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Still Rockin' and Rollin' After All These Years

A website tracing Scarsdale's musical history uncovers twists, turns and brushes with fame.

By Janie Rosman

The music you listen to when you come of age becomes yours and part of your memories, according to Scarsdale native Thom Pernice.

What he’s found while traveling down memory lane turned an adventure into a project.

“I was going through some old audio tapes of my bands and thought it would be interesting to see about other groups who started in Scarsdale and the threads that connected us,” said Pernice, a Peekskill Patch contributor who grew up on Garth Road  in Scarsdale.

Pernice's research led to the creation of Scarsdale Rocks, an ongoing work in progress that traces the history of rock music performed by musicians who lived – or who grew up – in Scarsdale. “My friend Al Torzilli and his brother Wayne, a drummer in my groups, lived above Garth Radio, which was owned by his parents,” Pernice said. "Al was two years older and played at the high school talent show. My parents owned Pernice Florist, and I guess you could say Scarsdale Rock started on Garth Road.

Torzilli plays guitar and sings classic rock music with his band, Natural Selection, which is based in Reston, Virginia. His wife, Ellen Torzilli, is on keyboards; Mike Genebach is drummer; and Paul Gardiner plays bass.

“On Feb. 11, 1959, I performed "Sweet Little Sixteen" guitar and vocals with Eddie Jackson on drums at the ninth annual Talent Show at Scarsdale High School,” Torzilli said. “Based on that performance, I was selected to perform 'Way Down Yonder in New Orleans' in the Westchester All-County Talent Show on May 16, 1959, with Eddie Smith on drums.” “The girls screamed so much you couldn’t hear the song,” Pernice added.

Torzilli continued musically, and in 1963, recorded "That Song" and "I Love the Way You Walk" for United Artist records with The Spotlights.

“It was myself, Paul Smith, Jane Foley and Lynn Constantine,” he said. “'I Love the Way you Walk’ was subsequently recorded by the British group, Tony Rivers and the Castaways.”

According to Pernice, Tony Rivers' band from England covered the Spotlights’ record  "I Love the Way You Walk" in 1964 during the "British Invasion." “Many of the English bands like the Stones, Beatles, etc. covered American songs that were originally recorded by American bands at that time,” Pernice said.

Pernice said working on the website has reconnected him with former friends.“I’ve talked to folks I’ve not spoken with in 40 years who remember watching Elvis on Ed Sullivan Show when we were 9,” he said. “When we were in bands we weren’t thinking about the business of making money, we were thinking about the music, the girls and a hit record.”

Classmate Jay Shulman first collaborated with Pernice back in 1965.“Thom didn’t want to let this vibrant era disappear,” said Shulman, now a classical cellist with the Long Island Philharmonic. “This has been in the works for not quite 10 years, and when we put the word out there was a lot of support.”

Shulman said their families – his and Pernice’s – moved from Scarsdale by the early 1980s and didn’t know a lot of the younger bands. “This is why some of the material (we have) is close to 50 years old,” he said. “It’s pretty amazing that it exists.”

One memorable moment was when he and Shulman met The Rolling Stones in 1965 on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

“Our friends’ parents had connections,” Shulman said with a smile in his voice, adding, “The website isn’t about celebrities, it’s about groups of friends who got together to play music. Thom was a driving force in Scarsdale, and he (Thom) feels that way about Al.”

However Scarsdale classmates like Billy Schwartz (now known as Billy Cross) continued professionally. “He became a star and lives in Denmark and played with bands including Bob Dylan, among others,” Pernice said.

Pernice and Shulman were involved with last year’s “Night of Rock” fundraiser for the Scarsdale Teen Center when Peter Finkelstein, one of its board members, asked Shulman's Offbeats to play.“Peter wasn’t aware of just how many musicians from the 1960s remember their high school gigs," Shulman said. “Many of the Teen Center’s board

members have kids in Scarsdale schools, so there’s a continuum.” Now in its fifth year, the annual “Night of Rock” is hosted by DJ Jimmy Fink of 107.1 FM, and was originally held at the Teen Center. Two years later it was moved to Vintage Bar & Restaurant in White Plains, where it is tentatively scheduled for May 7. “The date is definite, and we’re still confirming the venue,” Finkelstein said.

Writer's Note: Pernice said that there are many gaps in time in his recollection of Scarsdale's musical history, especially from the 1980s.  Anyone with information or audio tapes is welcome to contact him via the Scarsdale Rocks website.