RIP Tommy Osh: 'A Rock 'n' Roll Kid'

Written by Scott Mervis on .


oshTommy Osh recently with Natalie KratsasIn recent days, Tommy Osh was excited to try to launch a new rock scene in a club about to open in Squirrel Hill next Friday.

The bassist had a lot of scene history to draw from, having been one of the fixtures in the Pittsburgh punk/glam scene of the ’80s and ’90s at the Decade and Electric Banana.

He was hoping to bring back that vibe to 2014 at the new Squirrel Hill Sports Bar, and had been reaching out to old friends and media throughout the week. In the wee hours of Thursday morning, the 47-year-old Osh, whose real name was Thomas Oshanick, was killed in a two-car crash near the Hot Metal Bridge on the South Side.

“More often than not, Tommy Osh was the loudest most ludicrous guy in the room,” said Ed Masley, musician and former P-G rock critic. “And this is in rooms full of really loud, totally ludicrous people. But he had this inner core of sweetness and he wasn’t shy about letting that show either. If you came up through the Oakland scene when I did, Osh was a huge, undeniably lovable part of your extended dysfunctional family.

Osh grew up in South Oakland and graduated from Central Catholic in the early ’80s with his sights set on the rock scene.

“I remember walking to Central past the Decade and going to see who’s on that board outside,” he told the PG in 2000.

He and his best friends — including Angelo Amantea and Dave Sestilli — knew the doorman at Decade and would sneak in to see bands like the Iron City Houserockers and Norm Nardini and the Tigers.

“Norman coming out with whipped cream on his face and a dress on, that’s where it started for us. The debauchery of it,” Osh said.

“He was a rock ’n’ roll kid,” said Nardini. “He was really as a kid who grew upon rock ’n’ roll. They were like the original punkers: Bobby Lamonde, Rocky Lamonde, Angelo, Dave Sestili. The rock ’n’ roll side of punk. Good kids. Tommy’s look was imposing, but as soon as you talked to him, he gave you respect. Just a cool guy. Nothing negative about Tommy.”

Sparked by Nardini’s antics, what came next for Osh and his crew was a whole slew of thrashy bands that maintained the original spirit of rock ’n’ roll, and amped it up quite a bit.

trashvegasTommy Osh (right)Osh, Amantea and Sestilli formed their first band, Outta Hand, in the early ‘80s. It evolved into The Addicts right as Osh was busy with the New York Dolls-inspired Trash Vegas with another friend from Central, Bobby LaMonde. The band released its debut album on the local garage-rock label, Get Hip.

Forced to choose between the two bands, Osh stayed with The Addicts, which featured Amantea, Sestilli and Ashtabula transplant Ray Chmielewski. The Addicts became the Social Wrecks in 1995 before disbanding and then re-emerging a year later as The Ultimatics with Osh, Amantea, Terry Thomas and Chmielewski.

Taking their name from a toilet paper dispenser — Osh’s idea — they debuted in 1997 with a 7-inch EP on the German label Dim and followed that with a full-length album on Beach/Wurmhole, a San Francisco indie label whose roster included the Suicide Machines.

The release coincided with the death of Chmielewski in Amsterdam.

“Everything was a blur. And it had no bearing, I guess. The CD coming in probably didn’t mean a thing to me compared to losing a best friend,” Osh said a few years after.
The band forged on and won the Graffiti Rock Challenge in 2000 before splitting two years later.

ultimatics“The Ultimatics were a big deal for me when I started playing in a local band,” said Pamela Simmons, frontwoman for Motorpsychos. “Tommy was always fun, sweet, and genuine with me.”

Osh’s most recent project was playing bass in Tom Kurlander & PaleBlueSound, more of a’70s style California folk-rock band led by a Pittsburgh native (brother of screenwriter Carl Kurlander) who had been living in LA. They debuted two years ago with “Sugar Burn Sessions,” an album recorded at Mr. Small’s, and were planning to pay the Sports Bar’s opening night on Friday.

KurlanderTom Kurlander & Pale Blue Sound (Osh on right)In the meantime, Osh, who is survived by daughter Phoenix and a granddaughter, worked a variety of day jobs (including recently being a delivery driver for an Asian restaurant in Squirrel Hill). On the side, he was pursuing projects in graphic design and having booked the Decade’s Alternative Mondays, he was looking forward to do the booking at this new club owned by Barry White.

Vinni Belfiore, a longtime friend and member of SouthSide Allstars, was working with Osh recently on setting up a steady Thursday night jam session at the club.

“Tommy Osh was the embodiment of rock n’ roll,” Belfiore said. “He lived it. His outlook was always positive and he was so excited about this new club gig. He had booked my band and asked me to meet with the owners about setting up a jam night for me to host. He loved the idea of bringing musicians together. He was an incredibly good soul and our music community has lost a tremendous asset in Tommy. I am devastated.”

“He was my friend from childhood,” said musician Anthony (Rocky) Lamonde. “We all grew up in south Oakland. Played in bands together and have been brothers for life. I’m devastated about this. And I miss him already. I feel crushed. He was an awesome human being.”

