Monday, April 13, 2009

Tell Tony Gunther's Bus Is Here

Tell Tony Gunther's Bus Is Here

The inside story:

In the fall of 1967 two bands in the Rochester, New York areas were in the process of breaking up. The Angry Men and the Gallant Men. Some of the members decided to merge and form a new band. Art Foti, Carl Foti and Jerry Cummings from the Gallant Men teamed up with Tom Bittle from the Angry Men, added Joe Dasheneau on bass and began rehearsing top 40 and R&B songs from that era.

They were to be managed by James (Gunther) Kranz, owner and proprietor of Duffy's Hotel in the heart of downtown Rochester. Gunther, a businessman thru and thru who would never make a bad investment, had purchased an old gray school bus for reasons unbeknownst to the band and it remains a mystery to this day. It was during that conversation at a rehearsal that the band got their name.
 
One night at precisely 9:00PM Gunther pulled up in his old gray bus to the front door of Duffy's Hotel honking the horn madly and out jumped 5 beaming young musicians who proceeded to hop up on the stage and began playing "Even the Bad Times Are Good" by the Tremolos. The band, Gunther's Bus, was very well received. The place was packed and everyone, band and audience had such a great time. They all knew this would be the start of something really great 

"Time to make it big," they go on the road. Their first stop would become their biggest challenge and one that changed them forever, they played Tony Mart’s in Somers Point NJ  If you have seen the 1980s movie Eddie and the Cruisers and you remember the line “tell Tony Eddie and the Cruisers are here," in 1968 GB did exactly the same thing.

Here was this “cocky” band from upstate New York invading this club in little Somers Point about to be taught a lesson in how to become something special at the hands of a wonderful man named Tony Mart.

The first night they played they took the stage and began as if this was just any road club. Long delays between songs with young angry musicians the attitude that your lucky we are playing for you mentality. Jerry Cummings the drummer remembers looking down and seeing a stocky older man glaring up at him. At first he thought it was the professional Wrestling Manager Dr. Lou Albano, but soon dismissed him as if he had wandered in off the street wondering who these gods of music were. They soon found out whom that man was, it was Tony.

After there first set they were ushered into his office by their road manager Peter Salerno for a lesson they all remember to this day.

Tony was sitting behind his desk. He looked up pounded his fit on the desk and said “listen, you are going to play your songs 1,2,3 and stop wasting time or I’m going to throw you bums out and you can go back home, now get out!”

Needless to say we did exactly that and the rest was an incredible three years working and living at the greatest club ever, Tony Mart’s, but most of all a man they will never forget, Tony Mart.  

By the time he got through with them, they came back home with a whole new sound and show. They were a different band. The local fans were blown away.

The band has reunited with all the original members and will play again this coming year.

You can never go back but you can remember and enjoy.

Thank you Tony.

4 comments:

Bill Kelly said...

PAM NELSON wrote:
Dear Billy,

I found your webpage about Tony Mart's and am now strolling down memory lane thinking about the summer of 68' at that wonderful place, listening to a band called Gunther's Bus from Rochester, NY. They were the house band that summer and should have made it
big as some of Tony's other groups did...they were excellent. That summer is probably one of the most
memorable that I have ever had, spending my nights and some afternoons talking to Frannie the bartender and listening to Gunther's Bus. I am still friends with one of the band members and he has lots of old pictures of Tony's. We love to talk about the fun and excitment we had there. I'd like to get a copy of the scrapbook if I could...maybe two, one for me and one for my friend who played in Gunther's Bus.

What a glorious summer that was. I had just graduated from college and was having the time of my life in New Jersey. We'd hit Tony Mart's, Bayshore ( I remember Johnny Caswell), and spend the rest of the night at The Dunes. I'm from NC and I was finally on my own in New Jersey...

Bill Kelly said...

PAM NELSON wrote:
Dear Billy,

I found your webpage about Tony Mart's and am now strolling down memory lane thinking about the summer of 68' at that wonderful place, listening to a band called Gunther's Bus from Rochester, NY. They were the house band that summer and should have made it big as some of Tony's other groups did...they were excellent. That summer is probably one of the most
memorable that I have ever had, spending my nights and some afternoons talking to Frannie the bartender and listening to Gunther's Bus. I am still friends with one of the band members and he has lots of old pictures of Tony's. We love to talk about the fun and excitment we had there. I'd like to get a copy of the scrapbook if I could...maybe two, one for me and one for my friend who played in Gunther's Bus.

