Tag Archives: Michael Bolton

Tributes Pour In For Sally White

Sally White was not an internet person. She much preferred interacting with people, face to face.

But when the longtime, much-loved owner of Sally’s Place — and before that, manager of Klein’s record department, and Melody House worker — died of cancer yesterday at 88, every online platform was filled with memories.

Generations of Fairfield County men and women (and teenagers) were Sally’s customers — and friends. She influenced literally tens of thousands of us. She opened our ears — and our minds and souls — to all kinds of music.

And she opened her heart to us.

Everyone has a Sally White story. Here are 2 of  my favorites. The first is from Drew McKeon. A Staples High School class of 2000 graduate, he’s spent the past several years touring the world with fellow Westporter Michael Bolton. Sally is a big reason why.

So sad to say goodbye to my old friend, Sally White. I’ll never forget the hours spent sitting one on one, listening to her stories of seeing the greats live (Sinatra, Hendrix, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Coltrane, Dylan, Buddy Rich, Miles), and how much our town had changed since she came to Main Street in 1954.

The wonderful Sally White

She sold me the first jazz albums I ever bought (“Kind of Blue”, “Speak No Evil,” “The Real McCoy,” Jarrett Trio “Live at the Blue Note”), and shook her head every time I came in for the latest Zorn Tzadik release.

I bought my first copy of “Purple Rain” there, and Tom Waits’ “Mule Variations,” and “Bright Size Life,” as well as every album Bill Frisell, Alison Krauss and Belá Fleck released from 1995-2014. I got Nirvana “Unplugged” there too.

She told me the same story about the guy offering to buy her Sinatra poster for $1000 (even though she had 2!) every time I came in, and regaled me with childhood tales about a shy and gentle Horace Silver.

She felt so guilty about declining invites to my high school shows that she gave me a gig playing standards with a quartet outside the shop during the Memorial Day parade.

I cringed every time she cut open a CD so haphazardly, the X-acto knife lunging in towards her abdomen. I’d tell her not to rip the cellophane just so I could obsess over the Winter&Winter packaging. “Hey, they don’t call it Sally’s for nothing — my store, my rules!”

Sally doing what she loves most: interacting with one customer. Another browses behind her.

She sold me “Innervisions” and Maceo’s “Life on Planet Groove” and “Babylon By Bus,” and gave me “Appalachia Waltz” for my 15th birthday. She stuffed 2 copies of Downbeat in my bag with every purchase, and tuned in to every episode of the WWPT radio show I hosted with Ted Thompson. My obsessive love for Joni and Edgar Meyer was born and fostered at 190 Main Street.

I, like so many other local musicians, am so thankful to have had Sally recognize and encourage my unquenchable thirst for music of all styles at a young age. I always thought it was so cool that I got my first Miles record from the same badass lady that a young Scofield did, a couple decades before. (I got a shitload of Sco records from her, too.)

Perhaps more than anything, I’ll always remember skimming through her prized postcard collection from the great Adam Nussbaum. He, years prior, was one of “Sally’s Kids” too.

At the time, I couldn’t fathom ever actually going to places like Malta, Cairo or Shanghai — let alone, getting paid to play drums there. But I knew I wanted to more than anything, and she assured me I would “be out there soon enough.”

I hope Blue Eyes is singing one for my gal Sal tonight!

——————————————

And this, from Jim Motavalli. He graduated from Staples in 1970 — 30 years before Drew McKeon — but he too will remember Sally White forever.

With 2partners, I started a record store in Fairfield, circa 1975. It was called Trident, because there were 3 partners — one of whom was my twin brother. The 2 of us had just graduated from the University of Connecticut, where we took not one business course.

We had a plan — we would pioneer the sale of used records in Connecticut — but beyond that we didn’t have a clue how to set up and stock a store. Fortunately, we had a friend, Sally White, then running the record haven at the downtown Westport department store Klein’s. Far from stocking just the hits, Sally made sure that the store was bulging with jazz — including albums from players who lived in the area: Dave Brubeck, Gerry Mulligan (and, later, McCoy Tyner and Max Roach).

We called her, and she came over to talk business. Despite the fact we were planning to compete with her, Sally held forth all evening on all aspects of dealing with suppliers, getting credit, buying a cash register, handling returns, and was endlessly helpful.

I was thought of this episode on learning that Sally White died this week. She had closed her store, Sally’s Place (which succeeded her long stint at Klein’s) in 2013 — a victim of the digital revolution. I’m sure not being able to greet her many friends took something out of her — she’d sold records for 57 years!

After describing the recent revival of vinyl, Jim concludes:

Goodbye Sam Goody’s, Goodbye Tower Records. It’s not likely I’ll mourn the passing of these corporate superstores.

But I will shed a tear not so much for Sally’s Place, but for Sally herself. A real mensch.

