2019 – RIP Frank O’Toole (WFMU) – my friend for the last 48 years
Note: (Ignore above publish date of May 1, 2017. This was posted on May 16, 2019.)
I got the notice on May 3. It was not unexpected, as his health had not been good since a stroke hit him 10 or 11 years ago. He had to retire from his day job as a senior investigator for the Office of the Bergen County Superintendent of Elections because of it, but he continued to be the legendary DJ at WFMU that he had been since 1976.
When I graduated from Bergen Catholic High School in 1965, I had no idea that someone who was pretty much like me in a lot of ways would begin his high school life in the same building just 3 months later. That – and the strict Catholic upbringing we both endured – was our first tie, though we didn’t discover that until a few other bonds were established in the early 70s.
You may recall in my “The Other Career” post (https://iaintjustmusic.bobleafe.com/?p=6541), that I was going through hell in my one semester at Seton Hall University, quit school, spent a couple of years finding out what I wanted to do with my life and wound up at Bergen Community College in September of 1970.
I used to see these two long-haired guys hanging around BCC a lot, but didn’t know them. In my second semester there as a Chem major, a professor asked me if I’d tutor someone in his statistics class.
It turned out to be one of the two longhaired guys. His name was Bob Hussey. He sang in a band and was really into music, so we got along just fine. Eventually, he introduced me to his friend and that was Frank O’Toole, who was also really into music.
We started going to concerts together, along with their girlfriends, Janet (Bob H.) and Elaine (Frank). We went to a million of them and – with a couple of exceptions – usually had a pretty good time.
Frank told me years later that he originally thought I was a narc because I was 4 years older and in community college – a thought that was easily proven false.
Since they both graduated high school in 1969, they entered BCC a year before I did, so they were now in their last semester. I made sure Hussey passed statistics. They both graduated and Frank continued at Ramapo College, where I joined him a year later, and Hussey got more into his band (Pegasus).
Amongst the three of us, it seemed obvious that Hussey would be the only one to see success in the music industry as Frank would probably be teaching history somewhere and I would be experimenting in a chem lab.
Life completely flipped that script. Frank became well-known on WFMU, I was published all over the world in music magazines, books, etc., and Hussey became………………a nurse!
So what did we look like back then? Sometime in the last 10 years or so, Frank sent me a picture that was taken in 1971 in the woods behind Ramapo:
I don’t know the people on the ends, but the middle three are (l-r), John and Cindy Cavanaugh (I’m not sure if they were married when this was taken) and Frank, who appears to be scratching his lip or something. He must be scratching awfully fast because I think I see smoke, which seems to be amusing Cindy.
I don’t have any Hussey pix from then, so I’m including one I took that’s in my 1976 post:
The only pic of me I have from 1971 is in “The Other Career” post, which I’ve just lifted for your convenience and chuckles:
During the early 70s, Frank and I engaged in purple-haze-tinged mental bonding rituals – OK, ridiculous trivia – that had us laughing hysterically when both of us knew what seemed like hundreds of the exact same, super-obscure things. I can only recall one, probably because it seemed like the most obscure one, and because whoever asked it was POSITIVE that the other would have no way in hell of knowing the answer…………..but we did:
What was the odd, baseball-sounding name of Dondi’s adoptive grandfather?
Does anyone here even know who Dondi is? (without looking it up…………..we couldn’t)
The answer is found at the end of this post.
Back to our show:
So the concerts continued and Frank and I got our degrees in 1973 and 1974, respectively. In ’73, I (re)started my “Other Career”, but 3 days before that began, I shot my first concert (Led Zeppelin, from the 4th row orchestra on the center aisle. F&E had seats 3 and 4). Those two careers ran parallel for 6 years until R’n’R Photography knocked Chemistry out for good.
In 1974, Hussey and I moved into a house in Leonia with some other people and that lasted a whole 6 months. In ’75, we moved into a house in River Edge with the guitarist from another band and his wife……………and Hussey’s cats (see ’75 and ’76 posts for that).