What a glorious summer that was. I had just graduated from college and was having the time of my life in New Jersey. We'd hit Tony Mart's, Bayshore ( I remember Johnny Caswell), and spend the rest of the night at The Dunes. I'm from NC and I was finally on my own in New Jersey...

awswingdj said...

To Whom It May Concern -
The Real Inside Story:

My name is Alan White and I was Pete Salerno's partner in the Gunther's Bus project.
Pete Salerno was a lot more than their road manager and all of Pete's bands played at the level of Gunther's Bus.
It was at Pete's urging that Tony set the band straight.
Tony himself just wanted to cut the band loose because they took too long in between songs.
On my end, I had the Bus a record deal, probably more than one choice of deals, but Jerry decided he wanted to take off the wig and return to teaching school and the band broke up.
The off season bands were all nothing more than auditioning for the summer spots.
The bus was not originally booked as the headliner but when the story you told occurred - the one about Tony setting them straight - to the band's credit they did listen to Tony.
And before long they had earned their way into becoming the summer of '68 headliner.
Tommy Biddle was the best front man I've ever seen, then or now, and the two Foti Brothers harmonies were nothing short of amazing.
Everybody in the Bus sang. Their big vocal number was The Bee Gee's "I Gotta Get A Message To You" with all five voices in unbelievably tight harmony.
Gunther's Bus big number as a full band was Jerry Cummings doing a wild and crazy drumming version of Deep Purple's "Smoke On The Water", wig and all.
When Jerry quit the band, the other members became convinced that they couldn't go on without him and after pretty much convincing Pete Salerno too, and strongly against my advice, they broke up.
Don't get me wrong, Gunther's Bus was the best bar band I ever heard and when I ran into Tony Mart's son right before the club closed he told me the same thing - that the Bus had been the best band ever booked into Tony Mart's in their over 40 year run.
And That was not an automatic thing for him to say as in the early 1970's Ricky & The Rockets came along and broke every attendance and monetary record Gunther's Bus had set only a couple of years earlier.
In my professional opinion Gunther's Bus was the best rock and roll bar band in the world in 1968 and one the best rock and roll bar bands there ever was anywhere, anytime.
And that they happened to come together with the best rock and roll club in the world at the height of the rock and roll movement generally in 1968 was nothing short of magical.
They should be very proud of that.
I'm proud of having represented them. But the reason they didn't make it was Jerry's decision to quit the band and go back to teaching school and thus the band breaking up.
It was not due to any failure of the business people involved.
I just wanted to set the record straight on that.
If you see Biddle tell him Alan White said he's ready for another drinking contest. Anytime, anyplace. :-).

Tony Mart's didn't close for lack of business.
At around age 70, Tony decided he wanted to retire.
Tony Jr. is an attorney and his sister is a Doctor and as Tony Jr. pointed out to me, in their Sicilian culture, she could never have taken over the club anyway.
So they sold the property and the best rock and roll club there ever was came to a quiet end.
A club Bill Haley & the Comets played BEFORE they had hits. :-)
The summer of '68 remains magical. If ever there was a Magical Mystery Tour as The Beatles suggested then it was Gunther's Bus who took it - at Tony Mart's - in the summer of 1986.
Rock and Roll never got any better than it did with that band, in that club, during that summer.

Sincerely yours -

Alan White
djalanwhite@djalanwhite.com
www.dlalanwhite.com
www.JiveBopRadio.com

Georgene said...

A message from Tommy Bittle:
Hello..... HELLO..... is anyone still here? Could someone please turn on the lights?

My name is Tommy Bittle lead guitarist and singer for Gunther's Bus. My friend found this article and I was amazed by its accuracy. These were indeed memorable times for us and everyone who was there at the time. Many great bands started out working Tony Mart's.

We will never forget Tony Mart, the man who taught us a very valuable lesson in honing our performance skills.

I am in the process of building a Facebook page dedicated to Gunther's Bus. Keep checking for it or contact me there. Also go to www.gunthersbus.homestead.com for more info. Although our last performance was in 2003, a reunion show is not out of the question.

Now I will see if I can actually post this.