2018 – OMIGOD! Rick Derringer meets Eric Leefe in a church in Paramus, NJ!
(REMINDER: ALL photos and text are fully-copyrighted and I take that quite seriously)
I have a good friend named Eric Leefe (no relation, except for music). Cerebral Palsy has confined him to a wheelchair for all of his 55 years, yet he fronted bands on Long Island in the 1980s and continues to record albums.
His father – who was “blessed” with the very suspicious-sounding name of “Bob Leefe” – is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a legendary studio engineer who recorded Elvis’ “Jailhouse Rock” and countless other early rock luminaries’ hits. According to the below list, he also developed the first color TV. Though I can find nothing online to substantiate that, Eric tells me that his father was involved in adapting the silver-screen Technicolor process to television.
Eric hung out at his father’s studio and met people like Carly Simon, the band Chicago and the Rolling Stones, while Bob taught him how to mix songs.
One of Bob’s clients was Tommy James, who befriended Eric and is still a good friend to him. In fact, a few years ago, it was Tommy and his manager, Carol Ross, who rescued Eric from a dire living situation on Long Island and got him placed in a beautiful facility in Hawthorne, NJ , called Van Dyk Park Place.
That’s where I met Eric in 2014 after reading a newspaper story about him. A guy involved in music named Leefe (and with a father named Bob Leefe)? I gotta meet this guy!
I knew Carol Ross from the late 70s when she ran the Press Office in Manhattan and set me up with photo passes for KISS, among others, so I contacted her about popping in on Eric.
“Go for it!”
Without any notice to Eric, I walked into his room one day and announced that “I’m not the re-incarnation of anyone, but my name is Bob Leafe” and we’ve been friends ever since. Here we are at Van Dyk a month after we met:
As nice as the facility is, Eric’s the kid in the house, as most of the other residents are in their 80s and 90s, meaning that he’s still kind of alone on an island, so a gentleman by the name of Fred Provencher – another friend of Eric’s (he’s the pastor of the Cornerstone Christian Church in Wyckoff , NJ) – and I try to arrange little trips for Eric, so this New York guy can see some local NJ things he’s never seen before.
Lately, he’s been atop a mountain with great views, seen the second-highest waterfalls east of the Mississippi, saw the largest hanging US flag on the George Washington Bridge on Veterans Day (and was then wheeled across the bridge on the GWB walkway) and visited the grave of Joey Ramone (he knew Joey, was bummed that he couldn’t attend his funeral and got some closure with a visit to a Lyndhurst, NJ, cemetery).
Of course, I took pictures of these events – some of which have appeared on his CDs – and they appear below.
Atop Garret Mountain, as Rt. 80 cuts through Paterson, NJ:
If you’re not familiar with the Great Falls in Paterson, NJ, here’s a picture I took in 1987. It was dedicated as a National Historical Park in 2011:
If the above picture was taken from south of the falls, then this one was taken from north of them. In other words, they show both sides of the pedestrian bridge…….and Garret Mountain is in the background of this one:
Since Veterans Day is not a smiley occasion…………….
Eric clearly enjoys being barely back in his home state:
A moment of quiet contemplation at Joey Ramone’s grave:
Fans left a lot of different things at the grave, including a can of refried beans. It shouldn’t be too hard to figure out why we sang “We’re A Happy Family” on the way back:
Back home at Van Dyk, Eric got a visit from (and got to sing with) Gene Cornish of The Rascals, courtesy of Carol Ross, who’s in the first picture:
But I digress………
This blog entry was supposed to be about the fact that I actually used my little pocket Canon to shoot a concert (I don’t do that anymore, remember?) that featured former big rock stars in the Maranatha Church of the Nazarene in Paramus, NJ, on May 5, 2018.
I got a call from Eric about this show. Through his church connections, he was going to see Rick Derringer play there and asked if I’d go with him to take pictures of him and Rick………..that’s all I was going to do.
I had other plans that night, but they were changeable, so I agreed to go.
I looked online the day before the show and found this odd poster for the event: “Cinco de JESUS”? Egad! I wonder what the people of Pueblo, Mexico, think about that.
But that poster held a pleasant surprise for me in the form of a very familiar name: Bobby Messano. Bobby was a local (Ridgefield Park, NJ) musician who I’ve been friendly with since 1976.
His early local claims to fame include being in the very first band (Stanky Brown) to ever play at Giants Stadium (4th on the bill at a Beach Boys and 3 others show in 1978). Go to bobleafe.com and enter 10-056 in the search box to see that.