“It’s hard to imagine that whole intersection of the Decade and Banana scenes that happened in the ’90s without Tommy cracking everybody up at 2 or 3 or 4 a.m.,” Masley said. “He brought a lot of heart and soul to that whole scene. And he could really play that bass.”


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Arctic Monkeys returning to Stage AE in June

Written by Scott Mervis on .

There have been a lot of crummy concert announcements for the summer so far.
Here's a great one: British post-punkers Arctic Monkeys will play Stage AE Outdoors on June 17 w/ White Denim.

Tickets are $32.50 Advance/$35.00 Day of Show and go on sale Friday at all Ticketmaster locations, charge by phone at 800-745-3000 or online at

The acclaimed British band last played the venue, indoors, in October 2011 after releasing "Suck It and See." The show was one of the highlights of that year. This tour coincides with the excellent follow-up and the band's fifth album, "AM," released in September.


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A Carsickness/Five reunion (of sorts) at Howler's

Written by Scott Mervis on .


Standing Wave DennisSteveBack in the early ’80s, there wasn’t a wilder gig in town than a meeting of Carsickness and The Five.

Thursday at Howlers, members of the two legendary punk/noise bands will assemble for an evening of trance and oud music that shouldn’t require ear protection.

Carsickness members Steve Sciulli (electronic accordion) and Dennis Childers (drums) will share a stage together, debuting Standing Wave, an Americana trance duo whichthat Mr. Sciulli describes as “imagine King Crimson writing the soundtrack for the movie ‘Deliverance.’ ”

The two musicians had been part of the post-Carsickness Celtic roots band Ploughman’s Lunch in the ’90s with singer Karl Mullen, who is partly responsible for this current reunion.

“When that tsunami hit Japan a while back,” Mr. Scuilli says, “Karl was contacted by a Japanese guy whose prized collection of Carsickness albums was destroyed in the flood. He wanted to try and replace his precious records.

“At that point Karl contacted me and Dennis about a possible Carsickness reunion mainly to record new music. We were all up for it. At the same time Karl’s new Americana band The Wandering Rocks started to take off so the idea was put on hold. Dennis was coming out to see my bands Life in Balance and Raised By Machines, and we started talking about doing something together again.”

Mr. Sciulli and Mr. Childers played together last year in a brief project called The Darkroom, but Mr. Sciulli was looking to do something more intimate.

“The accordion seemed like an organic choice, so as we rehearsed with this new instrumentation we found that the other musicians we were playing with didn’t share our collective telepathy. Besides, we surprisingly had a full and big sound together. And, boy, did we have fun playing together.”

He says tonight’s gig, billed as a “Pre-Valentine’s Day Show: Music for Cynical Lovers,” will be the first time in more 30 years that ex-members of Carsickness

Ploughman’s Lunch will hook up with a Five member, in this case Tom Moran (electric oud/electric sitar/guitar) and wave drummer Katabu Masudi as Moran/Masudi.

“Tom’s been expanding and exploring beyond his musical boundaries for a few years now. I’ve been wanting to set something up with him for a while, and this seemed like a good fit: A pre-Valentine cynical love fest. We’ve always been friends. Music is a benevolent presence constantly available to all and we need to share this presence with those who have restricted hearing.”

Doors open at 8:30 p.m. with music at 9 The show is at 9 p.m. at Howlers, 4509 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield. $5. Call412-682-0320 or     


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Pittsburgher's story: How I got a shout-out in a John Lennon song

Written by Scott Mervis on .


John-LennonPittsburgh had its own John Lennon stalker -- only she left a love letter.
And Melissa (Swoager) Egan, who grew up in Castle Shannon and recently located to Chicago, believes she got a shout-out in one of Lennon's last songs.
Listen closely. I think she's right.
Here's her story in her words: 
"I've been a fan of the Beatles since I was a little girl, and have won many trivia contests on them. In 1980, I was in NYC with my parents, a sweet & (if I do say so myself) well built young thing, and decided that I was going to do my best to meet John Lennon. The funny part is that I really had no intent of being a groupie or anything, I just wanted to meet a Beatle, but especially John. On 12 August 1980, I put on a little yellow sundress, 3" heels (Remember Candies? Yep!), and to my embarrassment, my parents came with me as we took a cab to the Dakota Building.