Also in ’75, Frank and Elaine got married on August 1!
I decided to shoot it, but did TERRIBLY! Below is the ONE picture I managed to salvage recently and it took a lot of Photoshopping to make it come out only THIS bad:
I’m guessing there was an official event photographer who shot all the guests sitting at their tables because I’ve had this print of me and Debbie – who I met in ’74 – for years. It’s not a sharp print, but we both looked good, so I did what I could with it:
I have a confession to make to those of you who don’t know me. If that’s you and you’re reading this, chances are you’re a WFMU devotee and really into Frank’s show.
I wasn’t. I’m one of those slugs who was SO knocked out by hard rock guitar that my devotion to it has never wavered and my basic tastes have never changed. I’m still 16 in that regard and if no one’s looking, I may try to sneak in a little air guitar. I DO like lots of other things – I’m not Beavis OR Butt-head, you know – but I’m also not Frank’s musically-identical twin. We all have our little niches and mine just happens to have nice hard edges (but I DO love XTC’s “Black Sea” album).
But Frank DID influence me in a couple of major areas – the first one being Bruce Springsteen. I had listened to some of the first two albums and yawned.
“No, no! You have to see him live! It’s like night and day!” is what I heard for the next two years. “Yeah, yeah…………”
Finally, the stars aligned 15 days after F&E’s wedding. We had tickets to BOTH shows at the Bottom Line on August 16! If I recall correctly, 5 of us went: F&E, me and Debbie and John Cavanaugh (the 16th was Cindy’s due date, so she couldn’t make it).
Here are the fronts and backs of my ticket stubs:
Here’s a trivia question for you: I have a Bottom Line ticket stub from 4 days later – August 20, 1975. Guess what future E Street Band member was the headliner.
(Hint: NL at the BL)
The Bottom Line seats 400, plus standing room. Of course, the line outside the venue was long and we wound up in the back half of the club. But – except for seats behind the support columns – there really were no bad seats there. Everyone could see (and I could shoot!).
Frank was right – it was a great show. I was hooked and psyched for the second show – especially since most of it would be on my birthday, August 17.
The problem at the Bottom Line if you had tickets to both shows was that EVERYONE had to exit the club after the first show and get on line again – a line that started forming before the first show began and would be SUPER long by the time we exited the club.
What to do?
I had an ace up my sleeve. I was friendly with Donna Stewart, the head waitress. I probably told her that it was my birthday and she gave me the best present ever: she told us to stay while the club emptied and then said to grab whatever table we wanted up front…………ANY table!
I didn’t want dead center because I’d wind up with a lot of shots of Bruce with the mic (and mic stand) in his face, so I picked just right of center on Miami Steve’s side.
While the back half of the club had small round tables, the front section had several what looked like very long tables (actually 4 or 5 end-to-end rectangular tables that each sat 2 people across from two others) that began at the stage and went straight back perpendicularly. The net effect was that each row looked like one very long table.
I took a picture before the people on line were let in:
Elaine and Debbie are right against the stage, with Elaine being closest to Bruce (he later fell in her lap during the show!) and Debbie would be facing him directly. Frank’s next to Elaine (and holding one of my lenses). You can see my seat next to Debbie. I would also be facing Bruce. And you can also see the 4-person rectangular table. Picture 4 or 5 of them end-to end, multiply that by 10 or 20 and you’ve got an idea of what the front seating of the Bottom Line looked like.
I searched all over online and could not find a Bottom Line seating chart that would have made this explanation a lot easier. The only thing I could find that might give you some semblance of an idea of what it all looked like is this undated/uncredited Bottom Line picture of a LaBelle performance:
The guy who’s directly below the tambourine is sitting where I think Debbie might have been (which would make me the bald guy sitting next to him). In the back left is standing room by the bar.
So – if the first show was great, you can imagine what a total knockout the second show was! Thanks to Frank (and especially Donna!), this was probably the second-best birthday show of my life (the best one has to be when the moment I turned 22 was the same moment that the Who hit the stage at Woodstock – exactly 5:00am on August 17, 1969. What a blast THAT was!).
