Gene’s Bar and Lounge was a hot spot for blues for eleven years from 1985 to 1996. It was home to the regular weekly appearances of Gary Belloma and the Blues Bombers , Chismo Charles and the Mystic Knights, Glenn Pavone and the Cyclones, Barbara Blue and other Pittsburgh area blues/R&B artists. The club drew a mix people who loved the blues ranging from blue collar ex mill worker bikers to young white collar professionals. During its heyday local and Hollywood Stars came to hear the bands. Penguins ‘hockey announcer Mike Lang was a regular with his own bar stool. Whilst filming in Pittsburgh Bruce Willis, Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito and Matthew Broderick made their way to Gene’s. It became the launching pad for singer Barbara Blue and guitarist Ernie Hawkins who went on to solo recording careers and international acclaim.
The yellow brick building built in 1948 at 835 Saw Mill Run Blvd began its life as a working man’s bar. It was located a few hundred feet from the south entrance of the Liberty Tunnels in the Overlook section of Pittsburgh across from Tambalinni's Restaurant. Gene Romah purchased the bar from his cousins in 1981. Gene's son, Gene Jr., seeing that there were not any dedicated blues clubs in Pittsburgh convinced his father to start booking blues bands in 1985.
Gene’s Bar and Lounge was a small club that held only about 60 people. It was a long narrow ceiling tiled no frills room with the bar on the left side, tables on the right and a center dance floor. The bands played on the floor against the back wall that was covered in gold plastic with a hole for the air conditioner. It was bare bones without a stage, stage lighting, or a drum riser.
Glen Pavone and the Cyclones played every Wednesday Night for several years. Norman Nardini and the Tigers played Gene's on Thursday nights. Chismo Charles and the Mystic Knights of the Sea were the Friday night regulars. Guitarist Warren King played at Gene's with the Mystic Knights before he moved to Florida to work at Kingsnake Studios. Gary Belloma and the Blues Bombers played on Saturdays drawing the club's largest crowds. There were jam nights on Mondays led by Glen Pavone that went into the wee hours of the night. Other bands that played regular weekly gigs at Gene’s were Barbara Blue and the Band, The Professionals, Bird and the Bluesmen, the Public Nuisance Blues Band, and the Bob Beach Band.
PennDot Blues Brings the End
The blues at Gene's Bar come to an end in 1997 when the bar was taken over in an eminent domain claim by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. The building was demolished as part of a $25 million highway construction project designed to ease traffic congestion at the south end of the Liberty tunnels. Penndot auctioned off all of the bar fixtures including Mike Lange's favorite bar stood. Gene's bands and fans got the low down dirty PennDot Blues. But they moved on to bigger venues and success.
Barbara Blue moved to Memphis in June of 1997 where she became the "Reigning Queen of Beale Street" as the headliner at Silk O'Sullivans, She recorded 3 acclaimed CDs with Taj Mahal's Phantom Blues Band and has toured Australia and the U.K. Guitarist Ernie Hawkins left the Bombers in 1996 to embark on an acoustic blues solo career that brought him international recognition. He has since released five acclaimed CDs and recorded and toured with singer Maria Mulduar. Bob Beach moved to Philadelphia in 1997 to become a sound engineer at The World Café Live music venue and to book artists at venues and festivals in the Philadelphia area.
In June of 2002 Tom Bichle, son-in-law of Gene Romah, opened Gene’s II on South Main Street in Pittsburgh's West End.
Gary Belloma and the Blues Bombers
The stars of Gene’s were Gary Belloma and the Blue Bombers who were the regular Saturday night house band at Gene's Blues Bar for ten years. The Blue Bombers formed in 1986 with lead singer Gary Belloma, sax player Chris Patrini, drummer Terry Bates, guitarist Ernie Hawkins, keyboardist Fred Delu, and bassist Harry McCorkle. The band was noted for Gary's soulful voice and wild dancing along with Chris Patarini playing sax on top of the bar and tables. During their residency at Gene’s the Blues Bombers released two recordings the “Bombs Away” cassette in 1992 and “Altitude Adjustment” CD in 1995. After the closing of Gene’s in 1997 the Blues Bomber moved to three year stay at the by Buffalo Blues in Shadyside doing Saturday night gigs. They released the “Pack Your 'Chute” CD in 2001 and the “Departures” CD in 2006. The Blues Bombers continue to play today at Pittsburgh area clubs. The band now features Chris Patarinion in sax, Frank Giove on Guitar, Don Czaplicki on Bass, and Kurt “Junior Smoke” Steinle on drums and lead singer Patrick Scanga.
Glen Pavone and the Cyclones
Gene's Bar was a regular weekly gig for Glen Pavone and the Cyclones. Glen Pavone was a local Pittsburgh guitar hero who was voted Pittsburgh's best guitarist several times. He played blazing Stevie Ray Vaughn style guitar licks and heavy Hendrix solos. The Cyclones were a trio comprised of Pavone, bassist Tom Valentine, and Frank Sprentz on drums and vocals. Sprentz also wrote their songs. The Cyclones released their debut CD "Twist This" in 1994 that sold well locally. It included the hit track "Oh Babe" that aired in heavy rotation on WDVE. Their "Twist That" album released in 1996 and the "Cyclones R.U.L.E." album released in 2000 were both issued by Moondog Records.
Originally from Alexandria, Virginia Glen Pavone came to Pittsburgh in 1983 to become a member of Billy Price and the Keystone Rhythm Band (KRB). He performed and recorded with KRB for nine years. Pavone appeared on two KRB albums “Billy Price and the Keystone Rhythm Band Live" (1984) and "Free at Last" (1988) that were both released on Antenna Records. In 1992 Pavone, Tom Valentine, and Frank Sprentz all left the Keystone Rhythm Band to form the Cyclones. They found a home and many loyal fans at Gene’s Blues Bar.
The famed Night Hawks blues band contacted Pavone asking him to join their band. He declined their offer as it would have required extensive traveling to gigs across the U.S. He choose to remain home in Pittsburgh with his family and to work his day job as a delivery man for the Point Breeze company Field Environmental Instruments. In Pittsburgh he was the "Big Cheese - Glen Provolone" as his friend Norman Nardine called him. After Gene's closed the Cyclones became regulars at Moondog's in Blawnox. Glen Pavone passed away at age 52 on August 9, 2010 after a three year battle with cancer.