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 Post subject: The Story of Donnie Iris & The Cruisers
PostPosted: Tue Nov 14, 2017 1:20 pm 
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The Story of Donnie Iris and the Cruisers
Authorized band biography by D.X. Ferris, foreword by Jim Krenn

What do you do after you write a chart-topping single, then you don’t have a hit for a decade? Then what do you do when your next big group stops scoring hits — even though you have a loyal following, and your songs are still on the radio, but the band doesn’t pay the bills? Do you fire your friends? Hire a new producer? Recruit a new manager? Buy tighter pants? None of the above? This epic, unconventional rock biography follows Pittsburgh icon Donnie Iris from his first band to his last, documenting 50 years of life in the show-business middle class.

Donnie Iris and the Cruisers are the best-kept secret from the golden age of 1980s FM radio — if you don’t live in Pittsburgh or Cleveland. Nationally, the iconic ’Burgh band is known for classic rock/B.O.B./Jack FM/AOR radio hits like “Ah! Leah!” But nationwide radio listeners don’t know the depths of their rich, immaculately produced body of work. And nobody knows their full story: Not casual fans in California. Not diehards at sold-out Steel City concerts. And not even the band themselves. Until now. Award-winning journalist D.X. Ferris excavates the whole complicated saga in this new book, which is packed with exclusive photographs and facts.

Recommended for fans of Tom Petty: Running Down a Dream, The Grateful Dead: Long Strange Trip, American Hardcore, Born to Run, and Detroit Rock City.

Written with Donnie and the Cruisers’ extensive cooperation, this exhaustively researched oral history is easy to read and hard to put down. For the first time, it fully maps the life and times of Donnie Iris, his groups, and the Cruisers’ broad musical careers, from bar bands to all-time-great rock ’n’ roll institutions. Features dozens of classic photos by Anastasia Pantsios and Richard Kelly, plus band archives.

Donnie’s fans have been reading the short version of his story for four decades: Donnie joined the Jaggerz and wrote their biggest hit. The band broke up, and he made it back onto the charts with the Cruisers, whose string of successful singles started with 1980’s “Ah! Leah!” Five major-label albums followed, but the band kept playing, even after they moved on to other lucrative jobs, some in music, some far from it. Improbably, Donnie and the Cruisers not only stayed popular in their hometown, but became increasingly significant with each passing decade. Those are the broad strokes everybody knows. Buckle up and get ready for the long version.

Donnie and the Cruisers’ official rock biography goes beyond his biggest band’s three Billboard Top 40 singles, seven Hot 100 radio hits, and their popular MTV video. Iris, his players, and friends recall one episode after another in unprecedented detail, including…

• A foreword by Pittsburgh radio legend Jim Krenn, which examines Donnie’s role in Pittsburgh culture. Krenn co-created the WDVE comedy skits that helped revitalize Donnie’s prominence in Pittsburgh.

• The longest account of Donnie’s first major band, the Jaggerz, who scored a chart-topping single with 1969’s “The Rapper.” Colorful chapters capture a long-gone world, following the Jaggerz from their roots in the 1960s college circuit, through the ’70s supper club scene, to their first retirement show, which capped a ten-year run as Pittsburgh’s number one group (1965 through 1975).

• FINAL VERSION WILL FEATURE dozens of classic photos by Anastasia Pantsios and Richard Kelly, plus band archives.

• The Cruisers’ reflections and recollections about every album and most of their songs, from early hits like “Ah! Leah!” and the MTV favorite “Love Is Like a Rock,” to acclaimed Christmas album Ah! Leluiah!.

• Donnie’s history with regional radio institutions, including Pittsburgh’s WDVE 102.5 FM — from Jimmy and Steve in the Morning to the DVE Morning Show skits that helped revive the Cruisers’ career.

• A long look at Donnie’s close personal and working relationship with the late, great B.E. Taylor and his guitarist, Rick Witkowski.

• Profiles of the individual band members.