Ten days after making this post, I came across two Peter Cunningham images I had never seen before:
1. Remember the “he-fell-in-her-lap” comment above? Here it is. You can see Elaine laughing on the left as John Cavanaugh inches closer with his camera:
While Elaine had been aware of that photo, she (and I) were completely unaware that a photo existed with her AND Frank!
This is a great find!
One last note from this show: this picture from that show – taken by Peter Cunningham – ran in Rolling Stone when the 30th Anniversary Edition of Born To Run came out.
Guess what guy sitting next to Debbie (not shown) I circled in red. This is the birthday gift that keeps on giving…………..and it’s all due to Frank (and, of course, Donna – more on her later). By the way, that might be John Cavanaugh above Bruce’s headstock (I’m sure someone will let me know).
In 1976, Frank started at WFMU, I bid adieu to Debbie and said hello to a blonde.
The other instance in which Frank was a major influence occurred when he turned me on to The Uncle Floyd Show. Trivia: Did y’all know that he and Floyd were born on the same day?
I was not familiar with the show at all when Frank invited me to accompany him to a UFS taping in West Orange in 1977. When we walked in, all the cast members were on one side of the studio and we were on the other. We were being eyed suspiciously for the entire time and no one came over to talk to us. It was VERY uncomfortable and it didn’t make me want to invest my time with this bunch.
On a related note, Hussey moved out of the River Edge house around this time (or maybe it was in ’76). He wound up back in his hometown of New Milford.
One day, I got a call from him, inviting me over to see his new place and also meet some guy on a different floor of his residence who had something new and exciting that few other people had – CABLE TV!
I went over and met this rather rotund gentleman who didn’t say much and that was the end of that.
As time went on, I started getting into the UFS and by the time the show got to perform at the Bottom Line in 1979, I was interested enough to go and shoot it.
I also shot a couple of personal appearances by Floyd and cast and got to know some of them well. This was 180 degrees from my initial encounter with them in 1977.
One of the cast members – a guy named Scott – was a rotund guy who lived in New Milford. “Omigod! YOU live where Hussey does?” “Yeah.”
By ’82, I was the show’s official photographer, shooting all the studio tapings and live shows………and all the pictures for their one album.
Since so many bands – including some big ones – visited the show, it was a unique opportunity to get shots that no other photographer could get. This benefitted the show, especially when I got them in a bunch of national rock magazines at the time when the show (for a short time) became nationally-syndicated. Again, visit my site and look under “U” for 94 UFS pix and stories, including David Bowie, who showed up at a UFS Bottom Line show and later wrote a song about the show (“Slip Away”). If you need more incentive, that story also includes something you may not know about John Lennon in connection with the show!
Obviously, this whole thing was a blast and I owe it all to Frank.
(Note to Hussey: years after the fact, Scott Gordon told me that he and his wife still refer to my visit to you and him in New Milford as “the Two Bobs Night”………….even though nothing transpired. I’ll take it.)
Getting back on track………
On a couple of rare occasions, Frank and I teamed up as a photographer/journalist unit. The most interesting one occurred in October, 1977, somewhere on 57th St in Manhattan when he interviewed City Boy. We were both friendly with a helpful Atlantic Records promo guy named Roy Rosenberg, who arranged the interview (and sat in on it).
I took pictures while Frank interviewed the 3 band members. At the head of the table, Roy looks a bit zoned out. He appears to be either hiding his poker hand or about to play a harmonica – or maybe something else.
A slight detour side note about Roy Rosenberg:
Frank knew him before I did, so that eased my introduction to Roy. I usually dealt with publicity departments, but on occasion, promo departments would have some interesting assignments for me.
I happened to be visiting Roy at Atlantic one day in 1978 when he told me he didn’t have much time because he had to deliver a new single to radio stations, but asked me if I wanted to hear the new ROLLING STONES SINGLE before every DJ in New York City – including Scott Muni at WNEW-FM – heard it.
