Wild Cherry keeps the funk

MINGO JUNCTION – “It’s nice to be home, it’s good to see you and thanks for coming.”

With those introductory words, Mingo’s own Rob Parissi took to the stage Sunday evening at the Mingo Knights of Columbus Hall, reuniting with fellow band members of Wild Cherry for the first time in 36 years to sing, among other selections, “Play That Funky Music.”

It was the 1976 hit that made the group famous and brought together Parissi, Bryan Bassett, Allen Wentz and Ron Beitle on Sunday for a special cause – to raise money for the Robert Parissi Scholarship Endowment managed by Petrella Wealth Management and providing scholarships for college-bound music or art students at Indian Creek High School.

The first two $1,000 awards were made to Niki Wiggam and Shannon Kovach, both of whom were on hand to go on stage briefly with Parissi and Fran Carinci, master of ceremonies, who collaborated with Parissi to organize what was billed Hoodstock 2014.

Proceeds from the sale of the 600 tickets that were sold by mid-June benefit the endowment, along with the ongoing sale of special Wild Cherry “I Rocked at Hoodstock” T-shirts and concert DVDs.

And some extra money trickled in as well, with Rose Angelica auctioning off two Wild Cherry albums autographed that evening by the band members reuniting for the one-time performance. Both records generated an additional $425.

In addition to his fellow band members, Parissi rocked with local talent that included Bobby Pizzoferrato; the Spinning Jenny – sisters Julia, Talia and Angelina Balzano and father John Balzano of Mingo; Robert “Chic” DiCiccio of Follansbee; and Johnny DiCarlo of U.S. Kids.

The all-evening concert began at 5 p.m. with a variety of musicians performing sets leading up to the Wild Cherry finale, including Tongue ‘n Cheek; Guitar Summit; the Granati Brothers with Rock Academy; Spinning Jenny; and U.S. Kids.

Parissi, the founder of Wild Cherry and author of the song that would go on to be listed at No. 73 on Billboard’s Greatest Songs of All Time, told the Herald-Star he and his fellow Wild Cherry members rehearsed Saturday evening and then earlier Sunday.

“We loved it,” he said of their first time together in decades. “We were so excited to just come back together, and then now, they met Spinning Jenny, and they just fell in love right away with them, and we’ve got Bob ‘Chic’ DiCiccio playing sax, another friend forever, and Johnny DiCarlo and Bobby Pizzoferrato with U.S. Kids, and it’s just great. It couldn’t be better,” Parissi said.

“I’m so glad everybody, when I called them, they immediately said ‘yes,’ and everybody from the sound crew to the guys playing are all friends who donated their time to be here, and I just keep thinking how lucky am I to have the friends that I have,” Parissi said in an interview with the Herald-Star.

“They are some of the best musicians, but the greatest thing of all is we were always in heavy competition with each other, but we were never jealous of each other. And the thing was, is that if they were better than us, I would go home and tell all the guys, ‘we got to get better because these guys are coming after us,’ and we just stayed friends forever. We’re like brothers. It’s like a great big family, and some of them drove an hour and an half, two hours to be here,” Parissi said.

Carinci was happy with how things turned out. “I think this is great,” she told the Herald-Star. “Everything has worked out really great. The bands are wonderful, and we are just thrilled with everything.”

Fans came from the local area to experience Hoodstock 2014, which capped off Mingo Community Days, but some traveled a greater distance, too, including former Steubenville resident E.J. D’Anniballe Lopresti of Naples, Fla.

“I literally bought eight tickets in the first 45 minutes they went on sale,” said Lopresti, a 1971 graduate of Wintersville High School who said she and Parissi are friends on Facebook, where she learned about the concert.

“What a wonderful thing for him to do for the area. I come from a family of musicians, and I think it’s really cool what he’s doing,” she said. “It’s just a really neat thing he’s doing for the community.”

Lopresti explained her father, Leo D’Anniballe, was manager of the Hub in Steubenville and played piano. Her mother had the Steubenville Arts Academy. She remembers Parissi “worked down in the record department. He was assistant manager way back in the day.”

Lopresti said “Play That Funky Music” is a tune heard the world over, including Italy, and she likes to point out “those guys are from my hometown.”

Rick Rose, formerly of Dillonvale, also made the trip from Florida. The West Palm Beach resident said he saw Wild Cherry perform throughout the area, including at such venues as the Alamo, the Aquanaut, the Lighthouse and the Swing Club.

Local resident Jaye Lynn Hockenberry, meanwhile, was drawn by the Wild Cherry reunion. “I was real anxious to see the original group back together,” she said.

The name Hoodstock was a takeoff on the famous Woodstock outdoor concert of 1969, and so named because Parissi wanted to keep the event in his Mingo neighborhood.

Word of the Wild Cherry reunion made for speedy ticket sales as fans remembered dancing to the group’s music at pool parties, local clubs, weddings and proms.

The idea for a repeat visit by Parissi took root last August when the Florida resident returned to his hometown for honors bestowed as part of the Mingo Business Association’s Mingo 2013 Community Days celebration.

Parissi was lauded with resolutions and proclamations; McLister Avenue carrying the honorary name of Rob Parissi Boulevard; and a dinner at the Mingo Knights of Columbus Hall where the keynote speaker was Terry Stewart, who served as president and chief operating officer of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland from 1999 through 2012. Wild Cherry is honored in the museum for its hit song.

The actual agreement for the band to reunite for Sunday’s concert came over the Memorial Day holiday after Parissi contacted them.

In an initial Herald-Star article announcing Hoodstock 2014, Parissi had said, “Actually, I just decided that after all this time, it was time for us to reunite under circumstances that would be fun, being the scholarship endowment.” Parissi explained that Bassett had established scholarships in his hometown area of New Smyrna Beach, Fla., in memory of his 18-year-old daughter who had cystic fibrosis.

Carinci had explained earlier that “Hoodstock means it’s because of the neighborhood, because the Mingo Knights of Columbus is a half mile from where Rob used to live, and that’s the neighborhood where this all started, where they used to rehearse, and so he said we’re back in the hood (the Wild Cherry band) and that’s really why he called it Hoodstock,” she said.

The Robert Parissi Scholarship Endowment was established as an offshoot of Parissi’s visit to his hometown last summer. Parissi, a 1968 graduate of Mingo High School, jumpstarted the endowment with a $5,000 donation.

“He decided to do something for the kids going to college with a career focus of music or the arts,” she said.

Parissi had said the concert was “a labor of love” and that he’s “thankful and blessed to be at a point in life to be able to give something back for all the success I’ve been lucky to continue to enjoy.”

He also expressed appreciation to his wife, Ilona, “for being along side and behind me in what we’re doing here all the way with her support.”

As for his thoughts on reuniting with Wild Cherry for the first time in so many years, Parissi had earlier reflected, “They, like I am, over time have realized that we were very much on the cutting edge of advancing what was known back then as disco, into a springboard for new bands to come along to transform that genre into future neo funk and acid funk afterward genres, including the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine, Faith No More, Living Colour, Jane’s Addiction and many others afterwards and up until now and beyond.

“We’ve all been told by many of these artists over the years that we were influences and templates for what they did and paved the way,” Parissi said.