Doin’ Dunmore: The ballad of Don Reese

The Fortunes Band in 1959 included, from left: Stan Svetovich, Don Reese, the late Jimmy Keese, Jack Skosko, and Eddie Switala.

By Steve Svetovich

Sometimes stories have happy endings. And miracles do happen.

Take the case of Don Reese, for instance.

You would have to be an old time musician from this area between the age of 70 to 100 to remember Don Reese.

And there are those still living who do, the oldest being Gene Dempsey at 97.

Then there is my dad. Don Reese was a guitarist in my dad’s band, The Fortunes, in the 1960’s and early 1970’s.

As a matter of fact, it was Reese who named the band, “The Fortunes” on the way to a band job in the Pocono Mountains.

The band remains “The Fortunes” to this day, with my dad still as the leader and drummer.

The older group of musicians besides my dad and Dempsey who remember Reese includes Jimmy Tigue, Billy Woelkers, Jack Skosko, Frannie Burne, Roger Finnerty, Sam Cortese, Paul Ardito and Eddie Switala, who still performs in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

My dad, Switala, Skosko, the late Jimmy Keese and Reese were all a part of The Fortunes as far back as 1959 and into the 1960’s.

Some of the old-time musicians who passed away in recent years and remembered Reese include Art Stanton, Johnny Cognetti, Teddy Munchak, Johnny Cardona, Pete Pusateri, Chuck Morris, Joe Chesarini, Teddy Mileski and Wally Aikens.

Reese was raised in the Pinebrook section of Scranton. He quit high school to care for his ailing mom, so his father could work. He had no other family.

A self-taught musician, he started playing guitar at local clubs in the Scranton and Dunmore area.

He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1957 where he served in the band. Upon returning, he joined The Fortunes performing in Downtown Scranton clubs at “The Strip” on Lackawanna Avenue and at resorts in the Pocono Mountains.

Reese was known as a character who enjoyed his beer. And did he enjoy his beer! Short and round in stature, he had a thick mustache and a jolly, jovial nature.

Every local musician had a story to tell about his drinking exploits and some of the situations it would place the band in. Reese didn’t have a driver’s license, so other band members would pick him up for a job. He was kind of a simple guy who liked to read comic books, drink countless beers and strum his guitar. He had no other income other than the money he made playing.

He called a gig in The Poconos “a five quart job” meaning he would have time to drink five quarts of beer while getting a ride to the job.

He was a splendid guitar player and had a habit of tapping his foot to the music while performing on stage. The combination of foot tapping and alcohol sometimes led to his falling off the corner of the stage. But that was the nature of Don Reese, the character fellow musicians became accustomed to. He still played a whale of a guitar and was likeable. The key was to get through a job without him stumbling, falling, or passing out on the floor.

So what happened to Don Reese?

Jimmy Tigue, a talented piano player and singer who once appeared on “The Tonight Show,” went to San Diego, California, with Reese in the mid 1970’s. The pair went to visit Pete Barbutti, a stand-up comic from Scranton, in Las Vegas before heading to San Diego. Barbutti was a regular on the late Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” and even served as a substitute host. Barbutti, 88, still performs and lives in Las Vegas.

Following the visit with Barbutti, the pair also stopped in Utah before settling in San Diego. Tigue and Reese began performing in local clubs, but Reese’s drinking habits got them in trouble and soon Tigue was performing alone.

“He was there about a year with me,” said Tigue. “The last time I saw him was on a street corner in San Diego. He had been drinking and said he was going to hitchhike with his guitar to Tijuana, Mexico. I saw him with his thumb out and off he went. I never saw or heard from him again.”

My dad and Woelkers soon after received letters from Reese stating he was hitchhiking to Tijuana, Mexico. That was in 1975.

Tigue soon after returned to Scranton and performed with The Fortunes and other local bands.

Tigue, Woelkers, my dad and the other musicians never heard from Reese again. There were no letters or phone calls from him. There was no known address. He had no family left to ask.

All the local musicians had left were countless stories about Reese. As the years went on, many thought something may have happened to him in Mexico. Attempts were made to find him in the advent of the Internet age, but there were no records or traces of him. Many feared he had passed.