Geez – you have to ask?
Believe it or not, I was somewhat disappointed because the song turned out to be “Miss You” – the Stones’ entry into disco, which – as we all know – SUCKS!
Back to City Boy:
After I took the above picture, I took two more right after it. In the first one, I took a group shot of the band. In the very next frame, Frank and I are out on 57th St. He recognizes someone and runs right over to get an autograph. I’m not sure if he told me right away who it was, but in any event, I made sure to take a picture of the encounter.
It was Joseph Heller, the author of Catch-22.
Two months later, Frank is grabbing my new blonde GF’s head at NYU as we attend a really good Mink DeVille/Eddie and the Hot Rods show.
I found the negatives for our penultimate event of 1977 in a plastic neg sheet labeled “Christmas” “WFMU” “1977”. I don’t know that these were taken ON Christmas……..it was probably some sort of party at the station, but there are hardly any people in the images, so maybe Frank was just doing a show circa Christmas and had some friends in.
This friend’s name is Elaine O’Toole:
And here’s Frank hard at work:
Of course, the ULTIMATE event of 1977 was on the year’s last evening: the First Annual Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes New Year’s Eve show at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic…………..you know – the show that surprise guest Bruce and his boys took over.
By this time, I was the Capitol’s house photographer and was given 4 tickets on the left-center aisle in the second row so I could work AND enjoy the show with Frank and Elaine and the blonde GF.
I’ve written extensively about what went on that night, but you’ll have to go to http://bobleafe.com/ and scroll down to the Springsteen listing to read all about it and see the pictures.
The following year, WNEW-FM held its annual Christmas concert at Avery Fisher Hall to benefit United Cerebral Palsy on 12-4-78. The DJs would accept wrapped toys around a lobby Christmas tree from ticketholders, who would get to meet their favorite DJ.
I found the neg for this pic of our favorite couple as a loose single frame, so there was no indication what year it was taken, where it was taken or what occasion would cause Frank to wear a tie:
Eventually, I found a contact sheet that had this image, but still without any information…………EXCEPT for one more numerically-sequential image attached to it that was very dark, grainy and seemingly unrelated. I spiffed it up as much as I could:
This is the Capitol Theatre’s lobby and – right in the middle – breaking down what appears to have been a party setup is the highly recognizable form of promoter John Scher. That still doesn’t give any useful info, however.
Up on the walls above the entry doors on the right, I can see Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes posters, but New Year’s Eve isn’t mentioned on them.
But “Hearts of Stone” IS and that’s the clue. That album was released in 1978 and John didn’t use the lobby for partying very often, but I KNOW he did for the ’78 NYE show because I have a picture of me eating a turkey leg in that party lobby at that show, SO I’m confident that the above F&E picture was taken at the Capitol at the 1978 SSJ NYE show, with Elaine resplendent in her raccoon jacket and Frank (gasp!) wearing a tie.
On November 7, 1980, I picked up Frank in Lodi and took him to see the B-52s and Kid Creole and the Coconuts at the Capitol Theater. This was taken on the way home. Looks like he enjoyed it:
Also in 1980, I found out that Abbie Hoffman was going to be interviewed by Bob Fass (to musical accompaniment by former Blues Project member Danny Kalb?) at WFMU on December 19. Since this was four days after I had done a so-so shoot with Abbie when he appeared on the Robert Klein Radio Hour, I wanted to see if I could get some better shots of him at FMU.
Frank’s not in any of the FMU shots, so I guess he wasn’t there, but I’m sure he facilitated my being there.
Both of these shots are on my site, so I’m just gonna add the site captions to these images:
|Bob Fass (WFMU-FM), Danny Kalb and Abbie Hoffman|
|Abbie Hoffman and Chuck Russo (WFMU-FM)|
I don’t know about Chuck, but I’m happy with what I got.
In 1981………F&E visited me at my apartment. We took some fooling around shots of a pretty-pregnant Elaine, so………..
