Singer and gold record winning song writer Donnie Iris is known nationally for his hit songs “The Rapper”, “Ah Leah”, “Love is Like a Rock”, and “I Can’t Hear You”. Donnie has landed 10 singles in the Billboard top 100 lists. He has recorded and performed with the Jaggerz, Wild Cherry, and his own band Donnie Iris and the Cruisers. Iris has released ten albums with the Cruisers, five of which made it to the Billboard top 200 list. Donnie and the Cruisers headlined concerts around the U.S. and Canada and have toured with Hall & Oates, Bon Jovi, and many others. In Pittsburgh Donnie is an icon: King Cool.
Ellwood City's Wedding Singer
Donnie Iris was born Dominic Ierace in 1943 in the small steel town of Elwood City, Pa. His mother Carrie DiCola Ierace, who had been a big-band singer, made Donnie practice singing at an early age. Donnie began his career as a wedding singer at age five. He performed on local televisions shows and won the Paul Whitehead television talent contest at age eight. He took drum lessons when his voice changed around age 12.
Donnie began singer again while in college at Slippery Rock State and taught himself the guitar. At Slippery Rock he formed a band called the Trivelles that was latter renamed Donnie and The Donnelles. They played frat parities and at a bar called "Guy's".
Around 1964, Donnie and The Donnelles merged with members of another band called Gary and The Jewel Tones to form the Jaggerz. When Koorich and Sabol quit the band, Donnie and Benny recruited bassist Jimmie Ross and drummer Jim Puguliano into the Jaggerz. Guitarist Bill Maybray and organist Tom Davies joined a few months later.
The Jaggerz began their career playing 6 nights a week at Club Natural in Beaver, Falls. In 1966 they played the entire summer at the Sunken Bar at Geneva on the Lake, Ohio. They returned to Genava in the summer of 1967 to play the season at the Cove.
Working steadily the Jaggerz polished their act into a two hour Vegas style show. Performing tight R&B/Soul tunes they danced in synchronized steps. The highlight of their shows was a number where they tossed each other through their legs while tossing the mics over their shoulders.
The Jaggerz became Pittsburgh's most popular band packing clubs throughout Western Pennsylvania. They played at the Beaver County venues Club Naturale, Morry's Speakeasy, and Villas. In the Pittsburgh area they gigged at Mancini's, the Fountain, the Yellow Submarine, the Thunderbird Boatel and the Staircase Lounge. Their regular Wednesday night gig was at Mancini's in the Rocks. On Saturdays people lined up around the block to get into the Staircase Lounge in downtown Pittsburgh to see Jaggerz.
The Jaggerz sought a record contact working with their manager Joe Rock, who also managed the the Skyliners, and John Pergel.
Discovered by Gamble and Huff
In 1967 Philadelphia sound producers Gamble and Huff came to Pittsburgh the hear the Jaggerz perform at the Staircase lounge and signed them to a record contract. The Jaggerz released their first album, “Introducing the Jaggerz” in 1969 on Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff's label Gamble Records. The album featured the regional hit song "Gotta Find My Way Back Home” written by the Steals Brothers (Mystro & Lyric) of Aliquippa who were song writers for Gamble and Huff.
Jaggerz Top the Charts with the Rapper
The Jaggerz scored a number 2 national hit with “The Rapper", written by Donnie Ierace on their second album “We Went to Different Schools Together”. Recorded at Jeree’s studio in New Brighton, Pa, it was released in 1970 on Kama Sutra Records. Donnie received his first gold record for “the Rapper”. Two additional tracks “What A Bummer” and “I Call My Baby Candy” reached the Billboard Hot 100 and the album went to 62 on the Billboard Top 200 chart.
released their third album “Come Again” in 1975 on Wooden Nickel Records. It featured the song “I’ll Be Okay in the
Morning” co-written by Donnie and newest Jaggerz member Hermie Granati, along
with Donnie’s song “Don't It Make You Wanna Dance?” After Jimmy Ross left to join the Skyliners in 1975, the Jaggerz broke up.
