The popular Al "Buzzo" Bruno will perform Friday with his all-star band in Geneseo Village Park.
Buzzo brings all-star lineup to Friday concert
GENESEO — Al “Buzzo” Bruno brings a 46-year musical legacy to the outdoor stage at the Geneseo Village Park June 28 when the Buzzo All Stars appear as the second of this year’s “Concerts in the Park” series.
The performance is scheduled from 7 to 9 p.m. There is no charge for admission.
Buzzo’s dual roles as a performer on trumpet and proprietor of one of the region’s foremost music stores are inextricably linked through a trademark eccentricity which have made him — if not an idol — an icon in western New York.
The story of Buzzo Music and Buzzo’s music begins in the late ’60s with the migration of several Long Islanders to SUNY Geneseo. Al Bruno arrived in ’67 from Kings Park in Suffolk County, picking Geneseo as one of the few schools where a music major could also be on the wrestling team. Indeed, Al had a formidable college career wrestling in the unlimited and 190-pound weight classes.
“I beat a lot of the bad guys,” Al recalls.
The Al Bruno Quintet was assembled in that freshman year from among fellow SUNY students.
The group recorded a self-titled instrumental album on the custom Century label at the Eastman School of Music. It featured two original Bruno compositions and some of the pop hits of the day. Al was on trumpet and flugelhorn, accompanied by David DeLoria on guitar, Douglas Catanzariti on piano, Tom Rubadeau on bass and Ron Rubadeau on drums. During Al’s time at SUNY the Quintet became a Quartet and then again a Quintet, picking up some musicians of impressive talent, including bassist and fellow Long Island native Gary Holt.
Four members of the band as it existed in 1970 each came up with $500 — earned from regular appearances at the Holiday Inn — and decided to go into business selling vinyl records (and an occasional guitar) on the second floor at 96 Main St. It is the present site of Notebook Tek, but was then above a Pentecostal Church. This original partnership was Bruno, Gary Holt, Peter Moriceli, and drummer Michael O’Malley. Ellie Phillips, another Long Island transplant, wasn’t a partner but she initially worked next door at Mann’s Jewelers, while assisting her boyfriend Al at the shop.
“All the record money had to go back into the store. I had to work somewhere else so we had some money to live on,” Ellie recalls.
Gary’s wife and then-girlfriend Jane from Depew had a kid brother who sported a buzz haircut and hence bore the nickname “Buzzo.” The band members/partners loved it and so bestowed the name upon their new store. Over the years, as Bruno’s partners dwindled away and he became the sole proprietor, the inference of customers was naturally that the guy at Buzzo’s was “Buzzo” — so that’s who he became.
The slogan “You kiddin’ me or what?” apparently reflecting customers’ astonishment at Buzzo’s low prices, was similarly borrowed. It was frequently uttered by musician Don Lorusso, a colleague of Holt who visited the shop. On occasion you may see the name Buzzo prefaced by “Rev.,” perhaps suggesting that customer loyalty to the store is, for some, less a matter of economics and more a matter of religion.
In November 1972, fire engulfed and destroyed the 96 Main St. building. Fortunately, the shop had moved to its current 106 Main St. address — the former Livingston Republican newspaper office — only two months earlier. Less fortunate was neighboring businessman Barry Caplan, whose Sundance Books was a complete loss.
Buzzo musicians contributed to a rock benefit concert for the fire victims, held across the street at Radesi’s. Rebuilding from scratch, Sundance moved into the basement floor at 106 Main. The entrance, facing the campus, made easy access for college student customers of textbooks. Newspaperman Ray Sherman offered Buzzo and Sundance a handshake first option when he decided to sell the building. The two tenants jointly took the mortgage in 1974.
By the 1980s, Al was advertising the business on late night Rochester TV. By that time he had become universally known as “Buzzo.” The late-1970s and early-1980s saw some outstanding musicians clerking the store as their day job, including bassist Joey Bonavita and Philadelphia southpaw jazz guitarist Miche Fambro.
Meanwhile, Bruno’s musical endeavors were going by a variety of names including Buzzo’s Bandits, with as many as nine members and a “bizarre rock” repertoire which contrasted greatly with the cocktail music of the Quintet/Quartet. There were also a Buzzo Brothers, Buzzo Cousins, the Buzzo Sweat Band (aka “Good Question”), and Buzzolio. A version in the early ’70s had David “The Beast’” Spitz of Black Sabbath on bass and featured Spitz’s original songs. There would also be a Buzzo association with Ed Gagliardy’s and Ray Hatfield’s Countryside, which incorporated a trumpet in western swing numbers. All these manifestations of Buzzo bands preceded the All Stars, who came into existence in the late ’90s.
Another noteworthy recording was the extended-play Bandits cassette “Reality” in the early-’90s. It included the original Bruno lyrical numbers “Funky Buzzo” and “They Called Me Buzzo” sung by the man himself.
Over the years, Buzzo Music has been visited on occasion by celebrities including comedian Red Skelton, banjoist Bela Fleck and Sha-Na-Na’s Bowser. The Quintet played at the college during a visit from Governor Rockefeller, who described the band as “the best I ever heard.”
Early on Gary Holt had left the store partnership for what seemed to be a lucrative career as a studio musician at the Canadian headquarters of Columbia Records in Toronto, while also performing with touring bands across the great transcontinental expanse of Canada. For Gary, there also were stints in Nashville and Los Angeles until, in 1980, he returned to the Genesee Valley, opened Holt Studios in Leicester and went back to work at Buzzo’s as guitar technician and repairman. As soon as he returned, Gary had the opportunity of heading back to the west coast to be bassist for the band Pacific Gas & Electric, and shortly thereafter a call from Bette Midler. He rejected both offers and continues to run Holt Studios and work at Buzzo’s to this day.
As the business evolved, instruments and amplification gear became a larger part of the inventory, spurred on by the addition of Holt’s in-house repair shop.
The contemporary All Stars who will be backing Buzzo on Friday are Ray Miller on guitar, Tom Halligan on bass, Zack Mendosa on drums, and Captain Jack Fay on an assortment of instruments. The All Stars specialize in retro versions of classic ’60s and ’70s rock songs.
Guesting with the All Stars will be Tim “Bucky” O’Laughin, a writer and singer of original songs, backed by co-writer and guitarist Tim Bucci with Larry “Hoover” Jackson on drums, while All Star drummer Mendosa moves to bass. Their repertoire includes songs titled “Get Out of New Orleans,” about Hurricane Katrina, and “Wrong Side of the Genesee” — which we just assumed was about the Town of York, but Tim Bucci informs us is about Geneseo.
Beverages and snacks, served by Cafe Shiloh, will be available at this and all Geneseo summer concerts.