Ladies & Gentlemen, I give you the O’Toole family: Frank, Elaine…………….and Meghan:
Regarding that last shot (and PLEASE don’t tell Meghan), she was the second of fraternal twins to pop out. The first one was WAY early and arrived in my living room, much to her father’s – and my – shock. Elaine seems cool with it. And if Meghan complains to me about revealing this, I’m gonna change “fraternal” to “identical”.
In 1982, Frank and I teamed up again – this time at Hitsville in Passaic Park, where Frank interviewed Jimmy O’Neil of Fingerprintz:
In 1985, Frank and our friend Mike O’Connor dropped by my apartment. At one time in the early 70s, Frank, Mike, Hussey and I all worked at Blue Cab in Teaneck. The Blue Cab story is part of the “The Other Career” post that I keep mentioning:
Small shout-out to Hussey…………..during my massive photo search, I found this picture of him that I took in 1985. I was at Madison Square Garden to shoot a Bryan Adams show when I saw someone in the loge (first ring) trying to get my attention between acts. Guess who?
Even in the early 70s when we all thought Hussey would be the rock star of the group, I never imagined that I’d be photographing him at the Garden.
Jumping ahead to 1989……….
Elaine was pregnant again in 1986, but I never got to shoot enlarged E, so when the family visited in 1989, I got the sisters together in the chair that Elaine patched multiple times over the years. Corinne was 3 and Meghan was 8.
In the second shot, Corinne looks like she’s wondering what’s with the two photobombers on the sides.
In the first two shots, Meghan appears to have it in for the other family females (and Corinne seems to have eyes in the back of her head in the second one), but in the end, they are loving (and fun-loving) sisters:
1992 was the last year of my R’n’R photo career. I had an upcoming night shoot on my roof scheduled with Dee Snider’s new band (with an old name): Widowmaker. I knew that because I had shot Ariel Bender’s Widowmaker in 1977.
I had recently come up with a new (and simple) back-lighting technique that I hadn’t tried out yet and F&E volunteered to be the guinea pigs.
I’m glad they did because it actually came out better than the Snider one did. It’s also my last photo of F&E and – of course – my favorite.
Late 1992 additions: I found these two (and a few others that you’ve already seen) when I finally had a chance to go through a few thousand “uncategorized” color slides.
I have NO idea where the first one was taken and Frank has NO idea why I suddenly called him a hoser. The last one was taken early in our rooftop shoot – WAY before my favorite one above. They looked cute, so here it is:
I didn’t see much of them in the ensuing years, but Frank and I talked on the phone and kept up. I’d pick up the phone and hear a low, semi-drawn-out “Leafe” (he knew Hussey first, so that was “Bob”).
When email came into play, that was another useful communication tool until this year when I knew something was up because he didn’t reply to my emails.
Fortunately, the last two emails I received from him were short and sweet and ones I’ll treasure forever.
In the first one – from last September – he replied to my notification of the posting of “The Other Career”. All I had written was “Few know, fewer care…………” and gave the link.
This last one was a reply to a greeting on his last birthday:
In case his reply is too small to read:
Endnotes: A “more on that later” that I didn’t want to forget. Our Bottom Line savior at the Springsteen shows – Donna Stewart – has been Donna Diken for the last three decades. Dennis Diken, of course, is the Smithereens’ drummer and was a very good friend of Frank. I don’t have their contact information, but I hope that someone who does will forward the link to this post to them.
Oh yeah – Dondi! His adoptive grandfather’s baseball-sounding name was “Pop Fligh”. For more info on that comic strip:
And here is the obituary as it appeared in The Record on May 5, 2019:
Frank was just a great guy and the one unique thing I can say about him is that I don’t remember ever having a serious argument or difference of opinion with him during the entire 48 years that I knew him.
I don’t think I can say that about anyone else I’ve known for a tenth of that time.
This man was a true friend…………… to. the. end.
Rest in peace, Frank.
Please feel free to use the comments section to express any feelings or remembrances.