Monday, December 21, 2009

Frank Pellico - A Spirited Christmas

Okay... you're probably saying to yourself "Self, that cover looks awfully familiar. Have I seen that somewhere before or have I just drank too much eggnog???"

Before you dial up the EggNog Anonymous hotline, this identical cover was used as an alternate of The Murk Family's Christmas album. It later appeared as an alternate cover for Mickey Rooney's Christmas album (but if you saw the other cover, you'd understand why this one was used... you've been warned!).

When I saw this album at a thrift store in Chicago, I was half tempted to pass it up - who needs yet another Christmas organ album and I don't need a THIRD album with the same cover in my collection. Or did I? I read the back and kept asking myself "Why does the name Frank Pellico ring a bell?"

I added the album to the pile and continued on my merry way (you can never beat 25 cents for an LP). Only after I left the city limits of my former hometown and got back to my current hometown of Fort Wayne did I discover the treasure that made the 150+ mile trek east.

Frank Pellico grew up in Chicago during a time when roller rinks regularly featured live organists playing skating music. In high school, Frank studied the organ under the tutelage of Al Melgrand, the legendary organist of the massive Barton organ installed in Chicago Stadium during Chicago Blackhawks hockey games.

Pellico began playing at roller rinks throughout Chicago and played nightly at the Matterhorn Supper Club in Palos Hills, IL. His reputation as a top-notch organist was secured when in 1970, he was hired by the Chicago Cubs to play the Lowrey organ at all of their home games at Beautiful Wrigley Field.

It was around this time that Frank recorded an album entitled "Touching" that featured his amazing organ skills on the Hammond X-66 organ:

In 1976, Pellico and the Cubs parted ways (the new organist was Vance Fothergill - real Cub fans know this stuff). Frank continued to play all over Chicago as well as continue his recording career. That takes us up to 1978 - the year of the Christmas album you're looking at.

Disco was ruling the airwaves at the time and Frank wanted to stay current. Click on the back album cover to read what you're about to listen to.

When you hear the very first notes of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel", images of "Hill Street Blues" will immediately come to mind. Then the cool organ kicks in and transforms the experience to a whole new level.

It's a unique album - a true testament to its times. Any sports bar in Chicago would be proud to have this album in their collection and would gladly play it on their speakers during happy hour.

Frank Pellico - A Spirited Christmas

As the 1980s began, Frank still recorded his music and played the organ wherever and whenever he could. It was around this time that amazing things were happening for the occupants of Chicago Stadium.

The Blackhawks sported a new look with youngsters like Jeremy Roenick, Ed Belfour, and Chris Chelios. The Bulls were putting a nucleus of talent together around a kid from North Carolina... some guy who wore #23... name of Jordan...

In the early 1990s, the Blackhawks and Bulls were packing them in at the Stadium as a vacancy opened up for an organist on the old Barton organ. They needed someone who understood the massive organ, someone who had experience, someone who could rile up the crowds.

One last note: as many sports arenas around the country move toward the school of "ESPN Rock Jams" and phase out organists altogether, Chicago stands alone as one of the few sports towns that openly embrace their organists.

Nancy Faust has been playing for the White Sox since the mid-1970s and is credited with introducing the "Na Na Na Na Hey Hey Goodbye" song to sports. Gary Pressy has had the Chicago Cubs job since 1987 and played with Harry Caray all those 7th inning stretches. He now plays with tone-deaf celebs during the stretch (GROAN!!)

Frank Pellico's been with the Blackhawks since 1991 and the ownership recently tried to cut into his playing time. The fans quickly rallied to his side and he's still a fixture above the home ice.

You've got the last word Frank:

Happy listening...


1 comment:

sumogrrl said...

Wow, Captain, thanks for this great post! So much info, and video, too! I remember those Wrigley Field days well . . .