Donnie changed his stage named to Donnie Iris and joined the band Wild Cherry around 1978. He toured with the band and recorded on two of their albums “I Love My Music: in 1978 and “Only the Wild Survive” in 1979.
After Wild Cherry broke up, Donnie hung out at Morry’s Speakeasy in Rochester, Pa. and would jump on stage with the bands that played there like his Patterson township neighbors the Granati Brothers and the B.E. Taylor band. He always brought down the house with his high range singing and wild energy.
Donnie Iris and the Cruisers
While in Wild Cherry, Donnie and keyboard player Mark Avsec became song writing partners. Mark and Donnie began writing songs in basement of Donnie’s Patterson Township home, near Beaver Falls. Mark would “cruise” down the turnpike from his home in Cleveland to work with Donnie. Hence the name Donnie and the Cruisers was born. In 1979 Donnie and Mark recorded their demo tracks at Jeree’s Recording Studio. They recruited bass player named Albritton McClain and guitarist Marty Lee Hoenes to record with them. They released a disco-influenced single "Bring on the Eighties" in 1979 that did received little airplay. Changing direction they turned to a harder power pop rock sound with shades of new wave. They added drummer Kevin Valentine and recorded a full length album at Jeree’s that was engineered by Don Garvin. .
WDVE Breaks Ah Leah
Donnie sent his demo tape to all of the major labels, but they passed on it. Donnie played a copy of his demo tape for his Patterson Township neighbors The Granati Brothers and they loved it. Rick Granati called WDVE program director Dave Lang inviting him to the Granati Brothers house to hear Donnie's tape. The Granati Brothers played the tape for Lange who also loved it. Lange told the Granati’s that if Donnie would agree to give him a copy of “Ah Leaha” he would start playing it on WDVE the next day. WDVE premiered “Ah Leaha” and Pittsburghers loved it too. WMMS in Cleveland added it and then WBCN in Boston. Hearing about the major station airplay and the busy request lines, Cleveland’s Midwest Records released the single and album in 1980. When “Ah Leahe” hit the charts on Cashbox and Billboard charts, MCA/Universal signed Donnie Iris and the Cruisers to distribute their album nationally. “Ah Leaha” became a national hit reaching number 19 on the Billboard Rock chart and number 29 on the Billboard Hot 100. Donnie Iris and the Cruisers released their first album “Back on the Street” on MCA in 1980. It also featured the song “I Can’t Hear You” that charted at number 47 in the Billboard Hot 100. The “Ah Leaha” video was shown on MTV.
After an appearance in Toronto, a music critic described Donnie as the “new king of cool.” Drawing on the phase, Donnie and the Cruisers entitled their second album “King Cool”. Released in 1981 on Razor and Tie Records, it featured the song “Love is Like a Rock” that did even better than “Ah Leaha”. It reached number 9 on the Billboard rock chart and number 37 on the Hot 100. Donnie and his band went on a national tour with “Hall and Oates”. Over the next three years the band headlined shows across the U.S. and toured with Journey, Loverboy, Bryan Adams, Foreigner, Bon Jovi, The Romantics, Eddie Money, UFO, Nazareth, Ted Nugent, Joan Jett, and the Michael Stanley.
Their three album releases on MCA 1982, 1983, and 1985 all placed in the Billboard top 200. The video of the single “Do You Compute?” was heavily played on MTV.
The Cruisers Drive On
After a legal fall out with MCA around 1986, the band took a ten year break from recording. Mark went to law school to become a law teacher at Case Western Reserve University. Donnie started a mortgage business,Simcorp, in Aliquippa and released his own brand of beer called “King Cool”.
The Cruisers Reunite
The Donnie Iris and the Crusier recording again in 1997 to release the album Poletown. They have since released the albums "Live at Nick's Fat City" (2000), "Together Alone“ (2000), "Ellwood City” (2006), "Ah! Live! (2009) and the "Ah! Leluiah!" Christmas CD (2010).