The Real Story
“A Tale of Perseverance and Tenacity Grown in a Soil of Rock”
The rain continued to fall on a September Friday evening in downtown Youngstown, Ohio. The thick air made the last chords of the last song ring on beyond their normal cry. It was over. The young rock group Cherry Paup had finished their last gig. Guitarist Tom Figinsky, keyboardist Fred Dolovy, bassist Rod Buckio and drummer Pat Palombo had come to the end of their four years together. They were billed as The New Teen Sensations from 1964 through 1969…from high school freshmen to now graduating high school seniors. Now, it was a time of passage…from boys to men, from the dreams of rock & roll to the challenges of the real world… from high school heroes to regular faces in the crowd.
The next morning the loud phone at the Palombo household woke Pat from his light sleep.
It was his cousin Roy Guerrieri . Roy played bass guitar and he asked Pat if he would be interested in trying out for a group that was auditioning drummers the next day. It was an R & B group called the Soulsations. Having just lost his gig the night before, Pat agreed to give it a shot.
That Sunday afternoon, Pat Palombo jammed with Roy Guerrieri, leader singers Odie Crook and Bill Colontone, guitarist Will Simon and keyboardist Bill Pilarusso. They hired Pat that day. The group featured songs by the Temptations, O’Jays, Delphonics, Smokey Robinson and most of the popular R & B groups of the day. It enjoyed a large following from the North and East sides of Youngstown. This made them very popular in the club scene. In late 1969 and early 1970, the group was the house band at the Holiday Bowl in Struthers, Ohio where they played five sets a night on five or six nights a week.
In the winter of 1970, guitarist Will Simon left the group. He was replaced by guitarist Jim Puhalla, a former member of Youngstown’s top R & B group, the Hi Guys. Jim’s contribution to the group was significant in that he taught them how to play in a groove. It is one thing to play in time, but it is another to play in a groove. A group is in a groove when they are not only playing tight together, but are literally feeling the song in the same way. This groove attitude is what made The Soulsations and later LEFT END stand out from the rest.
In the summer of 1970, Bill Pilarusso decided to move on and the group looked for a replacement. Jim Puhalla, who took over as group leader, recommended that the group consider another guitar player. Pat Palombo recruited his old friend Tom Figinsky and Tom was a hit with the guys. Soon, with Tom and Pat’s hard rock background, the group began moving away from R & B. Material by Grand Funk, Mountain, Jethro Tull, Uriah Heap, Black Sabbath and the Who, started to become the norm. The crowds liked the new sound, but the name had to go. Pat Palombo was studying political science at school and recommended LEFT END…for the left side of the continuum of change. The guys liked it and LEFT END was born.
At a rehearsal one day, Bill Colontone introduced the group to the Who Live at Leeds album. LEFT END arranged an extended version of Magic Bus that included excerpts from the Tommy Opera. It was a hit. The Magic Bus reached a finale with flash powder, smoke and bombs. Magic Bus became the groups anthem.
Soon thereafter, Bill Colontone announced he was taking the bus and was moving on.
LEFT END moved on without him.
In the early 1970′s there were a number of great groups playing in a number of clubs in the Youngstown Warren area. The more popular ones included: Brainchild (a group of superstar musicians), The Roadshow (a group of exceptional vocalists), Holy Mackeral (a jazz-fusion group that featured the notorious lead singer Dennis Sesonsky) LAW (a heavy boogie band that knew how to groove) and the bad boys themselves, LEFT END. In late 1971, Odie Crook was offered a gig with the popular Brainchild. The members of LEFT END were devastated. Odie was like a brother and a popular front man.
The popular Youngstown night club, The Apartment, was where Odie Crook made his final appearance with LEFT END. While the group was performing their last set, there was a stir in the crowd as lead singer Dennis Sesonsky entered the club. Dennis was a power rock singer whose onstage antics and style rivaled that of Mick Jagger himself. He had just come from an early concert gig with Holy Mackeral in Pittsburgh and stopped in to see LEFT END. The LEFT END boys were flattered in that they had admired and respected him for years. Dennis had been a legend in the Youngstown rock scene. When LEFT END finished the gig, Dennis appeared in their dressing room. He blurted out, You guys are the loudest most obnoxious group I ever heard. Id love to play with you. That was it. Odie leaving and the popular Dennis stepping right in.
Dennis made it clear that he would only work with a group that wanted to write and record their own music. He also wanted to work with musicians that were into the visual aspect of performing, i.e. make-up, costumes and etc. The boys agreed and never looked back.
LEFT END with Dennis made its home debut at the Gazebo Room in Austintown. They were on the same bill with Odie and Brainchild. Brainchild went on first. The room was so crowded that the fire marshal arrived and would not allow additional patrons to enter unless others left. LEFT END hit the stage as a four piece group. Tom and Roy shared vocals on I want to be free by Uriah Heap.
