The Legend of Johnny Reno (1941-2012)
Ok, I realize I haven’t said anything on here in a long time but I assure you the onslaught is a comin’. For now though, it can wait, as I really just need to pay a proper and well deserved tribute to my biggest influence and mentor, my father Jack, (aka Uncle Jack, Sensei Jack, John, Johnny Reno, Jack Norris, the Summer Jesus, and of course, the Hamilton Hamaconda).
This week marks the passing of my dad after a crazy and mostly insane 5 year battle with prostate and bone cancer and I think writing about it to all of you today is A) incredibly therapeutic for me and B) a shitload better than some crappy ol’ facebook “R.I.P. dude, hevn jus gotza nutha angel yo!”. Actually, I really don’t mind those but let’s keep it for the people we love as opposed to some whack job celebrity that people decide to suddenly care about.
So, as for this being some serious and somber O-bit… sorry, not gonna happen. Dad would have hated that as it definitely isn’t the tone he wanted set with regards to his sickness or eventual passing. He always enjoyed reading my blogs, cussin’ aside of course, and especially loved reading the comments from all of you! What better way to pay tribute than to well, talk with you! He really would have loved this! I won’t go into too many deeply personal thoughts here as i’m still sorting through these particular feelings myself at the moment as you can imagine, so I’ll keep it based on what you guys are more in tune with and give a little insight into what makes us brothers tick. He was the mellow king of no-drama so a light hearted look it will be…
When I look back at my own history, there is no greater influence on my professional career than Dad. While I always feel that I am in tune with the whole “where I come from” concept, a lot was learned or rather remembered this past week in the hospital. It’s common for musicians to always site their influences and all that jazz in interviews, or to whoever will listen, and I am no exception (I wear them proudly on my sleeve at all times!!). Going back a little further you have to ask yourself, “Why the hell am I even playing guitar? How did I get here?” Was it as simple as hearing Hemispheres or Van Halen 1? For me, no. That particular bit of awesomeness happened a little bit later. The gateway had to be pried open by somebody! For me, it was Dad.
One of the biggest things that defined Dad for a lot of people was that he was a musician. It’s one of those things that defines an entire household actually as it adds this really fun and crazy element to a home that a lot of people just can’t understand. Very early in his life, his path was basically laid out for him, work in the factory by day, play music at night, and hope you make some money at one of them. Growing up in Hamilton in the ’50s, and as the eldest of 7 kids, this was nothing new, just his everyday reality and some good ol’ fashioned survival, which never seemed to end! I still remember him loading up the car after supper to get set up for a gig or rehearsal that night, not knowing then that he was, in his words, “busting his hump” just to support his three growing boys and stay at home wife. Shit, I didn’t know we were expensive! Sometimes you would hear him returning home, dragging his gear back into the house after a gig, and with the smell of Moo-Goo-Gai-Pan wafting up the stairs, listen to him and Mom talk into the night, with a little bit of Van Morrison thrown in for good measure. The odd time we would sneak down to say hi, especially if he dragged one of his band mates along for some grub. (usually just some Italian guy wanting to add his homemade sopressat’ to the night’s haul!) Biggest thing learned looking back: he was never late for work the next morning.
Outside of using music to support us financially, Dad was also the kind of guy never to shy away from playing, whether at parties or even a Saturday night barn dance with my banjo playin’ Grandpa. These memories stick with me the most as it was the only way we got to experience Dad in his natural habitat, we were too small for the real gigs and these moments were like magic to us! He somehow seemed taller, and well, more important. The memories of just how happy everybody was once the guitars came out really stuck with all of us through the years, and I would kill to witness just one more. Now, for a time this was one of the traits that I could never get my head around, and as musicians we were at exact opposite ends of the spectrum in one respect: he always enjoyed making people happy with music at any moment and I selfishly believe I can’t make anybody happy with music but will begrudgingly try… when I feel like it. I’ve since learned that music doesn’t work this way. This bugged him I think although he would never tell me, but inside I think he was always thinking “Why are you being such a little asshole? Do you play? Or do you not play?” No worries, he called everybody an asshole, even if he loved you!
Growing older it was pretty much the same week in, week out at our house until one fateful morning …
I remember the day I got my first instrument that WASN’T a cheap ass flute/recorder thingy like it was yesterday … it was a shiny silver set of Stewart Drums! Yes, I was a drummer and yes, I kicked ass (feet o’ Ginger Baker, hands o’ Gene Krupa, attitude and hair… pure LARS). Back at that time, this was a huge deal to a kid of 12 as you can imagine, even with the scientifically proven potential to shoot your eye out. We had that thing set up in my bedroom and ready for punishment within 10 minutes flat. Dad couldn’t afford the entire kit, mind you, so we used an old cardboard drum with a tin lid/tea towel combo for a floor tom. Good to go. A handful of lessons and one Carmine Appice instruction booklet later, (with included floppy 45 record) I was pretty much on top of Rock Mountain. Dad kept the encouragement going even though I’m sure listening to me was akin to a baby giraffe falling down the stairs… albeit with AWESOME hair!!! “Wipeout” was my bitch, and will never be the same…for anybody.
And then on yet another fateful morning 2 years later…
“Son, have you ever tried this here guitar?” I was conflicted but I guess the writing was on the wall. Apparently, while I was out frosting my tips, Chris was practicing drums too, and he made it all the way to the SECOND chapter of Carmine’s book!! WTF??? Dad had noticed of course and saw an opening: “You see son, with THIS thing you get to stand out front where the lights can shine down upon that silky mane and bring further notice to that formidable cod piece… Chris has red hair and freckles, he’ll be fine back there….” SOLD!! I was 14 I think, and still had lots of clay yet to be moulded, and I had Dad to get me started in the right direction, so why not? From that day on, there were countless times Mom or Dad would come downstairs and tell me to stop playing and go to bed, “It’s a school night for christ sake!!” I think Dad knew what he was doing, and with his simple promise of one day being able to melt faces, my future was pretty much set.
