John Connelly - President's Award
BMHOF Class of 2015
According to Jim Pritchard of the Riviera Theatre, John Connelly’s BBC Band is the “only Western New York-based band to sell out the (1,140-seat) theatre.”
That’s a comment you’ll hear often about Connelly and the bands he has worked with over the past 40-plus years. They’ve been among the most popular in the region year-in, year-out.
Tom Lorentz, who was one of Connelly’s bandmates in Switch for over 25 years, says that is not just by chance. He recalled when he auditioned for Switch, whose performance presentation – as with the BBC Band – was centered around a Beatles tribute:
“John handed me a dozen or so albums and said, ‘I marked about 20 songs you need to learn by the first rehearsal,’” Lorentz said. “I had recently graduated from UB with a masters degree in music, led my band for over 15 years, how hard could this ‘Beatle’ thing be? … After hours and hours of listening to John, Paul, George and Ringo, I showed up at rehearsal with a big smile, pulled out my guitar and began to play.
“After a long pause, I heard John say, ‘Did you even listen to the records?’ At that moment I immediately realized the many years I was getting by, just sounding ‘close’ to a song. … If I was going to make it in this band, I would have to learn how to get inside a song by understanding each note, how it was phrased, the level or dynamics of the notes and chords.”
That dedication to precision – particularly in replicating the Beatles – has been a hallmark of Connelly’s career. His attention to detail, his integrity, discipline, and running his bands like a business are the nucleus for becoming a successful band leader. He has always held himself equally accountable, imposing the same demands on himself as he expects from all other members.
As with many rockers, Connelly traces his interest in becoming a musician to seeing and hearing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. He was 7. Then when he heard some older students that had formed a band play at Philip Sheridan Elementary School in Kenmore, he knew he wanted to be on stage and be part of a group.
He started hearing music coming from an attic window down the street from his house where John Weitz lived and became a fan of the Weitz’s band: Raven.
A couple of years later, the first variation of what would become Switch debuted when a teacher at Herbert Hoover Junior High school encouraged him to put together a band for a student dance at Cleveland Hill Junior High. Buffalo Music Hall of famer Dick Bauerle (a student teacher at the time) was very instrumental in getting the band ready to play out.
Soon the band changed its name from Yesterday to Switch. The band was together for 13 years in its first version before taking a break in 1986.
It returned in 1993 with Connelly, brother Steve, Lorentz and Ken Kaufman, plus a horn sectionled by Michael DiGiacomo. Adding Motown, other commercial rock and some funk to their Merseybeat,theybecame one of the most in-demand showbands in the region. They also recorded the CD “After All These Years,” a combination of some cover and original songs.
In 2003, Connelly joined the BBC Band with Ned Wood, dedicated to playing note-perfect recreations of the Beatles’ entire catalog, plus other British Invasion hits. Connelly is leader, a lead vocalist and bass guitar player for the BBC band. Russ Thomas, Frank Grizanti(another BMHOF member), Bob Volkman and Gary Astridge are also in the band. Wood, who is in the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame as a member of Weekend, died in 2011.
The BBC Band has toured regionally in theaters across New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and other areas.
Connelly formed a company, Strategic Songs, with Kaufman. It has produced parody songs, jingles and original work for Connelly’s clients. He also owns Promotional Images Inc. of Lancaster.
Connelly has also been very active in combining music with charity efforts. Some of his bigger efforts have included playing shows with Switch and the BBC Band at concerts that have raised tens of thousands of dollars for various organizations, such as the American Cancer Society, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, , Ronald McDonald House, Hurricane Katrina relief, Haitian hurricane relief, Volunteer Lawyers Project, the Lothlorian Therapeutic Riding Center, Boys & Girls Clubs, and an impromptu fundraiser for Ned Wood when Wood was suffering with the illness that would claim his life.
Still, the Beatles are one of the things that has remained a constant in his life. In 2010, he finally got a chance to meet Sir Paul McCartney.
During the soundcheck before McCartney’s show at the Air Canada Center, Connelly and his wife Nicole’s two then-8 and 11-year-old daughters held up a sign saying “PAUL, PLEASE MAKE OUR DADDY’S DREAM COME TRUE. SHAKE HIS HAND!”
McCartney noticed it from the stage, and after the band played the last song, he left the stage and walked toward Connolly, holding out his hand to fulfill that request.
“He took immediate control of the encounter, engaging in an extremely friendly and very humble manner with my wife and two daughters,” Connolly said. “He then turned to me and asked me to tell him a little bit about myself.
“I very briefly described my career and passionate musical career. I then began thanking him for all he had done for me with his music and told him that he had enriched my life more than I could ever convey to him.
“Paul looked at me and said, ‘I am very humbled by your comments about me. It is obvious to me that I’ve affected you with my music. Come on over here and give me a hug.’
“I could not believe that Paul McCartney, my number one bucket list guy to meet, was asking ME to hug HIM. And I did.”
That’s only one highlight of a Hall of Fame career. But what a highlight.
(Profile by Elmer Ploetz)