The crowd responded loudly, but cautiously. Where was Dennis? Was the talk of his joining LEFT END merely hype? Next the LEFT END road crew wheeled in a large box decorated like a jack-in-the-box. The Roadie, adorned with a UPS hat, presented a bill of transfer to the band and Tom proceeded to play Pop Goes the Weasel on his guitar… Bam! Out popped Dennis from the box. He was wearing tight shorts and his legs and chest were covered with reflective glitter held in place by Vaseline. In his mouth was a rubber mackeral. The audience gasped and the mayhem began. The group broke into Zeppelin’s, Bring it on Home. They featured other lesser known songs like Medusa by Trapeze that only a vocalist with a range like Dennis could cut effortlessly. The crowd loved it. A new local super group was born. For the next twenty years, LEFT END would be a top draw rock group in the tri-state area and well beyond.
True to their mission, LEFT END wrote their first single in the first month together. It was called Sunshine Girl and it was very popular rising to number 3 on area radio stations. LEFT END was on the radio daily and selling out every gig they played.
In 1972, the group wrote Bad Talkin Lady and it hit number 1 on area radio stations. The group wanted to be unique and released it on a red vinyl and it is now a collectors item. LEFT END signed a production agreement with Peppermint Productions in Youngstown. Working with engineer Gary Rhamy and the founder of Brainchild, producer/musician John Grazier, the group recorded a number of demos that were sent to record companies. Songs like, “Quick Starter” and “Underneath God’s Light.” are no doubt lost forever.
By this time, Dennis had gotten the group into his vision of what the group had to look like. Glitter clothing, make-up and grease paint, high shoes and boots. The group featured an elaborate stage show for a local band. It included a tracer light system. Like a theater marquee, bright gold bulbs would trace in white gutter cases that adorned the amplifiers and drum riser. The drum riser itself was a two-foot high, eight-foot square island that broke down into two sections. A brand new powerful sound system could, as Dennis liked to say, “make your ears bleed.”
The group bought a large truck and doubled the size of its road crew to manage it all. Throughout the 1970’s, LEFT END was performing five and six nights a week. It would be Monday night at the Grog Shop in Pittsburgh, Wednesday night at the Apartment, Friday nights at Packard Music Hall in Warren, Saturday nights in Akron or Cleveland and Sunday nights at the Gazebo Room in Austintown.
It was during a break at the Apartment Nightclub on Youngstown’s south side in the summer of 1972 that an articulate, brash, boastful and at times vulgar gentleman walked into the group’s dressing room. He announced himself as Steve Friedman and confidently told the group he wanted to manage them. At first, the guys took Mr. Friedman as just another hawker that was not to be taken seriously. But Friedman’s obvious knowledge of the music business and his arrogance were appealing to the group. After a couple of meetings, LEFT END had a management/production contract with Steven Friedman.
The group recorded more demos and Steve began meeting with record company executives in New York City. By October of 1972, Friedman landed the group a recording contract with Polydor Records. The contract gave the group a lucrative recording budget that included a minimum of two singles and one album a year for five years. LEFT END could choose any studio at which to record. The group unanimously selected Cleveland Recording in Cleveland, Ohio. Why? Because that is where Grand Funk recorded its early albums with the great engineer Ken Hamann. The group finished its winter engagements while writing and testing new material for an album. Polydor released “Bad Talkin Lady” on its label and the single began to sell nationally.
In the late spring of 1973 LEFT END began recording their first album. The group continued to perform during this period. The group recorded on Monday through Thursday. One night with a few guests on hand, someone noted the total chaos and mess at the large hotel dining table that had been created by sliding several tables together. There were beer bottles and mixed drink glasses lying on their side surrounded by stacks of china and half-eaten desserts. The guest said, “Boy, you guys are really spoiled rotten.” That was it…the perfect name for LEFT END’s first album…Spoiled Rotten. To fit the image, Dennis changed his name to Dennis T. Menass.
The Spoiled Rotten LP was released by Polydor Records in the late fall of 1973. It went to #1 on “Album Pix” charts in the tri-state area of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia over night.
The album picked up momentum and began to sell throughout the Midwest. LEFT END’S live performances also picked up dramatically and they began playing concert venues to “standing room only” crowds. Steve Friedman strongly supported the group’s spoiled rotten image by equipping the group with dead frogs to throw into the crowd, ping pong ball firing canons and suckers with wrappers that boldly read “YOU SUCK!” Below in smaller print it read LEFT END. The group did a mock slow ballad called, “Your Mine” or “The Pimple Song” in which a large weather balloon filled with water, whipped cream, and mustard was wheeled onstage in a small red wagon. At the end of the song Dennis T. Menass would burst the balloon and those against the front of the stage got the worst of the exploding pimple.
