It’s been almost 8 years since my friend Pat Cerasiello passed away.
I’ve been very fortunate to work with a number a great musicians in my lifetime, but working with Pat was truly the most special.
After playing years of bar gigs while living in Northeast Pennsylvania, I was asked by an incredibly talented sax player named Tom Hamilton if I wanted to fill in with him with his band in North Jersey. Little did I know that this would change my musicianship forever.
I first played with the All-Night Band in July of 2000. It was a corporate event in Central Jersey, and from the first note of the first tune, I knew that I was in unchartered waters, because these cats were top notch…it’s one thing to “bring your A game”, but I knew right away that I’d need my “A+ game” for the entire gig.
“Pat Cerello” was the band leader and guitar player. I had heard that he taught music at NYU, and that he and Tom had this amazing band called “Splat!” back in the day. My immediate thought when I first met him was his incredibly uncanny resemblance to Father Guido Sarducci from Saturday Night Live.We instantly started up a conversation, and our friendship immediately began. Pat called me three days after the gig, and asked me to be one of the lead vocalists and trumpet player in the band, which I did for the next five years.
When I say that playing in this band raised my level of musicianship, that is a huge understatement. One of the keyboard players was the keyboard player for Hall & Oates, and the trumpet player for The Rolling Stones and percussionist for Herbie Hancock would sit in when they weren’t on the road. Another keyboard player from the band is the organist for the New York Yankees. One of our female vocalists went on to be the first runner-up on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent”, and a lot of the band members played a number of gigs over the years with many big name performers, including Frankie Valli, the Vivino Brothers (Conan O’Brien’s Band), and Phoebe Snow, just to name a short list. Needless to say, I’ve never been more musically intimidated. I was also very fortunate to work with an incredibly talented vocalist named Patty Varian…we ended up being singing partners in the band for three years. Her talent was off the charts…she almost had a record contract in the mid 80’s, but the person who auditioned against her beat her out by a hair. That person was Taylor Dayne.
These guys took me under their wing…I would head up to Pat’s house sometimes five to six hours before the gig to hang out in his studio, and talk about music and about life. On Labor Day weekend in 2001 (10 days before 9/11), we played a posh wedding gig up at Lake Placid (which became known as the “Gig From Hell”), and while riding up and back with Pat, we had about 12 hours of really good conversation about our lives, and our love of music. That’s when I realized that we had a genuine friendship, and it was through this friendship that I was challenged to be the best vocalist that I could be, as this band played the music I always wanted to play. In some ways, I felt like my relationship with Pat in the band was similar to a head coach and quarterback in football. He’d call me about 4 days before a gig to talk about what songs I felt most comfortable to sing, and what keys and type of arrangements. Then on “game day” we would execute these flawlessly.
I also struck up a very strong friendship with our bassist Rich Klark. Rich was truly one-of-a kind….he had a house in Wayne, New Jersey (which we lovingly called “Key West on the Passaic”, and just up the street from where The Sopranos filmed some of their wooded scenes), and it was a safe bet that if there was a funny band story, Rich would be most likely be involved. Rich was a very soulful musician (nobody sings Disco Inferno like he used to), and we nicknamed him “25 Cent” because he’d find a way to throw in some ol’ skool rap on some of his songs. He’d always greet me with a “Laneous!” (similar to Linus) when he’d see me, and it was cool when he’d tell me I reminded him of Al Roker. Sadly Rich passed away in September of 2007, and to this day, I always give him a “25 Cent shoutout” when performing Disco Inferno. (And when I met Al Roker, I told him about my dearly departed friend.)
Although Pat and I had a falling out (from which I left the band full time) I’m thankful that we patched up our differences, and I went back to filling in part-time with the band. When my daughter was born, he was one of the first people to call me and offer congratulations. I’d still go up and hang out in his studio, or even drive up to Jersey to catch some of his other gigs outside of the band. When I went through my separation with my ex-wife, I knew I could pick up the phone at any given moment, and have someone who I know would listen.
February 15, 2011 is a day I will never forget. Patty called me in tears and in shock, and she struggled with saying the words “Pat….Cerello….died….last….night.” I still hear the exact way she said it. I remember just sitting on the staircase in my house feeling incredibly numb, and I probably sat there for at least an hour. That was the first time I felt like I had truly lost a best friend. His funeral was attended by many. It was nice to see my former band mates, and hear the condolences passed on by a lot of musicians who knew and respected Pat very much. Every time I see Jimmy Vivino at a Fab Faux gig, we still take a second to remember Pat.
I’m writing this because almost 8 years later, I’m still struggling…there have been at least a thousand times I’ve wanted to pick up the phone and call Pat’s wife Cindy…it’s not that I don’t know what to say, but more the feeling that no matter what I say, it won’t bring him back. I’ve played in a number of bands since Pat (and Rich) have passed away, and I feel very blessed and honored to be a part of the Cruise Control Band, because this band has the same energy, love for the music, and love for each other like we had in the All-Night Band, and I feel like Pat and Rich are smiling with approval that I’ve found a new home.
Sadly, I don’t have a lot of video memories from the band, and the ones I have don’t do the band justice. A couple of years ago, I found and 8mm video of us playing at a Bridal Expo (as a favor to one of Pat’s friends) at the Rockaway Mall in North Jersey. Although I hate the fact that you can see the indoor Macy’s awning in the video, I can hear and see the fun, musicianship and camaraderie that made the band so special.
Thank you Pat. Thank you Rich. May you both continue to Rest In Peace. Thank you to all the musicians who were part of such an amazing band. I will be forever grateful.