Igniters reunion has decades of friendship behind it |

Igniters reunion has decades of friendship behind it

Rex Rutkoski
Barbie Domasky
Bubs McKeg (left) and Frank Czuri of the Igniters
The Igniters
Rock band The Igniters
Barbie Domasky
Bubs McKeg (left) and Frank Czuri of the Igniters
The Igniters
Rock band The Igniters

Good songs and good material always hold up, says veteran vocalist and Igniters frontman Frank Czuri, whose voice has provided decades of good times for Pittsburgh-area residents.

The Igniters are an enduring case in point. They will perform a Nov. 7 reunion show at the Syria Shrine in Harmar.

Emerging from Pittsburgh’s East Hills in the 1960s, a pioneering group of teenagers, specializing in authentic American blues, R&B, rock and soul, became a staple at the now-defunct Oakmont teen club, the Varsity House, where lines of dedicated followers would form outside to see them.

“It was just so cool, just teenagers. The crowd was really supportive of live bands,” Czuri says. His lifelong friend, Bubs McKeg, then 14, assembled the band, inviting Czuri aboard. They played clubs and colleges throughout the tri-state. Atlantic Records signed them and released their single nationally, the Top 40 pop-soul tune, “Baby, I Love You.”

The first time returning to the Varsity House after the national exposure in 1968 was one of the freeze-frame moments in the group’s playing lives, says Czuri, who lives in Highland Park.

“We weren’t just the local band playing there,” Czuri says. “They knew the songs and the words. It was the first time I experienced that kind of reaction from a crowd.”

The Igniters are considered a musical incubator of sorts, spawning dozens of Pittsburgh artists who went on to other acts such as The Jaggerz, Jimmy Beaumont and the Skyliners, the Roy Buchanan band, Diamond Reo, The Silencers, Pure Gold, Sweet Lightnin’, Magpie, Borrowed Thyme and No Bad Juju.

Atlantic renamed the Igniters as Jimmy Mack and the Music Factory and, in the era of psychedelic and folk-rock, it changed its name again to Friends.

The group that began in a Penn Hills garage was one that every local musician wanted to join, Czuri says — and many did as college and military took various original members away. So far, 23 musicians have contributed to The Igniters/Friends’ legacy.

The Igniters reunited on a permanent basis in 2010 to an enthusiastic reception and were featured in 2011 at the Pittsburgh Blues Festival. They since have been playing regularly at festivals, resorts, casinos and clubs.

The group will be joined onstage at the Syria Shrine by several former members.

“It is a seasoned group with great musicianship,” says Czuri, who also is a member of the Skyliners and spent 25 years with Pure Gold. “We do a lot of old, basically, soul records, and always do a twist on the music. … We do songs people recognize and appreciate. It’s always fresh. People who do follow us around know they won’t hear the same thing night after night.”

Pittsburgh’s Shot O’ Soul will open the bill.

Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or [email protected].

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