So for decades, the local musicians thought Don Reese was gone for good.

Until late last month.

My sister Denise was on a Pete Barbutti fan page website on Facebook. She suddenly noticed a Don Reese sent the fan page a text asking how Barbutti was and stating he was a former classmate and band mate with him as a teenager in Scranton.

My sister felt a chill. Could this be the Don Reese who has been missing and not heard of for nearly five decades?

She showed me the text which we noticed came from a woman’s Facebook page. The woman’s first name is Linda. We searched her Facebook page and then googled her name. We found about four phone numbers.

First my sister communicated with Linda via private messages. She confirmed he was the Don Reese from Scranton and that he was even asking how my dad was doing. She was helping to care for him in San Diego.

I called Linda on one of the numbers. She answered and told me she had been messaging my sister back and forth. She told me Don Reese was sitting right next to her and wanted to talk to my dad. I spoke to Don first. I had not seen him since I was 14, but recognized his voice. He confirmed it was him and began mentioning his hometown and previous fellow band members. Then I put my dad on the line with him.

My dad thought he was dead for over 40 years. But Don Reese is alive and well at 89 in San Diego and still strums his guitar.

What he doesn’t do anymore is drink. And that probably saved his life.

He told me he quit drinking a little more than 40 years ago to turn his life around. Don told me he diligently attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for years to help keep himself sober. He has not had a drink in over 40 years.

Don said he never came back to this area or contacted his old musician friends because he was told by Alcoholics Anonymous to leave his previous life and friends in the past.

But he was sure happy to reconnect with my dad.

So for all of you old musicians still out there, Don Reese is not dead or missing in Tijuana, Mexico, like many surmised.

He is alive and well in San Diego, California. More alive than ever.

“It’s a miracle,” said my dad. “It’s hard to believe.”

Believe it.

Doin’ Dunmore: New Year’s wish list 2023

By Steve Svetovich

It’s time again for the 33rd annual New Year’s wish list for 2023.

With a pandemic lasting three years now, and a year that ended with the passing of legendary journalist Barbara Walters at 93, there is plenty to wish for in 2023.

It began with the 1991 issue of The Dunmorean. So here we go with the 2023 wish list:

A peaceful, happy and healthy year of recovery for Atty. Melanie Naro, former Dunmore Councilwoman stricken with cancer…a reversal of the 23 percent Dunmore tax increase to borough homeowners…an end to the war in the Ukraine with peace and safety for its people…an end to the COVID-19 pandemic and any other variant that mysteriously comes along…the return of the peanut stick at Krispy Kreme…more of the strawberry frosty at Wendy’s…a German Brownie from Minooka Bake Shop…the return of The Sperazza Band…Mickey Gannon’s wings…a classic Hank’s Hoagie in Green Ridge from Tommy Owens…Tommy Owens firing wiffle ball curves…former Scranton Mayor Jimmy Connor’s voice back so he can sing Johnny B Goode…a Dunkin Donuts in Forest City…a tray of pizza from McAlpine Bar and Restaurant in Avoca…Mary Tyler Moore reruns on Hulu…crum cake from Cwikla’s in Avoca…a night at The Roosey in Dunmore…Dunmore’s Joe Tomko back in politics…Barbara Eden in a Jeannie bottle at Coco Beach…Taco Bell…Green Ridge Pizza…Shania Twain anywhere…tickets to Shania Twain at Bethel Woods…a night at the Waldorf Tiki Bar…The Wannabes at the Villa Maria in West Side…less haters…less division in our country…less pot holes…a decrease in the Scranton wage tax…less taxes…breakfast at the Bucktown Diner in Dunmore…Olena serving fresh drafts at The Roosey…Dunmore’s Nibs Loughney back in politics…good health to Dunmorean publisher John Hart and his wife Maureen, editor…Keith Richards alive at 79…Mick Jagger strutting on stage and singing “Satisfaction” at 79…Ringo and his All-Star Band…an Arby’s gyro…Alyssa Milano and Tony Danza on Who’s The Boss reruns…Happy Days reruns…breakfast at Katrina’s Diner in Dickson City…Todd Helton, Jeff Kent and Jimmy Rollins in the National Baseball Hall of Fame…Kenny Anderson and Otis “O.J.” Anderson in the Pro Football Hall of Fame…Dunkin Donuts hot coffee…pizza from the Roosey in Dunmore…a chili burger from Carawanna’s in Carbondale…less divorce…much less crime…a visit with Tim Wagner at his sporting goods in Green Ridge…Rolling Rock beer…Cher…another Bob Dylan concert…Miller Genuine Draft…Bob Barker on The Price is Right at 100…Nardozzi’s Pizza in Dunmore…a night at Legends in Dickson City…Nashville’s Alyssa Lazar with a new CD and back at Crotti’s on Ash, Finnegan’s and the Rockwell VFW…Alyssa Lazar on piano singing Piano Man with my son Ryan on drums…Crown Pizza in Dunmore…my dad’s chili…a special place in music heaven for Dunmore’s Billy Arnold and Art Stanton, former sax player of The Fortunes…more band jobs for my dad, now in his 76th year of performing and leader of The Fabulous Fortunes…Nicholas Pizza in Green Ridge…a hoagie from West Side Flavas…more books written by Dunmore’s legendary Guy Valvano…another successful year for Dunmore’s Bob Walsh, chairman for the Northeast Chapter of the PA Sports Hall of Fame…breakfast at Pinky’s in Carbondale…a fresh Blue Moon draft…Thunder Road…no road rage…Jennifer Lopez anywhere…Valerie Bertinelli back on a TV sitcom…Gomer Pyle reruns…Everybody Loves Raymond…Sirius-XM Radio…more of The Mad Dog on sports radio…wings from Honeychild’s in Dunmore…Maroni’s Pizza in West Side…Laverne and Shirley reruns…Neil Young back at Montage…Brett “Gardy” Gardner getting a coaching job with the Yankees…anything from Crown Chicken in South Side…a Popeye’s chicken sandwich…Lady Gaga…dinner at Ragnacci’s in Dunmore…shrimp or chicken scampi from Joe Macciocco at the Villa Maria in West Side…a Rosanne’s Italian hoagie in West Side…Kelly’s wings in South Side…less desperate housewives…no desperate husbands…no animal cruelty…Roger Finnerty, Jimmy Tigue, Vince Parise and Billy Woelkers back with The Fabulous Fortunes…Jack Meade on sax…Tom Gavern, Firp Edmunds and Jeff Lewis on guitar…my dad on drums…good health to Dunmore’s Crime Watch head Gary Duncan…a special place in Heaven for my beloved friend and former co-worker Leah Cronauer who lost her battle with cancer…successful New York Mets and flea market seasons for my buddy Steve Gall…a night at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park…reasonable prices for Springsteen tickets…good fortune and health to my friend Jeanne Hoppel whose late dad taught me to always look at the bottle as half full… Brian Wilson back at the Kirby Center…Marie Osmond turning back the clock with Nutrisystem…the New York Knicks advancing in the playoffs…a World Series title for Aaron Judge and the New York Yankees…a solid season for the Cincinnati Reds…Dunmore’s Shannon Miele and her sister Michele rocking and dancing at the Waldorf Tiki Bar…Taylor Swift…a Pappas Pizza tuna grinder…a new gig for my son Ryan following the end of The Sperazza Band…another great summer of baseball for my son Dylan in the Tri-Valley League…a trip to Seaside Heights…the Cincinnati Bengals winning the Super Bowl…a Guiness draft…a comeback season for Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto…a trip to Santorini, Greece…more government support and funds for autism…a trip with my sons to Cooperstown, New York…Carly Simon in concert…Paul McCartney back in Hershey…Rod Stewart crooning, kicking soccer balls, doing back flips and wooing women at 78…good health to Dunmore’s Fran and Santa Burne…singing American Pie…Susanna Hoffs…Cooper’s Maryland crab bisque soup…Eric Sperazza on keyboards and singing John Lennon…Mike Sperazza on guitar singing The Stones…Jenny Sperazza on drums belting out Zeppelin and Janis Joplin tunes…my son Ryan on lead guitar singing “Gold on the Ceiling” and “Psycho Killer”…a successful basketball season for Dunmore’s Moriah Murray at Penn State…success for Holy Cross graduate Kaci Kranson in the University of Scranton basketball program…a great football season for Kevin McHale and his Dunmore Bucks…Success for Carrie Bowen Toomey as new basketball coach for the Dunmore Lady Bucks…Success for former Lady Bucks basketball coach Ben O’Brien as new coach of the University of Scranton Lady Royals.,,Taylor Swift…Lori Loughlin back on the Hallmark channel…Full House reruns…David Letterman back on TV…Welcome Back Kotter reruns…the Hawley Winterfest…Johnny Carson reruns…success and safety to my Godchild Mia as she begins her career in Florida…success to my niece Livy as she pursues her master’s degree…Dunmore’s Paul Nardozzi back in politics and his New York Giants in the playoffs…A return to good health for my great friend Tom Duggan who does great work as a pastor counseling prisoners…Nina’s wing bites in Dunmore…no more inflation…reduction in gas prices and utility bills, especially PA American Water…a Gerrity’s Supermarket ham and cheese hoagie…Madonna…a special place in Heaven for late Dunmore community activists Addie Michalek, Carmel Arnone, Blanche Shaw, Philomena Errico, Fritz Voyeck, Leonard Verrastro, Sam and Tom Cali, Billy Weller, Al Frioni, Sr; and James McHale, Sr….good health to my Aunt Annette…a special,place in Heaven for my Aunt Stella, a caregiver many years for her family who saved many hungry, stray cats…great health and treats for my cat Lola…a special place in a Heaven for my in-laws John and Elva Hoffman…continued recovery for my ex wife Beth, a cancer survivor who is winning the fight…a special place in a Heaven for my Uncles Gus, Art and Wally…a most special place in Heaven for my two grandmothers…a special place in Heaven for my sister-in-law’s parents and brother Nickie Stelmac, gone too soon…a most special place in Heaven to my mom who always told me to take a chance…good health to my brother George, his wife Maria and children George, Livy and Mia…continued success to my son Dylan, a pharmaceutical sales rep and the best center fielder and shortstop I ever saw…Sucess for his girlfriend Tiffini who will graduate from Marywood University this year…continued music success for my son Ryan, the best guitarist and musical talent I ever saw…great health and happiness to my dad and sister Denise…happiness and a new beginning for my special friend Janet…little baby ducks, old pickup trucks, tomatoes on the vine…life is short…enjoy the simple things in life…Happy New Year, everyone…

