Donnie Iris is back on the stage before hometown crowd
March 20, 1981
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
By Bill Stieg, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

It's an old but fun argument, filled with hometown prejudice and unsubstantiated claims: Where is the rock 'n' roll capital of America?

New York or Los Angeles can make legitimate claims, based on the number of clubs and big name acts who perform in those cities.

But for the true spirit of rock 'n' roll, you look to the industrial heartland. Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland... and Pittsburgh.

Tonight at the Stanley Theater, Pittsburgh shows its stuff. Donnie Iris, local-boy-making-good-again, returns hom for a show that has the city's rock fans excited and curious.

Iris, former leader of the Jaggerz (and composer/singer of their big 1970 hit "The Rapper"), will no doubt get a warm welcom at the Stanley. But to make sure things are well-heated before he takes the stage, promoters Pat DiCesare and Rich Engler have lined up two other local bands, the Granati Brothers and Norman Nardini and the East Side Tigers, to play.

Both preliminary bands have strong local followings, but Iris is the main attraction. His first solo album, "Back On The Streets," is No. 61 and had a bullet until this week. A single from the album, "Ah! Leah!" is No. 41. Iris, pride of Ellwood City (Lincoln High '61), is suprised, frankly.

"I feel real fortunate," he said. "I never expected anything like this. I just wanted to do a Donnie Iris studio album - we were just hoping to get a record contract. Now I've got a good band, an exciting band live. We're just having a good ol' time."

Iris is in the midst of a lengthy tour, playing in all kinds of places - from small clubs seating 400 to 20,000-seat arenas (warming up for April Wine and Nazereth).

He admits the Stanley is special. "I haven't been back in a long time. All the gigs behind us and ahead of us, Pittsburgh is the big one. I'm really looking forward to it.

"A lot of my favorite people have played at the Stanley, and here we are headling there. Incredible."

Though the Jaggerz peaked in the late '60s-early '70s, they stayed together through 1976. "After the hit record, we just went back to the bars and started grinding again." The band members are still friends, he said, "like brothers."

Iris joined on as rhythm guitarist with the group Wild Cherry, and stayed with them through and album and a couple of tours. Then it was back to his Beaver Falls home and studio work. Last year, he and Mark Avsec, the keyboardist with Wild Cherry, decided to put together a tape.

"We had always talked about and LP, a Donnie Iris solo thing," he said. So they made the tapes and looked for a distributor. At first, the album was on Midwest National, a Cleveland label. But MCA soon picked it up and the record has sold well since.

On one track, "Ah! Leah!" Iris' voice is layered 60 times, achieving remarkable depth of sound. Iris did all the singing on the album, lead and harmony. His band includes Avsec on keyboards, Marty Lee on guitar, Albritton McClain on bass and Kevin Valentine on drums.

But even with the new band and new success, Iris retains his roots: He still sings "The Rapper."

"I hadn't done it for years, but everyone wanted to do it," he said, laughing. "I love it."