• A look at the boom age of the early ’80s, when five Pittsburgh bands had national contracts. (Cruisers, Joe Gruschecky & the [Iron City] Houserockers, the Granati Brothers, Norm Nardini & the Tigers, and the Silencers [who briefly featured Cruisers bassist Albritton McClain].

• Accounts of Donnie and the Cruisers’ collaborations, contributions, and hired-gun work with iconic musical figures: Gamble & Huff, the Steals Brothers, Kiss, Bon Jovi, Santana, Sonny Geraci (as Peter Emmett), the James Gang, Wild Cherry, LaFlavour, Mason Ruffner, Wolfman Jack, and many others, including a young Trent Reznor, later of Nine Inch Nails fame.

• A thorough breakdown of the Cruisers’ signature production style: The band’s blue-collar approach to their work led Donnie and Mark to toil on albums for months, recording over 100 tracks apiece for single songs.

• Tender details from Donnie’s life as a father, including visiting Kennywood Park the day after a Cruisers show and being surrounded by fans wearing his T-shirts.

• Testimony from outside experts, witnesses, and music fans.

• Excerpts from historical press clippings (some good, some not-so-hot).

• The untold story of the Cruisers’ lost album, Cruise Control.

• Previously unrevealed details about the band’s polarizing 1980s music videos.

• The deep dynamic between Donnie Iris and longtime creative partner Mark Avsec, the Cruisers’ producer, keyboardist, backup singer, and main songwriter.

• Behind-the-scenes intrigue that helps explains the Cruisers’ commercial highs and lows.

• Avsec’s outside career as a songwriter; his work includes the Santana single “Angel Love (Come For Me)” and the enduring disco hit “Mandolay” by Ohio’s LaFlavour. The book includes the full saga of Avsec’s “She Don’t Know Me,” which survived several sidelined rock projects and became Bon Jovi’s second single. (As a child, Avsec was an Ohio state accordion champion.) Avsec also played keyboards for most 21st century James Gang reunion shows.

• Drummer Kevin Valentine’s life in sound, from mixing television shows like Better Call Saul and The Good Wife to a wide-ranging musical career that includes Kiss, Mason Ruffner, Graham Bonnet, Sam Kinison, Cinderella, and psychedelic legend Todd Tamanend Clark. (Valentine played on all but one track on Kiss’ Psycho Circus album.)

• The Cruisers’ history with regional and national acts including the Pulse, Breathless, RMA, Lipstick, Fair Warning, the Innocent, David Werner, and other groups.

• Thorough accounts of the bands’ chart histories and other metrics.

• The twisting tale of the ugly lawsuit that drained the band’s resources for years, and inspired Avsec’s second career as a prominent attorney specializing in intellectual property.

onstage and off: an occasional Spinal Tap moment, brushes with mortality, and golden-era shows with Ted Nugent, UFO, Nazareth, Loverboy, and other top acts of the time. Some went more smoothly than others.

• A reconciliation of the Cruisers’ unlikely, underdiscussed Pittsburgh-Cleveland connections.


• The book is an official, authorized band biography, published by the Cruisers’ Primary Records Group.

• The Story of Donnie Iris and the Cruisers comprises 75 easy-to-read chapters, jam-packed with approximately 50 photos and images, approximately 500 pages. With full index and works cited.

• Based on over 50 years of public & private archival material and original interviews. Original interviews: Mark Avsec. Mike Belkin. Clarks frontman Scott Blasey. “Ah! Leah!” video Kim Dempster. Jagger Eugene Faiella. James Gang founder and management assistant Jimmy Fox. Carousel Records President Rick Frio. Donnie’s daughter Erin Fusetti. Crap from the Past host and author Ron Gerber. Paul Goll. WMMS/oWOW music director and author John Gorman. Alan Greene. Steve Hansen, of WDVE’s Jimmy and Steve in the Morning. Martin Lee Hoenes, a.k.a. “Marty Lee.” Back on the Streets Photographer Robert Holcepl. Donnie Iris, a.k.a. Dominic Ierace. Christmas music documentarian Mitchell Kezin. Modern-day Cruisers engineer Bill Korecky. Jim Krenn, ex-DVE Morning Show and host of No Restrictions podcast. Chris Maduri. Jim Markovich, longtime soundman for the Cruisers and the Ramones. King Cool Beer COO Gary Medved. Donnie daughter Addy Molony. Albritton McClain. WDVE Electric Lunch host Michele Michaels. Donnie Iris documentary writer and ex-WMMS DJ Mike Olszewski. LaFlavour/Fair Warning singer Steve Nervo. Skell/Whiskey High guitarist Mike Palone. Alternative Press Editor-in-Chief Jason Pettigrew. Glenn Ratner. Tommy Rich. Jimmy Roach ofJimmy and Steve in the Morning. Jimmie Ross. Sean Ross, The Ross Report radio newsletter. Chuck Statler. Kevin Valentine. Yvette “Jet” Williams. B.E. Taylor guitiarist/producer Rick Witkowski.