(Click here to read Jim Motavalli’s full story, on his music blog Territorial Imperatives.)

Westporters Remember Ben E King

Ben E King — who died yesterday in New Jersey at 76 — is being remembered for his smooth baritone, debonair style and classic love songs.

He was also, apparently, a really great man.

In 2013, Drew McKeon was a drummer with (coincidentally, fellow Westporter) Michael Bolton. They were booked for a charity gala at the Bushnell in Hartford.

King performed 2 songs with them: “Stand By Me” and “Save the Last Dance for Me.”

The legendary solo artist and former Drifters front man shook everyone’s hand with a smile, and repeated their names. “He was elegant and dapper,” recalls McKeon, a 2000 Staples grad. “We all immediately liked him.”

During a “Stand By Me” sound check, one of McKeon’s bandmates asked King which guitar part to play. “Whatever you’re doing sounds fantastic,” he replied. “Play whatever you feel. You’re a wonderful musician — all of you are.”

McKeon calls King “easily one of the sweetest and most humble people I’ve ever played with.”

The star told McKeon “the incredibly personal back story of wheelchair-bound Doc Pomus. He was inspired to write ‘Save the Last Dance For Me’ after watching his brother twirl Pomus’ newlywed wife from the sidelines at his own wedding.

“We’d done our homework on the tunes, so it went well,” recalls McKeon, a 2000 Staples grad. “But he acted as if it was better ‘service’ than he deserved. He was super gracious. He inspired me to play my best for him, like a true Little Drummer Boy.”

McKeon is not the only Staples alum with memories of King. Ryan O’Neill — who graduated in 1997 — did “Clash of the Choirs” with (again) Michael Bolton, and performed with the legendary artist.

“Mr. King was a generous and kind man,” O’Neill recalls. “He offered stories about his songs and his life. It was an honor to share the stage with such an icon.”

Ryan O'Neill and Ben E King

Ryan O’Neill and Ben E King

Drew McKeon Rocks Michael Bolton’s World

Growing up in Westport, says Drew McKeon, you see Michael Bolton as a local guy.

But when you walk through the airport with him in a place like Shanghai — with people “crying, freaking out” — you realize he’s an international sensation.

Michael Bolton and Drew McKeon in Singapore.

Michael Bolton and Drew McKeon in Singapore.

Drew has walked through plenty of airports with Bolton. They’ve  just finished a 9-month world tour. From Copenhagen, Warsaw, Bucharest, Kiev and Minsk through Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur and Seoul’s Olympic Stadium, the Staples Class of 2000 graduate — and NYU religion and history major — has served as Bolton’s drummer. It’s been an awesome, rewarding — and eye-opening — experience.

In Japan, Drew says, “people tried to break into our dressing room. They passed old records and t-shirts through the window to sign. It was crazy.”

It’s no coincidence that Bolton hired a fellow Westporter. His daughters knew Drew when he played with Ryan O’Neill at local spots like Viva’s. They brought their dad; he liked when he heard.

When Bolton’s drummer left abruptly last May, he called Drew. The drummer — who’d cut his touring chops with Hall & Oates — had a week to learn 40 songs.

Drew McKeon in action.

Drew McKeon in action.

The past year has been a whirlwind of experiences. They played a billionaire’s wedding in Nice. They wore tuxes at Monaco’s Sporting Club, where a velvet curtain opened and the prince walked in. In Belarus, they performed with the Presidential Orchestra at the Imperial Palace.

On travel days, if the 15 to 20 band members and crew got to a city early, Drew took the rest of the day to explore. “Whether it’s Wheeling, West Virginia or Paris, I try to get out,” he says. “There’s not a lot of time, but you learn to be efficient. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved to travel. To do it on someone else’s dime is cool.”

The traveling party — a mixture of ages — got along well. “Everyone is so nice,” Drew says. “I’ve toured with bands that have real ego clashes. It’s not easy being together 24 hours a day.”

Drew McKeon backing up Michael Bolton.

Drew McKeon backing up Michael Bolton.

After almost a year on the road, Drew got another gig. He and singer Darian Cunning have performed on St. Barts since 2005, building a Bolton-like fanatic following. They play 3 hours a night, 6 nights a week — and spend the rest of the time on the beach.

“It’s like summer camp, with Victoria’s Secret models and billionaires,” Drew says.

A soundcheck in Tokyo.

A soundcheck in Tokyo.

He’s started to branch out. He played drums on “America’s Got Talent,” and hopes to do more TV.

The touring life is not easy — “I’m tired from traveling, but not of it,” he says — but it’s a life Drew McKeon loves.

With Michael Bolton’s new autobiography out, as well as a Motown tribute record, there’s sure to be more shows ahead.

And more chances to have crazy fans try to break into his — and Drew McKeon’s — dressing room.

(Click here if your browser does not link directly to YouTube.)