Pittsburgh's Norman Nardini isn't too old to rock 'n' roll
By Rex Rutkoski
Published: Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Jethro Tull's lyrical observation about being “Too old to rock 'n' roll, too young to die” fell on deaf ears with former Cheswick resident Norman Nardini.
At 62, one of Pittsburgh's favorite musical sons, who has been performing virtually every week since 1965, not only rocks on, but continues, in his words, “in search of the highest level of music.”
“I still take making music as a very serious activity, and yet, I love to laugh my way through a show,” he says.
“I believe I'm not too old to rock 'n' roll. I look around at the younger rockers and see that they still need us older guys to show them how it's done. I've never considered doing anything other than making music so I always knew that I'd be doing it if I lived to be an older person.”
He'll be returning Friday to the Alle-Kiski Valley to provide an energetic reminder that he still has the chops. And he'll be doing it at one of his favorite venues, Moondog's in Blawnox.
“Moondog's does feel like home to me, because I've played there so many times and because it's a real music room for original artists,” he says. “So many greats have been on that stage: Junior Wells, Johnny Clyde Copeland, Levon Helm, Sugar Blue, Derrick Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Tommy Castro, the list goes on and on and on. I hope the locals realize that Moondog's is a special place. Real music clubs that last that many years get legendary status.”
Nardini, who lives in Wilkins, has a legendary status of his own in the region, an artist who has been there and done that. One of his earliest public performances as a young boy was in a talent show at the Cheswick Theater in 1957, playing accordion, which he learned in a Natrona Heights accordion school.
In addition to his longtime friendship and music-making with Jon Bon Jovi, who he will be seeing again next month at Bon Jovi's Pittsburgh show, he has shared concert bills with Aerosmith, Rush, KISS, Ted Nugent, Kansas and Canned Heat, among others.
Bon Jovi sang backing vocals on Nardini's CBS Records' 1983 release of the “Norman Nardini and The Tigers” album. Dr. John, Paul Shaffer (of “Late Show With David Letterman”) and Rick Derringer performed on Nardini's 1987 “Love Dog” album, also on CBS.
Rolling Stone gave Nardini and the Tigers' 1981 “Eatin Alive,” recorded live at Cleveland's Agora Club, a four-star review in its record guide.
Nardini was lead singer, lead guitarist and primary songwriter of the Tigers. It was in 1975, as bassist for Pittsburgh rockers Diamond Reo, that he had his first national album release. In 1971, while attending Berklee School of Music in Boston, he played guitar for music legend Big Mama Thornton and George “Harmonica” Smith at the Jazz Workshop.
“I do feel like an early pioneer of Pittsburgh rock 'n' roll music. The work that we did back in the '70s with Frank Czuri, Warren King, Rob John and Bob McKeag paved the way for younger rockers,” he says. “We're the ones that stood up and demanded to be judged on our ability to make our own music, back at a time when the standard for rock music was much higher. And I continue to make my own Pittsburgh rock 'n' roll music that can be traced back to the '70s.”
Bon Jovi said that, even with all of his (Bon's Jovi's) success, he could have been happy being Norm Nardini. “The motivating factor when you're a kid is not to sell 100 million records, but just to learn how to write songs and perform them,” Bon Jovi said. “I wouldn't have known what success of this extent was. I could have been very content to be Norman, play music at his level and Southside Johnny's level. That's all we knew existed. I didn't want to be Zeppelin.”
Bon Jovi refers to his friend as “the epitome of rock 'n' roll.”
“Norman lives it and breathes it. The greatest compliment anybody can pay a player is that he lives it. God bless him for it,” he said.
Nardini appreciates the compliments. “I only hope that I've found my own voice as a writer, player, singer and entertainer,” says Nardini, whose latest album is “Bone A Fide,” his first offering of original material since the late '90s.
“I would still like to accomplish so much more. I would love to have more people sing my songs. I would love to teach and produce more young people. I would love to help raise the standard of Pittsburgh original music, and I would love to be able to continue to study and grow as an artist.”
The artist says that the simple process of developing songs is something that continues to keep him busy in a most natural way.
“Motivation is something that is a constant with me. I must be ‘loco-motivated.' I just really enjoy working with music, and I love getting onstage and putting on a show,” he says. “It's kind of crazy that guys like us are still involved with rock 'n' roll music, but I think it proves that we were doing the right thing along, just doing what we loved to do.”
Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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