• Iris turns 75 in February 2018, and will celebrate with a blowout concert at Greensburg’s Palace Theater February 3.

• Donnie Iris, born Dominic Ierace, is a two-time inductee in the Pittsburgh Rock ’n Roll Legends hall of fame: as frontman of the Cruisers (2015), and with the Jaggerz (2017).

• Iris is an inductee in the Beaver Valley Musicians Union Hall of Fame (1990).

• In 2009, Iris received the Frank A. Santamaria Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame.

• Iris is Pittsburgh’s most accomplished rock artist. Qualification: Rusted Root sold more. Joe Grushecky and the Iron City Houserockers received more national press. Girl Talk was a full-blown phenomenon in the internet area. The Clarks owned the city in the 1990s, into the 21st century. But nobody had more success at radio: three top-40 hits (“My Girl,” no. 25 in May 1982; “Ah! Leah!,” no. 29 in February 1981; and “Love Is Like a Rock,” no. 37 in February 1982), and four more songs in the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart (“Tough World,” 1982; “Do You Compute,” 1983; “Sweet Merilee,” 1981; and “Injured in the Game of Love,” 1985).

• Donnie has scored Billboard Hot 100 singles with three bands: the Jaggerz (1969-70), the Cruisers (1980-1985), and Cellarful of Noise (1988, with Cruisers producer Mark Avsec).

Iris is a retired mortgage broker, active frontman, avid golfer, father of two, and grandfather of six. He was born in New Castle, and grew up in Ellwood City and Beaver Falls, which is where he lives now. He has always lived in the Beaver Valley. He graduated from Lincoln High School in Ellwood City, 1961.

• The Cruisers began collaborating in 1979, and have never gone a year without playing a show.

• The Cruisers’ body of work includes nine studio albums, three studio releases, two official live albums, and a handful of other offerings.

• The Cruisers are Donnie Iris (vocals), Mark Avsec (keyboards, background vocals), guitarist Martin Lee Hones (a.k.a. “Marty Lee”), Kevin Valentine (drums), and Paul Goll (bass). Tri-state scene veteran Albritton McClain played bass on the band’s 1980s albums.

• The Jaggerz released three studio albums between 1969 and 1975. Gamble Records released 1969’s Introducing the Jaggerz. Kama Sutra/Buddha Records released 1970’s We Went to Different Schools Together; the single “The Rapper” hit no. 1 on the Record World singles chart, and no. 2 on the Billboard chart. Wooden Nickel, owned by the late show business legend Jerry Weintraub, released 1975’s Come Again. Donnie was one of three Jaggerz frontmen, alongside Benny Faiella and Jimmie Ross. The band was managed by Joe Rock, whose clients included The Skyliners; he wrote the hit “Since I Don’t Have You” and contributed to many Jaggerz songs.

• Donnie’s songs have been covered by Slade, spun by Girl Talk, and sampled by the Game and Wiz Khalifa.

• The Cruisers’ longtime manager is Mike Belkin, the Cleveland concert impresario who has managed the James Gang, Michael Stanley, Joe Walsh, Mason Ruffner, and Tommy Bolin, among numerous others.


