One reunion you won’t want to miss

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First Posted: 8/12/2014

For one night each year, two of the area’s most popular bands of the 1960s get back together to bring back the good old days.

This year’s reunion dance with Joe Nardone and the All Stars and Eddie Day and the Starfires will take place from 7:30 till 11:30 on Saturday, Aug. 16, at the Irem Temple Country Club Pavilion in Dallas. The admission price of $26 includes beer, soda, pizza, snacks and an evening full of memories that attracts hundreds of area music lovers.

The Starfires first got together as a garage band founded by Roger “Griff” Griffith and Richard “R. Jay” Gumbravich in the late 1950s. A few years later, they added singer Eddie Day (Pashinski) and became the house band at Hanson’s Amusement Park and Sandy Beach at Harvey’s Lake during the summer and the Starfire Ballroom in Wilkes-Barre during the winter.

“Back in those days, the popular thing to do was to name your band after a car,” Griffith, the group’s bass player, said in a recent telephone interview. “You had the Cadillacs, the Impalas, the Falcons and so on. We were named after the Oldsmobile Starfire.”

The Starfires were so successful locally they were able to make a few records for national labels Laurie and Bell. The group’s song “You’ve Done Me Wrong” charted in the Top Ten of the local record charts.

The current group consists of Griffith, who became an ordained Presbyterian minister and is now retired, drummer Gumbravich, Pashinski, who is a current state representative from the 121st Legislative District, vocalist Charlie McCuen and saxophone player Bob Gardner, along with recent recruits Louis Cossa on keyboards and Sheffee Abram on guitar.

Nardone, who is well known in the area as a concert promoter and founder of the Gallery of Sound music-store chain, started his band in the early 1960s and watched it become a summertime favorite at the Sans Souci in Hanover Twp. and a colder-months attraction at the Stardust Ballroom above the old Paramount Theater in Wilkes-Barre.

Nardone’s group made a few recordings as well, including a regional hit in 1967 with “Shake a Hand” on the Red Bird label owned by legendary songwriting team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.

The current All Stars include Nardone on saxophone and original member Carl Swinski on keyboards plus Jerry Seechler on guitar, Bob Gryziec (of The Buoys fame) on bass, Bill Zaremba on drums, and vocalist Tony Rasimas.

Both bands used to also back national acts at the local clubs back in the ‘60s. The Starfires played with everyone from Bobby Goldsboro (“See the Funny Little Clown”) and Gary “U.S.” Bonds (“Quarter to Three”) to the Essex (“Easier Said Than Done”) at the lake. The All Stars famously backed Neil Diamond when the singer-songwriter was unknown and drove in from Brooklyn alone to entertain the local crowds at the Sans Souci.

These days, the bands play many of the same songs they used to play for many of the same people who used to come out way back when. Nardone said his band features the music of the early rock and rollers like Jerry Lee Lewis, Dion, Gene Vincent, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley.

While Griffith said his band mates are currently planning to play more than the one-time summer reunion dance, Nardone said his band will continue to play just once a year.

“Because of the success of these dances, many charitable groups and class reunions ask us to play all the time,” he said, noting the Irem Temple dances average 500 to 600 people each year. “But I have to turn them down.

“If I play one and not another, I make enemies with my friends because we can’t play them all. So we don’t want to play more than once a year.”

Tickets for the reunion dance are available at all Gallery of Sound locations and at Dymond’s Farm Market & Bakery in Shavertown. Groups of 10 can reserve a table, and for more information, call 570-829-3603.