Battles on stage with giant gorillas and “staged” attacking fans that Dennis T. would subdue with beer bottles, whips and clubs became a standard. The press labeled them “Big Time Wrestling Meets Heavy Rock.” The group wore lavish “glam rock” costumes of bright silver, gold, black and red. When in New York City, the group would head to Greenwich Village and SoHo to find the most outlandish boots, belts, and leather outfits. Dennis T. would change outfits several times during a concert set. Certain songs commanded a special look. Of course, the group continued closing their shows with flash pots and pyrotechnics. LEFT END was known for their introduction tapes that were played prior to the group appearing on stage. These were comical thematic collections of live and taped recordings compiled by Thomas John and Jerry Starr of what was then WSRD FM Radio (The Wizard). These intros became very popular with LEFT END fans. The Cleveland press dubbed them, “The Monster That Ate Cleveland.”
Soon after the Spoiled Rotten album was released, Polydor released the single “Loser” from the album. The group began performing in large concert venues with the likes of the Eagles, the J. Geils Band, Brownsville Station, the New York Dolls, Trapeze, George Clinton and the Funkadelic Parliament, and dozens of others. LEFT END appeared in Rolling Stone, Cash Box, Billboard, Cavalier and other national magazines. They were frequently featured in local periodicals in the tri-state area.
Polydor held a big reception for LEFT END after the group performed in concert at Cobo Arena in Detroit. The concert was a great success. LEFT END finished the set with the usual flash pots on stage and added a full blown fireworks display. The crowd went crazy and literally attacked the group. Later, at the reception for the group, Polydor executives, still buzzing from the concert, began to lay out plans for the group. LEFT END had captured the Midwest and there was great interest from east and west coast cities. Their plan was to take the group to Europe where it was felt that they would be an instant success and then bring them back here as “The Monster That Ate Europe.”
Group members were floating on clouds anticipating their rise to greater stardom…until communication with Polydor Records suddenly came to a halt.
In 1975 Polygram Records, parent company of Polydor, bought the Robert Stigwood Company and 50% of RSO records. This brought the company into the disco market and a different direction musically. The entire senior staff at Polydor Records in New York that was plotting LEFT END’s European tour “jumped ship” and left the company. This included President Gerry Shoenbaum who was a big LEFT END fan. It took nearly six months to replace the senior staff. During this time no one was promoting LEFT END’s singles or album. The national demand for the group and its music went flat for lack of promotion. LEFT END was furious.
When Polydor finally got its act together, the new Polydor President contacted the group and apologized for what had happened. He said that the re-organized company wants to offer LEFT END a new five-year contract. The group was divided on this offer.
Unfortunately, the cocky “spoiled rotten” attitude prevailed and LEFT END hired a New York attorney to get them out of the former Polydor contract and tell Polydor where they could go. The word of this brash move spread among the major record company execs. When LEFT END approached them with new material, they were quickly turned away. No company wants to work with what they perceived as “difficult” musicians. Only Led Zeppelin’s newly developed label, Swan Song, showed sincere interest. But with their own financial problems and a huge investment in their primary group, Bad Company, Swan Song couldn’t afford to adequately promote another rock group. Thus, LEFT END had to start over. This situation also brought an end to the relationship between LEFT END and their radical manager, Steve Friedman.
For the next decade LEFT END continued to write songs and perform throughout the tri-state area. The group continued to “sell out” concerts and pack bars and night clubs. Bouncing back from the “fall from grace” with the recording industry, LEFT END began recording demos in a “barn studio” built by their crew and sound company, Sound Treatment. Two of those recordings, “Molly Brown” and “Same Ol Feeling” were played on radio stations in Northeast Ohio and Western Pennsylvania. Molly Brown was getting great airtime on the popular WIXY radio station in Cleveland. Other originals like Once More with Feeling, End of My Rope and the popular Left End Boys became new LEFT END anthems.
In 1980 the group celebrated its 10th Anniversary with a sell-out concert at the Agora Club in downtown Youngstown. Over 2,000 cheering fans brought the group back for two encores. In that same year, LEFT END released a mini-album entitled Ridin Again. The cover song became their anthem for perseverance. The songs on the mini-album began getting airplay on radio stations and the group was once again in great demand.
In 1983, LEFT END released one of its most popular singles, Cyclone Rider. The song continues to be popular and was heard in a radio commercial in 2009. It was in this same year that the group’s founding member, Roy Guerrieri, announced that his full-time career was going to take him out of LEFT END. Roy was a pillar in the group and the first reaction to his leaving was that it was time to finally throw in the LEFT END towel. But, a tenacious spirit and a dedicated fan base, kept the guys moving forward.