• Author D.X. Ferris is a longtime fan, Pittsburgh-area native, and Ohio Society of Professional Journalists Best Reporter of the Year (2011). He has two degrees from California University of Pennsylvania, a State System of Higher Education school. He has worked for Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Decibel magazine, and Cleveland Scene, among numerous other publications. His previous work includes a biography of heavy metal kings Slayer, an installment of Bloomsbury’s prestigious 33 1/3 series, and leadership/how-to/motivational books.

• “I’m a lifelong fan of Donnie and the Cruisers,” says Ferris, who grew up California, PA. “I started listening to the radio, and they were there, next to the Police and Van Halen. And they sounded just as good. I always had questions about Donnie, the Cruisers, and why their career unfolded the way it did. Now I know. After two years working on the book, the Cruisers started telling me I knew more about the band than they did. I had a lot of help, but they weren’t wrong. I thought this would be the easiest thing I ever wrote, but it was the hardest. Writing this book was like digging a railway tunnel through a mountain with a sledgehammer. Now I can’t wait to share it with other fans.”

• “Everybody knows what happens to big rock bands on tour at 2 in the morning on a Friday night,” says Ferris. “And those are colorful stories. But they’re pretty much the same. I prefer stories like Donnie and the movie That Thing You Do!: What happens when you have moderate success? How do you handle yourself? What do you do after your ride around the carousel? What are your favorite bands doing 20 years later, on a Wednesday afternoon? And what really constitutes success in the arts? Those are stories with a lot more nuance and variety.”

• Ferris on the encyclopedic approach: “The book is long for two reasons: One, it’s a long, good story. But two, part of it is a reaction to reading 40 years of press clippings, most of which tell the same short version of the story over and over again: ‘Donnie was in the Jaggerz, he got his groove back with ‘Ah! Leah!,’ he became a mortgage broker, and now he’s playing Friday night.’ As it developed, this project grew into a unique opportunity to thoroughly document the Cruisers’ deep careers.
“Whether you’re putting together a feature story, book, or documentary, you face a choice,” says Ferris. “Do you make it short, so newcomers learn the same things that big fans already know? Or do you make it long, for the people who love the subject? And I think the way I wrote it, with a lot of short chapters, makes it work for either crowd. You can skip to the part about your favorite songs, or you can spend all weekend with it. There won’t be a quiz. Flip around.”

• Assembling The Story of Donnie Iris and the Cruisers: How They Made It took two years, countless conversations, and many early mornings. Says Ferris, “The last time I checked, I had exchanged 1,165 emails with the band. I don’t even want to think about how much I spent on phone bills and turnpike tolls. As most Cruisers fans know, PennDOT’s rates are pretty steep.”

• Ferris’ copy of Microsoft Word is trying to kill him; a defective word count feature led him to write an extra 42,000 words. Ferris describes himself as “impervious to the benefits of technology,” and despite his experienced precautions, the project with plagued by technological complications. His office chair even broke. He does not own a smart phone.

• During the project, Ferris rebooted his fitness routine and lost 40 pounds — but that’s a different story.

• He still can’t decide whether “Ah! Leah!” or “That’s the Way Love Ought to Be” is the better song.


“Donnie Iris and the Cruisers were always clever dudes who made great records and had great, great songs. The guitars were loud, and the vocals were always perfect. It was a working man’s rock band with undeniable hooks and melodies.”
— Jason Pettigrew, editor-in-chief, Alternative Press

“Donnie Iris is one of the classiest rock singers who deserved widespread stardom but never achieved it. At least the public and the radio had the good sense to embrace early-’80s hits ‘Ah! Leah!’ and ‘Love Is Like a Rock.’”
—Bret Adams, All Music Guide

"I dig the summer and the sticky sheets... the traffic and the litter and the jukebox beats..."

 Post subject: Re: The Story of Donnie Iris & The Cruisers
PostPosted: Tue Nov 14, 2017 1:21 pm 
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Joined: Thu Mar 18, 2004 3:19 pm
Posts: 3099
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
This book will be available beginning on December 20th at Jergel's in Warrendale, PA at a special release and signing party.

"I dig the summer and the sticky sheets... the traffic and the litter and the jukebox beats..."

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