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Thanks to the Internet, Pittsburgh's music history plays on

posted Oct 8, 2011, 8:53 AM by Paul Carosi

Thanks to the Internet, Pittsburgh's music history plays on

By Rege Behe, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Saturday, October 8, 2011
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Lance Jones
JC Schisler | Tribune-Review


Lance Jones has stories to tell. Paul Cramer wants to keep one of Pittsburgh's most beloved radio stations alive. And Paul Carosi burns a torch for the city's most cherished -- and, sometimes, forgotten -- music icons.

In the past year, each has launched a website devoted to some aspect -- in Carosi's case, the whole kit-and-caboodle -- of Pittsburgh music history.

Jones' site, musicasaurus.com, features recollections from his career as director of advertising for National Record Mart, the defunct Pittsburgh-based chain of record stores, and from jobs at Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre (now First Niagara Pavilion), first as director of marketing, then general manager. His posts include reviews of live concert DVDs, virtual mixtapes and behind-the scenes anecdotes.

"I love reliving this stuff," Jones says.

Recently, he posted stories about the first Lollapalozza Tour to play Pittsburgh in 1992 ("a complete $ucce$$") and the WDVE Friday Night Rocker of 1992 featuring Blue Oyster Cult, Jefferson Starship, Molly Hatchett and Leslie West, for which ticket sales were so low the venue cut the quality of catering services.

Another recent entry is about a poster National Record Mart commissioned in 1982 to benefit the March of Dimes. The poster featured Donnie Iris, Joe Grushecky, Norman Nardini, Pete Hewlett, Bob Corbin and Dave Hanner, Frank Czuri, Billy Price and Rick Granati of G-Force.

"When I started thinking about the guys who are represented on the poster, and look at that assemblage of talent and what they were doing at that time ... this was a musical stew and all these people were on the verge bursting out on the national scene," Jones says.

The X reborn

When WXXP-FM ended its short broadcast life in 1988, Cramer, one of the on-air talents, bought the station's music library. He's kept this trove of alternative music for the past 23 years, waiting for the right moment to resurrect what was, in its brief heyday, one of Pittsburgh's most beloved radio stations.

In January of this year, he re-launched WXXP at www.live365.com to coincide with the station's 25th anniversary. The stars of the day, R.E.M. and U2, are featured prominently, along with lesser-known bands including Pylon and Martha & the Muffins.

"The question was: Should it just be a nostalgia thing; do people just want to relive their youth?" says Cramer, who lives just outside of New York City. "But rather than be forced to listen to stuff that people might not appreciate, it just seemed like a good idea that we should continue playing current music by artists who were popular during Double-X's time. Whereas, you might have only heard the first solo album by Morrissey on Double-X, now you would hear his entire catalog mixed in, along with that of the Smiths."

The web-based station features rebroadcasts of shows from the 1980s featuring the original disc jockeys, and promotional spots recorded by musicians, including Bananarama, Dale Bozzio of Missing Persons, Andy Gill of Gang of Four, Belinda Carlisle and David Bowie. The iconic station logo -- two black side-by-side X's on a field of bright color -- is featured prominently.

"I think the impression that a new culture and a new music had really stirred up a lot of people," Cramer says. "I think we made a difference, but not necessarily in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh has stayed the same through the years. But the people who listened to Double-X were definitely inspired from their listening habits. They really took to heart the whole explosion of new music that was coming out at the time. The people who listened to Double-X thought they were special; they thought they were individuals, and as unique as the music itself."

Riffing on history

A few weeks ago, Carosi received an e-mail about The Rave-Ups, a band with Pittsburgh roots he'd not known about. Headed by singer and guitarist Jimmer Podrasky, a student at Carnegie Mellon University, the band relocated to Los Angeles and became darlings of the Hollywood set. Podrasky met Molly Ringwald when he was dating her sister, Beth, and the band appeared in the movie "Pretty in Pink."

After tracking down some of the band's music, Carosi thought, 'Wow, those are great songs,' and added the band to his website, Pittsburgh Music History (sites.google.com/site/pittsburghmusichistory), which he calls a "virtual museum." The entries span all genres, including rock 'n' roll, classical, jazz, blues, country and R&B.

Carosi, who lives in Mt. Lebanon and works for IBM, devotes a few hours to each of the profiles on the site. He's traced the roots of Pittsburgh music to the early 1800s, with sections about William Evans, W.C. Peters and Henry Kleber, who were instrumental in shaping the city's music heritage in the early 19th century. Carosi's interest in this period was spurred when he helped with multimedia presentations of the Charles McCollister book "The Point of Pittsburgh."

"It got me into looking at Pittsburgh differently," Carosi says. "It got me thinking about tracing back how music developed in Pittsburgh. His book inspired me."

The site includes musical nuggets of all stripes. Carosi's research revealed that Pittsburgh was the first public school district in Pennsylvania -- and the fifth in the United States -- to offer music education. And he was especially surprised to discover the heights of popularity attained by Pittsburgh-born composer and pianist Oscar Levant.

"He sold out stadiums," Carosi says. "You can't imagine that happening today in classical music."

The passion remains

When Jones launched musicasaurus, he wasn't sure whether there would be feedback or reaction beyond his circle of friends. He's been pleased at how the site has been received, from former co-workers and music fans, in general. He's happy that his daughters, Moira, 26, and Maeve, 23, and their friends have taken to the site.

"I love having this as a record for my daughters," Jones says. "They may have heard a little bit about (some of the stories), but they never had fleshed-out versions from my own mind."

The passion for WXXP never has ebbed among a constituency of listeners who were just coming of age during the mid-1980s. So, news that the station was being resurrected in a new medium was greeted with enthusiasm.

"People were beside themselves at just the mention of Double-X coming back," Cramer says. "The fact that it's on the Internet at this time seems to be fairly apt. Double-X was cutting edge at that time. It was something that Pittsburgh and most of the United States had never seen or heard, unless you lived in a big city. Now, with broadband Internet, and Internet radio moving into cars, it's kind of a repeat. It's bringing something that was cutting edge to a new cutting-edge technology."


About the writer

Rege Behe is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review staff writer and can be reached at 412-320-7990, via e-mail or on Twitter.