Dad then went on to build us a bonafide rehearsal space in the basement which we then proceeded to abuse every…. single…. day. We called it ‘the Cooler’ because he made it out of white styrofoam panels and it was either -20 or +100 degrees in there. Maybe ‘the Thermos’ was more fitting. It kind of smelled like glue but overall a pretty damn-cool-super-wicked-awesome place for us to hang with friends and play music. Almost every single day after school, it was rehearsal. Rehearsal for what? Nothing, only to be better than we were the day before. Dad would come home from work everyday and sit in the kitchen directly above us and read the paper, waiting for us to finish to give us either props or silence. Props good… silence bad. We always got good kitchen reviews for our Maiden covers, but I think it was just because he really liked Maiden. (our first experience with a biased reviewer!) He never really gave a negative criticism, except telling me that I sing like a cat with his tail caught in the screen door. I was like Peter Brady for crying out loud at that time and I was changing… my cod piece barely fit anymore, my voice was warbly, and I was getting these crazy velvetine little ‘staches under my arms!! Tough times indeed. For this, I thank you dear Father, I have thought of you every single time I’ve stepped up to the mic for the past 30 years. You and well…. chicks.
Work ethic was king to Dad. This is exactly why Chris and myself work the way we do and the way we have always approached IME. We rehearsed every day no matter what, and always got the work done before fun. This applied to my Dad’s days in a shitty factory, my own days in a shitty factory, and most of all, as musicians (in a shitty business!). Basically, you make your deal, and approach it the same way every day regardless of personal benefit. Rule #1: If you accept the work, don’t let anybody down. There are no sick days.
Funny story: one day later in high school or just after, I started seeing this ‘chick’ who kept hanging around rehearsals at the house, kind of getting in the way of what Dad considered to be our ‘work’. She was a little older than me and smelled like Pina Coladas, a deadly combo. He must have had a really bad day at the shop because when he heard us horsing around and playing just awful day after day in the basement, accomplishing nothing, he busted into the room pointed at her and basically said “YOU… get the fuck out, don’t come back, and YOU guys, get back to work and stop sucking!!”. Man, he was really angry! We had a Yoko before we even had a real band, or even understood what a Yoko was! Dad did though, and thankfully handed down his Yokometer (pat. pending) to us as we moved along. More bands should have this. Outside forces fucking everything up… sound familiar? All things in life must be approached the same way, you are either in or out, including life itself. Approach life as a ‘no dabble’ zone and things will always work out. Outside of personal hygiene, we have approached EVERYTHING the exact same way and I’m reminded of this every time I smell coconuts.
One last funny thing about Dad. He was a black belt in Judo and ran his own Dojo at one point in our basement (until the great flood of ’73) and right up until the end, he always insisted on wearing pants with a 29.5″ inseam. He was about 68-69 years old when this topic came up again as we all never really understood why he was so uptight about his goddamn inseam. His dead serious answer, “What if I was walking down the street and had to defend your mother’s honor? I wouldn’t be able to roundhouse kick anybody if my foot’s caught in my pants!” Lesson learned: no matter how old and seemingly crazy your folks get, there is always some nugget of wisdom on offer. “With ears open, mouth closed, you will then be able to feast upon the knowledge buffet.”
So there you go, just a little bit of info on my Pops. Just thought I would share some simple anecdotes about our sometimes crazy family and tell you that he was a good man. A damn good man. I kind of feel good sharing this with you all as he wasn’t really concerned with very many things outside of his family and friends, the band, and our fans. He was always really happy when you guys seemed excited, and pissed when something was even remotely negative. (yeah i’m looking at you edLov3R1996!) Believe it or not, through all of the years of us playing, all of the conversation online (all the way back to the Palace Chat!) and the countless shows he went to, he still recognized and remembered a lot of the names and faces he has met along the way. He says continue to be nice to his boys and he’ll always back you up with all 29.5″. Don’t be afraid, just breathe and be very still.
Another thing I’ve been thinking about lately is that a lot of you guys have actually grown up alongside us as well. We all have parents or other family members advancing on in years and it kind of puts us all in this same crazy boat… this really weird zone of inevitable heartbreak. My family isn’t any more special than yours, and we have and will continue to face the same types of crises as all of you… this is just our moment. It seems that every day/week one of you guys loses somebody as well, and I just wanted to let you know we’re thinking about you.
If you feel so inclined, send a little shout out this way to my Mom, who’s been with Dad since they were kids, and has taken care of him for years and years dealing with this complete douche of an illness. She’s got your back now, but she’s keeping her inseam a mystery.
Thanks gang… I feel really good writing this, and you are much appreciated as always. Today is a new beginning for many things, and I am now more energized and ready for the new concepts coming for IME and myself. We’ll talk soon but for now, it’s all about Mom and Dad.
So, while I admit that Johnny Reno wasn’t a household name or a true legend, he sure as hell was to us.
Be good to each other and love your mothers… for realz yo.
P.S. Dear Dad, I don’t know where you ended up, but if it’s any shade of white with lots of comfortable seating, don’t roundhouse kick anybody in the face who has a beard, just to be safe. (pretty sure Jesus is a ninja or somethin’) And if you smell coconuts… uh, yeah, good luck with that.
Love you always,