LEFT END replaced Roy with a flamboyant guitarist, Steve Schuffert. Jim Puhalla moved from guitar to bass and the group began to perform and record with their new guitarist. Steve was a natural rocker and added a new dimension to the LEFT END sound and look. The group recorded some great material with Steve that was never released, but very popular when played live. Songs like, Rock and Roll Junkie, Gambling Master, Web of Love, and Intensive Care Unit became very popular with LEFT END fans.
In 1985, Steve Schuffert received an offer to join the popular group, The Godz, and said goodbye to LEFT END. He was replaced for a few months with another Youngstown favorite, guitarist Gary Markasky. However, after several blows and another changing music scene, LEFT END finally called it quits after a fifteen-year rock & roll run.
For the next three years, LEFT END members didn’t sit idle. Jim Puhalla and Pat Palombo formed the group 14K with popular guitarist David LeMasters. Tom Figinsky played with a couple of established area rock groups and Dennis T. Menass made an occasional appearance here and there. These experiences kept the guys toned, but the “rush” of a rowdy LEFT END performance was missing. Fans would approach group members in their new venues and ask that they do everything possible to re-unite LEFT END. The band had truly become a legend and rockers felt there was a void in their own lives because LEFT END wasn’t there rockin’ away the onset of the approaching mid-life years.
In 1988, Radio Station CD 106, The Wolf, began playing LEFT END material and generated a new interest in the group with a new generation. Pat Palombo contacted Tom Figinsky and Dennis T. and asked the guys to join him and Jim Puhalla in a jam session with Dave LeMasters. The group got together with old friends and a lot of beer at the old Viking Lounge in Youngstown’s Uptown district. The group began to jam out their old numbers with a very competent Dave LeMasters on guitar and back-up vocals. Everyone present broke out in smiles and cheers as LEFT END sailed through its material as though they never stopped playing. Dennis T. Menass had dozens of ideas for re-arrangements of old material that brought a new energy to the guys. In that one session it was obvious that the boys still had it and a reunion concert was in the planning.
Soon thereafter, Radio Station CD 106 sponsored a LEFT END Reunion Concert that sold out in two weeks. The group performed to a packed house and were called back for three encores. But fans had not had enough. The re-united LEFT END with original members except for LeMasters was in demand through the spring of 1991. The group performed in a concert format throughout Northeast Ohio and Western Pennsylvania for those three years.
It was during this time period that LEFT END recorded what many feel was the group’s best offering. On March 18th of 1989, LEFT END recorded a live album at the Park Inn in Youngstown. With friend Gary Rhamy of Peppermint Productions at the recording board the group recorded Live, Livin and Breathin. The CD that resulted captured the raw power of LEFT END live…a sound the group was never able to capture in the recording studio. This recording is still very popular to this day and cuts from it are played on Youngstown area radio stations.
For the next nine years, the members of LEFT END went their separate ways. They focused on family and career and put the glory days of rock & roll behind them. Group members would talk occasionally as old friends. Yet, they would still be approached by fans longing for the “good old” LEFT END days and the tenacity and rockin’ fun the boys brought to so many lives.
A New Millenium
In late 1999, drummer Pat Palombo responded to a challenge from his fiance’, Sheila, who dared him to quit talking about the LEFT END days and bring the guys back together. Pat called Tom, Dennis, Jim and Dave and everyone thought it would be cool to get together and jam. Soon thereafter, a handful of friends and family members gathered in Pat’s basement for the LEFT END jam. As it was when the group re-united nine years prior, little had changed. LEFT END dove right into the material with the same intensity and tight groove they demonstrated when they last performed. Another reunion concert was in the plans.
Radio station Y103 was the Youngstown areas #1 station and featured classic rock. They were the only station that continued to play LEFT END material during the group’s long hiatus. Furthermore, Jerry Starr, who produced the Ridin Again album with the group, and Smokin Bill Canon, both of whom worked with LEFT END back in the 1970’s, were at Y103. The station began to promote a reunion concert and it sold out in less than two weeks. In the winter of 2000 LEFT END performed to a packed house at the Yankee Lake Ballroom. Original bass player, Roy Guerrieri, performed on stage with the group for the first time in fifteen years and this brought the house down.
Because of the continued interest in the group, LEFT END continued to perform in concert for the next four years. During that time they shared the stage with Ted Nugent, Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, Eddie Money, Paul Rogers, Cheap Trick and others.
LEFT END’S last performance was at a benefit concert for their original lead singer, Odie Crook, who had been fighting a courageous battle with cancer. It was held on July 25th, 2004. Once again, original bass player, Roy Guerrieri, joined the group on stage. This experience in support of an original group member seemed to bring LEFT END to full circle.
Throughout LEFT END’S rockin’ history, Dennis T. Menass always pumped-up crowds with his question, “Do we have any rock and rollers out there tonight?” Thanks to LEFT END, there are nearly three generations of rock and rollers in Northeast Ohio and Western Pennsylvania who respond to this day with a resounding “Yeah!!”