He sells mortgages by day, and plays rock and roll by night. And, Ellwood City, Pennsylvania native Donnie Iris finds similarities in both.
"You're working with people," says Iris. "When I'm on stage I'm up there selling our music. At my company (SIMCorp) I'm selling mortgages." He gets a kick out of both.
"Oh, yes. This is my baby," he says of SIMCorp, in which he is in partnership with two friends in the Beaver Falls area. He now spends a lot of time on the golf course and talking to people. He says the name recognition has been fantastic for him when he is calling on a client. Some react in disbelief when he tells them he is Donnie Iris. "But I tell them that's who I am," says Iris, 55, who is enjoying his dual life as a proud new grandfather and a primal scream ("Ah! Leah!") rocker. "As long as people come to hear us, that's what keeps us going. Even to this day, most shows are sold out," says Iris.
He still enjoys the one-on-one experience of playing live, "It's an experience you can't get in a recording studio. There's a feeling you get live from people that's just wonderful," he says.
Iris has not lost his love for music. "I've loved it since I was a kid," says the former drummer in the Ellwood City High School band. "There is always something out there new that comes along that keeps me interested and fascinated with music. It's just a love I've had ever since I can remember." Live shows are what continue to keep people embracing his music, says Iris. "The band is an excellent live band. And what we record is 99 percent our own material," he adds.
"People who come see us should expect a good, lively, energetic, rock and roll show, and they should expect to get involved," says Iris, whose new album is Donnie Iris And The Cruisers Live! At Nick's Fat City. It was recorded in the Pittsburgh club of the same name, produced by longtime Cruiser Mark Avsec.
"We had a lot of people encouraging us to do something live," Iris says. "It sounds like you are right there in the club with us. Nick's is a great place to play."
Iris' material has touched the rock and roll and pop hearts of listeners for decades, starting with Iris' years in Pittsburgh's Jaggerz. He wrote their #1 national hit, "The Rapper," and continues to perform it today. Fronting Donnie Iris And The Cruisers through four national album releases for MCA, Iris hit with songs such as the Top 20 charting "Ah! Leah!," with its energetic scream by Iris, and "Love Is Like A Rock." The "Ah! Leah!" video became a favorite on MTV.
"When you write a song and put it down on tape, you hope something happens. But it's hard to tell what will strike a chord in people. For some reason these songs did," he says.
Of that famous scream heard 'round the world in "Ah! Leah!," he says it is just something he learned to do. "I used to listen to Marvin Gaye. He used to do that sort of thing with his voice," he explains. "I found a spot in my vocal chords where I could do that, too. If you do it and it sounds good, and it's on, hey, it's cool."
And what of the great debate, does Donnie Iris look like Buddy Holly, or did Holly look like Iris?
"The key is those glasses," says Iris, laughing.
"I was a big fan of Buddy Holly as a kid," he says. "I've worn the glasses since high school. I just happen to still be wearing basically the same style. They've become a trademark."