"The Dakota is a squared-doughnut shape, with a large arch leading to a fountain in the middle. The entrance is on W. 72nd Street, and at the time, you could walk right into the Courtyard, and even sit on the edge of the fountain in the middle, if you'd like. The main entry was almost into the Courtyard, on the right and up a three steps - very small, in the scheme of things. I decided to hang out on the outer perimeter of the building, but at the entrance. My parents took pictures, I took pictures, we all tried to figure out who lived where, where Rosemary's Baby was filmed, etc. For three hours, I patiently waited, walking back & forth, until one of the guards waved me inside. My dad stood within sight while I talked to the security guard, right inside. He asked me who I was waiting for, and I said, "John Lennon & Yoko Ono." I was savvy enough to know to include her!
The guard told me that I had just missed them, that they were recording a new album, and probably wouldn't be back until after 6 p.m., have dinner, then return to the studio. Our plane was due to leave by then! Seeing my disappointment, the guard asked if I'd like to leave a message, and I said sure. Somehow, I found the right words to say, to thank John for music which had enriched my life, and to thank Yoko for being such a constant in John's life (okay, I wasn't wild about that part). I ended by saying something to the effect that life can be strange, but if they found themselves near Pittsburgh, they should know that they have a friend there. It wasn't mushy or groupie-ish, more of a letter of thanks and I got to write it on Dakota stationary! I watched the guard put it in John's letterbox, thanked the guard and left with disappointment.

"You know the next part - John & Yoko made a last album, "Double Fantasy," and less than a month later, John was shot & killed. He stumbled up those same three steps, and said, "I'm shot," as he collapsed exactly where I wrote to him. I was in a daze, except for one small thing: at the very end of "Starting Over", you hear an airport-type PA system voice saying, "Love Airlines, Flight 12, Pittsburgh."  Hmmm.... Also, the gates to the Dakota were closed at that point, and a new security station built on the outside of the gate.

"About a year or two later, a book came out, detailing each day of the last year of John's life. On 12 August, he & Yoko came back from the studio, picked up a solitary note from a fan (!), had dinner, relaxed, then returned to the recording studio to finish "Starting Over". In the next few years, whenever I would talk to those who make their money on Beatle history, I would tell them the story and ask their opinion. Every one of them said that was exactly something John would have done - put a little "hello" in a song without being overt about it. It made me feel good, I admit. I should also say that I know a couple local disc jockeys (formerly with 3WS) and they REALLY felt that John had been saying hello.


 "One morning, I heard a team of "Beatleologists" on the radio fielding questions about the Beatles, and asked people to call in. I did, told my story, and they were seriously impressed. One of them actually said, "You know, you got the best of the deal - a lot of people who hadmet John thought he was a real a**hole!" A few more years went by, and these same Beatleologists were on my favorite radio station again. After some banter, the one said, "Hey, does that chick who thinks she was mentioned in "Starting Over" still listen?" My dj friend said, "Melissa, call in NOW!!!" so I did. The guy told me that he had been at a studio party, talked to Yoko Ono, and thought he'd mention my story. She immediately said, "I remember her! She wrote such a niceletter, instead of the usual groupie sh*t, so when we went back to the studio that night, we thought we'd put a little mention in there. John figured that, if she really was a fan, she'd know it was for her. Wasn't her name something like Melinda, Melissa...? I know she lived in Pittsburgh." The guy said, "She knows!"

"So, it wasn't my imagination! If you listen to the very end of "Starting Over", you can hear it, and it was confirmed by Yoko Ono herself! To this day, I have never met a Beatle, but, as the man said, I may have gotten the best part of the deal!"
The reference is at about 3:26 in the song

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Unplugged: Flea comes clean on Super Bowl halftime

Written by Scott Mervis on .


fleaAP photo

The first rule of Super Bowl halftime is: you do not talk about Super Bowl halftime. 

Props to Flea for telling it like it is.

In response to questions -- from Living Color's Vernon Reid and Axl Rose, among others -- about the Red Hot Chili Peppers not being plugged in during the Super Bowl halftime, the bassist came clean, detailing what people have long suspected: it's not a legit performance.

Only the vocals were live when the Peppers came on to jam with Bruno Mars on "Give It Away." The rest of the sound was recorded earlier in the week. And that's how it always is, because you can't perfect concert sound in the middle of a football game.

Flea makes a good case for why the Chili Peppers faked it, saying they wouldn't do it normally but "when this Super Bowl gig concept came up, there was a lot of confusion amongst us as whether or not we should do it, but we eventually decided, it was a surreal-like, once in a life time crazy thing to do and we would just have fun and do it."

The Chili Peppers are a proven quantity. No one questions whether they can actually play -- same for the Stones, McCartney, The Who, etc. -- so there was no good reason for them to turn down the biggest music showcase in the world.

A few years ago, I asked Nils Lofgren of the E Street Band about playing live at the Super Bowl and he danced around the issue, being a good soldier but kind of copping to it: "Yeah, that's a tough one. I was playing live the whole time. We rehearsed for days and kind of like... regularly ... it's a part of that TV thing. And this is the most extraordinary TV show I ever did. There were like 10 producers, all these huddles with management. As best as I can see, what I played live is what I heard on TV. I can't promise it wasn't something I played two days earlier, but it sure didn't look like it to me. That's one of the nice things about being in a band - I'm not the bandleader, so while all the mangers and people are trying to grab Bruce in a side room and have meetings, I just keep doing what I'm doing unless I'm asked to do something different."

Now, Flea has gone on the record and we can all get past this. The Super Bowl halftime is fixed. If you want live, you have to go to the show and, um, hope that it's all real there.


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