Jim Brucato

Jim Brucato - Legacy Award

Jim Brucato

BMHOF Class of 2015

A quick conversation with Jim Brucato won’t begin to let you in on his full background. And he’s humble enough that he’s not going to bring things up. 

You may have figured out he’s the exceptional bassist in Billy McEwen & the Soul Invaders, and has been for about 22 years. 

Or that he has been one-third of the Thirds for even longer. 

Chances are he won’t have mentioned his time at the Berkelee School of Music studying jazz composition. 

Or one of his first shows touring nationally with Maureen McGovern (“There’s Got to Be a Morning After”) in the 1970s,  and his close-up moment on a Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert segment.

Or the many classes he has taught at Erie Community College. 

But a quick listen to his music will let you know the cat can play. 

But first the background: Brucato grew up in Tonawanda, the son of a professional musician (his father, Jimmy Brucato, hosted the “Just Jimmy” and “The Stag Room” musical programs on TV in the 1950s). But the younger Jim didn’t start playing himself until he caught onto the Kingston Trio – and their three-part harmonies – during the folk boom of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. He taught himself to play guitar. 

“What hit me hard and turned me into a guitar player was discovering those old Robert Johnson records and Blind Lemon Jefferson and all that old, old blues stuff,” he said recently. “And then I dedicated myself to that for a number of years, just listening to those records over and over and teaching myself how to play slide.”

But his path also took him through a number of bands, starting with Krax – a rock cover band that was taking “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” to the stage – complete with busboy jackets – almost immediately after the Beatles released the LP. He also spent time in west Africa, serving in the Peace Corps. 

Then came Snow Angel, a jazz-pop group that featured Buffalo Music Hall of Famer Louie Marino on drums. The group specialized in close four-part harmonies. 

“It was like bootcamp, like going to college,” Brucato said. “(Bandleader) Dick Fadale had made a close study of four-part harmonies, like the Four Freshmen.  … We played a lot at Gabriel’s Gate, and used to sing those parts, two to a mic. Louis Carfa and I would be singing 6 inches apart, doing these outrageously tight harmonies.”

Carfa and Brucato then went to backing up Maureen McGovern, who had just recorded “The Morning After,” the theme song from the film “The Poseidon Adventure.” That took Brucato on the road nationally, and brought him all to up close and personal with the video camera, as he recalls it. 

“I play a little harmonica, and I stress the little. I can fool you on one or two solos, but I’m not a harmonica player,” Brucato said. “I had just joined the band two weeks or something like that, and they had this concert coming up (on the Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert TV show). … The first song (“Nice to Be Around”) opens with a chromatic harmonica, that was either written for or improvised by (international harmonica legend) Toots Thielemans …  and I’m supposed to imitate him! 

“They go out and buy me one, and those things are expensive. The song was in A-flat or something. I was terrified!

“I got on the stage, …you wait and you wait and you wait. They’ve got celebrities out there talking to the crowd. Then — the place is packed with kids, and it’s ‘OK, it’s Maureen McGovern!’ and out of the sky, like in a movie,  this camera-woman a dolly comes – boom! --  like here’s the camera, right in front. And there’s just me. It starts with a keyboard chord, and then  …  I hit the first note and I hit the last note, and anything else was terrifying.” 

Brucato toured with McGovern for about a year, but then returned to Buffalo, where he played with fellow inductee Dolly Durante in Dolly & the Midniters. 

But one of the major events in his musical life was on the horizon. Or rather inside a bar called Curran’s, at the corner of Delaware & Chippewa. That’s where he ran into an old acquaintance, Joe Head. Another musician, Charlie O’Neill, was playing there some. Bartender (and musician) Brad Gray said, “Hey, why don’t you get together.” 

They tried it. They were each proud enough, Brucato said, that they took turns choosing songs and singing leads. And that was how the Thirds – three singers who all coincidentally had been choir boys as children -- came to be. 

The harmonies, inspired in part by sounds like the Kingston Trio and Snow Angel/Four Freshmen, became legendary. 

Brucato, not long after, started playing bass with the group, reasoning they didn’t need three guitars. He’s since become recognized as one of the best bassists in the region. The group recorded the LP “Songs From the City Line,” with Brucato writing three of the songs. The Thirds have continued to this day, with Billy McEwen now filling in for O’Neill (who died in 2011).

Brucato also studied jazz composition at the Berklee College of Music in Boston in the late ‘80s, and two of his songs that were on the Thirds album were honored as “songs of the year” in the Berklee program. 

After he and his wife, Carol, moved back to Buffalo, Brucato added another long-standing gig in the early ‘90s when he joined McEwen’s Soul Invaders as bass player. 

He’s also played in Brady & Brucato (with John Brady) and  the Saints (with Phil Dillon, Howard Wilson, Nick DiStefano, and his brother, the late Hall of Famer Bruce Brucato). 

Jim Brucato has produced or co-produced music for Billy McEwen & the Soul Invaders and Rick Smith. He also wrote or co-wrote songs for McEwen & the Soul Invaders’ “No Peace of Mind” CD. 

For the past 13 years, Brucato has also taught music classes at Erie Community College. He was also taken over the rains of the Charlie O’Neill Unplugged Club at Talty’s in place of his old friend. 

​​​​​Back - 2015