Kevin Riordan: From Shore to Center City, his music filled the air

The quartet, circa 1942 . From left: Al Mauro, drums; Sam Cocchia, guitar; Lou DeFrancis, bass; and Mike Pedicin, alto sax. In 1944, they got a call to fill in as Frank Sinatra's backing band. "We were lucky," Pedicin recalls. "We already knew all his songs. He was a very nice guy." Photo courtesy Mike Pedicin
The quartet, circa 1942 . From left: Al Mauro, drums; Sam Cocchia, guitar; Lou DeFrancis, bass; and Mike Pedicin, alto sax. In 1944, they got a call to fill in as Frank Sinatra's backing band. "We were lucky," Pedicin recalls. "We already knew all his songs. He was a very nice guy." Photo courtesy Mike Pedicin
Posted: June 24, 2013

On any summer Saturday in the late '50s, a tide of college kids would wash up at a place called Bayshores in Somers Point.

A buck bought 10 glasses of warm beer. Hundreds kicked their flip-flops off and danced on the concrete floor.

On the bandstand, Mike Pedicin and his boys blew the roof off, which they did for six nights a week every summer from 1951 until 1967.

"Everybody in there was young," Pedicin, 95, tells me, sitting at his kitchen table in Ardmore. "It was a dive. But who cared?"

Recalls longtime fan Bill Sykes, 78, of Longport: "People were shoulder to shoulder, and they'd scream for him to play 'Shake a Hand,' and Mike would stop in the middle of what he was doing and play it. He blew a hell of a horn."

Pedicin began playing in the mid-1920s near 66th and Lansdowne in West Philly. He was not yet 9 when he begged his parents for an alto saxophone.

"I just liked the way it sounded on the radio," he says.

Dollar-a-week lessons helped him land a spot on WCAU-AM's Horn and Hardart Children's Hour in the late 1920s; he played live on the air every Sunday night for eight years.

The budding sax man put together his first big band while at Overbrook High School. He landed his first professional gig in 1940, at the Red Top Bar in Seaside Heights, earning $20 a week and sharing basement digs with his bandmates and the bartender.

"It was a fun town," Pedicin says and laughs, which he does often, as we look at memorabilia in the kitchen of the home he shares with his companion, Marion Lavalla.

Pedicin's wife, Marie, died 19 years ago. They had two children, and Pedicin now has five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. His sister lives across the street; she's 91 and still drives a convertible.

"My father loves life," notes Pedicin's son Michael Jr., a tenor sax player with a solid 40-year career in jazz.

"He loved making people dance," adds the younger Pedicin, 65, who lives in Linwood. "He enjoyed every minute of what he did."

Sharp of mind, quick of wit, and sporting a fuller head of hair than I've got, Pedicin describes a Center City that boasted dozens of venues where professional musicians could make a living.

In 1944, he and his quartet had just finished a late-afternoon gig at the Copacabana at Juniper and Locust when an agent called.

Could they back up Frank Sinatra, whose band hadn't shown up at the Ritz-Carlton hotel, just a block away?

"We were lucky. We already knew all his songs," says Pedicin. "He was a very nice guy."

As popular music began to change in the early '50s, Pedicin cut his first record, a ballad called "I'll Always Love You Some." Inspired by the rockabilly swing of his pal Bill Haley, he added a drummer and made his quartet a quintet.

The expanded band went electric and started to rock (with a dash of doo-wop). And in 1956 "Shake a Hand" made them what he calls "a little famous."

But Pedicin was a family man; he didn't want to tour, and there were no more real hits. As tastes changed and he grew older, Pedicin found work at debutante balls and private parties.

He continued to perform at various venues along the Shore until his retirement in 1998. He ended up giving his horn to his son.

"I didn't want to hear the sentence 'I knew him when he was good.' I didn't want that to happen," Pedicin says.

His final gig was a friend's wedding.

"It was on the beach in Ocean City," he says. "My last song was 'The Party's Over.' "

He wasn't sad.

No regrets.

It was, says Pedicin, "a hell of a good time."


Kevin Riordan: >Inquirer.com

Philly music veteran Mike Pedicin reflects on his career. Go to

www.inquirer.com/pedicin


Contact Kevin Riordan

at 856-779-3845 or kriordan@phillynews.com, or

follow on Twitter @inqkriordan.

Read the Metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at www.inquirer.com/blinq.

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