‘Sputzy,’ Monessen High ’60 graduates to reunite
Long before Artistry, Gigolo, Modern Man and the Soul Providers – even before The Holidays – Jim “Sputzy” Sparacino was making his presence felt on the area entertainment scene.
And memories of those days are sure to be rekindled on Sept. 6 when Sparacino takes the spotlight as a special guest performer at the annual oldies dance sponsored by the Monessen High School Class of 1960. The event, which is open to the public, will run from 7 to 11 p.m. at the Monessen Firemen’s Social Center in Eastgate Plaza.
For Sparacino and the Class of ’60, it will be a classic case of déjà vu. It was 44 years ago that the talented entertainer and his band, The Timepiece, played at the Class of 1960’s 10-year reunion on July 25, 1970, at Linden Hall in Layton.
The original lineup for The Timepiece comprised Sparacino, Rick DeRentis and Dave Kroskie, guitars and vocals; Michael Houlis, bass; Bob Gladys, keyboards, and Joe “Lumpy” Lombardo, drums. Jan Cocchiara later replaced Lombardo.
The group performed at numerous events during their junior high and high school days in Monessen.
“We had a lot of fun during those years,” Sparacino said. “We were a group of young teenagers, good friends who loved music and loved to perform.”
Sparacino was only a sophomore at Monessen High School when he joined another popular area band, The Holidays, being formed by longtime musician Tom Hawkins of Monessen. Hawkins, a 1960 MHS graduate who toured as a trumpet player and vocalist with the venerable Wayne Cochran and the C.C. Riders during the 1960s, also recruited the talents of drummer Dave DiPiazza of Charleroi and keyboard artist Don DiPiazza of North Charleroi to complete The Holidays.
The Holidays were mainstays at the Belle Vernon Moose Club and played other area venues in building their popularity and a strong following.
“We knew then that Jimmy had all the tools to make it big, even at such a young age,” said Hawkins, who is helping to coordinate the Sept. 6 dance in Monessen. “He had an incredible voice, was very talented with his guitar and had great stage presence.”
Sparacino graduated from Monessen High School in 1972 and initially continued his formal education at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He transitioned to Union University in Jackson, Tenn., in 1973 and joined the Hand Made Band, one of the most popular groups in that region. A lead singer and one of the guitarists with the Hand Made Band, he appeared with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons in September 1972 at the spacious (5,600 seating capacity) Jackson Coliseum.
Sparacino returned to Pittsburgh in the summer of 1975 and began writing one of the most successful chapter’s in the city’s storied entertainment history when he formed the group Artistry with Greg and Tony Macaluso, Jack Daro and Debbie DeMola.
He left Artistry to join a new version of The Four Coins in 1978. The Four Coins, who hailed from Canonsburg, came to national fame in 1955 with their gold record hit “Shangri-La.” The original members of The Four Coins all retired in the late 1970s. Robert Bogesdorfer, who had performed with the original group, retained the rights to the Four Coins name and formed the new aggregation consisting of himself, Sparacino, John Thompson and Ernie Pontiere.
Touring with the Four Coins through 1979, Sputzy appeared at casinos in Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe and Reno, worked the Far East for four months, and played numerous venues in the Pittsburgh area.
He later performed with the duo of Robyn & Sputzy, Gigolo, and Sputzy and the Soul Providers, No Bad Ju Ju and PGH.
His credits also include several recordings and an appearance on the talent show “Big Break” hosted by Natalie Cole. He also has done considerable work in radio and TV commercials.
Sparacino, 59, began playing guitar at age 5 when he “was in awe of” his early hero Elvis Presley. His biggest musical influences were Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin.
“It’s always great playing to a group of people that are into the spirit of the event,” Sparacino said. “It’s always cool coming back home and seeing folks I know.”
Ron Paglia is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.