup of local musicians. In some haste I called Lauren House (right), this column’s director of music and cultural affairs, who in my opinion happens to be one of the longest-tenured and the best musician and tenor voice in Reno, cutting his musical molars in the basement of the storied Emporium of Music on Sierra Street when Ike was still in the White House. “What are we to do?” I asked him. “They want all this stuff from a bunch of local music guys who don’t have email, think Dick Tracy invented the cell phone and don’t know a CD from an IUD.” I left out that most of them are deceased as well. But their stories need to be documented. My mind went to he who may be the best musician that ever hit Reno from faraway New York, whose name was Joe Battaglia (left, below). Joe romanced and wed a local lady, Orene Budge, after World War II, moving then to Reno. He was involved in most of the musical groups in Reno, the church choirs, a solo tenor with the Reno Municipal Band and performed in more annual presentations of the Messiah than one could reasonably Handel. Joe organized many chorus groups, notably the Men of Renown, a group of 16 local men with great pipes. Lauren reminded me his comedic stock-in trade was entering a downtown restaurant costumed as a waiter carrying a silver covered entrée dish while a singer was performing, crashing to the floor with his tray and disrupting the entire room, then joining the singer onstage with a beautiful rendition in his powerful tenor voice. Such was Joe. We’ll send in a CD with a video of this fine and popular man. OK, there’s one entry in the “Best of” contest. We now traverse from the Golden Hotel and Joe Battaglia across the Truckee to Newt Crumley’s Holiday Hotel after it opened in 1957, where a fixture in the music scene was cueing up his five-man house orchestra – his name was Charles Gould, the conductor of the Satin Strings, who performed nightly at the Holiday in the Shore Room or its cozy little lounge. Few Reno homes didn’t have a copy of his albums, (round, black things with a holes in the middle that a machine would spin 33 times a minute) and bring to life Gould’s soft renditions of some of the best music then being written, primarily from Broadway, Cole Porter or Duke Ellington. One could nudge Gould and his men along with a few pictures of dead presidents and they might appear at your child’s wedding reception at Hidden Valley or the 20 Century Club or the Shore Room. And if you could score Battaglia to join the Satin Strings, you were in high cotton, musically speaking. A well-established Texas lounge singer came to Reno by way of the Venetian Room at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel, in what I recall as 1952. He announced during a show at the Riverside Hotel’s showroom that he’d like to become a Nevadan and buy a few cows and wear snap-button shirts and sing with a drawl. Word got out that he was a’lookin’ for a spread outside Reno, and Carl Ravazza, with his wife Marcie bought a chunk of the Rhodes ranch by the Geiger Grade and made Reno their home. He continued to sing and made quite a few albums. Not at all a country singer, he’s known best for his song “Vieni Su,” which is still heard around retro showrooms. A nice man, sang at most of the rooms in Reno and the west coast, and was for a time an entertainment consultant, if not director, at John Ascuaga’s Nugget – Carl and John became friends. I don’t know that he ever twanged any cowboy stuff but he made a lot of friends locally, was a hell of a golfer, and passed away in 1968. Lauren and I need to send the RGJ one of his vinyl albums. Tony Pecetti and his sqeezebox at the El Patio Lounge – got a column here once – “Swing and Sweat, with Tony Pecett!”)
Many in the education field had a great impact on local music and young budding musicians. Leading that pack might be a man I know only from reputation who must have been a mighty man with a tune – his name was Theodore Post, who ran the University of Nevada’s music program for many years. And did a little composing along the way – he wrote the melody for Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s “Sweet Promised Land of Nevada.” That’s a sure winner in the paper’s “best of” segment. Anybody remember John and Ruby Tellaisha? John was the bandmaster and music teacher at Reno High when high school marching bands were in their Meredith Willson heyday and considered a rock star by those of us who played in his bands. Ruby, as did many other local musicians, played the organ at many churches in Reno. Glen Terry, at Northside and Wooster, a great guy. Roland Kneller at Central Junior High. Looking at the word counter I realize that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew on one column, but I’ll keep gnawing away for a paragraph or two. Now, of three ladies who sang a cappella and beautifully at weddings, bar mitzvahs, fashion shows, private parties, afternoon teas at the 20 Century Club, goat ropings and Christmas parties when we could still write “Christmas.” Their names were Virginia Sawdon, Elizabeth Crouch and Betty Ohrmann, accompanied by Betty McLean tickling the ivories. They sang only infrequently and were generally considered a plum to book for a really swell party. We have to include the man who played the Harolds Club calliope as well as the Kingston Trio who honed their skills in the 1950s at the Holiday Hotel before going big-time. Frank and Jan Savage, and Bob Braman for sure; Tennessee Ernie Ford in his salad days on Cactus Tom’s KOH radio show. Bob Herz, an attorney with a phenomenal voice for a special friend’s wedding or retirement. Ted Puffer, who brought legitimate opera to Reno. Ron Williams at the university. And others. Friends who deserve an entire column in the near future: the Lenz family, the first name in local music. Nettie Oliverio and Jody Rice. Gilmour, Liberati, Pat Conway, the Great Creatore, W.C. Handy, Lauren House, and John Phillip Sousa, who all came to town on the very same historic day. To use a musical term, stay “tuned!”
Have a great week and God bless America.
This appeared as a © column a while ago in the RGJ…