Doin’ Dunmore: Sperazza Band in its final run

By Steve Svetovich

The Sperazza Band has a Dunmore connection.

And that connection is this scribe’s son Ryan Svetovich, 23.

The irony is that this writer has been following The Sperazza Band around for the past decade or so, never thinking that Ryan would ever be a part of it all. The Sperazza Band had originally consisted of four family members, all amazingly talented musicians who took turns singing the wide assortment of classic rock the band performs.

The idea of The Sperazza Band, as narrated by its leader Eric Sperazza, started July 21, 2007. “I remember the date fondly,” said Eric Sperazza, “because it was my wedding. While I enjoyed my wedding immensely, a music conversation with my cousin Mikey sparked a really incredible music opportunity.

“My wife Jenny and I were gaining success as a duo, and Mikey, an incredible singer and guitarist, was interested in getting back into his own passion for music. Long story short, in that October of 2007 The Sperazza Band was born.

“In 2010, we got the wonderful news that Jenny was pregnant with our soon to be son Micky, so my father, also Mike, took over as my duo partner and continued for a solid 10 years.

“As The Sperazza Duo was seeing success, and the three-piece Sperazza Band with Mikey was in full swing, we got the inevitable question from fans, ‘when is your father going to play some songs with the band?’

“In 2012, The Sperazza Band gained not only another incredible voice, acoustic guitar, electric guitar and harmonica addition, but we gained the dedicated fans that followed his bands throughout the years. Still to this day, people constantly come up and tell us how they used to follow “Sidestreet,” “Stonebridge” and/or “Riverside” back in the day.

“This line-up remained until the pandemic hit, and we played our last show in October of 2020.

