My grandfather, Guido Negri, was born and raised in the vicinity of Milan, Italy. He died a at the age of fifty two two years before I was born. So, I never knew Guido, though I think in many ways I am him, and, since I’m not him, I only know him through the eyes of my parents, principally my father, Ed, who always wanted to live up to who Guido became during his few years on the planet. My brother, Paul, and I were both engaged in somewhat of an idol worship of him. In reality Guido was an author, of sorts, an artist, of sorts, and a musician, also of sorts. He published his own book, “The Agnostic”, and wrote and scored a complete Opera, “Cleopatra”. He painted many pictures, none of which ever made it beyond the family Negri, and all of which were, and still are, treasured by his progeny. I haven’t written an opera, but I do have one published song, “Tricia’s Fantasy” which was played live at the Concord Jazz Festival, 1980, by Herb Ellis, Cal Collins, Ray Brown and Jake Hanna, all top name jazz artist of the time. I haven’t written a book, but I have had a number of “letters to the editor” published in various publications. I don’t fancy myself an artist, but my house is full of art pieces including several by Guido, one by my father, and one by my mother.
As a child I loved listening to gospel music played by my “other mother” Mozelle Cole, the family maid. My mother, Beautiful Jane, sang opera like an angel, and was invited to audition for the New York Metropolitan Opera, quite an honor I’m told, but declined as she was pregnant. Her singing would bring me to tears it was so beautiful. My dad was quite good at playing Accordion, Piano and Violin all by ear. At the age of ten I started taking piano lessons. I knew I wanted to play, and play well. That didn’t work out because I hated my teacher who will go unnamed. After a year of that torture, I was enrolled at GMA (Georgia Miliatary Academy) for a another year of torture of a different variety. Self-discipline, both physical and academic, has never been my strong suit.
My Mother, Beautiful Jane
Music became a force in my life about the time I turned twelve. We were still living in Chamblee, and Paul and I would ride the bus downtown to Cable Piano Company where we would take our music lessons, and then walk the five blocks to Herren’s to meet Dad who would take us home. At first I took accordion lessons from Mrs. Alexander who I later learned was rumored to have wild nude parties. Paul was taking guitar lessons from Dean Byram in the next studio over. He taught me a few chords on guitar and I switched to Byram as well. Byram would have “jam” sessions which Paul and I attended. We’ve been playing music together ever since, and now call ourselves the Spumoni Brothers when we jam.
I was in the tenth grade when Mike Holt invited me to join his band, circa 1959. I got him to invite Paul as well and we began learning Mike’s Rock repetoire. Mike, Paul and I played guitars, and Bobby Vinson played drums – a real guitar band just as guitar bands were coming in to style. We called ourselves the Cavaliers. We played at pool parties, high school functions, and frat parties where the beer flowed freely. After about a year, Vinson and I left the Cavaliers and formed the Jokers with three horns and the vocalist, Charlie Adams, out front. The bassman was Ed Sanders, the three horn men were Steve Smithfield, tenor, Frankie Collins, alto, and Harris Rogers, trumpet. The Jokers played a much broader territory than did the Cavaliers, frequently playing at Colleges all over the SE. I don’t know why Paul wasn’t part of this band. I’ll ask him sometime. Our slogan was “The Jokers are wild”. We were one of the best R&B bands in the area and competed with such bands as the Night Shadows, the Spades and the Continental Jazzmen to name a few.
Yes, “From the Beginning” music has played a central role in who I am, and what I’ve done during my life.