But a more historic pairing occurred later that year at a “Bill Bradley for Senate” benefit at Rutgers (you remember Bill – he once played for the Knicks…………and then won the election).
The big surprise at this show was the first public appearance of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as The Blues Brothers away from Saturday Night Live. They didn’t even have their own band yet, so the Stankys – who were managed by the show’s promoter, John Scher – became their band for their first gig outside of SNL (this is a WAY-better trivia question than “Who was the first band to play Giants Stadium?”).
Go to bobleafe.com and click on the “Bill Bradley Benefit” link in the scrollable, alphabetical Photo Gallery on the left side on the main page to see other shots of Smiley Messano with Jake and Elwood, along with more original SNL cast members and others, like Gilda Radner hugging Paul Simon. Here’s a tease to tempt you over there:
Eric suggested I call up someone from the church regarding some logistical questions I had. I spoke with a friendly sound guy named Todd Rumsey, who informed me about ANOTHER show guest, but this would be a surprise appearance by……….Carmine Appice!
How could I NOT shoot this extravaganza?
Before the show, Rick did a meet and greet and signed a lot of things for his fans. Eric had dinner, courtesy of sound-guy Todd’s wife, Ruthanne, while the M&G crowd thinned out. Finally, he met Rick, who thought Eric wanted him to sign the 2 CDs that Eric handed to him.
“No, I’m giving you two of my CDs to listen to” – something Rick hadn’t encountered from any other fans that night. He seemed impressed and took an interest, especially when Eric told him about his Hall-of-Fame father, but the show was about to start, so I quickly got them together for this picture:
Eric was wheeled into the front row, replacing a folding chair, while Ruthanne and I sat on either side of him. After the first song of the opening act, I excused myself to go backstage and surprise Bobby, who was over-the top surprised…………and happy.
“I’m so happy to see you!”, he told me repeatedly as we walked outside to his tour vehicle. I honestly can’t recall ever getting a more joyous reception from anyone.
We’ve communicated off and on over the years, but I don’t know how long it’s been since we’ve actually seen each other in person…………maybe a couple of decades?
It was time to get ready for his performance, so I told him about Eric and he said he would meet with him later. I went back to my seat and caught most of the last song by the second act, Pure Skies, who I was told were high school guys. It was a Journey song and was done (and sung) really well.
Time for Bobby and his band.
He’s now a known blues guitarist/performer, but I hadn’t seen that side of him live before…………….my turn to be surprised and happy.
Here’s a song from that show:
I just noticed that I entered the frame of that vid at the 1:33 mark to take some pictures. I’m sure the videographer was thrilled about that – sorry (but I DID kneel down).
Here’s one of those pictures:
Let me state right off the bat that as much as I love this little camera, it should not be anyone’s first choice for concert work, as you can see in this shot:
These two shots are semi-passable:
As you may have noticed in the show poster, this was a benefit for the C.A.R.E. Addiction Ministry, which is run by Joey Brennan, who was the show MC……..AND is accomplished in music (percussion, vocals, drums, blues harmonica).
Here he is jamming with the Messano band at the end of Bobby’s set:
True to his word, Bobby found Eric later on and spoke with him before posing for this shot:
Time for the headliner.
The last time I photographed Rick Derringer was 30 years ago at the 30th annual Grammys in 1988 at Radio City Music Hall, posing with Les Paul:
After Joey introduces Rick and the band, he heads offstage:
Rick tells the audience about becoming a Christian and seeking out the wisdom of a spiritual adviser regarding his conundrum about continuing to play “the devil’s music” while trying to be a good Christian:
He was told that it would be alright because he would now be considered an industry insider – a double-agent for God, if you will.
Various shots of Rick, Kenn and Charlie:
Carmine sneaks in behind his kit. Does anyone else see some Father Guido Sarducci in the shot on the right?
Joey Brenner and Kenn introduce Carmine to the audience:
I sneak over to front/center to get unobstructed shots of Carmine, Rick & Carmine and Carmine with the band, saying “good night”:
(Rick’s got his pick in his mouth)
Guess who got one of Carmine’s drumsticks and had him sign it backstage after the show? (hint: he’s holding it in this picture):
Lastly, Eric is greeted by Kenn and Charlie, who both indicate to me how many pictures I’m allowed to take:
All in all, it was a pretty good evening, so thanks to Eric for the invite. It was also really cool to see Bobby again – someone I first met in 1976.
Speaking of 1976, as I pulled out of the church lot, I realized that in that year, I actually lived on the same street that the church is on, passed it every day to and from work, but was never aware of it.
I am now.