L-R; Candle Brothers Phil Russo, Pat Guadagno and Frank Sabo are joined by Rich Oddo and specal guests, as they celebrate “45 Years of Harmony” in Supper Club style, this Labor Day weekend.
Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), August 29, 2019
When word got out that those famous Brothers were due in Asbury Park, the waterfront became a supercharged hive of activity, as crews erected a custom-built stage, traffic was diverted from streets and sought-after parking spots, and the cameras rolled for the benefit of a fervent international fan base.
Well, okay, the superstar siblings were The Jonas Brothers, and the occasion was this past Sunday’s video shoot for the MTV Video Music Awards. But even as other Shore locales prepare to close the books on another summertime season, this coming Labor Day Weekend serves merely as a gateway to an action-packed Local Summer in Asbury Park — and another band of Brothers will help sound the keynote.
While the various members of The Candle Brothers are “family” in band-name only, the musical combo boasts a degree of fraternal solidarity that would make the figurative Mama Candle proud — and this Sunday, September the First, the veteran musicians celebrate “45 Years of Harmony” with a special retrospective concert, upside the space-age boardwalk landmark that is Tim McLoone’s Supper Club.
In a year of golden anniversaries (Woodstock, moon landing, Miracle Mets), that 45-year milestone might appear a bit less momentous, but for Pat Guadagno, it’s a can’t-miss opportunity to reconnect once more with some of his greatest and longest-running colllaborators — and, as the Monmouth County musical mainstay adds with a laugh, “we’re not sure if we can make it to 50!”
As legend has it, The Candle Brothers were born full-grown one night in 1974, when Guadagno and Frank Sabo were harmonizing on Everly Brothers songs at Merri Makers Magnolia Inn in Matawan — and a lounge patron referred to them as “The Candle Sisters…because they always go out together” (“guess you had to be there”). Well, the playful name stuck, sort of, and when the duo joined forces with fellow singer-musician Phil “Red River Russo, it was as The Candle Brothers that they sought out gigs at whatever bar, bistro, back deck, boardwalk or beachtop bandstand would have them.
These days, those Candles blowouts are down to an average of one per year, a state of affairs that dates to Sabo’s having relocated to Florida (‘maybe the secret to a successful musical marriage is living so far apart”). But even as Guadagno continues to navigate a solo career as a master entertainer who can command any room — from the iconic Count Basie Theatre (home now to the singer’s annual big-band Bobfest birthday salutes to Mr. Dylan), to the most intimate corners of your favorite friendly neighborhood watering hole — this Candle Brothers show represents a significant slice of living history, for a singer who’s been very much a part of it.
Having grown up in a household with “parents who were really into music,” young Pat took equal amounts of inspiration from seeing Sammy Davis Jr. at the Garden State Arts Center, as the Rolling Stones at Convention Hall. The future professional musician was there in the audience when the Freehold area teen band The Castiles played the Marlboro YMCA (“I knew then that their guy Bruce on guitar was something special”), — and he had already seen both Jimi and Janis, by the time that he (almost) made it to Woodstock.
“Me and my buds Tom and Charlie sent away for seven-dollar tickets that never came…so we never went,” he recalls of that weekend in August 1969; adding that “I wanted to go because I wanted to see Bert Sommer,” in reference to the late folk singer who’s been called “the forgotten man of Woodstock.”
As for the Candle boys, the little group of “saloon singers” from Jersey burned themselves into the memory of some huge audiences nationwide, with the help of a particular oldie-but-goodie.
The four piece Candle Brothers (Red River Russo, Pat Guadagno, Frank Sabo, Rich Oddo) as they appeared on the big screen at MetLife Stadium, during that time they spurred the Giants to their big Super Bowl XLVI win.
As Guadagno tells it, a grass-roots campaign to secure a coveted spot singing the National Anthem at a Major League Baseball game paid off in 2005, when the Brothers did the honors for a stadium crowd at Baltimore’s Camden Yards on what turned out to be Rafael Palmeiro Bobble Head Day — not long after the Orioles all-star attained the 3,000 career hits plateau, and “about a week before he was busted for steroids.”
The Candle Brothers were also featured guest performers at the final game of Cleveland Indians slugger Jim Thome — but while their harmonious rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” has seen them invited to MLB ballparks from coast to coast, it was a football game that remains their most memorable moment in the stadium spotlight — namely, the closing game of the Giants’ 2011 season in East Rutherford, in which Big Blue bested the Dallas Cowboys, sending them on their way to a post-season run that climaxed with victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.
“Most professional sports clubs have an events coordinator, and it was those people that we would contact when we first started looking for places to perform,” says the singer who recorded the anthem with his Candle-mates in the aftermath of 9/11. “Believe it or not, our being part of the Jersey Shore music scene carries a lot of weight; it got people’s attention, and it just snowballed from there.”
“We sing at minor league ballparks, too — the Lakewood Blueclaws, Trenton Thunder, Somerset Patriots,” he adds. “It’s just as much fun…and the hot dogs are cheaper!”
Joining the three founding Candle Brothers for their good-luck-charm appearance at MetLife Stadium was fellow Shore scene stalwart Rich Oddo, who first came aboard when Sabo left New Jersey — and who continued his affiliation with the band throughout various gigs in which Frank made the trip to reunite with his Candle cronies.
While Rich’s participation might suggest the relationship of Neil Young to Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Guadagno playfully characterizes it as “he’s more like the Zeppo Marx,” although — unlike the younger brother of Groucho, Chico, and Harpo — Oddo remains on call to re-team with Sabo, Russo, and Guadagno at any time, as he’ll do this coming Sunday at Mr. McLoone’s.
Pat’s brother Mike Guadagno will also be among the added musicians illuminating that signature Candles sound, as will a special guest, making a too-rare appearance on the live stage: singer-songwriter and restaurateur Todd Sherman. The proprietor of Rumson landmark Barnacle Bill’s — who gigged with Guadagno and company in the past, and who “never stopped creating music” even after largely stepping away from public performance — “will be doing a whole set of his songs” backed by the Brothers.
Also on tap will be “one or two of my new songs,” from a singer who above everything else is the kind of ace interpreter who can put his personal stamp on pretty much any song ever written — a self-described “thief in the night” who makes regular trips to Nashville to meet songwriters, and who continues to take inspiration from “Richie Havens, Joe Cocker, Frank Sinatra…singers who sought out songs by great writers, and who made them their own.”
“In my bio, I refer to myself as part of the historic Jersey music scene…but not mired in it,” laughs Guadagno. And, while the veteran of countless venues has been “looking at places down in Florida” (“I make a yearly trip to Key West…cold weather and old people don’t get along”), he’s not about to abandon the landscape that’s sustained his art and craft all these years; reasserting that “there’s simply no place like Jersey if you want to play music.”
“The scene has grown up around me…even though I haven’t managed to grow up yet,” says the singer who returns to the stage of the Count Basie Center for the Arts on October 25, fronting an all-star band for “A Marvelous Night” in celebration of the music of Van Morrison. “I used to worry when I saw young kids at my gigs; I thought that they were there to take my job…now of course, I love seeing young people there in the crowd.”
“At my advanced age, I’m doing stuff that I like to do,”adds the proud grandpa. “One way to look at is, I’m still doing what I did when I was in high school. I love my job!”
Available seating for the September 1 appearance of Pat Guadagno and The Candle Brothers at McLoone’s Supper Club ($17.50) can be reserved at timmcloonessupperclub.com. Then take it to patguadagno.com for details on the upcoming schedule of “the well-traveled troubador.”