“During the pandemic, Mikey was offered an incredible new day job and left the band. Upon considering wrapping up the band at that point, I got a message from our friend and follower Steve Svetovich saying, ‘my son is very talented and would be interested in filling Mikey’s spot.’ In all honesty, when he told me his son was about to turn 22, I thought, ‘that will never work.’ Thankfully, he had every bit of talent Steve described, and despite his age, was just as into the classic rock style of music that made our band so popular as we were.

“Enter Ryan Svetovich, who we were so fortunate to find to get us where we are to this present day.

“Speaking of present day, I wrote with a tear in my eye and a literal and figurative lump in my throat, but after 15 years of The Sperazza Band, we will be taking a break after the end of November. Jenny and I will continue to sparingly play as our duo, but will primarily focus on time with our two sons, and time together while not on stage.

“I can’t thank Jenny enough for putting up with me all these years in music, and continuing to grin and bear my passion, even though she is naturally more talented than me, and one of the main draws of the band. Working with my father all these past years is a top five lifetime accomplishment for me. I can only hope to be able to do something close to that level with my sons.

“Mikey and Ryan are two of the most talented singing lead guitarists we ever could have asked for. Lastly, I know someone will scoop up Ryan as soon as this ends, but he will be a huge improvement to any band looking for a lead guitarist with great singing capabilities. Be sure to get out and see his insane talent over the final month.

“Most importantly and our driving force, thank you to all of you who have followed the band over these past 15 years. We went from praying that anyone would show up at the beginning, to seeing so many familiar faces show after show for so many years. You guys made the band. We just played the music.”

And such is the history of The Sperazza Band featuring the incredible talents of Eric and Jenny Sperazza, Mike Sperazza, original member Mikey Sperazza and my son Ryan. Eric plays keyboards, Mike plays guitar, Jenny is a drummer and Ryan and Mikey play lead guitar. All five sing.

Jenny sings Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin as good if not better than Joplin and Zeppelin. She literally howls while she sings in a unique style. No one does The Stones better than Mike Sperazza. And you would think John Lennon was up there when Eric does The Beatles. And no one is more precise and talented than Eric when it comes to sound and set up.

And then there is my son Ryan who my family knew had a talent for music when he sat at my brother’s piano at age five and began playing the Charlie Brown Christmas song on Christmas Day.

Ryan plays by ear and has been playing several instruments, including guitar, drums and piano since he was in grade school. He started performing publicly as a fill-in and added piece to my dad’s band, The Fabulous Fortunes, since age 14. He briefly started his own band at 18 performing in downtown Scranton clubs. He has branched out into singing, writing and composing music.

Ryan and I would like to publicly thank the Sperazza family for giving him the opportunity to perform with the best band in the area. It’s been an experience we will both treasure forever. And it helped this scribe make about 100 new friends as one of the oldest roadies in town.

Try to catch the final gigs this month of The Sperazza Band. It’s going to be a blast, but a bit sad and emotional as well. Savor all the music and the moments. You won’t be disappointed.

The remaining schedule is: Saturday, Nov. 5, West Pittston Moose Lodge, 8 to 11 p.m,; Saturday, Nov. 12, Holiday Wine Festival at Springbrook (Sperazza Duo only), 12 to 6 p.m.; Friday, Nov. 18, North Slope Pub and Eatery, Dallas, 7 to 10 p.m. (reservations recommended); Saturday, Nov. 19, Chacko’s Memory Lane Lounge, Wilkes Barre, 8 to 11 p.m.; Wednesday, Nov. 23, Polish American Veterans, Plains, 7 to 10 p.m., and the final Sperazza Band show Saturday, Nov. 26 at The Villa Maria Restaurant, ballroom, West Scranton, 7 to 10 p.m. (reservations recommended).

Mikey Sperazza will make a return appearance on the second and third last gigs as both he and Ryan will play a set on lead guitar.

The final appearance at The Villa Maria will mark a third homecoming there for Ryan who was raised in West Scranton just blocks from the restaurant. Ironically, Ryan’s mom, dad and brother Dylan dined at The Villa Maria the night before he was born over 23 years ago.